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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1952

Mr RUDDOCK(5.42) —I regard the amendment proposed by honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman) as one which quite inaccurately describes many of the matters dealt with not only by this amending Bill but also by the Family Law Act 1975. In my view, the Family Law Act is not an inaccurate description, as suggested by the honourable member, but I acknowledge that it is an incomplete description. The reasons I suggest that it is an incomplete description are those outlined in paragraphs 3.25 and 3.26 of the report of the Joint Select Committee on the Family Law Act. Honourable members will recall that when I addressed the second reading of this Bill I mentioned the desire of that Committee to have the Marriage Act and the Family Law Act consolidated. The Committee was of the view that the consolidation of the Family Law Act and the Marriage Act would enable those considering matrimony to be better appraised of the responsibilities involved and the consequences of marriage breakdown. We suggested the highlighting of that by the consolidaton of those two statutes.

The honourable member for Mitchell has suggested that another title-the ' Dissolution of Marriage Act'-would be more appropriate for this law. I think it important that honourable members understand that the Family Law Act deals with far more than the dissolution of marriage. It deals with marriage counselling organisations. The honourable member for Mitchell was at pains to say that marriage counselling involves more than just counselling people for divorce, and with that I would agree. Marriage counselling by marriage guidance organisations involves counselling people in preparation for marriage and about situations that might arise during marriage and can mean counselling in pre-divorce situations. So, it would very much mislead people to call this Bill a Bill dealing with only the dissolution of marriage when an important part of its role is the funding and the recognition of marriage counselling organisations.

Sections 11, 12 and 13 of the Family Law Act, which the honourable member wants to rename, provide for grants to approved marriage counselling organisations, approval of marriage counselling organisations and reports and financial statements of approved marriage counselling organisations. Part III talks about counselling and reconciliation. Part III may well involve counselling to assist people to get through a very difficult divorce situation, but I certainly hope that it can be effective counselling for reconciliation; in other words, to maintain the family. I have always envisaged that as an important role of the court counselling organisations. I know that there is some criticism of that from time to time, but the very fact that it is envisaged in the Bill that there should be counselling not only in relation to divorce but also in relation to reconciliation, and the fact that there is provision for these counselling services, emphasise the positive role that counselling can fulfil in supporting the institution of marriage.

Of course, the Act deals with the dissolution and nullity of marriage. It deals with the jurisdiction of the court in matrimonial causes. It establishes the Family Court. I suppose the honourable member wants to rename the court as well. It also deals with the wider questions of the welfare and the custody of children and of maintenance and property. A very important extension of this legislation which I have supported, and which I assume the honourable member for Mitchell is supporting by supporting the second reading of the Bill, is that the Family Court will be able to be involved in the consideration of matters in relation to property before the problem questions of divorce arise. It is envisaged that the court will be able to deal with questions of children not only in a dissolution situation but also in a separation situation. To say that the legislation deals only with the dissolution of marriage would be to misrepresent it. The Family Law Act deals with appeals, procedure and evidence, recognition of decrees, enforcements, declarations and injunctions. Many situations in which declarations and injunctions are involved can arise before divorce or dissolution of marriage are even contemplated.

Finally, the Act deals with the establishment of the Institute of Family Studies, an organisation which, it was envisaged, would have a very important role in undertaking studies to assist this Parliament in a whole range of matters not only in relation to divorce but also in relation to matters affecting families. It would be unfortunate if the Family Law Act were renamed as the honourable member suggested. The preface of the Act describes it in this way:

An Act relating to Marriage and to Divorce and Matrimonial Causes and, in relation thereto, Parental Rights and the Custody and Guardianship of Infants, and certain other matters.

The suggestion that the Family Law Act be renamed is an endeavour, I suspect, to --

Mr Hodgman —To tell the truth.

Mr RUDDOCK —No, to bring the Act in a sense into disrepute by giving it a name which would suggest to people that it deals with only one aspect of family matters, that is, divorce. That would be most unfortunate. The court and its structures ought to be oriented-honourable members ought to be encouraging it to be so oriented-to strengthen marriage and families. To rename it would suggest that its function ought to be otherwise. One of the great criticisms that the Committee heard of the counselling services of the court was that they encourage people to sort out their affairs only in the context of a divorce and not with a view to reconciliation. It would be a grave disservice for honourable members to rename the Bill in such a way as to encourage the counselling service to operate in that way. The approach that was taken by the Joint Select Committee was far more appropriate, and that was to bring the Marriage Act into the Family Law Act which is a proper and legitimate extension of the areas with which the Family Law Act ought to deal. The Joint Select Committee strongly supported that recommendation. I have strongly supported that recommendation again today in my remarks.

Mr Cadman —Do you support my amendment?

Mr RUDDOCK —No. I encourage the Deputy Prime Minister, who represents the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans), to take this view to the Attorney and to put it strongly to him. I could not support the amendment that is proposed by my colleague the honourable member for Mitchell because at best he has described the name of the Family Law Act as being an incomplete description. The title ' Family Law Act' is not an inaccurate description of the Act as I see it.