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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1951

Mr CADMAN(5.31) —I move:

(1) Clause 1, page 1, line 5, omit ''Family Law'', substitute ''Marriage Dissolution''.

For some time honourable members of this House-and, indeed, during the original debate on this legislation-have expressed concern about the title, the 'Family Law Bill', because they felt that it was not, in fact, descriptive of the processes contained in it. Since the passage of the original Family Law Bill we have had the processes of the Family Law Act at work within our community. Debates in the Senate and in this chamber have indicated that the major concern of honourable members is not about a positive Act of parliament to assist families but about the processes of the dissolution of marriage and the way in which families cope with the dissolution of marriage in the way that is least disruptive and least stressful for them. It is therefore my proposal that the title of the Family Law Act be changed to the 'Dissolution of Marriage Act'. The amendment proposes such a measure.

One has only to read the introduction to the Family Law Amendment Bill 1983, which is before the House, to see that the measures contained in the Bill deal with the processes of counselling for those partners and children of a marriage facing dissolution. It deals with State welfare Acts and the welfare of children following the dissolution of marriage. It speaks of conciliation counselling much in the same way as does the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. That Act, in fact, is described by its title. I contend that this Bill and the original Act are not correctly described by their titles.

There has been a debate about the problems of marriage dissolution and I refer the Committee to other measures contained in the Bill that is before the House. The Bill deals with the jurisdiction of matrimonial causes. 'Matrimonial Causes' is, in fact, an old title for the divorce Act. Perhaps that is a closer description of what is contained in this Bill. Indeed, if one further examines the major sections of the Bill before the House one finds that they deal with the dissolution of marriage. Starting with clause 4, the interpretation of the processes, the development of legal arguments which will take place in the court , the guardianship and custody of children, the references to courts and to counsellors of courts and welfare officers all relate to the dissolution of marriage. In fact, that is the prime instrument that establishes this legislation. If it were not for the initiating factor of the dissolution of marriage we would not have this legislation. Therefore, to consider it as something that can be described as a family law is a complete misnomer. It is an inaccurate description of the legislation.

The legislation refers to the maintenance of the wife and children and the separation of property. The Family Court is required to make decisions as to how the property of a marriage can be separated so that the partners of the marriage justly gain their share. The enforcement of maintenance agreements is also covered in this legislation. It is all about enforcement, counselling and courts . It is not, in fact, about constructive measures to assist families. The Child Care Act is a social security Act. It works for the benefit of children. In fact , all the legislation this House passes has in its title a description of the major processes contained within it. That is not the case with the Bill being considered by the House; nor is it the case in the current Act. Both the legislation now before the Committee and the original Act deal with appeals to the Family Court, appeals to courts of summary jurisdiction and enforcement procedures to make sure that the dissolution of marriage is abided by by those participants involved in the dissolution process. Neither this Bill, which is some 65 pages long, nor the original Act, which is of about the same length, contains a single positive feature seeking to support the family. The processes contained in this Bill are, in fact, contingent on the dissolution of marriage. That is the prime factor.

Mr Ruddock —What about the funding of marriage guidance organisations?

Mr CADMAN —The honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock) speaks about the funding of marriage guidance organisations. It is my view that they are mechanisms within our society that have nothing whatsoever to do with this legislation in principle. Those organisations should be within the community, whether or not this legislation exists. The fact that this legislation creates problems and the need for counselling, for assurance, and for the strengthening of families, of course, is obvious. I put to the honourable member the view that , whether or not this legislation were in place and whether or not there are amendments to it, the processes of marriage guidance counselling in fact break into three parts. Firstly, there is the premarital phase of marriage guidance counselling, which is highly recommended by all of those involved in marriage guidance counselling. Secondly, there is the post-marriage phase. A couple establishes their family and their home and in that process the stresses and the interchanges that occur in every family necessitate some counselling. Only the third phase of family life comes within the ambit of this Bill. The third phase is reached when there is a dissolution of marriage or the threat of a dissolution of marriage. That is another time when counselling can and should be applied. So, indeed, there are more aspects of marriage guidance counselling than the simple aspect related to the Bill which is termed the 'Family Law Amendment Bill' or to the Act which is called the 'Family Law Act', but which, indeed, should be described as the 'Dissolution of Marriage Act'.

The Attorney-General of the day, Senator Murphy, tried a number of titles for the proposed legislation. He attempted to find a title that would fittingly describe the new measures that he sought to introduce. I will not debate the measures that he sought to introduce at that stage, but honourable members who were members of this place at that time will be well aware of the difficulties faced by every honourable member in making decisions on that legislation. I contend that to encourage a general aura of well-being and support, Senator Murphy, as he then was, chose a title which he felt would encourage honourable members to support his measures. He chose the title of the Family Law Bill. I contend that we have moved past that time and that we are now looking at these measures in a rational and well-informed light. We have had ten years experience of this legislation. We know how it works. We know exactly what it applies to and which aspects of marriage it applies to. It applies to the dissolution of marriage.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.