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Wednesday, 18 November 1959

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) .- I am extremely sad to think that in the consideration of the various clauses of this bill so little regard has been given to the Christian attitude. Each day when Parliament assembles we commence proceedings by reciting the Lord's Prayer. We start in a Christian manner. Most of these matters that have come before us have been dealing with intensely human questions, matters deeply related to our Christian upbringing, but nevertheless we seem to have set aside entirely our Christian concepts and to have accepted a secular point of view.

I support the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope), the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), and the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) because I feel that it is necessary for us to show some humanitarianism, if we are not prepared to adopt any other attitude towards this matter.

The honorable member for Grayndler referred to the marriage ceremony and quoted the promise " in sickness and in health, until death do us part ". One often sees cases in which loving regard and devotion are given by a husband to a sick wife or the wife will look after the sick husband. This sort of service, given in a Christian way, seems to ennoble mankind and bring out our greatest qualities and virtues.

But in a provision of this kind the animal attitude is being adopted. If somebody falls by the wayside he is abandoned and forgotten while those who could help look to the delights and pleasures of a new life without regard to the suffering or to the type or condition of the sufferer. Honorable members who have addressed themselves to this matter have clearly pointed out that mental sickness is no different from any other form of sickness. It is a sickness, and it might as well have been written into this bill that a person who suffers from polio or is bedridden with tuberculosis and has spent a period of years in a sanatorium should be divorced because, for a period of six years or something of the kind he has not been able to fulfil his part as an equal partner in the marriage relationship.

But no one would contemplate that sort of thing, and in this day and age with the wonders of modern science available and in view of what can be done by shock treatment and the new techniques for dealing with mental disabilities, I put it to the committee that a new approach ought to be made to this matter. The fact that some poor soul in the change of life has been committed to a mental institution and has remained there for a period of six years should not be sufficient grounds, in either a Christian society or a human society, for her husband to obtain a divorce from her.

If I cannot appeal to honorable members on the Government side of the chamber, let me remind my colleagues on this side that we, as members of the Australian Labour Party, are pledged to help the sick, the needy, the oppressed, the aged and the infirm, and that we are dedicated to that sort of life's work. But under this paragraph, a person suffering from a mental disorder and who has been committed to an institution is liable to be divorced by his lifes' partner. And we are called upon to record a vote for such a procedure.

For my part I cannot support a provision of that kind and to agree to it would be a retrograde step. I think that it is an unnecessary provision. It would be far better for us to try to encourage people to look after those who are sick. I have seen, times without number, noble human beings such as I have already referred to, going out of their way to help their life's partners. Only a few months ago it was my pleasure to travel from Perth right across the continent by the railway. I saw a husband looking after his wife, a woman incapable of doing one thing for herself. He took her to meals and to the toilet and did everything he could for her on the journey to a specialist where she would receive care and attention in an effort to give her a new lease of life and a chance to live a normal existence. He did not desert her. He did not seek a divorce from that woman. No, he sought to care for her, to succour her, to protect her, to carry out his marriage vows to the last letter. I think that that is a reasonable attitude in our society. For that reason I shall oppose paragraph (1). I believe there is only one way in which to redress this wrong, and that is to delete subparagraph (ii) from the bill.

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