By Glen Davis
In late 1964, the National Service Act was introduced by the Menzies government. This legislation made it compulsory for 20-year-old males to register for conscription.
Following this, amendments to the Defence Act of 1965 required they serve overseas. By 1966 conscripts were being expected to serve in the undeclared war in Vietnam.
Following these actions, there was developing opposition to young Australian men being conscripted to fight in a war, thousands of miles from Australia.
One of the early groupings was Youth Campaign Against Conscription (YCAC). YCAC were primarily focused with a change of Federal Government, putting a lot of effort into supporting the Australian Labor Party in the 1966 Federal election. The ALP was trounced, and YCAC, disillusioned by their faith in parliamentary politics, particularly in their working for an ALP win, faded away
In 1968 the Draft Resisters Movement (DRM) was formed.
In their words:
“The DRM has not been formed to oppose conscription, it t has been formed to wreck it. We are opposed to the war in Vietnam and we intend to resist the conscription of Australian youth for the war by all available means. We will hold demonstrations of various kinds, with the aim of making conscription as ineffective a possible: We will supply information on how to fail medical tests and other methods of resisting the draft, and we will encourage people not to register. By these means we will help those 20-year olds who do not wish to be conscripted for any reason.”
The DRM was a short-lived entity. However, it was far more militant than YCAC. Early actions included DRM members chaining themselves to barrack gates in Richmond, to deter conscripts entering. They also arranged ‘fill in a falsie,’ where false conscription forms were submitted. The group helped arrange ‘Don’t Register’ campaigns, to encourage young men not to register, and participated in demonstrations and other acts of civil disobedience.
Unlike their predecessors in YCAC, they remained independent of the parliamentary parties, and became active in the overall anti-war movement.
The DRM was not intended to be long-term; rather. it designed to give radical impetus to others. Over time, the DRM faded away, as new anti-conscription organisations, like the Draft Resisters Union arose. But that’s another story for another time.