26th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. W. J. Aston) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– by leave - Honourable members may recall that in November last the Government agreed to the request contained in the will of the late Lord Bruce that his ashes be scattered over Canberra. It was also agreed that arrangements would be made for a memorial service to take place at the same time and that the ceremonies would be held on a suitable occasion after the resumption of Parliament. This was to enable the Parliament to be fully represented. I now wish to inform the House that the memorial service will be held at noon next Wednesday, 20th March, at All Saints Church, Ainslie, and that in the course of this service the Royal Australian Air Force will give effect to the wishes of the late Lord Bruce by the scattering of the ashes over Canberra.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question without notice. Yesterday the right honourable gentleman stated that the Minister for the Army would, either today or on the next sitting day, make a statement on the allegations that the Army had tortured a Vietcong prisoner 18 months ago. The Prime Minister will remember that the Minister stated last Friday night that these allegations had been fully investigated at the time but were found not to be substantiated, and that the Australian Task Force commander had appointed an independent investigating officer of field rank who questioned all military personnel who were present during the interrogation. I now ask him whether, when the Minister makes the statement, he will table the report of this officer of field rank who was appointed to inquire into the allegations.
– The Minister for the Army is hoping to be able to make a statement at some later time today. He is aiming to do that and will do that if it is possible, as I believe it will be. The question of tabling other, papers is a different matter. lt is not at the moment intended that anything else, other than the statement, should be made to this House.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. What was the impact on Government thinking of the Pacific Roads Conference held in Sydney at the end of January at which 455 delegates attended? May the House be given an assurance that the Bureau of Roads will soon have a practical plan to offer the Government as a result of the long period devoted to research and investigation?
– There is an advantage in organisations getting together and discussing all facets of transport policy. The conference to which the honourable member referred gave the wide representation of delegates who attended that conference an opportunity to do just that. The Commonwealth Bureau of Roads was constituted some years ago as a body to advise the Government. This it is doing and it is presently intended that it should continue to do that. As honourable members will be aware, responsibility for road transport facilities ties in the hands of not only the Commonwealth Government but also the respective State governments. This Government believes in the federation of States and the retention of powers in the hands of the respective States. It is not intended that the responsibility for individual decisions by those States should be usurped by the Government.
– My question without notice is directed to the Minister for the Army. I refer the honorable gentleman to his Press statement of 8th March headed Army Minister replies to torture allegations.’ In his statement, the honorable gentleman said that a court of inquiry would be established to inquire into allegations that the Army had tortured a Vietcong prisoner in 1966. I quote further from the statement:
The Minister particularly emphasised that the Array regarded any allegations impugning its behaviour with the utmost seriousness and a searching investigation would therefore be made into all facts of the case. 1 ask the honorable gentleman how he reconciles this statement with the decision not to hold an inquiry into these grave allegations.
– I thought the Prime Minister made it very clear that this would be a matter for an early statement before the House. 1 do not intend to foreshadow that statement by any comment whatsoever.
– I ask the Minister for National Development whether the interdepartmental committees on the terms of reference for the retention of the Snowy Mountains Authority and on the terms of retrenchment where necessary and the payment of superannuation have reported to Cabinet. If so, will the Minister say when a Cabinet decision might be forthcoming? If the committees have not yet reported to Cabinet or further reports are called for by Cabinet, will the Minister assure us that he is doing everything possible to speed up the deliberations of these committees so that a minimum of additional time will be lost before Snowy personnel and the people of Cooma are able to plan for the future?
– The question is obviously one of policy and is receiving active and close consideration by the Government. I hope that within a short space of time a decision will be announced.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he was Minister for the Navy from December 1958 to December 1963. Did the ‘Voyager’ disaster occur only 2 months after he had relinquished this portfolio? Have two royal commissions since then highlighted the breakdown in Navy discipline, training, honour and standards? Has the Minister for the Navy been dismissed from the Ministry following each of these royal commissions? As their dismissal is being interpreted as an indication that they are being held responsible for the failure of Navy administration, how is it that the Prime Minister, as Minister for the Navy during the period under investigation by the royal commissions, has escaped scot free? Does he still maintain as he did in the Senate on 23rd September 1964, according to page 695 of Hansard, that the only thing in the whole affair for which he would accept blame was the appointment of Mr Smyth Q.C. as counsel assisting the commission? Does he consider that the humiliation of Messrs Cabban, Chaney and Chipp will restore the efficiency, discipline and standards of the Navy to their former level?
– It is a fact I was Minister for the Navy from December 1958 - I will take the dates the honourable member gave - to some time in December 1963, and that the ‘Voyager’ disaster took place 2 months, or slightly more than 2 months, after I ceased to be Minister for the Navy. It is not a fact, on my reading of either of the royal commissions, that those royal commissions did as the honourable member suggested they did, impugn either the honour or the standards of the Navy or of the naval service. Those were the words used by the honourable member, and I reject those words completely. Indeed both royal commissions are printed. Both are evident, and I suggest that anybody reading either royal commission would believe that it said the standards and training of the Navy were good. If I may say so, Sir, I would add to that that I believe, whatever may be said in this House about individuals in this House, it does a disservice to this country to suggest without basis that the naval service has had its honour or its standards impugned by a commission.
– I wish to direct my question to the Minister for Primary Industry. As it is customary for the Australian Wheat Board to make a second advance payment in the early part of the second year after deliveries of wheat are made - the exact date naturally depends on the disposal and payment for such wheat - I ask the Minister whether in view of the extremely poor harvest in many wheat growing areas due to drought, and of the financial difficulties that many growers are experiencing, he will confer with the Australian Wheat Board with a view to ascertaining why there is a delay in the second advance payment on No. 30 Pool. I further ask whether, if the delay is caused by the sterling devaluation and a readjustment of the guarantee, the Minister will confer with the Treasurer to ascertain whether this matter can be speeded up so that many growers may be helped out of their immediate financial difficulties.
– There is no fixed time for the second payment in respect of wheat, and I really do not think that there is any need for me to see the Wheat Board about the time for this second payment because the reasons for a delay are fairly straightforward. Last year we had a record crop of 439 million bushels of which there was a carryover of 80 million bushels. This wheat is only being shipped now. As the honourable member would be well aware, the first payment by the Board is made with an advance from the Reserve Bank. For the record harvest it amounted to something like $500m, but the Wheat Board is not able to make a second payment until this overdraft is cleared and there are accumulated credits to make a second payment. As regard any claim on the. Commonwealth’s contribution to the Wheat Industry Stabilisation Fund, this cannot be determined until the Board actually assesses what the difference will be. As regards devaluation, even if the amount of claim were paid immediately for any losses due to devaluation, this still would not enable the Board to have sufficient credits to pay immediately. So it is not correct to make any accusation that the reason for the delay in the second payment is devaluation.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer and I preface it by saying something that I think all honourable members of the House know: A Victorian Aboriginal boxer, Lionel Rose, recently won a world boxing championship, which will mean that his income for a period, which may be short or long, will be infinitely greater than it normally would be. Therefore I ask the Treasurer whether there are any provisions by which the tax on his income may be spread over a longer period than the 1 year in which it is earned.
– The first comment I should like to make is that I hope Mr Rose keeps on earning money at this rate for many years to come, not only for his benefit but also for mine. As to the substance of
the honourable gentleman’s question, I cannot give him a definitive answer. I will discuss it with the Commissioner of Taxation today. I will make to the Commissioner the representations that the honourable member has made to me and let him know the answer as soon as 1 can.
– I address my question to the Minister for Education and Science. No doubt the Minister has seen the report where it is alleged that a former Prime Minister has rebuked the Government for not making its full contribution for research at Melbourne University. Is it correct that the Government slashed allocations for this important research? Is this Government gravely handicapping the research by postgraduate students at Melbourne University, thus affecting their ability to give effective service to the community in future?
– It is not correct that this Government has slashed funds for research in universities. On the contrary, total direct funds being made available for research by this Government - by far the greater proportion of it being used in universities - have been substantially increased in this triennium compared with the previous triennium; 1 think from $5m to about $9m. I do not believe the actions of the Commonwealth have contributed to any difficulties that might be occurring in this field. It is correct that some representations have been made recently concerning the position at Melbourne University. These representations are, of course, being closely examined. But the remarks to which the honourable member referred seem to concentrate on one facet of finance for university research. He referred to the special research grant. It is correct that the Victorian Government, by a recent decision, now makes a contribution of $790,000 to this particular fund. I applaud this decision.
It is also correct, as was suggested, that the Commonwealth does not make a contribution to this fund. But this is due in part - a major part - to a decision that the State made at an earlier time to leave full responsibility for financing research projects supported by the Australian Research Grants Committee to the Commonwealth. As I have indicated, the Commonwealth contribution to the work of this Committee has greatly increased. In the 1964-66 triennium the Australian Research Grants Committee made about $317,000 available to Melbourne University. Admittedly this was only begun in the latter part of the triennium. But in this triennium the university is likely to receive something approaching $1,188,000 from this particular fund. This is a very great increase in funds that come entirely from the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth, of course, also makes its own contribution to the general recurrent funds in the proper ratio and universities devote a certain proportion of these funds to research. The Commonwealth’s contribution to research at Melbourne University from these funds in this triennium will amount to about $448,000.
In an earlier statement, the former Prime Minister reaffirmed quite clearly the triennial principle that after due research and negotiation between the Commission, the Commonwealth and the States, the programme of development for universities is laid down for a three-year period. He pointed out and reaffirmed this in a speech as recently as March 1965.
