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Thursday, 14 June 1984
Page: 3057

Senator HARRADINE(5.47) —I wish to speak on the Statute Law ( Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and refer to the provisions on page 28 of the Schedule to that Bill. They involve an amendment to section 44 of the Family Law Act. The amendment clarifies the responsibility of an appropriate officer of a Family Court of a State in respect of required reconciliation counselling for marriages, where the application for dissolution of the marriage is filed within the period of two years after the date of the marriage. Under section 44 of the principal Act, in that case the application shall not be filed unless it is accompanied by a certificate in the prescribed form-

(a) stating that the parties to the marriage have considered a reconciliation, with the assistance of a specified person or organization, being-

(i) a marriage counsellor or an approved marriage counselling organization;

(ii) another suitable person or organization nominated by the Principal Director of Court Counselling of the Family Court; or

(iii) an appropriate officer of a Family Court of a State; and

(b) signed by that person or on behalf of that organization, as the case may be .

There has been some question as to whether the appropriate officer of a Family Court of a State could refer for counselling those partners to the marriage to a marriage counsellor or an approved marriage counselling organisation or some other suitable person, or whether it had to be done by an appropriate officer of the Family Court. This amendment to the statute law clarifies that situation and enables the appropriate officer of the Family Court of a State to appoint another suitable person or organisation to nominate another suitable person or organisation to perform the counselling service. As such, I think it is an appropriate clarification of what was intended in that section when the matter was discussed in October 1983.

Court counsellors in the Federal registries are at present overloaded. Incidentally, those court counsellors-I would think the Attorney-General ( Senator Gareth Evans) could correct me if I am wrong-are mainly engaged in separation counselling rather than reconciliation counselling. By and large, they counsel on matters of custody, access and division of property. A degree of opportunity is there for reconciliation counselling, but because of the substantial number of divorce applications, which place a burden on the Family Court, the counsellors are very much overloaded. We should examine that situation and enable counsellors to engage more in reconciliation counselling which would, of course, prevent the need for separation counselling.

The recent annual report of the Institute of Family Studies has described clearly the devastating fact facing Australian society today, namely, that 40 per cent of marriages entered into will end up in divorce. That is a devastating statistic, one of which we as a society and as a parliament can hardly be proud. It is my view and that of very many people that the law has an educative role. Amendments that have been made to family law legislation-indeed, the Family Law Act itself, initially-have had an educative role to the detriment of society. I believe it is fairly generally recognised that people do not truly accept the obligations willingly entered into upon marriage. A covenant made between two people can be disregarded almost at will after 12 months' separation. That is the only ground. Of course, great concern and distress are felt by the partners to the marriage in those circumstances. Any law which is increasingly not founded upon the consensus of the whole of the community is destined not to be observed. We have a number of manifestations of that, in that persons have expressed their disenchantment with the Family Law Act in ways which are not acceptable to society and cannot be condoned in any shape or form. But again, in my view, we as a parliament must at some stage have a really good look at the family law legislation.

Senator Gareth Evans —Spare us that now.

Senator HARRADINE —I would be out of order if I dealt with that at length now. I want to get at the particular point that is made, which widens the scope-

Senator Gareth Evans —It does not even do that; it just restores it. It was an inadvertent omission. You have had a pretty long string so far.

Senator HARRADINE —I am drawing a long bow. But it restores the situation with regard to the persons who are able to provide counselling. I remind the Senate that not only are there costs involved to the individuals concerned but there are great costs to the community involved in the dissolution of marriage. Just to update the figures, I should like to mention that the figures that have been provided to me show that 68.6 per cent of those receiving the supporting parent' s benefit, at a cost in 1982-83 of $727.7m, are separated wives or de facto wives.

Senator Gareth Evans —On a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. I hate to interrupt Senator Harradine, because he is dealing with an important matter; however, it really is stretching an extremely long bow to diverge, as he is doing, on to these matters, with what is essentially an amendment of very narrow scope, a very technical amendment, which is doing no more than reinstating the status quo. It is not a policy matter that is before us now. I suggest that Senator Harradine be asked to confine himself to the particular matter before the Senate.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Elstob) —Senator Harradine, you have been straying a little wide of the Bill. I ask you to return to the Bill and to remain relevant to it.

Senator HARRADINE —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I acknowledge the point of order and I accept your ruling. I hope that the Attorney-General will, at some future stage, give consideration again to my proposal in relation to the need for required reconciliation counselling for the purpose of getting the partners to the marriage together to consider the legal, social and financial consequences of the dissolution of marriage and, in particular, the effect of that dissolution of the marriage on any children of the marriage and, having regard to the consequences and effect referred to, the possibility of reconciliation. I acknowledge that, as a result of the debate that we had, the Minister gave an undertaking to expend a certain amount of money in an advertising campaign. I see that that campaign has now been launched. I endorse that and I congratulate the Minister on that, if the Standing Orders will allow me to do so. I hope that this will be continued and that when the Minister is preparing his bids for the Budget he will look at the amount of money available for pre-marriage counselling as well.