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Transcript of interview (extract) with Trevor Sutton: T.V. -6: 22 June 1978: Family law



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116

Q. I mean on the Barrier Reef? .

A. No. '

' i

Canberra,

22nd June, 19.78 .

26/78

* * * * *

FAMILY LAW ' ,

The Attorney-General, Senator Peter Durack, Q.C.,

is interviewed by Mr Trevor Sutton of TVT-6.

. FAMILY LAW

Mr Sutton: Senator Durack, are the Family Law Courts

working satisfactorily?

Senator Durack: Well there is always room for

improvement in any institution. We are keeping the

Court under pretty close observation and we also have a

Family Law Council composed of experts who advise the

Government in relation to the working of the Court and

the Act. I am also proposing there shuld be a

Parliamentary committee set up later this year to

review the working of the Court and the Family Law Act.

Mr Sutton: Why are you going to set this up? Is it

because of problems you have had .... complaints that

you've had?

117

Senator Durack: Partly. But also because the Family Law

A ct, which was passed by the Parliament in 1975 and

came into operation on January 5, 1976, was a very

major social change. In many ways it was a social

experiment. I believe that now, after 2% years or what

will be at the end of this year 3 years of operation,

it is time the Parliament looked again at what it did

. in 1975. I do not want to be seen reflecting upon that

decision in any way as I was a strong supporter of the

» Family Law Act. I was very closely involved with the

Senate Committee which recommended it and I think it

was a major advance. But nevertheless I think it is

something that the Parliament should keep a close eye

on.

Mr Sutton: In the past 2 V Z years, have there been any

trends emerging. Have you seen any trends at all?

Senator Durack: Well, there was a rapid increase in the

rate of divorce in the first year of operation of the

* Family Law Act. There were over 65,000· divorce

applications in that year which was a dramatic increase

on what had occurred before. Last year, the

applications fell to something over 41,000 and this

year the rate of applications, at this stage of the

year, indicates that the divorce figures may be

slightly less again. It's a bit early to say just what

they will be, but it does seem as though the great

increase in 1976 was due to the fact that many people

were waiting for the Act to come into operation to take

advantage of the simple one year ground. They hadn't

wanted to go on the old grounds of adultery or cruelty

and so on.

'Λ · . . ' ■ . ' i

Mr Sutton: Do you believe there should be blame or

should it work the way it is at the moment?

118

Senator Durack: No, I believe in the concept of no

fault. As I said, I was a supporter of the Act and I

was convinced by the long inquiry of the Senate

Committee that the old concept of fault was only

creating added bitterness. It is a very difficult

situation. A breakup of a marriage is a great traumatic

experience for any two people and of course the

children. Many people are involved in many cases. So

all we can try to do is reduce the problems and reduce

the bitterness. I think the concept of no fault does

contribute to that. Also, the concept of the Family

Court being a 1 helping court1 also contributes to

reducing the bitterness. The provision of expert

counselling by a psychologist and social workers also

greatly assists in that regard. ,

Mr. Sutton: When we look at the Family Law Court, it's

a small court isn't it that sort of gets everybody down

to tors. In other words, there is only the Judge, the

parties and the legal counsel representing the two

parties in the court. Is this to make for a more

convivial kind of an atmosphere to try and help ease

the waves?

Senator Durack: Well, I would not use the word

convivial. Anybody who goes through that experience

would not use that word. But the idea of a 'helping

court' is a new concept of a court. Perhaps we

shouldn't have used the word 'court' because courts do

have a traditional flavour about them. Nevertheless

they have to administer the law as it is. They are not

just bodies which decide things on grounds of equity or

justice. They have to administer the law and so it is a

court in that sense. But it is designed to obtain an

air of informality. We have done away with wigs and

gowns and all those trappings and although I have not

practised in the court myself, the evidence I have and

the reports I have indicate it has succeeded in getting

away from the old formalities to a large extent. They

can't be eliminated altogether because you have two

people contending about very precious rights custody of

children in particular, property and maintenance and

things like that. The work of the court is really about

these issues. The actual divorce these days is easily

proved as the one year's separation is a simple matter

to establish with not much room for debate about it.

But the real issues are who is to have the custody of

the children and how is the property to be divided up.

These are the issues which cause dispute.

Hobart

26 June, 1978

27/78

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION LEGISLATION

The Attorney-General, Senator Peter Durack, Q.C.,

is interviewed by Frank Mills on

This Day .Tonight

Mr Mills: Senator Durack why do we in Australia need a

Freedom of Information Bill. ,

Senator Durack: Well the main point about the Freedom

of Information Bill is that for the first time in

Australia it will give people a legal right to have

access to documents in the possession of government.

That is a right given to everyone, no matter who they

are or what their position is. They do not have to give

any reasons for it. They just have a right given to

them.

Mr Mills: I would have thought that it's a right of