– I rise on a point of order. I point out that this is question time and questions are without notice. The answer the Minister is now giving has been prepared. He is reading from prepared notes.
– There is no substance in the point of order.
– I rise on a point of order. Is it a fact that the Minister is able to answer questions only when he has prepared answers?
– There is no substance in the point of order.
– It is a fact that the former Prime Minister reaffirmed this principle in March 1965. If I may conclude, the total Commonwealth support for research at Melbourne University in this triennium compared with the earlier one has increased from $1,296,000 to $1,636,000. If any honourable gentleman opposite had any concern for university education I might have expected a question from him yesterday and thus I have had time for a little preparation.
– I ask the- Minister for the Interior a question. Does the document transferring Point Peron from the Commonwealth to Western Australia state that the land should be used for recreation and/ or parklands? Has the State Government disclosed that it is resuming about half of the peninsula’s 464 acres for industry, a sewage farm and the approach to the projected causeway to Garden Island? Has the State Government further stated that National Fitness Council, Department of Education and other holiday camps will have to move from the peninsula? If so, is the action of the State Government a breach of the transfer agreement and will the Minister take steps to see that the conditions of the agreement are complied with?
– Some of the things said by the honourable member may be correct. I am having investigations made into the matter that he has raised and am therefore unable to say anything further about it at this stage.
– In addressing a question to the Minister for Civil Aviation 1 refer him to the impasse that exists between the Australian Federation of Air Pilots and the airline operators in respect of the crewing of DC9 and Twin Otter aircraft. Will the Minister say whether the impasse has been broken as far as the DC9 is concerned? More particularly, what is the situation regarding the manning of the Twin Otter aircraft?
-There is a case before the High Court at the moment relating to the crewing of DC9 aircraft, so that matter is sub judice. Before long I hope to have an opportunity to make a full statement to the House setting out in detail the background to the problem concerning the DC9. I have read in the Press some reference to an alleged statement by the President of the Australian Federation of Air Pilots on the subject of crewing the Twin Otter aircraft, which is now coming into service with Trans-Australia Airlines, but I cannot provide any information beyond what I have read in the newspapers because the
Federation has not submitted the matter to my Department. By internationally accepted standards aircraft of less than a maximum weight of 12,500 lb can be operated by a crew of one pilot. The Twin Otter has been licensed in Australia for certain operations on this basis. In addition it has been licensed for certain regular public transport operations with a two-pilot crew. So I am not sure of the circumstances under which this statement has been made by the Federation. I would stress that my Department is the final authority in relation to licensing the operations of these aircraft and that authority is not in dispute.
– I ask the Treasurer a question. The right honourable gentleman will be aware of the renowned and successful Moscow Circus which is now touring Australia and of the fact that it is booked for a season at Wentworth Park, Sydney, which is named after a forebear of the Minister for Social Services. What form of tax is paid on the profits made by such overseas entertainers? Finally, I would deem it a favour if I could obtain two free tickets for the circus from the Minister for Social Services. Has he any to spare?
– I imagine that if the honourable gentleman were performing we would all pay double rates to be there; but if he had a couple more of his colleagues who spoke in the House last night, then no-one would attend. Normal rates of taxation are paid by entertainment groups that come to this country. I will find out the details of the troupe that the honourable gentleman has mentioned and I will inform him accordingly. I cannot keep all of the details of taxation legislation in my mind and give a quick answer to questions of this kind.
– I address a question to the Postmaster-General. I refer to the dispute with the mail van drivers. Is there any blame attached to the Government or the Postal Department for the delay in bringing to finality the arbitration hearing concerning this dispute?
– Honourable members will recollect that on 22nd January my colleague the Minister for Labour and National Service and I reached agreement with the Australian Council of Trade Unions in relation to a dispute in the Post Office which had existed for about 10 days. Part of the agreement required that the Government would assist as far as possible and that the Public Service Board should deal expeditiously with the new material to be presented by the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union. As a matter of fact, 3 days later the Public Service Board required a hearing in relation to this new material. At the request of the APWU, there was an adjournment until the following week. Consistent with clause 8 of the agreement, the APWU then consulted with the ACTU as to whether further arbitration processes should be undertaken. As a result of that consultation the ACTU lodged a claim with the Public Service Arbitrator. Again with the assistance of the Government, the Public Service Arbitrator dealt with this matter expeditiously, but immediately after the hearing the process of statutory conference was undertaken. Three of these conferences have been held and each one has been adjourned at the request of the ACTU. I understand that the Public Service Arbitrator has indicated to the parties that the hearing should continue next Monday. It should be understood by honourable members that statutory conferences are held in secret whereas a hearing before the Public Service Arbitrator would be in public. So I think it can be said quite definitely that the Government has not in any way hindered the process required by the agreement either with the APWU or with the ACTU.
I would like to add that it does appear to me, on the basis of the statement made last night that the ACTU has approved a 24-hour stoppage by the mail van drivers, that there is a state of mind requiring the Government to intervene in this matter in order to effect a settlement. I can only assume that the means of effecting that settlement would be an offer of increased wages as against the use of the arbitration process. I have tried to read the history of arbitration over the last 50 or 60 years and I find that no Government of this Commonwealth has ever entered into an arrangement outside the arbitration process.
The Prime Minister has made it perfectly clear to the President of the ACTU that in fact this Government stands by the arbitration process set down in law. The Board having rejected the claim, the only way in which there can be consideration of a claim is by the Public Service Arbitrator. If the unions are not successful at that point then they will have the right of application to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The President of the Commission can decide whether, as a matter of public interest, the dispute should be considered by the Commission. These processes are available to both unions. I do not know why the processes are not pursued by the ACTU and the Postal Workers Union rather than so much disadvantage being occasioned to the community. The strike is not against the Government or the Post Office but against the Australian community, which will have little or no sympathy for the Post Office workers.
– My question, directed to the Minister for the Interior, concerns the appointment of distribution commissioners as listed in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette for Friday, 9th February 1968. Firstly, does the Minister not agree that in defining electoral boundaries not only should justice be done but that it should appear to be done and that variations from early patterns in the constituting of commissioners can lead to suspicion that individuals have been chosen for reasons other than special knowledge? Secondly, in particular, why has the Minister departed from the pattern of earlier redistributions by replacing the Chief Electoral Officer for the State of Victoria as one of the commissioners, as was the case in 1955 and 1962? Thirdly, what particular skills or aptitudes in defining electoral boundaries are possessed by Directors of Social Services, Deputy Commissioners of Repatriation and Regional Executive Officers of the Department of Primary Industry, who have been appointed as commissioners in some instances?
– The honorable member for Melbourne Ports will know, from a question that I answered last session, that the appointment of commissioners for the redistribution is a matter for Cabinet. I believe that justice has not only been done but that it can be seen to have been done, along the lines suggested in the honorable member’s question. Any doubt cast on the integrity of the commissioners is something not to be considered lightly. The honorable member specifically mentioned the appointment of four commissioners, the Director of Social Services from Victoria, the Regional Executive Officer of the Department of Primary Industry from Tasmania, the Deputy Commissioner of Repatriation from Western Australia and the Director of Social Services from South Australia. In point of fact, the names of these people were submitted to me by the Chief Electoral Officer for submission to Cabinet, which approved their appointment.
– I ask the Minister for External Territories whether he has had brought to his attention the comments of the Li bena n delegate to the United Nations Trusteeship Council, who is a member of the delegation making a three-yearly inspection in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea to report and recommend to the United Nations Council on Australia’s progress in preparing the Territory of Papua and New Guinea for nationhood. The delegate has praised the able guidance of Australia in leading the country away from the troubles of newly independent countries. The delegate, Mr Fahnwalu Caine, said: Your desire for gradual assumption of national responsibility will guard you against the troubles of countries suddenly given independence.’
-Order! The honourable member appears to be giving information. His question is far too long. I ask him to direct his question now.
– As previously Liberia’s delegates have been outspoken in demands for self-determination for the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, would the Minister comment on the apparent change in thinking of the Liberian delegates?
– I have seen the statement made by the Liberian delegate. I believe, Mr Speaker, that this visit of the United
Nations Trusteeship Council mission to the Territory is a most interesting one. I believe it to be so important that I have had circulated to all honourable members and to all honourable senators the proceedings of the various meetings. J think honourable members will see that these proceedings embrace a tremendous amount of opinion in New Guinea, ranging from the very primitive areas of the remote highlands to the more sophisticated areas such as Madang, Lae and Rabaul. I think honourable members will, in a sense, get a very good cross opinion of the things which concern the people most. My impression on reading reports of these proceedings is that obviously, as we have said - and those people who have been to New Guinea will appreciate this - economic development comes first. This is the main concern. Of course, next comes education and, in this case, education is associated with economic development. I feel sure that this report will give a very clear indication of what people in New Guinea think. But, most importantly. I hope this report will give very useful information to the United Nations Trusteeship Council.
– 1 ask the Minister for the Interior a question which is supplementary to that asked of him by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports. Will the Minister table the list of prospective distribution commissioners given to him by the Chief Electoral Officer and from which list Cabinet selected the officers named: Two directors of the Department of Social Services, an officer of the Department of Primary Industry and an officer of the Repatriation Commission?
– The answer is no.
– My question follows on that asked by the honourable member for Wimmera and is addressed to the Minister for Primary Industry. Is there any substance in claims that wheat payments are being delayed by a tardiness on the part of the Government to honour its obligation to make good to the wheat industry losses suffered through the Australian Wheat Board’s inability to cover itself against devaluation of the English £1? Will the Minister outline the procedure to be followed for the payment of- these moneys to the Board?
