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Wednesday, 27 November 1974
Page: 2892

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - I rise to strike a discordant note in terms of what has earlier been said, but this is the occasion upon which to make these remarks. I can only hope for your protection, Mr President, that I may be able to make them. I want to say only 3 things. The first is that I do share with the other honourable senators who have spoken the feelings that they have expressed to the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy). This is a mammoth Bill. It is a Bill which will have a significant effect upon family law in this country. I think that the work of the Attorney-General in bringing the Bill before the Parliament and having it passed through the Parliament deserves acknowledgement, and I unfailingly give it. I think it is only proper to acknowledge the importance of this Bill and the work that the AttorneyGeneral has done.

The second point is that I do not share the views expressed by Senator James McClelland and others that the passage of this Bill has demonstrated parliamentary democracy at its best. I do not feel that an opportunity has been given to the public or to the Senate to give to this measure the consideration which its importance required. In the first place, we have had the Committee consideration. I hear Senator Poyser interjecting, and it is a constant refrain; I am getting used to it. He will discover in due course that his interjections make no impact on me at all. If only he would be constructive it would be helpful. The Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs which examined this measure presented 2 reports, and those reports were not available to the public until the day on which the debate in this Parliament commenced. That is not a fair way in which to treat an important measure such as this. Also certain amendmentstremendously significant amendments, including one involving the concept of whether there was to be a Family Court of Australiawere introduced about the time at which the Bill came before the Committee of the Whole for consideration. In those circumstances, there was no opportunity for persons who were interested in the concept of whether we should have a Family Court or State family courts to give consideration to it.

I feel, thirdly, that there was unfortunately in the Senate during the Committee consideration of the Bill an attitude which was evidenced by the solid phalanx of an inflexible Government party, together with a group of Liberal senators, exercising a free judgment, which meant that any other point of view was not only not listened to but also was not even tolerated when an attempt was made to put it forward. That, as I understand it, denies the expression of a point of view which, even if it was ultimately not to commend itself to the Senate which had made up its mind to vote in the way that it did, ought to be allowed to be expressed, because that is the way in which our whole system functions. The community is therefore better informed. Because that denial of an opportunity for the expression of opinion characterised the attitude of those in the Committee and in the Government Party who had formed views which they felt ought to be the prevailing views, it prevented the debate being the kind of debate which I think it could have been.

The point I make in conclusion is simply that when the Bill was introduced I said that it was a basis for the constructive development of good family law in this country. Seeing that we have passed the Bill through the Senate I hope that it will work out in the interests of those for whom it was designed. But I have the fear- I have expressed those fears and I do not repeat them herethat in certain areas the Bill is unconstitutional and that there are doubts as to the validity of certain provisions which have been made. In particular in regard to what constitutes a separation and living apart it does less than justice to what ought to be the proper determination of the one ground which is involved in this Bill. If there was a division on the third reading- I do not propose to call for a division- I would reverse the vote that I made on the second reading in support of this Bill and vote against the third reading because that crucial ground has been destroyed by the unwillingness of the Senate to recognise that it has made a mockery of the whole question of separation.

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