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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3517


Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy) —On behalf of the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) I present the Government's response to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs on conscientious objection to conscripted military service, and I seek leave to have the statement incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows-

I present the response of the Government to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs on conscientious objection to conscripted military service.

The report had its origins in Senator Tate's private member's Bill to amend the National Service Act 1951 in respect of persons whose conscientious beliefs do not allow them to engage in military duties. On 31 May 1983, the Senate referred that Bill to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs for inquiry and report.

The Committee's report was presented to the Senate on 28 May 1985. The major recommendations of the report were that the present legislative recognition of conscientious objection to conscripted military service be widened to include conscientious objection to particular armed conflicts; that claims to exemption from military service on the ground of conscientious objection should be determined in informal and non- adversarial proceedings before a tribunal chaired by a judge or retired judge; decisions of such tribunals be reviewable by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal; and that the individual claiming to hold a relevant conscientious belief should bear the onus of demonstrating its existence on the balance of probabilities.

The Government accepts the key recommendations of the report that there should be recognition of the right of conscientious objection to particular armed conflicts and that claims to conscientious objection should be determined by tribunals created for the purpose. Previously such claims have been determined in formal proceedings before magistrates.

The Government will be addressing the matters of detail concerning the Constitution and procedures of the new tribunals and the proper form of review with a view to bringing forward legislation on this matter as soon as possible. In the course of that consideration the Government will take account of a number of concerns raised by the Administrative Review Council regarding aspects of the Senate Committee's proposals. Those concerns are set out in the Council's response dated 12 September 1986 to a request by the Government for its views on the review proposals contained in the Senate Committee report.

In Annex 1 to its report the Senate Committee offered comments on a number of issues outside its terms of reference, including the role Parliament ought to play in the conscription process. In relation to the role that Parliament should play the Government has decided that legislation to be brought forward should include a requirement for parliamentary consideration of any specific proposal for conscription for military service.

On behalf of the Government I thank the Committee for the thoughtful and constructive contribution that its report had made on a matter of great sensitivity and importance to all Australians.


Senator GARETH EVANS —I also table the response to the report from the Administrative Review Council and I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.