To: Arch Bevis (MP) [Address removed]
From: Dave Keenan [Address removed]
Subject: Re: Conscientious Tax Resister for Peace
Thank you for your very thoughtful reply. It is more than I had hoped for. I think it is rather fortuitous that you are both my local member and the Shadow Minister for Defence.
Although I sent a copy of my letter to you by ordinary mail to your electorate office, along with a video, it seems that what reached you first was a copy emailed to you second-hand by Mark Young, the Social Responsibility Advocate for the Uniting Church in Queensland. He kindly forwarded your reply to me.
I will respond point-by-point with my responses interspersed with yours, quoted with ">" as is the fashion for email.
> You certainly present a dilemma - to the Tax office, the
>Parliament and me as your local member. I don't doubt your deep
>conviction and sincerity. I'm not sure however, how a community based on
>collective decisions and a common government realistically accommodates
One possible way for government to do this was addressed in detail by the Peace Trust Fund Bill presented to the Senate on 15-June-1989 by Senator Jo Vallentine. You might help me by using your parliamentary research resources to get copies of the relevant parts of Hansard regarding the reasons for its rejection. I only have a copy of the Bill itself.
>I have had people in the past complain that their taxes go to things
>they don't support, and/or use, and/or need. Defence is but one of the
>areas of government activity that gets targeted. For some it is spending
>on Aboriginees, environmental programs, industry support, or even
>schools for those without children.
Yes this is a common objection to this proposal. But none of the above require the taxpayer to fund killing of human beings against their will, an extremely serious moral (and legal) matter. The law already makes an exception for this in the case of military service, for precisely this reason. None of the other things you mention above are matters of life and death.
One could point this out to people, if they thought military COs were getting special treatment. One could also point out that the money would still be going to defence (albeit nonviolent non-military defence). One could also point out that it was merely extending the existing right to conscientiously object to military service, and is in line with the UN Declaration of Human rights and Section 116 of the Constitution.
The only similar thing I can think of is if a taxpayer conscientiously believed that abortion was murder and could establish that a proportion of consolidated revenue is used to fund abortions. I do not personally believe that abortion is murder, (except possibly after a certain stage of development of the foetus), but under the Universal Right to Freedom of Thought Conscience and Religion, I would have to support such a person's right to have that portion of their taxes spent on some other aspect of health (and not merely something which would have had the same amount of money spent on it anyway). But I am not asking you to address Conscientious Objection to abortion.
However, you might help me by having your staff obtain reports of the judgements in various legal cases involving Murray V. Vilkelis-Curas from 1983 onwards. Mr Vilkelis-Curas was just such a conscientious tax objector to abortion. I only have the judgement for one of his cases, a Federal Court case in Melbourne on 4-Nov-1985 which was only regarding costs. I was told that he won a High Court case on this issue, possibly based on Section 116 of the Constitution, and that the judgement may have been "unreported", and that if it is not in his name, it may have been in the name of a company owned by him (which I'm told could be found thru a search of the Australian Securities Commission database).
Your staff might also search Hansard for references to him, since I was told that he was called to appear before parliament.
>Even if a system of conscientious objection could be established, the
>question as to which organisations the equivalent amount of money should
>go to would not be straight forward.
Not straight forward, I agree; but it can be done.
One way to do this was addressed in Senator Vallentine's Peace Trust Fund Bill. Personally I think the criteria in that bill, as to where the money could be spent, were a little too broad. If the government of the day decides that a certain proportion of the budget should go to the defence function, then I would be willing for that proportion of my taxes to go to the defence function, albeit nonviolent and non-military defence (note: "defence function" does not necessarily mean "the Defence Department").
I have a different proposal which I think avoids the stigma of discretionary taxes that you raised above. It is very similar to the recent schemes whereby electricity consumers can elect to buy their energy from renewable sources. No one expects green electrons to come down the wires but they do expect an independent audit to show that the total amount of money spent on renewables was equal to or greater than the amount collected from such "green" consumers.
So rather than have Conscientious Objectors pay that proportion of their taxes into a special fund, as in Senator Vallentines bill, they could pay it to the tax office as usual. The Tax Office could be required to keep statistics on the total income-tax payed by registered Conscientious Objectors each year. The Defence Department (or other body) would be required to spend at least that amount on nonviolent nonmilitary defence (or research into same) in the following year (or it might be averaged over a number of years).
Conscientious objectors under such a scheme would initially just register themselves as such with the Tax Office and Department of Defence (or other body), however the Defence Department (or Tax Office or other body) could have the right to challenge any such conscientious objector before a suitably qualified tribunal, but only once in the life of any such objector.
>Frankly, I don't know what to do in response to your situation. You say
>that your actions are not within the law. Also that you have no
>intention of changing your views or practices concerning this matter.
>For all that, it is clear to me that prisons are not built for people
Well said. Thankyou. I think it is also true to say that bankruptcy was not meant for people like me, or Dr. Robert Burrowes, fellow CO and author in 1995 of the book "The strategy of nonviolent defence: a Ghandian approach". He was bankrupted by the ATO in Melbourne in 1991.
Clearly then, the solution is to change the law. After all that's what parliament is for. I understand that you can do little personally at present since your party is not in government. However, we both hope this will change in the near future.
