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Tuesday, 17 November 1959

Sir WILFRID KENT HUGHES (Chisholm) . - Mr. Deputy Speaker, the longer this debate proceeds, the more obvious it is that all honorable members, irrespective of where they sit in this House, are very keen to have uniform divorce laws put into operation in Australia. On the other hand, the longer the debate proceeds, the more obvious it is that the views of all of us on certain clauses of this bill differ greatly. I give full credit, as others have done, to all those who have spoken for the sincerity of their remarks. I doubt whether we have ever had in any debate in this House more speeches straight from the heart and the head than we have heard on this occasion.

The fact remains, as the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) has said - being an old campaigner, he will not, I am sure, misunderstand what I am about to say - that, if some honorable members feel that certain provisions of this bill are wrong and if the Government intends to force through before the end of this session this measure of 1 1 6 clauses, in respect of which 56 amendments have already been circulated, and a third schedule almost equal to another bill, the measure will not receive the consideration that should be given to a bill dealing with a matter which, as all of us agree, fundamentally goes right down to the basic roots of our society and our way of life. Divorce is not an easy matter to discuss. It is a very difficult and dangerous matter to discuss in a political body. In fact, it has often been termed " political dynamite ". I believe that it is, and that it should be handled with care. It should be given the closest analysis and the most time that we can give to it.

I join with others in congratulating most heartily the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) on the amount of time he has given to this bill, and on the way in which he has endeavoured to find out what various sections of the community feel about it and how they think it could be improved. I am not criticizing the proposal to move 56 amendments. I congratulate the AttorneyGeneral most heartily on what he has done, but I ask him - I plead with him - to go a little further. There is no necessity to put this bill through before the session ends next week.

Mr Turner - Pigeon-hole it?

Sir WILFRID KENT HUGHES - You will not give me credit for talking sincerely. I have given every one else credit for talking sincerely and I would like to have a little of it, particularly from this side of the House. It is not necessary to pigeon-hole the bill. I am an old enough campaigner to know that, if I want to do that, I could force the Government to apply the gag to the discussion of every clause, or even every line of every clause. I do not propose to employ that method. I ask that, in view of the considerations that have been put forward by many members on certain clauses, and in view of the heavy legislative programme still before us, the bill should be brought forward in the next session, on a motion, at the stage at which it finishes here, whether it be the end of the second-reading debate, or half-way through the committee stage. I am sure that the Opposition would not oppose that course. It is a very nice thought, and one that I share, that Parliament should be prorogued so that the new representative of Her Majesty the Queen may, with all the formality of tradition, open the new session. But that does not mean that this bill has to be forced through in this session.

The bill began as a girl who was engaged to the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) - a private member's bill. It was then taken up by the Attorney-General before the marriage to the honorable member for Balaclava could take place, and it became a non-party bill. With the publicity that it received on 14th November, unfortunately, it has now become, to all intents and purposes, a Government bill so far as this side of the House is concerned. I know that there was a straw vote. I do not know why it was necessary to take it on a non-party bill, or why any animosity should have arisen on this particular question, when I asked why it was taken and what the result was. Let us have this as a non-party measure, but I do not like theson of thing that has been published in thenewspapers. Any one who has been in Parliament for any length of time knows where this kind of report comes from -

It was learned to-day that if any attempt to"side track" the legislation, such as referring- it to a Senate select committee for further examination, succeeds, the Government is prepared to drop it altogether. Ministers feel-

Newspapers do not say " Ministers feel " without reason - that no Government should be expected to resubmit continuously legislation of such an important and contentious character.

As I have said, I do not propose to meet threat with threat but I ask the AttorneyGeneral to give consideration to my proposal, so that this bill can be properly considered in committee. It is obvious from what has been said that every one in this House would like to see a uniform divorce law, but some of us may either agree or disagree with the church leaders.

At least in this day and age, if we have so many church leaders disagreeing with some sections of the bill, I think we ought to pause a while and consider whether we are right in what is proposed, or whether they have some justification for the criticism that they have levelled at the bill. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver) said that this was a secular matter. He referred to isolated critics. I know him very well, and I do not believe that what he said was intended to be taken literally. A number of people, not only here, but outside, look upon divorce as a secular matter, and treat the church leaders as isolated critics. Divorce is difficult to debate. You cannot treat it in an abstract way and render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's nor unto God the things that are God's. Both these are considerations which are inextricably bound together. Therefore, a very heavy weight of responsibility falls on all of us.

I join with the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson), the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) and the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) and others who have pleaded this same cause. I do not want to offend any one else's susceptibilities. I do not criticize other points of view. But all of us, as we travel down the arches of the years, know full well what is expressed, I think, in Edward Gill's poem, "The Fool's Prayer " -

Those clumsy feet which, in the mire, go crushing blossoms without end.

