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Thursday, 12 November 1959

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - I am speaking at this stage of public opposition, and I am speaking as the member for Blaxland of the opposition that has been conveyed to me. I do not propose to produce it as did the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa), because as far as I am concerned the only opposition that I have received is in respect of clause 27 (m). We must look at the clause in its true perspective, and take the position of somebody who applies to the court for a divorce under this provision. I do not want to go into the details of what the amendment means and how it makes the provision more restricted than is the provision in Western Australia.

Take a situation in which two people have been separated for five years and an application is made to the court in relation to them. Part III. of the bill imposes upon the court the responsibility to investigate an application on this ground just as it would investigate an application on any other ground. When an application is made to the court under clause 27 (m), the court is required to interview the parties in chambers or to refer their case to a marriage guidance authority within their district; and I hope that marriage guidance centres will be established throughout Australia. The court is required also to see them in chambers or to appoint a special person, even at the end of five years, to endeavour to effect a reconciliation. It is only then, when the court is satisfied that reconciliation is not possible that, to use the words of the bill, " the parties to the marriage have been separated . . . for a continuous period of not less than five years immediately preceding the date of the petition and there is no reasonable likelihood of cohabitation being resumed ", that the marriage is dissolved.

Think in terms of a couple who have been separated for five years; think in terms of the requirement to refer the matter to a marriage guidance council; think in terms of the parties being met by a judge in chambers; think in terms of somebody outside the parties being appointed in an effort to reconcile them. If, after all that has been done, the attempt at reconciliation has failed, will any honorable member in this House say that the marriage should not be made void? Will any honorable member in this House say that two people should be kept tied together after all those efforts have failed and after the court itself has found that there is no possibility of reconciliation? I do not think that any fairminded man or woman in the country would tolerate that for an instant.

A lot of play is being made on the suggestion that this clause will enable the wicked man or the wicked woman to walk out on the spouse and leave the children more or less destitute and, after the expiration of five years, to seek a divorce. This kind of legislation will have a corrective effect long before the five years has expired, because a man or a woman who has been badly treated can take advantage of other provisions of the measure to seek redress. If one or both of the parties has not taken steps to correct the position within the five years, at that point there can be no allocation of guilt to either party. They are equally guilty for whatever may have happened. If five years have elapsed and legislation of this kind has not been availed of by one of the parties, there can be no separation of their guilt. At that point, it is right and proper that within the framework of the law something should be done to correct the situation that has been allowed to exist. If for five years two people have had an opportunity to do something about a reconciliation, and about the security of their children, and neither takes any action, then the matter becomes one that should be determined by a court because either they have ceased to have any human feelings or, without being found out, they are living some other form of life. When that point is reached, it is time that the law stepped in and did something about it.

I agree with the honorable member for Banks, who said quite frankly that if everybody observed the Ten Commandments there would be no occasion for this law. Let us remember the Lord's teaching, as recorded by Saint Luke -

Be ye therefore merciful as your Father also is merciful.

Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: Condemn not and ye shall not be condemned: forgive and ye shall be forgiven.

It is not for me or any other honorable member in this House to say who is right and who is wrong when a man and a woman have been separated for five years. That is a matter for some one other than a member of this House to determine. I remind honorable members of the Lord's words about the woman who had committed adultery and who had been brought before the Scribes and Pharisees. The law of Moses required that a woman found in adultery should be stoned to death, and when the Lord said to the assembled crowd that he among them who was without sin should cast the first stone they quietly one by one withdrew. The Lord then said to the woman -

Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?

We should never forget the final words of the Lord, as recorded by Saint John -

Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more.

As I understand it, that is the true Christian attitude. I believe that when this measure has an Australia-wide trial, it will have wonderful results. I forecast that in Western Australia, which does not even have a marriage guidance council at present, this legislation will bring about a falling off in the number of divorces. In reality, this measure will do more than has ever been done in the history of Australia to reduce the number of divorces. Let us not take away from it that last provision. It is a safety valve which, I believe, will do more to restore happy family life in Australia than has ever been done in the history of this Parliament.

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