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Tuesday, 13 October 1970

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Minister for Labour and National Service) - The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) has made some comments which need to be answered initially before the main thrust of the argument is presented. Firstly, he says that the conscientious objection provisions are inadequate. From that one would assume that the great majority of those people making application for exemption as conscientious objectors have failed in their applications. The opposite is the truth. In a report that I made on the operations of the National Service Act to 30th June, for the year preceding, I pointed out that of 1 83 applications for total exemption, 150, or 82 per cent, were granted; 14. or 8 per cent, were recognised as noncombatants; and 19, or only 10 per cent, were refused. Of the 34 applications for non-combatant status, 30, or 88 per cent, were granted. Ft is simply not justifiable to describe the conscientious objection provisions as inadequate.

The next point which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition made was that there was selective objection in the United Kingdom during the Second World War. The honourable gentleman relies for the authority for that statement on a judgment by Mr Justice Windeyer. He has not produced any authority to indicate that the United Kingdom situation was achieved by statute, by regulation or by any other way. He relies solely upon the following excerpt from a judgment by Mr Justice Windeyer:

This was so in the United Kingdom during the war of 1939-194S, as Mr Fenner Brockway, a veteran of the cause of conscientious objectors, has acknowledged in his foreword to Hayes' Challenge of Conscience which deals with that period.

He went on. I come to the next point which I think should be answered specifically. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition posed a question in a rhetorical form. He said that a young man applying for exemption on the grounds of conscientious objection would have the question put to him: 'Would your belief prevent you bearing arms if there was an invasion and your family was threatened?' To that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition says the young man must answer 'Yes' in order to be granted exemption on the grounds of conscientious objection. I think he is wrong in anticipating that such a question would be put, and he is certainly wrong in anticipating that unless the answer were 'Yes', no conscientious objection status would be granted by the court. That is a matter for the court to determine. One thing that is abundantly clear is that you cannot give conscientious objector status to any man simply on the claiming of it. No country in the world will give conscientious objector status to a man simply because he claims it, especially when acceptance of his claim to conscientious objection removes him from any liability to service, as distinct from the position of his colleagues who have to render service.

It is worth noting that the major thrust of the argument of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition did not go to the question that is posed in the terms of the matter of public importance, namely, selective objection. The major part of his argument went to the adequacy of a person claiming conscientious objection on the well known ground, which I can best put by referring to the words of the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, Sir Garfield Barwick: 'A present conscientious belief which does not allow of participation in military service of any kind at any time'. That is what the honourable gentleman was arguing against. The terms of the matter of public importance before the House relate to selective service. The words of the matter of public importance are:

The Government's failure to extend exemption from national service to persons whose conscientious beliefs do not allow them to engage in a particular war or particular warlike operations.

He asserted selective service when speaking but he did not justify it.

I think it is worth making a few points on the issue which has been raised in the House - selective objection claims. There is a range of persons proposing selective objection. In the first category that I identify are the well intentioned people who see in it a panacea for all objections to national service. I am afraid that these people - well intentioned as they are and whose integrity I respect - are very sorely misled. If they think they will have in this a panacea with which to get rid of objections to national service - many of them who argue in favour of national service think it would be less difficult if there was selective objection - they are very sorely misled.

The people in the second category which I now identify, who argue for selective exemption, are the great majority of objectors. The great majority of objectors object to compulsory military service in any form, so much so that they refuse to register or to make application for conscientious objection or to undergo a medical examination. They say that their conviction is so deep that the Act is wrong that they will not participate in any way. I am afraid to say that it is nonsense to suggest to these people that selective objection would be the means of getting rid of all these objections.

Then there is a third group which is in favour of selective objection, and that is the members of the Australian Labor Party, and particularly the parliamentary section of the Australian Labor Party. I fear that they pursue this policy for no other than political purposes. What they seek to do by the pursuit of it is to capture the voles of the first category, that is, the wellintentioned people who think it is the panacea. They also attempt to catch the voles of the whole range of objectors, whether they be objectors in reasonable form or unreasonable form or whether they be syndicalist members of the Labor Party seek to attract the votes of these people by taking this course. Another reason why they pursue this policy is that they want to destroy national service completely. There is no doubt that in all of the statements that have been made by the Opposition at various times by various spokesmen, while it is very difficult to find a consistent line running through them, there is the single umbilical cord - to destroy national service.

