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Wednesday, 12 May 1965

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) .- ] note that the attention of honorable senators has grown. It is quite natural that that should be so when we are dealing with a matter of such great national importance. I now address the Committee for the purpose of clarifying my understanding of clause 16, which is the key clause of the Bill. We listened to various submissions being made this afternoon at the second reading stage, but I now desire to put forward my own point of view. The proposed new section which clause 16 is designed to insert in the Act reads -

Members of the Military Forces may be required to serve either within or beyond the territorial limits of Australia.

Up to the time of the introduction of the Bill, the law of the Commonwealth has required the permanent military forces to serve either within or beyond the confines of Australia. The permanent military forces consist of the Australian Regular Army and the Regular Army Supplement. It was to the latter force that the legislation of November last required youths of the age of 20 years to be recruited. The law of this country at the moment places upon the Australian Regular Army and the Regular Army Supplement, and their reserves, the obligation to serve overseas if so directed by the Government. It is a great pity that anybody should try to confuse the situation. This Parliament has already imposed that obligation.

Let mc say with all the emphasis that I can that it is a reproach to any newspaper or any person in public life, especially any member of the Parliament, to refer to members of the defence forces upon whom we have placed the obligation of military service overseas as being conscripts. I summon all my powers to denigrate those people who, having been a party to the passing of an Act which places an honorable obligation upon the military forces of this country to serve within Australia and abroad, proceed to apply to any member of those forces the opprobrious term " conscript ".

I wish to stay on this point. The whole of our defence effort will succeed or fail according to whether or not, first, the Government makes the appropriate decision and, secondly, the heart and the spirit oE the people are so moulded as to support that decision. Nothing can be more contemptible on the part of any person in this community than to describe as conscripts a group of most worthy, honorable and decent young men to whom the National Parliament has said: " We require you within the terms of the law to prepare yourselves for defence service should the nation need you." We have moved on from the stage where this country, remote from European wars, relied upon a voluntary acceptance of military service to the stage where the National Parliament representing the people, has said that men of military age are required to accept the compulsory obligation of military service. I hope that in decency everybody will avoid application of the opprobrious term " conscripts " to men who will accept their duty willingly.

As Senator Morris, who brought to the debate the benefit of experience he gained in Tobruk, told us this afternoon so forcefully, the defence Services of this country will discharge their national duty efficiently if they have a spirit of unity. Having imposed upon the Australian Regular Army and the Regular Army Supplement, to which latter force, as I said earlier, youths of the age of 20 years are to be recruited following the passing of the legislation of November last, we now seek to avoid a distinction between compulsory military service and voluntary military service in relation to persons to whom the provisions of this Bill apply. They are male persons between the ages of 18 years and 60 years who will serve in time of war. It is upon them that this Bill imposes the obligation to render military service abroad.

Senator McKennadistorted the situation when he rose in his place and sought to convey to honorable senators and to the country the impression that the Government had stated that there was some urgency about this measure. When replying at the second reading stage, the Minister was at great pains to say that this Bill was introduced, not in a panic or as a matter of urgency, but as a matter of prudence. We are in the twilight, if you like, of a defence emergency that is growing at the whim of

Sukarno and as a result of Vietcong pressures in North Vietnam, but Ministers of this Government have carefully and wisely avoided saying in any speech or by way of official proclamation that we have reached the stage where war must be declared. But appreciating the trend of developments in South East Asia, the Government is not waiting until war is declared. It is thoughtfully considering that matter as a possibility.

We all hope and pray that war is not declared. I hope that we shall use every avenue of diplomacy and invoke all the peace mechanisms that are available to us to prevent the onset of war. But in the meantime this Bill is brought before us so that there will be complete unity in all the Australian military defence forces and a common obligation for compulsory military service at home or abroad. It has been introduced not as a matter of panic but as a matter of wisdom so that people who have an apprehension of the possibility of attack will consider soberly the Government's advice that the Parliament should place upon military defence personnel - the Bill seeks to cover all male persons in the Commonwealth between the age of 18 years and 60 years in time of war - an obligation to serve abroad. It seems to me that anybody who fails to defend that course fails in some measure to safeguard the security of this country.

I believe that, for the defence forces of Australia to be effective before the onset of war or before the declaration of war, it is essential that we should get a sense of unity of the Army and a spirit of undivided support from the country. That is the spirit in which I conceive that this measure has been submitted to the Parliament, and that is the spirit in which I hope the Parliament will accept it. As night follows day it follows that if we have to place the obligation of external service on the members of the Regular Army, we have to place the same obligation upon the boys who are to be recruited as the supplement to that Army.

If war is declared, the whole mass of the male population in the 18 to 60 years age group, which is the reservoir from which the defence forces will be recruited stage by stage, should know and the country should realise, that they, too, are under the obligation for external service. Does any honorable senator with a sense of responsibility say that, with all the dangers which are developing to our near north, we should wait until the enemy crosses the confines of the Commonwealth before we muster an army? The Government that places this obligation upon the male personnel will not wait until that day to see that they have every opportunity for training. How shattering it would be to the security of this country if we neglected the opportunity to defend Australia externally when we had the chance to join our allies? If we wait until the enemy lands at Darwin our allies may be less interested in this Commonwealth than they are in the general defence of the democracy that links the United States of America with Australia.

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