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Wednesday, 15 May 1968

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Minister for Immigration) - The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) set sail this afternoon on a completely predictable course. He and the Australian Labor Party are opposed to national service and, for that reason, they are opposed to the Bill and particularly to some provisions of it, but they fail to tell us why they are opposed to them, except within the limited confines of the Deputy Leader's speech. His statement, indeed, was certainly limited. But this is characteristic of the approach of his Party to our commitment in Vietnam, to defence commitments generally and particularly to the defence of this country. The. whole attitude of the Labour Party to the original measure and, now, to this amending legislation, has been one of evasion - evasion of our defence needs, evasion of the national issues involved and evasion of the simple and proper principle that where responsibilities for national defence in specific fields have to be shared they should be shared equally by all those required to do so, subject only to the most deliberately considered exemptions.

Let us consider what the honourable gentleman has said. He spent 25 minutes talking about conscientious objectors. I should like to make it clear that a man who holds a genuine conscientious objection should be exempted from service. A man who holds a genuine conscientious objection to participating in battle should be put on non-combatant duties. About that there can be no argument. So far there have been 300,000 registrants for national service and about 750 applications for exemption. Of that number 454 have been determined. Of these. 197 have been granted totally and 171 partially. So 25 minutes of the Opposition's time in this debate has been spent in talking about only 86 men whose applications for exemption have been wholly rejected. This matter should be put in its correct perspective.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that the Opposition opposed the Bill for two reasons. Firstly, it opposed conscription for military service out of Australia except in time of war. The Government understands that reason. However, there is a need to put Australia in a defence posture where it can defend itself and where it has the build-up available to be called upon at the earliest opportunity. The second reason given for opposing the Bill was that the Opposition opposed the selective system of call-up. I do not know a fairer method than the selective system, but I will not argue that now as it is a separate matter. We are dealing with the need to make sure that the responsibility is shared equally among all those of the same age group who have a common need to ensure the development and defence of our country.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition then went on to discuss conscientious objectors for about 25 minutes. He said that tribunals should be set up to hear conscientious objectors. But magistrates do this now and an appeal can be made from a magistrate's court to a Supreme Court. Indeed, the honourable member himself quoted from a decision of the full High Court of Australia. What better continuity and regularity of consideration could there be? This afternoon the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) criticised the Government for lack of courtesy because amendments circulated in the name of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Bury) were not distributed until just before question time began. I want to make it clear that those amendments did not arrive from the Government Printer until just before question time and they were circulated immediately.

Mr Bryant - The Minister should have told us that.

Mr SNEDDEN - The Deputy Leader of the Opposition himself said that the Minister had announced that he was considering changes. As soon as the amendments arrived they were circulated. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that the Opposition accepted the amendments, so what are we having a fuss about? The Opposition wanted the Bill amended and it will be amended. So we can put the whole question of clause 21 aside. Clause 22 can be put aside also because the amendments to it are acceptable to the Opposition.

Mr Barnard - The Minister dealt . very extensively with clauses 21 and 22 in his second reading speech.

Mr SNEDDEN - He did deal with them in his second reading speech but as the Opposition objected to them they are to be amended.

Mr Barnard - He did not intend to amend them until he was pressured to do so.

Mr SNEDDEN - Well, they are to be amended. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition evaded talking about national service and the reasons for it. Nobody will contradict me when I say that national service has been an unqualified success in achieving its major purpose, which was the urgently needed expansion of our forces. Three years ago national service was accepted as necessary by a majority of the people of Australia and it is a matter of history that this decision by the Government, along with others, was underwritten in 1966 when the electors of Australia gave this Government the greatest victory it has had. I would like to quote the words of the Leader of the Opposition - whom I see sitting in the House - spoken when the chamber was mourning the death of the late Prime Minister, Mr Harolt Holt. Referring to the 1966 elections and the platform upon which the Government had campaigned, he said that the Australian Labor Party had suffered 'its greatest defeat in history'. It is no wonder that Opposition members want to avoid talking about that. It is not a very happy recollection for them.

The response by the public and by the young men of the nation to the principle and the practice of national service has been outstanding. The young men who have served have done so with very great distinction and those who are following them are doing so in the same keen, loyal and courageous way. Nobody could avoid the feeling of warmth of heart upon the return to Australia of national servicemen as battle veterans. It is reassuring to us all to see the manner in which public figures in the sporting world and in the entertainment world have accepted their responsibility to render service to the country which they claim as their own.

