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Conscription in Australia, also known as National Service following the Second World War, has a controversial history in the country which dates back to the implementation of compulsory military training and service in the first years of nationhood. Military conscription for peacetime service was abolished in 1972.
However, in times of war, the Defence Act 1903 allows the Governor-General of Australia to authorise conscription for service in the Defence Force, provided it is approved by the Parliament of Australia within 90 days.
In 1909, the Deakin government introduced an amendment to the Defence Act 1903 , the Defence Act 1909, which allowed for a form of conscription for boys from 12 to 14 years of age and for youths of 18 to 20 years of age for the purposes of home defence. The Act, which passed with the combined support of the Protectionist Party and the Australian Labor Party, did not allow soldiers to be conscripted for overseas service.
Following recommendations arising from a visit to Australia by Field Marshal Kitchener to report on the country's defence readiness, the Australian Labor Party government instituted a system of compulsory military training for all males aged between 12 and 26 from 1 January 1911.
John Barrett, in his study of boyhood conscription, Falling In, noted:
In 1911 there were approximately 350,000 boys of an age (10–17 years) to register for compulsory training up to the end of 1915. Since 'universal' was a misnomer, about half that number were exempted from training, or perhaps never registered, reducing the group to 175,000.
There was quite extensive opposition to the so-called "boy conscription". By July 1915, there had been about 34,000 prosecutions and 7,000 detentions of trainees, parents, employers or other persons required to register.
Under Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes, full conscription for overseas service was attempted during the First World War in two plebiscites.
The first plebiscite was held on 28 October 1916 and narrowly rejected conscription with a margin of 49% for and 51% against.The plebiscite of 28 October 1916 asked Australians:
Are you in favour of the Government having, in this grave emergency, the same compulsory powers over citizens in regard to requiring their military service, for the term of this War, outside the Commonwealth, as it now has in regard to military service within the Commonwealth?
A second plebiscite was held on 20 December 1917 and defeated by 46% for and 54% against. This question was put to Australians:
Are you in favour of the proposal of the Commonwealth Government for reinforcing the Commonwealth Forces overseas?
After the failure of the first plebiscite, Billy Hughes and his supporters left the Australian Labor Party parliamentary caucus and took with them a good deal of the parliamentary party's talent.They created a new National Labor Party, and Hughes survived as prime minister by forming a conservative Nationalist government, which was dependent for survival on the Commonwealth Liberal Party. The remainder of the Labor Party, under the new leader, Frank Tudor, then expelled Hughes and all of those who had followed him. Following the split, Labor stayed out of office for ten years.
After the first plebiscite, the government used the War Precautions Act and the Unlawful Associations Act to arrest and prosecute anti-conscriptionists such as Tom Barker, the editor of Direct Action and many other members of the Industrial Workers of the World and E. H. Coombe, who had three sons at the front, of the Daily Herald . The young John Curtin, then a member of the Victorian Socialist Party, was also arrested. Anti-conscriptionist publications, in one case, even when it was read into Hansard, were seized by government censors in police raids.
Other notable opponents to Conscription included the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Daniel Mannix, Queensland Labor Premier Thomas Ryan, Vida Goldstein and the Women's Peace Army.Most trade unions actively opposed conscription. Archbishop Mannix, born in County Clare, stated that Ireland had been more wronged by Great Britain than Belgium had been by Germany.
Many people thought positively of conscription as a sign of loyalty to Britain and thought that it would also support those men who were already fighting. However, trade unions feared that their members might be replaced by cheaper foreign or female labour and so opposed conscription. Some groups argued that the whole war was immoral, and it was unjust to force people to fight.
South Africa and India were the only other participating countries not to introduce conscription during the First World War.
The conscription issue deeply divided Australia with large meetings held both for and against. The women's vote was seen as important, with large women's meetings and campaign information from both sides aimed at women voters. The campaigning for the first plebiscite was launched by Hughes at a huge overflow meeting at the Sydney Town Hall, where he outlined the government's proposals.That was followed by a huge pro-conscription meeting at the Melbourne Town Hall on 21 September.
