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Thursday, 12 November 1959

Mr HALBERT (Moore) .- Mr. Speaker,I paid full attention to the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) but I found it difficult to get any concrete facts from him. I feel that I should examine his remarks and those of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). They both appear to be critical of the large number of amendments to the bill that have been foreshadowed. But it appears to me that those amendments should be commended as proof of the desire and willingness of the AttorneyGeneral (Sir Garfield Barwick) to make this bill as worthy and as permanent as possible.

I shall confine my speech to what I consider to be the three highlights of the Matrimonial Causes Bill. I support the main social purpose of the bill which, I take it for granted, will have the universal approval of every thinking person, at least in principle. The three main points to which I shall direct attention concern marriage guidance and reconciliation, the five years separation provision of clause 27, and the enforcement of decrees for maintenance provided for in clause 93.

Concerning marriage guidance and reconciliation it is sufficient to say that prevention is better than cure and that cure is much better than separation and divorce. I think that even the most biased critic will agree that this bill has gone to extreme lengths to provide unlimited scope for prevention and cure. The importance of these provisions cannot be overlooked or ignored. Perhaps the greatest compliment to these provisions has been paid by the most vocal critics of other aspects of the bill. They say that these provisions are so good and have such great appeal that they are being used as a cloak for less desirable features, including easy divorce. I do not think that this is true. It is not in accord with the facts.

Divorce is not being made easier in any clause of this bill. I conscientiously believe that practical application will reveal that the reverse is the case. Separation and divorce will be harder and the incidence of broken marriages will be reduced. At the same time, the bill will be humane and realistic in its application. It will help to reduce the human suffering which exists to-day. I therefore suggest in all humility that the role of our churches and social organizations is the role of teaching, and supporting practical morality and practical Christianity in the prevention and cure of social ills. Marriage guidance and reconciliation must be our major job.

This brings me to clause 27 (m) - the five years' separation provision, or, for the sake of easy reference, the five-year plan. This much maligned provision has operated in Western Australia over many years with great success and, I say emphatically; with great satisfaction to all sections of the people except those who do not approve of divorce on any grounds. Therefore, as divorce is regarded by the large majority of people all over the world as a necessary social law, clause 27" (m) must be accepted as a modern, humane provision the value of which has been proved beyond doubt, over 14 years' of operation, in Western Australia. It does not make divorce easier.

Perhaps the main point overlooked by those who do not understand this is that practically every person who obtains a divorce under this provision could have and would have - mark you, would have - obtained a divorce on other grounds. These would have been much more undesirable grounds such as desertion, cruelty and adultery. Surely we must realize that it is rare for normal people to separate without real cause - a cause which itself is grounds for divorce. People would prefer to avoid some of the moral stigma associated with the real grounds, because of the serious detriment to their family's future.

It will, therefore, be clearly realized that, with rare exceptions, this provision does not make divorce easier. It just makes it cleaner. I know there are people who will say, " Why allow it to be cleaner? Let them take the consequences of their folly." That those who live by the sword should perish by the sword is their belief. If the parties to a divorce were the only ones involved there might be grounds for this line of thought. But of the greatest importance is the family and the undesirable effects on the children who suffer enough by divided parents. Surely it is extremely bad psychology to let them know unnecessarily - and to let them know that the public knows - that one or other of their parents is an adulterer or worse? You do not have to be a psychologist to realize the effects that such treatment could have on future divorces. Many otherwise responsible parents1 will make sacrifices in order to wait and apply under the five-year's clause, purely for this purpose, and the provision should be there for them.

Perhaps the most significant proof of the success of the five-year plan in Western Australia is that divorce has decreased in that State more than in most other States. When I hear an honorable gentleman talking about this clause as if it were some horror, it positively amazes me. Divorce has not been found easy in Western Australia. Any one who has studied the graph which shows a. comparison of the number of divorces in the various. States will be fully convinced on this point because, it would convince the most incredulous critic. For example, in 1947,. there were 814 divorces in Western Australia - one for every 625 of the population. In 1958 there were 536 divorces - one for every 1,316 of the. population. And these are the figures for a State in which divorce is said to be easy! It is really laughable. Since 1950 - after the effects of the war period had subsided: - the drop in divorces in Western Australia had been 8 per cent, greater than in any other State of the Commonwealth. Further to confuse the. critics, the. total number of defended, cases on the grounds of the five years' separation in the last two years has been twelve - an average of six per year, or less than 5 per cent. This proves that this provision is seldom used by one party to force an unwanted divorce on the other.

In the 14 years of practical experience in Western Australia, there has been no indication that it is inadvisable to have the separation provision. Surely those who are interested in a national aspect of divorce must take a practical and logical view of this provision. There is nothing in clause 27 (m) that will increase divorce. On the contrary, there is. much concrete evidence that it will save human suffering: I believe that to reject clause 27 (m) would be contrary to humane conduct and would only assist in breaking down the meaning of the law. I believe that its inclusion will preserve, in a practical manner; the moral standards and conduct of our society. It will' reduce illicit associations and perpetual immorality. This must be the firm desire of every church and social organization and I believe it is the desire of honorable members of this Parliament. Therefore, the fears of the critics are without real foundation. At worst, the advantages far outweigh any disadvantages that may exist m a minor form.

Mr. Speaker,I now come to the third point which I wish to make. It concerns clause 93, which provides for the enforcement of orders for maintenance. So far, I seem to be the only member of the House who has taken this matter seriously. I believe that this clause is most important and significant, and that it is the most farreaching clause in the bill. It provides complete financial protection for a wife and family - protection of a kind which has never before been available, particularly on an interstate basis. The provision for attachment of both earnings and property, in my opinion, is the greatest deterrent to divorce that has ever been devised. A man who is morally unsound will invite financial disaster if he gives rein to his loose moral attitudes. At the very best, from his point of view, he will face a very much lower standard of living. This will deter the most errant and wanton husband from pursuing a dangerous and unhappy existence.

In my short experience in Parliament, I have had a number of appeals for assistance from deserted wives and families who have been holding useless maintenance orders which were not worth the paper they were written on, because the legal costs of enforcement were greater than the amount that could be collected, particularly where former husbands had moved to another State, whether or not it had reciprocal legislation. I can assure honorable members that wives in Western Australia suffer from that sort of thing more than is the case in other States. Extreme hardship has been caused in thousands of cases, and there has been a long-felt want for a better system of maintenance payments. This clause will receive the approbation and blessing of every woman who holds a maintenance order. It will receive, also, the grateful blessing of all parents of daughters, and will be strongly supported by them. I am sure that the value of the security it affords families and the strong deterrent that exists in its provisions are not yet .fully realized. Clause 93 is to be very highly commended.

I believe, Mr. Speaker, that this bill will be hard on the casual delinquent but that it represents a realistic approach to the circumstances of marriage partners who are irrevocably separated. This measure will contribute greatly to the moral welfare and the social advancement of our country. Perhaps I may be permitted to bring to the attention of honorable members the words of a prayer that is repeated daily in the United States Senate. Its words are very appropriate to this bill. The prayer is in these terms -

Give us the strength to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed.

In this case, human nature -

Give us the courage to change the things that can and should be changed.

Our divorce laws -

Give us wisdom to distinguish one from the other.

I think that the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) has done this with great skill. I trust that this bill will receive the support of all honorable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Duthie) adjourned.

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