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Tuesday, 17 November 1959


Mr ANDERSON (Hume) .- I want to start on this legislation where the last speaker left off. 1 think that the most important paragraph in the Minister's speech introducing this legislation was that in which he said -

One of the great foundations of our national life is the family, and in turn the family is founded on marriage. National interest is best served and family life is best nurtured when marriage is truly life-long. The prevalence of broken marriages does threaten our strength and imperil our future. The ideal society would know no occasion for divorce.

That, to my mind, is a proposition to which the attention of every member of this House should be directed. This is the whole basis of this legislation - the preservation of family life. After all, divorce is no new measure that we are introducing. It has been part of the pattern of our community life for a century. I do not propose to cover all the clauses and principles of this legislation. We know that there is a general acceptance of the approach of the AttorneyGeneral (Sir Garfield Barwick) and of the Government to this problem. The objective is that the tragedy of broken marriages shall not be felt by the children, or that the least possible damage will be done to the children. I think that that part of the bill has general acceptance. But there is opposition to the provisions of the bill concerning grounds for divorce. I should like to give my attention to the basis of that opposition. Why is there opposition, always, to divorce law? To my mind, it is an instinctive act of society which realizes that marriage is the foundation of society. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, society reacts against any attempt to weaken marriage. That is going back into dim history, before Christianity. Among the pagans and those who practised other forms of religion some instinctive protection of marriage pertained in every class and condition of men. On this ground I think the importance of federal uniformity gives some security in public thinking, but I think on that ground alone this bill is justified.

The second point of opposition was based on religious grounds. I, personally, have tried to live a Christian life. I am not a nominal Christian. I profess my faith, I go to church and support my church. But many people in Australia and throughout the world to-day are nominal Christians. I approach this matter not only as a member of Parliament but also as a professing and practising Christian. However, I do not propose to enter into a theological discussion or dispute on this matter but rather on Christian principles as they affect human relations. This has always been the basis for a proper evaluation of human transactions.

We are guided quite clearly in Christian principles and, where there are transgressions that offend social life, by clearly defined commandments. For example, there is nothing to debate about the commandments " Thou shalt not kill ", " Thou shalt not steal " or " Thou shalt not bear false witness ". When one goes through the Christian commandments there is little to be debated; they are as clear as crystal. But on marriage, the greatest of all human experiences and the fulfilment of life, there is no strong definitive command, unclouded by apparent ambiguity. This is something which guides me in my approach to this problem. I believe that the church's blessing and the church's responsibility to marriage is of the utmost importance. Indeed, our early life in the church is directed to the final fulfilment of human relations, which is marriage. But where the problem case arises and the continuation of the state of marriage offends one's natural sense of justice, then I believe that the exercise of that justice will not run counter to Christian principles.

When one examines the present marriage situation in Australia one finds that divorces are becoming fewer; therefore we can be somewhat proud of our morality in Australia. Statistically, divorces are decreasing although our population is increasing. I would remind the House that the greatest period of national immorality was at a time when there were no divorce laws. One has only to go back into history to see that. Therefore, any argument that the prevalence of divorce laws has lowered the standard of morality is not borne out by facts.

When a marriage is irretrievably broken and either or both of the parties believe that the marriage cannot be dissolved, they will start to develop an ugly, unchristian attitude towards each other. That is an important consideration in view of the intentions of married life. A question which one might ask oneself in dealing with this great problem is, do harsh divorce laws preserve morality? We have to remember that in this matter we are dealing with human problems, human reactions and human relations. After all, we are human.

If it is a fact that marriage is indissoluble will that maintain marriage? That is an argument on which I would like to satisfy myself. As I see it now, it does not. If there is a contract between two people which cannot be dissolved, then the result will be to discourage the estranged parties from attempting reconciliation. So long as one or other has the force of the contract to support his or her stubborn approach to this marriage question there will be no relaxation to allow of reconciliation. I am trying to look at this from the point of view of human relations. If, on the other hand, there is an avenue through which the contract can be dissolved - an avenue with ample safeguards - then I am inclined to think that the parties would be much more willing to make reconciliation and so bring about a more constructive approach to preserving the contract. After all, this bill is an attempt to preserve marriage. If there are two people who feel that they will not surrender or attempt to make necessary adjustments in their married life, then I am inclined to think that harsh divorce laws will be responsible for a possible increase in divorce.

