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Thursday, 21 November 1974
Page: 2682

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral) - Again this is an endeavour to make the reconciliation and counselling provisions work. It is said by counsellors that this is absolute bedrock. It is essential that if they are to talk to people, to try to understand them and to get them back together again they have to be able to talk on a basis of confidentiality. If this provision is not in the Bill persons who go to counsellors will know that what they say may be used against them. If the Committee casts its mind back to several hours ago it will remember that the honourable senator was suggesting that there be a contempt of court if people did not go to counsellors.

Senator Greenwood - That is incorrect and the Attorney-General knows it.

Senator MURPHY - There was a possibility that they would be liable to contempt of court proceedings.

Senator Greenwood - That was if they refused to obey a direction.

Senator MURPHY -That is right-if they disobeyed a direction to attend upon a counsellor. Now the honourable senator is saying that if they accept the direction or the advice of a court and go to a counsellor and really try to solve their problem by telling the counsellor, what they say is not private or confidential and it can be used against them as some admission. How on earth does the honourable senator expect the counselling provisions to work if people cannot go and open their hearts to the counsellor and tell him what they have done?

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - It is not counselling if it gets beyond that.

Senator MURPHY - We may get some very difficult cases. Maybe things happen where there may be breaches of the law. Somebody may say they have done something. I shall pick a case. Honourable senators can imagine worse ones. Suppose a husband says that he went to bed with some girl in New South Wales who was under the age of 16 years. That is a breach of the law. Is that statement to be used against him? The counsellor may have a duty to go straight to a police officer and tell him that he has evidence of the commission of a crime. Is the counsellor to inform against the person concerned? One can imagine other cases. It is absurd.

If we are to make this kind of endeavour to help marriages, to help families, should we introduce concepts that will prevent people who are trying to pull marriages together, to understand what is breaking them up, from talking to parties on the basis of complete confidentiality? I could think of circumstances where some problem may arise and there may be some difficulty. Let us wait and face them. Let us see if problems arise and then decide what we can do about them. I think it is worth taking these chances and letting the counsellors operate on the basis of strict confidentiality. They claim that strict confidentiality is absolutely essential. If we eat into that concept I cannot see how we could expect people to talk to counsellors, particularly the reluctant and difficult people that we would want to go to them. There probably will not be too much difficulty with other people who are only too willingly persuaded. Cases involving very difficult areas, shockingly difficult problems, might involve some kind of breach of the law. It is in those cases where it is necessary that the people concerned be able to talk to someone, to open up their hearts to someone, knowing they are safe in doing so.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 16, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 17- Oath or affirmation of secrecy.

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