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Friday, 30 October 1970

Mr BRYANT (Wills) - by leaveI move:

That regulation 2 of the amendments of the National Service Regulations, as contained in Statutory Rules 1970, No. 116, and made under the National Service Act 1951-1968, be disallowed.

The general position of the Australian Labor Party regarding the National Service Act and the national service system is well known. Although it is not the time to canvass that subject, it is worth while considering some of the principles that have to be implemented by regulation, of which the national service system is one. This afternoon we are faced with the continuing search by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Snedden) and his Department for an equitable answer to a totally inequitable system. One might say that it is the impossible search for the squaring of the circle. We see another instance of it this afternoon.

On the surface the implications of this fairly simple and reasonable looking amendment lead one to say: 'Perhaps in the first instance I ought to support it as it stands.' That brings me to the point about the method by which this House examines the regulations. As a general rule, in the ordinary course of events, day by day, they come to honourable members as they are churned out by the administrative machinery. They are examined, on some occasions, in a cursory way by honourable members. In other cases they are given a thorough examination. Unfortunately, it is often left to the other House through its system to give a thorough examination to the ordinances and regulations. This House should examine that system very thoroughly. The Senate seems to be creeping in front of us in matters of parliamentary government.

As is the custom with most legislation, the power to make regulations concerning the national service system is conferred upon the Minister and the Department. In this system we are dealing with people in the absolute. One might say that the end result is the sacrifice of some person for the nation's cause. Therefore we ought to limit as absolutely as possible the discretionary power of the Department wherever it Rows through the national service system. We. on this side of the House find ourselves in a dilemma about this. We have on the one hand the natural disinclination to have anything to do with the national service system and, on the other, if the system is to be altered to include or exclude somebody we want to see the contradictions removed. In this instance an examination of the system leads one to believe, and has led my Party to decide, that these regulations ought to be opposed. The regulations provide for a widening of the dragnet so that it can pick up a few more people. It might not pick up very many people. It might not have been worth the administrative exercise in the Department, ft might not even gather in another 6, 8, 10 or 15 people to the armed services, reluctant as they may be to serve.

For some people these regulations will lead to more worry, more hardship, more doubt and more concern. Therefore the Opposition believes that they ought to be rejected. More people are going to be upset. A handful of students are going to be picked up by this system in which so many have escaped. I think it ought to bc salutary for us in the Parliament to consider what we are doing in that regard. The Minister has not told us how many people will be caught by the dragnet as a result of this - we will not pick up the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) - when so many have escaped already. Of course this is part of the inequitable nature of the whole system. Under the national service system 536,358 have registered up to 30th June this year. Over half a million young men have registered to serve. To that date only 43,061, much under 10 per cent, have been called up.

The system of deferments leaves open areas of discretion to the Ministry. One of the problems 1 pose to the Parliament in this regard is the mystery about administrative instructions. What kind of administrative instructions go forth? Under what instructions are the departments operating? The Opposition is not brought into enough of this in this Parliament, in any area. I am not making a particular criticism in this instance of the Minister for Labour and National Service, although when we put to him through his office a request that some officer from his Department should come before our party committee, and explain exactly what was meant by the 2 complicated amendments that were before us, he was reluctant. I am not saying that he would have refused in the end, but we made a request that an officer be made available before the party committee to examine the 2 paramount questions involved in these regulations. The first one was with regard to the Minister's discretionary power on conscientious objection, which was discussed yesterday in the other place. The other one concerned the technicalities involved in the regulations.

I have been in this Parliament for 15 years. This is only the second time I can recall that any Minister has felt inhibited or doubtful about letting officers of his Department come before us to discuss these matters. So I lay my small protest on the table in this regard. The other point is, of course, the complicated legalism that flows from a consideration of regulations. Most of the members of this Parliament are fairly literate. Many of them have had a good deal of experience in handling legislation. But I defy honourable members, and anybody else for that matter, to get hold of the National Service Act, the National Service Regulations and the amendments to them and make head or tail of them without anything less than a lengthy examination. We must resolve this question of the complicated legalism that flows as much from the power to make regulations and the method by which they are made as from the law itself.

We are considering here the question of student deferment. Students are a special body in the community in this regard. They get special rights because they are students. There are those, of course, who say that because they have special rights then the community has a right to impose special obligations upon them. In the situation of national service as it is presently implemented we on this side of the House must reject that. It seems to me there are 3 issues involved in the general question of student deferment. First of ail, there is the question of social equity, ls it right and proper that students should be deferred when others have to make the sacrifices? The other, and the one to which we on this side of the House would pay more attention, is: What is the position of the individual who is being caught up in the system as far as individual benefits are concerned? 1 suppose if we were in a state of war the thing we would place first would be the needs of the armed services, in particular the Army. I think it is the one we ought to put last in this particular situation but I have a feeling from questions that have been asked in this House and answers that have been given to them in the past few weeks, that it is the needs of the armed Services that are likely to come first.

