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Wednesday, 29 September 1971
Page: 1683


Mr KIRWAN (Forrest) -! support the amendment moved by the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr Enderby) for all the reasons stated by him. At present there is serving a sentence in the Bunbury gaol within my electorate a man who was a lecturer in economics at the university. He is conscientiously opposed to the war in Vietnam and conscientiously apposed to conscription. For this reason he refused to register for national service. He will be required to serve 2 years in gaol, wasting his time. The only person who will be advantaged from his being there is another prisoner who happens to be studying leaving certificate standard economics while in the gaol. So the university lecturer is spending his time in the Bunbury gaol teaching economics. I suggest that this is unreasonable.

A man who has a very important part to play in society will languish in gaol for 2 years, during which time the university is to be robbed of his talents, his time and his abilities. He is absolutely wasted while he languishes in gaol without any hope of parole. Yet I venture to say that in this case, as in every other case where a person has been imprisoned under this Act, he is a person who otherwise would not have come into conflict with the law throughout his lifetime or had a criminal record when he came to the end of his life. But now, for the remainder of their lives, these people will have this blot on their characters, and a criminal record. I suggest that that is unjust and unjustifiable, and that their treatment is completely unequal to that applied in other cases. That is one of the worst features of this Act.

People have been confined to gaol under the provisions of this Act because of their beliefs, whereas there are other people in the community who hold the same beliefs and think in exactly the same way but are different only in that they have the advantage of being members of a Christian church or some other faith with a set doctrine which enables them to go into court, state the doctrine and say that they conscientiously hold that belief. They are exonerated and there is no conviction. A person who does not have that advantage, yet holds those beliefs just as strongly but is unable to refer to a religious tenet or doctrine, has to serve 2 years in gaol without any hope of parole. I believe that this situation is as inequitable as the other point to which I referred earlier when debating another amendment, that is, that one small group of 20-year-olds should be called upon to bear the responsibility for national service in this country. I suggest that the situation is totally unequal and inequitable.

At present people who hold a Christian belief of non-pacificism can avoid service for a particular war by quoting the tenets regarding a just war, to which I referred in my speech on the second reading, yet people who are atheists or agnostics, or people who have no particular belief other than that national service is unjustifiable and inequitable, and hold this view just as firmly as the Christian, are liable to imprisonment. Although the Christian will be released by the Court, as happened in a case in which I was indirectly involved, the non-Christian, because of the inequity of this legislation, will find himself serving 2 years imprisonment without any hope of parole. In my view this is unequal treatment; it is inequitable and completely unjustifiable. Therefore I ask honourable members to accept the amendment moved by the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory.







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