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Wednesday, 12 May 1965

Senator McKENNA (Tasmania) (Leader of the Opposition) . - I wish to refer to three matters in this clause. It is a very wide clause, repealing Part IV of the Defence Act and replacing it with a number of proposed sections. I refer first to the proposed section 61a which details the persons who are to be exempt from service in the defence forces in time of war under Part IV. Section 61 (1.) of the Act exempted three classes of persons who are no longer to be exempted under the legislation before us. I refer to paragraphs (e), (f) and (g) which relate to persons employed with the police or prison services of the Commonwealth or a State; persons employed in lighthouses; and persons employed as medical practitioners or nurses in public hospitals. As the Act. stands at present, all those persons are exempt from call up under Part IV. Their callings do not appear in the exemptions to be included in the new Act. I would like the Minister to comment upon those deletions. It may well be that while they are no longer to be exempt, they might fall under the provisions of the proposed section 61 (1.) which states that the regulations may provide for the deferment of the services of particular persons. Would the Minister indicate to me whether it is intended to destroy their exemptions and to consider their deferment only, so that they lose the complete exemption and in future will be eligible for deferment if the authorities think fit?

Senator Paltridge - That is correct.

Senator McKENNA - That is a much tighter provision, particularly in respect of members of the medical profession.

Senator Paltridge - Yes, it is.

Senator McKENNA - Three new categories of exempt persons have been added in paragraphs (e), (f) and (g) of proposed section 61a (I .). They are as follows - (el members of u religious order who devote the whole of their time to the duties of the order; if) persons who arc students at a college maintained solely for training persons to become mem!>crs of a religious order; and

(g)   persons who are students at a theological college as defined by the regulations or arc theological students as prescribed.

I merely draw attention to the fact that they arc new exemptions. I have no criticism to proffer about that.

I turn now to sub-section (2.) of proposed section 61a. It states -

A person who, in pursuance of section sixty of this Act, has been called upon to serve in the Defence Force and is, by virtue of this section, exempt from service shall, notwithstanding the exemption, do any act that such a person is required, by or under the regulations, to do.

I emphasise the words " do any act that the regulations may require ". I think the expression is far too wide. I take it that the sub-section is aiming to say to the persons who are named as being exempt: " You still retain under the regulations the obligation to register; perhaps to submit yourself for a medical examination and perhaps to establish your entitlement to exemption ". I take it they are the three things at which the provision is aiming.

Senator Paltridge - That is so.

Senator McKENNA - I put it very strongly to the Minister that the phrase " do any act that such a person is required, by or under the regulations, to do " ought not to be left as wide as it is. I submit quite seriously, although I shall not move it at this stage, that the Minister might consider writing in after the words " do any act ", the words " in relation to registration, submission to medical examination or establishing his entitlement to exemption ".

The Minister might also wish to include another element. I am sure that he will s?e the force of the criticism that the words are too wide. They give a blank cheque to the regulation making authority to require an exempt person to do any act which the regulations prescribe. I think it should be tied down to the particular matters.

Senator Morris - It might be desired to include another point at a later stage.

Senator McKENNA - I think that the Minister has indicated bis acquiesence to the proposition that the acts required would be the three I mentioned - registration, submission to medical examination or establishing entitlement to exemption.

Senator Morris - Not necessarily exclusively.

Senator McKENNA - I merely suggest to the Minister that the expression is altogether too wide. I think the Government should address its mind to it and tie it down to a general description of the acts that the persons are required to do. To leave it as wide as is proposed creates a situation that concerns the Opposition.

I wish now to refer to the further exempt classes under proposed section 61c. I refer particularly to paragraph (f) which reads -

Nothing in this Part applies to -

(f)   aboriginal natives of Australia, as defined by the regulations, other than a class of aboriginal natives as so defined that is specified in the regulations.

Aborigines who are educated and cultured, as many of them are, may think that while they are recognised as full citizens of Australia and given the right to vote, when invasion of Australia or attack is threatened, they are not to be called up in common with their fellow citizens. Thinking Aborigines may resent being singled out for that exemption and in the international arenas, where we have been attacked in relation to our attitude to Aborigines, this legislation may provide another propaganda point to be used against us. It may be said that we are drawing a line of distinction between the Aborigines and the other citizens of our land. I concede that the Government proposes to confer an advantage or concession upon the Aborigines by providing that they are not to be called up for service here or overseas in wartime or when Australia is under threat. If they wish, they may regard that exemption as a concession or a benefit. On the other hand, they may take the viewpoint expressed by Senator Wright, that those who are called up may regard it as a privilege. I invite the Minister to consider that point. 1 realise that Aborigines may volunteer for service, as many of them have done, if they are able to speak English and have the educational standard required and the acceptable physical attributes. I understand that a number of Aborigines are serving as volunteers in our permanent forces. I am sure that the Committee would be interested to learn how many are so serving. If the Minister is in a position to give that information, certainly 1 would like to have it.

Aborigines are perfectly free to join as volunteers, as are other citizens, in the permanent sections of our defence forces. That is desirable as it indicates that there is no discrimination, but Unquestionably a distinction has been drawn between them and other Australian citizens in paragraph (0- Whether the exemption provision is regarded as a concession and a benefit or as an obligation honorably accepted, whichever view is taken, there is a discrimination, f realise that there are difficulties. If all reference to Aborigines in this proposed section is struck out and provision is not made for their exemption, an obligation is imposed on all of them to register, irrespective of whether they are nomadic, living in settlements, or completely assimilated. I concede that it would be difficult to get intelligent action or perhaps any response from those Aborigines who not only cannot speak English but are nomadic and are not in any way integrated with the ordinary Australian population. But I am inclined to think that it would be preferable to have that situation than to have the Parliament draw a distinction between the Aboriginal citizens of Australia and other citizens. If no distinction is drawn, when they are called up they will be subjected to the ordinary tests which are applied to the average Australian citizen. They may be asked: " Have you the required level of intelligence and education? Have you the required physical attributes? Are you able to speak English? " On at least two of those counts the nomads would be ruled out and would not be called up for service.

All I am hoping is that the Minister will be able to find a convenient way in which to administer this, having regard to the fact that he cannot expect a response from a large number of Aborigines. Perhaps he can devise an administrative method without drawing a clear distinction between Aborigines and other citizens of our country. I think he will see the problem I am posing. It has two aspects, first, objections from our own Aborigines in Australia, and secondly, inferences that may be drawn in international circles where very often we are subjected to criticism.

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