We could quite easily go crushing some of the best flowers of our civilization if we try to hurry through 116 clauses and 56 amendments. The best legal brains in Australia have found it necessary to propose 56 amendments to this bill. Therefore, I feel that a little longer time - even if it is another four or five months - will be in the interests of all concerned.

I regret the impression that has gone abroad that this is a lawyer's bill. It is not a lawyer's bill. Each one of us here has the responsibility, as has been stated over and over again, of handling, a subject which goes to the very foundation of our Christian society. It may be that the lawyers are right. It may be that the churchmen are right. I do not often receive a letter from the head of my church and when I do it is up to me to pay some attention to it. I know that one church interprets very strictly the injunction, " Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder ". Some may say that that is too narrow, but there are others who do not interpret it as strictly. Although they take a strong attitude towards divorce, they sometimes feel that it is the lesser of two evils. It is those people who have now asked us to look again at three or four clauses of the bill, and consider whether they will make divorce easier. When the committee stage is reached I hope that we shall not have to consider these things at three or four o'clock' in the morning.

I am sorry that, in replying to the statements by the bishops, the Attorney-General should have stated that his own view was that there was much more decency and a much higher sense of responsibility in the community than the churchmen seemed to conceive. I should like to hear him apologise for that statement, because I do not think it was meant. It has been taken as a slap-down to the clergy in public. Surely we have progressed beyond the stage at which Henry II., striking difficulty with the Church, asked -

Who will free me from this turbulent priest?

We have progressed since then, and so has the Church; its outlook has considerably widened. Nevertheless, in this particular case, here am I, neither a lawyer nor a minister of religion, confronted with a very wide divergence of opinion on two or three of these clauses. For the moment I cannot judge between them, but I feel that we could do a lot of good by having further discussions at the committee stage of these particular phases.

Furthermore, may I remind honorable members that in this day and age, even if we disagree with the churches, we want to disagree with them as amicably as possible and not do anything that would in any way bring them into public disfavour. After all, lawyers deal with the causes of divorce; ministers of religion have to deal with its disastrous effects. Maybe ministers have fallen down on their job, but 1 suppose there are no better marriage guidance counsellors than ministers. Maybe they have not done their job as well as they should have done, but, all the same, perhaps we have not supported our ministers and our churches as well as we should have and the fault is ours and not theirs if they have fallen down on the job. At the same time, the religious aspect is a most important one in this day and age, when, in every corner of the globe we have religions of all kinds being attacked by atheistic materialism allied with a dialectical and diabolical philosophy which seeks to undermine our way of life by undermining religion and all the fundamental truths for which they stand. Here, again, is a very cogent reason why, with our church leaders so against the advice of our lawyers and saying that this bill is making divorce easier, we should take note of what they say. Maybe if a little more time is given, we will be able to prove to them that they are perhaps concerned over something which is covered by other phases of the bill. All I ask is that we do not push it through quickly against these objections which have been raised.

I wish to refer to one other point. It is not just a question of whether divorce will be easier or harder. In our religion it is held that there is more joy over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety and nine that need no such repentance. But if we are going to make divorce easier, it will make repentance less necessary. Therefore, this will again be undermining the social foundations of the community. If there is no need for repentance, then many of us will perhaps be much worse than we are to-day, because we all are human beings.

The honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) referred to the question of publishing details of divorce proceedings. I was the first member in the Victorian State Parliament who asked that these details be suppressed. I was asked to do so by a judge of the divorce court at that time. After weighing the whole matter up I came to the conclusion that it would be possibly all to the good although there were some cogent arguments against it.

Most of the clauses I have no desire to oppose, because of what the Government is seeking to achieve through this bill. But I am most seriously disturbed when we do not give what I believe is proper consideration to the suggestions - objections if you like, but not obstructions - which have been raised by the leaders of nearly all the Churches. If I said that the vast majority of the leaders of the Churches had made these suggestions or objections, I do not think I would be far wrong. It is not just this Church or that Church. On most of the matters mentioned by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) most of the leaders of all the Churches are in agreement.

Already, in some ways, we have made it easy through our social laws to break up family life. Through child endowment and through de facto widows' pensions it is much easier these days, to use the vulgar parlance, for " the old man to blow through". He says, "Why should I bother? The children can get child endowment and the wife can get a de facto widow's pension. "

We are inclined to look at these matters from a secular point of view and not from the religious side. As I have already said, this has worried me very considerably. Therefore, I do again ask that more time for discussion of these matters should be given in committee. As I said before, maybe the lawyers are right and maybe the religious leaders are right; but surely we can do everything we can and give all the time we can to guard against such things as making repentance unnecessary.

No time can be too short for our conceiving The ways and means to profit from mistakes - Repentance lies in starting now, not in leaving Our efforts, till another morning breaks. No good can be achieved by sitting crying. The greatest sin is when we give up trying.

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