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Thursday, 19 November 1959


Mr STEWART (Lang) .- This debate is rapidly drawing to a close, and at this point I want to offer my congratulations to the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) and to honorable members who took part in the debate. It was an excellent debate. Some of the arguments that were used indicated that a great amount of research had been made into the bill not only by those who supported it but also by those who were opposed to some aspects of it. It was a non-party bill and on occasions we found that there was a great divergence of opinion among members of our own particular party. The bill was made a nonparty bill by all parties in the House because it was felt that there was a wide divergence of opinion on it, that there were religious differences and differences of approach to the subject of divorce. That being the case, we came here as private individuals permitted by our parties to express our points of view on the subject of matrimonial causes.

In this morning's " Daily Telegraph " there is an editorial written by a person unseen, unknown and unnamed. That editorial is misleading, snide and biased. It seeks to cast aspersions on a minority opinion in this House in respect of a matter that was considered to be a non-party issue by all parties. In addition to casting aspersions on a mere sixteen members, the editorial casts aspersions on two of the Churches in this Commonwealth. It is a misleading editorial. On the one hand it states -

Such a large majority for the second reading indicates that no matter what their religious views might be and no matter what pressures may have been put to them by the clerics of the faith in which they believe, these members of Parliament treated the subject as Sh- Garfield Barwick wished them to.

I have received two official communications, one from the Primate of Australia on behalf of the bishops of the Church of England, and the other - a printed document - entitled " An Analysis of the Matrimonial Causes Bill by the National Catholic Welfare Committee ".


Mr Reynolds - All honorable members received them.


Mr STEWART - I have studied both those documents and in neither of them is any pressure applied on any members of this House. Let me read the covering letter that came from the Primate of Australia. It stated -

I have been asked by the Bishops of the Church of England in Australia to forward you the enclosed memorandum containing the resolution passed at our conference last week.

The memorandum states the views of the bishops. In the analysis of the bill which was published by the National Catholic Welfare Committee - an analysis which is most temperate in its wording, mild in its criticism and generous in its praise of some clauses of the bill - the following statement, which I shall read in its entirety, appears on page 21 under the heading, "Matter of Conscience " -

The merits of these and other proposed grounds of divorce will have to be weighed very carefully by Federal members in the present parliamentary session. One practical criterion, by which their desirability might be evaluated, could be an assessment of how far they assist or retard the declared " paramount endeavour of the bill to maintain marriage and protect the family ". Very wisely the Government is leaving its members free to vote on this measure according to their conscience and it may be that the Opposition will adopt the same course. Such an attitude suggests a recognition by the Government that many members regard civil divorce as a moral evil, something forbidden by the law of God. In moral matters, conscience, not party, must be a man's guide. Conscience will direct a man to oppose either the establishment or the extension of any moral evil in the community and if, in a particular case, the only choice presented to him is between two evils, he must choose the lesser. As has already been indicated, members are not being asked to vote in this bill on whether they believe there should be divorce laws in Australia or not. Neither are they required to indicate their preference for divorce laws as they exist in one State compared with some other. Their task is to make up their minds about this bill as it has been presented, both in its various parts and taken as a whole. Naturally, they will compare carefully the Commonwealth proposals with the existing State provisions, which will be superseded if the bill is passed. It may be anticipated that those who view divorce as a moral evil will oppose any extension of it either in the State in which they live or in the Commonwealth as a whole.

If any one can suggest to me that pressure was applied on any section of this Parliament in either of the documents to which I have referred, he certainly is able to extend his imagination as far as has the writer of this misleading and contemptuous editorial has done.

In numerous editorials that appeared in practically every newspaper in Australia we were told that this bill was a good one and that it should be supported. Time and time again honorable members receive communications from chambers of manufactures, chambers of commerce, private banks or from some other pressure group in the community, but rarely do any of the newspapers say that the pressure that is being exerted on honorable members by those organizations should be disregarded. I say quite emphatically that no church dignitary, from the highest to the lowest, approached me and suggested that I should either oppose or support any clause of this bill. I am sure that the same may be said of most honorable members. If any pressure has been applied, it has come from within the House and from the newspapers outside the House. I know that at this time last week the Attorney-General believed that certain clauses of the bill perhaps would have to be deleted, but pressures were exerted in certain quarters. However, I do not wish to open that aspect. When the vote was taken eventually, 84 honorable members supported the bill and sixteen opposed it. The editorial to which I have referred states -

The 84 members of the House of Representatives who passed the uniform divorce bill for its second reading ago Inst a No vote of sixteen deserve to be commended for sticking to their guns.

Is it easier. Mr. Speaker, to vote with 84 or to vote with sixteen? Is it easier to vote with the majority or to vote with the minority? Since T have been in this place mv political career seems to have followed the line of sticking to the minority, and T stuck with the minority on this occasion on a matter of principle.

I am a member of the Australian Labour Party which is in Opposition. We see our amendments to bills defeated continuously because we lack the numbers to carry them.

Again, I am with the minority. I believe in the principles of the Australian Labour Party; I believe in the policy of the Australian Labour Party, and I am prepared to accept and stick to those principles and to that policy irrespective of whether the majority or the minority adopts the same course as I do. The same may be said of the bill that we have been debating. I stuck to my opinions because I believed that my conscience directed me to do so and that my attitude was the correct attitude to take. I stuck to my principles despite the fact that, as the debate proceeded, I could see honorable members, who had indicated earlier in the proceedings that they would oppose this clause or that clause, drifting away from those who would constitute the minority.

I had no relish for this debate because I knew that I would be opposed to the AttorneyGeneral, one of the greatest constitutional lawyers in this country; to the honor-, able member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske), who is an authority on divorce; and to the right honorable the Leader of the Opposi-tion (Dr. Evatt), and last Friday the indica-tions were that the Prime Minister (Mr, Menzies) would also support the legislation. For me, a humble back-bencher, to dare to line up against those honorable gentlemen gave me no happiness at all because I knew that the views that I intended to express would have opposed to them the weight of education, experience and ability.

I congratulate the Attorney-General on the bill that we shall pass through this House. He, his departmental officers and other honorable members, particularly the honorable member for Balaclava, have devoted a great deal of time to it. The Attorney-General holds out high hopes torthe bill. I sincerely trust that his high hopes, and the high hopes of other members of Parliament, will bear fruit and that this legislation when it is placed on the statute-, book of the Commonwealth will be of bene-, fit to the people of Australia.







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