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Tuesday, 28 May 1968

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) - -The speech made by the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin), while having nothing to do with the proposed new clause now before the Committee, was interesting because he dealt broadly with the contention advanced by the Government in the election of 1966, when the Government said: They are coming; they will be here soon'. The Government denied that it was referring to the Chinese. I take it that it is the North Vietnamese who are now coming.

Despite what the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) said, I doubt very much whether the proposed new clause is in conflict with the Constitution. The wording of the clause is clear. It reads:

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.

If this were given a chance by the Government and if it were administered with some degree of imagination then it could serve the defence of Australia far better than all the military personnel we could possibly put into the field throughout South East Asia. We have a Government in Australia which talks about defence but does nothing about it. If we were required to defend ourselves we would be no better off now than we were under the same type of government in 1941. We are not in a position to defend ourselves.

I would suggest the establishment of an organisation similar to the American peace corps; and organisation administered with imagination and backed up with funds which should be provided by this Government. This organisation could send people to the underdeveloped communities of Asia to assist people. This amendment would give young Australians not only the right to assist them but the obligation to assist them. It would allow a large number of Australians to go to these countries and see exactly what the conditions are, what is necessary, and what needs to be done. Over a number of years the educational value of such a scheme to the Australian community would make the expenditure worth while. These young Australians are the people who will carry in the future the responsibility of the community and of the Government. They would have been in those countries, not in a military capacity and acting as policemen for someone else but in a helpful capacity. They would understand the problems and they would know what Australia should be doing to play her part in Asia.

We happen to be isolated geographically from Europe although it has been the way of conservatism for us, of necessity, to attach ourselves to a European power. This has ceased to be practical and now we are attaching ourselves to the United States of America. We have reached a situation where we want the United States to do everything for us. We want to tie ourselves to her apron strings. The United States, like other countries, has her own responsibilities, policies and ends to serve. Australia similarly has' its own ends to serve. I believe one of the best things that we can do for Australia and for Australians is to permit a civil scheme whereby young men who choose to serve under such a scheme can go to the countries of Asia and assist the communities. They can do social work, educational work and whatever jobs they arc qualified to do in co-operation with the people in those underdeveloped countries. The value to the Australians who went overseas would be immense. I believe the value to the nation also would be immense.

If Government supporters believe that this is an irresponsible amendment I can only suggest that honourable members who say this are themselves irresponsible. Flag waving is all right, lt is all right for Government supporters to accuse everyone who disagrees with them of being disloyal to the country. This is all right because honourable members opposite are in the the Government parties. They are in the majority. They can gag debates whenever they feel like doing so and they can deny to honourable members of this Parliament the right to speak. The younger members can hide from their duties in this Parliament and condemn others to fight. This is all right. That is good solid democracy from their point of view. My point of view is that it is the right of every person to make up his own mind on the rights and wrongs of things. The honourable member for Mitchell spoke about the Vietnam war. But the scope of this Act is far wider than the Vietnam war. it could well be, as was said this afternoon, that people could be called up and conscripted to fight in some other war. It could be that Arabs in Australia could be called up to go and assist Israel. It could be that people from Ireland could be called up to go and fight against Ireland. This is a remote possibility but it is not more remote than the possibility of North Vietnam invading Australia, as some honourable members suggest. I believe that the amendment is a good one. I believe that, given a chance and administered responsibly, this scheme would have the support of the Australian people. It would be something that, if put into effect properly, this Parliament could well be, proud of. I believe that it can be put into effect.

I would like to refer to another matter which is relevant to clause 29 of the Bill. Some time ago the Minister for Labour and National Service made reference to dual responsibility under the Bill. I have asked the Minister whether the Government proposes to submit an amendment to cover cases where more than one person in a family is called up for service; to cover twins, triplets, brothers and sisters. An average of 1 in 4 persons is called up. I believe that when more than one person in a family is called up, especially if one member of a family has been killed or wounded in action, other members of the family should be granted deferment. If equal sharing of responsibility is the desirable thing, as some honourable members have suggested, 1 suggest that equal sharing should not mean that total sacrifice should be made by one family whilst other families have complete exemption. I have raised this matter because more than likely this will be the only opportunity that I will have of doing so.

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