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Wednesday, 18 November 1959

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) .- I think the Minister is wise in leaving undefined the qualifications for marriage guidance organizations, which tend to be a complex of qualified persons rather than individuals. However, I certainly hope that in these unspoken criteria he is going to use psychiatric and medical personnel in the marriage guidance organizations. I think also that his warnings about not expecting a great deal are important warnings. I do not think that we sufficiently consider the enormous cost of psychiatric treatment. I am not speaking necessarily of the money that the psychiatrist charges, but of the fact that to rehabilitate one patient to-day by psychiatric treatment the psychiatrist must really give himself, or herself, and an enormous amount of time, to the patient. In fact, a psychiatrist gives a lot of attention to a very much smaller range of cases than is true of medical practitioners. The psychiatrist has to get a living, and is, therefore, an expensive kind of professional man or woman to call in.

But I believe the really significant point with regard to marriage guidance is this: If a couple is willing to resort to marriage guidance, it means that they have a will to make their marriage work. That is by far the most important feature about marriage counselling and marriage guidance. We need not flatter ourselves unduly about the organization, although I am not belittling its importance. What is vital, however, is the will to rehabilitate one's own marriage. The Minister told us last night about the major grounds for dissolution of marriage. In the case of desertion, for instance, it is very doubtful whether you will find many with a will to make the marriage work, and, therefore, a will to resort to marriagecounselling. In many cases of adultery there will be no such will. We need not expect, therefore, that this provision will have a tremendous impact in the case of those two major grounds. I expect, also, that in cases in which the fiveyearseparation technique is used to get rid of a spouse, there will be few cases in which the parties will be willing to resort to this kind of counselling. Therefore, I do not think we should be disappointed if the effects of the proposed machinery are found to be slight, and if it is found more helpful with regard to those minor categories of grounds for divorce that the Minister mentioned than in the case of the major ones.

If we could effect anything like the fall in the divorce rate that is now taking place, then naturally we would regard the legislation as spectacularly successful. Without anybody having done anything, without the State laws having been touched, the number of divorces has dropped from 7,900 to 6,200 odd, and the downward trend is continuing* I think, too, that when we speak about adding marriage counselling to marriage guidance, we should remember that people with solid family backgrounds are the most likely to contract successful marriages, whereas people whoare the products of certain kinds of broken homes have very great difficulty in forming stable marriages themselves. Certain factors that are very deep in a person'spsychological make-up cannot, I think, be touched just by what we call training for marriage - the kind of schooling that hasbeen mentioned in connexion with marriage counselling.

Notwithstanding the Minister's statement about the solidarity of the Australian community and the similarity of its values inall parts of the country, statistics show quite spectacular differences. They indicate that there are some factors in the mores or customs of the community that we need to look at. Many people have told us, for instance, how clergymen will be involved- as a result of this legislation. It is a peculiar fact that in Queensland only 3 per cent, of people resort to the registry office when marrying, while in Western Australia 15 per cent, of the people do not want clergymen to have anything to do with their weddings. These figures show a difference in community values which is quite unaccountable. The Northern Territory has a very high illegitimacy rate, of about 15 per cent., while Canberra has one of the lowest in the world, at 1.76 per cent. That is, quite clearly, a much deeper factor indicating the valuation placed on marriage than the question of who performs the original ceremony, important though that may be. These great differences in community values in various parts of the Commonwealth will make it difficult to assess exactly what marriage counselling is achieving, because undoubtedly the divorce rate is falling without any significant or widespread attempt having been made to achieve that result.

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