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Wednesday, 15 May 1968


Mr HUGHES (Parkes) - 1 may be reflecting the views of most honourable members on this side, perhaps all of them, if I say that we have just passed through a very long half bour. This is fast becoming a debate that never was, because the Opposition, judging from the speakers it has so far put up - and I say this with respect to them - has shown that the attack on this Bill is lacking in vivacity, is lacking in a sense of purpose and is utterly lifeless. It is hardly surprising that the Opposition's case against this Bill and the manner of its presentation should be lifeless. I suppose we cannot expect much life from what is fast becoming a political corpse. The life-blood of the Labor Party is seeping out fast. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that it is flowing out. This is amply demonstrated by the weak and disconnected arguments that have been advanced in this debate by honourable members opposite.

The honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) will pardon me if I say, as I now do, that I found it very difficult to follow the thread of his argument, if he had one. I doubt that I am being uncharitable when I say that he had no argument at all. He said only one thing of any significance, and it was something of very startling significance. He said it in reply to an interjection that I politely addressed to him. He said unequivocally that he, a member of this Parliament, supports people who commit infractions of the national service legislation as it affects the war in Vietnam. The honourable member sits silent as I summarise what he has said. He therefore agrees that I have not misstated his position.


Dr Everingham - I am not silent now.


Mr HUGHES - A member of the parliamentary Opposition has in this House this afternoon openly counselled people to break the law because of political opposition to the war in Vietnam. I would have thought that that brings the Australian Labor Party to an even lower ebb than that which we have become accustomed to believing it1 has reached. Every member of the Parliament owes a bounden duty to support the rule of law, even though he for political reasons may think it is an unjust law. No man in this country, least of all a member of this Parliament, should regard himself as being at liberty to counsel people to break the law or to support people who break the law for political reasons, as the honourable member for Capricornia has done this afternoon. We have come to know that the honourable member is pretty zany in a political sense, and he continues to astonish. The honourable member for that reason put up a pretty poor performance this afternoon. I do not hear much dissent being uttered from the other parts of the Labor benches when I say that.

The matters raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) can be summarised in this way: He said firstly that the legislation should be amended so as to permit people to claim exemption from service on the ground that they have st conscientious objection founded on political grounds to a particular war. We know that there are several forms of conscientious objection. I suppose that my honourable and learned friend, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam), could be said to have a conscientious objection to certain rules or to certain bodies of the Australian Labor Party. It is a conscientious political objection. He is entitled to voice his objection. Anybody is entitled to voice political objections to legislation and to try to change the law, but if one allowed conscientious objection to military service on purely political grounds one would be lending one's aid to the subversion of the rule of law. Conscientious objection to military service should be allowed on religious or philosophical grounds. As my honourable friend, the Minister for Immigration (Mr Snedden), said this afternoon, nobody can seriously contend to the contrary of the proposition that conscientious objection to military service on religious or philosophical grounds is proper and good and should be recognised. If one were to accede to the principal proposition put by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition this afternoon, if one were to accede to the idea that a person should be allowed to claim exemption from military service because he objects to a particular war, one would be recognising not religious or philosophical conscientious objection but purely political conscientious objection.

It' is fundamental to the working of our parliamentary democracy or any parliamentary democracy that once the lawgiving authority has made the law the subject owes a duty to obey the law and cannot be permitted to set himself up in opposition, to the law on purely political grounds. Political objection is not a passport to infractions of the law. Therein lies the fundamental fallacy of the Opposition's case against this Bill. If a person opposes a particular war and says: 'I object to fighting in the war in Vietnam', he is doing no more than express purely political opposition. I understand and fully recognise that this is a view that is conscientiously held. I do not agree with it, but many people hold it. They are not by any means the majority, as we know from the results of several elections. However, if there are people, as we know there are, who conscientiously hold political objections to the war in Vietnam and if they are of call-up age, their duty is clear. Their remedy lies through the ballot box and not through any other means. It is, therefore, disgraceful - a strong word to use but I use it - for a member of the Parliament such as the honourable member for Capricornia to counsel people to break the law and to infringe against the national service legislation on purely political grounds.


Mr Killen - It is almost seditious.


Mr HUGHES - I do not dissent from that view. The honourable member for Capricornia may not have intended to convey the meaning that he did. One sometimes wonders whether he really intends or understands the full significance of what he says on political issues and we should perhaps temper our criticism with a little charity. That is my attempt, and I suggest it is an attempt well found in principle, to answer the main argument advanced against this measure by the Opposition this afternoon.

