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Wednesday, 3 June 1942


Mr BLACKBURN (Bourke) .- I refer to two matters affecting the Department of the Army. The first relates to a procedure which apparently has been adopted in the Militia Forces in order to bring pressure to bear upon men to join the Australian Imperial Force. The practice that is in operation is unfair, and I am sure that the Minister would not condone it if he were aware of the circumstances. I have been informed of the facts by a man whom I have known for about fifteen years and whose word I respect. The noncommissioned officers of the anti-aircraft battery in Melbourne with which he is serving endeavour to persuade the men to join the Australian Imperial Force by telling them that it is the general desire of the unit to do so, and that, if most of the members so volunteer, they will be kept, in Victoria, whereas those who refuse to join will be sent to Caulfield, redrafted, and, in all probability, sent to Port Moresby. This is a curious inversion of the old method of persuasion. It appeals to a man's fears in order to induce him to join the Australian Imperial Force. He is told that, if he joins the Australian Imperial Force, he will be kept near his home and relatives, whereas, if he does not do so, he will probably be sent to a distant battle station. The reason given for this practice is that the non-commissioned officers are afraid that the battery will be broken up and that they will be transferred to another battery where they will lose their stripes. It does not appear that the commissioned officers of the battery have taken any part in these proceedings. I hope that the Minister will put a stop to them. On another occasion, I drew the attention of the Minister to the procedure adopted at another camp, where the men were paraded by an officer, who ordered those who refused to join the Australian Imperial Force to fall out. That is an objectionable form of pressure, but it is not so objectionable as that which I have just mentioned. If a man joins the Australian Imperial Force, it should be an entirely voluntary act. No man should be subjected to pressure or made aware of any discrimination against men who refuse to enlist.

The second matter relates to conscientious objectors. Honorable members will recall that regulations relating to conscientious objectors were promulgated but were disallowed by the Senate. However, previously under the regimes of the Menzies and Fadden governments, there was an administrative recognition of the position of conscientious objectors. Although no regulations had been made, a person who had a conscientious objection to military service of any kind was not called upon to give either combatant or non-combatant service with the forces. With the entry of Japan into the war the position was changed, and regulations were made. Prior to this, objectors were dealt with under section 60 of the Defence Act, which contained a provision favorable to persons who objected to giving combatant service, but were willing to give non-combatant service. They had the right to establish their objections before a legal tribunal, and to appeal from the decisions of such a tribunal to a Supreme Court or the High Court. This provision did not deal with the case of the absolutist objector - a person who objected to rendering any form of military service. The present Government made regulations upon the lines of the American law and the British Military Service Acts. Almost from the introduction of conscription during the war of 1914-18, Great Britain recognized the right of a person who objected to any form of military service to be excused, either unconditionally or, as in most cases, upon his giving an undertaking to render some form of civilian service. Under the regulations made by the Commonwealth Government, a small number of persons claimed exemption from service. Most of them did so on religious grounds. Some of them were Quakers. The tenets of the Society of Friends forbid participation in war, in either a combatant or a non-combatant capacity. Some of them were Christadelphians. The tenets of that sect forbid, not merely participation in war, but also participation in the ordinary civil life of the community. A small number of the objectors were Christians belonging to churches which did not condemn war, but the individual consciences of these men forbade them to render military service. The position of the Christadelphians is very interesting. They form a small community which had its origin in America about 100 years ago. They believe that Christ will come again upon earth and re-establish His Kingdom, and that, until that time, His followers have no place in the world. Consequently, they take no part in civil life. For instance, they do not vote. In Victoria, they are excused by law from the compulsory voting provisions of that State. Membership of the sect is also accepted by the Commonwealth electoral authorities as a reasonable excuse for failure to vote. They do not render jury service, as judges always excuse them. The first time that the question of military service affected them was during the Civil war in America. The Federated States then passed a law exempting Christadelphians by name, and, although the United States of America did not specifically exempt them from military service, it nevertheless did so in practice. Largely as the result of their objections a change was made to the military service laws of Great Britain in order to give recognition to the position of absolutist objectors. I have seen photostat copies of official certificates of exemption that were granted to such people, to the effect that " So and so is a Christadelphian, and, as such, is exempt from military service ". I have gone into some detail in this case, because most of the people who claim absolute exemption from mili tary service are Christadelphians. In almost every case, such objectors have expressed their willingness to perform whatever form of civilian service they might be ordered to do under civilian direction. In one case, a man claimed unconditional exemption, and his claim was granted. . The regulation relating to these objectors has disappeared as the result of the decision of the Senate. I was sorry to hear that no adequate defence of the regulation was submitted in the Senate. Apparently honorable senators believed that there was no precedent for it either in Great Britain or elsewhere. That is contrary to the facts. The law provides that a regulation substantially the same as the one which has been disallowed may not be enacted within six months of the disallowance, unless the Senate rescinds its decision. I ask the Government to give earnest consideration to this matter. Even if it limits exemption to persons who have purely religious objection to military service, it will do some good. The existing regulation permits an exemption to be granted to any conscientious objector whether his claim is based on religious grounds or not. In view of the fact that most of the persons affected base their objections on religious grounds, it might be competent for the Government to make a regulation restricting the privilege of exemption to such persons and providing for the application of tests as to their sincerity. In Great Britain, during the war of 1914-18, applicants had to answer a questionnaire and had to prove that they had held their views for a considerable time. They were also required to state what service they were rendering to the community. Every Christadelphian whom I have met is already doing some useful service for the community chiefly in connexion with fire brigade work. I appeal to the Government to reconsider this subject. If it cannot take action by regulation it should certainly take administrative action. The position is becoming more difficult daily. The whole of the regulations covered by the statutory rule were not disallowed. The disallowance applied only to regulation S, which gave to conscientious objectors the right of appeal; regulation 9, which entitled them to be represented on the hearing of an application or appeal ; and regulation 10, which authorized a competent court to make an order on application or appeal. The curious situation has arisen that one of the regulations which remains in force suspends a certain provision of the Defence Act. Regulation 6 provides that a person liable to serve under the Defence Act, but claiming that he holds a conscientious belief that does not allow him to perform either combatant or non-combatant service, may be enrolled as a conscientious objector, and may have his application for exemption heard under the prescribed conditions. A competent court of summary jurisdiction may direct that the applicant shall be registered without conditions, or conditionally to perform combatant or non-combatant service. Unfortunately, applications for exemption under this regulation are not being heard by the prescribed courts in certain districts, because the justices or magistrates are uncertain of their jurisdiction. Several county court judges in Victoria have adjourned hearings to a date to be fixed in the expectation that the Government will clarify the position. Unless prompt action be taken to this end I am sure that persons in this country will go to prison because they will not disregard their consciences. That has occurred over and over again in Great Britain and the United States of America, and we desire to avoid that kind of thing in Australia if possible. I therefore urge the Government to review this whole matter without delay.







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