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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1974

Mr McVEIGH(8.17) —I support the views advanced by the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman). Again I congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen) on the very positive way in which he responded. I know that as a legal practitioner he understands the legalities of the situation very well, but to me this is far more important than just looking at the mere legalities and perhaps saving some people certain traumas. I would not want even to advocate that those who agree with the amendment are adopting a cavalier attitude. I do not want to advocate that and I am not advocating it; I just put it in that way because unless we adopt the point of view expressed by the honourable member for Mitchell we are, in effect, downgrading the very serious contract that two people enter into.

The Deputy Prime Minister indicated what happens in certain other legal cases. I indicate to him that, at least in Queensland, if someone fails to register a child when he or she is born, through an oversight, when that child becomes an adult, he is required to appear personally before a judge of the Supreme Court. If it is necessary in such instances for people to appear personally, surely it is doubly important that people who enter into the most serious contract, in good faith, for life-the most important contract for the greatest period-be requested, in terminating what has been a public act, at least to appear in public. Marriage is a public act. It is performed by a minister of religion or a registered marriage celebrant appointed by the Government and it has to be performed in front of witnesses. It is wrong, therefore, that in effect people can terminate that binding contract merely by adopting divorce by mail. Mr Chairman, I remind you that Dr Daniel Overduin, the Honorary Director of the Family Foundation, is reported as saying:

The proposed provisions for 'divorce by post' were not only criticised by the Law Council of Australia, but also by a number of church and community leaders. I believe that the church which, through their priests, pastors and ministers, celebrate more than 60 per cent of Australia's marriages, should take a vital interest in family law and policy. Since we do not enter marriage 'by post' we should not introduce 'mail order divorce' . . . We need to return to a better understanding of marriage, a greater appreciation of the family, and a legally- enforceable demand for individual accountability.

I fail to understand how a judge in 1 1/2 minutes, in some cases, can assess a case from a filled-in form. He has not seen anyone and he has to accept that there is no indication whatsoever of reconciliation. It is terribly important that we look at the statistics and realise how disappointing this is. Long life contracts are entered into in good faith, in a public act and witnessed. For every 2 1/2 marriages there is one divorce. I accept, although I do not agree with it morally on religious grounds, no fault divorce, but as a legislator I have to be practical. I have to accept that not all people base such things on a moral concept.

On the one hand in this debate great emphasis has been placed, quite rightly, on more effective counselling and pre-marriage preparation. The point has not been made-it should be made and must be made-that if prior to entering marriage and undertaking counselling people know that it is quite legitimate on all sorts of grounds to obtain a divorce by mail, then by indicating the ease of breaking the contract I believe we are not putting enough emphasis on how serious that contract is. That is why I oppose this amendment. In the debates in the Senate the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) indicated that the Government, under pressure, had changed the original legislation, which said that even if there were children under 18 years of age divorce by mail would be allowed. At least the Government has brought forward an amendment which states that children have to be over 18 years of age. That means that of the 44,000 divorces in Australia each year-one in every 2 1/2 marriages going through divorce courts-27,000 of those divorces involve children under 18 years of age.

I totally object to this clause. It belittles a solemn contract. It downgrades public family life and the appreciation of it. Anyone who has taken the time to read the history of the crash of any of the great empires of the past will understand that the Roman Empire and the Greek Empire tumbled because of the destruction of family life.

Mr Baldwin —Here we go.

Mr McVEIGH —It is all right for those opposite who want to criticise, but a significant number of people are concerned about this legislation. It is up to those who feel very strongly about it to oppose it. Notwithstanding the many eloquent words spoken about counselling and pre-marriage guidance and consultation, if it is easy to get out of a marriage in the end we are belittling and defeating the whole purpose of marriage.