National Service Scheme, 1951-1972

Melbourne, 1970. Section of crowd demonstrating at a Vietnam Moratorium march on the steps of Parliament House. C40174

National Service training, 1951–1959

Compulsory military training for young Australians was reintroduced in 1951 by the Liberal and Country Party alliance Government. It was the third such scheme to have existed in Australia since Federation. Eighteen-year-old men were required to undertake 176 days of military training as part of the National Service scheme. Those who elected to undertake their training in the army could break up their training requirements into two periods, 98 days in the Australian Regular Army and 78 days in the Citizen Military Forces (CMF). Those who elected to undertake their training with the Royal Australian Navy or the Royal Australian Air Force had to complete their 176 days in one stretch.

The scheme was criticised as being irrelevant to modern defence needs, with skill was becoming more important than numbers. The scheme was also costly for the Regular Army, as manpower resources and funding had to be diverted from ongoing operational requirements to support the recruitment and training of short-term personnel. In 1959 the scheme was abolished.

National Service scheme, 1964–1972

A fourth period of National Service was introduced in 1964, and in May 1965 the Coalition Government introduced new powers that enabled it to send national servicemen overseas. At that time Australian soldiers were involved in the war in Vietnam and with Indonesian Confrontation. The Menzies Government wished to raise the army's numbers to 40,000 in order to meet overseas commitments.

All 20-year-old males had to register with the Department of Labour and National Service, and their names were selected by the "birthday ballot", in which men were randomly selected for national service by their date of birth. Those who were selected for national service were required to serve for two years full-time in the Regular Army and three years part-time in the reserves.

Exemptions were given to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the medically unfit, and theology students. Young men were granted exemption on the grounds of conscientious objection if they could prove their objection to war was based on religious beliefs. A temporary deferment of national service was granted to university students, apprentices, married men, and those who could prove that national service would cause them financial hardship.

From 1965 to 1972, over 15,300 national servicemen served in the Vietnam War, with 200 killed and 1,279 wounded. Once again the issue of conscription provoked debate within the Australian community, with university students and other members of the community taking part in large anti-conscription and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. The National Service scheme was abolished on 5 December 1972 by the newly elected Labor Government.


    • Peter Dennis et al., The Oxford companion to Australian military history, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1995
    • T.B. Millar, Committee of Inquiry into the Citizen Military Forces Report, March 1974, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1974

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