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Thursday, 16 May 1968


Mr BRYANT (Wills) - In his closing remarks, the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) referred to the consciences of honourable members opposite. It is my sad conviction, after 12 years in this place, that when it comes to questions such as this the members of the Liberal Party and of the Australian Country Party are completely insensitive so far as conscience is concerned. When it comes to a question of an honest, ethical attitude to defence, foreign policy and civil rights, they seem to me to be largely against the very traditions to which this country is an heir. We seem to be continually bringing into this House agreements, legislation of the type now before us and statements on foreign policy and the like which offend every principle which we have inherited from the past and in respect of which Australia ought to be setting standards for the rest of the world. The new procedures proposed in this Bill which seeks to amend the National Service Act are no exception. That is why I am anxious to stay here tonight to fight this Bill to the last full stop, no matter how long it takes.

I point out that even before this Bill which has already aroused such hostility throughout the community . has passed through its second reading stage the Government has introduced some amendments. It is significant, too, that I am following another Labor speaker, ho member on the Government side is prepared to stand up and support this legislation or accept the responsibility of publicly declaring what he stands for.

Where are all the Ministers? I have looked down the list of speakers and I think the only Minister who has spoken is the one who introduced the Bill.


Mr Peters - Where is the Prime Minister?


Mr BRYANT - Exactly. The Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) has avoided confrontation with this Parliament ever since he accepted his high office. I only hope that the people of Australia realise this fact. What are the reasons why this Bill is before the House? Like every other piece of legislation, it has a history. On 10th November 1964, the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies gave reasons for the introduction of the Bill under which the present system of national service was set up. The first reason he gave was the deteriorating position in South East Asia. We know that the people of South East Asia have personal, social, economic, and perhaps political problems, but not one honourable member opposite has chosen to expand on them. Sir Robert then dealt with the paramount needs of defence and the preservation of our national security. I believe that this has nothing to do with our security. I believe that it is quite false to describe the situation in South East Asia as deteriorating. After all, 3 or 4 years ago when this legislation was introduced there was confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia. There were several areas of conflict throughout that area which now no longer exist. We have reached the stage where many of the reasons for the introduction of the original legislation are no longer valid.

Let us look at the state of the war. What is the position today? Peace talks are taking place in Paris, though they might drift on for many weary and tragic months. The United States of America, even at this stage, is reducing its draft. The whole tendency in other parts of the world is to regard the situation as moving toward at least a stalemate rather than as being one of deterioration and increasing escalation of the war. What staggers me at this stage of the game, as one might say, is that the Government should consider .bringing in such legislation. What is the position with this legislation? In the first instance it is selective. Selective service is part of the pattern in many parts of the world, but the kind of selection we have inflicted on the young people of Australia is immoral in the extreme. As I have said before, this Government's action and the support it was given by the Australian people - if that is actually what happened at the ballot box - constituted an act of national immorality of which the perpetrators were honourable members opposite. The whole system of selection by ballot and all the things that go with it, the fear-mongering that has produced it, and the failure to face up to the facts of life as they appear in this part of the world reek of immorality. The honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) has referred to the irresponsible and unethical attitude of honourable members opposite who believe there is a war to be won or a freedom to be fought for to our north but who sit here safely at home sending others to pay the supreme sacrifice.

In the past 3 years we have had 170 or 180 killed and 800 wounded in battle, with the total number of casualties running to almost 1,200 men - almost two battalions. I understand that we have eight battalions in the Army. What is it all about? Nothing has better demonstrated the whole approach of this Government to this issue than the events of the past' tragic week. Australian troops have been operating to the south of Saigon. Last Sunday an Australian battalion and support troops were moved to Bien Hoa, a province to the north and a new area. The Australian forces were immediately struck by the Vietcong. Eleven or twelve were killed and a larger number were wounded in the past few days. These men should never have been moved. No person with any sense of responsibility to the men would have put them where they were.

I have strong views about the commitment of Australian troops to another nation's command, lt is almost inevitable that such an action will bring tragic results. The complete lack of responsibility that the Government has displayed in recent times seems to indicate a dulled moral sensitivity. These casualties were described as being light. I believe this is a serious reflection on the capacity of honourable members opposite to think straight and on the whole system of values they have brought to bear in relation to the war. I only hope that, even if honourable members opposite are not willing to stand in public and say so, they will insist that Australian troops be withdrawn from actual combat. What good can they achieve by sacrifice? What possible satisfactory military result can they produce by being moved into new fields of action and being dispersed as they have been in the past week? 1 believe that this is the kind of operation that used to take place in the First and Second World Wars when we sacrificed our own men under commanders from other countries.

