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Wednesday, 18 November 1959

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) .- The first thing I wish to say is that I support this clause. As the Attorney-General has said to-night, he has had to try to achieve a balanced judgment, a balanced decision, a balanced attitude and a balanced selection of the grounds for divorce that we should include in this uniform divorce law. We have to read paragraph (b) in conjunction with paragraph (k). When we do so we find that whereas the qualifying period of desertion in most of the States is three years, this paragraph will reduce the period to two years. But the provision in paragraph (k), conversely, increases the existing qualifying period in respect of failure to comply with a decree of restitution of conjugal rights, which is 21 days in New South Wales - the only State where that ground applies - to one year for all of Australia. So one existing qualifying period is reduced in one paragraph whilst in the other the existing qualifying period is increased. That is an example of the balanced attitude that the Attorney-General has tried to adopt.

The second thing I wish to say is that paragraph (b) deals with the human side of the breaking up of a marriage. We know that it is the woman who is usually the sufferer in a marriage which breaks up through wilful desertion, and we have to legislate to the best of our ability to ease the burden of suffering that lies on a woman and her children who have been deserted.

That brings me to the third point, which is that this provision will shorten the period of suffering of a deserted wife. As members of Parliament we deal with many cases in which we are asked to help deserted wives to obtain accommodation of some sort or some form of government assistance. Most of my colleagues in the Parliament have had case after case of this kind before them. Paragraph (b) will reduce by one year the period of economic instability and impoverishment through which a deserted wife will have to pass. I feel that that is desired by all reasonable people who wish to make some effort to help such women to newer and better lives.

Finally, I wish to point out that there is one State in which the provision in paragraph (b) is already operating. That State is Tasmania, and I refuse to accept the statement of the honorable member that " for all all practical purposes " the qualifying term for the ground of wilful desertion in the six States is three years. Nothing of the sort! The period in Tasmania is two years. Some honorable members may think that because the qualifying period in Tasmania is only two years, we must have in that State a flood of divorce cases in our courts. But an official graph circulated to all honorable members illustrates the remarkable fact that in Tasmania we have the lowest divorce rate of any State - 49 divorces in every 100,000 marriages. The next most favorable rates are those in South Australia and Queensland, in both of which States there are 54 divorces to every 100,000 marriages. In New South Wales it is 75 to every 100,000. The graph, therefore, shows quite clearly that the State in which this twoyears' provision has already operated for years, has sustained no increase in its rate of divorces as a result, and I do not believe that this provision will increase the divorce rate when it operates on a federal basis. That is why I support the provision.

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