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Wednesday, 12 May 1965

Senator McKENNA (Tasmania) (Leader of the Opposition) . - As the Committee knows, this is the matter to which the Opposition addresses particular objections. It was the centre of debate when the Bill was at another stage and I do not propose to traverse the whole of the ground that I covered then. I merely summarise it by saying that the proposed new section is designed to pick up the last element of our military forces and commit it to service overseas. Every other element is already caught up - the volunteers in the permanent forces, the volunteers in the Citizen Military Forces, the various reserves and the conscripts - and there is left only one class of person. The amendment that this clause proposes is designed particularly to pick them up.

Those persons are in a relatively clearly defined and separate class. It is safe to say that when they are called up all of our other armed forces - I speak for the moment of the military forces - are fully committed, because if they were not, there would be no need to invoke the provisions of Part IV, which is the ultimate and emergency provision. When a state of war has been declared, it will enable the Government, through the GovernorGeneral, to make a proclamation calling up the civilians of Australia who are aged between 18 and 60 years, perhaps the majority of whom have had no previous military training at all.

The Minister indicated that there was some degree of urgency about having this power now. I repeat that it cannot be exercised until war has been declared publicly by Australia, until the war threatens Australia with invasion, or until there is an actual invasion, or until the war threatens

Australia and its territories with armed attack. They are the only circumstances in which the situation can arise. When war is so declared, a further proclamation has to be made, calling up people in the 18 to 60 years age group by various stages. Where is the urgency about that, having regard to the fact that those people, utterly untrained, would have to be recruited - which would take time - medically examined and drafted into one branch or other of the armed forces? Before they can be used on active service they have to be trained, I suggest for a period of not less than six months. Senator Cormack indicated earlier today that he thought they would need two years for full training. They could not be put into active service within less than about a year, by the time they are recruited, screened and allocated, and have undergone some preliminary training. I reject the suggestion that there is any element of urgency in the present situation - that we must know, now, in this year of grace that we can transport these people to any point of the compass. 1 reject that completely.

I would like, now, in referring to clause 16 to introduce a new thought to which 1 did not advert earlier today. The Navy and the Air Force are involved in the allied Bills that we discussed today which relate to the drafting of people under Part IV. We had national service training - conscripts - in 1951. After national service training had operated for a few years we in this Parliament were told that the Navy and the Air Force had no use for national service trainees. Those Services thought that the trainees were more of a liability than a help. They absorbed training personnel and both Services abdicated the use of them.

The National Service Act passed last November does not apply to the Air Force or to the Navy. It merely conscripts men for service in the Army. I make the point that when the Government felt the immediate need for more recruits, it did not apply the Act to either the Navy or the Air Force.

Senator Cormack - Is the honorable senator referring to clause 16 or to a proposed amendment?

Senator McKENNA - There is no amendment. I am speaking directly to clause 16. I am talking about military forces and the degree of urgency in this matter. As I see it, we are dealing with three Bills. We have an opportunity in this debate to speak not only on the Defence Bill -

Senator Wright - Not at the Committee stage; only at the second reading stage.

Senator McKENNA - I understood that we were to deal with the three Bills concurrently during the entire proceedings. However, I am happy to restrict my remarks to the Defence Bill. Clause 16 is comparable to clauses in the Naval Defence Bill and the Air Force Bill. It seems extraordinary that such a spread should be given to the provision relating to a call up about which there is no urgency when the idea of conscripts for the Air Force and the Navy has already been rejected. There must be some very cogent reason for this. I would like the Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge) to indicate why this matter is so urgent now. There can be no real reason for it. A long time will elapse from the date of proclamation calling up the men until they go into action - up to 12 months and at least six months. When we are pushed to the extremity of calling up our civilians because our usual forces are inadequate, as they must be before we call up these people, why do we decide now that the Government is to have power to send them overseas? There is time for the Parliament to determine that matter in the light of the circumstances that exist when the need for the call up arises. That is the point for which the Opposition contends. I repeat that in proper circumstances we do not object to troops being sent overseas. We have proved and established that fact, but troops should not be sent overseas at the whim of the Government of the day, particularly when there is all this leisure period available. This should be done only by Act of the Parliament itself. We oppose this clause and will take it to a vote.

Senator Sir WILLIAMSPOONER (New South Wales) [S.55]. - In the course of the debate on the second reading of the Bill I understood Senator Cohen to claim that I had said in my speech that the purpose of the legislation was to enable the Government to send troops to South Vietnam. Various reasons exist for statements of that kind being made. One is that a speaker may say something that he did not mean to say. I have checked the " Hansard " proofs of my speech and I cannot see any possibility of my remarks being interpreted in that fashion by Senator Cohen. Another possibility is that I misunderstood Senator Cohen's remarks. I think it is desirable that I set the record straight. Most obviously the purpose of this Bill is not to send troops to South Vietnam because the provisions of the Bill may be applied only when a state of war is declared. At this stage no state of war has been declared. The purposes of the Bill cannot under any conceivable circumstances be of the kind which Senator Cohen claimed I said they were. I would be glad to hear the honorable senator say that I misunderstood him.

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