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Tuesday, 28 September 1971
Page: 1566


Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - When we are dealing with questions involving servicemen, as we are doing this evening, I think it is always sad to listen to the speeches of honourable members opposite who are obviously armchair generals. They fight the wars all over again, they beat the tubs, they play the bugles and they call to arms those men who will have no say in what is to happen to them. The honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) made a comment about the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) who made the statement that there was no immediate threat of danger to Australia for at least 10 years. The honourable member for Maranoa said: 'How would he know this?' Perhaps the honourable member has forgotten - so many things have happened in a short space of time - that the right honourable member for Higgins was Prime Minister of Australia and for a period was Minister for Defence and, as such. I believe would have expert knowledge of the defence situation.

The honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) did not disappoint us. Once again he beat the dram and called men to arms, lt seems that this same honourable gentleman is always calling on people to serve their country, to .join the armed forces, but he never makes much of a showing when it comes to what might be called after sales service; when those who have served their country and have been through the agonies of war return. When the time comes to discuss what repatriation benefits these people should receive I have never known the honourable member for La Trobe to cross the floor and vote for any proposal put by the Opposition. Apparently all he is concerned with is getting them to the war; he is not greatly concerned about what happens when they return. The honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) called for all troops in Vietnam to go home. In fact, he even called for the Vietnamese troops to go home. I. do not know where he suggests they should go. He lost me there; I could hot follow that one.

The thought of enforced military service is, by its nature and according to all logic, abhorrent to those who will be affected by it. In his second reading speech the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) virtually made this point. He said:

Nonetheless, the majority of Australians continue to support it-

He was referring to enforced military service - and this includes the vast majority of those affected directly by the requirement it imposes for compulsory military service.

I am afraid that my logic must be very much at fault. If the Minister actually believes that statement, if young people believe in military service, then I cannot understand why they do not in fact volunteer and not wait to be conscripted. The relatively short history of Australia will show that those who are affected by enforced military training find it abhorrent. In the years of 1916 and 1917 a majority of the volunteers then serving with the First Australian Imperial Force - my father and my uncle were among them - overwhelmingly voted against the conscription of Australian youth for that war. Our history books tell us that the referenda held were defeated, and the main opposing force was the volunteers already in action in Europe.

Wealthy capitalists, would-be capitalists, all others who live bv the sweat of others, armchair strategists, straight-out sabre rattlers, civilians convinced of the need for somebody else to die for the salvation of the Empire, society matrons and dowagers and people who were overawed by those who urged others to go and die for their country supported the referenda. However, those who were liable to go, those who had volunteered and were in the trenches with the mud and the stench, harassed by day and night with their lives at risk, voted against it and said in effect: 'Fair go, mate. If you can't convince him that he has something to die for and that he is not just being conscripted to protect the interests of those who sent him, leave him alone.'

Time passed, and in 1941, for the first time since 1770, Australia was in danger of invasion by a foreign people. The invasions of 1770 and 1784 succeeded. Armed foreigners landed on the Australian continent and took control. By 1941 the descendants of the invaders of 1784 felt they had an obligation to protect from other invaders the continent they now occupied. The aggressor on this occasion was Japan. The Australian Labor Party Government at that time took the view that, as the nation was in danger of invasion and our way of life was threatened, all those who were fit enough to fight should fight. So for the first time we experienced conscription in Australia, an unpleasant course of action which seemed to be needed to be taken to protect our homeland.

It would be more than fair to say that if Australia enjoyed a socialistic society whereby all the people had an equitable share of all the wealth and an even stake in the natural riches of this continent people would be less reluctant to defend with arms those things which are theirs. However, the historical position has always been that workers and the sons of workers are encouraged to go, and on occasions are sent off to risk their lives to protect and defend the wealth and property of those who encourage them or send them. Meanwhile the owners of property and wealth sit at home, relatively safe, making money and directing operations from the sanctity of the Melbourne Club and other sanctuaries which deny admittance to those who have been sent to fight.

We move on swiftly now through a little over 2 decades and find, in 1964, the inevitable consequences of the capitalistic system happening again. In that year Australia was engaged in a dirty, immoral and abhorrent warlike operation - as it is nicely called - in Vietnam. This was an Executive decision taken by this guilty Government to commit others - not the Executive, mind you - to go and die for the cause. In the sixth decade of the 20th century young men had the temerity to ask: What cause? It is true that the weight of opinion then supported the action. But we must ask: Whose opinion? It was the opinion of those who would not be involved in the stinking swamps, the steaming jungles and the senseless killing that was Vietnam. Public opinion was ill informed, and the situation was deliberately misrepresented, as subsequent events and information have clearly shown. However, the young men of this country had become more knowledgable. They questioned the morality and the legality of the action taken by the LiberalCountry Party Government and stayed away from recruiting centres in droves. lt was not because they were afraid, not because they had no patriotism and certainly not because they lacked the desire to defend liberty, but simply because they could not be convinced that they were in fact going to defend anything at all, but rather were being used as expendable pawns in an international chess game which was clearly recognisable as a game of power politics. The intelligent action by these young men embarrassed the bloodthirsty men who had taken the action to commit them. An undertaking had been given to foreign powers that Australia would provide a given number of workers' sons to fight. When young men thought about the futility of the situation and refused to volunteer the men with bloodstained hands who called themselves the Government then decided to force men to go, and conscription for active service returned to Australia. But how different it was this time.

