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Wednesday, 18 November 1959

Mr STEWART (Lang) .- Clause 27 (b) deals with desertion. While I must agree that the Attorney-General was correct when he said that nine members of the United Kingdom Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce were in favour of the separation clause, and nine were against it. while one stood out for a different provision, I think I am correct in saying that every member of the commission said it was undesirable that desertion for any period of less than three years should be a ground for divorce. I quote from the report of the royal commission which sat between 1951 and 1955. At page 43, paragraph 138, the following appears: -

Most witnesses were content that the period for which desertion must run should remain at three years. No witness suggested that the period of continuous desertion should be lengthened but there were several proposals that it should be shortened, on the ground that it is a hardship for a deserted spouse to have to wait for three years and that there is little prospect of a husband and wife coming together after, say, twelve months have elapsed from the initial desertion. We are all of the opinion that it would be most undesirable that the period during which desertion must run should be less than three years.

The Attorney-General has leaned rather heavily for support of some of his proposals on the information contained in the report of the royal commission held in the United Kingdom. Whilst I am prepared to concede that he has 50 per cent, of the members of the royal commission in his favour on the separation clause, certainly none of the commissioners is in his favour on the desertion clause. If my information is correct, the only persons who can at the moment obtain a divorce after two years are those resident in Tasmania.

Dr Evatt - On the ground of desertion?

Mr STEWART - Yes. I am speaking only to paragraph (b) of clause 27. There does not seem to have been any effort by any section of the community to have the desertion period reduced from three years to two years. I understand that the Attorney-General suggests that he has done so because, after a petition is filed, a delay of twelve months occurs before the case is heard and so we come back to the period of three years. A further argument that he uses is that, if a divorce is to be taken after three years' desertion, it will most likely be taken after two years' desertion, or if it could not be taken after two years, then the parties would be prepared to wait for three years, because after a desertion of two years the parties would not be reconcilable. But the position is that the laws of the States at present provide for a period of three years. The royal commission in the United Kingdom also suggested that it would be most undesirable for the period during which desertion must run to be less than three years. However, in this instance, we find that the Attorney-General goes against the provisions in the State acts and the recommendation of the royal commission, and decides to reduce the period to two years. In doing so, he is making divorce on the ground of desertion a little easier.

I understand that, on the figures for 1957, 64 per cent, of divorces in Australia were granted on the ground of desertion. People who have been deserted would suffer no undue hardship if they had to wait for three years to elapse. Those most affected are the wives, with their children, if the husbands desert them, and our social service legislation - I am not going into the pros and cons of it - provides a semblance of assistance for them. Even if they must wait for three years, it is unlikely that they would want to remarry before that time had elapsed. I feel that, to reduce the desertion period from three years to two years is wrong and I should like the AttorneyGeneral to reconsider his attitude on this issue. He has not given away much in any of the amendments that he has accepted so far. He has quoted the report of the royal commission to support his proposal on separation and possibly I will later quote the same report to support an argument against the provision relating to five years' separation. But in this instance, all the commissioners have said is that it would be undesirable for the desertion period to be less than three years. I feel that if he takes notice of nine of the commissioners, plus one doubtful on one clause, he should take notice of all the commissioners on this ground of desertion.

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