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Wednesday, 18 November 1959


Mr THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) . - I am rather sorry that the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) practically said that we were not Christians, that we were taking an animal view of this matter. I want to say to the honorable member that I do not give second place to him or to anybody else in this chamber with regard to Christianity. When the honorable member talks about Christianity he has to remember that quite a lot of the fixed opinions that are expressed on these matters of divorce are Church dogmas and not Christianity. Nobody can tell me that any Church can lay down what a person shall do or shall not do and that that will automatically become the word of God. I am a bit of a radical when it comes to Christianity and the dogmas of any denomination. I hold that the individual himself is responsible to God for what he does and not responsible to somebody else who tells him what he has to do. So I regret that speeches made here to-night have seemed to stress more the animal than the Christian nature of people.

Now I want to turn to the ground provided for in the paragraph. Some years ago it was proposed in the South Australian Parliament that lunacy should be a ground for divorce. At the time I was very concerned about the result. I was concerned whether there would be cases where people who were in asylums, and were divorced on this ground, would recover, and I wondered what the position would be then. However, I remind the honorable member for Macquarie that in the provision before us the respondent in such a divorce case would have to have been in an asylum for five years, and it would have to be shown to the court that there was no likelihood of recovery. In fact, I have never encountered one case in South Australia where a person divorced on this ground recovered from the mental condition which enabled the divorce to be granted. I found that the fears that I had entertained earlier were groundless. Some honorable members have said that they have never heard of people wanting a divorce on this ground. I knew of such cases before that South Australian law was passed.

On the reverse side, I have encountered cases which were the exact opposite of the kind of case that the honorable member for Macquarie fears will arise if we adopt this ground for divorce. I can remember one case vividly, which concerned people that I know remarkably well. The wife of a returned soldier, who himself suffered from a heart complaint as a result of his war service, was placed in an asylum. This couple had a young family - two girls and a boy. After some years that man obtained a divorce because of his wife's insanity. He had two daughters of about thirteen years and fifteen years of age respectively, and a boy of about ten years of age, who were not able to help him keep a home together. He was not a man of animal nature, but was a very fine type of man. When he re-married he set up a home with his new wife who looked after the daughters until they married, and looked after the boy until he grew up. She gave the children a home that their father could be proud of. Had it not been for the South Australian law which enabled that man to obtain a divorce on the ground of his wife's insanity, he would have had to continue year after year unable to give his children the kind of home he wanted to give them, and unable to bring them up in the way he wanted to. After his second marriage the man lived happily until, as an old soldier with a heart complaint, he dropped dead on a bowling green. When he was gone the two married daughters and the boy that he left behind still had the stepmother to whom they could turn in time of trouble. They were still a family. That was an actual experience in South Australia after this ground for divorce was enacted. I ask: Was it an unchristian act to enable those girls and that boy to be looked after by their father's second wife, who proved to be indeed a mother to them?

I agree with the honorable member for Macquarie that insanity is a sickness like other sicknesses, and I know of lots of cases like the one he mentioned where a husband made no move to divorce his wife on the ground of insanity, but looked after her as best he could. The honorable member mentioned the small number of divorces granted in the various States on this ground of insanity. I think that that shows again that, generally speaking, people do not look at the existence of this ground for divorce as an escape route from marriage, but regard it as a remedy for use in cases where it is much needed.

I intend to support the inclusion of this ground in the bill. I supported its inclusion in the South Australian law years ago, and after my experience in South Australia of the working of the provision in thai State I would feel that I was doing wrong if I did not support the provision here.







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