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Thursday, 15 June 1989
Page: 4053

Senator VALLENTINE —(9.43)-I move:

That this Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have my second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

This Bill is designed to allow those with a conscientious objection to paying military taxes to allocate that proportion of their tax which goes on the military to be paid into a peace tax trust fund. The Oxford Dictionary defines conscience as that faculty or principle which pronounces on the moral quality of one's actions or motives, approving the right and condemning the wrong. A conscientious objector is someone who refuses to participate in an act because of a sincerely held religious or moral conviction that to do so would be wrong, even to the point that the objector may decide that the best course of action is to break the law.

I believe that there are four different types of conscientious objection. There are those people who object to war of any kind. There are those who object to the violence of militarism and believe that allocating tax money to the military makes one as responsible for the deaths of innocent people as those who drop the bomb or pull the trigger. It is also worth remembering at this point that in modern warfare, 90 per cent of those who get killed in war are civilians. Then there are those who believe that the cost of the military is at the expense of the poor. They object to spending money on the arms race and on the military while people starve and remain oppressed. Finally, there are those who believe that they have an obligation under international law, in particular the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that includes the right to exercise conscience.

The idea of a Bill like this is not new. Similar Bills have been drawn up in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. It is part of a global concern by people who feel that we should be channelling our tax moneys into improving non-military security rather than by strengthening the bloated budgets of the military around the world. Just to give an overview of the current situation, the world's armed forces in 1987 totalled 26,620,000 people. The global arms race has absorbed over $US15 trillion of the world's wealth since 1960. In 1987 it was estimated that world military expenditures in constant dollars were about 2.5 times the level of 1960. Over these same years, 81 major wars have been fought and 12,555,000 children, women and men were killed in them. More wars have been fought in the 1980s than in any previous decade in history though this is mercifully tailing off as we near the end of the decade. According to the 1989 SIPRI Year Book, only 28 wars were being fought in 1988, a drop of six from 1987.

As a comparison, immunisation for all children not now protected against six deadly diseases would cost $US300m a year or less than the cost of three hours of current world military expenditure. There are more than five times as many soldiers in the world than physicians. The world spent over $US800 billion on the military in 1986, compared to $US46 billion on foreign economic aid. Over $US30,000 was spent on each soldier in the world in 1986 compared to $US430 on education for each school-age child. World military spending costs almost as much as the combined incomes of the poorest half of the world's population. It has lead to higher taxes, deficit spending, inflation and unemployment as well as a massive misuse of the world's resources. We know the fruits of war. They are hate, death, rape, pillage, lies, propaganda, fear and oppression. Though wars are coming to an end in Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, Cambodia, Namibia, Angola, and the Western Sahara, they are still taking place in the Lebanon, the Philippines, Eritrea, Mozambique, Burma and the Sudan. There are now about 12 million refugees in the world. President Eisenhower expressed the situation very well over thirty years ago when he said:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in a final sense a theft from those who are hungry and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone, it is spending the sweat of its labours, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life in a true sense. Under the cloud of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.

The Religious Society of Friends or Quakers has helped me uphold my conviction that war is evil. Their Historic Peace Testimony dates back to 1661. I would like to quote a short passage:

We utterly deny all outward wars and strife, and fighting with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatever. The Spirit of Christ, which leads us unto all truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdom of this world.

Conscientious objectors are witnessing to a truth that war is evil and no law can make right our participation in war or in preparations for war. The right to freedom of conscience is recognised in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Human and Political Rights which Australia ratified in 1984. The Australian Government and Parliament now has an obligation to change Australian law so that the rights recognised in the Covenant become part of Australian law. Passing this Bill would be a first step.

I would like to remind honourable senators of the work done by the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs. It met in 1984 to consider amendments to the National Service Act and made some very sound recommendations on dealing with conscientious objectors. They recommended extending the definition of conscientious objection and commented that Australia as a democracy is well able to accommodate the proposed extension of conscientious belief. Of course Australian law has long recognised the principle of conscientious objection to military service, for example, the 1951 National Service Act. I can see no moral difference between serving in the military or contributing to the military through personal income tax. It is therefore clear that if conscientious objection to military service is recognised by the law, the equally important right not to contribute to military salaries or military equipment should also be recognised.

At almost 10 per cent of the Budget in Australia or close to $22m a day, the contribution of individual taxpayers is not insignificant. Conscientious objectors to paying military taxes agree with the principle that everyone should pay the full share of their tax. They willingly contribute their full share to the maintenance of our society. However they cannot pay that share of their taxes that would be used by the military because they believe militarism is destroying the world. They cannot reconcile support for the military with their vision of a just and peaceful world. They are saying through this Bill, let us pay our full share of taxes in a way that will build security in our region. Let the Government look to non-violent ways of building peace. We want our taxes used more constructively.

To date there have only been a few individuals in Australia willing to refuse to pay that proportion of their income tax allocated to the military. It is not easy for most of us to break the law and so we continue to pay. John Woolman, an American Quaker who was an early opponent of slavery, put it this way when confronted with the problem in 1755:

To refuse to pay a tax is exceedingly disagreeable but to do a thing contrary to my conscience appears yet more dreadful.

Many Australians agree with the anti-war sentiments I have expressed. They have a natural revulsion to war but see it as a necessary evil. They speak of deterrence and are convinced that Australia's sovereignty and security depend on her armed forces and the ANZUS alliance. They would argue that we sometimes have to do things that are wrong and that the ends do justify the means. While I do not agree with those arguments I will not attempt to persuade you to support this Bill on the grounds that modern warfare is immoral or that many forms of warfare are illegal under international law. The question I wish the Senate to consider is whether the right of the individual in a democratic society should include the right to conscientious objection.

I realise that many Australians will say that if one makes an exception for military expenditure on grounds of conscience, then one will have to make exceptions for other forms of conscientious objection, perhaps in the area of education or health. I believe that if a group of Australians are sincere in their conscientious objection and can convince Parliament of the rightness of their case, then such an exception should be made.

This Bill recognises that the main function of the military is to safeguard Australia's security and independence. The Bill sets out to ensure that the amount of tax that would have been directed to the military is used in non-violent, non-military ways to enhance Australia's independence and security. The Peace Tax Trust will therefore have as its overriding aim to use moneys diverted from the Defence Budget to enhance Australia's independence and security by non-violent and non-military means.

According to the 1988-89 Budget Statements, Australia will spend this financial year some $7,658.2m directly on defence and an additional $4,238.7m on related expenditure, mainly in social security assistance for veterans. Australia spends $7.81m directly on peace; for example, the staff of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade working on peace, disarmament and arms control issues, and contributions to various international agencies. A further $1,113.7m is allocated for overseas aid. If we include all the overseas aid and thereby increase the amount spent on peace to the highest possible figure and reduce the amount spent on the military by not including expenditure on war veterans, we find that Australia's expenditure on Defence is still almost eight times that spent on Peace.

I trust this Bill will therefore redress an imbalance that now exists in our priorities, and help to bring about a better Australia and a better world. The right to freedom of religion and conscience are essential to the dignity and integrity of the individual which form the basis for democratic government. Nothing could be more damaging to those principles than to force the individual to act in a way that is contrary to their conscience or religious and moral values. I commend this Bill to the Senate and hope that the issues addressed will be fully debated. As it is an issue outside of party politics I and members of the Peace Tax Campaign ask that this Bill be considered on its merits and that members be free to vote on it according to their conscience.

Senator VALLENTINE —by leave-I table the explanatory memorandum to the Bill.

Debate (on motion by Senator Knowles) adjourned.