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Wednesday, 15 May 1968

Dr EVERINGHAM - His reasons may have been very good ones. I am not objecting to his refusal to go overseas. I say good luck to him, because I do not believe in conscription. But he is the man who said the attractions of civil life were so great that he had to introduce compulsion, in an undeclared war, when Australia was not being attacked. It was being attacked in World War II, and at that time we had no conscription except for defence forces inside Australia and in the islands immediately adjoining.

The Government may say that in cases of exceptional hardship it will grant exemption from call-up. I just wonder how exceptional was the hardship suffered by Lieutenant Robert Gordon Menzies when he resigned his commission. How exceptional is the hardship of certain honourable members who sit opposite? How exceptional is the hardship of some of their supporters among the Young Liberals whose marbles were not drawn out in the ballot and who are supporting this call-up policy? How exceptional is the hardship which prevents them from volunteering and so eliminating the need for all this inquisitorial business - this business of looking into a man's conscience?

My predecessor as member for Capricornia, Mr George Gray, was a man who could never be accused of dodging his responsibilities. He was in the Army for many years, including wartime. He has a son in the Regular Army. He had a great admiration for Australia's forces. He believed they had made the best contribution they could make in the service of their country. He told me that questions had been asked from time to time in this House as to why it was necessary to introduce compulsion, and as to why sufficient inducements had not been held out to obtain volunteers for the Army. We know that only a relatively small proportion of the Australian Army in Vietnam is made up of conscripts. Questions have been asked as to what steps the Government was taking to increase the inducements to men to volunteer. Such inducements could take the form of providing better security for a man's family, increasing the benefits that he might obtain on completion of his service, increasing his pay while serving. The Government could mount a strenuous recruiting campaign if it considered this was necessary.

The Government has been asked many times why it has not done these things. It has also been asked why there has been such a high failure rate amongst volunteers. It appears that more than half of those who volunteer for the Army are rejected. It took a long time and many questions had to be asked before the reasons for this high failure rate were ascertained. A proportion of failures was due to medical unfitness. Another cause was inability to meet educational requirements. Then there was a hard core of failures - I think the figure was 17% - attributable to what were called 'other causes'. When these other causes were eventually defined we found that these men were in excess of requirements. If we have volunteers in excess of requirements why must we have conscription? This has never been explained, and my predecessor believed, as I believe, that the real reason for conscription in this country is to prove to the United States of America that we mean business. In effect the Government says to the United States Government: 'If you can have the draft in your great and powerful country, which is so many thousands of miles further from Asia than Australia is, then to show that we need you here and to prove that we mean business and will stay with you and that we have just as big a stake in this situation, we will also have conscription.' Only a quarter of those who register are called up, but this is enough to establish a conscription policy.

The Australian Labor Party argues for the right to perform civil service rather than military service in the case of those who have a conscientious objection to doing military service. There are other kinds of national service and there is international service, too. This Government could use these people to build up the defence of Australia by building friendship with countries and people overseas.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drury)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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