The great majority of young men have responded willingly to the discipline of national service call-up. I think it is fair to say that most of those who were perhaps not specially keen about it at the outset quickly found value in it and a new sense of pride in serving their country. But there have been some loopholes in the scheme which have enabled a minority - a small minority - to seek constantly to evade their obligations and, in terms of the National Service Act, deliberately and dishonestly to flout the law. It is to deal with these loopholes that this measure is before the House. In overhauling the original provisions the Government has taken note of some constructive suggestions from responsible bodies such as the Returned Services League and the Australian Council of Churches.

There is no change in basic principles; there is no covert or overt intrusion into the proper civil liberties of the young men of our country; there is nothing that will deny to any young man the full protection of the law and the fullest right to be heard in his own defence on matters arising from the obligation to undergo national service. The Bill takes into account the Government's experience of the last 3 years with the original Act and it provides amendments which will strengthen and not weaken the safeguards that any legislation of this kind must have. It is not therefore a punitive piece of legislation; it is a measure designed to make a widely accepted and generally respected law more effective in the public interest and in the interests of young Australians involved in national service.

The Bill is concerned with self-styled draft dodgers at the various stages of the national service induction and with the draft dodgers when the act of serving has begun. The Government would be less than fair and it would in fact be letting down those young men who have accepted the interruption to their careers and their privileges to take on willingly the responsibilities of national service if it allowed a few to get away with it. The purpose of this legislation is to share the burden among all those of the same age group. Most Australians do not like the idea that some people may be getting away with not accepting their responsibilities. The people expect the Government to ensure that the few dodgers are not allowed to break the law and to throw back the odium of a refusal to serve onto their generation as a whole. The Government would be remiss if, in the light of the experience it has gained in the operation of the national service scheme, it allowed a few young men to live without and beyond the law and thereby encourage others to do the same.

National service is a high matter of Government policy upon which the Government must take a decision to discharge the responsibility it owes to those who elect it. It has done so. We are a nation of 12 million people. We are certainly not a super power; not even a front line power; but we are significant in our region of the world. It is the Government's determination to preserve our liberty and bur freedom to grow our crops, to develop our factories and to make our land productive. We want to retain our liberty and our freedom. The central point in the concept' of liberty and freedom is the equality before the law of all men, and this Bill ensures equality before the law of all men.

In 1951 there was compulsory military service but in due course that ceased. However, the statutory provision for it remained and is the trunk upon which subsequent amendments have grown. On 10th November 1964 the Prime Minister of the day, Sir Robert Menzies, made a defence review in this chamber. It constituted a complete reassessment of our Defence needs and our programme at that time. It announced that national service was to be reintroduced from January 1965. The Regular Army was to be built up as rapidly as possible to a level that would be adequate to meet our foreseeable operational requirements and form a basis for rapid expansion in time of war. On military advice and on the Government's own carefully formed judgments, it was clear that a build up in Army strength of the order required and to the timing necessary could not be expected by voluntary enlistment. At that time Sir Robert Menzies said:

We are living in a period of unsurpassed prosperity and more than full employment; the attractions of civilian employment are very great indeed.

That statement is incontestably as true today as it then was. Therefore the Government decided that there was no alternative to the introduction of selective compulsory service. To enable the Regular Army to achieve the required degree of operational readiness national servicemen must serve in Regular units on a full time basis. If the scheme is to be effective, those called up therefore must be under an obligation to serve overseas as necessary and must be available to go with the Regular unit in which they are serving. The period of 2 years full time service is required in order to permit a period of at least 12 months effective service in a unit. An average of 6 months must be allowed for recruit and corps training. Provision must be made also for leave, movement and acclimatisation when the national servicemen are sent overseas. It was decided also, as part of the total plan, that the Citizen Military Forces should assume greater importance and the national service scheme should be used as a means of encouraging men to enlist in the Citizen Military Forces. National service was introduced against a background of affairs overseas, particularly in and around the South East Asia area, but prior to the acceptance of the commitments in Vietnam on the present scale. At that point of time we were making a small contribution.