In 1964 Australia was not under threat of invasion, even though the Darcy Meanswells of this country tried to convince us we were, and not all able-bodied men were conscripted. The lottery of death was imposed on Australian youth. Only those young men who were born on a day to be determined by lot were conscripted. Others were free to pursue a normal life. Conscientious objection was restricted to an objection to all wars and all violence. That is comparable to asking a man to answer yes or no to the question: Have you stopped beating your wife? Those young men, and those not so young, who would defend their country against an aggressor but who could not convince themselves that they should be involved in the rape of Indo-China were denied the reasonable and acceptable defence of a conscientious objection to immorality. They were forced to prove the unprovable - an objection to all war.

Government members are convinced that they are taking a magnanimous attitude by reducing the period of service from 2 years to H years - still on a pot luck basis, still with the threat of imprisonment as the alternative and still with the lack of grounds for defence by draftees. It is with a great deal of sadness in my heart that I say this evening that my own son is one of those whose birth dates have been drawn from the barrel in the lottery of death conducted twice each year with much pomp and ceremony to give some sort of respectability to the most disgusting, degrading and revolting exercise to take place since public executions. If we care to look at the question of conscription and armed service on a basis of reason and not emotion we could come to no other conclusion than that a volunteer army is preferable to one of mixed volunteers and conscripts, and certainly more desirable than an army of conscripts.


Mr Birrell - And the Government knows that the Army believes in that too.


Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - The honourable member for Port Adelaide and others who interjected are quite right in what they are saying. The Government is not prepared to give it a go. It must pose, the question: Are numbers altogether necessary? Are numbers the necessary criterion? This Government really astounds me by the way it is mesmerised by numbers and figures. Industrial action - we are told that industrial disputes cost us 2i million man days a year when there are 5i million man days worked each day - more and better immigration and the size of the armed forces always appear as numbers and statistics, but never are any background information and reasonably accurate reports by qualified inquirers given as to what the expected requirements are or will be. One hears much talk about the enemy. Apparently the enemy are the vague persons who appear in all Australian folklore known as 'They'. Always They.' Never identified.

The Australian Labor Party is being berated by honourable members on the Government side of this House for not being realistic about the defence of this country and yet in the two great wars in which Australia has been involved - the 1914-18 war and the 1939-45 war- It was an Australian Labor Party government that carried the day. As I understand the situation, the Nationalist Government as it was then known, led by the then Mr Robert Menzies, collapsed in 1941 under its own weight and for the first time a Cabinet asked a Prime Minister to resign. At the following election the Labor Party had the support of the Australian people. It was recognised as having the strength and the courage to defend this country and was given, the job.

The whole question whether we have one man in our Army or 28,000 is, I think, quite academic. Last year I was in Indonesia with a parliamentary delegation which included members of the Government parties and the other Party in the other place - I believe that is a nice way of referring to it. It seems to me that there is a certain arrogance expressed not only by the Government but on occasions by some Government supporters. Whilst we were in Indonesia we spoke to a general - I understand that there are more generals in Indonesia than there are corporals in Australia - and a question was put to him about Australian troops being posted to Indonesia. It seemed to me that the person who put the question was tending to indicate that we were adopting a patronising attitude towards Indonesia and that we would make available, should they require them, some of our Australian troops to defend Indonesia. When asked how many Australian troops we had the honourable member said we had 28,000. The Indonesian general -gently and kindly reminded us that they had 6 million men under arms and that they did not really require the services of the Australian army to defend Indonesia. This is the sort of numbers game that Government supporters play and this is the sort of arrogant attitude that the Government and Government supporters adopt towards this whole question of defence. lt seems to me that the question of sizeand type of the army has been debated long and loud. Every report that I have ever read has always suggested that a volunteer army is the more desirable. When we in the Labor Party speak of raising an Australian army we do not mean, as was suggested tonight, that we would try to encourage unemployed men - and the people who are unemployed are the sons of workers - to join the army and that if they did not join we would conscript them.

Let us compare the conditions of members of the armed forces with those of civilians. This relates to the Royal Australian Air Force, but I am sure that th: circumstances in the Army are similar. At the end of a fortnight an RAAF corporal with his basic pay, allowances and so on receives $127.82. Civilian personnel doing exactly the same work and working beside the corporal take home $155.47 at the end of a fortnight. There is a difference of $30 a fortnight.

Then we come to work done at weekends. When RAAF staff work at weekends they later receive 2 days off, but when the civilian works a weekend he receives his 2 days off plus overtime wages for the weekend worked. Travelling allowance is paid to civilians but not to RAAF staff. Free medical services are available to the serviceman. However he cannot insure only his wife and children for medical benefits but must pay for the family benefit. Free issues of overalls and safety shoes are common to both. - 1 merely give some indication of the differences that exist already between civilians and service personnel. Obviously this is one of the reasons why we do not have a volunteer army. The other reason, which I believe to be far more fundamental, is that not enough of the young people of this country own any of the natura! wealth of this country. If they had a stake in the natural wealth 1 am quite sure there would be no difficulties in encouraging them to defend it. But they know, as we know, that the natural wealth of this country is centered in the hands of a very few people.

When we speak about defence we speak not only about those men who make up the numbers of the armed forces. This Government is very nggardly and very remiss on the whole question of defence and one of these days it will find the problem wrapped right round its neck. It has allowed the aircraft industry to fall to pieces. The roads that are necessary for national defence are a disgrace. Our transport system would not stand up under any sort of an attack. So while this Government and its supporters stand up and talk about how they are taking the initiative and using all of their resources to develop the armed forces which will protect Australia, they are leaving us in a position in which - God forbid that it should happen again - the next time a destroyer gets sunk half the Royal Australian Navy will go to the bottom of the sea. At the same time we will be left with aircraft which we do not own and which will not fly anyhow when we do own them. This is the sort of defence policy that this Government is obviously trying to prop up and the only purpose of national service training is to prop up a defence system that is badly calculated and quite wrong. For this reason young men are taken -







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