Anti-conscriptionists, especially in Melbourne, were also able to mobilise large crowds, with a meeting filling the Exhibition Building on 20 September 1916; – an immense crowd of about 60,000 people gathered at Swanston St between Guild Hall and Princes Bridge, and for upwards of an hour the street was a surging area of humanity". An anti-conscription stop work meeting called by five trade unions held on the Yarra Bank mid-week on 4 October attracted 15,000 people. It was passed on 21 September 1916, and mandatory registration and enrolment commenced while the first plebiscite campaign was underway. By 5 October, The Age reported that of 11607 men examined, 4581 were found fit, approximately 40 percent.30,000 people on the Yarra bank on Sunday, 15 October, and 25,000 the following week; a "parade of women promoted by the United Women's No-Conscription Committee
The Age noted in the article "Influence of the IWW" that "the great bulk of the opposition to conscription is centred in Victoria".Many meetings in inner Melbourne and Sydney were disrupted by anti-conscriptionists with speakers being howled down from the audience in what The Age described as "disgraceful exhibition" and "disorderly scenes".
The issue deeply divided the Labor Party, with ministers such as Hughes and George Pearce vigorously arguing the need for conscription for Australia to help the Allies win the war. They were supported by many within the party, including Labor's first prime minister, Chris Watson and NSW Labor Premier William Holman. Hughes denounced anti-conscriptionists as traitors and a climate of bitter sectarianism developed since most Roman Catholics opposed conscription and most others supported it.
By the end of the war in November 1918, a total of 416,809 men had voluntarily enlisted in the Army, representing 38.7 percent of the white male population aged between 18 and 44.
On 1 November 1929, the mandatory service provisions of the Defence Act were suspended, and after 18 years, conscription for home defence had come to an end.
In 1939, at the start of World War II, all unmarried men aged 21 were to be called up for three months' military training. The men could serve only in Australia or its territories. Conscription was effectively introduced in mid-1942, when all men aged 18–35 and single men aged 35–45 were required to join the Citizen Military Forces (CMF). Volunteers with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) scorned CMF conscripts as "chocolate soldiers", or "chockos", because they were believed to melt under the conditions of battle, or it might be an allusion to George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man in which Bluntschli filled his backpack with chocolate bars, rather than ammunition. However, several CMF Militia units fought under difficult conditions, suffered extremely high casualties in 1942 and slowed the Japanese advance on the Kokoda Track in New Guinea, then an Australian territory.
The Papuan campaign of 1942 led to a significant reform in the composition of the Australian Army. During the campaign, the restriction banning CMF personnel from serving outside Australian territory hampered military planning and caused tensions between the AIF and CMF. In late 1942 and early 1943, Prime Minister John Curtin overcame opposition within the Australian Labor Party to extending the geographic boundaries in which conscripts could serve to include most of the South West Pacific, and the necessary legislation was passed in January 1943.The 11th Brigade was the only CMF formation to serve outside Australian territory, however, when it formed part of Merauke Force in the Dutch East Indies in 1943 and 1944.
In 1951, during the Korean War, national service was introduced under the National Service Act 1951 . All Australian males aged 18 had to register for 176 days training (99 days full-time) and two years in the CMF. Later, the obligation was 140 days of training (77 days full-time) and three years of service in the CMF. The regular military forces were kept as voluntary. In 1957, the system was changed to emphasise skill rather than numbers. The system was ended in 1959.
In 1964, compulsory national service for 20-year-old males was introduced under the National Service Act 1964 . The selection of conscripts was made by a sortition or lottery draw based on date of birth, and conscripts were obligated to give two years of continuous full-time service, followed by a further three years on the active reserve list. The full-time service requirement was reduced to 18 months in October 1971.
