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Tuesday, 16 April 1985
Page: 1057

Senator HARRADINE(5.42) —I wish to address myself briefly to this report of the Family Law Council. I agree with Senator Chaney that this matter really does require a far more substantial debate than can be encompassed in only 25 minutes, particularly when a senator's time is limited to five minutes. Therefore, one is not able to do justice to a report of this character. However, I would like to address myself to page 53, chapter 3 of the report, which is headed 'Separation of the Conciliation and Judicial Functions of the Court'. The report of the Council, which was chaired by Mr Justice Fogarty, sets out quite clearly what we have all known, that in fact reconciliation counselling is really not now undertaken by Family Court officers. I believe that this development is disconcerting if it means that the options for reconciliation are not put to persons who come in the first instance to the Family Court. The report states:

It recognised also, however, that those responsible for framing the Family Law Act continued to attach importance to reconciliation counselling and sought to promote reconciliation of the parties.

Although I disagree with some of the recommendations in the report, I believe that both joint select committees of this Parliament which dealt with this matter considered reconciliation counselling to be a matter of paramountcy. It is quite clear that this aspect of counselling is now no longer regarded as a priority in the Family Court and, indeed, what is now taking place is that conciliation counselling is to be used in the resolution of disputes. Of course, unfortunately, that is a matter which must be attended to. However, I emphasise the fact that there is a need for a further look at a requirement for officers in the first instance, both at the court and at the solicitor level, to do all that they can, as some of them are doing, under law. I think section 14 of the Family Law Act provides that where proceedings have been instituted the judge or magistrate and the parties' legal representatives must give consideration to the possibility of reconciliation between the parties. I am talking about what should happen even before proceedings have been instituted.

I believe we ought to consider again something which I floated a couple of years ago and for which I received a considerable amount of support in this chamber. I think some 20 senators supported my call for required reconciliation processes to be undertaken-that is to say, for conferences to be held by persons intending separation for the purpose of considering the legal, social and financial consequences of a dissolution of marriage and, in particular, the effects of the dissolution of a marriage on any children of the marriage. One of the problems that I see emerging from this report is the recommended separation of the counselling services from the other court activities.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Haines) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

Senator HARRADINE —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.