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Tuesday, 19 November 1974
Page: 2528

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) -I desire to say a few words about the Family Law Bill. In doing so I will not detain the Senate for very long. One of the main things I want to say is that I support the amendment moved by Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson. The family is the basis of our society. It has been for a very long time if not right throughout the ages. Although this Parliament has always had the power under the Constitution to make laws with respect to marriage and divorce and all the other things that go with marriage and divorce nearly 60 years elapsed before any government was- I do not know how to put it- game to take on the knotty, thorny problem of making a common law for divorce, marriage and all the other things that go with divorce and marriage for the whole of Australia

I am not going to say that I oppose this Bill completely. I think that some measure of change is necessary. Change has to take place from time to time, but it is possible that not as much change as has been stated in this Bill has to take place on this occasion. One of the matters which has been raised in this respect is the question of whether it should be said that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of a marriage after a separation of one year. It may be that in some cases that period could be too short and in others it could be too long. For example, a person committing adultery could go on and on and nothing could be done about it until the year has expired. Today such a person could apply for a divorce straight away.

The weekend before last, I think it was, there was a 'Four Corners' program dealing with this Bill. It showed so-called extras acting out a story. I do not think that they acted out very well the story that they were trying to get across. The Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) took part in the program at particular times. The program also dealt with many other things. In the last few weeks petitions for and against this Bill have been presented in this chamber from all over Australia. I do not know how many of them have been organised. I should imagine that some of them were a spontaneous reaction. No doubt some of them have been organised by both those for the Bill and those against the Bill. Some of the petitioners have told us that they do not want the Bill and some have said that they want it passed as it is.

As has been pointed out already, this is the second or third version that we have had of this Bill. Many amendments have been made to it. I think that it could be likened to the Budget situation in that we have had 3 Budgets recently and we have had 3 different versions of this Bill. I do not know how many more there will be before the Bill is finally passed in some form or another or defeated, whatever the ultimate result will be. After two or three amendments have been made to the Bill we have now had an indication that another 92 amendments are to be moved.

Senator Cotton - Ninety-three.

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) -I thank Senator Cotton for the correction. Many of them are certainly the result of the recommendations of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs following its examination of this matter. Despite what has been said about the Bill the Attorney-General has not completely adopted those amendments. I have looked through some of them and noticed that words are sought to be changed here and there, which will cause a lot of debate. But the AttorneyGeneral has substantially adopted them, I will say that much. Today we have had an indication from the Attorney-General that another twelve or fourteen amendments will be moved and just a few minutes ago a 2-page document containing about 20 suggested amendments to be moved by certain honourable senators on both sides of the chamber was circulated. What is going to happen before the Bill is finally passed? At the rate at which we are going we could have another thirty or forty amendments presented after another adjournment.

That proves quite conclusively that Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson's amendment should be accepted and that we should delay further consideration of this Bill for a matter of about eight or ten weeks- that is all it is going to be- in order to give the people of Australia a chance to look at the new amendments and see what they are about. It is obvious from the number of petitions received that the people are stirred up about this matter. Therefore they and the various authorities should be given a chance to look at the new amendments. As somebody has suggested, we could refer the Bill to a select committee of the Senate and let it have a look at it and make a complete report on it.

We have to have more advice on some of the amendments. Some of them have been brought forward only tonight. Their acceptance would change completely some of the Parts of the Bill. I believe that we should not rush this Bill through the Senate. It has already been referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, as I have said, but many more amendments have since been proposed. I cannot see why an attempt is being made to rush this Bill through this House. I do not believe that there is any possibility of it getting through the other House before Christmas. So why not wait and give it our final consideration early in the New Year. Why not wait until then to see how many amendments we can agree to or otherwise and get it through then? I cannot see a Bill which is supposed to involve a conscience vote being gagged or guillotined through the other place, although I am not sure whether that will not happen. Again I ask: Why the rush?

We have been talking about the ease of marriage. Marriage should be made a bit harder or there should be a bit more pre-marriage conselling and things like that of people who want to get married. We have heard of the Gretna Green marriages in which a chap struck an anvil and that was about all that was necessary in those days. I believe that if we do not watch out we will arrive at a position in this country- this happens in some other countries of the world today- in which a man who desires a divorce has only to go out into the street and say to his wife: 'I divorce thee. I divorce thee. I divorce thee.', to be divorced. We do not want that here. We do not want to happen in this country things such as Senator Sheil has described in relation to China where, if the whole system of marriage has broken down completely, the children are taken away and kept in an institution so that the mother can go back to work because she has to do a good deal more than half the work to let the menfolk fight in the services and suchlike. This Bill is supposed to make it easier for custody of children to be obtained, which I do not believe it does, and for the settlement of property. I believe that even that part will be harder. Again I ask: Why the hurry? Let us support Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson's amendment and have further consideration of this matter deferred for about 10 weeks.

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