John Stapleton | November 13, 2008
AT least one in five DNA tests sought by fathers doubting their paternity return a negative result, representing more than 1200 Australian men.
This is consistent with results overseas.
While there are no hard figures, industry sources estimate there are at least 6000 paternity tests conducted every year, two-thirds of these with the mother's involvement.
Genetic Technologies conducts more than half of all the paternity tests undertaken in Australia. Its business development manager, Ian Smith, said its negative rate was about 20 per cent.
Mr Smith said if Australia were to jail fathers who did DNA tests off their own bat, it would be only the second country in the world to do so, after France.
"I am sure that many of the people we have tested have had a positive outcome, have had great peace of mind as a result, and it has allowed them to stay in a relationship or bond with a child," he said.
Under legislation being considered by the Rudd Government, these fathers could be jailed if they conducted this test or took a DNA sample from their child without the permission of the mother or a court.
Martin Hunt, 27, a machinist from Adelaide, would have faced jail under such legislation. He was 17 when his then girlfriend became pregnant. Four months into her pregnancy they broke up.
Mr Hunt saw the boy every weekend and paid out $10,000 in child support, which he has never recovered.
When his "son" was three years old, Mr Hunt decided to obtain a DNA test through an online laboratory in Canada. When the result came back negative, he had the test repeated in Australia, with the same result.
"I was shocked, upset. The fact that I spent three years of my life being lied to," he said. "I read that first letter over and over again. It was just unbelievable to me. It is hard to put into words.
"I took the mother to court for a year to get my name off the birth certificate.
"I believe DNA tests should be mandatory at birth for all parties. It would stop the lying."
DNA BioServices director Gary Miller said about one in four of their tests was negative.
"I think everyone has a right to know if they are bringing up their own child," Mr Miller said.
"We live in the 21st century. If you have parental responsibility, you should be able to check the paternity of a child."
Director of Queensland DNA Andrea Hayward also said about 20 per cent of their tests proved non-paternity. "The stronger message is that 80 per cent of those people who have doubts get good news, and have their doubts wiped away," she said.
Ms Hayward said considering the many thousands of dollars involved, a great deal of heat would be taken out of the situation if the Child Support Agency demanded a paternity test before payments began.
"It's better if everyone knows early. Then people don't bond with children and later find they're not theirs."
John Flanagan from the Fairness in Child Support group said legislation to jail fathers if they obtained a DNA test was outrageous. "The Family Court often deliberately obstructs fathers seeking natural justice through a DNA test," he said.
"There is no reason why someone who wants a DNA test on their child shouldn't be allowed to do so.
"Why should fathers have their lives ruined by having to pay tens of thousands of dollars for someone else's children?"