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Wednesday, 30 May 1973
Page: 2878

Mr BARNARD (Bass) (Minister for Defence, Minister for the Navy, Minister for the Army, Minister for Air and Minister for Supply) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The Labor Government undertook on election to abolish conscription forthwith. It promised that there would be no further call-up of young men for national service in the Army under the National Service Act and all pending prosecutions would be discontinued. My first major action following my swearing in as a Minister on Tuesday, 5 December, was to do just this by administrative action. I approved the cancellation of call-up of some 2,200 men who had been medically examined and passed fit for service and were due to be called up at the end of January 1973. I directed that there should be no proclamations requiring any further age groups to register for national service under the National Service Act

In accordance with the powers vested in the Minister under the Act to grant deferment to classes of persons liable to render service under the Act, I deferred indefinitely the liability of all men who had not as at that date been enlisted for service in the Army. This affected the 2,200 men I have already mentioned, and another 30,000 men who subject to their fitness for service would have been included in future Army intakes. There were also some 8,000 men already serving in the Citizen Forces as an alternative to full time national service in the Army. Their liability for national service was also indefinitely deferred. At the same time I revoked all approvals for prosecution for offences against the provisions of the National Service Act.

As Minister I also confirmed arrangements which the Department of Labour and National Service had brought into effect on the Monday morning following the election. Besides taking no further action regarding the call-up and registration scheduled for January 1973, and in respect of prosecution, these arrangements provided that all national service medical examinations were to be cancelled forthwith, no further steps were to be taken to detect men who had defaulted in their obligations under the National Service Act, all investigations into apparent defaults were to be discontinued, and no warrants for apprehension of persons for breaches of the National Service Act or for non-payment of fines under the Act were to be executed, and the restriction requiring persons with a national service liability to obtain permission to leave Australia was waived. This action avoided a number of major problems which could otherwise have arisen in closing down national service.

The abolition of conscription is, however, too important a matter for it to continue to rest solely on administrative decision and administrative action. Conscription should not, moreover, be capable of reintroduction without the express need for legislation to be brought before, and passed by, this Parliament. The Government has decided that legislative effect should be given to the decision to abolish conscription which I as Minister took administratively. It is also not only confirming, but strengthening and* reinforcing, these decisions to ensure that they cannot be reversed administratively. The Bill is simple but far reaching in its effect. It legally terminates as from 5 December 1972 the liability of men to register for national service, whether it be full time or part time service on the Reserve - or in the CMF - on completion of the full time service. The date on which the new Government came into office was 5 December and I, as the Acting Minister for Labour and National Service, approved administrative action to end all call-up for national service.

The Government has not repealed the National Service Act primarily because it wishes to ensure preservation of the rights of those men who were serving at the date the Government assumed office, including those who have elected to continue their service under the provisions of the National Service Act. The men thus remain eligible for reinstatement in civil employment and for their reestablishment benefits. It is nonetheless the Government's intention to repeal the National Service Act just as soon as possible after all men have ceased to serve in the Army under the Act. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Dr Forbes) adjourned.

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