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Thursday, 12 November 1959

Mr BARNARD (Bass) .- The Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) has submitted, for the consideration of this Parliament, a bill relating to divorce and matrimonial causes. Since the adjournment of the debate on this measure on 1 8th August last, not less than 35 proposed amendments including new clauses have been circulated to honorable members. This, to my mind, indicates that the proposal advanced by the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) that this matter be considered by a select committee of this House is worthy of further consideration.

When I spoke to this measure originally, I stated that obviously the AttorneyGeneral had devoted a great deal of time, thought and consideration to it, and that he deserved to be commended. However, we should not overlook the fact that we are now dealing with home and family life, with all its responsibilities, and for that reason this measure should receive earnest consideration by the Parliament before we decide that it shall become law. As I have said, I acknowledge at once that the bill has been prepared most carefully and that it has been ably presented by the Attorney-General. I believe that his primary consideration also is the welfare of the family institution. The Attorney-General quite properly has pointed out that marriage guidance, which is dealt with in Part II., and reconciliation, which is dealt with in Part III., have been given the attention that they deserve, but that is not sufficient. Marriage guidance and reconciliation are not the sole matters that warrant consideration. The grounds upon which a marriage may be dissolved also must be given the deepest thought.

At present, under State acts, there are approximately 30 grounds upon which a marriage may be dissolved. If this bill becomes law, the number of such grounds will be reduced to fourteen as opposed to eight as stipulated by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) in the legislation which he presented to the Parliament last year. While, in some States, the number of grounds for dissolution will be increased, in others the number will be decreased. It is, of course, a matter for the Parliament to decide whether this bill, which reduces the number of grounds from approximately 30, under State legislation, to approximately fourteen, should be accepted and ultimately become law.

Let me return for a moment to the matter of marriage guidance because I believe that to be one aspect of the question which the Attorney-General has considered carefully. I regret that he has decided to submit an amendment in relation to this matter. Marriage guidance councils should be encouraged by this Parliament and, as I understand it, this is the first legislation that has been introduced into the Commonwealth Parliament that gives consideration to organizations of this kind. The AttorneyGeneral now proposes to restrict the basis upon which marriage guidance councils will be assisted. Under the original bill, any organization which devoted a " substantial " part of its time to marriage guidance would be eligible for assistance. In the proposed amendment which we have received, the word " substantial " has been altered to " major ". As I understand it, this means that if an organization devoted to marriage guidance only one-quarter of the number of people engaged in social activities, the organization would not be eligible for assistance from the Commonwealth Government. I believe that any marriage guidance council, or any social organization which is prepared to assist in the sphere of marriage guidance, is entitled to assistance from the Commonwealth Government. I am certain that the Department of Social Services would acknowledge at once the great debt that it owes to marriage guidance councils generally because, if they are able even to reduce the number of divorces in one year from broken marriages by only one-half of 1 per cent., they have earned the gratitude of this Government. Any organization which devotes only part of its time to marriage guidance is entitled to the same consideration from this Government as any organization which devotes all of its time to this matter.

I wish to deal now with the grounds for divorce. As I have already indicated, the number of grounds in some States will be increased, and the existing grounds in all States will be extended. For example, six existing grounds in Victoria and South Australia, and five in New South Wales and Tasmania will be extended, four will be extended in Western Australia and in Queensland, two. New grounds for divorce will be available in all States. There will be nine in Queensland, five in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania, and two in Western Australia and South Australia. Let me now discuss clause 27 (m), that controversial clause which, in my opinion, will require the most earnest consideration of this Parliament. I am not prepared to accept the situation in which a man or a woman may divorce the spouse simply because they have been separated by mutual agreement for a period of five years. I recognize at once that this important matter has been carefully considered by the Attorney-General.

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