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Thursday, 28 February 1985
Page: 357


Senator WATSON(5.28) —I believe that although the Marriage Amendment Bill attempts to solve some problems, it creates some long term difficulties which need further examination. Therefore, I think that we are fiddling at the edges and not furthering the institution of marriage in these provisions. It is true that the Bill helps overcome difficulties faced by some Australian celebrants who lack resources to determine whether parties who are not Australian nationals or domiciled here have the correct marital status under some applicable foreign law. The Bill also recognises the validity of marriages celebrated in accordance with the requirements of the law. However, I am concerned at provisions which give statutory recognition to certain scientific procedures and techniques of embryo transfer, in vitro fertilisation, and artificial insemination by donors. The mind boggles at the range of arithmetical combinations and permutations created by such techniques.

I think my colleague Senator Puplick shocked a lot of people in the galleries when he was much more specific on the ranges of combinations and permutations than I intend to be. In addition to those ethical problems there are further ethical problems for people who, for example, do not share humanistic attitudes. While the Bill attempts to provide for the recognition of the legitimacy of children who are born through biological procedures, it makes no reference to what I might refer to as the attitudinal difficulties of the growing or adolescent child when questioned by his peers about his parentage. I think such situations must in the future inevitably create in some people's minds a psychological uncertainty compared, for example, with a child conceived in the normal manner through the love and affection of his own mother and father.

I understand matters are going further than this. There are moves in some States to have removed from birth certificates the name of the father and mother, and therefore the child of a marriage merely becomes a statistic. Would the child be entitled to take the surname of the father or will there be a wide option open to him? I think the George Orwellian situation is very much present today as a result of the legislative legitimacy we are now giving this sort of behaviour. I believe that the removal of the names of parents from birth certificates would be a retrograde step. It is part and parcel of what we are really passing here today, although in a different jurisdiction largely. This will create all sorts of problems in tracing family histories. It is no wonder that genealogical societies are concerned about such moves. If we analyse all the accepted means of conception, are we really going further down the track of entrenching anti-family relationships? We must be concerned with maintaining the traditional family. This is one of a series of steps which are entrenching within our society anti-family relationships.

I believe that this Bill will give further justification to encouraging experimentation in the use of the test tube, thereby giving the scientist, or worse still the laboratory technician, greater opportunity to experiment with human tissue. The Bill legitimises but does not restrict all the possibilities for conceiving. The Senate could effectively be endorsing shoddy legislation in some States, enacted without full and proper inquiry as to the long term effects of a State's legislation. We know that not all States have the facilities that are available to honourable senators here. All too often we allow legislation through this Parliament that in retrospect we find should have been amended as a result of later experience and better knowledge.

In the United Kingdom House of Commons a private member's Bill was recently debated. Its provisions satisfy the conscience of a lot of religious groups, but some scientific minds believe it could slow down the progress of science. If that is necessary, it might be in the interests of future generations in our society. I believe that the condition of the traditional family should always be our prime concern. The last twenty years has seen the family disintegrating, resulting in a burgeoning of welfare costs to the community and a lot of anti-social behaviour. Our society cannot afford either. The cost is too high and is growing at an escalating rate.

In many cases I believe that the Bill should go a lot further in relation to giving pre-marriage advice. I am somewhat concerned at the trend of a lot of couples in moving away from the traditional church service and church celebration and preferring civil celebrants. I believe that half these celebrants are completely incapable of giving proper advice. Very few of them even attempt to give pre-marriage advice to intending couples. On the other hand, I wish to recognise the true responsibilities of a lot of the churches in requiring a considerable amount of time for instruction and discussion on the wide range of issues that need to be discussed. A seven day period of notice of marriage is far too short. I understand, for example, that most priests within the Catholic Church now require something like six months notice. Instruction and discussion is given on whether couples want children, the number of children, the spacing of children, the disposition of property, and the financial resources that are available after marriage. All these matters must be discussed. Too often people nowadays enter marriage without due consideration of all the consequences. They enter into it light-heartedly.

