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Thursday, 19 November 1959

Mr REYNOLDS (Barton) .- I wish to say only a few words. First, I wish to express profound regret that the proceedings of this chamber were not broadcast yesterday. I think it is a most unfortunate situation that apparently the procedure governing the broadcast of proceedings of the Parliament is so inflexible that it cannot be varied to provide for an occasion when a matter of great public interest and great public moment is being discussed in one or other chamber. I read in various newspapers this morning complaints from the public about the fact that yesterday's debate in this chamber was not on the air. This is a democratic parliament in which we are trying to represent the democratic wishes of the people at large. There should be an inter-communication going on between the Parliament and the people and, just as I maintain that it was quite in order, and very proper, that the Churches and other responsible organizations in the community should be able to make their views on this measure known to their representatives in Parliament, so I believe that it should have been possible throughout yesterday's debate for people in the community, with a high degree of responsibility comparable to our own, to know the kind of arguments that were used when we were putting through the provisions that we have put through.

The CHAIRMAN - I remind the honorable gentleman that in any event the broadcast of proceedings ceases at 11.30 p.m.

Mr REYNOLDS - That is true, but there was considerable debate before that time. However, I leave the matter by repeating that there is a necessity for intercommunication between the people at large and their representatives in Parliament. That is the essence of a democratic parliament, and I do not think that any of us would want to discourage in any way the right of sections of the community, no matter who they may be, to put their views to their representatives here, and to be able to know, wherever it is physically possible, the views expressed in Parliament during the debate on such an important measure as this.

We have had quoted in this chamber the profound experience, the thorough research and discussion attaching to the British Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce. That royal commission did not meet for a month or for a few days or anything of that sort. Its taking of evidence and its deliberations, its extensive research into this important matter, went on for four years. That does not mean, of course, that we have to be subservient to that royal commission. We have our own particular situation in this country, and our own social and religious attitudes to consider. Nevertheless, we could, and can, learn from all the sources of intellectual inquiry used by that royal commission.

It does seem to me that some useful purpose could be served by this amendment. I have a profound regard for the overwhelming democratic wish of this Parliament, which demonstrated last night, in very substantial numbers, its attitude towards clause 27 (m). But no one can say that because we made a certain decision last night, that decision may not come under review on a subsequent occasion. Perhaps this is too early a time to make such a review, but it occurs to me that what is being put before us now is a much finer and more precise qualification of clause 27 (m) than anything that was mentioned to us in our discussions last night.

At this stage I do not feel inclined to accept the amendment, but I realize that I am leaving it to the courts to interpret what constitutes public interest and what would be harsh and oppressive to an innocent party. We are depending on the courts, and I hope the Attorney-General will recognize that fact. I am wondering what will be the position of, say, an innocent wife, in a case in which a petition is brought by a husband who has been separated from her for five years. What will be her position if the husband has vast financial resources and is able to brief highly qualified legal counsel, while she, being in much poorer circumstances, is not in a position to contest the matter in the courts? We are assuming, I remind honorable members, that this woman is innocent. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) said that if there is a quarrel there must be two parties to it. I am not so sure that this is always true. It might well be that a husband could desert a wife because his own appetites were not being continually satisfied according to his requirements, and, instead of being tolerant in the matter and recognizing that the relationship between them was a partnership, he might decide, " If I cannot get my own way in this matter I will give it away ", and he might then move out of the partnership. I can quite easily conceive of a situation such as that, in which the partner could be almost perfectly innocent.

I suppose my whole outlook on thismatter has been conditioned to some extent by my religious affiliations, by my social allegiances in the community, by the education I have had, by all the things that havemade me what I am; but I do not think I am influenced unduly by church allegiances, in my consideration of this matter. I am trying to look at the position, as theAttorneyGeneral invited us to do, in termsof the most social good. I might have certain views on the dissolubility or otherwiseof marriage, but I am trying to assume- that marriage is dissoluble, and to ask myself what is the best course for the greatest social good of the community. One of the great social benefits for the community will be the preservation of respect for marriage as a permanent institution. Therefore we must consider every one of the provisions of the bill, and also every attempt that is made to qualify those provisions. What can we do, on the one hand to preserve public respect and reverence for marriage as a permanent institution, and on the other hand to provide, as we have a Christian duty to do, an opportunity for persons who are at present living in misery, and might otherwise continue to do so for the rest of their lives, to improve their lot and to form happy and harmonious marriages? That is the kind of dilemma with which I have been faced throughout this debate. While we must try to maintain public respect for the institution of marriage, we must also remember that the unfortunate people concerned have only one life to live, and they should be given opportunities to make that life as full and substantial as possible.

In the circumstances, without, I hope, laying myself open to an accusation of inconsistency, I think I am prepared at this stage to place reliance on the courts, hoping that they will have proper regard to the social mores of the community. I believe that the public has a high regard for and a keen interest in the maintenance of the institution of marriage, and I think I must give the Attorney-General and this Parliament credit for the same kind of feelings. I hope those ideals will be communicated to the courts in their interpretation of these vital provisions regarding harsh and oppressive results, on the one hand, and the public interest on the other.

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