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Wednesday, 15 May 1968


Mr LEE (Lalor) - I have a very high regard for the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Curtin), but he paints a very dark picture indeed of shady characters moving around in the dark. I cannot for one moment see that situation arising. Why should not the Government be given the necessary powers to ensure that all young men, not just the majority, meet their obligations under the law of the land? Nobody likes to be investigated. But we have to abide by the laws of the land. For instance if we do not make a taxation return an official from the Taxation Department is around to see us. If the PostmasterGeneral's Department suspects that we do not have a radio or television licence we have an inspector at our door. I do not think the people of Australia resent this intrusion.

The National Service Act is working smoothly, except in the case of a small number of young . people who try to dodge their obligations under the law or who, for reasons of conscience, will not enlist. Such young people are aided by groups who support them because of genuine beliefs or merely because of a wish to upset the process of the law of the country. The present Act specifically provides for the rights of conscientious objectors, but I think the question of those who serve and those who do not will be an area of a good deal of controversy until we are able to provide some other form of national service for young people to perform, as distinct from military service, and so long as we need only 8,400 young men each year under the scheme while 100,000 become available. Yes, I would agree with the Opposition that there should be available some alternative service to service under war conditions. But at present there is no power in the Constitution for such service. If there were power, I think I would agree, and I would hope that perhaps the Government would agree, to establishing some other form of service which young people could give to their country - some form of sacrificial service. Unfortunately the Constitution does not provide for this. We need only 8,400 men each year, lt is difficult - perhaps impossible - to have equality of sacrifice under these conditions.

I well remember during World War II that many young men, some quite brilliant, accepted the call without hesitation but did not return. Others did not go at all and today they are in high positions in the Government and private enterprise, enjoying the fruits of the labours of those who did not return. But in war there is never equality of sacrifice. Some who go face little danger, whilst others seem to be constantly in the front line. If there is to be a disruption in the lives of young people, we can merely strive to see that the burden is borne as equally as possible.

Other countries have similar problems to our own. For instance France found that the annual call-up provided far more young men than were needed for the French Army and has scrapped the traditional obligation of every young Frenchman to serve in the. forces. This is a major break with a tradition which had endured since the founding of the Third Republic. Actually it was found that France had an intake of 400,000 men a year but only required 215,000. France now has a scheme requiring all men between the ages of 18 and 50, who are medically fit, to undertake some form of national service. Exemptions are granted to those whose relatives died as a result of service for their country and also in cases of proved hardship. This is not a purely military scheme. There are four alternatives. The first two are military service and defence service to meet the defence needs and to undertake the protection of the civilian population with the use of non-military personnel and equipment. Thirdly, there is service in rendering the technical aid which contributes to the development of government departments and the administration of territories overseas. Lastly, what is called a co-operation service contributes to development of foreign nations that have made a request for it. At the moment 10,000 young Frenchmen, under this later scheme, are serving overseas in under-developed and developing countries. Conscientious objectors have a special place in the French scheme of national service. In peacetime they join what is called a non-armed civil formation which performs what are called public services of general interest'. But in times of general mobilisation they may bc posted to a non-armed military or defence service to perform missions of service or rescue. This could include hospital or field work or administrative duties.

In recent weeks the West German Government has been reconsidering its conscription policy. According to a weekly review of the German Press dated 28th April last, a writer in the Christian Democratic Party's Press agency suggests that general conscription should be extended to include civilian duty. Furthermore the German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation referred to voluntary workers when introducing a bill recently concerning development aid workers in the Bundestag. According to the German bill, people liable for military service who have served at least 2 years as voluntary workers will no longer have to complete basic military training or serve in the reserve. Many of the nations are gradually getting around to this idea of offering young people some alternative form of service if the full number of young people becoming available is not needed for national service. Unfortunately that cannot be done in this country at the moment. In addition, according to my information, young people in France who have committed themselves to working in developing countries cannot be called up for military service or go on the reserves. All countries not requiring a universal callup are faced with the problem of who should serve and who should not.

I suppose there has been more comparison between our system and the American system of call up than there has been with the system in any other country. As far back as 1910 William James, in a pamphlet published by the Association of International Conciliation, first gave expression to the idea of a national training programme for youths. He envisaged, instead of military conscription, conscription of the whole youthful population to form a part of the Army enlisted against nature to redirect energies and talents away from military activities towards a war on poverty, ignorance and disease. I suppose he was labelled a dreamer in those days half a century ago. The idea of compulsory conscription on any other grounds than national defence is not a popular one in democratic thinking and such a system as James envisaged has never materialised in America or indeed Australia.

