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Wednesday, 23 May 1973
Page: 2511


Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Opposition supports this Bill. At present, the age at which persons may marry without the consent of their parents is 21 years. This Bill will reduce it to 18 years of age. Of course, at present, people below the age of 21 years can marry with the consent of their parents. They can, of course, marry without the consent of their parents, but under the present law. they must go to a magistrate. If they make out a case then, notwithstanding the opposition of their parents, the magistrate may give his consent and they can marry. This Bill will remove the necessity for the magistrate's consent during that period between 18 years of age and 21 years of age.

We believe that this change is in accordance with modern trends and the greater degree of education which young people have in our present modern community. Indeed the movement towards the reduction of the age of majority has been a steady one in a number of fields. For some time people under the age of 21 could not make a binding contract but now, in some States of the Commonwealth, people below the age of 21 but above the age of 18 can contract and be bound by their contracts. Certainly, for some time in the Australian Capital Territory, people under the age of 21 have been able to borrow on mortgage for home building. At one time, people could not make a will until they were 21 years of age except in the odd case where they happened to be on military service. This now has changed and in some States, people over the age of 18 can make a will. People over the age of 18 now may go and drink in a public bar and drive a motor car. At the age of 18, a person expects that he may be called on to take up arms and defend his country or undertake commitments of service which a nation has entered into in the interests of world peace. We have recently passed in this House a Bill to permit persons to vote at the age of 18.

It may be said that the position concerning the age of marriage is in a different category from these other provisions. However, I think the trend has been such that it is proper at this time to reduce the age at which consent is required from 21 years to 18 years of age. We have the authority of the Latey report in England to which the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Enderby) referred in the remarks which he has just made. I should like to quote from paragraph 165 of that report which states:

We have concluded on every ground that it is not wise to demand parental consent to marriage past the age of 18. We can only end by saying that this is not because we think parents should never discourage their children's marriages but because this is not the way to do it; not because we think well of marriages made in defiance of parents but because we think the law now contributes to the defiance, not because the family is too weak to use this weapon but because it is strong enough to do without it.

I should perhaps say, because I believe there are some in the community who will regard this Bill perhaps as loosening some family or parental influences which they consider should be maintained, that the Latey Commission gave very careful consideration to these matters. In paragraphs 104 to 106 the Commission refers to those considerations and perhaps I could make brief reference to 2 matters. The report states:

There have been 2 solid arguments put forward for keeping the requirement of parental consent up to 21. Both have a lot to be said for them.

The first is that this requirement of the law does stop a great many unwise marriages from taking place. However as we have already shown, we believe that when this happens (and we have no doubt it often does) it is the force of parental persuasion that does the trick, not the stick which the sanction of the law puts into the parent's hand.

The second, and a deeply disturbing one, is that removing the requirement of parental consent would have the effect of undermining parental authority still further; and even of encouraging bad parents to wash their hands of their children at the first signs of teenage trouble. We all firmly believe in the importance of the family and the last thing we would want to do is to pull the rug from under it; but after much thought we have come to the conclusion that this argument does not stand up. Good parents do not cease to be such when the sun rises on a 21st birthday; indeed their continuing care and concern is confidently gambled upon by the government when it requires a financial contribution to a child's further and further education even up to the age of 25.

We believe that in this field at least the law is useless as a strengthener of family ties, and indeed by the friction it causes between the generations may well help to wear them through. 1 think most honourable members have experienced this type of case in their constituencies. They have seen the family strain which occurs when there is parental opposition and children have to go before a magistrate to get consent to marry in defiance of their parent's wishes. In many cases the parents then do not attend the marriage ceremony. One often has the feeling that if this requirement of going before a magistrate had not intervened the parents ultimately would have become reconciled and attended the marriage, especially if the matters that could properly have been put before a magistrate were sufficient to justify his approving the marriage. The Opposition supports the Bill.







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