Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 26 March 1942

Senator SAMPSON (Tasmania) . - 1 move -

That Regulations S, !) and 1U of the National Security (Conscientious Objectors) Regulations, as contained in Statutory Rules .1042, No. 80, issued under thu National Security Act 1939-1040, be disallowed.

I desire to approach this matter without heat because it is a question which should be dealt with clearly and logically. In doing so, I should like to remind honorable senators of what we are up against to-day in this war. The present international conflict is somewhat different from other wars in which the Empire has been forced to take part. Men and women in many parts of the world have been deprived of ownership of body, soul and mind by the decree of a ruthless dictator whose only creed is brute force. This monstrous thing has spread from frontier to frontier, destroying religion, conscience, freedom and security. I do not believe in violence; I believe in law and order, and justice, but I cannot see any way of stopping this menace except by physical force, just as we should restrain a dangerous lunatic or a wild beast. At the same time, we must not, and I hope that we shall not, forget the principles for which we are fighting. We are fighting for freedom - freedom of conscience, speech, worship and of life itself. That is why I wish to approach this matter in a fair and just spirit. Undoubtedly there are genuine grounds, mainly religious grounds, upon which an objection to military service can be based. I have the greatest respect for the Society of Friends, commonly known in Great Britain as the Quakers, but they did not wait until war broke out to declare their beliefs; they have held strong views on this matter even before the foundation of the organization. What is more, they do not object to undertaking non-combatant service. Some friends of raine in Great Britain are Quakers, and they belong to the Society of Friends' Field Ambulance, which works in the East End of London during " blitzes". There is also a bomb disposal squad, consisting entirely of Quakers. There 13 no more hair-raising job than that. It is a task which I should not care, to undertake. It includes the removal of time bombs and delayed-action bombs which may explode at any moment. Those bombs are carried to such places as Hackney Marsh, where they are exploded or rendered harmless. Quite a number of men have lost their lives in the course of this dangerous work. I concede that genuine conscientious objectors should be granted exemption from combatant duties, but to exempt such people from non-combatant work at a time such as this, when the safety of our country is imperilled, is not right, fair or just to the rest of the community. Yet that is the effect of these regulations which have been designed to effect considerable changes in existing laws relating to the liability of persons to undergo military service if they conscientiously object to so doing. Section 61 of the Defence Act at present exempts such persons from service of a combatant nature. The regulations made under the National Security Act are based, in the main, on the existing law of the United Kingdom, which provides that any person who has conscientious objections to performing any military, naval, or air force service, including combatant and non-combatant service, may apply to be registered as a conscientious objector. I have before me copies of the appropriate British act and our own Defence Act. At a first glance it would appear that Australia had adopted the British act -mi toto, but that is not so.

Paragraph b of sub-section6 of section 5 of the British National Service (Armed Forces) Act, Ch. 81, of 1939, is quite different from sub-paragraph ii of paragraph c of sub-regulaltion 1 of regulation 10 promulgated by the Government in that it provides that a conscientious objector who is conditionally registered must undertake work of a civil nature specified by a tribunal under civilian control. Furthermore, if so directed by the Minister, the objector must undergo training provided by the Minister whereas our regulations require a conscientious objector to do these things only if he is so directed by the Minister for Labour andNational Service at rates of pay and conditions prescribed by him. That is the important difference between the two laws. If the Commonwealth Minister for Labour and National Service does not direct an objector to perform work or undergo training, that person is not obliged to render combatant or noncombatant service. At a time like this it is wrong that any man should bo exempt from non-combatant service. Section 61 of the Defence Act sets out the classes of persons who are exempt from military service. The list is long, and I do not propose to read it in full, but it includes members of Parliament, judges of Federal and State courts, ministers of religion, and members of police forces. Exemption is also extended to the following: (h.) Persons who are not substantially of European origin or descent, of which the medical authorities appointed under the regulations shall be the judges:

(i)   Persons who satisfy the prescribed authority that their conscientious beliefs do not allow them to bear arms;

However, the section includes the following proviso: -

Provided that, as regards the persons described in paragraphs (h) and (i) of this section, the exemption shall not extend to duties of a non-combatant nature.

