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Tuesday, 28 May 1968

Mr DEVINE (East Sydney) -I support the Australian Labor Party's amendment to allow conscientious objection to particular wars because I believe it is a just provision that should be inserted in the legislation to protect people who believe sincerely and honestly that they should not become involved in wars such as that which is proceeding in Vietnam at present. 1 know that many members of the Government parties have suggested that the Government should decide what should happen to the youth of the country. I have heard some honourable members opposite complain about student demonstrations that have been occurring all over the world. But 20-year-old conscripts, about whom we are talking now, have no say in the community.

They have no vote before they are called up for military service. They have no voice of protest. They cannot object at the ballot boxes at election time, because they have not the franchise. So when members opposite speak about them being able to object I am amazed.

The speeches this afternoon of the honourable member for Warringah (Mr St John) and the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) sickened me. They spoke about protecting Australia. In the near future the Government will have to stand before the Australian public and answer whether the war in Vietnam is a just war. We know that at present there is a split in the Government. Some honourable members opposite have challenged the Government about Australia's role in Vietnam. At their caucus meetings they have challenged the Government to justify this war in Vietnam, which has been going on For over 4 years - which is longer than the war we fought against the Japanese. How does the Government justify the war and its cost to the Australian people? Why has the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) suddenly been taken to America? The Americans will tell him that they are going to pull out of South East Asia and then the Australian Government will be called upon to give some concrete evidence of Australia's defence policy. It has no policy at present.

I support the right of any person to object to this war. Yesterday afternoon, after waiting from 8.40 a.m. until 4 p.m., I was given permission, with Senator McClelland, to interview Simon Townsend in the Holsworthy detention camp.

Mr Irwin - You should not have been.

Mr DEVINE - It does not matter whether or not I should have been. I went along to see this young man. I was refused permission at first, but finally permission was granted. I would be prepared to go to any military establishment to interview any conscript or national serviceman who complains of unjust treatment.I was appalled at the form of torture being perpetrated in this military establishment.I do not think any honourable member opposite would condone the actions of making a person sleep on a ground sheet on a concrete floor with just a pillow and four blankets and being wakened every half-hour to stand to attention and give his name, just to keep company with the officer or noncommissioned officer on duty. What kind of torture is this? What effect must it have on a 20-year-old conscript? Do not tell me that it would not have any effect on him. For 48 hours this lad was obliged to go without sleep. During the daytime his blankets were taken away. He could not sit on a cold concrete floor, so he had to stand up, and all night there was a pounding on the door so that he kept awake. Definitely this must have some effect on him. We have all read of the treatment experienced by prisoners under Fascism, Communism and other isms, but I am ashamed to think that this sort of thing could happen in Australia. I challenge the Government to bring before justice the person responsible for this torture, because there is no provision in Army regulations which gives a person permission to engage in this form of torture.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - He was a sadist.

Mr DEVINE - He is a sadist. Professional soldiers believe that everybody should be a soldier. Because they are in the Army they believe that everybody else should be in it. I know that other conscientious objectors have been through that military establishment. Some could not stand up to the torture. Others were bashed into submission by certain sections of the military authority. Should this type of thing happen to 20-year-old conscripts? Should we, as educated Australians, permit it? Nobody should support it. I defy any honourable member opposite to stand and condone the treatment that these young conscientious objectors received. I believe it is only political torture. Any time I hear of such happenings I shall be only too pleased to raise them in the National Parliament so that the Australian people will know what is going on. I am greatly concerned that the civil liberties of the majority of Australian people are being whittled away by the Government. With each turn of the wheel the Government brings this country nearer to being a police state.

If a fellow believes that the war in Vietnam is not just, I am prepared to support him, as is every member of the Opposition. We do not believe that Australia should be involved in Vietnam. We do not believe that young Australians should be conscripted for service overseas. We believe in the defence of Australia, and it is a pity that the Government is not doing something about it. I am not opposed to anybody doing national service. I do not think national service hurts anybody. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Bury) has indicated that of the 326,000 young Australians who have been registered for national service only 24,000 have been called up. Some 10,000 have joined the Citizen Military Forces. About 290,000 have not been called up. I would not know the number of exemptions that have been granted, but I have never applied to the Minister to have any person exempted from national service. I would not do so. I advise people how to go about applying for exemption, but it is up to the individual to make the application. I do not know how many members of the Government parties have sought exemptions for indivi-duals. I know that there has been a great outcry by members of the Country Party who maintain that their sons and the sons of farmers should not be called up, because they are required to work on the farms. Many Country Party members have stated openly their opposition to country boys being called up. Their view is that it is all right for the city kids to go as long as the country kids do not go. How many members of the Government parties can honestly say - and I include the honourable members for Bradfield and Warringah in this challenge - T have never made representations to the Minister to have anybody exempted from national service'. If honourable members opposite believe sincerely that national servicemen ought to be in Vietnam they should not make representations to have fellows exempted from national service. It is up to members opposite to indicate whether they have made representations.

I have spoken today on behalf of those people who believe that we should not be involved in the war in Vietnam, which I regard as an unjust and unwinnable war. The way things are going at present I think that this will be proved conclusively. The Government will have to answer to the people, because the people are waking up. The Government is not spending money wisely on defence. The Fill aircraft shows conclusively how the Government is squandering the taxpayers' money, and ultimately the Government will have to answer to the people.

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