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Tuesday, 28 May 1968

Mr STEWART (Lang) - None of the explanations given by the Minister concerning any of the amendments moved by the Opposition in relation to this Bill has met with my approval. None of his explanations has satisfied me to the smallest degree. His only argument in respect of this amendment is that instead of applicants for registration as conscientious objectors having their cases heard in court, they can have a prior medical examination. The Opposition's purpose in this amendment is to give any boy of 20 years of age who believes that he truly has a conscientious objection to being called up for national service an opportunity at least to have his opinions heard. Should the Minister be concerned about the number of possible court cases, all he has to do is omit from our amendment the words 'medical examination'. Let the applicant be medically examined. The boy concerned will then know whether he is liable to serve or at least whether he is physically and psychologically fit to serve as a national service trainee. If he is fit to serve, no further action should be taken until his application for registration as a conscientious objector has been determined by a judge.

Today I received, as I am sure most members did, a document from a Mr Lancelot S. Hills, setting out certain arguments on the provisions of this Bill. One of his comments deals specifically with the case of Noel Edgar Collett. The Opposition is attempting, by the amendment that it has moved, to prevent such as occurred in that case. It is high time the Minister and most Government supporters looked closely at the national service legislation. After all, it was introduced out of the blue without due consideration and against the advice of military advisers. What the Opposition is trying to do by this and other amendments that it has moved and intends to move is to preserve a little justice and honesty as well as some human rights and respect for the opinions of the minority who in their hearts believe that they are conscientious objectors and want to prove that they are. In a policy speech made in 1963, Sir Robert Menzies said:

Australia is ready and able to meet its international commitments.

In his speech on 10th November 1964 he introduced national service. But because of the hurry and lack of consideration in the introduction of that legislation, the Government is now finding loopholes in it. It is now finding that boys are not being given the opportunity to prove whether their beliefs are sincere or otherwise. Irrespective of whether 200 boys make applications which are all rejected-

The CHAIRMAN - Order! I point out to the honourable member for Lang that I mentioned earlier that this amendment is not related to proving that a person is a conscientious objector or otherwise. It is strictly on the point of his not being accepted into the Army or into service in any way. He is deemed automatically to be an objector, and this amendment stands at that particular stage.

Mr STEWART - With all due respect, Mr Chairman, the sidenote on proposed new section 29ba states: 'Action following claim for exemption under section 29a'. Section 29a of the Bill, as I understand it, deals specifically with conscientious objection and the action which should be taken.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! 1 point out again to the honourable member for Lang that the amendment states: '. . . he shall be deemed to be a conscientious objector pending the hearing and determination of his claim, and he shall not in the meantime be required to submit himself to a medical examination. . . .' That is the crux of this amendment. J pointed out earlier that the wider debate on conscientious objections was on the previous two amendments which the Committee has been discussing. The subject matter before the Committee at the moment is the fact that he is deemed to be a conscientious objector and therefore should not be required to do any of the things mentioned in the amendment.

Mr STEWART - Our first amendment was designed to amend section 29a of the principal Act. Our second amendment was designed to insert proposed new section 29aa after section 29a of the principal Act. If our first amendment had been accepted, sub-sections (3.) and (4.) of section 29a would have been omitted from the Act, but that amendment was defeated in the Committee. So instead of omitting subsections (3.) and (4.) of section 29a, we now propose to add proposed new section 29ba. Even though those two sub-sections still remain, we propose that a man should have the rights which are set out in the amendment. Mr Chairman, I crave your indulgence. I believe I am correct in stating that this amendment has as much to do with conscientious objections - if not more - than the previous amendments which we have discussed. This is the only opportunity left to the Opposition to try to protect the genuine fellows of 20 years of age who seek exemption on conscientious grounds. We seek to write this proposed new section 29ba into the Act in order to give these young men one other avenue, in order to save them from undergoing national service. But, irrespective of that, it is quite obvious to every honourable member on this side of the chamber that this Government is not interested in the sincere beliefs of Christians within the community and of those who have deep moral beliefs of any sort. The Government is not interested in the pacifists. It is not interested in anything except getting bodies into the Army. Out of the 326,000 boys who are eligible for call up, only 34,000 are carrying the burden. They are carrying the burden because this Government, in this Bill, has not faced up to its responsibilities as a genuine Australian Government. I think every honourable member will appreciate that when I speak this way in this Parliament L do so because I believe in what I am saying. There is double the number of honourable members on the other side of the House that there is on this side of the House - the Government has about approximately 80 votes to our 40 votes - but there are very few of them who will stand up and support the cause of right and justice in the Parliament. Because they think they are right about Vietnam, then, come hell or high water, they will get the boys to go there, irrespective of how they treat the Australian community in doing so.

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