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Friday, 25 September 1970


Mr GORTON (Higgins) (Prime Minister) - Mr Speaker, the House is discussing a motion to take note of a statement issued by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam). Both the implications of the content of that statement and the implications of the fact that it was made by him have, I believe, national significance for in that statement he advises young men not to obey the provisions of the law as they at present stand and he advises young men who are soldiers to disobey a military order and to refuse to go to a theatre of war to which their unit may be posted, if they claim to have conscientious reasons for not going to that theatre of war. In this particular case the argument refers to Vietnam but of course it goes far beyond that because if it is proper to say to a young man - a soldier: Disobey a military order to go to Vietnam, if you do not want to go there' then it is equally right to say to a soldier: 'Disobey a military order to go to any theatre that you may say you do not wish to go to.' And therefore, Mr Speaker, the implications of this statement, as I see them, are firstly, a direct attack upon the rule of law as it operates in this country now; and secondly, the counselling of a course of action which would make the operations of an army with a content of national servicemen quite impossible in any theatre of war.

Now it is of no use for the Leader of the Opposition to say that if he had an army he would have no national servicemen in it. The facts of the matter are that as the law stands there is an Army. It is reliant upon national servicemen. That was reinforced and brought about as a result of an election not long ago. And the Leader of the Opposition is advocating a course which would make the operations of that Army quite impossible. Just consider for one moment: You have a battalion trained as a team, and the suggestion made to these soldiers by the Leader of the Opposition is that some of them should say: T would not like to go to Malaysia so I will not go there. I will disobey an order to go there.' Others might say: '1 will not go to Vietnam because I do not like the idea of going to Vietnam, so I will refuse to obey an order to go there.' Whatever theatre of war you may choose to consider this could apply to. The fact that this can be advocated publicly by the Leader of the Opposition - not by somebody outside Parliament, not by somebody seeking to attack the Vietnam war or the rights and wrongs of the Vietnam war, but by the Leader of the Opposition, the man who hopes some day to become Prime Minister - for him to advocate such an action is in fact an implication to which I referred at the beginning of this speech which has national significance.

For it means that he regards his own position so irresponsibly that he would suggest that should he ever become Prime Minister - should this country ever be afflicted with that disaster - then it would be right for an Opposition or a leader of an Opposition to urge disobedience to any law which he might choose to ask the Parliament to pass. This, coming from a man in that position, has very, very grave implications indeed and, Mr Speaker, COL,1. not be more designed, whether on purpose or not, to render the operation of our military forces ineffective in their present role. This of course is the objective of many - those who take part in moratoriums and those who are members of the Communist Party. That is their objective. This advice would fallow out their objective. Whether from the same motives or not does not matter. It would help them to follow out that objective.

I have said that not only would this statement by the leader of the Opposition render the use of our military forces ineffective but it was in fact an incitement to a breach of the law as it stands. Let us examine that. Let us examine the quality of this advice and let us examine what must be the thought processes behind it. In the first place there is no inescapable obligation upon any young man in Australia to go to fight with the Army in Vietnam. There is no inescapable obligation at all under the law. If a young man has genuine conscientious beliefs then he can go before a court - that is, genuine conscientious objection to bearing arms at all or to taking part in any war. Then there is provision in the law for him to go before the courts and if the courts finds that he does so hold those conscientious beliefs he is excused from all service, so there is no requirement there. But, secondly, if a young man does not have that conscientious objection to war but objects to some particular theatre of war then there is provision in the law for that young man to join the Citizen Military Forces, in which case he cannot be called up and will not be called up to serve in a theatre to which he objects.

Now it is quite clear from -the statement made by the Leader of the Opposition that he is talking about the advice he gives to young men before they register. They come along to him - the statement makes it clear -and say: 'What should T do?' Surely the law being what it is the right and proper advice to give to such a young man would be to say: 'If that is how you feel then I can advise you this way. You should join the CMF if you do not have conscientious objections to bearing arms, and should you do that then you will be excused from being called up for service in Vietnam.' That, however, is not apparently the advice that is given. At least it does not appear to be the advice from the statement that he has made in this House. But if the Leader of the Opposition now as an afterthought is inclined to say: 'Oh, but I do give that advice first. This is the first advice I give to a young man', then what he is saying is this: 'I show this young man a legal and proper way for him to obtain the objective that he seeks. If he turns down and will not use the legal and proper way then I advise him to use an illegal way and to break the law.' Now, Mr Speaker, there are those who argue that an individual has the right to break a law if he considers it to be a bad law. I do not believe for one moment that that contention can hold any water in a country where parliaments make the law and people elect the parliaments but however that may be when there is a legal Act and there is a legal method of obtaining an objective - when a Leader of an Opposition in his capacity as adviser has pointed out that a legal method of avoiding the service required and is then prepared to go on - because an individual refuses to take a legal course - and advise an illegal course, and advise a young man to join the Army and to refuse to go to Vietnam or to any other place to which he does not want to go, then I believe there can be no more reprehensible or irresponsible thing than for a Leader of an Opposition in such a position to say: 'There is a legal way that you can act but of course if you will not act in that way I advise you to act in an illegal way.' And one wonders whether this does show a contempt for law, whether it does show a desire to help to break the law. One knows that in the end result if it is followed out it would lead to severe punishment to young men which could have been avoided had they been given the proper advice and it will lead, while the law stands as it is, to the impossibility of using the armed troops of Australia in the field. The implications of this, coming from the source from which it comes, are very grave indeed for Australia and I believe that all Australians should ponder deeply the fact that that man who now leads the Opposition is prepared to urge - or rather let me say advise - a course of action which would lead to the inability to use our troops and is prepared to advise an illegal course of action when there exists a legal way of attaining the objective required.

One shudders to think of what this kind of approach would mean to Australia should it ever suffer the disaster of having an alteration and that individual becoming Prime Minister of Australia. Just imagine, Mr Speaker, the way in which this country would move should we accept without protest these kinds of suggestions, this kind of advice, by a Leader of the Opposition that the law should be broken even when it does not need to be broken, and even when the objective can be achieved without it. This is gong to result as I said, whether intentionally or not, in an attack upon our capacity to fight and in a real threat to the rule of law in this country, and it comes from a man who has sworn to uphold the law. I do not believe that the people of this country tor one moment wm accept that kind of leadership and I think it is a great advantage that the kind of leadership really there has been by accident, brought out and shown to the people of this country to be a fact.







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