4.1.6 Making a decision to allow or disallow an objection
Objection decisions must follow the requirements set out in the child support legislation. Objection decisions must also follow general administrative law principles.
Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 (ADJR Act) section 7
CSRC Act section 16A, section 85, section 86, section 87
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The information in this topic applies to objections to decisions other than care percentage decisions. See 4.1.8 for more information about objections to care percentage decisions.
This topic explains:
- statutory requirements for making a decision on an objection
- the Objections Officer
- considering an objection
- decisions an Objections Officer can make
- decisions involving discretion
- review of an Objection Officer's decision, and
- notifying parents of the decision.
In most cases, when the Registrar receives an objection the Registrar must, as soon as practicable, provide a copy of the objection, and any document that accompanied the objection, to the other parent (CSRC Act section 85(1)).
The Registrar will not send a copy of a proposed objection or supporting documents to the other party if those documents include obscene or otherwise offensive material. Such documents are not regarded as objections as they have not been made in the manner specified by the Registrar (CSRC Act section 16A) and no further action will be taken on them. The Registrar will contact the parent lodging the objection and give them an opportunity to re-submit the objection and supporting documents, without the offensive material, if they choose to.
The Registrar is not required to provide a copy of the objection to the other parent if the objection is to a decision to refuse to remit penalties imposed on the payer or an employer or, for an objection to a decision to make, or refuse to make, a departure determination under Part 6A of the CSA Act, if the Registrar is satisfied that the rights of the other parent will not be affected by any possible decision on the objection (CSRC Act section 85(2)). The Registrar may be satisfied that an objection decision will not affect the rights of the other parent where the objection raises no new issues and the original change of assessment decision is the correct or preferable decision.
Example: A parent objects to a change of assessment decision on the grounds that the decision did not take into account their moral duty to provide financial support for their mother. The original decision maker considered this matter and decided correctly that it could not be taken into account under any of the change of assessment reasons. The decision is otherwise the correct or preferable decision. The Registrar is satisfied that the rights of the other parent will not be affected by the objection decision and is therefore not required to serve a copy of the objection on the other parent.
Example: Eric and Laura have one child, Arthur. Eric has regular care of Arthur. Eric does not live close to Laura and it costs 3% of Eric's ATI travelling to see and care for Arthur. Eric applies for a change to the assessment to have their high travel costs taken into account. Because Eric's travel costs are less than 5% of their ATI they cannot be taken into account and the decision maker correctly decides that they are not able to make a change to the assessment.
Eric objects to the decision. The only grounds relied upon by Eric are the same travel costs previously stated. The Objections Officer decides that no new grounds have been raised by Eric and therefore disallows the objection. The decision is the correct decision. The Registrar is satisfied that the rights of the other parent will not be affected by the objection decision and is therefore not required to serve a copy of the objection on the other parent.
Where the other parent is served with a copy of the objection, they may lodge a notice in response to the objection within 28 days of receiving the copy of the objection and any document that accompanied the objection (CSRC Act sections 86(1) and (2)). The time for lodging a response is extended to 90 days where the parent lodging the response resides overseas in a reciprocating jurisdiction (CSRC Act section 86(2A)).
The Registrar must consider any information provided by both parents about the decision that is the subject of the objection. The Registrar will not make a decision on an objection before a notice in response is received, unless the period for returning the notice to the Registrar has ended. The exception would be where a parent advises that they do not wish to lodge a notice in response to an objection.
The Registrar will also make reasonable efforts to obtain information that is relevant to the original decision from either parent or from third parties. The officer dealing with the objection must use their judgment about the appropriate method of obtaining information in each case.
The Registrar will provide each parent with an opportunity to comment on information that may be taken into account in a way that is adverse to them.
The Registrar must make a decision within 60 days of the day on which the objection was received (CSRC Act section 87(1)). However, if the parent making the objection, or a parent served with a copy of the objection and any accompanying documents, is a resident of a reciprocating jurisdiction, the time to make a decision is extended to 120 days (CSRC Act section 87(1A)).
A parent can make an application to the Federal Court of Australia, or to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Division 2) on the basis that the Registrar has failed to make a decision on an objection within the required time (ADJR Act section 7). However, the Registrar is still obliged to make a decision on an objection even if the 60 day (or 120 day) period has ended (Garnaut v Child Support Registrar  FCA 1100).
The Objections Officer
Only authorised 'Objections Officers' will make decisions on an objection (6.1.3).
An Objections Officer must not deal with an objection to a particular decision if they were involved in making that original decision.
Considering an objection
An objection is a request for reconsideration of an original decision. The Objections Officer will reconsider a decision by 'standing in the shoes of the original decision maker'. They must go through the same steps as the original decision maker, come to their own conclusions about the relevant facts of the case and determine how the law is applied to those facts. They do not simply check whether there is any obvious error in the original decision on the basis of the grounds raised in the objection.
