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Wednesday, 20 March 1985
Page: 628

Mr SLIPPER(7.02) —I stand in this House representing the National Party of Australia. Whilst I applaud many of the principles contained in the Marriage Amendment Bill, which is to bring into effect the provisions of the Hague Convention on the Celebration and Recognition of the Validity of Marriages, it is important to scrutinise very carefully anything brought before this House by the Hawke socialist composite Government. I use the word 'composite' because of the rag-tag combination of warring factions which constitute that unhappy entity. The Hawke coalition of various groups is a government on the way out, a government which is presiding over the erosion of family values in our community and of the place of the family as the basic unit in our society. This Bill is yet another example of the Commonwealth entering into treaty obligations, thereby enabling it to abuse the external affairs power by warping and perverting the traditional division of powers between the States and the Commonwealth as enshrined in the Constitution. However laudable the substance of the Bill may be, Australians must appreciate that the Australian Labor Party is once again ripping up, indeed working to wreck utterly, the spirit of the Constitution by bringing in this Bill in this manner.

It is essential that when we return to government after the next election any future proposed treaty be subjected to proper scrutiny as to its constitutional implications by a joint committee of this House and the Senate. In addition, there must be extensive consultations with each of the States before any such proposed treaty is executed. As honourable members may be aware, the United States Government by law cannot enter into treaties without the consent of the United States Senate. With the ANZUS treaty virtually in tatters as a result of Mr Lange and his New Zealand Labor Party, as well as factionalism in the ALP, the Government should take note that any replacement treaty would have to be vetted by the United States upper House. We on this side of the chamber consider the Crown, federalism and the Constitution--

Mr Maher —I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am reluctant to interrupt the honourable member but he is diverting from the Bill. He is talking about ANZUS, the Crown and the United States Senate. I ask you to bring him back to the legislation.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Rocher) —I ask the honourable member for Fisher to make his remarks relevant.

Mr SLIPPER —The point I was making was the the Hague Convention is a treaty. As such, the Commonwealth, by bringing in this legislation, is able to obtain additional legislative power which would not normally be available under the Australian Constitution.

There would appear to be a bipartisan approach to the principles to be enacted by this Bill; however, as honourable members on both sides of the House realise, the price of liberty, especially with the Labor Government temporarily in control, is eternal vigilance. Any act of Parliament concerning marriage is of fundamental importance to this House and all Australians. Therefore, I was somewhat concerned over implications which could have followed from the title of this Bill. It is supposed to be the Marriage Amendment Bill, but thankfully it is not intended to amend marriage itself, as one might think. One never knows with the socialists.

It is apparent that the Marriage Act 1961 is to be the subject of surgery, although fortunately it will not be subjected to Labor's Medicare fiasco. The Bill seeks to ensure that wherever possible there should be similar rules throughout the world concerning marriage. It is to be hoped that the international community as a whole will embrace the Convention as time goes on. As an honourable member on this side of the House mentioned previously, at this time very few countries have embraced the Convention. It is a direct result of Australia's immigration policy in recent years that large numbers of people involved in Australian marriages are overseas born. In fact, as the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen) mentioned, just two years ago, in 1983, 35 per cent of all marriages in this country had at least one party born elsewhere. The percentage may well now be higher. There is a possibility, however remote, that some of those marriages could be invalidated because of the fact that one party may not have been a British subject, an Australian citizen or domiciled in this country. It is important, wherever possible, to ensure certainty in relation to such a basic matter as marriage. Speaking generally, if this Bill is passed our law will provide that, subject to certain exceptions, the law of the jurisdiction where the marriage was effected will govern the validity or otherwise of that marriage.

I wonder, quite seriously, whether the Marriage Amendment Bill is the appropriate place for clauses which endeavour to make a contribution to the current public debate occurring throughout the world in relation to in vitro fertilisation and associated matters. I have the utmost sympathy for childless married couples. We need to have a full, frank and vigorous discussion in the community on these matters, with a view to reaching broad agreement in accordance with Christian principles. Any such deliberations would, among other things, include consideration of the rights and responsibilities of parents. However, I am pleased that all parties in this place recognise that while uniform laws in this area are desirable these matters are to be considered as areas of State responsibility. I hope the Standing Committee of Commonwealth and State Attorneys-General will in due course proceed with the implementation of uniform law consistent with the Christian principles I have mentioned before, through, to use the favourite term of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), 'consensus' in the community. As an aside, I might mention that this country needs from the Government less of the 'con' and a lot more of the 'sensus'. I suppose we could say that at least the issue has not yet been consigned to one of Labor's seemingly innumerable summits.