The Defence Act was amended May 1964 to provide that national servicemen could be obliged to serve overseas, a provision that had been applied only once before, during World War II. The 1964 amendments applied only to the permanent military forces and excluded the Citizen Military Forces. In 1965, the Defence Act was again amended to require the CMF to serve overseas, which had not been included in the 1964 amendments. "Defence Act 1965". Federal Register of Legislation. Office of Parliamentary Counsel (Australia). Section 16. Retrieved 26 January 2023. In March 1966, the government announced that national servicemen would be sent to South Vietnam to fight in units of the Australian Regular Army and for secondment to American forces. Requirements for overseas service were detailed by the Minister for the Army, Malcolm Fraser, on 13 May 1966. Men who wished to avoid national service could join the Citizen Military Forces and serve only inside Australia, claim a student deferment or attempt a conscientious objection application. To be exempted on the basis of conscientious objection, an applicant needed to demonstrate his moral objection to "all" wars in court and to be legalised as a pacifist. That meant that the rate of success for conscientious objection applications was generally low.[ citation needed ]
During the late 1960s, domestic opposition to the Vietnam War and conscription grew in Australia. In 1965, a group of concerned Australian women formed the anti-conscription organisation Save Our Sons, which was established in Sydney with other branches later formed in Wollongong, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Newcastle and Adelaide. The movement protested against conscription of Australians to fight in the Vietnam War and made the plight of men under 21, who were not yet eligible to vote, a focus of their campaign. In 1970, five Save-Our-Sons women were jailed in Melbourne for handing out anti-conscription pamphlets on government property. The group, which included Jean Maclean, Irene Miller and Jo Maclaine-Ross, was dubbed "The Fairlea Five" after Fairlea women's prison in which they were incarcerated. [ citation needed ]Barbara Miller is understood to be related to the decorated conscript Simon Anderson, who mysteriously disappeared in 1970.
Young men who were subject to the conscription lottery also formed their own anti-conscription organisation, the Youth Campaign Against Conscription. Like Save Our Sons, it spread to other states: New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia. It was the YCAC that imported the concept of draft-card burning from the United States and ushered in a new form of resistance to conscription, active non-compliance. Instead of merely not registering (passive non-compliance with the National Service Scheme), the young conscripts actively demonstrated their distaste for the government's actions by destroying their registration cards. Unlike in the United States, that was not legal[ citation needed ] and so its importance remained symbolic.
There were several high-profile controversies caused by the government's heavy-handed treatment of conscientious objectors, including William White and Simon Townsend (who later became a well-known television personality).In 1969 the Gorton administration was severely embarrassed by a renowned This Day Tonight story in which a conscientious objector, who had been on the run from police for several months, was interviewed live in the studio by the journalist Richard Carleton, who then posed awkward questions to the Army Minister about why TDT had been able to locate the man within hours and bring him to the studio when the federal police had been unable to capture him, and the event was made even more embarrassing for the government because the man was able to leave the studio before the police had arrived to arrest him.
By 1969, public opinion was turning against the war. A Gallup Poll in August showed that 55 percent of those surveyed favoured bringing Australian troops home, and only 40 percent favoured them staying. That was the first poll to show less than 50% approval for the government's policy, and all polls after August 1969 were to reveal a majority in favour of bringing the troops home. In October, during his policy speech for the 1969 federal elections, the opposition leader, Gough Whitlam, declared that if elected, the ALP would make sure that all Australian troops in Vietnam would be home 'by Christmas'.
Around then, opposition to conscription became more radical. Active non-compliers began to call themselves "draft resisters". Instead of waiting to be called up, draft resisters wrote letters to the Minister for National Service detailing their intention not to comply with conscription. Under law, that immediately rendered them liable for service. A number of these young men formed a draft resisters' union, active in at least two states: New South Wales and Victoria. They included men such as Bob Scates and Michael Hamel-Green.They went underground while maintaining a public presence, appeared at protests and were spirited away by the crowd before they could be arrested. In December 1972, while 'underground' as a draft resister, Barry Johnson stood as the Australian Labor Party (ALP) candidate in the seat of Hotham against Minister Don Chipp.
