The National Service Act was passed in November 1964, by the Liberal/National government. The Act required that every six months, 20-year-old males register for national service with the possibility, that, if their birth date was drawn out in the ballot, they would be required to serve in the army for a period of twenty-four months of continuous service, followed by three years in the Army Reserve.
Controversially, conscripts, for the first time in Australia’s history, could also be sent to fight with the Australian troops in Vietnam against the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese army.
Then eighteen- to twenty-year old, did not have the right to vote, but they could be sent overseas to fight. Eighteen- to twenty-years old did not get the right to vote until 1973.
It was then, that I first became aware of possible personal implications of the National Service Act and its direct link Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War.
Although interesting, the prospect of personally being conscripted was largely irrelevant, as I had already committed myself to attending university, and knew that I would be exempt while I was studying.
When it was time for me to register in 1968, when I had turned 20, I was emotionally and intellectually torn.
I had developed a belief that the war in Vietnam was a continuation of the Vietnamese people’s fight for independence. I also believed that the introduction of conscription was a means for the government to prop up an increasingly unpopular war.
I came to believe that it was wrong Australians were fighting against the Vietnamese. Thus, I concluded that the National Service Act itself, was an immoral law.
In registering, I knew that I could probably gain exemption on conscientious grounds and in fact, as I was training to be a Methodist minister at the time, I would have been automatically exempt.
After much consideration, discussion among friends, and prayer, I decided in all conscious, that when I turned twenty, I would not register for national service.
I visited the Department of Labour and National Service and advised them to that effect.
I realised that in doing so, I would be
- automatically registered,
- not included in the ballot, and
- my name would be added to the list of those conscripted.
- I would have no opportunity to apply for exemption.
I could not have imagined then, how my life might unfold, following on from my decision.