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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1976

Mr RUDDOCK(8.32) —I think it is appropriate that I speak on this matter , as I chaired the Joint Select Committee on the Family Law Act. Recommendation 50 of the Committee's report states:

The Committee recommends that simplified procedures in the cases of undefended dissolution be introduced in Australia to provide for affidavit evidence without the necessity for parties to appear unless the court otherwise decrees.

I have said during the debate today and during debates on other occasions that I regard the family as being an institution just as important to me as it is to any other Australian. I looked at the Family Law Act very closely and, in concert with my colleagues, made a number of propositions which, we were of the view, would strengthen the family and indicate the importance that the Parliament attaches to the family unit, recognising the difficult situations in which we are working. Ultimately the Committee recommended a number of propositions that were designed to give effect to the broad themes I mentioned in my speech during the second reading debate. The Committee was of the view that this was a proposal to which it could not object; it has been put to us as an appropriate reform and in all the circumstances was reasonable.

Listening to the speeches of my colleagues-one might like to be able to say that I was persuaded, but I do not want to suggest that my colleagues have omitted any important information-one would have formed the view that they thought it was of fundamental importance that people be present at the time when the dissolution is announced. The proposition that they have all put forward and spoken to in asking honourable members to support this amendment is that that provision be deleted. The fact of the matter is that at the moment most people-I think it is a great majority but I have heard some other figures today that suggest that it is a significant minority-do not appear at the time a divorce is pronounced. They appear by hired hand. They do not appear personally at all, but pay somebody else to represent them on that occasion. They do not go through any particular penance. They do not feel anything. They have simply parted with some money and said: 'Look, you go and do it for me'.

If one were serious that it is important that people be present when they are divorced one would be arguing that we ought to amend the Act to say that people have to be present in person. As the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) suggested, it is regarded as being important in relation to private inquiry licences and other matters that people be present personally. But nobody has suggested that. Nobody has moved an amendment to give effect to that. Nobody is asking that people be told that they cannot send their lawyer. When divorce is dealt with in the way in which it has been, I cannot see very much difference between what is proposed and what is done now except that people will not be asked to pay out money. If the comments of the honourable member for Mitchell in relation to the legal profession and its desire to make money out of divorce have any validity at all, they have validity in this area more than in any other , because this is the area in which people are paid to do, quite frankly, very little. The important questions that the honourable member for Denison suggested might be raised would rarely be raised by those who are being paid to go along.

There are other contractual arrangements which are enforced by parties not being present-essentially by administrative procedures. Most courts have administrative procedures for collecting debts which arise out of contractual arrangements. The question was raised as to whether they exist. It was said that contractual arrangements are not enforced in this way by administrative procedures. I can say only that they all have default procedures which do not require the presence of parties before orders are made. They are made administratively in default of a person submitting a formal document to say 'I appear'-a formal document; not his going to court. What we are talking about are administrative procedures designed for these cases. As I have said, the Committee was persuaded that there was very little difference between what was proposed and the sending along of the hired hand. I think that it has to be understood that that is the difference we are talking about. It is not a suggestion that people be required to appear in person. I must say that if people were suggesting that, I would find it difficult to support such a proposition.

Question put:

That Clause 53 be agreed to.