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Wednesday, 18 November 1959


Mr COPE (Watson) . - I am strongly opposed to the inclusion of paragraph (1) as a ground for divorce. It is quite true to say that this provision is in operation in five out of the six States. New South Wales is the only State in which there is no provision for divorce on the grounds of insanity. It is rather astonishing to me that the Attorney-General has sought to justify various grounds for divorce simply because they are already operating successfully in one State or another. I refer to paragraph (b) the provisions of which are said to be operating in Tasmania, and to paragraph (m) which, we are informed operates successfully in Western Australia. But it does not follow that just because a provision has operated successfully in one State, it should be included in this bill.

I remind the Attorney-General that the New South Wales divorce law has been operating successfully without the insanity ground. I have never heard of any public outcry or objection that this is not a ground for divorce in New South Wales. It is true that, in the other five States, during the last year, there were only eighteen applications for divorce on the grounds of insanity, but in my opinion, that was eighteen too many. 1 believe that mental illness is a sickness like any other bodily ailment. A case might arise in which a member of the family of one of the honorable members on my left who have been interjecting so vociferously might be concerned. I ask them to bear that in mind.

There are many returned servicemen who are in mental institutions because of the effects of the war. Is it their fault that they are insane? Why should such a person be subject to a law that gives his wife the right to divorce him on grounds that are no fault of his own? A man may have to look after his bedridden wife for many years. She may be a hopeless invalid yet he cannot claim a divorce on the ground of her illness. The argument has been put forward that if a wife is confined to an institution for the insane the husband may establish an illicit relationship with some other woman because like any other person he wanted normal happiness in his life. But the same argument could be applied to a man whose wife is bedridden, and is suffering from an incurable disease. Perhaps these things do happen, but that does not justify this provision. As we all know, there is a stage of a woman's life at which there is always the possibility of a sever nervous breakdown through no fault of her own. Why should such a woman be penalized under this measure? If the practice in one State is sufficient to support the inclusion in this bill of a ground for divorce why not accept the practice of the State that excludes the ground of insanity?







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