Conscientious Objection to Military Service: Issues for the Country Report Task Forces - AUSTRALIA


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
1929. Conscription was suspended at the end of the 1939-1945 War,
but was reinstated between 1951 and 1959 and again between 1965 and
the end of the Vietnam War in 1973.

The basic
provisions of the Defence Act regarding the recognition of
conscientious objection would still apply in the event that Australia
was to reintroduce conscription at a future date. However, under the
Defence Legislation Amendment Act of 1992, this step could be taken
only with prior parliamentary approval. The 1992 Act also broke new
ground by stipulating that those exempted from military service
include not only “persons whose conscientious beliefs do not permit
them to participate in war or warlike operations” but also “persons
whose conscientious beliefs do not allow them to participate in a
particular war or particular warlike operations”1
This is the broadest legislative recognition of “selective
objection” which currently exists. It is also possible that such
exemption would be total; no alternative service requirement is
mentioned in the Act.

It is
claimed that “CO is available to volunteers in the defence force
during peacetime by administrative practice, that is by applying for
release from the ADF (Australian Defence Force)”2
No details have however been traced of specific regulations or
procedures for applying. It is however known that the possibility of
selective objection is not available to serving members of the armed

suggests that Australia be asked in the list of issues to confirm
what would be the position of a serving member of the armed forces
who applied for release having developed a conscientious objection.
What procedures should be followed; what would the terms of release
be if the authorities were satisfied that the objection was genuine?
Have there been any such cases in recent years? Would the situation
be different in time of war?

18th August 2008


Section 61A, sub paragraphs (i) and (j)

Coombs, M. and Rayner, L., Department of the Parliamentary Library
Research Note No. 31, 11 April 2003, Canberra.

Attached file

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