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Tuesday, 17 November 1959


Mr DALY (Grayndler) .- I wish to refer briefly to what is possibly one of the most important pieces of legislation that has been introduced to this Parliament for a long time. In common with other members of the Australian Labour Party, I support the policy of uniformity in divorce jaws. But support of a policy of uniformity does not mean that we must accept any hotch-potch that is brought to the Parliament and said to be a uniform law which will meet all the requirements in respect of such an important matter as divorce. Whilst the Attorney-General might have had the best of intentions in his presentation of this bill to the Parliament, he has destroyed any goodwill he might have created by endeavouring to stampede the bill through the Parliament without due and full consideration of all its implications. It is for that reason, Mr. Speaker, that 1 intend at this stage to -support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) and subsequently to vote against the second reading of the bill if the amendment is defeated.

The bill contains 116 clauses. As the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) said the other night, it was presented to this Parliament as the acme of perfection in divorce law. Yet, not very long after its introduction, we find that 56 amendments to it have been submitted to the Parliament by the Government. They relate to a bill which, we were told, was the acme of legal perfection! Surely that fact in itself is an indication that the Attorney-General, however great his talent may be, has erred in trying to persuade the Parliament to accept this measure without the most comprehensive and far-reaching national inquiry.

Private members have also proposed moving a number of amendments to the bill, which means that the final number of amendments will be far in excess of the 56 that I mentioned. No matter how members of this Parliament may vote, they must have serious misgivings about the legislation unless some form of committee is established to make a full inquiry into all the implications of it. In Great Britain, which is by general consent, the model of parliamentary democracy for all the world, and where democracy has become the symbol of the national life, such a divorce measure was not rushed through the House of Commons. Instead, the British Parliament appointed a royal commission which took almost five years to complete its hearing of evidence and its deliberations. The British Parliament obviously does not believe in rushing far-reaching legislation through the Parliament without full and proper prior consideration having been given to it. The divorce lawyers have decided that we in this Parliament shall be asked to vote on this measure without having the benefit of a full inquiry into all its implications. Eminent as these gentlemen may be, I do not accept them as the final authority on divorce or on a measure that will amend, at the same time as it unifies, the divorce laws operating in Australia.

Much has been said about clause 27 (m). There are great differences of opinion about this provision of the measure. There are also great differences of opinion about whether lunacy should be a legal ground for divorce in this unified divorce law. If it is in order to accept lunacy as a basis for a divorce action, why should not a married person be able to divorce a spouse who has contracted cancer, or has become blind? Such matters cannot be discussed hurriedly. They require full inquiry. The hurried approach of the Attorney-General, with all his great knowledge of the law, is something that I did not think he would be guilty of in this Parliament, and something that I do not think the people will readily countenance.

As a matter of fact, I do not think the amendment moved by the honorable member for Macquarie goes far enough. If I had preceded him in this debate, and provided that the Standing Orders did not prevent me from doing so, I would have moved for the legislation to be referred to a royal commission to inquire into its implications and to present a report to the Parliament before the legislation was brought before us for a decision on it. I have made inquiries and I find that in view of the amendment moved by the honorable member for Macquarie, the Standing Orders would not permit me to move, at this stage, the amendment I have outlined. However, I now formally advise the House that in the event of the amendment seeking reference of the bill to a select committee - for which I shall vote - being carried, I shall, if the Standing Orders allow me to do so, move as follows: -

That all words after " that " be omitted with a view to inserting in their place the words - "The House declines to give the bill a second reading until the proposals have been considered by a royal commission to be appointed for that purpose ".

I personally do not think that a select committee of this Parliament would have a wide enough scope to inquire into all the ramifications of this legislation. However, the fact that the honorable member for Macquarie has moved the amendment for the appointment of a select committee ro inquire into the measure leaves me no alternative but to vote for it. I think, though, that the widest possible inquiry is necessary, and to this end a royal commission should be appointed. I do not suggest that one judge sitting alone should make the inquiry. What would be wrong with the appointment of a royal commission, like that appointed in Great Britain, which was probably one of the most extensive ever set up? Why should we not have in this country judges and representatives of the churches, of women's organizations and family guidance organizations, sitting as a royal commission to inquire into this important measure? I hear the usual grumbles from the Country Party, who have no consideration at all for any of those great national problems. This is a bill, no matter what the Country Party may say, which far transcends party politics. That is evident from the fact that the vote on the measure is said to be a free vote. Each and every one of us may make his own decision on the bill, and the corporate decision of all of us will have far-reaching effects in this country. It will affect the lives of men, women and children all over Australia. So the measure obviously should not be rushed through.

I have heard it said - I do not know whether it is true and I hope it is not true - that certain members of the Government are canvassing other honorable members to make sure that the AttorneyGeneral's point of view will prevail. I hope that this will not be tolerated, and that the vote, when it is taken, will be really a free vote. Such tactics should not hr used in this Parliament, especially in relation to such an important and far-reaching measure. I can tell the House that I have not been stampeded by churches or anybody else on this matter. There has been no organized approach from outside to honorable members on this measure, as there was in other cases. When the banking legislation was before this Parliament I received more than 30,000 letters about it. On this issue I suppose I have received only a few communications from churches and some organizations. So it might be said that the people at large are accepting this measure as something which requires mature skill and judgment. I think thai the Attorney-General -has done a disservice to himself, to this Parliament and, undoubtedly, to democracy by endeavouring to rush the measure through.

I summarize my views by saying that 1 will support, by my vote, the amendment moved by the honorable member for Macquarie. If that is carried, I shall consider moving the amendment I outlined a few minutes ago. I shall vote against the second-reading of the measure until such time as a royal commission or select committee has been appointed in order to inquire into every clause of the bill, because I believe that its ramifications and effects will be so great that it should not be put through this Parliament except after the fullest inquiry. Only after the fullest inquiry on the widest possible scale can we justify altering and bringing uniformity to laws which have been responsibly carried out, especially when the unifying legislation, which we were told was the acme of perfection, has already been the subject of 56 amendments.

I have expressed my view on this bill, Mr. Speaker, because I think that it is important that my electors shall know how I shall vote and understand my reasons for so voting.







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