– There is no foundation for the accusation of tardiness on the part of the Commonwealth in paying compensation due to losses on forward sales of wheat by the Wheat Board. The Commonwealth has stated quite clearly that it will compensate statutory marketing authorities for sales up to the amount of the devaluation, less the premium they would have had to pay if they had been able to take out insurance. So far as the Wheat Board is concerned, the Government has a rough figure of the amount of compensation that will need to be paid. This compensation mainly results from contract sales to mainland China. The amount owing to the Wheat Board appears to be in the vicinity of $30m. However, compensation will be made available only as payments are made and the figure of $30m is an estimate of forward sales up to 1969. The Wheat Board has to work out what the actual compensation will be as payments are made and has to submit a claim to the Commonwealth Government. To this point of time, the Wheat Board has not submitted any claim to the Commonwealth but I am led to believe that it will not be long before a claim is submitted for payments up to this time.
– I am aware that there is to be an unveiling of the Desert Mounted Corps memorial on 19th April at Anzac Parade, Canberra. In fact, the Prime Minister has kindly consented to take part in the unveiling. Members of the Desert Mounted Corps have been invited to be present on that day. The honourable member has asked whether the Government will see fit to pay the cost of their transport to and from Canberra and he made the point that the Government should do this because the soldiers had paid for the memorial. The position is that they did contribute 1 day’s pay away back in those years towards the cost of the original memorial. Their contribution amounted to the equivalent of about $10,800, but the Australian and New Zealand Governments contributed together a total of $24,000. When the memorial was transported from Port Said to Australia the Australian Government bore the cost. The memorial was found to be unfit to use so the Governments paid for the redesigning of the memorial so that one could be erected in Albany, Western Australia, and the other in Anzac Parade, Canberra. When all these factors are taken into consideration one cannot say that members of the Corps have been treated harshly. Therefore I am unable to accede to the request that their fares to and from Canberra be paid by the Government. Naturally enough the Prime Minister, I, as Minister for the Interior, and the Government will be delighted if every member of the Corps is aware that the unveiling is to take place on that day and is present.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. As the Opposition and some sections of the Press seem only to be interested in matters likely to lower the morale of Australian troops in Vietnam and at home and also the morale of the citizens of this country, will he at some suitable time implement a debate on the Vietcong and North Vietnamese actions, of which there are witnesses galore who have returned from Vietnam, who are here and who have first hand experience of events which are not 2 years old, so that the Australian people can understand more clearly the double standards in the Opposition?
– I take it that the honour-‘ able member is suggesting that the debate should be on Vietcong actions - they were the words he used - on Vietcong atrocities, on Vietcong attacks on Vietnamese villages and on matters of that kind. I believe that there is a great deal in what the honourable member has said. We will all, those of us who are willing to accept the evidence, have seen records of brutality by the Vietcong on civilians. Indeed, in my belief, the basis of this initial invasion was one of subversion, terrorism and kidnapping. I believe that these things should - not merely in the course of parliamentary debate, although that is one good occasion on which to do it, but on many occasions - be brought to the attention of the Australian people. I would hope that in the course either of the Address-in-Reply, the course of the foreign affairs debate or the course of a debate concerning Vietnam in any way, these matters would not be allowed to be forgotten.
– I address my question to the Prime Minister. I gather from his answer to the last question and the statement of the honourable member for La Trobe that they think that Australian forces should use the same tactics as the Vietcong.
-Order! The honourable member will not debate the statement; he will ask his question.
– We just heard the right honourable gentleman denying that the Royal Australian Navy was at fault in a collision in which a ship was lost and indicating that no inquiry was necessary into allegations that Australian soldiers had tortured a prisoner. Is it in order further to conceal the armed forces-
-Order! The honourable member will ask his question.
– I am asking it.
-The honourable member’s preface is far too long. He will ask his question or resume his seat.
– Is it in order to conceal the armed forces from effective parliamentary scrutiny that he has appointed a young member of military age as Minister for the Army at this critical period in its history - a member with little parliamentary and no ministerial experience or active military service?
-Order’. The honourable member will now ask his question.
– I have asked it.
– -Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. I call the Prime Minister.
– The honourable member has not only asked a question; he has made a number of mis-statements in the course of asking that question. The first misstatement is that I have recently said anything about the Navy being at fault or a ship being at fault in the course of a collision. What I did say - and this adds some point to what the honourable member for La Trobe has mentioned - was that a member of the Opposition who claimed, falsely in my view, that the Royal Commission reflected on the discipline, standards and honour of the Navy, was making an untrue statement and I believe that the records will show that that is so. The Minister for the Army is a member, as I understand it, of the Citizen Military Forces - of the Air Force - I understand that is correct - and therefore perhaps has not the experience that the honourable member for Wills had* so long ago but perhaps has some more recent experience than the honourable member for Wills has had.
Suspension of Standing Orders
– I move:
That, in relation to the proceedings on any Sales Tax Bills, so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent -
the presentation and the first readings of the Bills together;
one motion being moved and one question being put in regard to, respectively, the second readings, the committee’s report stage, and the third readings, of all the Bills together, and
the consideration of all the Bills as a whole together in a committee of the whole.
In explanation may I say that yesterday when I gave notice of this motion I briefly mentioned that it was purely procedural and no immediate introduction of sales tax legislation was contemplated.
-Order! The level of conversation in the chamber is far too high and it is very difficult to hear the Minister.
– It is not worth listening to.
-Order! The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith will cease interjecting.
– I cannot hear him.
-If the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith offends again I will deal with him.
– I rise to order.
-The honourable member will resume his seat.
– Mr Speaker, I submit that in a case such as this-
– Are you taking a point of order?
– Yes. I submit that where a point of order has been clearly taken by a member of the House as was done by the honourable member for KingsfordSmith, you should ask what his point of order is.
-Order! The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith did not raise a point of order.
– Yes, I did.
-I am sorry, I did not hear it.
– My point of order was that I could not hear the Treasurer, and I think I was within my rights in asking him to raise his voice. As you know, Sir, duc to my background as an honorary member of the Boilermakers Society, my hearing is not’ the best.
-Order! The honourable member will not debate the point. 1 uphold the point of order. If the honourable member would assist the Chair in keeping order be would be able to hear quite clearly.
– Alteration of sales tax rates usually involves the introduction on nine sales tax bills, and over a period of many years the House has found it convenient for the nine bills to be taken together. Standing order 291 permits these bills to be introduced without notice, but it is necessary to suspend the Standing Orders to enable the bills to be presented and dealt with together. When passed, the motion will remain effective for this session. By moving the motion at this time we will avoid the speculation which could result if a motion were introduced later in the year.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 13 March (vide page 81), on motion by Mr Fox:
That the following Address-in-Reply to the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General be agreed to:
May It Please Your Excellency:
We, the Mouse of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.
– I am pleased to have the opportunity of joining in the debate on the Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General’s Speech. However, if I confined my remarks to what is contained in the Speech I should not have very much to say. Indeed the Speech was notable not for what it contained but for what it omitted. One can understand the debate being shortened so that it will conclude on Thursday next. There is little in the Speech to debate, but of course there is plenty to debate that is not contained in it. I should like to say something about statements made by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Bury) who has been guilty of making a most vicious attack on the members of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission because of its majority decision awarding increased margins to the metal trade unions in December last.
Former Ministers for Labour and National Service have been most insistent in this chamber that decisions of the Commission should be accepted by all parties.
The present Minister disregards the attitude of his predecessors and supports the emplayers’ claim that increases in margins should be absorbed in over-award payments. What he omitted to say was that rates fixed by the Commission are minimum rates and that the parties are free to negotiate for over-award payments once the minimum rates have been determined. The trade union movement will be foolish to accept the Minister’s view that the minimum rate prescribed should be the maximum.
Collective bargaining, as it is known in both the USA and the UK, is being resorted to in Australia. As soon as an award has been made both parties accept the decision of the Commission as laying down a minimum payment. They then proceed to bargain in regard to an amount over and above that provided in the award. This process has been accepted by the Commission as quite legitimate. Indeed the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission has referred to it as ‘the collective bargaining area’. If this area did not exist, the death knell of the arbitration system as we know it would be sounded. A big section of the trade union movement believes that arbitration should be jettisoned and resort had to collective bargaining. If unions could not negotiate for over-award payments following the establishment of minimum rates, a growing number of trade unionists would hasten to adopt this view. They believe, and rightly so, that the present system operates more to the advantage of the employer. They point out that awards laid down by the Commission tend to lag behind increases in the demand for labour and the bargaining power of the unions.
The Minister’s attack on the Commission did not finish at the point I mentioned a while ago. He fired another barb on 29th February when he said it was not the job of the Commission to dream up economic theories or to seek to determine the Government’s economic policy. The Commission stepped into this field because the Government has failed miserably to live up to its responsibilities regarding the economy. The Government has failed, for instance, to take action to control prices. It has allowed inflation to run riot. It has ignored the report of the Vernon Committee on the economy. There is quite a story to tell about that report. In fact, the Government has side-stepped its responsibility as regards the economy. Consequently, the Arbitration Commission has been rightly or wrongly filling the gap.
The Minister made an interesting admission when he said:
Under Australian conditions economic success depends vitally in the long run on a steady, continuous improvement in personal standards of living, and especially on a sustained rise in the real wages of the work force.
He went on:
Till 3 years ago average wages in real terms were rising year by year. They were sustained by heavy investment and progressive improvement in productivity. This has ceased to be the case. The main reason was the massive amount the Federal Government was having to spend on defence.