I think we have a major problem facing our society. We are inclined to accept modern day, avant-garde attitudes, in relation to having a different partner for each age and stage of our lives. This is to be regretted and is against the notion that marriage is between man and woman for life. It is unfortunate, with the increasing move towards civil celebrants, that they do not recognise their proper responsibilities in giving advice to couples prior to marriage. We need to examine much more deeply a lot of measures I believe would increase the certainty of the continuation of marriage. I believe it would be appropriate if we set up a committee to look at the possibilities of an optional contract, providing for rights, responsibilities and obligations. If a couple had a contract there would, therefore, be penalties for default. A lot of counselling is directed largely to how property will be distributed after a marriage is seen to be irreconcilable. These sorts of discussions should take place much earlier.

The second way of ensuring a measure of increase in the certainty of marriage would be to ensure adequate instruction. This is a requirement in some countries, but unfortunately not in ours. We talk about its virtues, but we do not make it a statutory requirement. We are very keen to pass wide-ranging legislation on many issues, but on the vital issues affecting the traditional family we completely ignore this requirement. We all see the need for it, but we are not prepared to put it in legislative form. The other measure is to extend the minimum period between notification and the celebration of marriage.

There are always problems when a country endorses, by legislation, international conventions such as the one we have before us today, the Hague Convention. I have some concern about overseas marriages which would, automatically by law, as a result of this Bill, be recognised in Australia. Our colleague Senator Harradine referred to certain acceptable marriages in Egypt. It is not too difficult to envisage in the not too distant future some States recognising what we in Australia today regard as unnatural marriages. I do not believe that proposed new section 88B in clause 23 covers such situations. I have discussed this with some of the Goverment's advisers and I suggest that one solution is to get a definition of marriage into the Marriage Act. I think the form in which it is presently worded leaves the matter rather open and loose. The marriage celebrant's duty goes no further than explaining the nature of marriage. That is shown in section 46 (1) of the Act, so I will not go through it in detail.

I believe that nowadays the undertaking, be it for life, is being lightly regarded. Increasingly we are looking, as I mentioned earlier, for different partners of various ages or at various stages of life. What I am really concerned about is that the exclusions should be extended to provide an addition to the four already listed. I believe that the legislation should be amended to provide for other cases, at the discretion of a responsible official, perhaps the Attorney-General; and that the list of exceptions should be extended from four to five.

There is some possibility of changes to the Migration Act. In fact, an article in the National Times in January 1985 dealt with plans by the then Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Stewart West, to change the Migration Act. There was a possibility that people involved in de facto relationships, lesbian relationships, et cetera, could be admitted as a result of planned changes by that Minister. I believe that that would be a retrograde step. I believe that those sorts of notions are coupled with sentiments which could be involved in what we are debating today. The implications are there. I think the Act needs tidying up. It is rather loose in its present form.

It is true that the Marriage Act has been around for a while. We have not really examined its full ramifications. The National Times article raises concerns about the possible loopholes in this Act and the Government's intentions in January 1985 to changes in the Migration Act to allow people engaged in the sorts of unnatural relationships to which I have referred to emigrate to Australia. I understand that Mr Hurford is not as keen as Mr West was on these sorts of issues, and I applaud the change of philosophy. However, the seed, having been sown, can grow at any time. There is a need for us to be vigilant as to what might happen because, I believe, such sentiments are anti the traditional family.

The disintegration of the institution of marriage and the resulting burgeoning of welfare costs are problems with which we have to live. I do not believe that the Marriage Act does anything to improve the institution of marriage, and it does nothing to reduce the costs to society of broken marriages. Close to half a million children are affected by broken marriages. That involves a tremendous cost. The resources that we put into pre-marriage counselling are very minimal. The literature available from Commonwealth sources is certainly inadequate for the existing need. We tend to try to solve the problems after they have occurred. I think we should change our attitude. It is inconceivable that responsible representatives of government should frame laws that betray the very society that they represent and undermine its foundations. If we start to repeal all laws which recognise de facto relationships, et cetera, and give couples engaged in such relationships equivalent status to that of a married couple, our society will degenerate and will not be able to continue for long into the future.

Greater measures, both legislative and administrative, are needed to preserve the institution of marriage. If we are serious about preserving the institution of marriage and holding together all members of the traditional family we should not be making peripheral changes, as we are today. We should, on the other hand, be determined and anxious to implement legislation to outlaw the worst effects of pornography, brothels, et cetera. We are experimenting at the very edges of science which can affect our very future. Therefore, I believe, we are betraying the very society that we are supposed to represent.