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Tuesday, 28 May 1968

Mr BURY (Wentworth) (Minister for Labour and National Service) - The honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) asked me a particular question. This matter has been examined very thoroughly quite recently but such a scheme was not considered to be practical. The position is met or ameliorated, in several ways. It can be met, firstly, by the option of service in the Citizen Forces. If the circumstances of a particular family are such that it is excessive for more than one member to serve, one member, or more, can join the Citizen Forces. Secondly, there is provision in the legislation for cases of exceptional hardship. Application for temporary deferment of service can be made under this provision. In addition, if one or more members of a family should be killed or seriously injured, the Army does take steps administratively to minimise the possibility of additional casualties.

Speaking more generally to this amendment, I would like to comment on two matters that were raised. It has been suggested that there should be alternative forms of civilian service for those people who prove that they have a conscientious belief. The other suggestion is that there should be a choice given to all. 1 have spent a good deal of time with my department and with other departments trying to evolve a practical and detailed scheme of alternative employment for conscientious objectors. This matter is hedged round with a great deal of practical and legal difficulties but this quest still proceeds. I told the World Council of Churches that in fact the Cabinet instructed me to pursue this matter further to see whether some alternative could be found for conscientious objectors. This is done and has been done in the United States of America and Great Britain.

Mr Uren - It has been done in the Netherlands, Italy and France.

Mr BURY - Yes, it is done on the Continent. The countries to which the honourable member for Reid is referring have universal callup so that their systems of national service aTe on a very different footing to ours. This alternative form of civilian service applies to only a very limited scale of certain specialist personnel such as engineers, doctors, veterinary scientists, scientists, teachers and other people who can make a particular contribution to underdeveloped countries - people who have specialist training. This alternative form is very limited but it is available. But the general proposition of the Opposition to give everyone a general choice as to whether he serves in the Army or in a civilian force is not practical to begin with. My advice is that legally it would be a very dubious measure indeed and might not stand up. Apart from that we would get right away from the purpose of the scheme which is designed to produce by ballot 8,400 troops each year, lt is quite out of the question at this stage to give everyone the choice of performing some civilian duties. If we had a universal scheme things like this might come within the realm of practicability, but as things stand they do not.

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