Before dealing in detail with the honourable gentleman's few points of opposition, I recapitulate the major points of the Bill. To listen to the honourable gentleman one would be excused for thinking that the Opposition is assuming that the Bill is designed for a different purpose to that for which it is designed. The Bil] has been represented by the Opposition and others as essentially a penal piece of legislation. In fact the Opposition accepts the transference of the penalty to a civilian gaol. So that is not an issue to be raised in the debate. But while experience of national service over the past 3 years has indicated the need to enable more effective action to deal with those who are seeking to evade or default in their obligations - action which is demanded on the grounds of justice and equity to the overwhelming majority of young men and their families who accept the obligations imposed by national service - the legislation makes a number of important changes which must be considered as desirable upon examination. I believe that when I recall the changes to the mind of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition he will nod his head in agreement as I go through them. The first change is the making of failure to obey a call-up notice a civil offence. Representations on this have been made by diverse groups such as the Returned Services League, the Australian Council of Churches, the Australian Quaker Peace Committee and Federal Pacifist Council of Australia. No doubt the honourable gentleman will regard that change as an improvement. The second change removes the requirement that an employer cannot continue to employ a man who has failed to register or who has been called up and has failed to render service. Representations on this have been made by a number of honourable members and most recently by the Australian Council of Churches. The honourable gentleman agrees with that change, but goes further and says that the employer should not be bound to notify the Registrar if the employer has reason to believe that he is employing somebody who is a draft dodger.

The third change concerns the provisions for the discharge from the Army of men who have been granted leave without pay on the grounds of exceptional hardship for not less than 2 years and the granting of indefinite deferrment to men who have not yet been called up but who have been granted not less than 2 years temporary deferment, where the circumstances relating to the hardship have not changed and are unlikely to change. The honourable gentleman would agree with that, I am sure. Then there is recognition of Defence service performed overseas, on the same basis as that now accorded to men who are now serving in the Australian Permanent Forces. 1 am sure the Opposition would agree to that. Next there is removal of the requirement of an oath for nonBritish national service registrants to ensure that they are free to exercise the same option as British subjects to serve in the CMF. I am sure the honourable gentleman would agree with that. Then, continued refusal to register following prosecutions for failure to do so will no longer leave a man legally liable to further prosecution because the Registrar can now register him from the information that the Registrar possesses. Because there is no wish to compound the man's offence, he may be deemed to be registered. The Opposition would agree with that. There is also a change designed to ensure that the provisions protecting workers from being penalised by their employer by reason of their national service obligations will extend to apprentices, cadets and those employed in an industry such as casual waterside workers and allied waterfront workers. There would' be no opposition to that, I am sure. There is provision for the payment of compensation to an employee whose employer is convicted of having penalised or prejudiced him in his employment by reason of his national service obligations and to facilitate the enforcement of an order for compensation. I am sure there would be no objection to that.

The honourable gentleman .spent, as I pointed out, a very considerable period talking about conscientious objectors. It seemed to me that what the honourable gentleman was largely saying was that there are . not enough people who are accepted as conscientious objectors and that this was because of variations in the attitudes of magistrates and because the Act is not beneficial enough. I point out that there are only 86 persons involved out of 300,000 registrants. The honourable, gentleman spoke about the onus of proof and said that it was unfair for the onus of proof to be on the conscientious objector. The honourable gentleman then went on to give examples which would illustrate to the House just why the onus is placed as it is. The honourable gentleman said that a man is compelled to reveal the deepest point of conscience and that conscience ' is immensely personal. If the onus of proof is placed upon the Department of Labour and National Service how can it go to the deepest point of conscience or into this immensely personal conscience? How can it penetrate that in order to present to a court the evidence required so that it can discharge the onus of proof? Simply because a belief is so personal and because it does go to the deepest point of conscience it must be for the objector himself to come to the court and satisfy the court. The honourable gentleman said that tribunals should be established. For my part I prefer, where possible, to have the judicial process instead of the tribunal process. For that reason I think I need say very little more about it. I am sure that all honourable members would agree with me on that. If there is inconsistency now there would be greater inconsistency with tribunals because there would be no centralising point.

Mr Hughes - As there is in the United States of America.

Mr SNEDDEN - As there is in the United States of America, as I am reminded by my colleague from Parkes. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition made a couple of other points.

Mr Barnard - What about the trial by jury?

