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Tuesday, 17 November 1959


Mr MAKIN (Bonython) .- In this legislation the Parliament is discussing what is probably the most important of issues - that of human relationships. That has been the sup-erne question since creation. The living together of a man and a woman can be complex. The reconciliation of standards which differ greatly between parties to a marriage, mutual respect and dignity, are all associated with relations in married life. We are still incapable of a perfect universality of thought and ideals in the immediate and intimate relation of man and wife. In so much that is associated with our ways of life there is contention and rivalry. The whole basis of community life is hard and competitive, and that hard, competitive outlook must leave its imprint on every aspect of human association.

The idea of independence, even as between man and wife, has led invariably to disputation and division. That is why I deprecate the habit these days of both a man and his wife being wage-earners. The fact that a man and his wife both leave their home to go to work holds a degree of danger much greater than we like to admit, and has caused serious complications in home life. This is emphasized by the way in which child life in our community has suffered as a result of there being so many of these part-time home-makers.

We are all aware of the burden placed on families by the economic and social claims of to-day, and of how the steep inflationary trends cause families to undertake financial commitments which are difficult for them to meet and dangerous for their continued happiness. I certainly am not unaware of the commitments entered into by families as a result of the alluring inducements of high pressure advertising and salesmanship. People who enter such commitments are often quite unsuspecting of the danger involved therein to their home life. Another danger to the home life of the nation is the failure of people to realize the absolute interdependence that must exist between a married couple if their married life is to succeed and to radiate mutual happiness.

In making a uniform divorce law for Australia we have the advantage of the accumulated wisdom and experience gained by the various States which now administer their own divorce laws. The founders of the Constitution regarded marriage and divorce as major matters upon which the Commonwealth Parliament should have power to legislate and, accordingly, included such power in the Constitution. It is quite evident that we have not hurried in taking the Commonwealth into the legislative field covering this subject and allied subjects.

People who contemplate entering the sacred estate of matrimony are counselled not to do so lightly, wantonly or inadvisedly, it is in this condition of mind that 1 think everybody, excepting a very few people, accepts the vows and bonds of marriage, lt must be conceded that men and women enter a new and uncharted area when they thus associate their lives. When people are about to marry there are so many circumstances involved that appear secondary, but which later become vital to mutual happiness and understanding. A happy marriage involves the reconciling of the differing natures and ambitions of the partners. In addition, in many cases changes of disposition occur after marriage. The differing temperaments of the partners, the failure of the marriage to fulfil all the expectations of one, or both, of the partners - these can cause trouble in a home, and they are dangers which can be met and overcome only by the making of concessions on both sides. AH this is part of the complex experience that is marriage. The success or failure of a marriage will largely be determined by the degree of devotion and loyalty that the partners bring to bear on the immediate concerns of their married life. There must be mutual trust and faith between them.

I am greatly impressed by the attitude of the House. This is one of those occasions when, with heart-searching and good conscience, we are earnestly seeking to do the right. I am also aware that strong and influential people in the religious life of the community have declared against this bill. That opposition, however, is not aimed solely against the legislation, but is aimed against all that permits the dissolution of marriage. The sanctity and indissolubility of marriage are basic articles of faith, and I do not challenge the view of the church in that respect. I assure our religious leaders of a respectful understanding of their point of view. However, I want to say that circumstances that have been brought to my notice as a public man over the years have made me realize that there must be some provision to meet adequately the needs of those on whom great injustice has been imposed.

Only yesterday I had a telephone call from a man in Adelaide who confided to me that he had been separated from his wife for twenty years, and that during that time he had had to suffer all the loneliness arising from his position. That man does not know where his wife is, and he knows of no act by his wife that would give him, under the present law, the right to secure a release from the marriage bond. Surely there must be some reasonable approach which will afford people in cases of that description, and many others, a means of relief. Such people are the victims of the great tragedy of matrimonial differences, and surely there must be some basis for an adjustment of their unhappy circumstances. That being so, I feel that the House does well in undertaking its public responsibility to deal with the vital matter of divorce.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.


Mr MAKIN - I have studied a graph indicating present divorce trends in Australia. I am pleased to be able to say that this graph showed a downward movement, indicating some improvement in the general approach of the community to divorce. I welcome this trend towards better marital relationships and towards lesser recourse to our divorce laws. This trend, by the way, is noticeable throughout the whole of Australia.

I would now like to refer to particular provisions in the bill that have caused concern on the part of some honorable members. I have made an earnest study of those provisions, and I must confess that I cannot see in them the dangers that others have seen. In my opinion it would be difficult to frame provisions to safeguard more effectively the rights of innocent people while denying lenience to those guilty of domestic infidelity. In the first place, there must be separation for a period of five years. This is a period of probation.


Mr Thompson - And that is after the couple's disagreements.


Mr MAKIN - That is so. If at the end of that period either of the parties wishes to seek a dissolution of the marriage, he or she can make an approach to the court. If, however, the petitioner has misconducted himself during the five years, he is denied the right to approach the court. What better protection could an innocent party have, and what more effective sanction could there be on a guilty party? In addition, the court has power to determine questions of allocation of property and of maintenance for a spouse and for children of a marriage. Having in mind all these provisions, surely it must be conceded that this is a most effective and beneficial piece of legislation.

The primary purpose of the bill is, of course, to unify divorce laws throughout Australia. This is most desirable, because at the present time a person may escape his obligations by moving from one State to another. This law will make that impossible, and people will have to accept their responsibilities in whichever State they are domiciled.

It is also gratifying to note that the legislation gives encouragement to attempts to reconcile couples contemplating divorce by providing machinery for conciliation. Provision is made for marriage guidance councils to make every effort to reconcile the contending parties. This is all to the good. I believe that the overwhelming majority of honorable members will welcome the attempt to provide uniform divorce laws throughout Australia, as well as the provision of machinery for attempting reconciliation.

I feel also that we in this Parliament should do all we can to prevent situations arising in the family life of the community that may tend to result in divorce. We have a responsibility, surely, to see that homes are provided for our people, and that they have security in those homes, so that wives will be happy to undertake the obligations of motherhood. More care and attention should be given to the requirements and the problems of the children and young people of our community. These problems are not, of course, peculiar to Australia. They are apparent in all countries in the present disturbed and rather complex international situation. There is evident, not only amongst juveniles but also amongst some of the older sections of the community, a striving for excitement, which does not help in promoting sober and proper conduct. I hope, therefore, that there will be in our community a greater appreciation of the value to the nation of family life, and particularly the bringing up of children to feel that they have an important place in the home and community. I recognize the need for legislation of this kind. I realize that many of our citizens face difficulties in these matters and that we must find a way through these difficulties. I suggest, therefore, that the House support this measure. I thank the Attorney-General for his courtesies to me in making available certain information, and I commend him for the industry that led to the introduction of this bill. I intend to support it.







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