The two organisations which come nearest to embodying James's ideas are International Voluntary Services and the Peace Corps. IVS was formed in 1953 as an effort to reorganise all American missionary programmes overseas. Though governed by a board consisting of Catholic and Protestant leaders, its aid programme is essentially non-religious in its concern with the grass root problems of technical assistance, refugee resettlement and agricultural projects. IVS volunteers are offered a 2-year contract, during which they are guaranteed all necessary expenses. IVS recruitment does not guarantee a blanket deferment of military service, but the United States Draft Board officials are sympathetic to the IVS scheme. What generally happens is that a list of the IVS volunteers is passed on to the local draft boards at the time at which they face conscription, and deferment is usually granted indefinitely, with no action being taken on the volunteer's return to the United States. So that

TVS would not outbid the Army for talented people, it was decided to give volunteers the same pay as they get in the Army.

The Peace Corps is another organisation which was inaugurated under the Kennedy Administration. It works as an official government agency, within the Department of State. Recruitment is, of course, voluntary, but emphasis is placed on training and on the importance, in the volunteers, of specific skills which can be of direct use in the projects undertaken. Peace Corps volunteers are not sent abroad merely to supplement the unskilled labour force of the underdeveloped countries. Voluntary skilled manpower is employed on specific projects in five major areas, including school teaching, health projects, rural development programmes and industrial projects. Programmes undertaken are always at the specific request of the host country, and may be directly under the administration of the Peace Corps agency, or else are carried out in co-operation with private agencies, or under the auspices of the United Nations. Enlistment is for a minimum of 2 years and the maximum period of service is 5 years. As a result of early controversy centred around the Peace Corps and the question of whether it would provide a haven for draft dodgers, it was subsequently made quite clear that the Peace Corps was not a substitute for military service. Volunteers are not exempt from the draft; they are given a draft deferment until they return.

Both these organisations provide the opportunity for young Americans with positive convictions and definite priorities to choose to work in non-military service rather than the armed forces. While there is no official guarantee that an individual is free to choose voluntary service abroad instead of compulsory military training, nevertheless the situation is flexible enough in practice to ensure that overseas volunteers are highly unlikely to face subsequent military service on their return. I should not like it to be thought that I am looking for a scheme which would help draft dodgers. Persons should have a very good reason of conscience for not wishing to serve their country in the armed services when so many of our best young people are doing so.

I think I should try to compare the American system with the Australian system. In balance, our own system of the ballot is much better than the American system. While there is an excess of young men becoming available for national service we will always have difficulty in deciding which ones should go. In the United States the local draft board is the keystone of the selective service system. It becomes a very important body to every young man turning 18 years of age. The men on the board serve without compensation and are usually outstandingly responsible citizens, and often know the young men who come before them. It is claimed that a young man's friends and neighbours should be able to understand his problems better than an organisation in a distant centre, but I should think that this system places far too much responsibility in the hands of certain citizens who would be the object of sonic influence and prejudice.

The local board consists of three or more men appointed for life by the President of the United States on the recommendation of the Governor of the particular State. These men usually meet in the evening. The board registers and classifies each man that is chosen and the men are then handed over for induction into the Services. The draft boards work within certain guide lines but are largely left alone when they get down to the business of selection. It is claimed that neighbouring draft boards have a different approach to selection. I understand that there are about 4,000 local draft boards throughout the United States. Each board has a full time or part time official to look after the paper work, such as registration and follow-up processes. This person is usually a woman. These people become very powerful by reason of the nature of their work. I can see that this is a dangerous situation. Such persons would possibly know some of the registrants and would have to deal with their cases. Some of these people have been criticised as being too powerful. The local boards have the benefit of the advice of an honorary government official agent and honorary officers.

The system provides that if a young man does not register he shall become subject to immediate induction into the armed Services. I would like to hear what members of the Labor Party would say if that were the case here in Australia. The normal process in the United States is for a young man to call at the office of the local draft board. There he fills in a card with his name, address, date of birth and certain personal details. Shortly afterwards he receives through the mail a questionnaire which he has to complete. A great deal of detail has to be given concerning his family, education and work. He is asked also whether he is a minister of religion, a student preparing for. the ministry or a conscientious objector. If there are any queries he goes back to the board's clerk, who may refer him to the board's adviser. If he is classified Al he receives, at the age of 19, a notice of induction into the armed Services and possibly at the age of 194 he could be on his way te Vietnam.

Before the days of the war in Vietnam there might have been some delay in being called up, and the years from 18 to 224 were years of rauch uncertainty because then not so many men were required. Many young men looking for work were at . a serious disadvantage and were told by employers to come back when their draft status had been settled. This was a most unsatisfactory state of affairs and- it could well recur if peace comes to Vietnam. I understand that there are fifty-six State headquarters of the selective service system in the United States'. These offices are responsible for the system and they coordinate the work of the local boards and appeal boards.

