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Tuesday, 28 May 1968

Dr J F Cairns (YARRA, VICTORIA) - Again we have a proposal put forward by the Opposition for what one might properly call a liberalisation of conscription in this country - a liberalisation that has been supported and called for by many church people, many in the community who have a right to claim that they stand not only for a liberalisation of the conscription laws but also for a liberalisation of society. The amendment moved by the Opposition has that effect. Government supporters themselves claim to take the position that they are liberals, but they are opposing this liberalisation on what I might call tendentious arguments, as recently illustrated by the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen). The amendment is quite clearly stated and quite clearly limited, lt states:

Any person who is called up for military service may choose to render service in a community or national project in Australia or overseas in a form approved by the Minister as an alternative to military service.

He does not need to have any conscientious objection to military service. He can be any person called up for military service.

He may choose to render service in a project approved by the Minister. Not in a project approved by himself or by someone else in the community; it is to be a project approved by the Minister. So the Minister would have control of these projects. It is not likely that they could proliferate through the community here and overseas. It would be up to the Minister to say what projects he approves. He would do this in a close exercise of his powers in relation to conscription, in relation to the National Service Act and in relation to his powers as a Minister exercising defence powers and other powers incidental thereto. Tt is an alternative form of service. It is not one that is out of the control of the Minister.

The amendment is limited. It is designed to meet the requirements and needs of all those people from church and other organisations who for quite a number of years have been calling for an amendment of the sort now proposed by the Opposition. I want to make it clear to the Committee and to the people outside that the Australian Labor Party is answering this call with the amendment which has been moved this evening. What are the objections to the amendment that have been raised so far by the only speaker on the Government side, the honourable member for Moreton? He entered the debate to attempt, with his well publicised skill, to demolish completely in a few words what the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) had said. Dramatically, in the Menzies fashion, the honourable member for Moreton said: 'It will not work'. Presumably he believes it will not work because he thinks it is in conflict with "section 51 of the Constitution which provides that the Commonwealth has power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth in respect of defence as well as other matters. He admits and agrees that the defence power is an extensive power, but he thinks it is not without end. Certainly that is true.

The honourable member for Moreton referred to what the late Chief Justice Latham said, that not all subjects whatever can be included under the defence power. It seemed to me not to be unreasonable to say that the power to allow a person called up for military service to choose some other form of service is an exercise of power by the Commonwealth closely related to its defence power. It is a liberalisation of the law to make the application of the Commonwealth's defence power more acceptable to the community. It is an exercise of power which is incidental to the exercise of the defence power and closely related to it. It is not something like the industrial lighting regulation to which the honourable member for Moreton referred and about which he quoted Latham's judgment. This is where I think he made his specific error. He made a lot of play on the allegation that the amendment was designed to conscript people for civil employment. Certainly the industrial lighting regulation was a mandatory power; it had to be carried out; it was not a matter of choice. People did not have a choice whether or not they would conserve lighting. They had to do so. If they did nor conserve lighting power they committed an offence which was punishable, lt was a case of industrial conscription, perhaps. But what is set out in the amendment is a different matter. Surely the honourable member for Moreton did not read the amendment, because it states:

Any person who is called up for. military service may choose to render service in a community or national project. . . .

The honourable member for Moreton must have missed those two words 'may choose', because if he saw them, how could he argue that this amendment is designed to conscript people for civil employment? It is to conscript nobody. It allows people to exercise a choice, which is totally dissimilar from the industrial lighting regulation and the comments of the former Chief Justice to which the honourable member for Moreton referred. .1 do not know the legal expression for that sort of argument, but it seems to me that the common sense expression for it is that it is a non-sense argument.

The honourable member for Moreton was not satisfied with trying to make play upon these two legal points that seemed to me to have very little validity or none at all, and as a newly qualified lawyer the honourable member for Moreton can be excused, I suppose, for laying stress on legal matters now and again and for making a mistake about them. But that was not the end of his attempt to try to obstruct again the move by the Opposition to make the conscription law a little more liberal.

He then went on to say that if people were allowed to choose to perform some service in a community or national project they would be paid wages or salaries which would be in conflict with some trade union award. This is purely wishful thinking on the part of the honourable member for Moreton. He hopes to be able to blacken the scheme by suggesting that it would be inevitable that the people engaged in it would be working in conflict with trade union awards. What evidence has he to support a belief that this would be the case? Of course, if anyone was found to be working in some community project in conflict with trade union awards I should expect that the honourable member for Moreton might not be the last person to attempt immediately to correct the situation. It is possible that some person could be employed in Australia in some community project at less than what is provided in union awards, and I should imagine that even the honourable member for Moreton would object to that. If it were brought to notice, action could be taken to bring it to an end.

But before the Minister approved of a project of the kind envisaged in the amendment - and I emphasise that the Minister has to approve of the projects - I should expect the Minister to take action to see that in such a project nothing less than what was provided for in union awards was paid. So it seems to me that the objections raised by the honourable member for Moreton regarding this amendment are like all the other objections that have been raised this afternoon and this evening regarding the liberalisation of the law concerning conscription. The objections are tendentious. They are deliberately designed to obstruct the liberalisation of this law. Members of the Liberal Party in this House seem to me today to be espousing something which is considerably less than liberal.

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