Personal Stories : Opposition to Conscription

Some eligible men for call-up for military service under the 1964 National Service Act (NSA) were mainly opposed to it because conscription for military purposes was considered to be immoral based on their conscientious beliefs.

Christopher Richard Campbell of Sydney refused to register for national service in February 1967. In doing so he was probably the first to undertake non-compliant action against the NSA.[5] Chris was born in the United Kingdom (UK) on 31 January 1947 and was ordinarily resident in Australia. As such he was obliged to register for national service. Chris was prosecuted for his failure to register and was summonsed to appear at the Phillip Street Court of Petty Sessions in Sydney on 26 February 1968. He had already informed Minister Bury that he considered the legislation to be immoral, and that he would not comply with any aspect of it. He also informed the minister of his intention to return to the UK. He was present at the court but only as a member of the public. He quietly called out for five minutes that the defendant (himself) did not intend to appear as such and that he did not recognize the authority of the court to prosecute him. The magistrate adjourned the court proceedings until 12 March 1968. Chris had already sailed for the UK on 3 March 1968, and stated in a letter he had sent to Minister Bury, I must leave to others the task of urging the repeal of the National Service Act.[6]

Karl Keatch (aka Armstrong) was from North Fitzroy a suburb of Melbourne. He was an apprentice offset print-plate-maker at the time when he was required to register in July 1968 for military service. He informed Minister Bury by letter in January 1969 that he would not comply with the Act and that he was prepared to suffer any consequences that may follow. The letter was also published by The Peacemaker Newspaper.[7] In the letter Karl stated that, I am opposed to conscription for all purposes since war has proved to serve no worthwhile purpose in advancing and serving mankind. He continued stating that, The whole idea of conscription is to take away an individual’s basic human rights and personality and replace them with a machine mentality designed solely for the killing on one’s fellow man. Karl also noted that conscription was reintroduced to force large numbers of young vote-less men to carry out a policy of brutal aggression against the people of Vietnam. He told the Minister that, I fully support the struggle of the National Liberation Front and Ho Chi Minh against this aggression. He ended the letter with a call to other eligible young men to undertake similar action as himself. On 10 November 1969 at the North Melbourne Court Karl was fined plus costs for non-registration. On 6 July 1970 he was jailed for eight days for non-payment of the fine. Later during 1970 he did not attend the prescribed medical examination as part of his resolve of non-compliance with the NSA. Karl fled to China and Vietnam. He lived in China from April 1971 until January 1972.[8]

Geoffrey Richard Mullen was an arts student from Sydney and in January 1967 registered under the NSA. He then informed Minister Bury that he would not comply any further with the Act. On 3 July 1968 Geoff received a summons to attend Phillip Street Court of Petty Sessions. The summons was issued because he had failed to undertake a medical examination. He was convicted and fined, and in lieu of non-payment sixteen days hard labour. Geoff refused to pay the fine. He was convicted and sentenced to forty-five days jail for repeated breaches of the NSA. On 2 December 1968 he failed to obey a call-up notice. As a consequence he was committed to Long Bay Jail to serve twenty-nine days. He was released on16 February 1969, one day earlier. On 14 October 1970 he was summonsed to court although the summons was not served personally on him. A warrant for his arrest was expected and with that the likelihood of him serving the mandatory two years in jail. On 6 October 1971 Geoff was sent to a maximum security prison to serve 2 years. On 1 December 1971 he was moved to Cooma prison where his prison conditions were eased. He was released from jail on 16 February 1972 after serving 11 months of his sentence.

Geoff explained his reasons for non-compliance in a letter, dated 17 February 1969, to Don Curtin MHR who was his local parliamentary member. The letter was published in The Peacemaker Newspaper.[9] He stated, For me and for other Australians, conscription of anyone is intolerable and if the Government will not answer our reasonable requests we will solve them ourselves, in the face of any opposition from the Government. For my own part, I recognize that the balance of violence remains in the Government’s hands and non-violence will be my creed. But, I cannot answer for others. Geoff warned that violent opposition may be adopted by opponents of conscription which he would deeply regret if such came to pass. He also referred to the moral and political bankruptcy of the present government’s policies, in particular Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War and conscription for it.[10]<