We are here tonight to discuss the genera] principles behind this measure and the whole history of the system. One of the things that bothers me is how the people have somehow become confused and how the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) was confused about peacetime military training as such and the present conscription system. One of the astonishing things is that the Australian community has accepted this system. I have been bothered for the last 3 or 4 years as to how a community such as this could accept this system. This is a community where the generally conceded principles are: One in, all in; one out, all out. We stand together with equality of sacrifice, and so on. I do not understand how this system could be foisted onto the community unless people were confused, just as the honourable member for Lilley was confused. One could refer to him as one of the philosophers of the radical right, hut at least he should be able to understand this. He is able to look up the 'Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia' for 1910; he is even able to read out the sentences; but he is not able to understand what they mean.

In 1910 or the years following there was introduced a system of compulsory military training. Every young man in Australia had to serve for quite a long period. I believe that some honourable members of this House served at that time. They were required to attend one night a week, a weekend now and again and to attend at a certain number of camps. That system lasted until the period about 1929-30 when it was cancelled for economic reasons. Literally hundreds of thousands of people served under this system. During the period of the First World War there was an attempt to introduce conscription, but that was conscription for overseas service. It was a completely different system from the continuing system of home training which was a part and pattern of the Labor Party's philosophy of that time. At that time there was no ballot; everybody was in it.

But conscription in this context and in this country has two meanings, it is completely different from military training. This might not be the rational way to use the English language, but to honourable members and to the community in general conscription means calling up people and putting them in the permanent service and making them serve anywhere in the world. 'Compulsory military service' was the term used in reference to the Defence Act. Part IV of the Defence Act was re-proclaimed in 1939. It has been said quite often that the Labor Party re-introduced conscription during the last World War. But it did not do so. Compulsory service was re-introduced in 1939, in November or thereabouts, by the reproclaiming of Part IV of the Defence Act and, as the years went by, the period of service increased for people who were called up. Eventually, by the Defence (Citizen Military Forces) Act (No. 2) 1943 service by members of the Citizen Military Forces was authorised outside Australia in the South West Pacific zone. This system prevailed for the duration of the war. Then people returned to the paths of peace. But from 1945 until about 1947 there was not even a honeymoon period. The cold war began. Before very long the Communist hordes and all the rest, of them were being engendered again in people's minds so that in 1949 we had this rash of young people who came into this place, covered with ribbons and glory from" the last war, convinced that the only thing that could save the nation was the re-introduction of compulsory military service. At that time we had the tussle with the Senate. There was a report of a select committee and plenty of evidence to show that the Government was not prepared to accept parliamentary responsibility at that time. So in 1951 we were back in business again with compulsory military training. It was not conscription in the sense in which this word is currently used. That system of training went on for 7 or 8 years until we started to lose faith in it when 1 came here at the end of 1955. In 1956 and 1957 we started to realise that we did not need so many young men to paint the stones outside the officers' mess in Puckapunyal, Kapooka, and other places. We spent $300m, the price of 24 Fill aircraft, or one-third of the cost of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric scheme, to find that that system did not produce any satisfactory military result.

This is why honourable gentlemen opposite have been able to get away with their policy: National service conditioned people over two generations to the idea of young Australians serving. Two wars have conditioned people to believe that young Australians serve overseas. But the people have forgotten to worry why they are serving. In the First World War about 330,000 Australians served overseas. Honourable members opposite have spent days and weeks in debates such as this sneering at the voluntary system. In the First World War 8% or 9% of the population volunteered to serve overseas. In the Second World War about 10% of the population - about 750,000 men - voluntarily enlisted to serve anywhere in the world. The Australian community has become conditioned to generation after generation of young men leaving the country to serve overseas. Three years ago people said: 'Why should they not go? My father went; my brother went and my husband went.' In those cases you usually find that the families were confined to daughters under the age of 15 years who were unlikely to be called up.

So in 1964 we had this system of national service foisted on the nation. People may turn to the Hansard of November 1964 to discover how the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, introduced national service. At that time very few people realised what it was all about. Very few people realised that this was not compulsory service of the kind that existed under the system of the 1920s, the 1930s, the 1940s and the 1950s. It was not the same system that took thousands into the Army in the Second World War. This was a system under which people were conscripted into a regular ' armed service of the ancient European pattern. It was a system quite foreign to Australian traditions and was being foisted on the people either because of a false analysis in Australia of the situation in South East Asia or a failure to make the armed services attractive to sufficient young people in Australia.

