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Wednesday, 29 August 1973
Page: 513

Mr KERIN (MACARTHUR, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Can the Minister for Defence explain his proposals with respect to the new disciplinary code for the armed services, so that those prepared to seek publicity but not knowledge may be reassured?

Mr BARNARD (BASS, TASMANIA) (Minister for Defence) - I did indicate that there would be an amendment to the disciplinary code, which I hope to introduce in this Parliament towards the end of this session. Honourable members will recall, of course, that this was under consideration by the previous government for 11 or 12 years. I accepted in principle, as a result of a question which was directed to me by the honourable member for Prospect, Dr Klugman, that I should incorporate in the new disciplinary code a provision which had been accepted under the French statute. There has been some misrepresentation about this matter and therefore I think the House should clearly understand what is involved in relation to it. First, the new provision spells out that no soldier may disobey a lawful command. Secondly, it indicates that there ought to be an opportunity for a serviceman to disobey a law which quite clearly contravenes the laws of the country or the Geneva

Convention. This is the essence of the new statute which will be provided in the disciplinary code. It is a logical and sensible provision.

There has been some criticism of my decision by the State President of the Returned Services League in New South Wales, who said that an army without discipline would be rabble. He said, secondly, that it reflected on the integrity of the officers of the Australian Army. It is obvious from the statements made by the New South Wales President that he had not considered the new statute, he had not read it and he did not understand the provisions of this law. I think I should make the point that whilst he believes that this statute is a reflection upon the officers of the Australian Army, he had no hesitation in reflecting upon the rank and file of servicemen in this country. Does any honourable member suggest that Australian servicemen are not in a position to have, or indeed have not demonstrated in the past that they have, sufficient initiative, loyalty and understanding to carry out orders that may be given from time to time? I believe the attack made by the New South Wales State President on the rank and file of servicemen in this country was unwarranted.

I read the statement which was made, for example, by the honourable member for Moreton who said that this provision would require Australian servicemen to have some understanding of international law. Even though the honourable member for Moreton may disagree with this, I believe that if he is in a position to have some understanding of international law, some members of the Services in this country who are below the rank of commissioned officer also would be able to understand international law. Does the honourable member suggest that they would not be in a position to understand the laws of this country or that they should not have international law taught to them? Of course it is complete nonsense for the honourable member for Moreton to suggest that whilst he may have an understanding of international law, an ordinary serviceman in this country would not be in that position.

I conclude by saying that I believe that some alteration should be made in this area. Those who think properly and sensibly about this matter will recall that there have been 2 incidents in recent times involving the massacre of civilians by soldiers. The first incident occurred at Hue and the second at

My Lai. Both of these incidents will be recalled by honourable members. No selfrespecting soldier should be placed in a position where he is given an order to carry out which will involve an incident of this kind. If honourable members opposite believe that such conditions should apply they should stand up and say so, We do not believe that they should apply. We believe that soldiers and servicemen generally should have the right to disobey an order if they believe that it is contrary to the laws of this country and the Geneva Conventions.

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