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Thursday, 11 May 1972
Page: 1635


Senator BROWN (Victoria) - 1 regret that it is necessary for me again to raise a matter that I have been pursuing since 17th April without success, but I have exhausted every avenue known to me in my quest for an answer from the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) to a question. My question was whether a claim of conscientious objection to national service by Mr Paul Fox on 3rd March of this year, which was acknowledged by the Department of Labour and National Service on 6th April of this year, is entitled to be tested by a court of summary jurisdiction. I think it is important that I should relate to the Senate precisely the steps that 1 have taken. I repeat that I believe 1 have exhausted every avenue known to me in my endeavour to obtain satisfaction on behalf of my constituent of the State of Victoria.

When this matter was first brought to my notice on 17th April I sent an urgent telegram to the Minister for Labour and National Service in the following terms:

Understand Paul Fox imprisoned some time and claims to be a conscientious objector. Cannot understand why correct procedures to have objection tested have not been taken. Please advise.

That telegram was sent on 17th April. At 9.35 a.m. on 20th April I received a reply in Canberra in the following terms:

I acknowledge receipt of your telegram roncerning Paul Fox. The matters concern questions of law which I have referred to my colleague the Attorney-General for consideration.

The telegram was signed 'Phillip Lynch, Minister for Labour and National Service*. On Tuesday, 18th April I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service, Senator Wright, why facilities had not been made available to Paul Fox to have his claim tested. In his reply, the Minister adverted to section 51d of the National Service Act. Finally, he said that the matter would receive immediate attention. He added:

It is a matter upon which legal advice is necessary. Every effort will be made favourably to give an opportunity to have the claims of this man to be classified as a conscientious objector tested by the Court if the terms of the Act permit that now to be considered by the Court.

Because I was not satisfied with that answer I followed up the matter by speaking in the adjournment debate on the following night, 19th April. In my closing remarks on that occasion I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service to request the Minister for Labour and National Service to expedite the facilities that should be made available to Mr Fox to have his claim tested forthwith. Approximately a week later - on 27th April - I asked a question of the Attorney-General (Senator Greenwood) because I had received advice from the Minister for Labour and National Service on 20th April and from the Minister who represents in this chamber the Minister for Labour and National Service on 19th April, that a matter that had to be considered in the legal sense was whether the application was applicable at that stage because of section 51d. On 27th April 1 asked the following question of the Attorney-General:

I ask the Attorney-General whether he has formulated any opinion on the application by Mr Paul Fox under section 29a of the National Service Act 1951, as amended, which was referred to his Department by the Minister for Labour and National Service? If he has not I ask him whether he is aware that it is over 7 weeks since the original application was sent to the Director of Labour and National Service in Melbourne? When did the Minister's Department receive the referred matter for advice? Will the Minister expedite the advice sought by his colleague in another place?

The Attorney-General replied as follows:

I am unable to give the precise dates in response to the honourable senator's question. It is a fact that advice was sought from my Department and that that advice was given to the Department of Labour and National Service some time ago.

You, Mr President, were good enough to allow me to ask a supplementary question in due course and I asked the AttorneyGeneral whether he would be good enough to supply to me by letter the specific details sought in the question I had asked previously. The Attorney-General, in response to my request, said that he would do so. To this date I have not received a reply. However, I did check with the solicitor who is representing Mr Fox on Tuesday of this week to ascertain whether any advice had been received, I checked yesterday and I checked again this morning. There was only a formal acknowledgement by the Minister for Labour and National Service of a letter from Mr Fox's solicitors dated 28th April. It made no reference to requests made by Mr Fox's solicitor over the period of time from 7th March to 28 th April that the matter be listed for hearing.

I decided then that 1 would attempt to see the Minister for Labour and National Service himself. Yesterday I attempted to make an appointment to see Mr Lynch. I said that I would be pleased if it would be possible for me to see him not later than 4 p.m. I received advice late in the afternoon that Mr Lynch had carriage of a bill in another place and he was not available. I understood the situation. I impressed upon the Minister's secretary that I would like to know later in the evening whether it would be possible to see the Minister today. This morning 1 again rang the Minister's office and it was suggested to me that I might be prepared to see the Assistant Minister assisting the Minister for Labour and National Service, Mr Street. That I readily agreed to. However, I was rung back in a very short space of time and advised that Mr Street would be busy most of the time. It is true that originally I was invited to see the Assistant Minister right away but unfortunately it was not possible for me to do so because I was waiting on a call from Melbourne. Tentative arrangements were made for me to see him later on in the afternoon although I did stress upon his secretary that I would be grateful if an appointment could be arranged for not later than 6 o'clock this evening. I do not know whether the Assistant Minister or the Minister himself took umbrage because I was rather insistent due to the time factor. I did indicate that if I could not obtain satisfaction or an appointment, or both, I intended to take another course of action this evening, which I am now doing. Incidentally, I heard no more from the Minister's office and I was in and around my office up until 6 p.m. by deliberate design. In the meantime I informed the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service that I would be raising this matter and that I would let him know if I were to change course before the adjournment of the Senate. Of course, that has not transpired.

