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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 407

Senator HARRADINE(4.41) —I shall be very brief and deal mainly with the amendment because I believe one should state one's reasons for voting on it. Before I do that, I indicate to the Committee that at the second reading stage I raised the issues of in vitro fertilisation and artificial insemination by donor and the implicit recognition of those procedures in the measures in this Bill. I was given a guarantee by the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans), who is at the table, that the Government gives no implicit recognition to those procedures in these amendments to the Marriage Act. However, it still concerns me that we are debating measures which contain references to those procedures without any real detailed consideration by the national Parliament of the procedures themselves. No one doubts that they are matters which ought to exercise the minds of members of parliament. I did hear one scientist say that it was not really a matter for parliamentarians but, of course, that would be an extreme case. I do not know of anyone who denies that it is the responsibility of members of parliament, as the elected representatives of the people who form our society, to consider maturely these matters which really go to the fundamental rights of the human beings who make up this society.

Senator Haines —You will have to hurry up with it because it is getting away from us.

Senator HARRADINE —Exactly. The issue raised by Senator Watson is but one of the matters that need to be addressed. I am not one of those who believe that there is an ethical bottleneck. The problem is not that of an ethical bottleneck; it is in the gung ho approach being adopted by scientists in various parts of the world on this matter. I am now straying into matters which are more relevant to the second reading and I will come back to the clause of the Bill. However, I mentioned that, in respect of the legitimation of children-Senator Evans may correct me if I am wrong about this-Senator Puplick at the second reading stage indicated that perhaps we as a national Parliament ought to have some overriding legislation on this matter. I suspect that that was what Senator Watson may have been suggesting. Perhaps Senator Evans can put me wise on this, but I cannot see how under the Constitution we have that authority, how the Parliament is empowered to pass legislation to do that. Of course, that is another question.

Speaking briefly to the amendment, I reiterate the point I made at the second reading stage which is pertinent to the Committee stage of the Bill. According to the second reading speech, the amendments in the Bill are designed to implement the Hague Convention on Celebration and Recognition of the Validity of Marriages. Despite what Senator Evans replied at the second reading stage, I cannot for the life of me see how we can implement a convention which is not in effect.

Senator Gareth Evans —If you look at some of the dicta in the Tasmanian dams case, you will be surprised.

Senator HARRADINE —I just make the point that I do not think we are utilising the external affairs power. Is the Minister suggesting that we are utilising the external affairs power for the purpose of this amendment? We are really utilising the marriage power, are we not?

Senator Gareth Evans —We are, that is true, but even if the point is being made in the context of the external affairs power, it has no substance, with respect.

Senator HARRADINE —I do not propose to waste time on such an esoteric matter. I would be in favour of the amendment were it designed to make provision for marriage celebrants to provide pre-marital education courses over a period of three to six months prior to a marriage.

Senator Durack —There is nothing to stop that now.

Senator HARRADINE —I am interested to hear Senator Durack comment that there is nothing to stop that now. My doubts about opposing this amendment are confirmed. If there is nothing to stop a marriage celebrant being recompensed in some way for out-of-pocket expenses incurred by him or her in the education of the couple on the subject of marriage and its responsibilities, I suppose the only reason for the amendment would be so that marriage celebrants can charge what they like for the ceremony or matters associated with the ceremony. It has been mentioned, I think by Senator Haines, that some of these ceremonies are quite way out. Indeed, it has been suggested that there have been or are proposed to be marriages performed by people jumping out of aeroplanes. I suppose the purchase of the parachutes under those circumstances would be an additional charge.

We are talking here about the marriage celebrant who, it is suggested, is appointed to perform a duty required by law. It is truly a public service. I consider that marriage is sacred and is a commitment which is most appropriately made in church. That is my opinion. However, we live in a pluralist society. Other people have a strong commitment to the institution of marriage and to the family as the fundamental group unit of society based on marriage which, as the Marriage Act says, is 'the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life'. People who have a firm commitment to the institution of marriage and who regard it as being very important to society may wish to make a public declaration of their commitment in accordance with the provisions of the Marriage Act. They may not be Christians or may have no religion at all.

Senator Withers —Or who cannot use a church.

Senator HARRADINE —Or whatever. I make the point that some people have a commitment to marriage but do not have a religion. Nevertheless they understand that marriage has a public character, as it is fundamental to a stable society. Under those circumstances, it appears that people are appointed under the legislation for the purpose of witnessing the marriage ceremony as marriage celebrants. There must be other witnesses, of course.

The Minister has told us that persons appointed to those positions are appointed to provide a public service as required under the law. Therefore, it seems to me that those persons should not be free to take their services out into the market-place, as it were, and charge whatever they like for the services. It is not in the nature of their office as marriage celebrants for that to be done. It is a dignified office. I hope that it is recognised by all that persons appointed as marriage celebrants should have demonstrated in a practical way a commitment to marriage as defined by the Act. Bearing in mind what has been said, I oppose the amendment. Let me mention to the Minister that some churches now will not marry people unless those people have gone through a period of marriage education. That is a good idea. I believe that marriage celebrants, provided they are suitable, ought to have the unencumbered ability to engage in pre-marriage counselling over a specified period with those who wish to avail themselves of the services of those marriage celebrants.