I think it was said at the time that the Army wanted 30.000 young men but was not able to get them. There were all sorts of ways in which the Army could have got sufficient recruits. The Government could have made service more attractive. It could have provided at the end of a young man's Army service a training scheme that would enable him to re-enter civilian life with all1 the advantages of his service. The Government could have accepted more responsibility for service than it did. But it would not do that. The Government would rather place the burden of service on one group in the community. I might have some regard for the Government's political courage if it had said: 'Let us call up the 30 year old men, the people who have had the vote for 8 or 9 years and who have wives and families who can get out and kick up a fuss, march down the street in a body and say their piece.' But the Government did not do that, lt selected one of the most helpless groups in the community, the 20 year old men, who, according to the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten), are pleased to serve. Young men of 20 years are often pleased to serve. They find in service - at least they did until recently - glamour, travel and all the other things that go with the glory of the uniform and the parade. But it is a different business when the bullets start to fly.

It is one of the sad commentaries on Australian political life that so many of the people making the essential judgments in these matters - this is no reflection on their personal careers - do not know anything about live ammunition. I will mention no names and so cause no heartbreaks, but look at the record and see who makes the ministerial decisions. Where have those people been when the bullets have started to fly? Most of the executive authority in relation to this matter lies with this kind of people. I believe that a good deal of the trouble about national service stems from the fact that those responsible for it do not realise what they are committing people to. War is sacrifice; war is death. It is all right to talk in this place of abstractions and equity, as the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) did. Why did he not serve in Korea, for instance? I do not think he should have gone to Korea, but if 1 felt as he does about the Communist threat I would at least have offered to serve in Korea. He may have offered; I do not know. I know of very few honourable members opposite who volunteered to serve in Korea. A.s far as I know there has not been one starter from the ranks of honourable members opposite for the war in Vietnam.

The real challenge to the position taken by the Government in relation to foreign policy is that Australians believe in that policy. It may well be that in the last two decades the Government has engendered in the minds of the people of Australia such a mistrust of the people to our north that Australians believe somebody should go there to defend Australia. In the past two generations when it was thought necessary to defend Australia, people enlisted in their hundreds of thousands. Turn to the record: This is the challenge. What has the Government done to the community? It has so smashed the fabric and structure of our society that today not one soul is prepared to volunteer for overseas service. Apart from all of the other things it has done, the most damaging thing to the Australian community over the last few years has been the sowing of discord and dissent, by political gimmickry, in order to create this atmosphere of fear mongering, as I call it. The stage has been reached at which the Attorney-General (Mr Bowen), speaking in this House, has traduced good Australians who choose to use political dissent in a public way as a political weapon. Yet the Government uses McCarthyism and engenders all the difficult and dangerous features of authority which do a disservice to democracy.

What is this debate all about? Why have we reached this stage? Are we in fear and trepidation of the people to our north? I have not heard any honourable member opposite say against whom we are mobilising. We know that there are 8,000 Australian troops in Vietnam. But what is this national service scheme all about? Do we need it? Who are our neighbours? Does anybody know what the military system is in Indonesia? The Indonesians are considering some form of compulsory service; they do not have any at present. I understand that 2 million Singaporeans, if that is what they are called, will soon have a system of compulsory service. Is this fact to be used as a threat against us? Japan does not have compulsory military service and I understand that neither India nor Ceylon has it. Cambodia is a country that has compulsory service and Thailand has some kind of military service that does not seem to work. The Philippines has selective military service but does not enforce it. We have introduced a system of national service which is foreign in this part of the world.

It so happens that over the last three or four centuries the aggressors in the world have been the people of Europe. The people of Asia are not aggressive, nor are they imperialists. This fact is something that is difficult for honourable members opposite to face up to. The Government has sown the seeds of discord in the community by the introduction of this system of national service and has thereby engendered ill will throughout the community. It has damaged the whole fabric of our society with a continuing scale of McCarthyism. This is a disgrace.

The honourable member for Parkes (Mr Hughes) spoke about the law and the right to resist. He said that it is fundamental to the working of our parliamentary democracy or any parliamentary democracy that once the law-giving 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. Does not the honourable member remember the principles laid down at the Nuremburg trials, at which it was held that we in fact have a personal responsibility to see that moral values prevail over the legal ones foisted on people by parliaments. 1 remind the honourable member of what people were saying back in the seventeenth century. For instance, Pym said that parliaments without parliamentary liberties are but a fair and plausible way into bondage. This Parliament is being converted into that type of parliamentary structure. This Parliament is being used not to perpetuate democratic practices but to impose further control over the community. Why does the Opposition oppose the National Service Act? Why does the Opposition oppose the principles of this Bill? Firstly, let us consider the harshness of the penalties provided for - a maximum of 2 years imprisonment. Proposed section 51a (3.) states that an offence against this section is punishable on summary conviction and not otherwise.

The honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten), the legalist in the Australian Country Party, last night said that the people who will be affected are guilty anyhow and do not need a trial but should be sent to gaol. The honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) has just pointed out what this means to a young boy of 20. I express my admiration for any person like Bill White and for the resistance that he put up. While I may have felt as he felt, I would not have been game to do as he did. I know quite well that the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner), who is interjecting, would not be game to do it He writes articles to the newspapers about parliamentary democracy but never breaks the party discipline imposed on honourable members opposite. What have these young men done? They do not want to serve. A lot of honourable members opposite do not want to serve, but they do not happen to be 20 years of age. The young fellows concerned are just boys. I speak of this with some vehemence, because I am the father of boys, whom I see as ordinary young Australians and who, by the way, have offered to serve in whatever capacity they may be needed.

The Government is committing an offence against the young people of Australia. It is going to take young men whose offence is that they do not want to serve and turn them into criminals, making them liable to 2 years gaol. Have honourable members opposite ever thought of turning to the books to see for what other crimes a person can get 2 years gaol? We oppose the harshness of the penalties.

We do not like the provisions with regard to travel. Once you step into thi. field of inhibitions and prohibitions you impose restrictions on people whether they are in the dragnet or not. The Government would say to young men in the particular age group: 'You cannot buy a ticket to go overseas without special permission*. So if a young man looks as though he is 20 years of age - and who can tell when he enters a travel bureau whether he is 19 or 21 - he must produce some evidence that he is not 20 years old. So the Government is imposing inhibitions and prohibitions which no democratic community ought to tolerate.

Then I come to the provisions about informing which I suppose are the most serious inflictions contained in the Bill. The provisions apply to educational institutions, employers, families - no, the Government has wilted on families. The Minister has suddenly found that he does not need to get families to inform. I have no doubt that he will be able to get his spivs and spies and pimps and his security service to go through the books and documents of every section of the community, so that he will not have to worry about families. But there is no need for me to say very much about these provisions; the whole community has taken objection to them.

We are not happy about the provisions regarding conscientious objectors. Why is it that we are more restrictive in this field than most, other countries are? Great Britain, I understand, has a system of alternative service, as has Germany and, I believe, Sweden. In New Zealand, and perhaps also in Great Britain, an applicant has wider grounds on which to establish his conscientious objection. We want to see that people are protected in respect of their right to object. We are prepared to put forward the proposition, although we oppose the Bill, that there ought to be alternatives to compulsory military service.

We are prepared to challenge every clause and dot and comma of this legislation. I do not think it has anything to do with the defence of Australia. I do not think it will produce any satisfactory solution to our defence problems. I do not think it is a valid reflection of the situation in South East Asia. I think it is part of the continuing theme of power politics and a further manifestation of the misunderstanding of history of which the members of the Liberal Party are continually guilty. I think it is a reflection on the people of Australia, particularly the 20-year-olds. It is a black stain on the legislative record of this Parliament. False views of the historic attitude of the Labor Party, both to conscription and to the military service system, have been continually injected into this debate. Tonight, for instance, an honourable member. I think the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns), suggested that a former representative of the area which I now represent, the late Frank Anstey, was in favour of conscription. In fact he was in favour, as I take it, of the system of military service and military training that prevailed at the time.

I wish that somehow we could awaken the people of Australia to what is happening. I wish we could show them how the Government has chosen to take a handful of young Australians who have very little power to resist, and to feed them gradually and continuously into the jungles of Vietnam and into other places where it may suit the Government's purpose to use them. The Government has shown that it has taken a false view of history and has adopted an attitude of complete legislative and national selfishness which is a disgrace to the country.







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