This proviso has an important bearing upon my argument. There are certain religious sects whose claims to have conscientious objections should not be considered for one moment. One such sect has been proscribed as an illegal organization. I refer to the body known as Jehovah's Witnesses. I have no sympathy for its members. As for other organizations, such as the Society of Friends and the Quakers, who have sincere conscientious objections to the taking of life, I would not allow them to escape service of a non-combatant nature if they wished to do so. If appellants can establish the sincerity of their beliefs, they should certainly be excused from combatant service, but there could be no justification for excusing them from non-combatant duties. So-called conscientious objectors also include persons who arc either actively or passively disloyal - I hope that their numbers are small. Then there are people who have very elastic consciences and who suddenly discovered, upon the outbreak of war, that they had conscientious objections to military service. Claims for exemption made by such persons should he subjected to thorough and exhaustive examinations. Under the regulations which I am discussing a conscientious objector has the right of appeal from the decision of the court of summary jurisdiction by which his case is heard.I do not believe in allowing the right of appeal. The definition of " conscientious objector " in the regulation is so wide as to give anybody an opportunity to claim exemption on the grounds of conscientious objection to military service. The definition is as follows : - " Conscientious objector " includes any conscientious belief, whether the ground thereof is or is not of a religious character, and whether the belief is or is not part of the doctrine of any religion.

This makes the way easy for men who suddenly decide that they have a conscientious objection to military service. I am willing to excuse conscientious objectors from combatant service - although, at a time like this, I cannot understand the state of mind of men who would refuse to do such duty - but they should certainly be compelled to pull their weight with their fellow citizens by rendering noncombatant service as directed by the Minister. I have before me the New Zealand regulations dealing with conscientious objectors, as amended up to the 14th May, 1941. They provide that a person cannot escape non-combatant service. A man may secure exemption from combatant service, on the ground of conscientious objection, buthe must perform noncombatant duties in the military forces. How could any man bring forward a reasonable or logical excuse for not rendering military service of a non-combatant nature in a time of grave national danger such as the present? The New Zealand regulations contain a further valuable provision to the effect that the financial position of a person who succeeds in securing exemption from combatant service on conscientious grounds should be nobetter as the result of his non-combatant service than it would be if he were serving as a combatant member of the armed forces. The same provision applies to exempted men who are put into camps to perform work of a useful nature to the community. The Commonwealth regulations permit an objector to avoid both combatant and non-combatant service. I do not profess to have much legal knowledge, and I confessthat the jargon in which our numerous regulations are shrouded causes me to have mental indigestion; I have great difficulty in interpreting them. The regulations are based in the main on the existing law, butprovide that any person who has conscientious objections to performing military, naval or air force service, including both combatant and noncombatant duties, may apply to be registered as a conscientious objector. They could therefore escape service of any kind. In the New Zealand House of Representatives, the Acting Prime Minister, Mr. Nash, stated on the 27 th August, 1941, regarding conscientious objectors and the regulations promulgated in that dominion that-

A man may be discharged for the purpose of enabling him to serve in. the armed forces, either as a combatant or non-combatant. This may be pursuant to a voluntary election by theman himself or pursuant to an order given by the Minister of National Service if he considers the man should be in camp. A temporary release can be granted in the case of any man whom the special tribunal has ordered to be employed on work of a civil nature. The release will continue only so long as he is engaged in that work, and, during that time, he willbe subject to the financial directions of the tribunal, to ensure that his financial positron is limited to what he would receive as a member of the armed forces.

T.   hope that the number of Australians who have secured exemption is very small. When we are up against the most monstrous evil we have ever had to face as a nation, and when we are fighting for liberty, freedom of speech and all the things we hold dear, I would compel every citizen to render service in this time of dire peril. I trust that the motion will be agreed to.

Senator Collings - The remarks made by Senator Sampson seem to me to warrant careful investigation, and I desire time to give to them more consideration thanI could at the moment.

Debate (on motion by Senator Collings) adjourned.

Suggest corrections