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Thursday, 12 November 1959

Mr BARNES (McPherson) .- I do not intend to. take up the time of the House at any length, but I will attempt to put my views on very broad principles. I support this bill most wholeheatedly. I think it is a good thing to go back a bit over history. I read the other day in " Hansard " of the House of Commons, which is available in the Library, the debates on the introduction of the first divorce law in England. It was a very simple divorce law. I was interested to find the same array of forces mustered against each other on that bill as are mustered against each other to-day - the Church on one side and the legislators on the other.

We have to make up our minds whether we are to be guided by humanity or by theology. One problem that emerges from what the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) said concerns the significance of the law of God. It would appear that, in many cases, the law of God, as we know it, is man's interpretation of it. If we go back to early in the history of the church, we find that, according to theologists, St. Augustine, a most eminent father of the church, was not very clear in his ideas and pronouncements on divorce. If we left it to the church to find a better life, we would remain at the status quo. After all, most of our troubles have come from man's interpretation of the law of God - an interpretation which, I suppose, has been influenced by his very humanness and the existing state of knowledge of his day. I think that an instance of that is the number of religions in our Western world which claim to follow the Christian faith. They all have a different version.

It is not so many years since the church believed in the right to burn witches, to torture heretics, and to employ slaves. It did not protest at the employment of child labour which existed in England right up to comparatively recent times. In none of those instances did the church take the lead to remove these evils. We have an opportunity, to-day, in this divorce bill, to do something for the betterment of the people of Australia.

It would appear that the great objection to this bill is to the adoption of the provision already existing in Western Australia which gives the right of divorce on the ground of five years' separation. I understand that a similar ground exists in New Zealand but that over there the period is seven years. This provision has been in force in New Zealand for 30 years. I ask this House, " Are the people of Western Australia or New Zealand any less moral than the people of the rest of Australia? Is the incidence of divorce any greater in those places than it is in other parts of Australia? " On the relevant figures. I think I would say, " No! "

I believe that the great virtue of this bill is the priority it gives to the welfare of the children. Is it better for children to be brought up in a home in which there is continuing active hostility or in a home from which one of the parents has been removed because of inability to achieve marital equilibrium?

I would like to state most emphatically that I am not criticizing the church, because it has the greatest influence in upholding our moral and ethical standards. But we cannot legislate for morality. 1 conclude by saying that I support this bill most wholeheartedly and I congratulate the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) on his splendid effort to benefit the people ot the whole of Australia.

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