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Friday, 25 September 1970

Dr J F Cairns (LALOR, VICTORIA) - I move:

At end of motion add 'And condemns the Gorton Government for its failure to end conscription for Vietnam*.

Mr Speaker,the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) is under censure from the Government for a reason that has nothing to do with what he said or with the effect of what he said. He is under censure from the Government that knows it cannot maintain office because of its own performance, and which, therefore, tries to divert public attention from itself - to create at least a mild form of hysteria and persuade people that there are others whose faults are even greater than its own. This is not an attempt to examine what the Leader of the Opposition said or the need or justification for it; it is an exercise in the most cynical form of politics that exists. What has the Leader of the Opposition said? First of all he said that if he were speaking to a man who already objected to the war in Vietnam he would tei) him what course he should take if in fact he were called up. The Leader of the Opposition was talking not about young mcn who do not object to the war in Vietnam or to people in general but about young men who already object to the war in Vietnam. What did he say he would fell them? He said he would tell them that they should carry out the law to the full extent their consciences would allow. But the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) of course, has no room for conscience in this country. He just said so. He has no room for conscience because he imagines that he and his Government and the forces behind it are so ultimately democratic that there is no need or room for conscience in Australia. If he thinks that, I do not.

What did the Leader of the Opposition say he would tell these men? He said he would tell them to carry out the law as far as their consciences would allow. If they were in the Army and were ordered to go to Vietnam and they could not in conscience go. then they would have to disobey orders given to them and disobey those orders at their own cost and penalty. This is a right that is recognised in every civilised country. It is recognised by all those people who have led our thinking in philosophy and theology and have given us a civilisation upon which the democracy of today is based. But the Prime Minister has no room for conscience in 1970 in Australia because he and his Ministers happen to be in office. There is no room for conscience any more. No doubt that is how members of the Government parties look at it. Could they tell these young men to put aside their consciences altogether? Men who know nothing of conscience could do that easily. Could the Leader of the Opposition give them no advice at all and leave it to them to be totally unprepared for what might happen to them once they were in the hands of authority? No doubt that is what members of the Government parties would do - they who have amongst them many who are young enough to volunteer for Vietnam but do not. Yet, on the contrary, they force other young men into the military service against their consciences or into gaol for long months for judges to find and report that they should never have been there at all.

If honourable members on the other side of the House have any conscience at all and this will not stir them, then I can conclude only that their consciences are faint and cowardly. No, this is not the Labor way of doing things; it is the Liberal way of doing things - the smart, polished, suave Liberal way of doing things. I know which I prefer and 1 refuse to believe that the Australia people could be so devoid of a sense of fair play that they would prefer the method of the Prime Minister and his followers. It may be difficult for Liberals to understand that there are thousands of young men who are convinced in their opposition to the blood bath in which Australia is involved in Vietnam; who are opposed to conscription for that purpose and to every aspect of the Government which enforces it upon Australia, and who will have nothing to do with the Citizens Military Forces. The CMF is no alternative for boys in this position and anyone who, like the Leader of the Opposition, has talked to them knows that the CMF is no alternative for them because they will not have anything to do with the military service which is tied to this blood bath for which members on the Government side are all responsible. If they do not know that they do not know the young men with whom we are dealing and that is the whole point of the submission I am making. They know nothing of these young men in their cynical detachment and their superior positions.

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