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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2335

Mr HODGMAN(8.13) —Shortly I have to attend an important meeting of the House of Representatives Privileges Committee, and I hope that my remarks in support of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Moncrieff (Mrs Sullivan) will be taken in good spirit and will not promote or provoke a situation where I am attacked in absentia. One of the concerns about this legislation is that either the Government is utterly incompetent or alternatively it is deliberately endeavouring to deceive the Parliament by slipping it through in a manner which made it very difficult to detect. If it had not been for the honourable member for Moncrieff, who spoke to Mr Robert Garren of the Melbourne Age, it is quite possible that this matter would not have been picked up. I invite honourable members to note that the amendment is set out in the Schedule to the Bill, not in the Bill itself. The explanatory memorandum to the Bill in relation to clause 46 refers to `additional amendments' and reads:

This clause would provide that the Principal Act would be amended as indicated in Schedule 1 to the amending Act. Schedule 1 is divided into Parts 1 and 2.

Nowhere does it say that this is the first time that the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia has been invited to pass legislation whereby the taxpayers will pay money to persons who are committing a crime. As I indicated a moment ago, it is one of the longest standing maxims of the law that a person shall not benefit by the commission of a crime. Here is a government directing a department that, where the Department is fully aware that a crime is being committed, taxpayers' money must be paid and that a married benefit rate is applicable to those committing the crime of defilement or, as I said in my second reading stage speech, the crime of incest. The amendment put forward by the honourable member for Moncrieff will make it quite clear that a 20-year-old brother and a 15-year-old sister who commit the crime of incest will not qualify for the married rate benefit.

At the risk of upsetting some honourable members, I have to remind the chamber that barely 10 years ago an agency of the Whitlam Government publicly proposed abolition of the crime of incest in relation to brothers and sisters. The anomaly has been clearly pointed out. I say with the utmost respect to the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe), who I am sure will take the point, that an Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision effectively said: `We reject the advice of the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department'. What did the Attorney-General's Department say and what did the Department of Social Security argue? It was a very simple proposition. The Attorney-General's Department said that it could not support supervision of a department under which a person would be permitted to profit by the commission of a crime. This is absolutely correct and I am quite sure that the Attorney-General personally would support that proposition. The AAT said: `Hang on a minute, a person can marry at 14'. The plain fact is that one can marry at 14 under very special circumstances, only with parental consent and only with judicial approval. The AAT said: `Ergo, a person can be a de facto at 14'.

The example I give-I am not concerned whether it is two cases or 2,000 cases-is that one can have an 18-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl receiving the married rate benefit. This Government is officially legislating to permit the appropriation of taxpayers' funds for under-age juvenile and illegal de factos. I think the Minister should have a long talk to the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen), because it was the Attorney-General's Department's argument which the Department of Social Security properly argued before the AAT in the case in South Australia.

Mr Porter —They ought to be enforcing it.

Mr HODGMAN —They ought to be enforcing it. If the Government were to force this legislation through, one might as well say to every State Parliament: `Abolish the law of defilement'. Can one imagine an accused in the dock pleading guilty to defilement of a 14-year-old girl and his counsel saying: `With great respect, Your Honour, we do not think it is all that serious because the Commonwealth Department of Social Security has known about this for 12 months and has been paying this couple $202.30 a week to do it.'?

Mr Porter —Not only does the Department condone it; it pays benefit.

Mr HODGMAN —As the honourable member says, the Department not only condones it but also pays the benefit. The next step obviously must be the presentation of a prime ministerial gold medal. I ask the Minister what he intends to do with an accused person in the dock when that matter is raised? The Government has changed the wrong law. As the honourable member for Moncrieff and my colleague the shadow Minister have pointed out, who will go through all the difficulties and problems under the Marriage Act? I have been involved in this matter in a professional and parliamentary capacity and it involves exceptional circumstances. The mere fact that someone is 14 and in love and pregnant, the mere fact that somebody wants to marry the girl and the parents consent is not sufficient; the judge must find exceptional circumstances. Is one to go through that? If they shack up together, is the Commonwealth Social Security Department saying that the couple will be paid at the married rate even though they are committing a crime-at the least, defilement or unlawful carnal knowledge or, at the worst, incest? Are they to be paid by the taxpayers of Australia?

I am sure that this is an accident and that the Minister did not intend it. It is an insult to the people of Australia that this matter should even be brought into the Parliament. There are many out there who take a very firm view that one should not equate de facto marriages with legal marriages. The Government is going further and offending them by saying that not only will the Government put it on exactly the same footing, but it will apply to the 14-year-old schoolgirls of Australia who are subject to defilement or incest. Shame on the Government! I do not think it means it, I hope it does not mean it. It should withdraw and agree to the amendment moved by the honourable member for Moncrieff. When it finds the person or persons who put this legislation together in this form he or they should be sacked.