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Wednesday, 29 September 1971
Page: 1679


Dr KLUGMAN (Prospect) - The Minister for Labour and National Service talks about logic. I certainly cannot see his logic when he has been arguing that Geoffrey Mullen and Charles Martin should not be released from gaol because they have only selective objection - that they are not really conscientious objectors - and then he tells us that even though the Vietnam commitment is over these people are still objecting. Surely this proves that they have a general conscientious objection, not only an objection to the Vietnam war. I think the Government's position is to a large extent summarised in 2 sentences from the Minister for Labour and National Service. In dismissing our proposition be said: The Opposition wants to change a well established procedure.' Then he went on to say: 'But the Government is, of course, not prepared to do it.' That is basically the difference between the Opposition and the Government; we are prepared to criticise well established procedures and, in certain cases, to change well established procedures. Being extremely conservative the Government is never prepared to change well established procedures and clings to those procedures not because there are good arguments in favour of them but because they are well established.

I should like to quote an article in support of selective conscientious objection which is being proposed at the present time. The Minister for Labour and National Service said that the United States Supreme Court, which in some way is supposed to influence our propositions, has argued that selective objection would be contrary to the public interest or would be difficult to apply. I should like to quote from the United States Catholic Bishops' pastoral letter on war which was approved at their national conference in November 1968 by 180 votes to 8. I know that the Minister is influenced by Catholic bishops and 1 hope that he is influenced by Catholic bishops not only in this country but also by those in the United States. I repeat that this particular statement was approved at the national conference of the United States Catholic Bishops in November 1968 and was passed by the huge majority of 180 votes to 8. I quoted from this letter in my maiden speech about li years ago but 1 should like to quote it again. It states:

The present laws of this country -

That is, the United States- however, provide only for those whose reasons of conscience are grounded in a total rejection of the use of military force . . . but we -

That is, the bishops- consider that the time has come to urge that similar consideration be given to those whose reasons of conscience are more personal and specific. We therefore recommend a modification of the Selective Service Acts making it possible, although not easy, for so-called selective conscietious objectors to refuse - without fear of imprisonment or loss of citizenship - to serve in wars which they consider unjust or -

And here the Bishops went further- in branches of service (e.g. the strategic nuclear forces) which would subject them to the performance of actions contrary to deeply held moral convictions about indiscriminate killing.

Surely it is a reasonable proposition that if a person is conscripted for military service it is wrong that that person should be conscripted to perform an act to which ho strongly objects. I can well imagine the screams from members of the Government if the time should come when a Labor Party were in power and there was conscription - I should hope that there would not be - and the conscriptive powers were used to carry out the United Nations propositions in Rhodesia. With most members on the Government side strongly supporting the Rhodesian government, it would indeed be interesting to see whether they would suddenly develop conscientious objection to particular wars.

I put it to the House that the determination of conscientious objection is terribly difficult. It is extremely difficult for somebody to say that he is opposed to the use of force in any and all circumstances, but surely it must be possible for that person to argue that he is opposed to the use of force in a particular situation or to the use of force in circumstances where he cannot control the final outcome of the use of that force. Barristers cross-examining conscientious objectors usually ask: 'Would you be prepared to use force to prevent your mother, your daughter or your wife from being raped by some invading soldiers?' Whilst the conscientious objector may well be prepared to say 'yes' to that question, that does not imply that he would also be prepared to drop an atomic bomb on a city which contains, amongst other people, one of those persons who allegedly may rape his wife. It seems terribly obvious to me that one cannot apply the proposition that one would never use force and, from that, say that this is the only type of person who can hold any sort of conscientious objection.

I strongly urge the Government to reconsider its decision. I agree with the Minister that the question of selective conscientious objection is no longer the hot issue that it was when we were sending conscripts to Vietnam, but it is still an issue. It could become an issue again because the Government is still trailing its coat in all kinds of countries. The Minister must surely realise that there could be certain types of wars in which Australia could become involved where he would not be prepared to say that one should use force against a particular person. The Minister is looking upwards trying to think of such a war. He left the chamber before I pointed out that United Nations action to which

Australia would agree in South Africa or Rhodesia could be 2 possibilities. I am not suggesting that the Minister would not think that armed intervention in those 2 countries would not be good; he probably thinks that it would be a good thing. But I suggest to him that at least one of the Assistant Ministers may disagree with him and would probably have a strong conscientious objection if people were called up for such a purpose. No doubt the honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay) would be one person who would suddenly feel terribly strongly that there should be conscientious objection to specific wars.

Motion (by Mr Giles) put:

That the question be now put.







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