Resources which should have gone into raising the standard of living in the past 3 years had to be diverted to defence.
This failure to improve living standards was at the bottom of pressure for higher wages. In the first place, of course, the trade union movement would strongly deny that ‘up to 3 years ago average wages in real terms were rising year by year’. The facts are that prices and profits have been uncontrolled while the workers’ wages have been lagging behind increases in prices and profits. Commercial interests, and Government undertakings for that matter, make firm decisions to increase prices without any restriction and without having to justify such increases. Commercial interests arrive at decisions in the privacy of the board room without any evidence being heard. There is no evidence of public interest which the Minister so glibly talked about in the statement I have referred to. Management does not have to justify any increases it applies. It does not have to listen to argument or tender evidence before a public tribunal. The decision to increase prices of what it sells is its own decision. Management decisions are based on the fundamental rule that if costs increase then prices, which in the simplest terms determine the employer’s income, must rise by at least as much as is required to cover the increased cost. This right is denied the unions.
Until 1953 automatic adjustments to the basic wage protected workers against increased costs. This protection was abolished by the Court, as it then was, at the request of the employers and with the support of this Government. While wage and salary earners have to prove their claims the commercial interests take huge sums by way of profits and interest charges without having to justify their action to anyone. As a matter of fact, the Arbitration Commission in its 1964 judgment emphasised that there was no control over incomes other than of those whose employment was covered by awards. It pointed out that there was no overall authoritative control of prices while there was a tight control over wages. Mr Justice Moore, at page 66 of his reasons for judgment, said that the previous statement of the Commission that increases in prices were determined by those who fixed prices was a truth that could not be emphasised enough. The Commission’s December 1967 judgment restored the value of the metal trades margins which had been lagging over the years. But it did not restore them for long. The recent decision, of course, means that 30% of the December rises in margins is to be deferred and will be reconsidered in August. In the face of attacks made by employers and the Minister for Labour and National Service, the Arbitration Commission unfortunately retreated from the principles established last December in the Metal Trades Award. In the light of this retreat is it any wonder that the workers have become disgruntled and dissatisfied and have threatened to strike back in order to get these wrongs righted? ls it any wonder that the trade unions consider that the court operates more in the interests of employers than in the interests of the workers? The Minister has admitted that the value of wages is falling. He says that wages are not as good as they were three years ago. He gives as the main reason the Government’s massive expenditure on defence. So we see that the workers, not the employers and the big commercial interests, are paying for the war in Vietnam.
Uncontrolled prices and profits continue to increase. Not only is the worker hit by not getting as much purchasing power from his pay packet but he is also faced with increased charges. Proportionately the tax burden is heavier on the worker tha it is on commercial interests in the community. This was stated by the economist for the ‘Australian’ who on 2nd March wrote:
Apart from a S per cent rise in the tax rate in 1965-66, the increased defence spending has been financed out of the natural acceleration in income tax receipts as money incomes have risen, putting wage and salary earners in higher income tax brackets.
As the tax structure is most progressive at the lower end of the income tax scale, it is true that the lower income groups have met more than a proportionate share of the increased defence burden.
This point was made in the ‘Taxpayers’ Bulletin’ of 27th February this year, which stated:
Net income tax collections from individuals were $75 million greater in the first half of 1967- 68 than in the corresponding half of 1966-67. Gross pay-as-you-earn collections from individuals were $112 million greater, reflecting higher levels of employment mid earnings. Refunds of tax instalment deductions were $42 million greater so that there was an increase of $70 million in net payasyouearn collections.
That statement emphasises to some extent the view expressed by the economist of the Australian’. In an article in the ‘Australian’ of 18th August 1967 the economist, Mr Kenneth Davidson, posed the question: Who is paying for the war in Vietnam?’ He headed his article with the answer: ‘The Family Man Pays for the Rise in Defence.’ To the family man could be added the pensioner, who, despite an increase of more than 5% in the cost of living, is expected to exist on the same pension as was paid prior to the increase. Kenneth Davidson shows that despite the increase in the proportion of the gross national product being devoted to defence, the cash benefits paid to persons have fallen from 5.5% of the gross national product to 5.3% and grants to the States have fallen from 8.3% of the gross national product to 7.9%. Mr Davidson points out that taxes have not been increased. So the increased resources being devoted to defence have been obtained by squeezing the other two areas of expenditure.
When the Commonwealth’s resources are inadequate the States must raise revenue to meet the deficit. In an article in the ‘West Australian’ on 4th July 1967 Premier Nicklin maintained that at the Premiers
Conference the Commonwealth had suggested that the States impose a special purchase tax. Premier Bolte only recently raised this matter after he had been challenged by the new Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) in relation to the Victorian stamp tax. Reporting Sir Henry Bolte the ‘West Australian’ of 5th March this year stated:
In Melbourne yesterday Sir Henry called for urgent talks between the’ Commonwealth and the States over finance - and particularly on Victoria’s new stamp tax.
He said that the present Federal attitude was inconsistent with instructions given by the Holt administration last year.
It is clear that at last year’s Premiers Conference instructions of some kind were given to the States to increase their internal taxes. A turn-over tax has already been levied in Western Australia and Victoria. All States have been subjected to a financial squeeze and have been forced to increase charges. Last year all States had to increase hospital and transport charges. They will be forced to increase those charges still further this year. The Treasurer (Mr McMahon) has already suggested this course to them.
The economist for the ‘Australian’ has pointed out that since 1963-64, when deferred expenditure started to move ahead, receipts from pay as you earn taxation have increased by almost 88% and that over the same period total Commonwealth tax receipts have increased by only 50%. He states that this indicates that the wage earner has assumed a greater proportion of the tax burden over this period. He points out also that the rate of increase in taxation has been far higher in the lower and middle income groups as a result of the failure to reform pay as you earn tax rates at the various levels of money income. Since 1963-64 average weekly earnings rose by 20% but the percentage of income tax payable rose by a little more than 30% after allowing deductions for a wife and three children. Mr Davidson points out that in the case of a man earning $10,000 a year in 1963-64 and having deductions for a wife and three children, an increase of 20% in earnings would mean an increase of a little less than 20% in the proportion of tax payable. But with an income of $20,000 a year under the same conditions the proportionate tax burden would have increased by only 15%. Over the same 3-year period the minimum wage increased by 11% but the wage earner on this income would have experienced an increase of 17% in his tax burden as a proportion of his income. It is clear that the man on the lower income is paying a bigger proportion of taxes and consequently is carrying a bigger proportion of the burden of financing the war in Vietnam. We have direct evidence from this unbiassed source that the Government is placing the burden of financing the war on the poorer sections of the community. Those with the greatest needs and the smallest means are paying for this war while the wealthy few are getting defence on the cheap.
After the Minister for Labour and National Service had made his famous statement, the Prime Minister came in like a lion but he went out like a lamb. On 1st March he said that the speech had not been cleared by Cabinet and therefore was an expression of individual opinion only and was not to be taken as an announcement on behalf of the Government. He wanted to scotch any suggestion that hard times were ahead. During the campaign for the Higgins by-election he had been saying exactly the opposite. Only a few days earlier the Treasurer told motor car manufacturers that the rate of growth and standard of living were going ahead as quickly as ever. Here we have a conflict of viewpoints. On the one hand the Prime Minister and his Treasurer say that all is well and that the standard of living is increasing. On the other hand we have the Minister for Labour and National Service saying that resources that could have gone into improving the standard of living in the past three years were being diverted to defence. He was saying that real wages were static. Having had second thoughts on the matter the Prime Minister dismissed the speech of the Minister for Labour and National Service as being nothing spectacular.
One can understand the reluctance of the Prime Minister to admit that all is not well with the economy. What is clearly indicated by this conflict of viewpoint is that Cabinet is divided as to the state of the economy and the policy to adopt for the future.
On 8th March the Treasurer again came into the picture when he claimed that real wages were rising in step with productivity. He was quoting average weekly earnings for males. But this figure includes overtime and those on high salaries as well as those on the very lowest incomes. All I can say is that it is not of much satisfaction to the workers whose margins have not been adjusted, or to those on the minimum wage, to be told that the average weekly earnings have risen. If all wages were adjusted in a similar fashion to the metal trades margins, which have been recently altered, then nobody would have anything to complain about. But this is not the case. Even the Treasurer admitted that increased taxation had reduced the rate of increase in the takehome pay below the figures that he was quoting in that article.
I challenge the Treasurer to state whether he agrees with the statement made by the economist of the ‘Australian’ who said that money incomes had risen faster than real wages, thus placing wage earners in higher income brackets. Does he agree with that economist’s statement that the tax structure is most progressive at the lower end of the income tax scale? If this statement is correct, and it has never been contradicted, it is clear that the worker is paying more than a proportionate share of the increased defence burden. One would have thought that there would have been some mention in the Governor-General’s Speech of an adjustment in the tax rate so that the man on the lower income would not be meeting this heavy taxation.
When the new Prime Minister was elected by his Party it was generally thought - and the Prime Minister led us to believe - that the Federal Ministry would be reconstructed. However, it is much the same as before, as everybody knows. He reshuffled the cards rather than get a new pack. There were only four changes. The most novel change, of course, was the appointment of the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) to the Social Services portfolio. It will be most interesting to see how he shapes up. He has made some interesting suggestions in the past in regard to social services, one of which was the abolition of the means test. We will watch with interest what he proposes to do on this very important question. He has been most emphatic in this Parliament in regard to the abolition of the means test. I do not remember one debate on social services in which he has not stressed the importance of the abolition of the means test. He has made some very good speeches on that subject. I am sure that these speeches will be referred to during the course of this debate. It will be interesting to see his attitude to the abolition of the means test now that he has become the Minister for Social Services.
