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Wednesday, 23 May 1973
Page: 2510

Mr ENDERBY (Australian Capital Territory) (Minister for the Capital Territory, Minister for the Northern Territory and Acting Attorney-General) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The main purpose of this Bill is to reduce from 21 years to 18 years the age at which a person may marry without parental consent. Clause 3 of the Bill achieves this purpose by altering the definition of 'minor' for the purposes of the Marriage Act to mean a person who has not attained the age of 18 years. No doubt some honourable members will recall that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), when Leader of the Opposition, introduced a Bill for this and other purposes in 1968, and again in 1970. Regrettably, it did not reach the statute book.

I believe that nobody could seriously dispute the fact that to-day's young men and women of 18, 19 and 20 are much more mature in every way than people of the same age were even 12 years ago when the present Marriage Act was passed. By any standards they are now entitled to be regarded as adults and to be given the rights and privileges as well as the duties and responsibilities which adulthood entails. There is a growing recognition of the need to accord these young adults the rights they are entitled to have. Thus, they can now vote at all Federal and at some State elections, and in a number of States they can make a will and freely enter into binding contracts.

But in the important personal area of marriage they are still subject to this disability that they cannot marry the person of their choice without their parents' consent - or the approval of a court if their parents refuse consent. I am sure all honourable members will agree that the time has come to remove this disability. It has already been removed in England, where the relevant legislation was enacted in 1969 in accordance with the recommendations of a committee appointed by the Lord Chancellor to inquire into the age of majority. Such legislation was unnecessary in Scotland because minors over the age of 16 have never needed parental consent to marry in that country.

The opportunity is also being taken in the Bill to make some other amendments to the Act, which are regarded as necessary or desirable in the light of the experience gained since the Act came into operation in 1961. These other amendments are for the most part of comparatively minor importance, and I can deal with them in Committee, if necessary. However, I would like to mention briefly one particular matter - the list of persons whose consents will be required to the marriage of a person under the age of 18 years. I should explain that while I have hitherto mentioned only parental consent, the consents of other persons may be needed in certain circumstances.

The persons concerned and the circumstances in which their consents may be required are set out in the Schedule to the Act. Clause 13 of the Bill removes as far as possible the distinction between children born in wedlock and those born out of wedlock by substituting a new Part I in the Schedule to replace the existing Parts I and II, which deal with legitimate and illegitimate children respectively. There are 2 consequential changes of substance. The consent of a child's father who is not married to the mother will now be required where the father is living with the mother, and in cases where the parents are separated and the minor is living with him. I believe that, in addition to ending the legislative distinction between children born in and out of wedlock for the purpose of consent to marry, the new table will be more in keeping generally with modern requirements. I commend the Bill to the House.

Leave granted for debate to continue forthwith.

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