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Tuesday, 29 October 1974
Page: 2067

Senator DEVITT (Tasmania) - I appreciate the opportunity to make a few observations on the matter now before the Senate. I was very pleased to hear the comments of Senator Laucke when he paid tribute to the members of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs. I think that there is no doubt that the Committee, in the course of its work in relation to this Family Law Bill, was a very great credit to the Senate indeed. That Committee took on a most difficult brief. It was a deep, involved and complex matter concerning the most intimate human relationship- that is the relationship which exists between a man and his wife in the intimacy of the family. That Committee was able to provide this Senate with a basis of judgment on this matter which is of tremendous value to us. I, like other honourable senators who have preceded me in this debate, feel indebted to the excellent work done by that Committee.

Up to the present time we have heard largely, in this debate, from members of the legal profession. I suppose that is not to be wondered at because members of the legal profession comprised the majority of the membership of the Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee. I think it was proper in the circumstances, particularly since there is to be a free vote, that they should have given to the Senate their own particular views on the matter- a compound of what had come to them, plus a blend of the undoubted knowledge and experience they possess of matters of this kind. It is not one of those occasions, I suggest, when we are dealing in an abstract way with a matter which is before the chamber for debate. We have happily and fortunately had laid out before us the facts of the matter by our colleagues who served on that Committee. They have given us the substantial basis for their judgment. They have given us the reasons for their decisions and the reasons why their analysis of the information given to them came out in this way.

During the course of some comments which were made on this subject a week or so ago, I elicited some information from Senator Missen, I think it was. Senator Missen may recall the occasion when I asked him, in the course of those few words that he spoke on that occasion, how many submissions or items in the nature of submissions or observations were put to the Committee and were analysed by the Committee in order to arrive at its decisions. I recall that Senator Missen said there was something in excess of 100 submissions. I have heard a great deal of criticism from both sides- although principally from the other side of the chamber- of the fact that sufficient opportunity has not been given for the Australian community to make some observation or pronouncements on the matter. It has been stated that the Australian community has not been given enough opportunity to express its concern about this matter or in some other way to make known to the Committee its views. I find it hard to accept that viewpoint because the Bill has been in the air, as it were, and before the Parliament for a considerable period of time. In view of the fact that more than 100 submissions were examined and deeply analysed by the Committee- as I am quite sure would have happenedI find it hard to accept that sufficient opportunity has not been given to the Australian community to make its views known on this matter. Perhaps in the course of further debate that point will be expanded and expounded and we will obtain a better appreciation of the underlying reasons for statements of that kind being made.

I have looked at this Bill very carefully. I have had people come to me in my office in relation to it. In fact, wherever I have been in Australia and it has been known that I am a member of this honoured chamber, people have come to me and passed comments, made observations or expressed views and opinions both for and against the provisions of the Bill. As so often is the case in respect of matters of this kind, some of the thoughts which were put to me were based upon ignorance of the true reasons for the legislation which we are now considering. So it has been a happy circumstance that I have been able to express- I have done this quite openly and frankly- my opinions as to the merits of the legislation. At this point, I state that I believe that the legislation has a great deal of merit.

The points which were made in the 2 reports of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs- the interim report and latterly the substantial report- representing the judgment of the Committee on the Bill, have been of tremendous guidance to us. They have given a very good and critical analysis of what the Bill is all about. As I said earlier in my remarks, they have been tremendously valuable documents. Those of us who had any doubts as to what the intentions were had the opportunity, of which I took advantage, to go to the members of the Committee who were ever approachable. In more than one instance they were able to extract for me a submission which I thought had particular relevance to the matter under debate so that my mind could be disabused on a number of aspects of this very important matter. Nobody would doubt that this is a tremendously important question from the human relationships point of view as it affects homes, families and marital relationships. In fact, as an honourable senator wisely stated earlier in the debate, it affects the very basis of our human society in this country. Mr Deputy President, I want to say a little more about that later. But at this stage I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.

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