It will be interesting to see what the Minister does regarding a pensioner’s wife who is under 60 years of age. The circumstances of a woman in that position are deplorable. Such a woman has been out of industry for possibly 20 years. When we have referred this matter to previous Ministers for Social Services they have said that she should go back to work. She finds herself in the position that if her husband has reached the age of 65 and he gets the invalid pension the most that she can get is $6 a week, but if he is not an invalid they have to manage on his income, or he has to do something to build up his income to the allowable income, or she has to go out to work. I hope that the Minister will give consideration to people in these circumstances. Our policy is that the wife should get the full pension and should not be expected to return to industry after being away for perhaps 20 years from whatever job she may have had before she was married. We will also be waiting to see whether the Minister’s attitude towards pensioners is generally different from that of the Australian Country Party Minister whom he has succeeded.
Some reference was made in the Governor-General’s Speech to social welfare. I sincerely hope that these matters will be considered and that the Government will have a new look at the position of age, invalid and widow pensioners. Previously the Government has shown a callous disregard for those in the community with the greatest needs and the smallest means. I hope that there will be a change. It has turned a deaf ear to the plight of the pensioner. Despite an admitted price rise over the past 2 years there has not been an increase in pensions payable to the aged, invalid or widowed. What sort of a government is is that can ignore the miserable circumstances of many thousands of people during a period of rising prices? It has been said that a country’s standard of civilisation can be assessed from the way it treats its aged. If that is so, our standard of civilisation has been dropping badly under this Government.
Advances in medical science and knowledge have led to an increase in health standards and as a result people are living longer. We should be concerned about the way in which they are living. If thousands of our aged, invalid and widowed are living in poverty then it is a reflection on our society. Who can deny that a pensioner with no other income or perhaps only a small income is not living in poverty? Many thousands of these people are being treated shabbily at the present time by this Government. Science may be helping people to live longer but the policy of this Government so far has been directed towards making their additional years a misery. I sincerely hope that under the new Minister for Social Services that policy will be changed and a new look will be had at the pension structure. I sincerely hope that very sympathetic treatment will be given to the pioneers of this country who have done so much in the past but who find that because of circumstances that may be beyond their control they have to apply for a pension from the Department of Social Services.
– The Snowy Mountains scheme is our greatest single national engineering achievement. The Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority has provided us with our greatest single budgeting success. The future of the Snowy Mountains team, which has created these successes, is the greatest single question mark hanging over our national development at this time. I know that most members of this House will have seen for themselves the engineering achievements of the scheme. Most of us have had a look at the some 2,000 square miles of snowcapped mountains that are tapped by this scheme. We know from personal observation, or from plans and photographs, about the seventeen large dams in the scheme.
Many of us have been through much of the almost 100 miles of rock tunnel in the scheme. We have looked at the power stations, seven in all, and we have seen the way in which every drop of moisture that can be gathered into these dams is being harnessed by about 80 miles of mountain aqueducts. The scheme is our greatest budgeting success both in scale and in time. It covers a period of 25 or 26 years. It has managed on a total budget of $800m which for reasons that I shall go into later was determined within a few years of the commencement of the scheme.
There was in the original budget some provision for contingencies, but there was no provision for inflation. As a developing nation, we have to expect inflation at a rate of from 2% to 2.4% per annum. So what this means is that the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority has succeeded in constructing the works involved in the scheme and in raising its efficiency year by year. Because of its increasing efficiency, its costs have not been inflated along with costs throughout the rest of the economy. The same sort of thing has resulted from rising efficiency in many areas of private enterprise in the economy. To a great extent, the increasing efficiency evident in the Snowy Mountains Scheme has been made possible by the participation, through competitive tendering, of some of the greatest construction companies in Australia and throughout the rest of the world.
A question mark has been hanging over the possible participation of the staff of the Authority in national development works, where it would be of great benefit not simply because it would provide a construction team for development works, but because the nucleus of experts already available in the Authority gives the Commonwealth Government an opportunity to develop an instrumentality that could participate in every facet of national development, particularly in planning programmes and analysing them in detail for the preparation of submissions to Cabinet, which should always make the final decision on the basis of the most comprehensive submission that can be provided.
At the inception of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, the Authority created a systems analysis branch to analyse the scheme in order to ascertain the most economic way of going about constructing the works. There are still on the staff of the Authority men whose knowledge and abilities are orientated in this direction, and this branch could be re-established relatively easily within the Authority’s team. I believe that such a branch would be able to make a highly significant contribution to the planning of every kind of development work that we need in Australia. The present team continues in existence only because of its success.
The Chifley Government deserves very great credit for initiating the Snowy Mountains Scheme. It is a pity that one cannot give that Government credit for more than that. There was nothing new about the concept of the scheme, for it had been advocated for many years. The Chifley Administration had years in which to prepare before it finally drafted the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Act. So deficient was that measure found to be after it had been enacted that, in negotiations with the States concerned, that Government took some 4 years to get the necessary underpinning legislation and agreements adopted so that the Scheme could work. The Chifley Government’s approach was similar to that later adopted by the Labor Government of New South Wales in relation to the Sydney Opera House: Either it did not budget at all, or the budget, if it had one, was inadequate. At any rate, the Chifley Government started the Scheme off. On the average, in the early days, it fell some 4 weeks behind schedule in every 6 weeks of operations. It is very doubtful whether, had this rate of progress continued, the Scheme would ever have been brought to completion. It would have become too expensive and we as a nation would have had to come to the humiliating conclusion that we could not successfully conclude schemes of this magnitude. However, under the new management that took over after the general election in 1949, the Scheme became an outstanding success.
For this success, we ought to be grateful not only to the team involved within the Authority but also to the new Ministers and Government for their foresight in changing the whole basis of organisation so that the best engineering talents in the world could be attracted. It is difficult sometimes to apportion credit in matters such as these. For example, to whom should credit for the construction of the works involved in the Scheme be given? Should it go to the Australian taxpayers, who certainly paid the bill? Should it go to the Government that adopted the right policy and kept the Scheme going? Or should it go to the earlier Government that initiated the Scheme? Should it go to the Authority itself, which discharged the task of supervising the entire scheme? I point out, incidentally, that, for the same expenditure, the amount of electricity produced by the Scheme v/ill now be nearly double that originally proposed. Should all the credit go to the Authority itself? No human agency can claim credit for the natural resources in the Snowy Mountains region. The credit for the success of the Scheme should go to a combination of all the agencies that I have just mentioned. We who belong to the Liberal Party and the Australian Country Party do not claim for this Government alone credit for what has been done through its activities. I certainly do not claim that this Government alone has been responsible and deserves all the credit. However, the Government can justifiably claim credit for measures that it has taken to create the kind of climate in which this sort of development work can be undertaken successfully and effectively. We on this side of the Parliament in no way claim, as, unfortunately, honourable gentlemen opposite sometimes do in respect of Labor Governments, that it is only Governments which can get things done and undertake major works.
Where does the Snowy Mountains Authority’s team fit into our future? I believe that, as is obviously necessary, this team will be retained. Indeed, this has now been decided. On 1st June last year, the Minister for National Development (Mr Fairbairn) announced that the investigation and design sections and the hydraulic laboratories of the Authority would be retained as a group capable of designing works for major contracts. I believe that the rider to the announcement was unfortunate, lt was to the effect that the Government did not envisage that the Authority would continue to take part in construction activities after the completion of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. But when one gets down to it, the defining of a construction authority is very difficult. A consultant body may prepare contracts for major works and then be asked to supervise the contracts in order to overcome difficulties from arising during construction. In the process, it may have to undertake some redesigning work in order to permit the constructing contractors to adhere to their contract. The only difference between this kind of body and a construction authority is that its staff includes a number of pay clerks and administrative employees who handle the actual flow of money from the client to the constructing contractors or engineers. Normally, payments are made only with the approval of the supervising engineers and at a time determined by them.
I believe it is a pity that the rider was added to the Minister’s announcement and I trust that the Government will reconsider the matter and at least state that it can envisage circumstances in which it would be appropriate for the Snowy Mountains Authority’s team - by whatever name it may be known in the future - to act as a constructing authority. I believe it is inevitable that the team will be required to do this. It will be asked by the States, the Commonwealth or even by other countries to perform this function.
I shall return to these matters later. I wish now to turn to the Speech delivered by the Governor-General at the opening of the Parliament on Tuesday of this week. The Speech did not answer the question concerning the Authority but it contained some new material. It emphasised that our defence and security position is fundamental to everything that happens in the country. It outlined the administrative and ministerial changes that have been made and indicated that the Government will provide $25m over the next 4 years for the reconstruction of the dairying industry. The provision of $25m adds teeth to the proposals to be started next year. I believe that this could be the start of something very important to our whole economy. The proposal provides a real alternative to subsidising industries of any kind - certainly primary industries - when they get into difficulties of size or difficulties arising 0”t of markets which require a much greater volume of production to make the units of production viable. The decision to raise, through the Reserve Bank of Australia, an additional $37m or thereabouts to add to the $50m fund for farm development loans was an excellent one and very timely, coming at a stage when the funds themselves had shrunk to about SI 5m, part of which is already committed to loans approved but not fully drawn.
