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Wednesday, 18 November 1959

Mr KILLEN (Moreton) .- I move-

After clause 17, insert the following new clause: - " 17a. A minister of religion (not being a marriage conciliator) is competent but not compellable in any proceedings before a court (whether exercising federal jurisdiction or not) or before a person authorized by a law of the Commonwealth or of a State or Territory of the Commonwealth to hear, receive and examine evidence, to disclose any admission or communication made to him in the course of or for the purpose of effecting marital reconciliation by parties to divorce proceedings.".

The intention that resides in this proposed new clause is comparable to the intention that resides in clause 12. I hope, Sir. that the committee will be indulgent enough to allow me to discuss the proposed new clause and clause 12 in relation to each other. There is, admittedly, a distinction between the two clauses. Before I deal with it, may I say that the proposed clause proceeds from the premise that a very great deal of marriage guidance work is done by ministers of religion who are not marriage guidance counsellors within the terms of the marriage guidance provisions of this bill. I do not think that is a premise that would be contested by any member of the committee. I think it will be freely acknowledged that ministers of religion of various faiths do a great deal of work in this field. Tn my own limited experience, as one who has had a fairly close and somewhat active association with the World Council of Churches, I have seen the sort of work that the representatives of the constituent members of that organization do and have done. My own rector does a great deal of work in this sphere, and I know that the Roman Catholic Church also does a great deal of work in this sphere.

I come now to the distinction, Sir. I have phrased the proposed new clause in these terms -

A minister of religion ... is competent but not compellable . . .

That, of course, provides a ready distinction from clause 12, which provides that a marriage guidance counsellor is not competent or compellable. In that case, a negative rests on both. In my proposal, a negative rests only on compellability. I am quite open to the views of the committee, Sir. I want to establish - and I hope that the committee will embrace - the sentiment contained in the proposed clause. Many ministers of religion who have not the time, or, possibly, are not in appropriate circumstances, to become involved in an organization which is a marriage guidance council, within the provisions of this bill, would be doing precisely the same sort of work as marriage guidance counsellors would be doing or would intend to do, and, in many instances, ministers of religion would be far more competent in some spheres - particularly a sphere that may bear down on spiritual considerations - to give a judgment or advice, or to render assistance.

There is nothing more that I can add. Sir. I feel that the committee will see quite clearly the intention of the proposed clause. I am quite agreeable to putting a negative on both competency and compellability, but the proposed new clause, as I have phrased it, leaves the matter to the good sense and the discretion of the minister of religion. I realize that, in respect of a quasi-statutory organization such as a marriage guidance council - I hope that description will not offend the AttorneyGeneral - it would be impossible to allow any element of discretion to exist. But I think that, in respect of a minister of religion, there should perhaps be a measure of discretion. It may be that a couple will go to a minister of religion, that he will try to sort out their problems for them and fail, and that both parties may desire that he be summoned to tell a court precisely what they discussed with him.

As I have said, Sir, I am agreeable to modifying the proposed new clause, but I hope that the committee will recognize the sentiment on which it rests, and accept the amendment.

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