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Wednesday, 22 March 1961

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) .- 1 am another who will be voting against my deputy leader, the honorable member for Werrima (Mr. Whitlam). 1 feel that this provision fixing the minimum age at eighteen for boys and sixteen for girls has been included in the bill only after a great deal of thought, investigation and comparison with the laws of other places. The State laws relating to marriageable ages provide an interesting study. For instance, the the Tasmanian law was amended in 1942 to provide minimum ages of eighteen for the boy and sixteen for the girl, and that law has applied since that date. In Western Australia, the law was amended in 1956 to provide for minimum ages of eighteen and sixteen respectively. The South Australian law was amended in 1957 to provide minimum ages of eighteen and sixteen. This bill agrees with the provisions of those three States. I understand that in the eastern States, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, there is no statutory provision governing the age at which boys and girls may marry, but the common law provides minimum ages of fourteen for boys and twelve for girls, provided both parties first obtain the consent of their parents. I understand that there have been marriages in Australia between boys of fourteen and girls of twelve. The AttorneyGeneral can correct me there if I am wrong. I thought that such marriages took place only in India and other parts of Asia, and I was surprised to learn that there had been so many of them in Australia. So I come clown on the side which supports clause 1 1 and favour minimum ages of eighteen for boys and sixteen for girls.

Daring my eight years as a minister of religion, I did find it necessary, for the sake of propriety, to marry girls of fifteen years of age. I do not remember ha /ing married any girl under that age. The youngest boy I married was seventeen years of age, and in each case the consent of both the parents and the registrar in Tasmania was necessary. These marriages were purely to legitimize the expected child. Clause 12 enables males of sixteen and females of fourteen years to be married with the consent of a judge or magistrate. The purpose of the amendment moved by my colleague, the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), is partly met. The judge or magistrate in such a case will gather all the relevant facts on the application to be married under the marriageable age and will be able to give a decision in favour of the application if he considers it to be right to do so.

For these reasons and because, as the father of three daughters, I believe that some sense of responsibility is called for in these matters, I will come down on the side of the provision in the bill. Mr. Chairman, if we should find in the next twelve months, or even in the next three or four years, with changes that take place in the social life of the community, thai eighteen years and sixteen years are too high, there would be no reason why an amendment to the provision could r.ot be presented and passed by the Parliament. This whole bill now before us can be amended in any or every respect if this Parliament so decides.

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