His Excellency indicated that further decisions on water conservation projects can be expected soon. The fund for these purposes now stands at only some S30m. The provision is for $50m over 5 years, but $20m has been allocated to the Emerald scheme in Queensland. His Excellency indicated that decisions will be made soon on assistance to rural industries to offset losses suffered as a result of sterling devaluation. I assure His Excellency and the Government that such decisions cannot come too soon, although I do appreciate that they will be far ranging. Other speakers have mentioned the complete review of the field of social welfare aimed at assisting those who need help most, but not discouraging those who are thrifty. Emphasis is place on self-help and self-reliance. I certainly appreciate this very much and I am sure that it will be appreciated throughout Australia. The review of the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Act and superannuation transferability will be very welcome and, I have no doubt, effective.
The Speech did nothing to remove the question mark which hangs over the whole of the national development programme in that it did not resolve the details of the future of the Snowy Mountains Authority. The details of that decision will determine whether or not the team is an effective one. If the Authority does not have sufficient autonomy to attract the best engineering talent in the world it will gradually fade away. If the Authority is so constricted by legislation that it cannot have a close enough relationship with the construction work that it is investigating and designing, then again it will be severely handicapped. The objections to the retention of the Authority are that a constructing authority exists in the Department of Works, that the States have conservation authorities and Departments of Works, that to create or perpetuate another constructing authority will cost too much money and that the demand for its services will be too great. Those arguments do not hold water.
The level of expenditure on water conservation now is moving past the $100m per annum mark. In very rough, round figures, the expenditure is approximately S40m to $50m by the Commonwealth and $40m to $50 by the States; the State of New South Wales itself is moving past the $25m per annum mark.
A decision to reduce this level of expenditure would be most unlikely and most unwelcome. The last few years have shown everyone the vital importance of water conservation. Irrespective of the drought measures that are proposed from time to time, nothing evaporates less rapidly than water in a drought; water evaporates but everything else goes faster. 1 refer not only to fodder reserves or any money that anyone might be lucky enough to have in the bank but also to our transport system, in terms of finding trucks, particularly rail trucks, to move large numbers of stock. The best single answer to drought is water conservation. The Government took the first steps in this direction some time ago by establishing the Australian Water Resources Council in 1961. The Council’s first report was delivered in 1963 and its next report is expected next year. The Council meets annually, but the Standing Committee meets continuously to handle business as it arises. The latest meeting of the Committee concluded in Canberra only yesterday. The Council is establishing a basis for uniform measurement of water resources throughout Australia, to provide the basic data on which to establish feasibility studies for development of the projects. The determination of the development of any project must depend on a number of factors, but until the total Australian resources are measured in the same way no comparison can be made.
The question of the retention of the Authority goes deeper than this. It concerns not only water conservation but also a very wide range of civil engineering. At the moment the Authority is working on some thirty-nine projects, not including the Snowy Mountains scheme. The value of Snowy Mountains Authority fees, including sums of money handled for clients for the purchase of materials on projects, at present - and the list is current’ as at 1st March of this year - is some $48,664,700. Far too much detail is contained in the list for me to read it. It covers a wide range of activity both inside and outside Australia. With the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate the list in Hansard for reference purposes.
The list includes projects in countries overseas and in almost every State in Australia, including those for private industry, and gives some idea not only of the wide range of talents available in the Authority’s team but also of the wide range of demand for its services. That other construction authorities, such as the Commonwealth Department of Works, already exist can be argued. Fair enough. But surely we can also tolerate and welcome the existence of an authority with some autonomy; an authority with sufficient autonomy not only to attract talent but sometimes to be embarrassing to whatever party is in government; with sufficient autonomy to put its own neck on the chopping block whenever it draws up an estimate. The final criterion for keeping this team is that it will be on its metal, when designing any contract, to see that the final cost is near its estimate.
The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority has a worldwide reputation to maintain. We should give it the facilities and the governmental environment to keep that reputation, not so much for the sake of the world reputation as for our own sake. We should use the Authority, the specialists services that it has and the specialist services that can be developed within it, so thai we can have an instrument to design our own policies, to carry out those policies and also to develop the countless services we might require in future. Services which might be required in the future would include such things as the examination of standards on a Commonwealth basis, the examination of commercial products or the examination of State propositions which the States themselves, by reason of being individual States, are not prepared to handle or cannot handle. I think that this decision on the Authority must be made quickly so that the people of Cooma can make their plans. The Cooma Development Committee, which was appointed by the Premier of New South Wales, has been held up in its planning until it knows what is going to happen to the Authority. This decision must be made known as quickly as possible this year. Every possible detail involved was examined last year. The interdepartmental committees must provide Cabinet with the evidence necessary to make this decision as soon as possible.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I want to congratulate the previous speaker, the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Munro) for his remarks about water conservation. If this country has learned nothing from the terrible drought gripping Canberra, parts of New South Wales to the south of the Australian Capital Territory and areas of Victoria, then it will be a sad day for Australia in general and water conservation projects in particular. There was a flaw in the honourable member’s speech upon which I want to comment. He did give great praise to the Chifley Government for starting the Snowy Mountains scheme but then he proceeded to criticise that government for its delay in commencing the scheme. I would remind the honourable member that Australia had just emerged from a world war and, as an aftermath, we found ourselves very short of materials. Further, I want to tell him that the Liberal Party, which was then in opposition, protested strongly against supporting the Snowy Mountains scheme. So enthusiastic was the Liberal Party about the scheme being commenced that it boycotted the opening ceremony. The Liberal Party was noticeable by its absence at the opening ceremony of what is now being acclaimed as the greatest engineering feat in modern history. Therefore the honourable member for EdenMonaro should think before criticising the government that commenced that great project which has gained great prominence throughout the world for Australian engineering feats.
Mr Speaker, I join with the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) in saying that it is upon things that were not included in the Governor-General’s Speech that most comment could be made. The GovernorGeneral’s Speech made quite clear that the policy of. the Government in relation to South Vietnam was still to be one of guns before butter. The Speech indicated that the Government would continue to provide economic and civil aid to South Vietnam. The Governor-General said:
The policy of giving practical help to the less developed countries of the world will be continued. In the present financial year, expenditure on all aid programmes, including grants to Papua and New Guinea, is approximately $142m. My Government has already announced that in the next financial year the amount of aid to be provided in Indonesia will be doubled.
I point out that at present the amount involved is $6.2m for Indonesia. It will be increased to $ 12.7m. The Governor-General also said:
Our Task Force in Vietnam, comprising more than 8,000 men drawn from all three Services, has been maintained at full operational efficiency and has met all calls with skill and courage, lt has also carried out a vigorous civic action programme. It has built roads, market places and schools, has carried out health surveys and provided medical, water supply and drainage services.
I have no quarrel about giving practical help to the less developed countries of the world. The Governor-General was referring in his Speech at this point to the Colombo Plan. Aid of this type provides the best instruments with which to combat the downward thrust of Communism. I would suggest to those people who are to administer the distribution of the sum of $12,700,000 to be given to Indonesia in the next financial year that they look at the article written by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) which appeared in the Melbourne Age’ on 12th March. It might give them a clearer picture of what needs to be done in Indonesia. In regard to the action being taken by Australia in South Vietnam, this effort is costing us something like S58m a year. So far as civic action programmes are concerned, recent events have shown the futility of this sort of action while bombs, bullets and shells are raining over the community.
It is in regard to the matter of costs that I want to direct most of my remarks. At one point in his Speech the GovernorGeneral said this:
It is, of course, clear that Australia cannot, if it is to discharge its other responsibilities at home and abroad, fill the vacuum created by the British withdrawal.
In other words, it is beyond the economic and manpower resources of Australia to do this. I visited Singapore in 1957 and again in May last year. I was agreeably surprised to see the difference between the Singapore of 1967 and the Singapore of 1957. There are now big commercial buildings, new roads and high density housing. I do not agree with high density housing but in an area like Singapore it is commendable because people for the first time have running water and sewered homes. They have dry accommodation which is in great contrast to the accommodation, such as reed huts and earthen floors, that they were used to. There are big industrial undertakings, such as the Hume pipe works, for instance. A big textile complex was in operation. All these things arc now giving the people and their children some stake in the future. They are giving them some semblance of a life worth living. All the government officials, parliamentarians, commercial men and bankers that I approached said that this was their way of stopping the downward thrust of Communism. 1 agree entirely with them, Mr Speaker. It is costing Singapore a lot of money to carry out this redevelopment programme, but at least in my view it is using the right means to win the friendships of the people of Asia. At least this programme is enabling them to have a life worth living.
I have referred to costs. It is interesting to note that the war in Vietnam is costing the American taxpayers $42,000 per minute. For hospitalisation alone it amounts to $300 per week per man and there have been 117,680 wounded so far. Then there will be the cost of pensions and rehabilitation for these people. I have been informed by reliable sources that the cost to the American taxpayer for the war in Vietnam runs at about $40 billion each year. Another interesting feature is that the 10-hour journey from Guam to North Vietnam for a B52 bomber costs $1,250 an hour. A B52 bomber carries 29 tons of bombs at an average cost of $2,500 a ton. Consequently, a modest raid will cost as much as %lim. It is estimated that an average of 1 ton of bombs is dropped for every 51 people and that in an area not much bigger than Tasmania 800,000 tons are dropped yearly. This is about 6 tons for every square mile. Official figures reveal that ground troops expend ammunition to the value of $40m each month. With this added to the airborne warfare it is estimated that for every Vietcong killed it costs the American taxpayer $40,000 for ammunition alone. All these charges bulked together reveal that the price of one dead Vietcong adds up to more than $500,000. In one operation in which 20 Vietcong were killed the cost of each corpse was said to be $700,000. As I have said already, this unwinnable war is costing $40 billion a year. It is interesting to note also as a contrast on the human side that more than 14 million refugees in Vietnam are expected to exist on a Government dole of $6.25 a year. The cost of an operation in which 20 Vietcong were killed could have paid the yearly dole of every refugee and increased it by more than 8%. What has been spent already on the war in Vietnam would be sufficient to make every South Vietnamese rich beyond his wildest dreams. In fact, the money being spent there is eight times the annual income of South and North Vietnam put together.