Mr SNEDDEN - I am about to come to that now. The other point that the honourable gentleman made concerned trial by jury. He quoted my colleague, the Minister for Works (Senator Wright), in extensio. Let us not at this point, of time open up the' argument as' to whether or not it was proper to insert such a provision in the Narcotic Drugs Bill or in the Wireless Telegraphy Bill. Let us accept that. That provision was inserted. Under the provisions of this Bill a person can be sentenced to imprisonment for up to 2 years, but the magistrate has no power whatever to exercise discretion as to the period of imprisonment. It is determined by mathematical formula - it will be 2 years or such less time as has been given by way of service in the Regular Army Supplement through national service. The magistrate has only the judicial function to convict or. to acquit. If' he convicts, the penalty follows by force of statute. It will, of course, be seen as a significantly different provision to one in which a magistrate, upon conviction, says: 'What penalty shall . I. impose between no imprisonment and imprisonment up to 2 years?' It is a very different provision' and I think it ought to be accepted on that basis. The magistrate does not have the final say because the Commonwealth takes the Court as it finds it and if there is an appeal from the magistrate, as there is in the Australian States, then the matter goes to a judge. So honourable members should think of the case, not as being before a magistrate, but as being before a judge on appeal.

The next point I make about jury trial is that it is a nice, attractive appeal to emotion to speak of a jury trial. But remember this: Under a jury trial' system, which we all agree with for important matters of personal liberty-

Mr Barnard - Is this not important?

Mr SNEDDEN - Please let me develop my point. We all agree in a jury trial system for all important matters of personal liberty and we has-e twelve men good and true sworn to render their verdict according to the evidence. The overwhelming majority of the Australian community - 99.9% - would take their jury service as a matter of deep conscience, to borrow the honourable member's term, and would return a verdict according to law and the evidence; but unless all twelve of them can agree then there can be no acquittal and no conviction. If there is a disagreement by the jury, the trial has to carry on again. This means that if one person of the variety of which the honourable member assures its there is plenty - although the election results do not show there to be as many as he would like to believe - gets on the jury, he can frustrate the trial completely. The honourable member said that Vietnam is a matter of conscience and that a person ought to be able to advise anybody to acf as he wishes to advise them, but the same thing could apply here. What is certainly very important is that these provisions must work. The honourable member does hot object to failure to comply with a. call-up notice being made a civil offence. The ' Opposition does not object to this. It does not object to the provision relating to gaoling in a civil gaol. The obvious progression from that is not to object to a system whereby a judicial decision is reached. This is what I would say to the honourable member regarding his point about jury trials. 1 think we can fairly dispose of clauses 21 and 22, as we have established our reasons for their inclusion. We come now to clauses 24 and 25. At present in the legislation there are provisions which make it an offence for a person to prevent another person from registering. Section 54 of the principal Act relates to parents or guardians of a person required to register, and section 54a makes it an offence for an employer to prevent a person from registering. Clauses 24 and 25 amend those sections by inserting the words 'hinder or' in relation to preventing a person from registering. This is being done simply because some persons can coerce others without arriving at the point of actually preventing their doing something. To remove registrants from the coercive influence of another person' or an employer it was found necessary to include the words 'or hinder'. These words are consistent with the wording in the Defence (Re-establishment) Act which was approved by the Parliament without objection by the Opposition - words that relate to not hindering or preventing a person volunteering for service. The proposed amendments to the National Service Act make its provisions consistent and make it an offence to hinder or prevent a person registering for service. The consistency will become apparent at once to the Opposition.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said, if I paraphrase him correctly, that this is a piece of legislation which gives statutory authority for informing. That was a colourful phrase without any justification. I was surprised to hear it from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, because he knows that the position is the reverse. There was criticism of the Minister for Labour and National Service for not giving notice of these amendments earlier. I point out that clause 21 amends section 52 of the principal Act which has been in the legislation since 1951. That provision was not objected to by the Opposition in 1951, nor was it objected to by the Opposition in 1964. Indeed, only one honourable member opposite mentioned it in 1964 and that was the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron). The provision was not opposed. It will be apparent that what has happened is that my colleague has responded to a request now revealed by public examination to make the provision safer. This is what he is doing and I am glad he is doing it because it narrows the issues that separate us and it makes the debate more manageable within the area and confines that it ought to occupy.

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