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Wednesday, 12 May 1965


Senator McKENNA (Tasmania) (Leader of the Opposition) . - I want to make only a brief contribution to the debate, following what the Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge) has just said. To understand what the Government is now proposing to do, it is essential to remember that all elements of the military forces, apart from those who may in the future be called up under Part IV of the Defence Act, are at present committed to service anywhere within Australia or outside Australia. Is there any controversy about that? They are all committed. Let us now narrow the project before us and get to the truth of this matter. The only change to be made in the existing law by the introduction of this new clause 50c is to pick up those persons who, after a declaration of war and after a proclamation by the Governor-General, and after their training, will be used to reinforce the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. Now, the change affected by that clause is not an omnibus one. It does not affect any other aspect of our armed forces on the military side except for the last reserve - the call up of the civilians aged 18 to 60. I have already indicated that there has to be a declaration of war before the Government can act in that regard. There has to be a proclamation calling up the people. To talk about this new clause as being essential for the whole conduct of war operations is not really to put a truly accurate position before the Committee. The only change which the new clause makes, as re-drafted, is to drop out the requirement in the Act that the Government itself put into it in October last year stating that persons called up under Part IV of the Act could not be sent overseas. The Government wrote that stipulation into the Act with the utmost deliberation in a re-drafted clause a few months ago. Now, from the tone of the debate tonight, one would feel that we are now being asked to make the fateful decision of whether or not our forces are to be committed overseas. All our forces are committed overseas with this one exception and this Bill seeks to pick up that one exception.

The Opposition takes the view that no reason has been given for deleting that exemption. It is unjustified. It is unnecessary. The decision as to whether our forces are to remain in Australia or go overseas can be made during the period of training of those forces. That would be a period of from six to 12 months. The strength of our proposition is that we say that in those circumstances the matter should be decided, not by a Ministry but by the Parliament, and we stand by that proposition.

Senator Sir WILLIAMSPOONER (New South Wales) [9.30]. - Senator McKenna's statement tonight did not go as far as did the contribution he made earlier. My recollection is that earlier in the debate he said: " We are opposed to this provision being written into the legislation at this stage, but we would not oppose overseas service in time of war". The honorable senator's words were so close to those that I cannot find the logic in the Labour Party's present stand. It seems to me undeniable that if this is the Opposition's general approach to the question, the right and proper thing to do is to give notice to all who are to be affected sothat they will know where they stand. MayI add to that a little thrust. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) says: " This is what the Opposition did when it was the Government during the last war". As the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Paltridge) pointed out, that created quite a problem. It is unfortunate but true that the last time we had legislation similar to this before the Senate the Opposition opposed the proposal under which 21- year olds could be sent overseas. I hope I am not uncharitable in saying that the Opposition's present argument betrays its deep-rooted objection to something which we, on this side of the Chamber, believe is absolutely essential for Australian defence purposes.

MayI now take my private war with Senator Cohen a stage further and say that he did not make a fair summing up of the position. He said, in effect, that in his opinion there is no difference between a state of emergency and a state of war. To my mind that is a legal quibble. I realise that "quibble" is not a nice word, but the honorable senator understands what I mean. A definition in legislation has a precise meaning. The honorable senator was wrong in the construction he put on my speech, but that is a minor matter in comparison with this bigger issue. On this bigger issue I challenge the bona fides of the Opposition. Honorable senators opposite cannot logically say: " We would do this in time of war if we were the Government ". and oppose laying the foundations for doing it in a sensible way at this stage.

Question put -

That clause 16 stand as printed.







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