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Wednesday, 18 November 1959


Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) (1:00 AM) .If it is in order, Mr. Chairman, after the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) has moved his amendments, I would like to move the amendments that have been circulated.


The CHAIRMAN - That course will not be in order.


Mr BEAZLEY - Then I should like to oppose all the Minister's amendments. The Minister's change of tone in connexion with this clause has been interesting. When he was speaking about a woman who was deserted and who was going to take action against her husband who had deserted her, the picture we had of the woman then deserted was of Joan of Arc going out for her rights. But this woman who is deserted and is divorced after she is deserted by the aggressor in the desertion, may have sentimental scruples and religious scruples; she is quite a different person. But if we read, in connexion with these new grounds, clause 28, we see that the Minister has gone to great pains to make certain that the deserted party is innocent, because that clause provides -

A married person whose conduct constitutes just cause or excuse for the other party to the marriage to live separately or apart, and occasions that other party to live separately or apart, shall be deemed to have wilfully deserted that other party without just cause or excuse, notwithstanding that that person may not in fact have intended the conduct to occasion that other party to live separately Oi apart.

If this woman is a vixen, behaves badly to her husband and gives him good reason for leaving her, under this law she could be regarded as the deserter. Clause 27 (m) would not apply. But clause 27 (m), in conjunction with clause 28, makes certain that the person who is abandoned is entirely innocent, or at least it goes a long way towards doing that. That, I think, is a very important matter. The Minister has said that, after all, the courts cannot find out all the facts, and of course that is so, but the facts of which the court can take cognizance are the kind of things that would be established, whether clause 28 applied or whether it did not.

I think that a lot of exaggerated statements have been made during this debate. I thought that the statement of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) was exaggerated. I have never heard any one contending that, because this ground existed in Western Australia, adultery was taking place everywhere in that State. That is the effect of what the right honorable gentleman said, and I do not think that anybody is arguing about that. We are under an obligation to try to get a just ground. The Minister's graphs in relation to total population are not very impressive. I think that the most significant statistic is the number of divorces in relation to the number of marriages. That ratio is declining. A million new migrants have entered the Australian community. A very large number of them have come from southern Europe, which has different marriage customs from ours, much more stable marriages, and marriages that are not so largely based on mutual attraction of the parties. Many marriages there are arranged by the parents. Divorce is much less common that it is here. If, Sir, you bring in a million new migrants with no change in the divorce customs of the Australian people at all; if you bring in people with another set of values altogether, you are going to have a falsified statistic when you try to work out the number of divorces in relation to total population.

I do not think that the Minister rests very heavily on his graphs. But that is not the important point. The important point is still that a person who- has given no occasion to his or her spouse to leave can be divorced. The innocent party can bc divorced. We have seen that happen among acquaintances in Western Australia. What takes place is what I think the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) was suggesting. There may be a perfectly happy marriage. Then, a lady may appear on the horizon, and she may be very determined. The husband may have partly fallen for her. There is no reason why he should not leave the other party arid make a new liaison. If we are called upon to choose between the marriage and the liaison with the new attraction, according to this bill we should choose the liaison with the new attraction.

All sorts of things have been said about the respectability and the stability of the new attraction, lt is not so very long since a man of middle age, who was very high in English society, had a great heart affair. For various reasons, it could not come off. Within a year, we heard of another tremendous heart affair. The attraction that had been insuperable was got over, and there was an attraction to another person. Why is it that in the whole of the discussion that has been going on in this place there is an assumption that when you are choosing the new attraction, as against the marriage, there is something peculiarly stable about that, something which constitutes an unanswerable case for putting in a provision such as this? This is an interesting thing. It is a case of reversed initiative. You have chosen, on the question of desertion, to reverse the initiative, so that the one who is deserting can get rid of the other person. That is justified on the ground that the marriage is dead because of the fact of desertion. Why not. with equal logic, reverse the initiative on other grounds as well? It is quite possible to argue that, with adultery having been committed, the marriage is dead, and to allow the adulterer to divorce the innocent person. The same position could apply to habitual drunkenness and any other ground. If you can reverse the initiative and decide that the innocent party can be disposed of on one ground, it seems to me that there is equal logic in calling a marriage dead and reversing the initiative on other grounds as well. For that reason, 1 do not find that the measure, with all its amendments, is acceptable.

There is just one other thing I want to say in concluding. I think it is entirely to the credit of the Attorney-General tha: he obviously has tried to hedge this matter round with all kinds of safeguards, compared with the grounds of Western Australia, but I remind him that there must be some economic guarantee for the abandoned wife and her children. If the court insists on this, of course, the wageearner cannot invoke this ground because he cannot support the first wife and children and the others as well. To an extent, it has always been true that divorce is a wealthy mans hobby. On this ground, it also will be a wealthy man's hobby. 1 think we are going to get ourselves into a difficulty in reversing this initiative and in giving the guilty party the right to divorce the innocent party. I certainly cannot support the provision on that ground.







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