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Tuesday, 28 May 1968

Dr J F Cairns (YARRA, VICTORIA) - The honourable member for Bradfield will have plenty of opportunity to tell the Committee what he wants to say. I sometimes wonder about him. In the abstract, he takes strong stands on principles of liberty but when they are actually in issue in practical cases he generally remains silent. It is not for the Government and not for the gallup poll to decide what is right and wrong. There must be some room in a free and civilised community for an individual to decide for himself what is right and wrong. It seems to me that this was the most important point that emerged from the Nuremberg trials. It was not enough for people who were called war criminals and who worked with the Nazis to say: 'I was justified in helping to run a concentration camp and to operate gas ovens because I was told to do so by my superior officers'. I should hope that the Liberal Party philosophers in this House would be aware that what was established at Nuremberg was that this sort of statement is not sufficient as a justification, and that if an act is morally wrong it is no defence to say: 'I was given orders to carry it out'. Similarly, I think it is no defence to say, if an act is morally wrong, that the Government or the gallup poll has decided it is right and that therefore a person is justified in carrying out that act.

It seems to me that if this principle of conscientious objection is to amount to anything, it should be a matter of conscience not of determination by a gallup poll. If conscience is to amount to anything, the individual, whether, he happens to be wrong or right according to my standards or those of the Government, or whether his view accords with the gallup poll, should have his right to exercise his conscience protected. If conscience is to mean anything, it must be based upon the right of the individual to say what he believes is right and wrong. If a time comes when he says: Because of my conscience I will not undertake military service to kill another person', he must have the right to claim that as a basis for conscientious objection even if it is in relation to a particular war. If this is not the position, conscience goes completely by the board. What is the sense in talking about conscience if it is to be determined by a gallup poll? What is the sense in talking about conscience if it is to be decided by a decision of the Government? This is a contradiction in terms and destroys the whole basis for the philosophical and religious evaluation of conscience. This proposal has been supported by a great number of people, ft has a history. I think I pointed out to the House in my speech during the second reading debate that the history of this matter is on the side of the amendment. It seems to me that the history of the Australian law at least can be traced back. I hope that some honourable members on the Government side who pretend to be lawyers will do us the honour of trying to refute this argument, if they can.

It seems to me that the origin of this matter goes back to the English National Service (Armed Forces) Act of 1939, where it was made clear that objection was not a general or passive or total objection. In 1942 this provision was carried into the National Service Regulations - No. 80 - of this country. The law was defined to allow objection to a particular kind of service to be taken into account. When the then Minister for Labour and National Service, the late Mr Harold Holt, dealt with this matter in his speech on 21st November 1950 I think that was what he said he was doing. He said:


That is, the Government - has, therefore, decided to adhere to the principle established by the National Security Regulations and to admit conscientious objection as a ground of exemption from service under the Act

If it was enacting what was in the National Security Regulations, it was enacting a law which was sufficient to allow objection to the kind of military service that a man is required to give.

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