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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1962

Mr CADMAN(6.43) —I wish to make a few brief remarks in concluding the debate on this clause. I thank honourable members for their comments. I shall deal first of all with the comments made by the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen). I think we are of similar mind in this proposal. The Government's fear of taking some sort of positive step in favour of the support of families is something that I find quite unusual and somewhat objectionable. People of good will and understanding in this chamber and in the Senate say: 'Terrible things are happening to our families throughout the nation because of marriage breakups but we will sit back and watch them'. I think that is the crux of the matter. Nobody is prepared to take one little positive step in the direction of support, aid, guidance and assistance at the appropriate time.

The Deputy Prime Minister commented on the provisions of clause 15 concerning counselling and reconciliation. I mentioned earlier in the debate that, if any party wants to call for those provisions he or she may do so. When parties call for those types of conferences it means that they wish, in the circumstances of the court surroundings, to come to the final decision on details of their settlement. Of course, the judge is obliged to consider the welfare of the children, but he considers it under various heads and in a certain light. He first of all has to consider which parent the children identify with most closely. The children are asked, by the judge, the counsellor or the solicitors involved: 'Which parent do you want to live with?' I do not consider that to be counselling. I do not consider that to be having proper regard for the welfare of the children. The children are torn between two parents, being bribed and coerced so that they will accept on the day in court one parent or the other. That is not acceptable. It is not acceptable under the civilised standards of any nation. I think the judge also considers the financial circumstances of either party and decides whether or not the children can be properly supported within the family, whether they can live, I suppose as the saying goes, in the manner to which they are accustomed. That is not a proper counselling process.

We talk about the counselling process conducted by legal advisers to couples in the process of divorce. I think many legal advisers in these circumstances absolutely encourage the headlong rush into divorce. They will make claims such as this: 'There is no way that we can move against your husband's solicitor because he has gone too far beyond a point at which we can talk to him. What we must do now is get our hands on as much of the goods as we possibly can'. Members of the legal profession have a dual interest. The first is to themselves and their proper pursuit of the law, which may be very enthusiastic at times, to put a very kindly interpretation on the way they proceed. At other times they may genuinely seek to make some contact with the other partner, but they have no skill, no understanding and no training or qualifications in the area. That is not a proper process and it is one that cannot be offered as an excuse or substitute for proper counselling.

Let us look at the facts. Some 60 per cent of divorces involve children. Each year 40 per cent of new marriages fail and 53,000 children finish up with one parent. That is a tremendous number of children. In ten years that is half a million kids. There is no effort by the Government or, apparently, the majority of honourable members in this chamber, to prevent that occurring. I think it is time that as a Parliament we came to grips with these difficult issues. It is all very well to say: 'We will send it off to the Attorney-General and get him to conduct some sort of airy-fairy investigation; in 10 years time we will have another look at it'. In 10 years time another half million children will have had no effort made on their behalf. I make a plea to this House that we should in conscience, on behalf of our constituents, offer some hope for those children and for the resolution of the difficulties of marriage.