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Tuesday, 15 October 1974
Page: 1706


Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) -I understand that Senator James McClelland moved a motion that the Senate take note of the report. I desire to advert to one or two matters in connection with the report. Firstly, I imagine that the report will be of considerable assistance to all honourable senators in the consideration of the clauses of the Family Law Bill when it comes on for debate. I also believe that the report will be of some assistance to persons outside the Parliament who are interested in the provisions of the Family Law Bill. I am receiving, as I am sure most honourable senators are, a number of submissions from concerned persons and organisations urging a course to be taken either in support of or against the Bill or in adopting an attitude in regard to some of its provisions. It is my impression that the persons who are sending the submissions have an inadequate appreciation of what the clauses of the Bill actually state. I feel therefore that it is a matter of some concern that such public debate as takes place should be as informed as possible.

I mention that for 2 reasons. The first is that part of the misapprehension which exists at the present time is due to what I have ascertained to be a fact, namely, that copies of the Family Law Bill were not easily obtainable and in some places frankly were not obtainable until some steps were taken to have increased supplies made available. I think there have been difficulties in assessing public demand for copies of the Bill. I believe there will be a very large demand for copies of this report. I only hope that the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, or you, Mr President, if it is a matter for the Department of the Senate, or the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McLelland) in his capacity as Minister in charge of the Australian Government Publishing Service, will ensure that an appropriate number of copies of this report is made available for the interested public. My impression is that it will not be a matter of having available just a few hundred copies; it will run into thousands of copies and possibly tens of thousands of copies if the demand for this report is to be likened to demand for copies of the Bill. I only make the plea that the purpose of this report will not be as well realised as it could be realised if an inadequate number of copies is made available. I trust that steps will be taken to ensure that copies are made available.

The second aspect to which I wish to refer is concerned with my regret that the Committee has limited its work. I notice in the first paragraph of chapter 1 of its report the Committee acknowledges that it was on 7 December 1971 that the Senate referred to the Committee the following matter for inquiry and report:

The law and administration of divorce, custody and family matters with particular regard to oppressive costs, delays, indignities and other injustices.

My recollection is that it was Senator Murphy who, with the full support of the Senate, moved that that matter be referred to the Committee. I think it will be recalled that throughout 1972 the attitude of the previous Government was not to proceed with its own inquiry into what were the necessary reforms in the area of divorce, custody and family law generally but to await the report of this Committee. To that end the previous Government submitted a very extensive report and commentary on the operation of the existing law and areas where changes could be made to that Committee, along with all the other bodies from whom submissions were received in response to the public advertisement. It was a matter of regret that the Committee had not reported by the end of 1972. But, as it indicated I think, in an interim report which was presented towards the end of that year, its task was a very large one and it had other matters with which to deal. My efforts throughout 1973 to ascertain how many meetings had been held by this Committee with a view to finding out whether the work was proceeding were unrewarded. But, as I understand from discussions with some people, the work in regard to this term of reference virtually did not take place throughout 1973. Indeed, it is only with regard to the term of reference relating to the clauses of the Bill that any work has been done.

What is the result? We now have a report, which I am sure will be valuable, on the clauses of the Family Law Bill. But we do not have a report on the whole question of the philosophy and the objectives which family law legislation should be recognising and endeavouring to achieve. That was the type of objective which Senator Murphy had in 1971 when he referred this matter to the Committee. It was the view which, I think, the Senate concurred in and it was certainly the view which the previous Government believed this Committee could well fulfil. I think it is a matter for regret that we have not received the report of the Committee on that larger scale of reference. I do not know why, having regard to the terms of reference, the Senate Committee has limited itself in the way that it has. The reference of the clauses of the Family Law Bill to this Committee stated:

That notwithstanding anything contained in Standing Orders, the Legislative and General Purpose Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs be empowered on its reappointment to consider the clauses of the Family Law Bill 1 974 during its consideration of the matter previously referred to it, namely the Law and Administration of Divorce, Custody and Family Matters.

Obviously the consideration of the clauses of the Bill was to be a part of the consideration of the larger matter. What we are denied by this report is the consideration by this Committee of all the submissions which it received prior to 1973 in terms of what should be the objectives of family law legislation in this country. We have, as it were, an isolated examination of the clauses of this Bill.

Whilst that examination must take into account the views already formed by members of the Committee, having regard to the membership of the Committee and the time which they have taken, there could not have been full consideration of the earlier submissions. I regret that the Committee took the view which it states in paragraph 7, that the Committee did not consider that it had been instructed by the Senate to embark de novo on a general inquiry into the philosophy, history and variety of legal forms of matrimonial relations and divorce or to invite submissions at large from interested persons and organisations. I think the Committee has far too narrowly construed its task and it may well have done an injustice. I mention these things because I think they ought to be said lest there be an assumption that this report represents the complete and last word on the matters which are referred to it. It ought to be recognised as a report simply on the clauses of the Bill.

The third point I make is that many people feel they have been misled and let down by the course which this Committee has adopted. I have had these representations made to me. I think there is some weight in what has been said and I mention it because I think again that it ought to be recognised in any assessment of the report. The Committee did not ask for any general submissions from the public as to the clauses of this Family Law Bill.


Senator Murphy - It sounds as though you have an advance copy in your hand, senator.


The PRESIDENT - Order! The question is: That the Senate take note of the report. What is happening is quite in order.


Senator GREENWOOD - I heard Senator Murhpy's comment. Let me say that I received this report when it was circulated here today. I have not had any advance copy and I do not really know why Senator Murphy should say that. It is fairly easy to read the first couple of pages to get the gist of what is happening and to bear that in mind along with the representations I have had made to me beforehand that the Committee did not seek public submissions. That appears from the early part of this report. It means that the Committee has received the views of persons who are publicly known as adherents to the Bill. The names of those persons were set out at some stage in the report. They are Mr Watson, Mr Turner and Mr Piggott. I leave aside what Mr Yuill 's view might be but I think it is a matter of public knowledge that Mr Turner, Mr Piggott and Mr Watson have a very decided view on this whole question and their views came to the Committee, but I have not heard the views and apparently the Committee did not receive the views of other persons who are becoming prominent in the community in opposition to this Bill and who are wanting to put forward different views. I think it is a matter of regret that the opportunity was not given to those people to put forward submissions to the Committee so that their views could be considered by the members of the Committee.


Senator Milliner - That is a condemnation of your colleagues.


Senator GREENWOOD - I do not know where blame should be placed, if it is a matter for blame. I think it is a matter for regret that people feel they would have liked to have their views put to the Committee but were not aware that the Committee was receiving submissions at this stage of its inquiry and no opportunity was taken by the Committee to make them aware of that fact. All these matters therefore seem to me and I hark back to the first point I made - to warrant that the fullest publicity be given to this report so that whatever the standpoint of persons interested in this Bill they can read it, endorse it if they wish to or seek to provide differing considerations if they wish to use differing considerations. I hope that time will be taken to enable that to be done and that adequate copies of the report will be available.







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