>You may be interested to know that the Defence Budget funds (albeit a
>small amount) for independent work on strategic policy development which
>is largely about conflict prevention.
Yes. That is good. But I would be surprised if they weren't. Clearly that money would be spent irrespective of the wishes of any COs and so a CO cannot sensibly claim that his or her defence money is funding only that.
>In addition, I know that the vast
>majority of professional military people are keen students of diplomacy
>and non violent conflict resolution.
Even supposing this to be true, it is hardly comforting when the vast majority of troops know nothing of these things. And I doubt that any of these professional military people could name a single book or author in the field of Nonviolent Defence.
>They have no greater desire to be
>in harms way than any other normal human being. The difference is that
>when all else fails, they are trained and willing to stand between harm
>and innocent people.
Your mistaken assumption here, appears to be the old Clausewitzian dictum that "war is a continuation of diplomacy by other means". Nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their systems of delivery have made nonsense of this.
If you have not assumed that, you have at least assumed that when diplomacy and conflict resolution fail the only alternative is a military one. I would like to introduce you to the field of Nonviolent Defence, also called Nonviolent Civilian-Based Defence, Non-Military Defence or Social Defence, although these names may refer to slight variations. This is not the same as nonviolent conflict resolution. You may even be surprised to learn that there is even such a thing as nonviolent offence. "When all else fails" one does not have to resort to violence, a nonviolent society may yet defend itself.
Violence is not the ultimate sanction.
I expect that this is way outside your current undertanding. But I am sure that given time, I, or others better qualified, (such as Dr Brian Martin of the University of Woolongong) could persuade you that here is, at least, something worth investigating.
>Importantly, Australian troops have played a leading role in peace and
>relief work. Deployments such as
>* Cambodia - which restored peace after generations of bloodshed
>* Rhawanda- where our hospital teams saved lives
>* Somalia - where we brought civil order to war torn towns. Sadly,
>whilst the Australian participation was first class, other nations had
>great difficulty recognising the peace role rather than a combat role.
Given that, and the history of Vietnam, why should we suppose that in future Australian troops would not "have great difficulty recognising the peace role rather than a combat role".
>* Bougainville - where we have helped restore peace and are
>rebuilding civil infrastructure
This is unlikely to last since the Bougainvilleans did not get what they wanted which was self-determination. We merely helped the PNG government suppress the independence movement.
>* and at home where military engineers train by building much
>needed facilities in remote Australia, particularly for Aboriginal
>are all positive programs that could not have occured without the
>The story is not all bad. There are plenty of things Defence does which
>I think you would find tolerable - even acceptable.
Yes, I agree that our military forces do many good things (particularly since we are not at war with anyone). But for me this can only mean those things they undertake without carrying weapons.
True peace-keeping for me is that undertaken (without weapons) by organisations such as Peace Brigades International http://www.igc.apc.org/pbi/, and clearly there is no need for weapons or military training for organisations to undertake disaster or medical relief or engineering projects. Witness the many volunteer organisations that do just that, Red Cross, Red-R etc, but are sadly underfunded. So I must strongly disagree with your statement that these "could not have occured without the military".
I notice you did not respond to my comment reagarding Australian training of Indonesian soldiers.
> I'm not sure how I can assist.
One form is research, as I have mentioned above. I'm having a difficult time making a living at the moment, since all my time seems to be taken up doing research, obtaining publicity, preparing for court cases etc. (not to mention writing letters to my local member). :-)
Of course the ultimate assistance would be to have you support some form of legal Conscientious Objection to Military use of Tax as Labor Party policy.
You may be surprised that it is already Australian Democrat policy and will soon become policy of the Australian Greens and The Greens (WA). On 25-Mar-1987 Senator Norm Sanders presented the Senate with a petition containing over 3000 signatures calling on the government to introduce a Peace Tax Fund.
My immediate concerns are of course with the tax office so perhaps you could ask the Treasurer (to whom I have also written but had no reply) what he intends to do and in particular whether he will instruct the Commisioner of Taxation to halt the proceedings against me, or declare a general moratorium for people such as myself (I'm certainly not the only one), while possible legislative changes such as those I have outlined to you, are considered.
>However I would be happy to talk to you if you wish.
Yes please! When and where can we meet to discuss this face-to-face?
Your reply was rather timely. The bankruptcy notice from the tax office was served on me at home last night. The poor process server was bewildered when I took the bankruptcy notice without fuss and asked her to wait while I got her a copy of Nonviolence Today magazine in which was published an appeal letter similar to that which I sent to you, and a followup article by Dr Mark Hayes.
You can read this yourself on the World Wide Web via my home page. The URL is below. If it is in blue and underlined you should be able to just double-click it. Then scroll straight to the bottom of my home page and click on the last link entitled "Who Breaks a Butterfly upon a Wheel".
I will be putting more documentation relating to my campaign (a military term?) on my web site in the near future. This will include a copy of Senator Vallentine's Peace Trust Fund Bill.
Again, many thanks. Even if you can do no more, you have won my admiration by simply listening to me and considering my point of view.
-- Dave Keenan
http://dkeenan.com [URL updated]