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Wednesday, 16 October 1974
Page: 1736

Senator CHANEY (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - My question is directed to Senator James McClelland as Chairman of the Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs and it relates to a report of that Committee. I ask this question in the light of a statement in the Senate yesterday that the Committee limited its work on the Family Law Bill as follows:

Indeed, it is only with regard to the term of reference relating to the clauses of the Bill that any work has been done. . . .

Obviously the consideration of the clauses of the Bill was to be a pan of the consideration of the larger matter. What we are denied by this report is the consideration by this Committee of all the submissions which it received prior to 1 973 in terms of what should be the objectives of family law legislation in this country. We have, as it were, an isolated examination of the clauses of this Bill.

The PRESIDENT - Order! I ask Senator Chaney to ask his question.

Senator CHANEY -That is the end of the quotation. Can Senator James McClelland inform the Senate what consideration, if any, the Committee when preparing its report gave to the larger matter of the philosophy and objectives which family law legislation should be recognising and endeavouring to achieve? Further, what was the Committee's action with respect to receiving the views of persons opposed to the Bill, noting its comment that it received the views of adherents to the Bill only?

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I must confess that I was somewhat taken aback yesterday by Senator Greenwood 's readiness to give a considered opinion about a document which, on his own admission, had been in his hands a couple of minutes. I can only hope for the sake of his clients that his legal opinions are based on a longer examination of the facts.

Senator Webster - What a lot of rubbish.

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Senator Webster obviously needs no enlightenment on these matters but seeing that a member on the other side of the chamber has asked me for some information I assume that other honourable senators would like to hear what I have to say. One of the things that was said by Senator Greenwood was that copies of the Bill had not been readily available for consideration by people who might be opposed to it. I would remind honourable senators, including Senator

Webster, that the Bill which we are now considering and which was considered by the Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs is identical in the matters to which exception is taken to a Bill which was introduced in this Senate on 13 December 1973. The present Bill, it is true, differs in some particulars from that Bill but the gravamen of the complaints against this Bill is about the one ground of irretrievable breakdown that is introduced in place of the guilt grounds which at present exist in the matrimonial law. This section of the Bill which the Committee has been considering is the same as that introduced in December 1973. The Bill was also introduced in April 1 974 but it could not be considered because of certain events with which we are all familiar. Is it seriously suggested now by anybody, including Senator Greenwood, that somehow or other the opponents of this Bill have been ambushed and have had no opportunity to consider it? Such a suggestion certainly will not stand up to any sort of scrutiny. Abundant copies of the report, which was introduced yesterday will be available to members of the general public. Those who are opposed to the Bill will have abundant opportunity to study the report and to lobby members of the Senate or of the other place in opposition to it. No attempt has been made or is being made by anybody to ambush the opponents of this Bill.

The suggestion has been made that we were limited in our consideration of the Bill by the mere fact that we did not invite members of the public who were opposed to the Bill to put in submissions on the general philosophy of matrimonial law. I suggest that all honourable senators who entertain that doubt seriously should examine the report, which sets out in detail the submissions which were available to the Committee in reaching its conclusions on this Bill.

Senator Carrick - Did you advertise for submissions?

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I invite Senator Carrick to have a look at the report.

Senator Carrick - I am asking.

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I will answer the honourable senator. The reference made to this Committee on 16 August, inviting us to make a report on the Bill, was such that we were asked to report to the Senate on the clauses of the Bill by 18 September 1974. Is it seriously suggested that we should have sent out a message inviting the whole world to put in submissions, given people time to put in their missions

Senator Carrick - Did you ever advertise?

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Yes. If the honourable senator looks at the report he will see that back in 1971-

The PRESIDENT - Order! I ask the honourable senator to reply to the question asked by Senator Chaney.

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Yes, Mr President.We did advertise and we received voluminous submissions, all of which were considered by all the members of the Committee. The Hansard record containing evidence from witnesses who were called as long ago as 3 years back was considered by the Committee in reaching its conclusions on the Bill. So the suggestion that in some way this was a slap-dash examination on narrow grounds and directed only to the Bill itself just will not stand up. The Committee's conclusions on this Bill were informed by a close examination of the points of view which were put by people representing a wide spectrum of opinion in the community.

One of the points made in particular by Senator Greenwood was: 'Many people feel they have been misled and let down by the course which this Committee has adopted '. Again I ask honourable senators to read the report, in which it is made clear that the church organisations, which presumably are the people to whom the honourable senator refers, dragged their feet in a very odd way in putting in submissions in regard to the original reference, so much so that on 12 June 1973- almost 2 years after we received the general reference- it was necessary for me to write to the heads of the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational Union Churches in Australia asking them to put in their submissions to the Committee. Are these the people who have been misled or who have not had a chance to let us know what their opinions are? We had to go after them to get them to tell us what their opinions were. Finally, they did put in opinions which were considered by all the members of the Committee in bringing down this report. So the suggestion that somehow or other people have been ambushed or do not know what this Bill is about or that those who feel strongly about it have not had a chance to be heard on the matter is just so much hogwash.

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - Mr President,I have a supplementary question.

The PRESIDENT - If the honourable senator needs clarification-

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - No, I was going to make a statement in the same way as we have heard Senator James McClelland make a statement.

The PRESIDENT - No, I will not allow that. I do not really want questions of the nature of that last question asked. In future, questions will be confined to seeking information from chairmen of committees. Any further elaboration on the matter can quite easily be covered during the debate on the matter later.

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - Mr President,will you allow my supplementary question?

The PRESIDENT - No, the honourable senator said that he wanted to elaborate.

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