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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1955

Mr CADMAN(6.02) —I move:

(3) Page 7, after clause 7, insert the following new clause:

Insertion of new section 15A

''7A. After section 15 of the Principal Act the following section is inserted:

Notice of separation

'15A. (1) A party to a marriage who is living separately and apart from the other party to the marriage may file in the Family Court or in the Family Court of a State a notice stating that the parties to the marriage have separated and are living separately and apart.

'(2) Where a notice is filed under sub-section (1) by a party to a marriage and where there are dependent children, the Principal Director of Court Counselling of the Family Court or the person who administers the counselling facilities of the Family Court of that State, as the case may be, shall, not later than 14 days after the filing of the notice, cause to be served on each party to the marriage a notice requiring that party to attend at such respective times and places, and on such respective dates, as are specified in the notice-

(a) an interview with a marriage counsellor; and

(b) a conference with the other party to the marriage and that marriage counsellor,

for the purposes of-

(c) considering the legal, social and financial consequences of a dissolution of the marriage and, in particular, the effects of a dissolution of the marriage on any children of the marriage; and

(d) having regard to the consequences and effects referred to in paragraph (c), considering the possibility of a reconciliation.

'(3) Evidence of anything said or of any admission made at an interview or conference conducted pursuant to sub-section (2) is not admissible in any court (whether exercising federal jurisdiction or not) or in proceedings before a person authorized by a law of the Commonwealth or of a State or Territory, or by consent of parties, to hear evidence.'.''.

I first owe some explanation to the Committee, which was adverted to by the honourable member for Lowe (Mr Maher), in regard to this amendment. An amendment to clause 21 which interrelates with this amendment to insert proposed new clause 7A is at the moment being circulated to honourable members. The interrelationship is extremely important.

I have noticed with great interest the comments already made by the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock) and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen) in regard to the importance of the counselling procedures of the marriage law processes. No doubt that is true. I believe that at the time the Family Law Act was being debated by the House great store was set on the counselling processes that would apply following the passing of that legislation. Much to the disappointment of many members and the community at large that counselling process is not proceeding as it was orginally intended or as it was outlined it would proceed at that time. The counselling processes attached to the Family Court of Australia are basically designed to assist people in the dissolution processes. The counselling process advises individuals, either separately or together, on how they should proceed with the dissolution of their marriage in regard to the custody of children and settlement of property. It is not a reconciliation process whereas originally it was considered that it would be.

I read with interest the comments by the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans ) in the Senate when he admitted freely that the counselling processes as originally proposed are not the processes that take place today. My proposal, in fact, sets out that there should be a definite objective for counselling and that objective should be reconciliation. The amendment introduces this procedure by saying that on notification by either one of the parties that have separated there shall be a reconciliation counselling process. Honourable members will be aware, perhaps, of the amendment moved in this style by Senator Harradine in the other place. I have limited the processes put forward by Senator Harradine to include only those instances where there are dependent children within a marriage. I thought that the processes offered by Senator Harradine were interesting but the real stress, the real trauma of the dissolution of marriage is where children are involved.

If this Committee follows its intention, as stated this afternoon, of making this a true family law Bill honourable members will seek to strengthen the reconciliation processes and the regard that they have for families and children . I make a special plea in this instance for the 80 per cent of women who suffer badly by the dissolution of marriage-those women who are thrown on their own resources unexpectedly, who have custody of children and who are required to maintain the total family, often with the debts that have been left by a husband who has no regard for them or his children. In my experience roughly 20 per cent of husbands gain custody and they too need support. For 10 years now I have been listening to stories from people in trauma through the dissolution of marriage. They are in the processes of divorce. In practically every instance they say: ' If only we had known that it would be like this. If only we had known there would be so much hate, so much bitterness, so much seeking to drag the other individual down, we would not have entered into the process of divorce'. That is the statement of individual after individual. This amendment is, in fact, a plea on behalf of those children who are so dramatically and disastrously affected by the processes of divorce.

In the amendment the process of counselling is required to take place between individuals and a marriage guidance counsellor, both separately and then together. That process must take place within 14 days of the notice of separation. From the day that notice of separation is given the process of 12 months separation begins if the marriage is not reconciled. So we have a definite starting point of separation and the provisions of no fault divorce, the 12-months separation process, come into force. Therefore, we have a definite effort right at the beginning, at the vital and critical time of a separation, as early as legally possible, to have proper counselling processes brought to bear on the family, the children being the utmost consideration and the relationship between the husband and wife of the marriage being a further consideration of that counselling process. The amendment is not, as has been suggested by some speakers in the second reading debate, a proposal that, following reconciliation counselling the 12-months process should start. The proposal is to encourage people quickly to come together to a counsellor and seek to reconcile their differences.

Senator Evans has mounted the argument in the other place that under the current counselling procedures only one per cent of cases are successfully reconciled. I accept that but I know that experienced members of the House of Representatives will realise that the current counselling process is not for reconciliation; it is for the settlement of the processes of divorce. It is not related to bringing people together. Legal processes are already well in train by the time the current counselling processes begin. There is bitterness and hatred. In most instances the marriage has gone beyond redemption. The main thrust, the clear objective that we must drive towards, is to establish a reconciliation process in the separation period.

The amendment to clause 21 is indeed similar to those proposed by Senator Harradine. It lays out the conditions of what is to occur when the party or parties have filed a notice of separation. The amendment clearly spells out a period of not less than 12 months. It provides for special cases, when a cause can be pleaded for dissolution to take place in a period shorter than that which now occurs. So all the checks and provisions are there.

I would like to bring to the notice of the chamber the fact that the Bill we are debating imposes compulsory counselling on what are called new marriages. Young people who have been married for a period of two years are compelled, under this legislation, to come to a counsellor. I contend that it is far more important and far more relevant to the wellbeing of children when they are involved that their mother and father should be compelled to face that process of counselling for reconciliation. I am concerned, of course, for the young marriages, for those young people who separate within two years of marriage, but it is even more crucial that that reconciliation process begin and take place when children are involved. The dreadful stress, pain and hate that is engendered by the divorce process really only affects children. As I have said, in moving this amendment, I seek to assist women in particular. I regard it as imperative that, where there is no regard and support by a husband for his wife and family and where there is support or sympathy by a wife for her husband and children the husband and wife should be brought together to encourage them to make the marriage work.

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