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Tuesday, 28 May 1968

Mr BRYANT (Wills) - Mr Chairman,our amendment proposes to extend the area of conscientious objection to include objection to a particular war. At this moment section 29a (l.) of the National Service Act provides:

A person whose conscientious beliefs do not allow him to engage in any form of military service is, so long as he holds those beliefs, exempt from liability to render service under this Act.

History has shown that it is extremely difficult to decide whether a person has conscientious beliefs. In the Australian historical context we are accustomed to think of military service under the National Service Act and under the Defence Act as simply service in the armed forces. To contine conscientious objection to this field means that we confine k to the extreme field of pacificism - that is, to those people who simply object to putting on a uniform no matter what is involved and no matter what our reason for being in a war may be. It has been shown on a number of occasions that this is an extremely difficult field of decision for tribunals and for others. In recent times of course, particularly in times of war, it comes to a decision as to whether the objection is to fighting in the war. Many people believe that war is immoral and do not want to participate in any war, particularly wars of the type in which Australia has been engaged in the past. However, they would not necessarily object to military service as such.

At this time, there is not a consensus in the nation. Many people object to service in this particular war. So we propose that the Bill be amended to include the phrase military service, whether in relation to a particular war or otherwise'. In recent times, tribunals have heard a number of cases in which young men have said that they particularly object to serving in the war in Vietnam. I know honourable members opposite are dedicated to the proposition that this war is important, that it is necessary and so on. But they are flying in the face of reality if they believe that is the consensus of national opinion. In fact,

In the ordinary course of events, I think it is fair to say that in the community at large at least 40% of the people hold strongly that Australia ought not to be engaged in this war. Unfortunately a person who believes that conscientiously cannot obtain exemption from military service because the Act does not allow for this. The case mentioned here today shows how difficult it is to decide whether a person has conscientious beliefs or not. Young Townsend who is currently in a military corrective establishment - a beautiful euphemism considering the kind of treatment that is meted out in that place - wrote:

Nearly 3 years ago I decided I was a pacifist - that I believed war was a crime against humanity, that I could not take part in any war or preparation for war and that I should help to remove the causes of war.

A few months later I helped establish the Sydney Conscientious Objectors' Group, which helps intending objectors sort out and clarify their thoughts through weekly discussions. 1 interpose here that this is especially difficult for young people, young men 20 years of age, many of whom have had adequate education but others of whom have had simply primary or lower secondary school education. They are suddenly faced with the need to explain in a court exactly what they mean by conscientious objection. Simon Townsend went on to state:

During 1966, a magistrate and a judge refused to exempt me from compulsory military service because I was 'not sincere'. I'd managed to 'fool' hundreds of other people, but not those learned men of the Bench ... my family (none of whom are pacifists), friends (a tiny minority who are pacifists), many journalist colleagues and a lot of acquaintances, including psychologists, academics, politicians, and a few soldiers, had all been 'fooled'.

Driven by this insincerity', I openly refused to take a medical examination ordered by the Department of Labour and National Service, and consequently, in early 1967, I spent a month in Long Bay Gaol, Sydney.

I applied again to a magistrate for exemption. He made no judgment on my sincerity, but refused the application on a technicality.

What we are proposing to do here is to expand the system so that the field of technicalities is restricted to the extent that logical, commonsense Australians who sit in judgment may make decisions. The statement continued:

I appealed to a judge - who started the case by relating his own war service and telling of his present work for a semi-military organisation-

I would like to say here that people who sit on courts in judgment of others should refrain from moralising in this way. The statement went on: and he declared rae, in effect, some kind of giant hoaxer with a martyr-complex and a desire to stir up trouble.

During these years the hoax had included chairing weekly meetings of the objectors' group, extensive reading both for and against pacificism, speaking publicly and writing about my beliefs and acting as legal representative in court for six other objectors; but what took most time, energy and patience (and probably was most important in the pacificism cause) was the dialogue - when you're a 'conshie' everyone wants to know why and most people want to talk it over.

Continuing the 'hoax', in February I again refused to take a medical and in March I defied an order to report for military duty. I was charged with these two offences in the Special Federal Court, Sydney, last Wednesday, May 15th, and was committed into custody by an army officer waiting in the court. I disobeyed his order to accompany him and he called on two Commonwealth Police who escorted me, an arm each, to a car outside. On our way to Eastern Command Personnel Depot, Watson's Bay, the officer told me I was under 'close arrest'.

That night I slept in a room guarded by eight soldiers, two of whom, in rotation, had to Slay awake.

On Thursday I had a long chat to the Army psychologist and did one of those circletheyesornoquestionmark tests with questions like Can you stand as much pain as others?' (I circled the question-mark. How the hell would I know how much pain others can stand? From movies? And does 'standing pain' mean without wincing, without crying, before fainting?) The psychologist thought I was pretty stable. My conscientious objection was an administrative matter, he said.

A little later the Regimental Sergeant Major ordered me to draw and sign for Army clothes. I refused. He told me the possible consequences of disobeying could be imprisonment and ordered me again to draw the clothes and again I refused.

A summary of evidence was taken by the officer-in-command and I was remanded for court martial.

On Thursday evening I was brought, in a cage on the back of a utility truck, to Ingleburn and locked in this cell.

My continual requests that my family be mid of my whereabouts were politely noted, to be referred to someone higher up who was always away' or 'busy' or 'trying'.

I realised I was being kept incommunicado, io avoid any publicity or demonstrations.

I was getting pretty miserable. No one was allowed to converse with me, I had nothing to read but a book of psalms, no pen or paper :ind I was kept locked up except for shower time and three short exercise periods a day.

Then late Saturday my younger brother and girl I'm to many turned up. My brother bad sought help from Cough Whitlam and the

Member from East Sydney, Len Devine, and eventually the Army Minister, Mr Lynch, had ordered they be allowed to see me.

The reason why I have read this statement to honourable members opposite., some of whom seem to treat this matter very lightly indeed, is to show that the question of conscientious beliefs, how they are held and how they should be defined is still very much open to debate. Presently, the Act is pretty broad in the sense that conscientious beliefs against military service are allowed. It is pretty obvious that young Townsend has conscientious beliefs concerning military service. It is obvious that a small proportion of young Australian men have these kinds of belief. I know quite a number who have not any serious objection to military service in the Australian Forces for home defence in normal times. But they do take strong exception to serving in combatant units which may well involve them in killing others.

In recent times we have had very strong evidence that a number of young men strongly object to being called to the colours to fight in a war of which they strongly disapprove. This is not the first war of which young Australians have disapproved. Great public debate took place at the time of the Boer War. A similar situation applied to the First World War and the Second World War. Over most of those periods, there was not so much debate about the rightness or wrongness of the wars, but there was a good deal of debate about whether Australia ought to be involved in them. This applied particularly to World War I. But in this instance there is no public consensus. There is no national opinion.

At least half the young men who are called up are likely to object strongly to this war on all sorts of grounds - political and others. What I wish to do is to see the provisions relating to conscientious objection extended to include those people whose beliefs are such that they regard participation in this particular war as immoral. Many members of this Parliament have had a good deal of military service. I think that, of the 184 members, approximately 100 have had military service.

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