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Tuesday, 28 May 1968

Mr UREN (Reid) - One of the most illiberal speeches made in this chamber for some time was made by the illiberal member for Bradfield (Mr Turner). His facade of liberalism fell by the wayside as he made his emotional plea to get the youth of Australia into the jungles of Vietnam. He said that 'if our young men will not go overseas to fight they will incinerate in our cities'. We know that the provisions we are considering deal with the complex and delicate subject of conscientious objection. The honourable member for Bradfield made another cowardly statement when he said that 90% of the conscientious objectors in Australia are either cowards or spivs. We are considering conscientious objection. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) quoted Mr Justice Windeyer's interpretation of conscientious objection as given in the White case in the High Court of Australia. The only way that that interpretation can be set aside is by action in this Parliament, and this is why the Opposition has moved an amendment to provide a more liberal interpretation to cover people who have conscientious objections to a particular war. One must ask why young men who are prepared to defend their own country, conscientiously object to a particular war. Young Australians know that our allies in Vietnam have dropped over 100,000 tons of napalm on the people of Vietnam, burning the flesh off their bodies and melting the bones of the adults and children of Vietnam. Of course emotionalism is involved in this matter.

I received a letter from a young man, a conscientious objector, who wrote:

I recognise that each of us has to come to his own decision in all matters, but, as far as I am concerned, the Christian position is clear, compulsory military training is immoral.

Conscription is for national service; national service as at present is for military means; this entails young men training to kill. Therefore national service systematically compels young men to interrupt the advancement of humanity, and to revert to the primitive, accepting as normal the destruction of life and property.

National service, as preparation for war, is immoral when judged by the law of Christ, which for me means that we do not repay evil with evil.

My conscientious objection compels me to go further - for surely conscientious objection is not a claim that the Government has no right to order me to kill, but rather a claim that the Government has no right to order anyone to kill

This was written by a young Christian man who was giving his reasons for being a conscientious objector. He would not even register for national service because of his strong conscientious objections. He is a young Methodist, and he quoted what Martin Luther King had to say about just and unjust laws. He wrote:

I believe that Martin Luther King has a point when he says: 'There are two types of law, just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all.

Let me quote another example. A policy statement of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America on conscientious objection to military service, dated 23rd February 1967, says, inter alia:

Society should encourage men to live by conscience, rather than compel them to violate it. The war crimes trials at the conclusion of the Second World War asserted the inescapable responsibility which every human being bears for his own acts, even in obedience to military orders in time of war.

This is a compelling subject. It is wrong to call people names. One must study and understand people, and this is why the Labor Party has moved its amendment. The Leader of the Opposition quoted Mr Justice Windeyer's decision in the High Court of Australia. The only way this decision can be altered is by this Parliament applying a wider interpretation to conscientious objection. As the law stands, one could say that a narrow view has been taken. We must consider the personal views of individual magistrates who deal with conscientious objection cases. I quote now from a report of a special committee of the Australian Council of Churches in 1968. The report relates to conscientious objection to military service and stated:

In dealing with conscientious objection cases, magistrates seem to have found two major difficulties. In the first place, they sometimes hold strong personal views in favour of military service, and find it unusually difficult to maintain the unbiased opinion that their office demands. I am not suggesting that any magistrate deliberately allows himself to be biased in his judgments; but opinions regarding military service have an abnormally large emotional component.

Surely all honourable members acknowledge that this discussion has a large emotional component. The report continued:

When, for instance, a magistrate is a returned serviceman, and belongs to a returned servicmen's organisation, or has had a son or a relative called up for military service, and then ha* to sit on the bench and listen to a lot of weak arguments from a young man wanting to be exempted from military service, he is so personally involved in the issue that he has to decide that one must feel sympathy for him.

Awd this is the case. Surely the Opposition's amendment must be supported to clear up this aspect. Mr Justice Windeyer, who made the decision in the High Court concerning conscientious objection, has had a long and fine military record. He has been associated with the military since 1922. According to 'Who's Who in Australia' he was commissioned in the militia in 1922; he became a lieutenant-colonel in 1937; he commanded the Sydney University Regiment from 1937 to 1940; he was a member of the 2/48 Infantry Battalion, AIF, 1940 to 1942, and served in Tobruk; he was promoted to brigadier in 1942 and commanded the 20th Infantry Brigade from 1942 to 1946, and served in the campaign at El Alamein and during the capture of Finschhafen in New Guinea; he was mentioned three times in despatches; he was made major-general in 1950; he commanded the 2nd Division of the Citizen Military Forces from 1950 to 1952; he was a member of the Military Board from 1950 to 1953; he was placed on the Reserve of Officers in 1953 and he retired in 1957. He is honorary colonel of the Sydney University Regiment. Obviously Mr Justice Windeyer, who has held high positions in the military forces, is sympathetic to the military position, and he gave an interpretation of conscientious objection - a narrow interpretation.

Honourable members opposite who are barristers and who are talking together at present - the honourable member for Warringah (Mr St John) and the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) - know that the only way we can rectify the position is by legislation. In fairness to Mr Justice Windeyer, the Leader of the Opposition made it clear that there is no provision in the existing legislation for other service by a conscientious objector against any particular war, so we ask honourable members to support our amendment whereby we will be able to offer some justice to those conscientious objectors who are, in fact, opposed only to this barbaric war in Vietnam. We should not force them to go to Vietnam and it is stupid to continue to do so.

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