I believe that our system is a long way ahead of the American system. Many Americans have advocated the Australian system for their own country. Though our system is claimed to be imperfect, I believe it is the fairest scheme under existing conditions. It has been- criticised by the Opposition but I have yet to be told of a better system while we need only a limited number of men. I cannot see for a moment why the Government 'should not be given full authority to make inquiries to see that those who wish to dodge the draft are not excluded. It seems quite unfair to me that those who wish to dodge their obligations to their country should not be searched out and brought before the courts. They would have ample opportunity, when brought before the courts to state their case if they had any conscientious objection to serving.

I have read the report of the special committee of the Australian Council of Churches regarding conscientious objection. Section 55 of the principal Act is to be repealed in line with the recommendation of that committee and is to be replaced by a provision which will oblige an employer to report to the Department of Labour and National Service those persons who have not fulfilled their obligations. The Government has virtually met the request that an applicant for exemption as a conscientious objector be immediately provisionally registered as such pending the hearing of his application. This is being done by dealing with a conscientious objector in the civil courts.

I believe that non-combatant duties should be more clearly defined. It would be wrong for a court to draft a conscientious objector to non-combatant duties, thinking he had to serve in, for instance, the medical corps, if as has been alleged the military authorities regard noncombatant duties as including the duties of clerks, storemen or stewards or any work associated with the active support of the campaign, apart from bearing arms, I think the Minister should ensure that there is no misunderstanding between the military and the courts in this regard.

There is a lot to be said for the request for provision of voluntary non-military humanitarian service as an alternative to military service. This has been provided in France and West Germany. But I cannot at this stage support the claims of the Labor Party, as we are limited by the' Constitution and by resolutions of the International Labour Organisation. I think the suggestion put forward by the Labor Party arose out of the suggestion made by the World Council of Churches. However, the Council must be aware of the difficulties which the Government faces due to the limitations imposed upon it by the Constitution. Nevertheless, if all these problems can be resolved Australia should examine a . scheme which would enable all young people to render some service to their country. I do not see why all young people should not be prepared to give a couple of years sacrificial service to their country, not necessarily military service, between the time they leave school and the time they marry. If Australia is to be developed and to be secure, such service will be necessary. It would benefit a great many young people. Colonel George Walton of the United States has suggested in a recent book that work in hospitals and postal departments and social work in slums and in public works could be tackled on a civilian basis after 6 months preliminary military training. In a developing country such as Australia we could surely find many other spheres of activity, as well as projects in developing countries in our region. Deferments could be considered whenever there was a shortage of professional men.

In May 1966 Mr Robert McNamara made an interesting speech in the United States. He said:

With great respect to a 'community of effort' let me suggest a concrete proposal for our own present young generation in the United States. It is a committed and dedicated generation. It has proven that in its enormously impressive performance in the Peace Corps overseas; and in its willingness to volunteer for a final assault on such poverty and lack of opportunity that still remain in our country. As matters stand, our present selective system draws on only a minority of eligible young men. This is an inequity. It seems to me that we could move toward remedying that inequity by asking every young person in the United States to give 2 years of service to his country - whether in one of the military services, in the Peace Corps, or in some other volunteer developments at home or abroad. While this is not an ' entirely new suggestion' it has been criticised as inappropriate while we are engaged in a shooting war. But 1 believe the opposite is the case. It is more appropriate now than ever. For it would underscore what our whole purpose is in Vietnam - and indeed anywhere in the world where coercion, or injustice, or lack of opportunity still holds sway.

That speech created a great deal of controversy in the United States but it is of interest that a gallup poll announced shortly afterwards showed that 72% favoured such service while only 21% were opposed to it. I believe that if the Australian Constitution permitted such service there would not be anywhere near as much difficulty in getting this minority of young people to go to Vietnam, the noise that is created would die down considerably and young people might even prefer to go to Vietnam rather than work on projects in some of the very difficult parts of the world.

Let me say in closing that 1 am concerned that some Australian families are bearing a very heavy burden of sacrifice and, in some cases, serious injury and death, while others are reaping the benefits of that sacrifice. I know that there are constitutional difficulties, but I believe that ways should be found for all young men to perform some form of sacrificial service after they leave school. We have a great country here and we wish to keep it great. I believe that a scheme such as I propose would be accepted readily by young people.. If necessary, we should consider amending the Constitution. I support the Bill. 1 agree that all young people, unless they have very good reasons of conscience, should be prepared to accept the law of the land. I also agree that the Government should have full powers in order to carry out the law as it stands.







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