Australian government cabinet documents released by Australian National Archives in 2001 show that in 1970, the conservative government was initially concerned about the growth of conscientious objection and of outright opposition to the National Service Act. Reportedly, the cabinet considered instituting an option of alternative civilian work program for conscientious objectors in an attempt to reduce the numbers of objectors going to jail. That was never instituted but was widely rumoured at the time. Such work would have been menial labouring jobs in remote locations such as north and western Queensland, western New South Wales and northern South Australia.
In Cabinet Submission Number 200 for 1970, Appendix 1,case studies of 17 men awaiting prosecution for failure to undertake service show a broad spectrum of opposition to conscription including:
The documents reveal that draft resistance and draft dodging never posed a threat to the number of conscripts required, but the public opposition by draft resisters such as John Zarb, Michael Matteson and Robert Martin had an increasingly-political effect. Conscription ended in December 1972,and the remaining seven men in Australian prisons for refusing conscription were freed in mid-to-late December 1972. ef 63,735 national servicemen served in the Army, of whom 15,381 were deployed to Vietnam. Approximately 200 were killed.
Conscription is the state-mandated enlistment of people in a national service, mainly a military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and it continues in some countries to the present day under various names. The modern system of near-universal national conscription for young men dates to the French Revolution in the 1790s, where it became the basis of a very large and powerful military. Most European nations later copied the system in peacetime, so that men at a certain age would serve 1–8 years on active duty and then transfer to the reserve force.
The Nationalist Party, also known as the National Party, was an Australian political party. It was formed on 17 February 1917 from a merger between the Commonwealth Liberal Party and the National Labor Party, the latter formed by Prime Minister Billy Hughes and his supporters after the 1916 Labor Party split over World War I conscription. The Nationalist Party was in government until electoral defeat in 1929. From that time it was the main opposition to the Labor Party until it merged with pro-Joseph Lyons Labor defectors to form the United Australia Party (UAP) in 1931. The party is a direct ancestor of the Liberal Party of Australia, the main centre-right party in Australia.
A conscientious objector is an "individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service" on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion. The term has also been extended to objecting to working for the military–industrial complex due to a crisis of conscience. In some countries, conscientious objectors are assigned to an alternative civilian service as a substitute for conscription or military service.
William Morris Hughes was an Australian politician who was the seventh prime minister of Australia, in office from 1915 to 1923. He is best known for leading the country during World War I, but his influence on national politics spanned several decades. Hughes was a member of federal parliament from Federation in 1901 until his death, the only person to have served for more than 50 years. He represented six political parties during his career, leading five, outlasting four, and being expelled from three.
The Conscription Crisis of 1917 was a political and military crisis in Canada during World War I. It was mainly caused by disagreement on whether men should be conscripted to fight in the war, but also brought out many issues regarding relations between French Canadians and English Canadians. Almost all French Canadians opposed conscription; they felt that they had no particular loyalty to either Britain or France. Led by Henri Bourassa, they felt their only loyalty was to Canada. English Canadians supported the war effort as they felt stronger ties to the British Empire. On January 1, 1918, the Unionist government began to enforce the Military Service Act. The act caused 404,385 men to be liable for military service, from which 385,510 sought exemption.
A conscription crisis is a public dispute about a policy of conscription, or mandatory service in the military, known in US English as a "draft". A dispute can become a crisis when submission to military service becomes highly controversial and popular revolt ensues. From the point of view of military officials, the crisis is one of supply; where they may claim to lack enough troops to accomplish a military objective, and have, to some degree, lost control of their political ability to enforce existing conscription law.
The Australian Army Reserve is a collective name given to the reserve units of the Australian Army. Since the Federation of Australia in 1901, the reserve military force has been known by many names, including the Citizens Forces, the Citizen Military Forces, the Militia and, unofficially, the Australian Military Forces. In 1980, however, the current name—Australian Army Reserve—was officially adopted, and it now consists of a number of components based around the level of commitment and training obligation that its members are required to meet.
Military service is service by an individual or group in an army or other militia, air forces, and naval forces, whether as a chosen job (volunteer) or as a result of an involuntary draft (conscription).
