Personal Stories: Objector to Non-Complier

Some eligible men for military service under the 1964 National Service Act (NSA) were compliant and registered and sought exemption as a conscientious objector. At a later stage they decided that their conscientious beliefs required them to become a non-complier.

William Phillip Orrick White (Bill) was a Sydney schoolteacher who lived at Gladesville, New South Wales. He registered for military service under the NSA. He applied for full exemption from military duties on the grounds of conscientious objection. He was granted partial exemption from combatant duties only. He appealed and this was heard on 22 March 1966 by Judge Cameron-Smith. At the hearing Bill summarized his views as, Man’s chief purpose is to live – therefore the taking of human life is wrong and unjustifiable. I cannot with a clear conscience kill a person, or be part of any organisation that is able or willing to kill or make war, no matter how disconnected from actual that part may seem to be, for any individual part of such an organisation must be such as to increase the efficiency of the whole towards its end – that is to kill.[23] Despite this clear statement of conscientious belief the Judge ruled against him.

Bill refused to abide by the decision and continued teaching. He was then banned from the classroom by the School Principal. He was ordered to report to the Army at Watsons Bay. He refused to comply and waited at home for any action by the authorities. Increasingly it became apparent, even to the wider society, that Bill was a genuine conscientious objector. The NSW Teachers Federation worked to arrange the re-employment of Bill pending his appeal against his removal from the classroom. The NSW Department of Education then “sacked” Bill whilst his appeal was pending. Events took a dramatic turn and Bill was dragged from his home by three policeman witnessed by press, family and supporters. The photograph of his arrest has become emblematic of conscientious opposition to conscription. He was jailed in Holsworthy Military Corrective Detention during1966 for 21 days for his refusal to report at an army induction centre.  This was probably the first time the general public witnessed the consequences of a young man refusing to comply with the NSA. It received wide coverage by the media of the day and it generated bad publicity for the Australian government. His treatment was the subject of questions and debate in the Federal Parliament.  

Amnesty International was seriously considering declaring Bill to be declared a Prisoner of Conscience when he was finally given full exemption from military duties. Bill had made further application to be granted full exemption as a conscientious objector. This was the decision of magistrate CK Ward on 23 December 1966. His non-compliance had cost him $2000 in lost pay and legal fees not to mention the emotional cost.  Bill is an unusual example of someone who complied with the NSA, then became a non-complier and then became a complier again.[24]

Brian James Ross was from Richmond, Victoria and registered for national service with distaste during February 1967.  During July 1967 he informed Minister Bury he would not comply any further with the NSA and he returned his registration card. He was fined at the Orbost Court in Victoria on 6 March 1968 for his refusal to attend a medical examination. The magistrate allowed Brian to read a statement to the court which was principally an appeal to the Commonwealth Government to repeal the NSA. Brian stated, That to understand clearly the reason and logic of this stand it must be realized that I base it more on moral and spiritual realities (which must be regarded as primary), rather than on political or economic theories (which must be regarded as secondary).He summarised his main argument as, The extent to which a man is able to act on his desires and will is dependent on the degree of social liberty. However, liberty is far from being only this. Men are apt to think of liberty only in terms of their persona freedom to do what they want, but really liberty begins not with a claim but with a renunciation – the discipline of one’s self-respect and cherish liberty, worth and happiness of others. This is what I must accept, and this is why I am so determined to make a stand.[25] 

Brian was released from imprisonment on 21 September 1970. The Governor-General exercised his prerogative of mercy and remitted the balance of Brian’s two year sentence. This followed a report by Mr. Justice Smithers of the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court that in his view Brian had conscientious objector beliefs which did not enable him to render any form of military service.[26] The next day Brian appeared in the news print and television media urging those liable for national service to not comply. He stressed he was a non-complier not a conscientious objector and that he had never applied to be registered as a conscientious objector.[27]

Simon Townsend was a journalist from Potts Point, New South Wales. He registered under the NSA in February 1965. In late 1965 Simon applied to be fully exempted from military duties as a conscientious objector. In early 1966 Magistrate Rogers granted Simon partial exemption from combatant duties only. In the same year Simon appealed against Roger’s decision at the District Court but this was dismissed. In February 1967 Simon served a month at Long Bay Gaol for refusing to undertake a medical examination. He made a second application for full exemption but the magistrate refused to hear it on a technicality. The appeal against this refusal was also dismissed. As a consequence, in July 1967 Simon informed Minister Bury he would not now comply with the NSA and returned his registration card.

On 15 May 1968 Simon was charged with two offences in the Special Federal Court in Sydney. The magistrate allowed him to read to the court the correspondence he had sent to the Department of Labour and National Service and a statement which he had prepared for the court. Simon stated that, War is a crime against humanity and war will cease when man refuses to fight…I cannot do military training because I believe that preparation for war is as immoral as war itself.[28] Outside the court he was handed a call-up notice which was to begin on 20 March 1968 which he refused. He was then forcibly committed into the custody of the army. He refused to accompany the army officer waiting in the court. Two Commonwealth police officers were called and they escorted Simon under close arrest to an army facility.  He refused to obey army orders and was placed in an army prison at Ingleburn New South Wales.. There he slept in a room guarded by eight soldiers, two of whom in rotation had to stay awake. Simon was awoken every two hours to check on his “well-being”. This can be considered as sleep-deprivation torture.[29] Because of his continual refusal to obey orders Simon was court martialed on 22 May 1968. This resulted in a conviction and him being sentenced to two years jail at Sale,Victoria. Simon commented that, The Army does not want me of course but it can’t lose face by dishonorably discharging me.

The day before Simon was forcibly committed into the custody of the army he had made a third application to be registered as a conscientious objector. On 13 and 14 June 1968 his application was heard by Magistrate Hunt. After an extensive review of legal precedent the magistrate granted full exemption from military duties despite his opinion that Simon’s views were illogical.[30]