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Wednesday, 18 November 1959

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (Blaxland) . - Mr. Chairman, I consider that paragraph (b) of this clause is the second most important provision from the stand-point of women. Tn considering this clause, we should remember, first, that we are dealing with matrimonial relief and the dissolution of marriage. In considering matrimonial relief, we should perhaps not take the selfish point of view and consider the interests of men only. We have heard quite a lot, throughout the debate on this measure, abut the selfishness of men who walk out on their wives and desert their families. One honorable member, I think, spoke of men leaving their families for dead and leaving them stranded, as though they meant nothing to them any longer. When we come to consider the restitution of conjugal rights and the rest of the matters involved in this problem, we must ask ourselves one question: What is the quickest and most satisfactory way to give relief to women who have been left by their husbands and who have family responsibilities?

Strangely enough, the only strong communication that I received in respect of this particular matter came from a very important section of women's organizations in New South Wales which was most emphatic that I should support this clause and seek its support by other members of this Parliament. The one point on which I agree with the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) is that the argument put forward by the Minister would almost convince anybody that the period in question should be shortened to less than two years. A woman of 21, 31 or 41 years of age may have been left to fend for herself for two years. As the Minister has rightly said, before this clause can apply to her she must make an application. Who has to make the decision? I think that we are taking a lot upon ourselves even to state a limit of two years because in nine cases out of ten the one making an application under this clause will be the woman who has been stranded and not the man who has been left by a woman. If the woman who has been left stranded believes that it is wise to give him another twelve months in which to make up his mind, she is the best one to decide that question. She is the best one to determine whether a further twelve months is desirable to let this man make up his mind whether he wants to come back to his family. But do not let us take away from her the right, at the end of two years, to give her husband an opportunity to indicate whether under this law, reconcilation is possible, and if reconciliation is not possible to institute divorce proceedings immediately.

After all, there is not one female in this committee. Who are we to say to a woman who has been stranded, " You have to wait three years to get your relief ". We should not attempt to take this upon ourselves. The right to determine whether the period should be two years or three years should be left to the woman who has been stranded.

Mr Wheeler - What about the husband who has been stranded?

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - Let us consider the reverse situation. Suppose that the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) was left stranded by his wife, with three kiddies. Suppose that, at the end of two years, there was no possible chance of reconciliation and that over those two years he had endeavoured, as best he could, to fend for the three children. Suppose, too, that at the end of two years there was some good woman who was prepared to throw in her lot with him and rear the three children. Does anybody say that the honorable member should not have the opportunity to remarry in order to give his children a break from the kind of life that they had been leading without a mother. That is the reality of this matter.

If there is one clause in this bill that I will support wholeheartedly it is this one because it reduces the period that the woman has to wait. I am not much concerned with the man because in the main the men will look after themselves. I know of instances in which the provisions of this clause will apply. Undoubtedly, some women will not make a move for three years, but others will take proceedings in two years because by remarrying they will have an opportunity to do something for their families.

I agree with the point made by the Minister. The period should be shortened because the best one to make the decision is the woman affected by the separation. I am all on her side. To the extent that we can help her, we should do so.

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