In the United States, military conscription, commonly known as the draft, has been employed by the U.S. federal government in six conflicts: the American Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The fourth incarnation of the draft came into being in 1940, through the Selective Training and Service Act. It was the country's first peacetime draft. From 1940 until 1973, during both peacetime and periods of conflict, men were drafted to fill vacancies in the U.S. Armed Forces that could not be filled through voluntary means. Active conscription in the United States ended in 1973, when the U.S. Armed Forces moved to an all-volunteer military. However, conscription remains in place on a contingency basis and all male U.S. citizens, regardless of where they live, and male immigrants, whether documented or undocumented, residing within the United States, who are 18 through 25 are required to register with the Selective Service System. United States federal law also continues to provide for the compulsory conscription of men between the ages of 17 and 45 and certain women for militia service pursuant to Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution and 10 U.S. Code § 246.
The National Labor Party was formed by Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes in 1916, following the 1916 Labor split on the issue of World War I conscription in Australia. Hughes had taken over as leader of the Australian Labor Party and Prime Minister of Australia when anti-conscriptionist Andrew Fisher resigned in 1915. He formed the new party for himself and his followers after he was expelled from the ALP a month after the 1916 plebiscite on conscription in Australia. Hughes held a pro-conscription stance in relation to World War I.
The 1916 Australian referendum on compulsory military service was held on 28 October 1916. It was the first non-binding Australian referendum, and contained one question. This referendum was held due to Prime Minister Billy Hughes' desire to conscript young Australian men for overseas service during World War I. It was conducted under the Military Service Referendum Act 1916.
The 1917 Australian plebiscite was held on 20 December 1917. It contained one question.
Compulsory military training (CMT), a form of conscription, was practised for males in New Zealand between 1909 and 1972. Military training in New Zealand has been voluntary before then and ever since.
The National Service Act 1964 (Cth) is a repealed amendment of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, passed on 24 November 1964. It amended the National Service Act 1951 to require 20-year-old males to serve in the Army for a period of twenty-four months of continuous service followed by three years in the Reserve.
The End Conscription Campaign was an anti-apartheid organisation allied to the United Democratic Front and composed of conscientious objectors and their supporters in South Africa. It was formed in 1983 to oppose the conscription of all white South African men into military service in the South African Defence Force.
Opposition to World War I included socialist, anarchist, syndicalist, and Marxist groups on the left, as well as Christian pacifists, Canadian and Irish nationalists, women's groups, intellectuals, and rural folk.
In the United Kingdom, military conscription has existed for two periods in modern times. The first was from 1916 to 1920, and the second from 1939 to 1960. The last conscripted soldiers left the service in 1963. It was legally designated as "Military Service" from 1916 to 1920, and as "National Service" from 1939 to 1960. However, between 1939 and 1948, it was often referred to as "War Service" in documents relating to National Insurance and pension provision.
During the second half of World War I, the First Australian Imperial Force experienced a shortage of men as the number of men volunteering to fight overseas declined and the casualty rate increased. At the time, military service within the Commonwealth of Australia and its territories was compulsory for Australian men, but that requirement did not extend to conflict outside of Australia. In 1916, Prime Minister Billy Hughes called a plebiscite to determine public support for extending conscription to include military service outside the Commonwealth for the duration of the war. The referendum, held on 28 October 1916, narrowly rejected the proposal. A second plebiscite, held a year later on 20 December 1917, also failed to gain a majority.
A construction soldier was a non-combat role of the National People's Army, the armed forces of the German Democratic Republic, from 1964 to 1990. Bausoldaten were conscientious objectors who accepted conscription but refused armed service and instead served in unarmed construction units. Bausoldaten were the only legal form of conscientious objection in the Warsaw Pact.
In November 1917 during World War I, the Australian Government conducted a raid on the Queensland Government Printing Office in Brisbane. The aim of the raid was to confiscate any copies of the Hansard, the official parliamentary transcript, which documented anti-conscription sentiments that had been aired in the state's parliament.