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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1975


Mr HODGMAN(8.26) —As has just been said, we cannot marry by post and I would argue that we should not be able to divorce by post. Indeed, it is interesting to look at marriage law and to see that not only is the presence of the parties required but also the marriage must take place in the presence of independent witnesses. In other words, independent witnesses are required at the time to confirm the marriage. I therefore suggest from a legal premise that it is an oddity indeed that for entry into marriage the presence of the parties and witnesses is required but for the termination of the marriage the presence of neither the parties nor the witnesses is required.

I also want to raise the long tradition of the law in relation to the disputation of documents. Mr Chairman, how often in your long and distinguished parliamentary career have you heard of cases of people who said: 'I signed that document under duress; I signed that document under pressure; I signed that document because I was coerced into so doing'? There is always a power of coercion when economic sanctions are attached. Whether the contract is a simple commercial contract or a contract involving matrimony, there are commercial and economic consequences which attach. Having deliberately not practised in this jurisdiction I have actually had constituents in my office who have said: 'I agreed to such and such an order because I was told by the lawyer from the Australian Legal Aid Office who was acting for my wife that if I did not agree to that course of action it would cost me more in the long run'. I have to say that it seems to be an unfortunate aspect of this jurisdiction that there is a significant amount of what I would describe as economic bargaining and bartering in the background.

I agree with the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh). I think it is a demeaning provision. It is an unfortunate thing to say, but I think it needs to be said that the words 'divorce by post' have probably created more unhappiness throughout this country than any other part of this legislation currently before the Parliament. Of the marriages performed in this country 70 per cent are performed by members of the churches by the clergy. The clergy is unamimous in its opposition to this provision. The Law Council of Australia, representing all the lawyers in Australia who practise in this jurisdiction, is against this provision. I have had representations from members of the family law association in my State, who have said that, whatever else is said on the mainland, they want me to ensure that this particular provision is defeated.

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen) is a much more distinguished lawyer than I am. He has practised in this jurisdiction. I ask him: Where is the logic in having, as it is, the law throughout this country that if one wants a real estate licence or an autioneer's licence one must appear personally? If one wants to become a commercial agent or a private inquiry agent one has to appear personally. If one is disqualified in an ex parte traffic court hearing and one wants to apply for a hardship licence one has to appear personally. The Parliament of the nation is solemnly preparing to legislate that in relation to the termination of a marriage no personal appearance is required. On ecclesiastical grounds, on legal grounds and, dare I say it, on moral grounds, I believe that this provision is scandalous in that it is demeaning of the institution which the Act itself purports to stand up for and defend.

The honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman) will no doubt be recognised-and I hope it will be recorded in this Parliament-for the courage with which he put his precise views on a number of matters upon which he was defeated. On each of those matters I voted with him. I will vote with him on this matter. I believe that the case for this proposal to be defeated is very strong indeed. I hope that this House will demonstrate to the people of Australia that it believes that divorce by post is going too far-that divorce by post has no role to play in a 1983 Australian Christian society.