To relate this expenditure to the domestic front in Australia, the money being spent by America in Vietnam is greater than the cost of all the goods and services used annually in Australia where we have a living standard 20 times as high as the unfortunate people of Vietnam. Yet we have a population of only 114 million. If we were to add to all this cost the loss of other war material and private property, the loss of lives, the loss of production and foodstuffs - indeed, all the losses that have been inflicted on the community in Vietnam by this war - if we were to bulk these losses into a sum total for 1 year and then equate this sum to the value it could achieve in overcoming the starvation, the disease, the poverty, the illiteracy, the degradation and the suffering that are the lot of most people in South East Asia, India and Pakistan, we would see that this money could bc used much more effectively to overcome all those conditions which breed Communism. I have seen these places to which I have referred and I know of the plight of people in those regions.
The sum of money to which 1 have referred could be used as a weapon against Communism more effectively than bullets or bombs. Having made this calculation I am sure that honourable members will arrive at the same conclusion as I have, that these billions of dollars would have been better spent on the construction of humanity instead of the destruction of humanity, with its ever present threat that the events in South Vietnam could doubtless lead to the destruction of the universe. In saying that I refer to the words of Alan Lee Williams, who was the solitary British member of Parliament who visited Vietnam at the invitation of the South Vietnamese Government to witness the Presidential election and returned a changed man. He said:
The watershed of the whole war for me was one boy, aged 7 or 8, with half his face, his whole right shoulder and arm almost completely burnt off, and British doctors struggling to save his life. It’s in the hospitals that you see the real guts of the war
He continued by saying that after seeing this:
I’ve asked myself the ultimate question: Would it have been so terrible if Ho Chi Minh had taken over in (say) 1956? The Vietnamese are antiChinese, and even more sharply so in the North. Might it then have altered the balance of power less? And I think Ho’s regime was a shade less tyrannical than Diem’s and the early military regimes in South Vietnam.
I’ve come back blackly pessimistic - both sides believe they can fight the other to a standstill. And both are thoroughly disliked by the people in the rural areas where the real war for their hearts and minds is being fought.
Ho is a thoroughly discredited figure: The violence of the Vietcong has seen to that. The Americans raze their villages down and move them; and the unforgivable thing is that everyone knows they’re fighting for the balance of power and not for the Vietnamese at all. In their simple way, they know this. Neither side can claim their allegiance; the only side that could would be the one that left them alone.
Now let us consider the situation on the American front and consider what could be done with the $40 billion which is being spent each year. We read articles from the land of affluence which state that 30 million people, half of them negroes, live in poverty and that the greatest gadget is an effective rat trap. An article which appeared in the Melbourne ‘Herald’ on 7th October 1967 states:
Unemployment among negroes is nearly 7.5% - more than twice the unemployment rate for the whole nation. Of the 30 million Americans living in poverty, half are negro.
But it is not just being on the breadline, nor the degrading of living in filthy, rat-infested tenements, nor even the pain of hunger that has made the angry negro turn bis resentment into racial revolution.
In dingy, 70 year old tenement buildings crammed with people, the negro woman battles day and night against rats, dirt and the bitter cold of the North American winters.
The life is an embittering contrast with the daily schedule of her middle-class white sister, living, as often as not, in one of the land-scaped, treestudded middle-class suburbs that today surround all American cities.
These are the things that are causing great resentment in America, which is spending $40 billion each year on an unwinnable war. An article in the London ‘Times’ of 17th July 1967 is headed ‘Food aid for millions of poorer Americans’ and states:
Mr Orville Freeman, the Secretary of Agriculture, today announced new measures to provide food for millions of poor Americans. They will first be applied in Mississippi where a team of physicians recently described the nutritional and medical condition of children as shocking.
The physicians’ report, published by the Southern Regional Council of Atlanta, Georgia, said:
In child after child we saw: evidence of vitamin and mineral deficiencies; serious, untreated skin infections and ulcerations; eye and ear diseases, also unattended bone diseases secondary to poor food intake; the prevalence of bacterial and parasitic disease, as well as severe anaemia, with resulting loss of energy and ability to live a normally active life; diseases of the heart and the lungs - requiring surgery - which have gone undiagnosed and untreated. . . . We saw children afflicted with chronic diarrhoea, chronic sores, chronic leg and arm (untreated) injuries, and deformities. We saw homes without running water, without electricity, without screens, in which children drink contaminated water and live with germbearing mosquitoes and flies everywhere around.
The physicians concluded on this note:
In sum, we saw children who are hungry and who are sick - children for whom hunger is a daily fact of life and sickness, in many forms, an inevitability. We do not want to quibble over words, but “malnutrition” is not quite what we found: The boys and girls we saw were hungry - weak, in pain, sick; their lives are being shortened; they are, in fact, visibly and predictably losing their health, their energy, their spirits. They are suffering from hunger and disease and directly or indirectly they are dying from them - which is exactly what “starvation” means’.
This is the sort of thing that is going on while $40 billion is being spent on an unwinnable war. Then, getting nearer our own front door, we see articles like this one under the heading ‘The Warning on Our Doorstep’. The article reads:
Two hundred million Asian children are crying out for education - and probably will get none in their lifetime. . . .
This is the message that Mr Jack Ling, Deputy Chief of Public Information for UNICEF- the United Nation children’s organisation - has brought to Australia. . . .
He said The world is getting so small that everyone depends on everyone else.’
Australia is considered part of Asia and you can’t go on having an area where one part is very prosperous and another part is very poor. That does not make the conditions for peace, does it?’
The big need, he says, is for money. The article continues:
Fifty dollars would equip a village child health centre and two-thirds of Asian babies are delivered without assistance from a doctor or nurse,’ he said.
Even one dollar would help provide teachers for the 50 percent of children in the area who at present can expect no semblance of education.’
Through Asia, Africa and other undeveloped areas there is a hunger for knowledge, and this must be satisfied or it will turn to hunger and frustration. . . .
The article ends on this note:
Education is not the only need,’ he said. ‘Hundreds of millions in Asia live without sanitation or medical care, without even a water system which is safe to drink.
Our budget last year was $35.2 million. We have calculated this as equal to the cost of two hours of world armament.’
We have conditions like this while over $40 billion is being spent on war in Vietnam. Let us look at what is going on in other parts of the world today. I have seen these places and can vouch for them. The author of an article in ‘The Sunday Times’ of 3rd March 1968 was commissioned by the Freedom from Hunger campaign to look at conditions in poor countries. He travelled 45,000 miles in areas of appalling human misery. The worst city he visited was Calcutta where I have spent a considerable amount of time. For India, threatened with political paralysis, Calcutta is its most urgent problem. If India ever explodes it will happen here. These are the views of Arthur Hopcraft:
We have not seen human degradation on a comparable scale in any other city in the world.
Calcutta is probably going to have a population between twelve and thirteen million by 1986. To imagine such a number crammed into the evil conditions prevailing in 1967 is to imagine disaster.
Perhaps the next comment is the most revealing and devastating:
If the final break-down were to take place it would be a disaster for mankind of a more sinister sort than any disaster of flood or famine. It would be a confession of failure, at the first major confrontation, of mankind’s ability to organise the vast, rapidly growing urban concentrations into which humanity seems inevitably destined to move.
These are the sorts of conditions existing in the world today while we are spending $58 million on the war in Vietnam and the Americans, are spending $40 billion a year. Can we expect with conditions like this to stop the downward thrust of Communism? When will we get some sense and humanity into our thinking? What chance have we? It is all right for those who have never known what it is to go without a crust to interject and treat this lightly. They should look at these places and do something to try to stop the continuation of these conditions.
– I have.
– The honourable member should do a little more. If he can stop $40 billion being spent in Vietnam, perhaps he would bc doing something for a world that is crying out for this sort of reform. Those are the conditions in Asia and India while $40 billion is spent on a war that was lost before it started. It is only the armament manufacturers and the graft and corruption merchants who derive any benefit. Every second two people die from illness and hunger which are the very cause and roots of Communism. This is the battleground on which we should be fighting. The fatalities that this battleground claims could wipe out the population of Australia in less than 3 months. I ask, in the words of Alan Lee Williams, ‘Would it have been so bad if Ho Chi Minh had taken over in 1955 or 1956?’ Candidly I do not think it would have been. The responsibility for starting the war in Vietnam belongs to an irresponsible few. The responsibility for ending it is a responsibility for all. Either we end it or we look forward to a future world in which the living will envy the dead.
– I have been interested to listen to the speech of the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Mclvor). He has certainly intimated the heavy cost of the war. Nobody disputes that aspect. He told us the story of so many people suffering as a consequence of the war but war always causes such things. I listened in vain to hear his solution to the problem of stopping the war. Does he want us to walk out on the people who are trying to get the freedom to live? Does he want us to walk out and look on the other side? Does he say to this House that we want
Communist domination over South Vietnam? It means nothing less than that. Does he suggest that the starvation and suffering existing because of the effects of war are to be removed under a Communist regime in South Vietnam if we allow the Communists to over-run that country?
– I suggested that it is possible to stop that sort of thing.
– How do you stop it?
– By giving them a life worth living.
