Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 28 September 1971
Page: 1553

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) - We have heard an interesting, one-sided summary of history by the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess). He quoted from some pre-war speeches by honourable members who were at that time on this side of the House. 1 remember one quote from a speech by the then Leader of the Opposition. Mr Curtin, in 1936 which was completely ridiculed by members of the Government of that day. The Minister for Defence in particular included references to the important need for Australia to develop air defences - that was not entirely backward thinking in 1936 - and to the fact that it was evident even at that time that Australia could not expect assistance from the United Kingdom in the event of any future war and would have to look elsewhere. The statements which we heard this afternoon from the honourable member for La Trobe in relation to the United States of America were very much like those of that day. The then Minister ridiculed the suggestion that the United Kingdom would not be able to come to our aid. The United Kingdom has always come to our aid and will always be there in the future, were the ringing words of confidence before this House. We now have the benefit of hindsight and we all know that that was not the fact.

I think we all know in our hearts that the United States is going home from Asia and is going to stay home from Asia. It would be only in the event of a global war that we could expect the United States to come back into Asia in a military capacity. The events, in which Australia played a major part, involving the United States in the land war in Asia have cost us the future possible support of the United States in any defence situation. It is possibly significant that the present Prime Minister (Mr Mc Mahon) on Armistice Day in 1964, introduced national service in its present form. The night before in this Parliament the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, had explained exactly why it was necessary and in fact critical for a 2-year period to be the minimum length of service. According to the Prime Minister, it took at least 6 months for recruit and corps training. Allowing for time for transfers, reassimilation and leave, it was necessary that a 2-year period be fixed in order that a minimum of 12 months effective service be provided to the Army by the national servicemen.

If that was true in 1964 1 would be interested to know why it is not true today. It seems to me that if we are going to reduce the period by 6 months some real reasons should be given why and how this can be done without actually reducing the effective period of service of national servicemen. We are all aware of the real reason why the reduction is taking place, and this makes the speech of the honourable member for La Trobe the most cynical of speeches.

The reason why the 6 months reduction is taking place is that the Government could not finance its defence expenditure with a 2-year period of national service and found that the cheapest and easiest way out was to reduce the period, by 6 months, to 18 months, lt is purely a budgetary reduction in the period of national service. That budgetary reduction, when 6 months can be cut off the period purely to satisfy the political requirements of drafting an annual Budget, shows just how seriously the Government treats the need for national service in our defence system. The honourable member for La Trobe made a number of other statements. He referred to the placing of forces in Singapore. He did not refer to the fact that in J 941 the forces were placed there without the benefit of air support and were placed there in a practically defenceless situation and, because of the manner in which they were supplied, were virtually in a suicidal position. We obtained no benefit whatsoever from that piece of forward defence, and if anyone can stand up in this House and suggest that that was in Australia's best interests I would like to hear him.

The primary amendment moved by the Opposition would have the effect of concluding the national service scheme and I think it is fair to say that that is the major object of the Opposition in this debate. I believe it is academic to argue whether a professional army of 28,000 men is as effective as or more effective than an army consisting of 28,000 professional soldiers and 12,000 national servicemen who, if the former Prime Minister's words are to be believed, have an effective service life of 6 months. I would suggest that this changing of personnel must have the effect of diluting the effective strength of the service. The honourable member for La Trobe has suggested that China has the atomic bomb and therefore it is necessary to have 12,000 extra men. I am not exactly sure how 12,000 national servicemen will stop atomic weapons from being utilised or being effective in a war. I am quite sure that if we did face a situation in which China had the transport capacity to challenge Australia in a war 12,000 men would not make a great deal of difference. Transport capacity would be about the only real criterion involved.

The other important matter which comes into this debate is that of conscientious objection and moral obligation. There appears to be on the Government side some suggestion that 20-year olds have a moral obligation to serve in the armed forces because the defence of the country is involved. There is no moral obligation placed on those persons who engage in business and commerce and there is no moral obligation placed on any section of the Australian community other than those male persons who are or will in the future reach the age of 20 - and possibly their wives, mothers and fathers. If morality is the question then where is the morality in choosing a significantly small proportion of the community to carry the entire burden of defence or, as the honourable member for La Trobe put it, effective defence because - if his speech means anything - we have ineffective defence' if we have only 28,000 men.

It is necessary, according to the Government, that 12,000 young men should spend 18 months in the Army in order to provide us with effective defence. The fact is that this could destroy their future career opportunities. I recognise that there are provisions which require that they be given back their jobs after they return to civilian life. These provisions are not really effective and it is not very difficult for employers to get around them. In normal circumstances we can expect, especially with young men who are seeking promotion in the major companies and in fields of business, that other people who have not had to take up service will have had the opportunities during those 2 years and will have taken the advancement which should have been available to the national servicemen. In those fields opportunities are not lost for 2 years, they are lost forever. I have a case before me at the moment of a young man who has recently commenced operating a one-man business. He has been called up for national service, and irrespective of what deferments he obtains and how long they extend the penalty for serving will be the destruction of his business forever - not just for a few weeks, but forever - because there is no way in which he can serve 18 months and still carry on his business.

