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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1961

Mr NEWMAN(6.37) —I interjected when the Minister for Trade (Mr Lionel Bowen) was speaking about the time. I did misunderstand what he was saying. It was said in the other place that the clock starts from the time that the certificate of separation is put in. That is true. I will just make a few more additional points. The Minister for Trade spoke to section 15 of the Family Law Act which does allow people to seek the assistance of a court in counselling facilities. The problem which I am sure the honourable member and other honourable members will recognise and which in fact has been put as some of the arguments against this very amendment, is that people are very suspicious of counselling. One of the parties-quite often both parties-will not be in it.

Since I received the amendments proposed by Senator Harradine in my office one party came to see me about problems with the Family Court of Australia. I discussed the Harradine amendment with that party. Unfortunately I have put this to only seven or eight couples. I have to admit the range is not great. It was only on Monday of this week that a wife came to see me. In this case the wife had been divorced for one month. It was a marriage of 18 years. It was a case of the husband finding a young lady with the inevitable result for the wife. Two children of 14 and 16 years of age were involved. When I spoke to her about the provisions of this amendment-as has been put to the House-she said if only that had been there, because if it had been compulsory she felt sure that it would have given an opportunity for both parties to have effected a reconciliation. I can point only to that one case. As to the points made by the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock) about the effectiveness of counselling, he had to admit that he does not know whether counselling will be effective.

Mr Ruddock —In particular cases.

Mr NEWMAN —In this particular case. It is interesting that the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) had to admit the same thing. In the debate in the other place he said:

There are some differences, of course, in the two proposals-

he was talking about the section 14 (6) proposal-

and it may be that the requirement of counselling in a conference situation, with both parties present, which is a central feature of Senator Harradine's proposal-

and, of course, that of the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman)-

may make some small difference to the possibility of reconciliation. We do not know. There is simply no evidence available on this point.

They are the possible benefits involved. So nobody knows. I suppose we are all operating from our own experience. I feel from my experience that what has been proposed is a positive step in ensuring that there is a gap between the separation and final dissolution. We must give counselling a go under these provisions, when it becomes compulsory. Senator Harradine-I was quoting him just before my time expired the last time I was on my feet-apparently received some documents which had been prepared by the psychological counselling section of the Attorney-General's Department. He quoted from page 3 of a report in which the reporting officer stated:

This all suggests several conclusions that counselling is most likely to result in reconciliation if it takes place prior to, or immediately after the separation.

There is some concrete evidence from an officer of the Attorney-General's Department which goes far beyond the point I was making a moment ago about this amendment being based on our own experience. That report indicates that great benefits could be derived from the system which has been outlined in the amendment. For those reasons I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Mitchell. I have not heard, in this chamber anyway, any real arguments against it. The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen), in the spirit of this debate, has tried to be helpful but I do not think the arguments he has put are very convincing. As we have been told by the honourable member for Dundas, although he endorses the principles, the sentiment of the amendment, he has finally to come down against it because he does not know whether counselling will work. I hope that everybody in this chamber will see the merit of what the honourable member has proposed and support it.

I add one final thing. Perhaps the Deputy Prime Minister and others who are against this amendment would see greater merit in it if it were implemented on a trial basis. The honourable member for Mitchell might be prepared to insert a sunset clause in the amendment. Perhaps the system could run for a year or two. Then after a decent trial, as the Attorney-General admits will happen in the case of the counselling of young marrieds, we could see whether it is worth while expending the required funds on the counselling service.