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Wednesday, 29 September 1971
Page: 1673

Mr KIRWAN (Forrest) - I move:

That the following new clause be inserted in the Bill: 6a. Section 29 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting paragraphs (c), (d) and (e) of subsection 1.'

The clauses referred to in my amendment read:

(c)   persons who are students at a theological college as defined by the regulations or are theological students as prescribed;

(d)   ministers of religion; and

(e)   members of a religious order who devote the whole of their time to the duties of the order and persons who are students at a college maintained solely for training persons tobecome members of a religious order.

Those persons are exempt from rendering service under the provisions of the National Service Act. I have read the Hansard report of the debates which took place following the introduction of this Act but I could not find any reference by the then Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr McMahon) to this matter and it was not raised during the committee stage. This is a provision that has been made in this type of legislation from the late Roman times through the medieval period and it has been taken to be normal procedure up until the present time. I oppose these exemptions on 2 main grounds. Firstly, this either reeks of discrimination or of privilege. I think for honourable members on the Government side it would suggest discrimination against clergymen and others in religious services but from our side we suggest that there is a hint of privilege.

This provision in the Act is very similar to one in the Western Australian Electoral Act. People who are disqualified from standing for Parliament in Western Australia include persons who are clergymen, undischarged bankrupts or debtors whose affairs are in the course of liquidation arrangements, persons involved in or convicted of treason or felony in any part of Her Majesty's dominions or persons holding contracts for public service. This group later included people of unsound mind who were wholly dependent on relief from the State or from any charitable institution, etc. I believe it is a bad law. I do not know why the Church is discriminated against in that way. I believe that there will be an amendment made to the Western Australian Electoral Act in the near future.

I believe that churchmen ought to be treated in exactly the same way as other citizens of this country. I do not know why they should be discriminated against in the way that they are in the Western Australian Electoral Act or in the way that they are discriminated against in the National Service Act. Why should not they be called up in the same way as doctors, teachers, workers, tradesmen and others? Their work is essential to the community but no more essential than the occupations I have listed. They are people of equal standing with other people in the community and they ought not to be discriminated against in this way. If it is not a matter of discrimination then it is a matter of privilege. I believe that the Church ought not have extended to it these sorts of privileges. I believe there is adequate provision in the Act for conscientious objection and I believe that if ministers of religion hold conscientious objections they ought to establish their beliefs in the courts in exactly the same way as any other citizen in the community. I believe it would be a good thing for them and for this country if that were the position because they would have to clarify their own points of view and their own opinions. Being faced with this situation they would probably become stronger advocates of pacificism and be opposed to a country becoming engaged very easily in a war.

I do not believe that this sort of privilege is good for the Church or for the community. I believe it is not good for the Church on historical grounds. Where the Church has found too easy a place and too comfortable a place within society it has become ineffective, it has lost sight of its mission, it has become weak and it has set up no dichotomy within the society in which it works. I believe the Church ought to set up a standard other than that which is generally accepted in the community and I believe that if this amendment is carried it will help to bring about this situation. Because the Church is extended too many privileges in the British Empire as it was and in the Australian society today it has led to the Church being far too acquiescent in her duties and in her missions to the nation. I think that the removal of this privilege or discrimination, whichever it is, will help her to find her true place and her true mission. On those grounds and because there is adequate provision within the Act, on the ground of conscientious objection, for men who are in religious orders or who are training for religious orders to establish that they hold conscientious objection, the same as any other citizen in the community may, I believe that this provision ought not to remain in the Act. For those reasons I have moved for the deletion of those paragraphs of section 29.

Proposed new clause negatived.

Proposed new clause 6a.

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