What is happening here today is that the Regulations are being changed, as far as I can determine from an examination of them and through consultation with others, in such a way that those students who until now have been able to remain undergraduates until they were 26 years of age, and by so doing pass through the system without being caught for national service, will now be caught up in the dragnet. What we are facing this afternoon is: Do we want this handful of people, who so far have been able to pass through the system and perhaps escape national service, caught and brought in? We on this side of the House oppose the national service system root and branch and therefore we do not want anybody else brought in. We therefore oppose it from that standpoint.

But while we are considering this question this afternoon I think the House ought to examine the general question of students. We all find ourselves in what might be called a liberal dilemma, a small 1' liberal dilemma. I do wish the Party would change its name to something like Conservative' 'Reactionary* or whatever is the most appropriate nomenclature for the moment. So when 1 use the word 'liberal' it has nothing to do with the Australian political party which has the hide, the brass, the conceit, the arrogance and the cheek to opt for that name for itself. We would all say: 'Here is a universal system and everybody must be in.' Therefore, if everybody has to be in there are no deferments for anybody - students, hardship cases or anybody else.

We do not belong to that kind of community. There will always be compassionate considerations anc! hardship considerations. Of course, we could do something such as, 1 understand, the Swiss do. In Switzerland all those who do not serve have to pay an extra tax of some sort. But we do not opt for that either. So we have a situation in which we have decided that for the benefit of the individual, and probably more likely for the benefit of the community, the students ought to be able to complete their qualifications - get them out of the road - and then we will pick them up. There can be a lot of arguments against any sort of student deferment. I am not putting those arguments forward but they do highlight the inequitable nature of the whole system which is now before the House. For instance, as far as statistics show at the moment, and statistics are notably inadequate in all these areas, probably less than 2 per cent of sons of working class people get to a university and only about 10 per cent of university students come from working class areas, lt would be of great advantage to us, for instance, to know how many students per head of population in the universities of Melbourne come from the municipalities I represent, Brunswick and Coburg, and how many from, say, Balwyn and Kew. The odds are that there are more students from Balwyn and Kew in the university and more young men from Brunswick and Coburg in the Army because few of them can be deferred as students.

Mr Cohen - What about Bradfield?

Mr BRYANT - Yes, as a general rule they would be in the deferment bracket. The other point is that when we start deferring students we are probably starting to defer the fittest people, the ones from the most prosperous homes, the ones who could be most useful to the Army. So I am trying to highlight the difficulties that the whole system imposes, the continuing contradiction between values, human rights and the power of the State and the mystiques that have developed around the national service system.

This afternoon we are deliberating upon the proposition that the last few young people who have managed to get through the system because they have managed to remain undergraduates until they are 26 years old shall be caught up and shall not escape the Liberal Party's national service dragnet. This question of deferments of course also involves the personal discretionary decision of the Minister. This again, I believe, is something we ought to reject as much as possible when it comes to questions of such overwhelming importance to the very lives of the young people who are caught up in the national service system. At the moment it is difficult to know how many deferments have been granted. The Minister has not told us, although he did say this in his comments when he issued these Regulations:

There are some men who are liable to render service and not eligible for extended deferment but who might avoid call up until they pass the age of 26 when liability for service would cease. In the majority of cases they have actively sought to evade their obligations under the Act. The Regulations have been amended so they will be liable to serve until the age of 30.

The Minister has not told us how many of these people there are. The person who is still an undergraduate at the age of 26 is, of course, an exceptional person, lt is a very difficult proposition in these days, the way university quotas operate, to remain an undergraduate until you are 26 and also to have passed through the national service system. Therefore I think that this particular regulation ought to be rejected because it is of minute military importance and very little social significance to pick up another few people and so expand the national service dragnet. Therefore we on this side of the House believe that the regulation ought to be rejected. There are some other matters that are, of course, important when we are considering this question of the liability of anybody to serve after he reaches the age of 26. By the time men reach the age of 26 the odds are that they are married. In all probability they have a family, have launched upon a career and have started to become important social units. So not only are we disrupting the man's personal life, we are affecting his family, the work he does, his career and the society in which he is starting to play an active part. We are probably giving over to the Army people who are completely incompatible with a peace time army. It must be a strange and odd experience for a man of 26, now married with a home of his own, launched on a career and probably getting his foot somewhere up the ladder of the Public Service, the teaching service and so on, to go off to Puckapunyal. The young men there are only 5 or 6 years younger than he is but all their experience in life is completely different.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And someone grabs his girl friend.

Mr BRYANT - That is right. Our war time experience is no example because there we had a total community involvement. I believe that to concentrate any effort upon trying to pick up more people at the age of 26 is socially undesirable, militarily unnecessary and, of course, is contributing to the inequities of the whole system. While we on this side of. the House appreciate the administrative dilemma that the Government is in and that the Government wants to close up every hole in the system we believe there are more important issues at stake. Therefore as this regulation expands the system in that it captures a few more people and puts them into the system, it serves no useful purpose and should be rejected.

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