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Wednesday, 27 November 1974
Page: 2851

Senator CHANEY (Western Australia) - As a co-sponsor of the proposal put forward by Senator Durack I should like to take a little of the Committee's time. The reasons which I had for supporting the proposal I set out in my speech on the second reading stage of the Bill. I shall try not to canvass the same ground. I agree with those honourable senators who have spoken and who have suggested that this is a matter of subjective judgment. In fact that is a comment I made in my speech at the second reading stage. It appears to me that the subjective judgment which is being made by proponents of the oneyear period is a bolder judgment than the one which is being made by those of us who believe that that period is not adequate. What is being put forward is that a 12-month period of separation is adequate proof that a marriage has irretrievably broken down. If I may give a completely subjective view on the matter, my belief is that there would be marriages where a separation for up to 12 months would occur and in fact there was not irretrievable breakdown. When one takes into account the provisions of clause 29, which have just been referred to by Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson, then I would say that if the period of 12 months is accepted there would be occasions when a marriage with some hope for reconciliation might be brought to an end. So since there are doubts in my mind, I find it necessary to support this amendment. I am fortified by the fact that other people in the community have expressed the same view. I was very encouraged one day when I got 72 letters all of which expressed that view or a view I think in favour of mine but unfortunately I got them all on the one day and nothing subsequently so I suspect they did not show any -

Senator Poyser - They were organised.

Senator CHANEY - Well, they were not as much help to me as perhaps more sporadic correspondence might have been.

I should like to refer to some considered opinions that were made available to honourable senators prior to this debate coming on. I refer to an address given by the Rev. Alan Walker in Sydney on 20 October in which he expressed a number of reservations on the Bill. He said:

.   . the period of one year of separation is not long enough. The former Act prescribed live years of separation which is too long.

He went on to say:

Therefore the period of effective separation should be extended to two years.

The Rev. Alan Walker is a clergyman not of my faith but he is a man who, I understand, has always shown an active interest in social issues and his opinion is worth some consideration. 1 was further fortified by the views of the Bishop of Wangaratta, the Right Reverend K. Rayner, who 1 understand is an Anglican bishop. He wrote in terms which were generally complimentary of the Bill on my reading of his letter. He said in a letter which was addressed to the Attorney-General- he forwarded a copy to the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Snedden- in the third paragraph:

I would myself accept the irretrievable break-down of marriage as the basis for divorce legislation, but I am not convinced that the mere fact of twelve months separation in itself is sufficient evidence that a marriage has irretrievably broken down.

He went on in that letter to support the proposal of the minority, namely Senator Durack and myself, to increase the period of separation to 2 years. Another Anglican view put forward to the Standing Committee was that of the Archbishop of Melbourne, the Primate of the Church of England in Australia, Frank Woods. In his submission to the Committee he said: . . I think nearly all Anglicans would agree wilh the tenor of the English Report called 'Putting Asunder', which believes thai State Courts should be no more than formal inquiries as to whether a marriage has irretrievably broken down or nol. In this connection T fmd that many Anglicans have difficulty in accepting that twelve months is an adequate period of separation other than in cases of total abandonment.

Those admittedly subjective views which fit in with my own have encouraged me to support this amendment. I would suggest that since 2 years has been the period of separation required in desertion cases to date- and that ground, I think, is one which has been considerably availed of lately- if we do introduce a period of 2 years we can do so confident that we are not introducing some really radical change which might have the sort of effects which have been dreaded by some of the honourable senators who have been opposed to this Bill.

I refer very briefly to the results of polls that both the Attorney-General and Senator Missen have mentioned. I have only the detailed figures for the poll which was taken last year and which similarly showed considerable support for allowing divorce after a separation of 12 months. I draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that the question asked in that poll- I am specifically referring to last year's poll- was not really relevant to clause 26 because the question was phrased as follows: 'If a husband and wife tell the court their marriage has broken down, should a divorce be granted or not?' The question presupposes that the parties are in agreement that the marriage has broken down. 1 would suggest that the results of that poll are more relevant to the amendment which has been put forward by Senator Baume and which has yet to be considered by the Senate because what those figures show is that in a consensual situation where the husband and wife agree that the marriage has broken down -

Senator Missen - It would not be a question of a consensus, surely.

Senator CHANEY - It requires both the husband and wife to tell the court that the marriage has broken down. That is what the question specifically says. In my view that poll is of no great assistance in a -discussion on the ground which one party alone may bring forward over the objections of the other party. My support is for a period of separation for 2 years. I would suggest to the Committee that we cannot be certain that the period of one year is an adequate period to show irretrievable breakdown. The fact of the matter is that for any number of reasons a marriage may go through a period of stress and that period of stress may be considerable. I think that in the consideration of this clause we ought to give marriages benefit of the doubt.

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