We have heard something about trial by jury in the course of this debate. The suggestion is that in the future a person who commits an offence against section 51a, as it will be when the legislation is enacted, will be entitled to a trial by jury. I want to examine this proposition to demonstrate how utterly threadbare it is. Let me remind the House, if I may, that sub-section (1.) of proposed new section 51a says this:

Where a notice has, whether before or after the commencement of the National Service Act 1968, been served on a person under section 26 of this Act-

I interpolate to say that that is a call-up notice: and the person fails to render the service that he is liable to render under this Act in the Regular Army Supplement, the person is guilty of an offence and, upon conviction, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a period equal to the period of service that he is so liable to render.

Sub-section (3.) of the proposed new section says:

An offence against this section is punishable on summary conviction and not otherwise.

Honourable members will see, when they bear in mind that the maximum period of national service is 2 years, that the effect of this provision will be to render a person who fails to obey a call-up notice liable to imprisonment for a period of up to 2 years upon conviction by a court of summary jurisdiction, there being no right to trial by jury. The great catch cry of the Australian Labor Party on this part of the Bill at the moment is that people charged with such an offence should be entitled to have their trial before a jury.


Mr Curtin - Why not?


Mr HUGHES - The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith, inquisitively and attractively as always, interjects and asks: *Why not?' Let me tell him why not.


Mr Curtin - I would like to get the information.


Mr HUGHES - We know that the honourable member is much in need of information. The simple inescapable fact is that a person charged with this offence will have to answer a case in which the Crown's proof consists of three simple matters. First, the Crown will have to prove that a notice under section 26 of the Act has been served. In 19 years experience of the law I have never found it difficult or controversial to prove service of a notice. It is the simplest matter of proof. Even the learned Leader of the Opposition would not dissent from that statement. The next matter to be proved will be that the accused person is liable to render service. This is a simple matter of proving the age of the person concerned. The third matter requiring-proof will be that he has failed to render service. I should have thought that this would be easy of proof; but more importantly, it would be virtually non-controversial.

These are simple issues of fact which would arise in the prosecution of a charge under the proposed new section and in relation to which no sharp issue of credit or credibility would be likely to emerge. Therefore, for the Opposition to talk in that context of the necessity for trial by jury is, with all respect, just so much rubbish. If I may speak metaphorically, the Opposition is seeking to bring in a sledge hammer to crack a nut. I am one who strongly believes in the retention of the jury system but I do not believe that if one advocates the retention of the jury system one must advance the proposition that every criminal case, however trivial and however simple the issues may be, should be tried by jury if justice is to be done. In short, I say that the provisions of proposed new section 51a, introduced by clause 20 of the Bill, are not of such a character as to make it necessary in the interests of justice that a trial by jury should be available to a person charged.

The next matter is the onus of proof. That subject was dealt with by the Minister, for Immigration (Mr Snedden). It is idle, indeed pointless, for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) to contend that the onus of proving that a person has a conscientious objection to military service should, as it were, lie upon the Crown. The questions and issues of fact involved in such an issue are matters known only to the person who claims to have the objection. He speaks of what is in his mind and in his soul. To contend, as did the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, that it is unfair to provide that the onus of proof should be on the applicant or contender is not realistic. In the main, the Bill enacts a number of provisions which have been shown to be desirable and necessary in the light of practical experience in the operation of the national service scheme. Some of the provisions - indeed most of them - are provisions to which the Opposition does not object at all or, if it does, it does not argue seriously about them. The Minister for Immigration went through them one by one and as he did so it emerged that very few of them are controversial so far as the Opposition is concerned.

What the Opposition has done in this debate has been to use the occasion for a lukewarm, lifeless, lack lustre trotting out of Labor's old slogans about being opposed to national service and the war in Vietnam. It is all very threadbare and unenlightening. Whether one likes it or not, the defence of this country and where that defence should be carried out depends upon the availability of an efficient Regular Army and Regular Army Supplement which in turn depends integrally for their efficiency and fighting force upon the national service system.


Dr Everingham - Why?


Mr HUGHES - The honourable member for Capricornia wakes up for a moment to ask why. If he knew - I would have thought that any reasonably lively political person would know this - the position in relation to recruitment for the Regular Army in 1964 when the decision to introduce national service had to be taken, he would not be so silly as to ask that question. I repeat that as far as the Opposition is concerned this is a debate that never was, and I suspect that the Opposition in its present disarray will continue to perform on this subject in the same sorry way as have its members who so far have spoken in this debate. I support the principles of the measure before the House.







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