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Wednesday, 29 September 1971
Page: 1678


Mr LYNCH (Flinders) (Minister for Labour and National Service) - The Opposition's second amendment seeks to introduce the concept of selective objection as a ground for exemption from the liability to render service. This has certainly been traversed before in this place with particular regard to the participation in Vietnam. With the withdrawal of our troops the issue becomes largely a theoretical one. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) has said it is a simple matter to provide for selective objection. In this he is at odds with most people and bodies who have examined the implications of it in any real depth. The United States Supreme Court in particular has most recently, in refusing recognition of selective objectors in that country, placed particular emphasis on the practical difficulties of distinguishing reliably between the vast range of situations and shades of belief which selective objection can take. Selective objectors are able to change the basis for their objection at will and with whatever conflict or issue is in focus. The present recognition, on the other hand, relates in a quite straightforward manner to opposition to participation in war in general, which precludes participation in military service at any time.

In speaking in this chamber in August, the Deputy Leader said of Charles Martin that one could place 'an absolute reliance' on the fact that his refusal to serve 'was because of his objection to the Vietnam war'. With the cessation of the Australian involvement in that war Charles Martin has, however, made it quite plain that his position as to rendering national service is not changed. Obviously, the Deputy Leader, the proposer of a so-called 'simple' recognition of selective objection, misjudged the real basis of Charles Martin's objections. He said much the same thing about another man, currently in prison on account of his refusal to render service and honourable members may be interested to know that despite that the Government's position has also been made clear to this other man - Geoffrey Mullen - there is no indication that he regards himself as able to serve. It certainly does not augur well for a general reliability in determining which objectors are entitled to exemption from the liability to render service if the main proposer of the matter in the Parlia ment is apparently very wrong indeed in relation to the examples on which he chooses to rely. The unavoidable conclusion therefore, which has been made amply clear on this side of the House, is that selective pacificism, as opposed to conscientious objection to participation in all war, is not amenable to recognition as a basis upon which exemption from the liability to render military service can be granted.

The Opposition also seeks in this amendment to overturn the current conscientious objection structure in order, as is claimed, to establish a body of law relating to conscientious objection. But there is a substantial body of law already in existence. It is case law reaching up to the High Court, the highest court in the land, and it is in practice drawn on almost every day.

The Opposition would also overturn the present reliance on the legal system, and, whereas, the present procedures are wholly within that system and draw on its resources, would place it, at least so far as the initial determination is concerned, somewhere not quite within the legal system but having its attributes and functions of hearing and determining matters; in short, it would be in an unsatisfactory limbo for all concerned. I am most dubious whether in such a context there would be the same degree of acceptability for the proposed process as there is now among the men affected, the organisations, groups and individuals who are interested in this matter, and in the community generally for the current provisions. The amendment also has the avowed purpose of giving a uniform and consistent approach to conscientious objection over the whole of Australia, but it is proposed to have one commissioner in each State and so the possibility of variability in the approach adopted with regard to applications from different States is far from being precluded. If anything, such a proposal would, I suggest, accentuate the possibility of interstate differences of approach to the grant of exemption on grounds of conscientious objection.

The third broad purpose of the amendment is to broaden the right of appeal but that is already quite adequately provided for, including access to the High Court by leave of that Court. One salient advantage of the present system is that there are readily available to the applicants and their witnesses established places of hearing throughout Australia, most often in a locale convenient to the participants. I ask: Would this be the case with the system proposed in the amendment and would it not amount to a virtual denial of natural justice if a man was not enabled to have the witnesses he wanted properly heard in person?

In summary then, under the present arrangements the purposes underlying the amendment are in practice already well met. The Opposition has not established any grounds on which a substantial criticism of the current procedures can be sustained. It is proposing a change in a well established procedure apparently for the sake of change itself. This is not the approach of the Government to what is a most serious matter. At the same time there are substantial problems associated with the proposal which the Opposition has brought forward but has not chosen to throw any light on. They apparently would place their faith - and the fate of the men involved - in a procedure which has shortcomings without consideration being given to all of the problems which are subject to easy identification. Therefore the logic of the position of the Opposition in this matter is, to say the least, questionable. Certainly what is proposed by the Opposition is not acceptable to the Government.







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