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Wednesday, 18 November 1959


Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) .- The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) has been most unfair in his criticism of the Attorney-General. It is quite undeserved. If the honorable member, despite his opposition to this paragraph, faced the facts, he would come to the conclusion that the Attorney-General has placed before this chamber an excellent bill, even though he may object to it in some minor detail. I support the entire bill because I think that it is an excellent piece of legislation.

The honorable member for Grayndler has said that the Attorney-General has cast slurs on the Churches. This is quite untrue. The Attorney-General has considered the requests of the Churches for amendments to the legislation. Of course, those requests did not emanate from all the Churches and they related only to specific matters. The Attorney-General, in refusing to accede to requests for amendments, has used a perfectly sound and proper argument. He has said that this Parliament is not a Parliament of clerics, and that we must deal with the matter as a human problem affecting the personal status of the individual. I hope that that is the way in which we shall deal with it, because each honorable member has a free vote. If the honorable member for Grayndler can convince a sufficient number of honorable members to support him - apparently he has failed to do so up to this stage - then this ground for divorce will be taken out of the bill and he will have his way. But the division in this chamber an hour or two ago did not seem to indicate that the honorable member has great persuasive powers.

In dealing with this ground of insanity the honorable member has failed to look at the fundamental humanity that is involved. He has said that because the ground has not been used in New South Wales, the Attorney-General should explain why. Surely the Attorney-General, no matter how capable he has shown himself to be over many years, is not responsible for the actions of the New South Wales Parliament over some 80 years. How could the Attorney-General of this Parliament explain why governments of New South Wales have failed to insert an insanity ground into the divorce law of that State although a ground providing for the the restitution of conjugal rights, restricted only to 21 days, has been included?

The whole point of the insanity provision is not only that the respondent must be in an institution, but also that proof must be brought to the court that he is unlikely to recover. As the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) has pointed out, the courts insist that the superintendent of the institution in which the respondent is detained must give evidence as to whether or not the patient is likely to recover. No harm will be wrought by this provision. No harm has been wrought in the five other States which include it in their law. This matter should be approached in a humanitarian way, and the spouse of a person who is detained in an institution should receive the utmost consideration.

Let me refer now to the period of twelve months which must elapse after the first action - I emphasize, " after the first action " - in a suit for restitution of conjugal rights. This is the only ground on which two actions are necessary. Everybody must realize that there is a great reluctance in the community to litigate; indeed, to-night there has been great criticism of the law as a profession. But honorable members should, on some occasions, feel sympathy towards the profession because, as I have said, there is a great reluctance to litigate. Nobody wants to take himself to court, put himself in the witness box and be subjected to crossexamination under oath. It is most embarrassing to any litigant. Further, nobody will seek, of his own free will, to litigate twice and to subject himself to embarrassment on two occasions when the probability is that he will achieve nothing, in terms of time, when compared with an action on the ground of desertion for two years.

I support both these paragraphs. I think that they are sound and should be retained in the bill.







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