Jan 8, 2014

‘We had to bring it in’: defending conscription, 50 years on

The Menzies minister who brought in conscription in 1964 for has no regrets. InDaily journalist Kevin Naughton looks back through the history books with Jim Forbes.

Jim Forbes (pictured) is the last surviving Liberal Party MP from the 10th Menzies government ministry, which introduced national service into Australia in 1964. As minister for the army and a retired army officer with a Military Cross for bravery, he brought the policy to the cabinet table, overriding a recommendation from Defence’s chairman of the Chiefs of Staff. Fifty years on -- and almost 40 years since his last media interview -- he stands by his decision. He’s just turned 90, and family from all around the globe have returned to Adelaide for a week of celebrations that included Christmas. Some of his children were born after the national service decision, and the grandchildren and great-grandchildren would perhaps know little of the drama that surrounded Australia’s increasing commitment to the war in Vietnam and how the army would be resourced. Perhaps there was no better qualified person than Forbes to propose a national policy of conscription. The son of an army officer, he’d enlisted at age 16, graduated from Duntroon at age 19 and saw active service before he was old enough to vote. In the early 1940s he was in Darwin when it was still under attack from Japanese aircraft.


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17 thoughts on “‘We had to bring it in’: defending conscription, 50 years on

  1. mobsmith

    Looks like Jim is third from the left to me.

  2. Douglas Ross Robbins

    Conscription changed me from a callow youth into a quietly confident young man. And conscripts changed the Army. Leaving aside the possible manipulation of the system by influential individuals for the benefit of sons and friend’s sons, issues of conscientious objection etc. my experience was to my total benefit. My qualifications were recognised and, more importantly, utilised, as were the many and varied professional and semi-professional qualifications of my peers. It was this unintended consequence that I believe changed the Army just as much as the Army changed us.

  3. Matthew Drayton

    The kidnapping of young men to fight and die in another country’s war is indefensible. Simple as that.

  4. Dax Romanov

    Jim Forbes was a great Minister for immigration too! Except he wouldn’t let poor old Joe Cocker in, which was a shame really. Dr. Forbes was also an extremely talented golfer. His tee shot nearly hit me on the 4th hole at Victor Harbor. An extremely erudite gentleman is he.

  5. [email protected]

    An obvious error, the Curtin and Chifley Labor Governments were in office in 1945, not Menzies.

  6. Desmond Carroll

    What a load of crap. Vietnam was never a threat to anyone except those who tried to subjugate her. Ask the Frogs, then the Nips, then the Frogs again, and then the Catholic-fascist Vietnamese installed by John Foster Dulles in 1955.

  7. [email protected]

    The Menzies Government were not prepared to give the soldier his due by improving pay and conditions of service. Conscription was considered to be the cheaper option. More recently, when Australia sought to advance its diplomacy by other means, volunteers for active service overseas have received large payments in allowances to put their lives at risk. This is as it should be.

  8. Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay

    Conscription is indefensible, and nothing in this article can dissuade me of that view. Yes I’m sure he is a lovely old chap but that still doesn’t mean what he did is not abhorrent and stupid.

  9. Miowarra Tomokatu

    Forbes claims “We had to bring it in”

    What he avoids is the reasoning. HE and Menzies may have “had to bring it in” if they wanted to conduct their sycophantic military adventure into VietNam.

    When the motive is wrong; the decision is also wrong.

    That single political action decided my political future and orientation. I have never voted for the Liberal Party or its hangers-on, I have consistently opposed their international and domestic stance on just about everything and, over the decades, I have never regretted that opinion.

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