Country report and updates: Australia

Last revision: 23 Jan 1998
23 Jan 1998

1 Conscription

conscription does not exist

Conscription has been abolished in 1972. The 1951 National Service Act was rendered ineffective in 1973 by the National Service Termination Act and repealed alltogether in 1992. Conscription is not enshrined in the constitution, there is no legislation providing for conscription in peacetime and there are no provisions for registration of conscripts in peace time. [1]

The 1903 Defence Act, as amended in 1992, does provide for the introduction of conscription in war time. Details are dealt with in Part IV (Liability to serve in the defence force in time of war) of the Act.

In war time all men aged 18 to 60 who have resided in Australia for longer than six months are liable for military service (sect. 59). Exemption from military service in war time is possible for medical reasons, members of parliament, judges, police personnel, members of certain religious denominations and conscientious objectors (sect. 61A).

According to sect. 60 conscription can not be introduced without prior parliamentary approval. This was one of the main changes made with the 1992 amendments to the Defence Act. [1]

2 Conscientious objection

There is no legal provision for conscientious objection for professional soldiers. [1]

Under the Defence Act the right to conscientious objection is legally recognized in war time. The provisions for conscientious objection only apply for conscripts and would thus not apply for professional soldiers. [1]

Conscientious objection is defined as follows in sect. 4(3): "(...) a person is taken to have a conscientious belief in relation to a matter if the person's belief in respect of that matter:

(a) involves a fundamental conviction of what is morally right and morally wrong, whether or not based on religious considerations; and

(b) is so compelling in character for that person that he or she is duty bound to espouse it; and

(c) is likely to be of a long standing nature."

The persons exempted from military service under sect. 61A include:

"(i) persons whose conscientious beliefs do not allow them to participate in war or warlike operations;

(j) persons whose conscientious beliefs do not allow them to participate in a particular war or particular warlike operations".

The recognition of the right to conscientious objection to particular conflicts was one of the main changes made by the 1992 amendments to the Defence Act.

Sect. 61 and 62 further deal with the procedure for applying for CO status in war time.

3 Desertion


Desertion is punishable under art. 22 of the 1982 Defence Force Discipline Act by up to five years' imprisonment.


No information available.

5 History

Conscription has been enforced during four periods in the past: from 1911 to 1929, from 1939 to 1945, from 1951 to 1959 and from 1964 to 1972.

When conscription existed, the right to conscientious objection was legally recognized under the National Service Act. Australia was the first country in the world to legally recognize the right to conscientious objection. Australia's first Defence Act of 1903 granted total exemption from military service to "those who could demonstrate a conscientious objection to bearing arms", thus not limiting it to religious reasons only. The 1939 Act spelled out that the term CO applied "whether the beliefs are or are not of a religious character". [2]

6 Annual statistics

The armed forces are 57,400-strong - that is, 0.31 percent of the population. [3]


[1] Australian Embassy in the Netherlands 1996. Response to CONCODOC questionnaire, 20 August 1996. [2] Smith, Hugh 1993. 'Australia', in: Moskos, C.C. and J.W. Chambers II (ed.), The New Conscientious Objection, from sacred to secular resistance. Oxford University Press, New York/Oxford. [3] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London.

Recent stories on conscientious objection: Australia

18 Aug 2008

Submission to the 94th Session of the Human Rights Committee: October 2008

has the distinction of having been the first country to have
introduced legislative provisions recognising conscientious objection
to military service. These were attached to the Defence Act of 1903
which enabled conscription. In fact, however, the provisions of that
Act were not implemented until 1939; they did not apply to a
compulsory military training scheme which operated between 1911 and

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