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Thursday, 19 November 1959

Mr WIGHT (Lilley) .- Like the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney), I feel that this is one of the most humane clauses in the bill. Anybody who has studied this clause - and I think every honorable member of the committee has - will agree that the more responsible of the Australian newspapers have in most instances confined themselves, in reporting divorce cases, to the publication of the very matters that this clause will permit to be published in the press. But there is also the exceptional case involving people of some prominence in the community of which even responsible newspapers seem to enjoy featuring in headlines the most salacious aspects. There is one very small section of the press - and thank the Lord it is a small section - which seems to try to increase its circulation by filling its columns with the more salacious details and headlining divorce proceedings which only people with depraved minds enjoy reading.

When we consider the way in which the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) has drafted this clause, it is hard to understand anybody with a Christian background opposing it. Whatever the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) might find in my remarks to object to, let me remind him, as the honorable member for Perth pointed out, that by the time a person goes to the divorce court, whether sinner or sinned against, he or she does so with great trepidation and possibly after years of suffering. There may be a family of young children going to school involved also. The parties go to the court because they have reached the very limit of endurance. They have found that life together is intolerable. Most responsible people will appreciate that their children are placed in a most invidious position, and that although the parents are going to be separated this may be possibly in the best interests of the children. But people who condemn this clause suggest that these parties should be subjected to the glare of publicity of the worst type of newspaper reporting. Whether the adults have sinned or have been sinned against, they will be hounded if there is anything in the divorce proceedings which will be detrimental to their character. Many will find that they are unable to continue living in the same district; and their children will not be able to continue at their schools because they will be the object of ridicule by their schoolmates. This clause will ensure that only the basic details of the divorce proceedings are published. The newspapers will not be given an opportunity to blacken or smear the characters of the parties and bring their children into ridicule and disgrace.

If there is one innocent party connected with divorce proceedings, it is the children; and if there is one responsiblity we have as members of Parliament considering this legislation, it is to ensure that these innocent victims - and they are the victims of circumstance - are adequately protected from ridicule by their friends or forced to move away to another environment in order to escape it. We should try to make certain that a woman whose husband has disgraced her will not be brought into ridicule because her friends and neighbours gossip about what he did. These things have to be taken into consideration for the sake of protecting the innocent parties. Again I congratulate the Attorney-General on this most humane clause. I thought that every honorable member would support it wholeheartedly, recognizing that in it was an element of protection for the good name of the children - those who should not suffer.

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