I want to say at this stage that I frankly believe that Paul Fox is entitled to have his claim to be a conscientious objector tested by an appropriate court. However, if the Minister for Labour and National Service was advised by the Attorney-General's some time prior to 27th April that Fox had no entitlement to have his claim decided, why was the Department not informed Fox's legal advisers? It is now 10 weeks all but one day since Fox, through his solicitor, gave notice on Form 7 of his claim to be a conscientious objector. I repeat that it is just 3 weeks and 3 days today since I first raised the matter by telegram with the Minister for Labour and National Service. On 18th April I asked a question of the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service and I spoke on this same subject matter on 19th April. It is 2 weeks today since the Attorney-General in answer to a question asked by me said:

It is a fact that advice was sought from my Department and that that advice was given to the Department of Labour and National Service some time ago.

I repeat that last week the Minister did acknowledge a letter from Fox's solicitor dated 28th April 1972. That letter from Fox's solicitor reads:

We act on behalf of the abovenamed who has been in custody since the 4rd of March, 1972, for failure to comply with a call-up notice.

Our office was consulted by the abovenamed on the 2nd of March, 1972 and on that date signed an application for total exemption as a Conscientious Objector.

This application together with our covering letter was forwarded to the Registrar on the 3rd of March. 1972.

Notwithstanding the urgency of the situation in view of the fact that our client has been in jail since that date, the Registrar has ignored all our pleas for a speedy hearing apart, from acknowledging our letter containing Mr Fox's application, on the 7th of April, 1972, more than one month after it was sent to the Department.

In view of the extreme urgency of this situation we would implore you to exercise your discretion under Regulation 32 (a) and refer this question to a competent Court of Summary Jurisdiction for hearing and decision.

Kindly contact Mr Gullaci of our office if von require any further details.

The extraordinary thing about this is that it was a week after the Attorney-General had informed me on 27th April that advice had been sought by the Department of Labour and National Service from his Department 'some time ago' that the Minister replied to that letter. I do not know how long before 27th April, which was the day on which 1 asked the question, the Attorney-General is referring to when he says 'some time ago', but certainly it was before 27th April. So Mr Fox's solicitor wrote to the Minister for Labour and

National Service on 28th April. The Minister acknowledged receipt of that letter last week, but in that letter there was no reference by the Minister to the advice he may have received from the Attorney-General's Department. I think it is fair comment that that is strange conduct indeed. Why is the Minister delaying - I believe it can be said that he is delaying deliberately - in informing Fox's solicitor on precisely where he stands? I think the charge fairly could be laid on the Government that the Government's treatment of Fox reeks of discrimination and political persecution. This conduct is intolerable and cannot go unchallenged. In the interests of not only Paul Fox but also other young men who may fall foul of this Government, the Government's treatment of him must be exposed to the public. I believe that I have exhausted every avenue that is available to me in trying to obtain an answer to the simple question whether Paul Fox has an entitlement to have his application as a conscientious objector tested.

Fox's legal representatives have written a number of letters to the Registrar of the Department of Labour and National Service, namely on 7th and 30th March. They wrote on 28th April the letter to which I referred first to the Registrar and then to the Minister asking for a reply to their request for a speedy hearing. These letters have never been acknowledged. I say again that I have been pursuing this matter since 17th April. In the meantime this young man has been languishing in that medieval institution called Pentridge Gaol, Coburg, for 10 weeks and 1 day. If and when this man's claim is tested what will happen if the court upholds it? What right of redress does he have for the time he has languished in that place to which they refer as Pentridge Gaol, Coburg?

I believe that in view of the treatment to which Fox has been subjected 2 things should be done. Firstly, Fox's claim to be a conscientious objector should be tested at the earliest moment. Secondly, I believe that whatever date is fixed for the hearing Paul Fox should be given the opportunity to seek bail and the Commonwealth should not oppose bail so that he can be released from Pentridge Gaol, Coburg. I ask the Minister to impress upon the Minister for Labour and National Service in another place the sequence of events that have transpired to date in relation to this matter. I believe an injustice has been done, for whatever reason and whoever may be responsible. I think it can be said that the inordinate delay in answering the question I asked the Minister on 18th April is unjustified in the sense that 10 weeks and one day is not 2 or 3 weeks. Will the Minister ask the Minister for Labour and National Service to accede to the 2 requests that I have made this evening on behalf of Paul Fox?







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