“There have been many tributes to former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, who sadly passed away today,” FamilyVoice Australia research officer Ros Phillips said today.
“But few if any have mentioned what was possibly his finest effort in early 1975. Along with fellow Liberal MP Bob Ellicott, he tried to bolster marriage by amending the most controversial wording in the Family Law Bill.”
The Family Law Bill was introduced in 1974 by then senator Lionel Murphy, Gough Whitlam’s attorney-general. Opinion polls showed that 71% of Australians opposed the Bill’s provisions. Nevertheless, the Whitlam government persisted with clause 48, which allowed “no-fault” divorce after the spouses had lived “separately” for 12 months, possibly under the same roof.
As one observer noted, this provision effectively changed the meaning of marriage to a temporary union lasting only as long as one or other spouse wanted it. Unlike other contracts, there was no longer any penalty for breaching marriage vows.
The Ellicott amendment, seconded by Malcolm Fraser, sought to extend the bill’s separation requirement to two years. It failed by just one vote. Malcolm Fraser successfully moved another amendment to require husbands to support their wives and children in normal circumstances.
The divorce rate soared. It has since come down, but remains three times higher than it was in the early 1970s.
“Research shows overwhelmingly that children are the victims of easy divorce,” Ros Phillips said. “Malcolm Fraser sought to protect them, at least to some degree. He failed, but many people remember with gratitude that he tried.”
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