There is also some serious lack of morality in a situation in which we call on young men to train to kill their fellow human beings, not in defence of their country but in defence of the political policies of the government of the day. Today we do not hear anyone, other than possibly members such as the honourable member for La Trobe, suggesting that the Vietnam war was in defence of Australia.

It was in defence of the political judgments of the Government, but to suggest that it was in the actual defence of Australia is, I think, stretching the imagination a long way. It was fashionable in 1966 to suggest that the Chinese were coming. In fact, 1 remember those pamphlets portraying arrows pointing down to Australia. 1 remember one former member of this House saying that it was only 2 hours flying time from Saigon to Australia. That is most likely true, but completely irrelevant to the situation, lt was good hysterical stuff. But the fact of the matter is that no-one seriously suggests that Australian troops were or are in Vietnam in defence of Australia. If there is any reason at all they are there to meet the political commitments of the Government and no other reason could seriously be advanced.

There are in the community people who have objections to serving in military forces. There are also people in the community who have objections to killing their fellow men, and the requirements which exist at this time for establishing conscientious objection are not only that a person must object to killing his fellow man but also that he must object to defending his country in any circumstances. I suggest that this is totally unreal. It is quite possible and understandable that a young man would defend his mother, for instance, if she was attacked and would defend his country if he felt it was in dire danger but would not be . prepared to take the same types of actions to maim and kill his fellow man in defence of political judgments with which he may or may not agree. It is totally unreal to suggest that there cannot be genuine conscientious objection to serving in a particular war or serving in a particular set of circumstances.

Unfortunately we have had foisted upon us policies which have now proven not to have been in the best interests of Australia but which have created a situation which is one of the most divisive in Australia's political history, which have created extreme bitterness among large sections of the Australian community - I suggest needlessly - and which the Government now proposes to continue but with a reduction of the national service period by 6 months not because it believes that 2 years is not necessary, not because it believes that 13 months is the ideal period, but because its budgetary requirements demand that the period of 2 years becomes 18 months. For that completely cynical reason a large proportion of the Australian population will be forced to serve in the Australian Army and, if the position of the honourable member for La Trobe is to be accepted, they are to be forced to serve in order to provide cannon fodder for the Army. The honourable member for La Trobe suggested that the 28,000 regular soldiers would provide about 3,000 front line troops. So we can assume that we are in fact not calling men up to provide balanced sections of the Army but for the single purpose of providing the people who will do the shooting and be shot at. Apparently the Regular Army is the train-, ing, background and logistic support for national servicemen who, in the effective 6 months period which they will serve will be asked to carry any future defence of Australia. That is the import of what the honourable member for La Trobe said, and it is the only judgment which can be made of his statements.

A very small number of conscientious objectors are serving terms of imprisonment because they happened to disagree with a political policy to the extent that they were not prepared to comply with what is a fairly restrictive and demanding law which applies to only a very small section of the community. These men have to face extremely unsympathetic courts. I suggest to some Government supporters who believe that it is easy to be a conscientious objector that they should see some of the treatment which it meted out to some of these men in the courts after they have refused to undergo national service. Brutality is the watchword. Where the judge is sympathetic the defendant is usually dealt with extremely well. Unfortunately a lot of people in the legal profession appear to have the old colonial attitude that a term in the Army will make a man out of a person. Where the predisposition of the court is to judge that a man is trying to avoid his responsibilities, or where the court fails to accept the fact that there are people who disagree with a point of view, a conscientious objector is in a totally hopeless position. We have heard this from Government supporters, one of whom was the honourable member for La Trobe who was most definite on this point. There is no way in which he can justify or prove his claim to he a conscientious objector because he will not be allowed by the court to do so unless he is so passive that he is prepared to stand and say that he would see his mother beaten to death by a hoodlum without objecting. This is not the test of conscientious objection. I believe this is merely a device to prevent people from using this type of plea in order to avoid national service.

The clauses in the Bill relating to conscientious objection are important. Although there are in excess of 100 minor wars going on in the world at the moment, it is a time of relative peace. I believe that our laws could be framed in such a way as to ensure that justice is done and not only appears to be done. I do not believe thai the prime objective of any government should be to convict people for their beliefs or to make it impossible for people to practice their beliefs. I believe that the prime objective of any government should be to cater for these beliefs when they are genuinely held. Many of our conscientious objectors do hold genuine beliefs. It is also true that because of the operation of the conscientious objection provisions in this Bill there are numerous young men who will not even attempt to claim conscientious objection because they know the type of hearing they will get before the courts. This situation is wrong and I believe that this Government should deal with it in a far more sympathetic manner. It is my belief that in the preparation of its Budget the Government has proved beyond all doubt the lack of need for a continuation of the National Service Act. The provisions of this Act have had the effect of reducing the morale of the men in the Citizen Military Forces almost to nil because of the lack of opportunities and lack of importance given to that Service. This Act has bad the effect of reducing recruitment for the Regular Army. It has also had the effect of causing divisions within our community.

The Government has said that it cannot raise a volunteer Army. The Government has failed to enlist two-thirds of persons seeking to enlist in the Army. Many of those who have been rejected for service in the Regular Army have subsequently been accepted for national service. No genuine explanation has been given for its anomaly.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Cope)Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

Sitting suspended from 5.55 to 8 p.m.

Suggest corrections