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Thursday, 21 November 1974
Page: 2678

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral) - May I try to explain? It is very difficult for people whose marriage may be breaking down. They do not know where to turn or what to do. It is all very well to say: 'Go to a marriage guidance counsellor'. Unless there is something written into the law which sort of steers people in the right direction the procedures will not be used. Senator Greenwood may be right in saying, as a lawyer would say, that there is nothing operative about the proposed clause.

We are not saying that a person must do something or else, or that such and such a consequence will follow if a person does not do something. This is a different kind of approach. We are trying to build guidelines into an important social area and to indicate how people can go about things. This is not directed simply to a court; this is a public office. The Director of Counselling and Welfare will be attached to the court and will not be part of some Public Service establishment. There will be all sorts of other people in the social welfare field and other fields who will understand that a legislative intent has been expressed. This is a different area. We must get used to it. There will be guidelines in legislation, indications of what ought to take place, and invitations to the various people who are operating in a certain way under the Act.

I accept the gentle strictures of Senator Button. The amendment is a nicer way of doing it. Instead of filing a notice of breakdown, the party will file a notice. This can be done. It is a step that involves some kind of recognition. This may not be a good analogy, but it appeals to me a little. It is something like what one reads about Alcoholics Anonymous. One of the things that organisation says to people is that they must recognise that they have a problem. In this case the court says to people that they must file a notice. The marriage is in trouble, and one of the parties is trying to save it. When they have filed that notice they may be beyond the point at which advice can help. They have actually filed a notice saying that they are in trouble. They have gone to this helpful court and have said to the rest of society, particularly the Director and the court, that they want some help. That notice must be filed. Senator Greenwood asked: What does the proposed clause do? Where are the operative words? He said that there are no penalties and no consequences as one would expect in other areas of the law. But this is a different area of the law. We are trying to get a different kind of approach. The court says to these people that if they take some of these steps they can get some assistance. One would expect the Director of Counselling and Welfare to give that assistance.

Senator Greenwood - One of the points in which I am interested is this: Why not simply say that a person can apply to the Director for the Director to arrange an interview? Why maintain the idea of filing a notice in the Family Court? It may not be in existence for a long time. These are the points which I think ought to be covered.

Senator MURPHY -We do that in another way, as you will see a little later in clause 14b. There is a provision for an application to be made. Will it do any damage if there are various ways in which a person can invoke the system in order that counselling might be made available to him or her? I do not think it will. If we really want to tackle this problem, if we want to make counselling available and if we want to get these reconciliation procedures operating we must do a lot more than has been done previously. That is the intent behind this provision.

Senator Greenwoodsaid that people have applied their minds to it. They have. He asked what it achieves. It is a very small price to pay to have these counselling facilities available, to have the Director there, compared with the preservation of those marriages which can be preserved and with giving assistance to people. The Committee has in its refinement, which I accept, said that it thinks this is a helpful way to go about it. Advisers have looked at what has happened overseas. Senator Greenwood might suggest something better. But we think that what we have proposed will be helpful and that we ought to try it. It will cost really a trifling amount of money. Can Senator Greenwood see any harm in a person being able, if he wishes, to file such a notice and then get the Director of Counselling and Welfare in a position where he can provide assistance?

Senator Greenwood - But why file a notice?

Senator MURPHY -For the reason that I have stated- this is the signal going up. The parties are not compelled to file a notice. The filing of a notice that they intend to seek assistance is a positive step. It is better than their going to somebody, such as the kind of person whom Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson mentioned, who might not really be able in many ways to express himself; but we have made provision for that also. The parties can get help even without filing a notice. But if they want to put in a distress signal, the filing of a notice is the way in which assistance can be brought to them.

Also one would think that the court would probably be looking at these matters. People would be wondering what has happened in relation to the cases where people have filed a notice. They will expect attention to be paid to the cases. After this Act has been in operation for a while you will find that people will be starting to ask what has happened in those cases where people have filed a notice. They will ask: 'What did you do about it? What kind of assistance did you really give? I think that there is benefit in this legislative scheme allowing people to put in an application for assistance- a distress signal.

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