Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 28 May 1968


Mr ST JOHN (Warringah) - It is trite, but nonetheless very true, that today we hear much talk of rights but very little talk, if any, of duties. This applies particularly to our student population. I begin to fear for democracy when I pick up a newspaper and read of what has happened not only in Australia but also in overseas countries among student communities. A new and arrogant assumption comes to be taken by students throughout the world that they can decide for themselves 1 hat is right, what is just, what they shall do and what they shall not do. A new permissive society is sought to be ushered in - a society in which, I fear, democracy will give way to totalitarian rule and anarchy will invite a dictatorship of right or left. I fear that this is what may happen in France, what may happen in Germany and what may happen elsewhere.

It is surely the first obligation of a citizen in a democratic society, which we all wish to preserve, to obey the law as laid down by our democratically elected legislature, whether or not he agrees with that law. I agree that there are times when civil disobedience may be justified, but this is surely not the case when a country such as ours, enjoying the rights and freedoms that we have possessed for so long, decides that young men should serve in a system of national service, at a time when it is quite patent that danger threatens in a way in which it has never threatened before in Australia's history. The honourable member for Yarra (Dr J. F. Cairns) rightly said that obedience to commands or orders is not in itself a defence. This is the doctrine of the Nuremberg tribunal and I agree with that doctrine. But what he seeks to extend it to is something entirely different He tells us that now an individual is to be given the right by law to decide for himself whether a particular war and, I presume, a particular battle or a particular weapon, is or is not to be conscientiously used at a particular point of time. This, of course, would reduce our nation to nothing more nor less than a rabble. It means that if by some means a great number of young men could be persuaded by force of misleading propaganda, as it may be and as it often is, that they should not fight in a particular war. they should be given the legal right to decide that they shall opt out on a so called conscientious objection.


Dr J F Cairns (YARRA, VICTORIA) - They have to apply to a court and satisfy the court.


Mr ST JOHN - Yes, they have to satisfy the court that they have a conscientious objection, but is the court to decide how that so called conscientious objection was induced, whether perhaps by Communist propaganda, perhaps by party propaganda or even, perhaps, by a false statement of facts? ls the court to sit in solemn judgment, to decide whether the youth of this country has been misled by, for example, the Australian Labor Party or by particular leaders of the Labor Party? Under the amendments proposed by the Labor Party it would be sufficient for a young man to get into the witness box and to prove to the court that, no matter by what means, he has been induced to believe that a particular war in which the nation is engaged, is unjust. I say again that this would reduce our nation to a rabble. There is no precedent for this proposal anywhere in the world. The Labor Party has not been able to adduce a single precedent.

Is there in England, the very home of liberty, in the United States, which gave the world perhaps its first and greatest example of democracy, or in any other country, legislation which lays down a right in the terms sought by the Labour Party of Australia? The answer is no. The first duty of a democratically elected government is to govern, and the great and onerous duty of a government is to decide when it shall fight and when it shall not, when a war is to be considered just and when it is to be considered unjust. For the most part, citizens - and certainly young men of 18 and 19 years - are in no position to pass a final judgment on matters so contentious as this, nor should they be given by law the right to decide once and for all whether they should fight in this kind of war. I remind the honourable member for Yarra of those so righteous people who, during the 1930s, imagined that all was well with the Communist regimes. I remind him how many of those people have had to change their minds in bitter disillusionment. I ask him to think of people like Arthur Koestler. who was once a committed Communist, who then turned away from Communism and wrote a book entitled 'Darkness at Noon' and who has spent much of his life regretting opinions which he formerly advocated. It is well to remind the honourable member of the unfortunate people who, in the 1930s, believed that they could see some good in the Fascist regime and the Nazi regime and have since bitterly regretted that.

I hope that the Labor Party will not live to see the day when it regrets the attitude that it took up on Vietnam. If the Labor Party had its way and if we did withdraw from Vietnam, if the United States of America were to withdraw from Asia, and if, as one can imagine might' well be the case, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia were to fall and war were to come to Australia, many members of the Labor Party, 1 believe, would begin to have second thoughts and would come to regret bitterly the opinions which they now advocate with such force, and no doubt with sincerity. I say this merely to illustrate that young men in this atmosphere cannot and shall not be given the right to decide whether or not they shall serve in national service or fight for their country at a time when it is asked that they shall do so.

I should like to emphasise once again some old fashioned virtues, because I believe the wisdom of mankind over the centuries was not so far wrong when it spoke of the virtue of unity, the virtue of loyalty, the virtue of obedience and the virtue of patriotism. 1 believe that it is necessary for us, just as it was necessary for a country such as Israel, to institute this kind of system to distribute the burden in an equitable fashion and to see to it that wars, when they are necessary, are fought by those who are fit to participate in them on an equal basis. 1 believe that it would lead to sheer anarchy if we were to allow every individual young man under whatever pressures there may be, whether from his family, so called political leaders, his teachers or his fellow students, to make up his mind whether or not he thinks his country should at a particular time be at war, fighting in a particular battle or using a particular kind of weapon. These decisions must be made by goverments and they must be accepted by all citizens.

The concessions which we have made in relation to conscientious objectors are a luxury which, I believe, we, as a democratic community, can still afford, but the kind of amendment proposed by the Labor Party would lead to sheer disorder. I believe that in these times it is necessary to reemphasise some of these matters and to emphasise to our young people in particular that they are not the sole fount of wisdom, that some of their elders - I shall not say betters' - may have learned a thing or two and that they themselves in after years may come to discover that what they think today was not entirely right and that what their leaders think may not have been entirely wrong. I oppose the amendment.







Suggest corrections