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Wednesday, 29 September 1971
Page: 1690

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) - I want to raise one matter briefly. Obviously the purpose of this amendment is to release from prison 3 men who quite obviously have proven beyond all reasonable doubt their conscientious objection to the National Service Act. The penalty of 2 years imprisonment, being reduced to 18 months, is an extremely severe penalty and one which is comparable with penalties for some of the major crimes in our community. In considering this clause I would ask the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) to inform the House, now or on the third reading of the Bill, what the situation is with these young men who are serving prison sentences and whom we are asking to be paroled, with regard to any future application they make to join the Commonwealth Public Service or any State Public Service. Are they to be considered as common criminals and to be denied the right of access to employment because they have had a conscientious objection to a piece of legislation which is seriously objected to by a very substantial portion of the Australian population?

If in fact, as appears to be the case at this stage, these young men are for the rest of their lives to be denied access to employment in the Commonwealth Public Service and other areas where a criminal record - this is what they have been provided with - is a bar to future employment then it is up to the Government, before we conclude the Committee stage of the Bill, to inform the House so that the Committee stage can be adjourned and consideration can be given to this point. Once they have served their sentence and been released from prison - as we are asking for in this clause - then their record of imprisonment should be completely wiped clean. They are not criminals. They have refused on the ground of conscience to participate in the national service scheme.

To compare this offence with assault and battery, robbery and other criminal acts is totally wrong and something which should not be tolerated. I ask the Minister to tell us before we conclude the Committee stage whether these men are to be denied access to the Commonwealth Public Service because of their incarceration and because of their conscientious objection. If this is so, will he agree to the Committee stage of the Bill being adjourned so that amendments can be brought forward to ensure that their criminal records are completely wiped clean and they will be fully entitled to the privileges of citizenship of this country?

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