The Great Debate: Conscription and National Service 1912-1972

This one day conference examined the history, politics, controversy and experience around the periods in Australian history when compulsory military service was introduced.
homebanner-Great Debate Banner Large
Conference speakers considered the Cadet training system under Universal Military Training, introduced in 1912, the great Conscription debates in Australia and at the Front during 1916 and 1917, the introduction of National Service between 1951 and 1959, and the most controversial period of Conscription, during the Vietnam War between 1965-1972. An audience of about 50 found themselves educated, intrigued and fascinated in turn by the subject content provided by the speakers – everyone learned something new and several commented that they had new perspectives on the question, which had been around in Australia since before World War One.

This impactful conference had plenty of insights and intriguing commentary from a highly informed and relevant range of historians and social observers both for and against conscription as a tool of Australian governments at war.  Speakers included veterans and servicemen who had been conscripted and the conference concluded that if conscription or national service was ever to be re-introduced, then it should be universal and not by ballot.  Overall, another enjoyable and interesting one day conference!
Conference Programme
Welcome – Colonel Marcus Fielding (Rtd) – Conference Chair and MHHV Inc. President

Opening Remarks – Major-General Jim Barry, AM, MBE, RFD, ED (Rtd), – Patron MHHV Inc.

Session One | Introduction
Keynote Speaker
Reflections on Conscription in Australia – Hon. Tim Fischer, AC GCPO – Former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and former National Serviceman

Paper: Australia’s Boy Soldiers: Conscripted Cadets, 1911–1929 – Dr Craig Stockings – Associate Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy

Session Two | The Great War
Session Chair: Dr Jim Wood, Colonel RFD Rtd, – Vice-Patron MHHV
Paper: Billy Hughes and the politics of conscription – Dr Andrew Kilsby – Author The Forgotten Cruiser and The Riflemen

Paper: Voices from the front: Albert Jacka VC and the conscription debate – Dr Michael Lawriwsky – Author of Hard Jacka and Return of the Gallipoli Legend

Session Three | The Cold War And Vietnam
Session Chair: Major Earle Jennings AM RFD ED – President, National Servicemen’s’ Association of Australia

Paper: From the Cold War to Vietnam: National Service to Conscription – Mark Dapin – Author The Nasho’s War: Australia’s National Servicemen and Vietnam and PhD Candidate UNSW@ADFA

Paper: From Scheyville to Vietnam: my conscript experience – Dave Sabben, MG – Author Through Enemy Eyes

Session Four | The Great Debate
Session Chair: Dr Noel Turnbull – Adjunct Professor in the School of Media and Communications, RMIT University and former National Serviceman

Paper: The Long Ripples of Vietnam Conscription – Rafe Champion – Independent scholar in philosophy and social theory

Panel: Conscription: The Great Debate All Speakers, moderated by Dr Noel Turnbull

Click here to see photographs from the conference.

Read a review of the days proceedings here.


Contact Military History and Heritage Victoria about this article.

Subscribe to our FREE MHHV newsletter here

We are proud to have the support of the following organisations: