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Thursday, 16 May 1968

Mr BARNARD (Bass) - I move:

That the following new clause he inserted in the Bill: 13a. Section 29a of the principal Actis amended -

(a)   by omitting from sub-section (1.) the words "any form of military service" and inserting in their stead the words "military service, whether in relation to a particular war or otherwise"; and

(b)   by omitting sub-sections (3.) and (4.).'.

Two important principles are involved in this amendment. In the first place, the Opposition wants exemption for conscientious beliefs to be granted to those who object to a particular war. The present section 29a provides only for universal objection to military service. That means that a person seeking exemption must object to all forms of service in all wars. The Opposition believes that that requirement is much too rigid and that it has led to confusion in interpretation of the law. We want the Act changed so that a person who objects in principle to a particular war may be granted exemption.

My search of the records shows that there have been two cases in which magistrates have granted exemption to objectors who confined their basis of objection solely to the Vietnam war. One was the case of David Monaghan, who was exempted in a Melbourne court by Mr Murray SM on the ground that he had a conscientious belief that Australian involvement in the Vietnam war was morally wrong. In the other case Roland Hovey was granted total exemption from military service in the Magistrates Court in Brisbane on 7th August by Mr P. D. Peel SM. In giving his decision, Mr Peel said that he was satisfied that the applicant held a conscientious belief that did not allow him to take part in or to assist in any way in the Vietnam war. The magistrate held that the applicant's engaging in any form of national military service under the National Service Act would or could have the effect of his taking part in or assisting in the Vietnam war. That is the sort of enlightened interpretation that the Opposition would like to see extended over the whole range of applications for exemption based on objection to the Vietnam war. Unfortunately, the trend of opinion in the higher courts has been against that sort of interpretation of section 29a. We would like the section amended so that specific objection to the Vietnam war can be a ground for exemption.

There can be no doubt that dissent from the Vietnam war is growing in the Australian community. If widespread Press reports circulated in the past fortnight on deliberations in the Government Party room can be accepted, the growing doubts about the war have penetrated even to the back bench ranks of the Government parties. I notice that the former Minister for the Navy has been quoted as saying that there are now widespread doubts among members of the Government parties about whether the Americans are winning the war in Vietnam. If the honourable gentleman has been correctly reported, that represents a remarkable change in attitude on the part of one of the most belligerent members of the Government parties. With this growth of dissent, it can be expected that more and more applications for examption will be based on objections solely to the Vietnam war. That will be the inevitable product of the great rethinking of attitudes to the war that is now apparent in the United States and Australia.

It should be remembered that many men who served steadfastly in the trenches in World War I became conscientious objectors in World Warr II. This principle was accepted in the United Kingdom during World War II: A person should be expempted from liability to serve if he conscientiously objects to participation in a particular war, declared or undeclared. I am sure that honourable gentlemen opposite would concede that the United Kingdom was able to adopt that enlightened principle despite an immeasurably greater threat than any that confronts Australia at the moment.

I urge the Goverment to accept this amendment so that sincere objectors who regard the Vietnam war as unjust and unjustifiable may be granted exemption. The Opposition has moved this amendment because it believes that the people of this country will come to the country's support in a time of national crisis. No one can validly deny that during the 1939-45 War Australians enlisted for service on a completely voluntary basis because they realised there was a threat to Australia. During the

Korean War Australians again offered their services on a voluntary basis because that conflict had been accepted as one in which a United Nations force should engage. There was no question about an insufficiency of volunteers from this country to fight in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. That is not the situation that applies in Australia today. Of the Australians serving in Vietnam, 50% are conscripts. They have no alternative but to serve in Vietnam as directed by this Government.

We of the Opposition believe that there are people in this country who should have the right to state their objections to the war in Vietnam. Because they are opposed to the conflict in Vietnam they ought to be accepted on that basis as conscientious objectors. That is the purpose of our amendment. We believe that it is morally correct for the Government to recognise that opponents of the war in Vietnam should be allowed to state their opposition. If they genuinely believe that the Vietnam war is morally wrong they ought to be able to state that belief and on that ground should be able to prove that they are conscientious objectors to service in that war.

I have moved this amendment on behalf of the Opposition. Since the Government has acknowledged that some people in Australia will raise objections to war in any form, and particularly objections to the war in Vietnam in which national servicemen are being directed to engage, those people ought to be able to state unequivocally their objections to that kind of warfare. We believe that the Opposition has made a point concerning objectors to the war in Vietnam and we believe that our amendment should be accepted.

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