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Today in The Australian, there was an article I found horrifying. Apparently, the Young Liberals strongly believe that it is in young Australians’ best interest to complete nine months’ national service, whether they want to or not.

The article says that service would not be restricted to the military. That is, Australians would be able to serve their state in a number of ways other than risking death in its name — in nursing homes, hospitals, homeless shelters, trades, the Red Cross, or even Médicins Sans Frontières. Within Australia or overseas. And you’d only be there nine months. What’s nine months?

The Young Liberals claim this will be beneficial to Australia’s youth in a number of ways. It’ll protect them against the economic downturn by providing them with the opportunity to be part of a sizeable low-cost workforce. It’ll instil in youths a deep appreciation of Australian society and its traditions. It’ll instil a work ethic and a sense of national pride into young Australians. And, well, they’ve come up with a plan horrifyingly identical to one I know too well. Here is why I oppose it.

I object to the insinuation that young Australians owe anything to the state. The state pays for university educations, but we have to pay them back eventually (plus interest!). The state runs health services and subsidises medicine, but we pay taxes so it can. Youths may not have paid as much tax as sixty-year-olds, but they have paid taxes, and will continue to pay taxes for as long as they live. These taxes fund everything the state does for us, and more besides — after all, where do politicians’ salaries come from? The state should thank us for our generosity, not insist we haven’t done enough for them. We have.

The plan also wouldn’t help Australians in the economic downturn, regardless of what the Young Liberals think. Unless you studied a trade as part of your national service, it wouldn’t help you in the slightest to get a job. Even if you did study a trade, there would have to be actual jobs available in your field. If there were no jobs, you couldn’t have one no matter how much national service you did. And, while the Young Liberals may not be aware of this, there are places called TAFEs that will teach trades to anyone who wants to learn.

I’m also slightly discomforted by the idea that young people exist merely to provide a sizeable low-cost workforce. What’s that supposed to mean — salaries would be based on age rather than competence?

As for work ethic and national pride? I don’t see how national service could foster either. Work ethic would suffer, because rather than doing what they wanted to do, youths would be required to select from a narrow list of activities carefully designed to ensure they do what the state wants them to do. It wouldn’t be very motivating. As for national pride, who would be proud of a nation that thinks this kind of system is okay?

Okay, maybe some people would be. But I wouldn’t. And I don’t see how being forced to serve the state could make anyone more proud.

Perhaps what the Young Liberals don’t understand is that young people aren’t resources that can be thrown anywhere the government sees fit. Young people aren’t money, they’re human beings. They want to do things that, perhaps, don’t align perfectly with the government’s ambition to get more people into nursing. If the government wants nurses then they shouldn’t issue orders to force people into the career; they should make it seem attractive. Decent pay would be a good start.

Fundamentally, I believe that people have the right to live their lives the way they want. They should have every right and freedom that doesn’t impinge on others’ rights and freedoms. The government should intervene in the interests of public safety, but they shouldn’t be doing anything more than that. National service would take freedom away from young people, and for what? Is there any benefit for anyone?

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