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Tuesday, 14 May 1957

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) (Minister for Labour and National Service) . - The honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes), as he has indicated, was good enough to raise with me, some days ago, the desirability, if practicable, of covering important points in legislative terms in this bill. I can well appreciate the reasons which have moved him to put his suggestions forward. The problem of the relations between the Executive and the Parliament always arises when we are considering how far an attempt should be made to cover, both in point of detail and point of form, issues which arise from time to time. There is a responsibility, I believe, on governments to go as far as they can in expressing their intentions in the form of legislation, but, as a Minister of long experience himself, my colleague knows that there are some practical limits to the extent to which legislation can go in that direction, and he has given one or two illustrations of those limitations.

I think, however, that there is a safeguard in that any considerable change in a scheme of this kind normally calls for alteration, in one aspect or another, of the legislation. I can illustrate that by pointing out to the honorable member for Chisholm that although this legislation was enacted as recently as 1951, this is the fourth occasion, I think, that it has been before the Parliament. Almost every year or every eighteen months it has come back to us for examination or amendment, and there has been opportunity for comment on it by members of the Parliament. I did examine, quite sympathetically, the suggestion that we should try to cover each of these three points by a legislative provision. When the committee reaches clause 15 I shall propose an amendment which will set out explicitly this opportunity to volunteer. Consequently, one of the points raised by the honorable member will be met specifically in the form that he would wish.

As to putting some specific figure as an upper limit to the call-up, I think, having regard to the frequency with which this legislation has been before the Parliament, that any substantial change in the numbers to be called up would be an important matter of government policy which would be stated by any responsible government to the people - as this Government has done on this occasion - before the legislation itself was introduced. Problems can arise, as a result of which some quite drastic reorganization of the National Service Training Scheme is decided upon. There have been two substantial modifications since 1951 in the numbers handled under this scheme. 1 feel that there are reasonable safeguards of the kind that the honorable member would wish which make it unnecessary to include in the bill what might be an embarrassing and restrictive limitation, so I ask the honorable member, on this occasion, not to press that point. I give him an assurance, on behalf of the Government, that if any change in the numbers to be called up is contemplated at any time, full publicity will be given to that proposal. I certainly expect that if any government* of a different persuasion were to succeed the present Government, it would exercise the same responsibility to the public.

As I have already announced, the Government has decided to select by ballot a certain number of young men to be trained under this scheme. It is the reference to the certain number which gives rise to one of the practical problems. If it were merely a case of taking the total number of young men available and saying that of those in that particular age group, a certain percentage would be called up in a year, then the reference to a ballot process for that purpose would not be so very difficult. But the matter is complicated by the fact that the Government intends to take in defaulters without reference to a ballot. It is intended that there shall be some carry-over of persons already within the scope of the scheme. Our best efforts to work out a provision which would indicate our intention to use the ballot in certain instances still leave so wide a discretion necessary to the Minister of the day that we cannot hope to meet all the objections which the honorable member would raise.

I do not think that I can usefully do more at this stage than to repeat to the honorable member that the Government proposes at the outset to employ a method of ballot which will be dependent upon birth dates, but it may transpire that our experience of that method will reveal it to be less satisfactory than we hoped and a more preferable method may be disclosed as time goes on. Therefore, the Government wishes to have a fair degree of flexibility in this matter.

When the committee reaches clause 15, I shall propose a provision which will add to the bill a reference to the opportunity to volunteer for those persons who have not been selected in the ballot and who wish to render this form of service.

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