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Tuesday, 14 May 1957

Mr BIRD (Batman) . - It is evident that the Government is making very heavy weather of this most obnoxious bill, particularly in relation to the clause which the committee is now considering and which, in essence, is crucial. We have had a succession of speakers from the Government side who have attempted to malign the Opposition and to suggest that we on this side of the chamber are imputing all sorts of motives to the country people. Nobody could convince me that this system which will operate in the future has any relevance to an adequate defence system. On the admission of honorable members opposite, the most positive contribution it will make will be to inculcate in the minds of young men a sense of discipline and improve their physical well-being. But there is no relation between that and a modern defence system. That is the point that the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) was making. He did not suggest that the country boys were not patriotic. He suggested that, in a scheme that makes no tangible contribution to defence, it is unfair to discriminate between country boys and city boys.

Despite what has been said, the supporters of the Australian Country party have not explained why such discrimination should take place, when exactly the same circumstances operate in relation to city businesses as those that operate in relation to country businesses. I know of a number of instances in my electorate of young fellows starting out in a particular line of business and doing relatively well. Then they received a call-up. They asked for deferment, which was not granted. Apparently, that treatment has not been extended to people in the country, because on the admission of Australian Country party members, the people in the country get deferment. To judge by the manner in which the scheme has been working, deferment means, in essence, exemption, because after all there is machinery to train only 12,000 men a year, instead of 33,000, as was the case previously. If it is proposed to train only 12,000 men, it stands to reason that, in the present circumstances, anybody who receives deferment may well say, " They will not bother me in the future ". That is what the scheme means.

The Labour party says that this was supposed to be a universal training scheme. One of the virtues of it that was paraded in 1951, when the scheme was debated in this Parliament, was that it was universal in its application and that everybody, irrespective of class, avocation, denomination or any other consideration, would be thrown in the one pool, as it were, to serve a common purpose, which was to learn to defend this country in time of adversity. But it was not very long before this universality principle went by the board and we saw the institution, by regulation, as the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) has said, of provision for deferments. When that happened, the tangible basis of the original scheme disappeared, so how on earth can anybody say that the scheme at present is making any notable contribution to our defence?

The anomalies in the proposed scheme are so numerous that they have been admitted even by members of the Australian Country party. Since they are so numerous surely, in ordinary common decency, the whole scheme should be scrapped? It will serve no useful purpose in the community. All that it will do will be to arouse in the minds of many people feelings of resentment because they are the unfortunate winners of ballots. It is not very often that the winner of a ballot can be referred to as " unfortunate ", but in these circumstances that word certainly will be applicable. Therefore, I suggest that instead of introducing a scheme to weld together for a common purpose and ideal - the defence of the community - all that the Government is doing is disintegrating the community into sections consisting of the lucky and unlucky participants in ballots. Surely, the Government is capable of putting to the Parliament for its consideration a much more unified scheme and a scheme much fairer in its incidence than the proposed scheme.

Not one word has been said to-night, or during the debate on this measure, to claim that the scheme is fair. All that is said is that it is the best that can be devised in present circumstances. I think that if the Government is really concerned about having an adequate defence system for this country it should put on its thinking cap and devise a scheme that will produce positive results. This scheme will only arouse sullen resentment on the part of those who are called up for training and give preferential treatment to those whose names or birthdays are not pulled out of the ballot barrel. The scheme has so many defects and anomalies that the Government should scrap it at once. As a matter of fact, I think

Che Government would like to scrap it, but has produced this poor, paltry compromise in order to satisfy men like the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes) and the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes), who have expressed dissatisfaction with the bill and all it entails. The bill attempts to allay their suspicions and get them on side, as it were.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable gentleman should get back to the clause.

Mr BIRD - If the Government did the right thing it would say, in effect, " In the interests of the real defence potential of this country we will withdraw the bill ".

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable gentleman cannot go on discussing the bill. He must get back to the clause.

Mr BIRD - The clause should be withdrawn because it means exemption, and exemption is obnoxious in any form of conscription.

Mr Turnbull - There is no exemption provided for under the clause.

Mr BIRD - Of course there is! Deferment means ultimate exemption, because the scheme is not capable of training more than 12,000 men a year. In those circumstances, how on earth can men who have been deferred be trained? For that reason, this clause, in the interests of unity in this country, should be withdrawn immediately.

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