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Tuesday, 28 May 1968

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) - The greatness of any nation is judged by how it deals with its minorities, especially people holding minority views and opinions. This Government will be judged on how it is going to deal with conscientious objectors, who are one of the smallest minorities in the country as far as people of military agc are concerned. This group is so small that the percentage of conscientious objectors who have applied so far for exemption on this ground is only 1.4% of all men enlisted into the regular Army totalling 24,000. That is the group we are dealing with tonight in this legislation. We had no troubles about this matter during the Second World War. It is incredible-

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! I draw the attention of the honourable member to the clause we are discussing.

Mr DUTHIE - It is all right, Mr Deputy Chairman, I was just making a passing reference. It is incredible that this Government has made the law so involved for conscientious objectors when, during the previous war - a world war - these men were treated as normal human beings. The particular clause we are now dealing with has been referred to by a solicitor in Sydney. I intend to quote what this solicitor has said because it is relevant to the discussion. He has been mentioned by two or three of my colleagues and also by the honourable member for Eden Monaro (Mr Munro). He is Mr Lancelot S. Hills of Lancelot S. Hills and Co., solicitors, of 4 O'Connell Street, Sydney. Mr Hills has been dealing with conscientious objectors quite frequently in the course of his work. What he has written is based on very real experience of this subject. In his letter to me, which I received today, he said:

According to the well recognised principles of British justice the utmost care must be exercised to ensure that no innocent person should suffer a legal penalty or imprisonment. These principles can scarcely be said to have been maintained if in some circumstances a genuine conscientious objector cannot because of some deficiency in the Act or Regulations secure exemption and is consequently subjected to summary conviction and imprisonment for a period of two years. The cause of the conscientious objector may not be popular, but every citizen is entitled at least to basic justice. . . .

With that statement, of course, I think most honourable members in this place, even honourable members on the Government side, would agree. Mr Hills went on to give his opinion on this particular matter. He said:

These sub-sections-

Those that we are now dealing with - provide that a person who has conscientious beliefs before he commences to render service under the Act which do not allow him to engage in any form of military service or in military duties of a combatant nature loses his right to exemption if on account of accident, ignorance or any other reason (whether within his control or not) he does not secure a Court Order' entitling him to exemption before he convnences service under the Act. This appears to be an inconsistent .ind unjustifiable disregard of a person's conscientious convictions and under the new legislation-

Which is now before us - could result in a severe gaol sentence, up to two years.

The Act does not prevent a person who has applied for exemption from military service or from duties of a combatant nature from being required to commence to render service before his application for exemption has been determined by a Court. Therefore, by a legally issued cai] -up notice a person who is entitled to exemption and has applied for exemption may be denied the right to exemption under the above sub-sections.

Mr Hillsmentioned the case of Noel Edgar Collett. This case was referred to briefly but was not stated entirely. I want to set out the facts to prove Mr Hills' point. Collett's first application for noncombatant service was dismissed at

Nambour, Queensland, on 25th August 1965 and his appeal to the District Court, Brisbane, was dismissed on 30th November 1965, On 8th June 1966, well into the next year, a second application for noncombatant service was dismissed at Nambour on the ground taken by the barrister appearing for the Minister that the magistrate had no jurisdiction to hear a second application. The magistrate was requested by Mr Collett's representative to dismiss this application if he had any doubts as to jurisdiction so that the matter of jurisdiction could be properly determined by a superior court and the department was informed that it was intended to apply on Mr Collett's behalf to the High Court to have the matter of jurisdiction determined. Mr Hills said:

Nevertheless on 24th June, 1966,-

This is a year after the case began- the Department issued a call-up notice to Mr Collett requiring him to present himself for service on 13th July, 1966. Representations were made to the Department to cancel this call-up notice but it refused to do so and on 12th July, 1966-

The day before he was to present himself it was necessary to lodge an application to the Court for deferment of Mr Collett's service on the ground of extreme hardship as he would lose his rights to non-combatant service if he commenced service in accordance with the call-up notice. After lodgment of this application with the Department and after 5 p.m. on 12th July,-

Almost at the eleventh hour- the Registrar in Brisbane, by urgent telegram to Mr Collett, cancelled the call-up notice for the following day.

No man who is a sincere conscientious objector should have to endure for a year the type of thing outlined in Collett's case. The Opposition, by its amendment, is trying to tidy up this legislation and make it easier for these men to be exempted without having to go through the paraphernalia I have just outlined. I said when commencing my speech that the test of this Government's sincerity and of its adequacy will be how it treats the conscientious objectors in this country. I hope that as a result of our amendments, even if they are not carried in this chamber, the Minister for Labour and National Service will consider including these proposals in the Bill before it goes to another place. I certainly hope he will review this particular amendment and the statement he made to us tonight in opposing it.

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