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Wednesday, 29 September 1971
Page: 1665

Dr KLUGMAN (Prospect) - I should like to raise a proposition in regard to the first amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) that there can be a conscientious objection not only to a particular war or war in general, but also to conscription itself. I think this is a point that has not been given an adequate airing in this place and it is certainly a point that this Government just does not seem to accept. I would argue very strongly that it is extremely important that we realise that conscription is an evil thing. If I recall accurately, the honourable member for Berowra (Mr Hughes) in a speech yesterday made points along those lines. He certainly made the point that no government liked to bring in conscription. I would certainly argue that conscription is an extremely evil thing. In fact, it is one of the points which I would hope differentiates our type of society from the types of societies the Government says it is trying to oppose in Vietnam and in other areas in the world. 1 feel very strongly on this point.

The honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) has spoken reapeatedly about the case of Geoffrey Mullen who is incarcerated at the present time. I think the point that must be made in this respect is that while originally he had strong objection mainly to the Vietnam war, it is quite clear that towards the end of his fight with the authorities his basic objection was to conscription. I should therefore like to quote some of the points that Geoffrey Mullen has made at different times during his fight, and finally the point he made when he was in gaol. In 1969 when he refused to attend a medical examination he was gaoled for 29 days. He said: 1 refuse to be conscripted as I consider that conscription is the first step towards a totalitarian Slate. If there be any difference between Australia and the Communist regimes that we hate, it should be that Australia shows some respect for individual liberties. Conscription narrows and for some obliterates this difference.

While I am opposed to the Australian intervention in Vietnam I feel that conscription and Vietnam are 2 separate issues; I would reject conscription even if it were not for the Vietnam war.

I think this is an important point. One can oppose conscription quite apart from opposing the Vietnam war. In a letter which he sent from gaol - I am not sure whether it was written during the term of his present incarceration or the previous period I have just referred to; I rather feel it was the previous one - he said: 1 am in gaol and I suppose all the official records will say that I am a criminal. I might, of course,, plead that I have a moral duty to oppose conscription; while, at the same time, the government has the legal duty to imprison me.

In this way I might see myself, and be seen, as a morale young man who takes gaol and suffering upon himself to forge a way to a better Australia. But this is not ' so. 1 don't really give a bugger about moral or legal systems, governments, religions, better worlds, pie in the sky' or anything like that.. I want solely to live my life, without unreasonable interference or interfering, now. And .to my mind, conscription is an unreasonable interference in any man's life. Not even 'freedom and democracy' can justify the taking of a conscript's freedom.

I think it is important to raise this point: There is an objection to conscription quite separate from objection to the Vietnam war, I think it will probably be remembered that Geoff Mullen was brought up as a Catholic. He attended Waverley College. He was a supporter of the Australian Democratic Labor Party when he first attended university and in his last year at school. Then a certain change came over him. May I read part of a letter which I sent to the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) in May of this year when I appealed to him to release Geoff Mullen. I will not read the whole letter. At the beginning of the letter, I made a number of points. I put forward certain arguments in favour of releasing Geoff Mullen. I then went on:

Knowing you-

That is, Mr Lynch -

I have no doubt that you regret the incarceration of people for their beliefs and I hope therefore that you will take the necessary steps to give a court the opportunity to decide whether Geoff Mullen should be treated as a conscientious objector. 1 then went on to make certain other points about Geoff Mullen and to give certain background information about Mullen from an article that appeared in the Bulletin'. The letter continued:

Geoff Mullen appears to have joined that stream (? trickle) of Catholic dissenters to the authoritarianism present even in our 'free enterprise' democracies, which I am sure you admire in those living under worse conditions in the Communist countries.

I concluded - speaking for myself as a nonbeliever - by saying:

.   . may I say that they are some of the most attractive people in this world of ours.

I was sorry to receive a letter, not from the Minister for Labour and National Service who, 1 think, had gone overseas, but from the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Bury) who was acting as the Minister for Labour and National Service, which completely ignored my arguments and concentrated on the legal position. It is extremely important to remember that there are many people who are basically the most democratic people in our society, who are more concerned about democracy than almost anybody else, who do more for democracy to continue to exist in our society, but who are being turned off by our sort of society and by the actions of this Government. It is easy to force those sorts of people to put up an argument that there is no great difference between the society in North Vietnam and our type of society. I am sorry when I hear them say that, because there is a significant difference. There is such a qualitative difference between the amount of oppression in North Vietnam and in this country that it makes a qualitative difference also.

At the same time we cannot be surprised that those people do say: 'What is the difference? You will be put in gaol in Australia for 2 years and in North Vietnam you will probably go to gaol for 10 years or you may be executed. But what is the basic difference? If you disagree with the Government that is where you finish in both places'. I strongly appeal to the Government. I know it will not accept our first amendment to abolish conscription but I sincerely hope that it will accept certain amendments dealing with the type of conscientious objection which should be allowed to enable those with that objection to opt out of military service. Speaking for myself I would argue that the amendments should be even wider than those that are to be proposed because I certainly feel very strongly that a conscientious objection to being conscripted is probably one of the most important conscientious objections that should be upheld in our type of society. I support the first amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

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