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Wednesday, 18 November 1959

Sir GARFIELD BARWICK (Parramatta) (Attorney-General) . - Mr. Chairman, with great respect to the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen), I oppose this amendment. Let me tell the committee why. The purpose of clause 12 is, not to afford a benefit or a privilege to marriage guidance counsellors, but to encourage people to go to marriage guidance councils. To apply that reasoning to a clergyman would be extraordinary, because people do not have to be encouraged to go to their priest or parson by a statute which provides that he shall not tell. For clergymen do not tell. I have never heard of a clergyman being called to give evidence on what passed between him and his parishioner in confidence, for the very simple reason that nobody finds out what was said. We all know that you find witnesses in a case by listening to the fellows who talk. If the people concerned say nothing, it is very hard to find witnesses. I should regard it as a particular insult to a Church to say that we had to pass a statutory provision to encourage parishioners to confide in their Church.

I have been among churchmen very much during the period in which this bill has been under consideration by the community. I have spoken to clergymen of every denomination, and to each on more than one occasion. I have never heard it suggested that there was need to provide, by statute, that clergymen shall not tell - for the reason, as I have said, that they would regard it as something of a slur on them.

The way in which the honorable member for Moreton proposed the amendment was even worse. He said that he would like to see on the statute book a statutory permission for the clergyman to tell. The honorable member said that the clergyman should be competent to tell, but not compellable. I think that view is misconceived. If I thought for one moment that you had to encourage people to resort to their priests and clergymen by putting a statutory cloak of secrecy around the priests or clergymen, I should do it willingly. But I feel that it would not be right.

Mr Haylen - Why not put a cloak of secrecy around Spry?

Sir GARFIELD BARWICK - Do not worry about Spry.

I want to say one further thing, Sir, and it is practical. When a clergyman sees his parishioners, as the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) has said, he may have a variety of courses. He may want to give them spiritual counsel, or something like that, and he may say, " How is the marriage going? " The job of sorting out what is covered by this would be extremely difficult.

I think there is no need for this amendment. I certainly have had no request for it. I do not think it would do the Churches credit to pass such a provision, and I ask the committee to reject the amendment.

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