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Wednesday, 29 September 1971
Page: 1691

Mr LYNCH (Flinders) (Minister for Labour and National Service) - Apropos of the point which has just been raised by the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes), I am not certain of the position which he has queried and neither are the officers of my Department at this stage, but the matter will certainly be checked and I will advise the honourable gentleman tomorrow. I do not suggest for one moment that that in itself should be any reason why the clauses cannot proceed and the Bill be adopted by the House if that is the wish of the House. At this stage of the debate I simply want to emphasise that, from the inception of the present national service scheme, there has been a direct and equivalent relationship between the penalty for the offence of failure to render service with the military forces as required and the period of service for which men are liable.

The announcement of the reduction in the period for full time service did not of itself provide grounds for the immediate and unconditional release of the 2 men imprisoned at that time, that is at 1 8th August. Each of them had a clear liability for national service. They were in default of their obligations under the National Service Act passed by this Parliament. They had the opportunity to have examined any beliefs which they claim with regard to military service, but they did not claim such beliefs. They committed the offence and were dealt with according to law. They were convicted and sentenced as the National Service Act then required. The announcement concerning the reduction of the period of service did not mean that national servicemen serving in the Army, who were subject to the decision that the period of national service should be reduced from 2 years to 18 months, should immediately be relieved of any further liability to render service. Nor, in the view of the Government, can any valid conclusion be drawn on the premise that men in prison at that time for their failure to render service should have been eligible for release on an immediate and unconditional basis.

The amending legislation provides for 3 men now in prison. From the date of commencement of the operation of the Act they will be eligible for release upon completing 18 months imprisonment less the normal remissions for good behaviour.

In the case of one man in South Australia - Charles Martin - this means that he would be eligible for release upon the date of commencement of the legislation. The Governor-General has considered Charles Martin's position in particular since under the revised arrangements he would have been eligible for release on 25th September. He has decided that the sentence of this young man should not be remitted to provide for his release prior to commencement of the operation of the amending legislation.

It might be observed that the decision of the Parliament, of course, should not properly be anticipated. Moreover, the announcement of the reduction to 18 months full time service did not mean that men serving in the Army who had completed or would shortly complete 18 months service should immediately be discharged, and they, unlike Mr Martin, are men who have undertaken the obligation required of them. I think the point is quite clear. At this stage there is no question of discharging men who in the normal course of events have undertaken their commitments in relation to the Act. The Government fails to see any reason why those persons who are serving a term of imprisonment should, in a sense, be advantaged as against those who have been prepared to undertake service in accordance with the Act.

I remind the Opposition of the very large number of young men who have been prepared so to serve. If my memory serves me correctly, about 51,000 of them have served in accordance with the Act and have been prepared to meet their obligations. If the persons who are currently serving in accordance with their obligations are not to be released immediately I do not see any reason why those who are serving a term of imprisonment should be advantaged in relation to them. I mention therefore that they cannot be discharged until after the Bill becomes law, and then not immediately. As to the other 2 men, if there had been any significant change in their position as a result, for example, of the announcement to withdraw from Vietnam as would allow them to render national service, then their position would be considered. I understand that as yet it has not come to notice that their position permits any such consideration to be initiated.

To summarise, it is the contention of the Opposition that the 3 men currently serving terms of imprisonment for failure to render national service should be released immediately. In the view of the Government there is no basis for their immediate release at this point of time. However, if immediately' means upon commencement of the operation of the legislation, of course that will be the case in respect of one man - Charles Martin. For the other 2 men, the legislation provides that they will be eligible for release upon completing 18 months imprisonment less such remissions as are applicable m their particular cases in the States in which they are detained. There is no valid basis at this time on which their earlier unconditional release could be justified. A request has been submitted to the Governor-General who has decided not to remit any portion of their sentences.

The men were properly convicted and sentenced for the offences for which they were committed. They will, however, benefit to the extent of the reduction in the period of service. I do not for one moment doubt the genuine nature of the motivations which have prompted the comments made by members of the Opposition but I make it clear to them that the Government is not in accord with the particular clause that they seek to have inserted and therefore rejects it.

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