Clause 27 (m) has been criticized. This is the clause which, I feel, provides the avenue for divorce. In this bill there are ample safeguards to prevent abuse of this provision. If there were not those ample safeguards I would not support it. Let us see how it has worked where it has been practised. In Western Australia, where it has been in operation, the number of divorces has been falling more than anywhere else in Australia. I feel that fact is due to this provision which contains the element that has hitherto been lacking in other States in that it provides an avenue for reconciliation with proper safeguards - safeguards that eliminate what has been called " divorce by consent ". It opens the way for reconciliation between stubborn parties. Nobody approaches marriage without a prospect, of greatest importance, that it will lead to the best thing in life - a happy marriage. Sometimes it has been argued that this clause would allow an innocent party to be sacrificed by an offending party. I wonder whether that party is an innocent party. I will take the case of two people one of whom is firmly - fanatically - convinced of the sanctity of marriage and believes that there can be no dissolution of the marriage bond, but the other party is not bound by those beliefs. I am not talking about anybody who has a careless approach to marriage. I am speaking of two decent people but incompatible, and one denies the other the greatest fulfilment in life, that of happy married life. If one person feels that he or she cannot accept divorce, then the sufferings that will have to be endured is of that party's own making.

Although I am an Anglican, I believe that the Anglican bishops were wrong in their recent resolution. They based it on a minority report of the British royal commission; and further, their recommendations were based on a secular document. I do not think they were right in that. Everybody has a right to his opinion, but so far as I am concerned I feel that they are in error. Other prominent clerics say that this new divorce law will increase divorces. That is their opinion, but statistics have shown that that is not the case. Another clause which has been brought to my notice and which has received criticism is the one taken from South Australia making cruelty for one year a ground for divorce. Either party to a marriage who has been asked to suffer cruelty for one year is entitled to have the marriage dissolved.

I wish to reply to the statements of some honorable members who criticized this bill. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) has suggested that poverty and lack of social justice is one of the causes of divorce. Later he referred to the prevalence of divorce in the United States of America. I believe the honorable member has misinterpreted the facts on which he has to arrive at a judgment. America has the highest standard of living in the world, yet there are many more divorces there than in other countries. The honorable member's argument that misery and poverty create divorce is therefore not borne out in fact. If any country really needed a uniform divorce law, I should say it is the United States. The different American States have so many extraordinary clauses which allow the evils of easy divorce to wreck the nation's morality; and America should have a uniform federal law of divorce such as is proposed in this bill. One may be sure that the Federal Government of America would not tolerate some of the extraordinary grounds for divorce which exist in the various States of that country.

The honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler), who approached this problem with great sincerity, opposed the limitation of press reports. He said that quite a number of marriages were maintained, instead of ending in divorce, because the husband and wife feared to have their domestic troubles dragged through the divorce court and featured in the press. I cannot think that that is a sound basis on which to preserve a marriage. The Attorney-General is wise in including the provision for the limitation of press reports. I believe that to-day the press is sinking to low levels in battening on divorce tragedies in order to sell newspapers to the kind of people who delight in reading about such things. So I support very strongly the provision for limitation of reports.

Although I disagree with those who oppose this bill, I respect their views because, after all, this is a matter in which each person must express his own opinion. The Attorney-General has done a very fine job on the bill. The work has not been lightly done. It has been done in consultation with the very best opinion available, opinion that was sought to help the Attorney-General to come to the correct conclusion. In addition, every effort has been made to give the most complete freedom to members in relation to the bill, and the greatest opportunity for discussion here. There has been no coercion of members. Every honorable member who agrees with me should wholeheartedly aline himself with the Attorney-General's proposals. Honorable members are always facing political repercussions from outside this place, coming from people who do not agree with them. In the present case there are bound to be some repercussions; but I say now that I propose to aline myself fully with the Attorney-General. I believe that he has set out to achieve the objective that T mentioned at the start of my speech - the preservation of married life. Before they cast their votes on the bill honorable members should ask themselves the following question: Will this legislation preserve married life? After all, happy married life is the greatest strength of this nation, and T believe that the measure will help to pre"ve '<<. Therefore. I propose to vote for t*»» Vfl! in its entirety.







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