Also, of course, as was said quite rightly in this House today, in all of its attacks the Opposition recklessly disregards and indeed abandons any thought for the probity of our commitment in Vietnam. It recklessly disregards that matter, uncaring as to the outcome of it both for our own commitment or for the welfare of the South Vietnamese people and their capacity to choose their own solutions. But a third and more cogent reason for this debate today is the attempt by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) to align the whole of the parliamentary Labor Party with his statements of the week before last, which were quite irresponsible for a man who is Her Majesty's loyal Leader of the Opposition and who so constantly reminds us that he is the alternative Prime Minister. Feeling so lonely, as he must, because of the irresponsibility of the statements, he is making an attempt, today to hide the statements behind a selective objection proposal so that the whole of his Party can say: "Yes, we are for selective objection.' He will then, by some illogical process, argue that the whole of his Party supported those statements. Quite clearly, the Parliamentary Party, possessing as it does very many responsible and serious men, does not embrace those statements, lt is worth remembering what they were. I quote from the transcript of this Press conference. The Leader of the Opposition said:

I told the Caucus that if I were asked by a man who objected to the Vietnam war as to the course he should take, I would give this advice: He should register and at the time of doing so give written advice that if he was inducted and ordered to go to Vietnam he would not obey that order. If he was ballotted in then he should present himself for his medical examination and if found fit and should be inducted, then he should give -written advice that if he was ordered to go to Vietnam he would not obey the order.

Why is this matter of public importance before the House today? The public importance of it is to try to relieve the Leader of the Opposition from the responsibility of that quite unwarranted and indeed reckless and irresponsible statement. He feels that getting his Party to support him will enable him to say: 'Well, we are all in favour of selective conscientious objection; therefore, what I said was not really so bad. That is the device chosen today. How then does this matter suddenly become a matter of public importance? It has been argued in this chamber many times before. Why is it suddenly now, on the first sitting after the debacle of the week before last week, which was a non-sitting week, that this matter has come up? lt is raised merely as a device by the Leader of the Opposition to try to inveigle everybody else unwittingly into supporting his point of view.

It is worth remembering that, in that same Press conference transcript, this statement by the Leader of the Opposition appears:

Never have 1 said that a man should not obey orders in Vietnam.

The necessary consequence of this proposal is that a young man would disobey orders in Vietnam because he would say: '1 have a conscientious conviction against this fire pattern'; 'I have a conscientious objection against taking this ridge'; 'I have a conscientious objection against scouting, lo prevent surprise attack on some other elements in the force'. That would be to disobey orders. I wonder whether the Leader of the Opposition knew when he said: Never have I said that a man should not obey orders in Vietnam' that within 48 hours he was going to do exactly what he said he had never done. Within 24 hours, he said: . . that a young man on service in Vietnam who decided it was a bad war should notify his commanding officer thai he could not conscientiously continue.

That is to disobey those orders.

To accord the status of conscientious objector to a person who objects lo a particular war - selective conscientious objection or selective pacifism, as it has been called - was considered by a United States National Advisory Commission appointed by President Johnson which reported in 1967. The majority of the Commission believed that the status of conscientious objector can properly be applied only to those who are opposed to military service in all circumstances. It is one thing to deal in law with a person who believes he is acting according to an inner conviction when he opposed all military services. It is another to accord a special status to a man who believes that there is an inner conviction which tells him he can undertake military service under some circumstances and not under others. The Commission members considered that 'selective pacifism' is essentially a political question of support or non-support of a war and cannot be judged in terms of inner convictions, (as distinct from views and opinions a man may hold). Political opposition to a particular war should be expressed through recognised democratic processes and should claim no special right of exemption from democratic decisions. Legal recognition of 'selective pacifism' could open the door to a general theory of selective disobedience to law which could quickly tear down government and its operation; the distinction is dim between a person conscientiously opposed to payment of a particular tax and conscientious objection to a particular war or to a particular battle. Let us assume that a naval crew member on a ship told to train guns said: 'Wait a minute. At whom are we firing?' That is selective objection.

Do honourable members opposite say that a person can have selective objection only in Australia? Do they say that a person can have selective objection only before he is called up? Of course they do not. They argue for selective objection throughout the entire process, that is, before call-up, during service in Australia and, if necessary, during service in Vietnam. The recklessness of that proposal - the destruction of the confidence and morale of an Army, of a Navy or of an Air Force charged with the defence of this country - would be recklessness to a degree that one would not expect it to be brought up for any other reason than an attempt by the Leader of the Opposition to harm and to divert attention from the recklessness of his statement of 2 weeks ago.

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