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Tuesday, 28 May 1968

Mr CHANEY (Perth) - When the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) reads the proof of his speech later this evening he may be surprised by what he said. I cannot remember his exact words, but he said that he admired the moral courage of those who were prepared to break the law. I do not think he believes that. Let us get back to the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and the remarks of the honourable member for Reid. If one could ask Socrates, Jesus of Nazareth, Nehru or Gandhi for their opinions on what is proposed by the Government and what is proposed by the Opposition, I venture to say that most of them would say that there is not much unjust about the Government's proposal. The Opposition seeks to amend section 29a of the principal Act, which says:

A person whose conscientious beliefs do not allow him to engage in any form of military service is, so long as he holds those beliefs, exempt from liability to render service under this Act.

Before the suspension of the sitting the Minister for Immigration (Mr Snedden) made what I thought was a magnificent contribution when debating an earlier amendment moved by the Opposition, which sought to provide in the Bill for what amounted to sectional selective pacifism. Having failed to have this amendment accepted, as obviously it was going to fail, the Opposition has now taken a different line of approach to section 29a of the Act. Members from both sides of the House have received correspondence from various bodies and organisations throughout Australia in regard to the proposed amendments to the National Service Act. but I do not think anyone has seriously challenged the Government on section 29a of the Act which states categorically that anyone who is a genuine conscientious objector to Army service is exempt.

Mr Bryant - What about Townsend?

Mr CHANEY - It is important that people like Townsend hold the conscientious belief all the time and not only at a particular time.

Mr Bryant - Can the honourable member prove that?

Mr CHANEY - I know that the honourable member for Wills is and has been a gallant soldier. If he served in a war he would probably say: I do not mind using this type of weapon, but I object to using that type of weapon. I do not mind fighting on this hill but I object to going to that hill?

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam), who moved the amendment on behalf of the Opposition, was a member of the Royal Australian Air Force during the Second World War. Did he, at any stage, say: T am prepared to guide this flight of bombers-

Dr J F Cairns (YARRA, VICTORIA) - I raise a point of order. The honourable member is not debating the amendment now before the Committee but is debating an earlier one. The present amendment has nothing to do with conscientious objection.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! There is no substance in the point of order.

Mr CHANEY - For the benefit of the honourable member for Yarra (Dr J. F. Cairns) I will now explain why I am talking to the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition wants to provide that any person who is called up for military service under a selective system, not under the kind of universal system mentioned by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), may contract out of that service. Under the present system about 12i% are called up in the specified age group. If the amendment by the Leader of the Opposition is agreed to, what sort of situation will arise in the planning of our Army and military services? Conscientious objectors have been completely provided for by section 29a of the Act.

I point out to the honourable member for Yarra that the amendment moved by his own leader mentions section 29a which refers specifically to conscientious objectors. How can he raise a point of order and say that the amendment now before the Committee has nothing to do with conscientious objectors?

Dr J F Cairns (YARRA, VICTORIA) - I have risen on a point of order once and I can do so again. I submit that a point of order is involved here. The amendment moved by the Opposition provides that a person who is called up for military service may choose to render service in another form.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! There is no substance in the point of order raised by the honourable member for Yarra. I suggest that the honourable member for Yarra might have listened to the speech made by the honourable member for Reid.

Mr CHANEY - I appreciate your ruling, Mr Chairman, but the amendment proposes a new section to be numbered 29aa, and Section 29a of the Act specifically refers to conscientious objectors. What I am saying in effect is that the Opposition, having failed to have the provision with regard to conscientious objection inserted in the form it wanted, has now taken another tack and is seeking to have proposed new section 29aa inserted in the Bill.

If Australia adopted the practice of other countries that have been mentioned in the House and called up everyone in a particular age group, it would be practically impossible for the Army to engage all national servicemen in a military capacity. There would have to be a diversion of effort and task. I can see why countries such as the Netherlands, which have this system, allow national servicemen to volunteer out of military service. I would like to get back to the point the Opposition has tried to make. The Opposition is opposed to the whole concept of national service. However, I point out to the Opposition that the great majority of the Australian people agree with the Government's interpretation of what should be done for the defence of this country. No amount' of argument can dispute this point. Gallup polls - and members of the Opposition can take them or leave them - have shown conclusively that the majority of the people are in favour of this type of service.

As I said before, Section 29a of the principal Act completely covers the case of a person who seeks exemption on conscientious grounds. Here again, the decision on whether a person is entitled to exemption on conscientious grounds has been taken out of the hands of the Minister and of the Parliament. Honourable members who can remember back to the days of the Second World War will know the feeling of revulsion there was against any attempt at political interference in the administration of the armed services or in the placing of men in those services. Under the legislation now before us, the magistrate who makes the decision is completely removed from the emotional arena of this Parliament or from the political arena generally.

Mr Uren - That is rubbish and you know it. No magistrate is clear of emotions.

Mr CHANEY - No one here is clear of emotions. I understood that under the Standing Orders of this House it was improper and out of order for honourable members to reflect on members of the judiciary. But it seems to me that some honourable members can say anything they like. This afternoon things were said about magistrates which are now on the record. I believe that such comments were a disgrace to the honourable members who made them. If these honourable members were to go outside the House and state that the magistrates who were to deal with cases involving conscientious objectors were influenced by political pressures, they would have to stand the consequences. This is just another method of attack on the whole national service scheme by the Opposition. It is an attack on a scheme which has been adopted by the Australian people because the Australian people know it is in the best interests of this country.

Motion (by Mr Snedden) put-

That the question be now put.

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