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Wednesday, 18 November 1959

Mr DALY (Grayndler) .- I compliment the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) on his excellent statement on the paragraph dealing with divorce on the ground of insanity. As the honorable member pointed out, there are numerous ailments that may cause a spouse to be bedridden for life. In such cases the husband or wife must accept that disability and all the inconvenience that goes with it and he or she has no means whatever of obtaining a divorce.

Looking at the question logically, why should mental illness be picked out as a reason for a person to secure a release from marriage? It is just another form of illness - a more serious and damaging one possibly, but many people whose husbands or wives are seriously incapacitated without being mentally ill undoubtedly suffer the same inconvenience. Scant consideration is given under this paragraph to persons in a mental asylum. They belong to no part of the community but the institution which they are in. Two people may marry in all good faith and remain married for twenty or 30 years. Then, one of them, perhaps for the reason mentioned by the honorable member for Watson, may suddenly become mentally unbalanced and be put in an asylum. The other party, under a provision of this bill which also applies in some States, then has grounds for divorce.

What is the difference between this situation and a situation in which one party to a marriage is afflicted by blindness? If you are going to make mental illness a ground for divorce, why not blindness? I can understand members of the Australian Country Party who are interjecting being interested in this clause, because probably a few of them will come within its scope. But the fact is that in New South Wales this ground of divorce does not apply and I cannot see why it should be made general throughout the country. Now it is to be applied to every State in the Commonwealth, discriminating against one badly afflicted section of society because of one particular illness which could affect any person, for various reasons and at various stages of life. To my mind, this is something which cannot be justified.

The fact that other States and countries have such a law is no justification for incorporating it in this uniform law for Australia. I should like the Attorney-General to reconsider this paragraph because 1 believe it is objectionable to a large section of the people. No matter what other grounds may be advanced, I have yet to hear, either in this Parliament or anywhere else, sound reasons given as to why mental illness is picked out as a ground for divorce and other illnesses are excluded.

This will affect the ex-serviceman. Like many other honorable members I have frequently visited institutions where exservicemen of all ages are patients. Because of war service some have suffered certain mental unbalance. Under this paragraph their wives may obtain a divorce for no other reason than that their husbands are mentally ill. It does not matter what kind of husbands they have been; some might have been perfect; but they suddenly find that they could be divorced just as a criminal can be divorced by his wife. Although those are two different categories they present a ground for divorce.

I do not know how any government or any individual can justify this paragraph and I hope that the Attorney-General will explain to a big section of the community who object to it the reason for discriminating against a particular illness. Thousands of people in the community, unfortunately, suffer from cancer. If a provision of this kind is carried to its logical conclusion, any man or any woman either, at any age, who suddenly finds himself or herself afflicted with cancer, could be divorced by the other party. Yet cancer is only another form of illness. When parties to a marriage take their vows they promise to take each other " in sickness and in health, until death do us part ". When all is said and done there can be no justice, either Christian or material, in immediately dissolving a marriage simply because one of the parties, as a result of a break-down, is mentally ill. Before the paragraph is passed I should like to have a clear explanation of the reason for it. But I say to the Attorney-General that no matter what his reasons may be, I object to the provision and I will vote against it.

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