Arthur Augustus Calwell

Arthur Augustus Calwell (1896-1973) was a Victorian member of federal parliament (1940-72) and Leader of the Opposition (1960-67). As Minister for Immigration (1945-49), he expanded Australia’s traditional immigration base to include eastern and southern Europe. Throughout his career he argued fervently against conscription for military service. He was a devoted member of the Australian Labor Party and the Catholic Church.


24 November 1964

Conscription for the Vietnam War

The Menzies government introduces a compulsory military training scheme for Australian men born on dates chosen in a ballot system, dubbed ‘a lottery of death’ by Labor opposition leader Arthur Calwell. The National Service Act 1964 enables the federal government to conscript men for a two-year term and for a further three years in the Army Reserve, with exemptions granted on fitness and educational grounds. The first conscripts are sent to Vietnam and Malaya in 1965, and two ballots are held each year until 1972. Those opposed to war, or to service in Vietnam, mount a bitter and prolonged anti-conscription campaign that divides public opinion. The National Service scheme is wound up in 1973 with the passing of the National Service Termination Act by the Whitlam government.


Women from the Save Our Sons movement protest against the conscription of 20 year-old Australian men during the Vietnam War, Sydney, 1 October 1965.
Photo courtesy Fairfax Photos