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Thursday, 19 November 1959

Mr THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) . - Mr. Chairman, I am rather surprised at the attitude taken to-day by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). We dealt with this matter for three and one-half hours last night.

Mr Wentworth - That was a different matter altogether.

Mr THOMPSON - It is all very well for the honorable member to say that. The whole point is that he is trying to destroy what was done last night.

Mr Wentworth - Piffle.

Mr THOMPSON - There is no question about it. The honorable member is not prepared to take a test vote of the great majority of the members of the committee, who were agreeable to the inclusion in clause 27 of paragraph (m) - the separation provision. The Attorney-General, last night, explained that he was not going to allow something harsh and unconscionable to be held over the head of a respondent. He pointed out that if a petitioner for a divorce on the ground of separation for five years could be shown not to have played the game fairly and squarely by the other partner to the marriage the divorce would not be given. We were told all about that last night and all about the division of opinion among the members of the United Kingdom Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce. Of the royal commissioners who reported, nine supported the inclusion of separation for five years as a ground for divorce and ten were opposed to it. We talk about this being a responsible Parliament, Mr. Chairman. We say that we come here as responsible persons, but if all we do is to discuss what some other body in another place has said, what is the good of us being here? I claim that a majority view is not necessarily right as against a minority view. I have put in a minority report on some matters because I did not believe that the majority was right, and it has turned out in more cases than one that my minority report took the correct view. In matters such as this, I do not accept what the majority has said as being necessarily correct and as governing the rights of the people.

In my mind, there is no question that some honorable members have made up their minds what they are going to do. The honorable member for Mackellar has quoted what the bishops had to say. All I can say about that, in reply to the bishops, is that, while I am a member of Parliament, I shall act and vote as I feel a responsible person should act and vote in legislating in the best interests of the people as one of their representatives. I shall not be concerned with the views of some other body, regardless of the denomination it represents. I shall not allow my actions to be determined by some other body which says, " Because we as a body do not believe in this, you must not do it ". I acknowledge the right of the bishops to say that they do not believe in divorce on the ground of separation for five years and that they in their Church, do not recognize it. They have every right to take that view. But, in this place, Sir, we are not speaking from the stand-point of any Church or denomination. We are speaking as the representatives of the great body of the people.

Let me ask the bishops what is their attitude to people who go to a registry office to be married, instead of to a church, because they do not believe in church services for that purpose. Should not such people have an equal right with any one else to determine the matter in a civil manner instead of its being determined by a body of opinion of any particular Church? I do much honour to the men who undertake church work. I know what the various denominations do throughout my own district. I say, Mr. Chairman, that a considerable number of the members of this chamber would not for a moment accept the directions of such people in a lot of matters.

Some honorable members have said that this ground for divorce does not exist in New South Wales. They suggest that there are reasons why it has not been included in the law in that State. I ask those honorable members, " Why is that unholy thing, the one-armed bandit, as it is called, tolerated in New South Wales? ". Do the churches approve of it. Do the bishops approve of it, or do they come out and say to their followers, " Wipe out the onearmed bandit."? The one-armed bandit is doing more damage to our community than will be done by any of these divorce laws that we are talking about. It is ruining homes and disrupting the lives of the ordinary people, according to letters written by correspondents to the newspapers in New South Wales, to a greater degree than is anything else in the community.

If we are to accept the dictum of the churches in this matter of divorce, Sir, should we not accept their dictum when they come out on the subject of gambling and the like? The Reverend Gordon Powell has been quoted here as having said certain things. I know him personally. As a preacher and a Christian man, he is one of the finest persons one could find. But he does not stop at divorce alone. He condemns the liquor trade and what it is doing to the people. Do we then say, " Because Gordon Powell has condemned the liquor trade, we have to wipe it out."? We do not. Every one decides for himself what he should do in the matter. Therefore, in relation to this matter of divorce, I say, " For goodness' sake, let us forget for a while what has been said by some other body, whether it be a royal commission in another country, a group of church leaders or any other group ". Let us all do what we believe in our own consciences to be correct.

I believe, Sir, that, generally speaking, the great majority of the members of this chamber agree with this bill. Some honorable members are conscientious in objecting to it. I have no objection to them putting forward their views, and I claim the right to state my own views. We dealt with this matter very fully last night, and I feel that proposals like that made by the honorable member for Mackellar will just re-open the whole question and delay the passage of this measure, because every honorable member knows how he is going to vote. Therefore, I hope that we shall not have another long debate on this matter.

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