There is mention in the Bill of the Family Law Act and I am pleased because it provides me with a brief opportunity to comment on the Act and the Family Court of Australia. Like many members on both sides of the House, I have been concerned at the considerable delays in the Family Court. In fact, it can take more than 18 months for hearings of contested custody and property settlement matters. In addition I am worried about the apparent lack of respect by some people for the Family Court, and we must look at the reasons. Marriage breakdown is a very emotive area and as Family Court judges have been subjected to outrageous violence and threats, and the need to have armed bodyguards and round the clock protection, it is time to consider whether changes should be made. Of course, like all others in this chamber, on both sides, I utterly condemn violence. Prior to Gough Whitlam, Senator Lionel Murphy--

Mr Cobb —A dreadful duo.

Mr SLIPPER —They were a terrible duo; I thank the honourable member for Parkes for his contribution. Prior to them and their infamous band of socialists embarking on Labor's family law experiment--

Mr Maher —A point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Offensive words were used against a justice of the High Court who is a former member of another place, and I ask that you rule them out of order.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Rocher) —I regret that my attention was diverted and I did not hear the alleged offensive words. I will leave the matter to the honourable member for Fisher.

Mr SLIPPER —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Prior to Gough Whitlam, Senator Lionel Murphy and their infamous band of socialists embarking on Labor's family law experiment, matrimonial matters were dealt with in an impartial, respectful and just manner by the ordinary legal system. Previously, for decades, perhaps for more than a hundred years, the begowned and bewigged judges presiding from elevated positions in the court-room in a relatively anonymous way decided the same highly charged, emotive issues which are now the responsibility of the Family Court. Decisions by and large were accepted by the parties. They felt they had a fair go. Those judges did not go in fear of their lives; they were not locked up for their own protection.

Mr Maher —A point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I know the honourable member is a new member, but debate on the Family Law Act is irrelevant to this legislation. This Bill deals with the Hague Convention which has nothing to do with the Family Law Act. I do ask you to draw the attention of this new member to that fact.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I do not know that the honourable member has gone far away from the content of the Bill before the House, but I ask him to become relevant.

Mr SLIPPER —The judges did not go in fear of their lives. They were not virtually locked up for their own protection. In view of the recent tragedies and other problems, the Government should consider either phasing out the Family Court as we know it and reinvesting jurisdiction in the State supreme courts or, alternatively, remodelling the Family Court along traditional supreme court lines. I do not intend to impugn the integrity of Family Court judges but a decision on this matter is one of top priority. Without wanting to be facetious in any way, it is in every sense a matter of life and death.

I am pleased to see that the Bill provides for a widening of marriage education. Anything that can be done to reduce the present unacceptable degree of marriage breakdown should be encouraged. I believe that counselling and marriage education are vitally important and that moneys should be set aside to help people discuss their problems and resolve them if possible. Probably against my own pecuniary interests as a lawyer, I have not hesitated to refer matrimonial clients to a local clergyman or other qualified person for counselling, because if difficulties can be isolated, then with good will and effort a marriage can get over its rocky period and be saved. It is important that every opportunity be taken to preserve marriages where this is practicable.

I am totally opposed to any suggestion that the Government should deny ordinary Australians the right to enter into contracts with marriage celebrants for the provision of services at fees to be agreed by the parties. I support the amendment which is to be moved by the shadow Attorney-General, the honourable member for Menzies (Mr N. A. Brown). It may be helpful to have a scale to be used as a guide, but citizens ought not to be denied the right to make their own arrangements with marriage celebrants, some of whom are more popular than others. Perhaps they do their job better, but in any event they are more popular. I would like people to be able to make their own financial and contractual arrangements with marriage celebrants. Personally, I would like everyone to want to be married in church. However, a farce is made of a Christian marriage service when people arrange for the same because of the niceness of the church buildings, the decor or the surroundings. Therefore, marriage celebrants have a role to perform and they and their clients ought not to be denied one of the basic tenets of free enterprise-the right to agree on a charge for services to be rendered. We on this side of the House are absolutely against this proposed further infringement of personal liberty by the Hawke socialist Government.

In summing-up, undoubtedly the passage of this Bill will cause some benefits to flow to the community, but there are also grave constitutional implications which could amount to a subversion of the Constitution by stealth. If the Federal Government wants to increase its power at the expense of the States, it should do so only with the concurrence of the Australian people through the referendum procedure. On balance, this Bill would have to be described at best as a mixed blessing.