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Thursday, 17 October 1974
Page: 1813

Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON - I ask a number of direct questions of the Leader of the Government in the Senate in his capacity as Attorney-General. I know he will give direct answers to them. Was the Family Law Bill 1974 which has 96 clauses introduced in the Senate on 17 July this year? Was that Bill referred to the Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs on 16 August 1974? Has the Minister noted that only 7 persons gave oral evidence to the Committee on the reference of 16 August and that three of those persons were from his own Department and included himself? Has the Attorney-General noted that the Committee met on only 3 occasions to take this evidence, that those 3 meetings were in camera, and that no Hansard record of the evidence or any crossexamination of any of those 7 witnesses is available? Will he take the necessary action to make this evidence available to honourable senators and indeed to the public?

Senator MURPHY - The answer to the first question is yes. The answer to the second question is yes, it was referred on 16 August. I remind the honourable senator that it was also referred before in April.

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - Not that particular reference.

Senator MURPHY -I think so. Well, it was very close to it. I understand that the honourable senator is right about there being 7 witnesses. As to the Committee's meeting on only 3 occasions and some of the evidence being received in camera, he may be right. The honourable senator will recall that it was in 1971, I think, that I moved for the reference of this whole question to the Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs. That motion for referral was adopted by the Senate. Meetings of the Senate Committee were held and a great deal of public attention was paid to this matter. What was said then was publicised widely. Since then the whole question has been debated. If the honourable senator likes to look through the public records, he will find that the matter has been agitated in the newspapers. All sorts of letters have been written by various people. There have been numbers of articles on the subject and discussions have been held on it all over the place. I introduced the Bill in December. Of course, wide publicity was given to it then. The Bill is substantially the same now as it was then. An enormous number of articles have been written and there has been wide public discussion on the subject.

The Committee has met to discuss the clauses of the Bill within the reference made to it and has come down with a report. No doubt, the Senate will debate the matter and, assuming that the Bill passes the second reading stage, there will be a Committee debate in the Senate. The whole matter then can be gone through again. The honourable senator is focussing on the activities of a particular committee of the Senate and suggesting that somehow or other the whole matter is to be stopped. He is focussing his attention simply on the actions of that committee. I do not think that this is a fair assessment of the enormous public attention which has been paid to the subject matter. It is all very well to say that people want the passage of the Bill delayed. The other day I met representatives of one very vociferous organisation, which has been sending letters to the newspapers, for 2 hours in my office. I went through the Bill with them and asked them whether they could make any suggestion for an alteration of the existing law, such as to the grounds for divorce, whether they wanted to retain the particular grounds of adultery, desertion and so on, or whether they wanted a change in any of the particular matters contained in the Family Law Bill. I could not get any proposal of any kind out of them, notwithstanding the fact that several months ago that organisation circulated, no doubt at considerable expense and after a lot of effort, what purported to be an analysis of the Family Law Bill.

It is evident that a great number of people in the community think that there is a lot wrong with the divorce laws and that they ought to be altered. They are entitled to have an alteration of the law at least considered by the Senate. We have had 3 years of public agitation and even the emergence of divorce law reform associationsbodies that have sprung up because of the feeling about the poor state of the law. Gallup polls have been conducted. It was found in one that was conducted last year that 70 per cent of people were in favour of having an alteration in the grounds for divorce and of having one year's separation as the sole ground for divorce. To suggest that the principles in this matter cannot be discussed and debated in the Senate and that we cannot make up our minds is not doing justice to those people in the community who look to the Parliament to make laws and to debate them. This institution has to work. Those who want a change in the law at least are entitled to have the matter debated, discussed and considered in the Parliament so that members of Parliament can, on a free basis, make up their minds whether they want to agree to the law. That is my answer to the honourable senator's question. I think that the time is overdue for the matter to be debated in the Parliament. Ample opportunity has been given for discussion. I would like to see the matter proceed to debate as soon as possible.

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