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Thursday, 9 May 1957

Mr J R FRASER . - I should not imagine that anything I say at this stage of the debate will influence the vote to be taken shortly on this measure. .1 do not envy the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) the task he has had of trying to justify in this House what several members on the Government side have called a stupidity. 1 think the Minister was completely out of his depth in his attempt to answer the arguments that have been advanced against the Government's proposals for national service training. I support, wholeheartedly, the amendment that has been moved calling for the abandonment of the compulsory system of training and the re-introduction of the voluntary system.

I speak as one who has had some experience, at least, under both systems of training. I can recall the training that was given to junior cadets and senior cadets in the years 1920 to 1924, when, under an anti-Labour government, boys of twelve to fourteen years of age were clad in little rag hats and were, in fact, given military training. They were even trained in the use of the .303 rifle with the Morris tube. I had some training in those years. No doubt, it proved useful. Later, in 1927 and 1928, I was fortunate - or unfortunate, as the case may be - to have experience of the compulsory system of militia training. 1 was in the militia at the time the change-over to the voluntary system was made, in 1929, and I stayed on under that system. So, I know something of the approach of young men to both those systems of training. I know the change that came over the units of the militia forces when the voluntary system was introduced. 1. can assure the House that the men who gave their service in the voluntary units, after 1929, gave a better service, a fuller service, because they were men who saw the need to serve, who had had the need to serve put before them, and who developed in their units a very fine spirit indeed. The change from the compulsory system to the voluntary system was. of course, most marked. The government of those days - and it was a Labour government - saw the need to attract young men into the armed forces. It took the steps necessary to attract them and, 1 believe, maintained its militia units at a very satisfactory level. It is, of course, the tradition of this country that overseas service in the Army, Navy, or Air Force is on a voluntary basis. It was the volunteers, in 1939 and the years immediately after that, who formed the battalions and the regiments that served overseas and defended this country in the areas in which they were called on to fight. It is true that the initial forces of the Second Australian Imperial Force were officered largely and, indeed, composed largely, of men from the Citizen Military Forces units - the volunteer C.M.F. units of those days.

In the early part of my service in the recent war it was my duty to train recruits coming into an artillery training depot. Do not let me mislead the House - I was a lance-bombardier. I had no high rank in that unit, but lance-bombardiers seemed to be doing most of the training. Once again, I was confronted with the marked contrast between a volunteer coming into the service and a conscript coming into the service, because it was in those years that we had the first intakes of compulsory trainees. Believe me, the difference between those bodies of men was most marked and I suggest most strongly that this Government should restore the voluntary system of training. If that were done I believe there would be no difficulty in securing the 12,000 men that the Minister for the Army says he needs to build up the strength of the C.M.F. The Minister has pointed out that in 1947, when the Labour government sought to increase the voluntary forces of this country to 50.000, it could obtain only 30,000.

Mr Cramer - No, 13,000.

Mr J R FRASER - I am sorry; I misheard the Minister. I believe there is a most ready explanation for that, because after all, 1947 was. just two years after the conclusion of World War II. The people of this country, and perhaps of every country in the world, had had a surfeit of war and everything connected with war, and I believe they did not feel that there was a need in those days to come forward and serve. But I am perfectly convinced that if this Government were to tell the people quite frankly of the threats of attack from overseas that the country may face, and of the probable effects of an atomic attack - do not keep civil defence just a matter of words among a few people who have attended a school in Victoria - young men would respond, just as they have always responded to an appeal from a government that puts the facts squarely before them. Australia's young men have never been lacking in a sense of responsibility. Young men have always come forward to serve this country when it needed them, and I believe that they would continue to come forward for training if the Government treated them frankly and honestly.

What can we hope to gain from compulsory training when only voluntary forces cao be sent overseas? I suggest that the Government should give very considerable thought to this matter. It may be, as the Minister for the Army said, that the C.M.F. are the core of the Army and of Australia's defence effort. That core is composed substantially of volunteers, and the Minister properly paid tribute to them.

There is apparently some doubt as to why young men are reluctant to serve. I believe that it is primarily because they have not been told frankly how greatly they are needed and exactly what they are needed for. The young men who are entering on national service training to-day, are doing so reluctantly, in the main, and they are glad to be finished with it, because they have no sense of any imminent need or of any responsibility on them, or likely to fall on them, to serve in the defence of their country. If they were shown the need, they would come forward in thousands to serve their country.

It may be, Mr. Speaker, that, over the years, we have destroyed in our youth the spirit of adventure and the willingness to take risks that gave us, in past years, our best soldiers, airmen and sailors. I suppose that, after every world conflict, there is a revulsion of feeling against war and against all things military. Indeed, we are now told by child-guidance experts and psychiatrists that children must not be allowed to play with toy soldiers or other war-like toys. We are told that we must teach them that they should aim at peace, and we have great campaigns to promote safety first. Perhaps we destroy in our children their natural adventurous spirit by teaching them that they must always be cautious, that they must not do one thing, because it is risky and they may be hurt, and that they must do something else for the sake of safety It may be that we have to examine the teaching that we give our children in the schools, and our homes, in order to see whether we, in fact, are destroying something in our young people, and preventing them from responding to the call to prepare themselves to defend this country.

I do not propose to take up any more time on that aspect of the matter, except to repeat that I believe that the interests of Australia would be best served if the compulsory system of training, particularly as proposed in this bill, ' were abolished. It has been said that no one has suggested an alternative to the proposed ballot system. It is an awkward system. Some one has called it the birthday ballot system. I think that there are other ways of obtaining the number of men required.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Does the honorable member know of a fairer way?

Mr J R FRASER - The ballot could be based on the initial letter of the surname instead of on the birthday. Would that be any less fair, or any more fair, than the proposed birthday ballot system? I am just saying that it is an alternative. The Minister for the Army has said that no alternative has been suggested. That one at least could be considered. If it were adopted, every one, whether his name began with " A " or " Z ", would run the same chance in the ballot. I believe that the young people who are wanted for the services will come forward to serve their country if they are treated frankly, and told what threat hangs over this country, and what may be the effects of atomic attack upon their families and the cities and towns of Australia. If they were told those things, there would be no shortage of young men offering their services under a voluntary scheme, whatever number were needed.

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