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Tuesday, 28 May 1968

Mr BRYANT (Wills) - It is obvious to me that honourable members opposite, including the Minister, just do not understand what this is all about. They are satisfied to put some kind of legislation on the statute book which seems to cover a situation. That is quite unreal. In other words, they are forgetting that they are dealing with people; that they are dealing with a long history of traditional rights; that they are dealing with a situation in which the people who are called up can lose their lives. The quality of their service is in sacrifice and it is not good enough to talk about this being trivial or about it being a case of black and white or about the facts being self evident. In many court cases the facts are self-evident 1 do not claim to be a legal student in any sense of the term but I understand that in some court cases, even if the accused wants to plead guilty and the facts are more or less self-evident, the court will refuse to accept a plea of 'guilty' and will proceed with the formality of a trial. This is because it has been found from a long history df these matters that it is only with the closest scrutiny of all the facts, and by a consideration of a person's rights and duties, that people will get their ultimate protection. So we are not so much concerned about whether the facts are self-evident; it is the quality of that justice which we propose to dispense that is of concern to us. For some odd reason honourable members opposite seem to think that 2 years in gaol in these circumstances is not a serious matter. I understand that everywhere else in this country a sentence of 2 years is considered to be a serious matter. It is my belief - and I think there is general agreement with this - that 2 years in gaol is a long term of imprisonment.

It is one of .my misfortunes that my office is only 200 or 300 yards from Melbourne's largest prison. Some honourable members have referred tonight to Victoria. Many of Victoria's institutions are a disgrace to civilised society and Pentridge Gaol is one of them. But that is by the way. I see too much of the kind of arbitrary justice and injustice that is administered by police courts under police laws. We hear of this kind of action every day. Tonight honourable members opposite have said that under this legislation the magistrate does not constitute a court, that he has no option but to imprison a man for- 2 years, which is the term that applies under this legislation. In this place we are in effect a court tonight. We are trying everybody in prospect. We are bringing down an. arbitrary system which is completely inflexible. We are doing this tonight with only- about, six honourable members on the Government side of the chamber and with one or two of them asleep. Where are all the rest of them? Their attitude seems to be that they do not care about human beings or the sensitivities which are involved.. This . legislation is a complete departure from accepted principles. What we are doing is to say that for failure to render effective service, the alternative to Army service is a prison sentence.

The honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen), who I thought would at least have read the Bill, claimed that there was no mention in the Bill of the term of imprisonment. Of course there is.- It , has been pointed out that under proposed section 51a (I.) a person guilty of an offence shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to imprisonment for a period equal to the period of service that he is so liable, to render. A tittle later in the section we are told what that length of service is to -be. What will be the situation if we change the term of service during a person's period of imprisonment? What happens if we say that the period of national service is to be 3 years? Does the lad who is serving a sentence of 2 years under the existing legislation suddenly find that be is in prison for an additional year as a result of this Parliament's decision, without his having the benefit of a trial or any other procedure? Is this the way in which we are to administer justice? Is this the way in which we are to administer the affairs of this country? I certainly hope not. Why is it that tonight, on a matter so important as this, when a principle is under discussion and challenge, the Attorney-General (Mr Bowen) is not here to take part in the debate? Why do honourable members opposite ignore the Bill?

Why is it that at a moment such as this there is so 1'itfle interest displayed by so many honourable members opposite? Do they not know what gaol means? Do they not understand that imprisonment for 2 years is a dreadful sentence, that most of the gaols are dreadful places and that most of them are inhabited by dreadful people? We are proposing to take young men who have committed no crime, other than to have a conscientious belief that they should not serve in the Army, and we are placing them in gaol and treating them as common criminals. But apparently 2 years is not a lengthy term of service for anyone who is a 20-year-old. What haw the 20-year-olds done against this country? What have people born in 1948 done to deserve this? What I do not understand is why honourable members opposite take it all so lightly and consider that 2 years in gaol is of no importance, or that service in Vietnam is of no importance. Why must they consider these people as slackers, spivs or cowards if they do not want to go to Vietnam? Honourable members opposite, including the Minister, say that this procedure is simply an administrative act. I do not know where the Government got this Minister or whether this type of Minister is cheaper by the yard, but apparently yardage that does not have much of a beneficial effect on intellectual capacity.

The honourable member for Parkes (Mr Hughes) has said that there are three features of this scheme. He said that first there is a liability to serve and that a person must fit into the scheme whether or not a notice requiring him to serve has been delivered to him. But is it not true that some questions of interpretation are involved? We were discussing earlier today the section of the Act which says that a person is not liable to serve if he holds certain conscientious beliefs. Is it not possible that such persons would come before a jury and his beliefs would be part of the evidence produced by the serviceman, or the non-serviceman as he would be? Is this not the type of case that ought to be evaluated by twelve good men and true? Is it not a fact that honourable members opposite, the Government itself and its administrative advisers are afraid of the jury system in these cases? They know perfectly well that it would be difficult to get twelve people in the Australian community who would go along with them when they drag people into the courts and refuse to accept the conscientious beliefs of young men? These young men are placed before magistrates, many of whom for some reason or other suddenly express the righteous wrath of the community. Some of the older men on the bench deliver disgusting homilies to the younger men in the dock on these occasions. They describe how they served and they say the young men are cowards and ought to be in Vietnam. We can turn to the pages of the newspapers and find these statement1;.

We on this side of the chamber say that an important principle is involved. I am disappointed that honourable members opposite, such as the honourable members for Moreton and Parkes, have not taken up this issue. The honourable member for

Warringah (Mr St John) seems to be a freedom fighter outside this chamber when speeches are to be made and headlines won, but when the chips are down and there is something to be placed on the record in this place he is notably absent. I think it is a disgrace that we are treating this matter so lightly and that we are behaving in this fashion to a group of young Australians. I look with horror at the prison walls that are, as I said earlier, so close to my office. 1 think of the young men I know, many of whom come to me for advice about conscription and national service and ponder before their call up on whether they ought to act to stress their conscientious beliefs and resist call up. I ponder on what 2 years in that prison would to to them. I believe it is a disgrace to society.

The whole system we are inflicting upon these young people is disgraceful. On any interpretation of it there is no alternative to military service other than gaol, lt shows the complete insensitivity of the Government, and the people who support it to what I consider are the ordinary human values that ought to be a part of decent Australian society. As I said here earlier this evening, it is not the Opposition that is dragging the armed services through the mud. It seems that this Government is set upon a course that is taking all the dignity out of being a free and democratic Australian.

Wednesday, 29 May 1968

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