They must take into account all the relevant information available to them even if it was not available to the original decision maker. This includes all information that could have been made available to the decision maker at the time of the original decision.
If the Objections Officer is allowing or part allowing an objection to a change of assessment decision they can either:
- make a new decision (either to change the assessment, or refusing to change the assessment) taking into account all information including a change of circumstances or new reason, or
- where the objection is to a section 98E, 98F or 98J refusal decision made under the CSA Act, set aside the original decision to refuse to change the assessment and refer the application to a decision maker to consider the application afresh. (This two-step process is necessary because the Registrar must arrange for exchange of documents between the parents and for each parent to be heard before a change of assessment decision can be made).
Example: Fynn makes a change of assessment application because of the high costs involved in enabling the parent to spend time with, or communicate with, the child in the assessment. The decision maker finds that there is no reason to change the assessment because Fynn's costs do not amount to more than 5% of Fynn's ATI amount.
Fynn objects because the decision maker did not take into account all of Fynn's air fares. Fynn also provides details of significant medical costs for a new relevant dependent child who was born after the original decision was made.
The Objections Officer considers all the information that is relevant to the costs Fynn incurs in spending time with or communicating with the child and finds that the costs do exceed 5% of Fynn's ATI amount. In making a decision to change the assessment the Objections Officer also takes into account the information about the medical costs for Fynn's new relevant dependent child.
The Objections Officer will ensure that the process followed is procedurally fair and will give parents an opportunity to respond to information that is being taken into account.
Decisions an Objections Officer can make
An Objections Officer must decide to allow, partly allow or disallow the objection (CSRC Act section 87(1)). They do not simply look at the grounds of the objection and decide whether they agree or disagree with the original decision. The Objections Officer must make their own findings about the facts and apply the law to those facts in order to make the correct or preferable decision (Garnaut v Child Support Registrar  FCA 1100). They then compare their decision with the original decision.
If the Objections Officer finds that it was not correct to make the original decision then they will allow the objection. The original decision is set aside and the assessment and/or Register are amended as if the original decision had not been made.
If the Objections Officer finds that it was correct to make the original decision but that some aspect of the decision is incorrect, they will partly allow the objection. The original decision is taken never to have been made and the Objections Officer will make a new and preferable decision to replace the decision. The Registrar will amend the assessment and/or Register in accordance with the new decision.
If the Objections Officer finds that the original decision was entirely correct they will disallow the objection.
Decisions involving discretion
If the original decision involved the exercise of discretion, the Objections Officer may find that the original decision was technically correct but that it was not the best exercise of the discretion. The Objections Officer must allow an objection in these circumstances and replace the decision with the preferable decision.
Example: Fatima, the payer, makes an application to change the assessment because of the costs involved in enabling them to spend time with, or communicate with the child in the assessment. The decision maker finds that this is a reason to change the assessment and that it is fair to reduce the annual rate by $500 per year. Fatima objects because the decision maker did not take into account significant medical costs for a relevant dependent child.
The Objections Officer considers the available information pertinent to the finding that Fatima's relevant costs exceed 5% of their ATI amount. The Objections Officer agrees with the decision maker's finding that this is a reason to change the assessment. The Objections Officer provides Harry, the payee, with an opportunity to comment on the new information about Fatima's medical costs for their relevant dependent child and further information from the child's treating specialist. The Objections Officer takes the new information and any information provided by the other parent into account when considering whether a change to the assessment would be just and equitable and otherwise proper.
Review of an Objection Officer's decision
The objection decision
A parent who disagrees with an objection decision (including a decision to refuse to change an assessment because the matters are too complex) can make an application to the AAT for an AAT first review of the decision. See 4.2.
Other decisions made by an Objections Officer
An Objections Officer can also be authorised to make decisions about other matters raised by the parents, which are not related to the objection. Any decision made by the Objections Officer, except the decision on the objection, is a new decision and either parent may object to the new decision. Another Objections Officer will make a decision on that subsequent objection.
Notifying parents of the decision
The Registrar must serve written notice of the objection decision on the parent who lodged the objection and on the other parent if the other parent was entitled to be served a copy of the objection and accompanying documents (CSRC Act section 87(2)). The notice of decision must include a statement that the parent may apply to the AAT for an AAT first review of the decision if they are dissatisfied with the outcome of the objection (CSRC Act section 87(3)).
The notice must include or be accompanied by the reasons for the decision (CSRC Act section 87(3)).
The reasons for decision will include:
- the Objections Officer's understanding of the relevant legislation
- the findings of facts upon which their conclusions depend, and
- the reasoning process that led them to their conclusion.