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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1974


Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Minister for Trade)(8.13) —I know that the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman) means well but I do not think he has considered the rather difficult position for people in the old days when they had to go to court, stand in the witness box, say what was the problem and get someone else to corroborate the evidence with nobody else there except those watching them going through that ritual. I do not think that was very fair or very edifying. That is what the honourable member is insisting upon. He was wrong in suggesting that the other party would not know of the proceedings. That is not true. It never has been. It would not be justice. The fact is that an appropriate document is served on the other spouse asking whether he or she wishes to defend the proceedings. If two intelligent people decide that they do not wish to go through this ritual, which the honourable member insists on enforcing, as some marionette whereby they have to be examined in the witness box to guarantee that the judge is satisfied when perhaps the guilty party will not even appear and never has been obliged to appear, I do not see the logic of their having to do so. In many cases in practice undefended divorces have taken less than three minutes. The guilty parties-if there is guilt-are never there anyway. That is the point. The honourable member is insisting on one party appearing and doing all these things which he would not have had to go through in all his born days because he is lucky in life. The Joint Comittee on the Family Law Act was concerned about this extraordinary position by which we would regiment people's lives to the extent that if a person has to go through all this trouble to convince a judge that he is genuine when the other party does not now have to appear in any way. We cannot make people appear if they do not want to do so. All that would do is oblige the people who need to talk about the settlement of their matter to do it in physical terms.

As a matter of interest, most adoption orders are made in the absence of the child. As long as a judge is satisified on the evidence before him-sworn affidavits and the like-that an application is fitting and proper, it is granted in chambers. I see no difference, particularly where no children are involved- that is the position here-in doing this. It is merely to bring into the system of justice the principle that if the parties have come to a position themselves that they will no longer remain together, they can use a formal document called a decree as evidence of dissolution. It is no more serious than that.