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Many meetings in inner Melbourne and Sydney were disrupted by anti-conscriptionists with speakers being howled down from the audience in what The Age described as "disgraceful exhibition" and "disorderly scenes".
The issue deeply divided the Labor Party, with ministers such as Hughes and George Pearce, vigorously arguing the need for conscription for Australia to help the Allies win the war.
By the end of the war in November 1918, a total of 416,809 men had voluntarily enlisted in the Army, representing 38.7 percent of the white male population aged between 18 and 44.
In 1939, at the start of World War II, all unmarried men aged 21 were to be called up for three months' military training.
These men could serve only in Australia or its territories.
Conscription was effectively introduced in mid-1942, when all men aged 18–35, and single men aged 35–45, were required to join the Citizens Military Forces (CMF).
In 1909, the Federal government of Prime Minister Alfred Deakin introduced legislation for a form of conscription for boys from 12 to 14 years of age and for youths from 18 to 20 years of age for the purposes of home defence.
The legislation did not allow soldiers to be conscripted for overseas service.
Following a visit and a report on Australia's defence readiness by Field Marshal Kitchener, the Australian Labor Party government instituted a system of compulsory military training for all males aged between 12 and 26 from 1 January 1911.
Other notable opponents to Conscription included the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Daniel Mannix, the Queensland Labor Premier Thomas Ryan, Vida Goldstein and the Women's Peace Army. The County Cork born Archbishop Mannix stated that Ireland had been more wronged by Great Britain than Belgium had been by Germany.
Many people thought positively of conscription as a sign of loyalty to Britain and thought that it would also support those men who were already fighting.
He promptly crossed the floor with about half of the parliamentary party, creating a new National Labor Party and surviving as prime minister by forming a conservative Nationalist government dependent for support on the Commonwealth Liberal Party.
After the first plebiscite the government used the War Precautions Act and the Unlawful Associations Act to arrest and prosecute anti-conscriptionists such as Tom Barker, editor of Direct Action and many other members of the Industrial Workers of the World and E. Coombe (who had three sons at the front) of the Daily Herald.