– We are trying to give the right to live in Vietnam to those who want to live there. We are not invading North Vietnam; we are leaving them alone but they are not willing to leave South Vietnam alone. We have the challenge. Are we to be like the priest and the Levite and walk by on the other side, not seeing the effects on the South Vietnam people if we walk out on them? The honourable member’s whole speech suggested that we walk out. Freedom costs something and freedom is costing both Australia and the United States of America a lot in our attempts to help these people secure their freedom.
The honourable member for Gellibrand gave the financial cost of the war but he did not give the cost to the South Vietnam people if we were to walk out like cowards and leave them on their own. He is not interested in that. He is quite prepared to accept what his executive says and to walk out on these people. He will not assist them to get some freedom. Where does one contain Communism? The honourable member talked about it but if you do not contain it in Vietnam, where is it contained? If Russia wanted to stop this war she could do so by being joint chairman with the United Kingdom in resurrecting the Geneva Convention. Russia will not assist the situation; she will not help. All she wants is for turmoil to continue. We, as a free people, want others to be free; the stand that we as Australians take is that we want the people of Vietnam to be as free as we are.
I commend the honourable member for Eden-Monaro on the speech that he made concerning the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority. I want to say a few words about it. I do not know that I quite agree with all his contentions.
I support him in his desire to retain this great organisation, but not as a unit operating in only one centre. I believe we ought to retain the skill of the Snowy Mountains Authority not for use in one place but for diversified purposes throughout Australia. Queensland is using the skill of the organisation on the Kolan scheme, the design for which was used as the basis of an application for Commonwealth financial assistance. The Queensland Government is also using the Snowy engineers and designers on the Nogoa River scheme, which has been approved by the Commonwealth and can proceed to the construction stage expeditiously. In addition the skills of the Snowy team are being used in South East Asia. However, the point I wish to make is that we do not want an organisation like this kept together merely to be planted in the Darling or in any other one place in Australia when there are so many calls for water conservation throughout the nation. 1 believe in diversification of water conservation. We should conserve water where it is and where people are able to use it.
I am glad that water is being conserved in the north west of Australia. The Ord River scheme is to be completed. It will stand as an asset for ever in this great country, but its benefits will be confined to comparatively few people. In the sense that we must open up the north west of Australia, that is as it should be and I commend it, but if we confine all our finance to schemes of this magnitude, affecting comparatively few people in each instance, we shall never serve the best interests of the nation. Surely we learned our lesson from the disastrous drought in New South Wales and Queensland that persisted for 2 years. As it is breaking there, we find Victoria, southern New South Wales and South Australia in the throes of what is now regarded as their worst droughts.
If we are to cure the effects of drought we must have in this continent more and more water conservation. I was pleased to find a reference in our last policy speech to an allocation of $50m to be spent over a period of 5 years on water conservation but I say emphatically that it is not enough when measured against the need for water conservation. If we are to spend $50m over a period of 5 years, 12 or 18 months of that time must first be devoted to planning before construction can proceed. My plea to the Government is that in every centre where there is water, let it be conserved.
In Queensland we have local farm production schemes, one of which is not far from my property. At a cost of $560,000 it provides water for 205 holdings although not sufficient for irrigation. Not enough water is available for that but the farmers have an assurance against drought because half the battle is won when there is water on a property. If it is necessary to travel stock they lose condition. They have to travel a certain distance before they can get a drink and, by the time they return to their property, they are as thirsty as when they left. As a result they lose condition rapidly. The consequence of having water on a property is that the drought problem is met halfway.
Sitting suspended from 12.46 to 2.15 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting for lunch, I stated that because of the dryness of the continent in which we reside we must of necessity make provision for the conservation of more and more water. It is obvious that if wc could obtain sufficient water for irrigation purposes in any locality we would in effect counter in advance the effects of drought. We could make provision to carry us through. Let me give an example ot one of the schemes adopted in Queensland whereby water is supplied for farms. We have what is really a cheap financial proposition, and a good job is being done. This scheme is situated at Proston and supplies 170 rural holdings. The cost of supplying 205 properties with water is $564,000. The rural properties covered in this scheme amount to 66,500 acres. The scheme has 104 miles of piping. The State Government provides a 50% subsidy to help meet the cost and the farmers make a capital construction contribution. The annual usage - almost the total of the water that is available - is 30 million gallons. There is an assured water supply for farms. The very fact that the scheme works out so cheaply overall indicates that where there is a need for water, we have to do more to provide it. “Ve have to get small schemes, middle size schemes and, of necessity, large ones. So I say that we cannot be satisfied with a programme for the development of water resources involving the expenditure of S50m over 5 years. We can be satisfied with this as an initial contribution provided that this sum is committed in the early part of the 5 years so that it can be spent and construction can be completed within that period. But we cannot wait for the remaining part of the 5 years before this Government grants more finance to assist in meeting this very vital need for Australia.
Queensland has received approval for assistance for the Nogoa scheme. I mentioned earlier that personnel from the Snowy Mountains Scheme are being used very extensively in order to expedite the construction. The Queensland Government has made application for assistance for the Kolan scheme, which is situated in the fairly closely settled area near Bundaberg, lt may be a fairly costly scheme but nevertheless it will help many sugar farmers and assure their crop production. In addition, it will supply water for all other properties in the locality. 1 make a plea for sympathetic consideration by the Government so that the scheme can be commenced in the near future. A commitment of $20m in one State out of a total of $50m is a good contribution to that State. The Queensland Government has at least been working on the preparation and the design of schemes and is ready to proceed with construction. Because of the drought over the past 2 years, the Childers district, and the Bundaberg district, through which the Kolan River runs, lost two cane crops in succession. Honourable members can see the beneficial effect of water schemes not only to individuals but to the economy as a whole. The drought in Queensland and New South Wales has been succeeded by the devastating drought that is now gripping southern New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
If we look back we find that a devastating drought occurred from 1902 lo 1910. Eight out of 11 years were very dry. Queensland lost two-thirds of its stock in that drought. We can better withstand a drought nowadays. But we could withstand one even better and save practically all our stock if we provided more finance for water schemes. So, overall, if I say nothing else in this speech, I say to the Government that $50m over 5 years is not nearly enough. We need more and more money and more and more water conservation in this continent of ours.
The other matter that I want to raise concerns civil aviation. I commend the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz) on the good job that he has done. I am not here to attack him. I say he is doing a commendable job. The Minister was good enough to come to my own town of Kingaroy and have a look at the aerodrome. He has been to Gympie with me and to other centres as well. Overall, we have to meet the changing circumstances and the changing requirements of civil aviation with growing importance of air transport. It costs millions of dollars a year to keep up with new developments. The pinpricking thing that worries me is the attitude of the Department of Civil Aviation to country districts. The Department wants shire councils to take over aerodromes under the local ownership plan but is not prepared to put the aerodromes in reasonable shape before the councils take them over. It makes only a penny pinching sort of arrangement with the councils. For instance, at Kingaroy, the local council is prepared to make a contribution to have a sealed strip and some’ drainage provided. The Department has proposed that only the lower end be sealed and that no drainage be provided. Whenever rain falls, all the water would run down on the strip and cover the bitumen with silt. The Department has made a penny pinching offer of $15,000 for this financial year and a promise of an overall amount of $30,000. It would be far better, whoever paid for it, if the $80,000 needed for bitumen strip with reasonable drainage were provided.
Gympie is in a similar situation. The Department has offered some finance. 1 am not here to condemn the local council. I do not think that it is satisfied with this offer, which is for work on the end of the strip and on the apron. The point is that if the Government can invest $100m in the airports at Tullamarine and Mascot - I am not condemning this expenditure because I believe it ought to be made - and it cannot find even a few thousand dollars for country aerodromes, its policy is wrong and, as a representative of country people, I resist it very strongly. We must remember that improved country aerodromes would be a defence asset.
The final comment that I want to make concerns the allocation of funds for assistance to dairymen. I am glad to see this mentioned in the Governor-General’s Speech. I had an initial interest in having these proposals formulated. I compliment the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Anthony) on the good work he has done in bringing the scheme to fruition. I am sure that he will be able to settle satisfactorily the differences that exist between the Commonwealth and the States and that the scheme will make a valuable contribution to the dairy industry. There are marginal dairymen. In the early 1950s we assisted marginal wheat growers. We can assist the dairy industry similarly. The scheme will be for the good of the industry and for the economic good of Australia.
In conclusion 1 want to pay a tribute to the late Harold Holt. For almost 9 years I sat with him in Cabinet, experiencing his friendliness and ability. His every action indicated that he was a man in the full sense of the term. If ever a man personified service to his country it was Harold Holt.
Debate (on motion by Dr Patterson) adjourned.
– by leave - Following the meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council last month it was announced that the Tobacco Leaf Stabilisation Plan is to operate for a further 5 years after the current plan terminates on 31st December next. The continuing plan will be basically similar to the present scheme except that the Australian annual leaf marketing quota, at present 26,000,000 lb, will be determined annually for each crop before it is planted on the basis of consumption trends and production. The detailed basis recommended by the Australian Tobacco Board and accepted by the Australian Agricultural Council for the continuing plan is being announced to the industry today.
At its meeting last month the Australian Agricultural Council considered the level of the Australian tobacco leaf marketing quota to be set for the 1969 selling season. I am now able to announce that the 1969 Australian marketing quota will be 28,500,000 lb green weight, which is an increase of 2,500,000 lb upon the level of 26,000,000 lb which has operated for the first 4 years of the stabilisation plan until 31st December 1968. The increased quota for 1969 will be allocated amongst the tobacco leaf producing States in the same ratio as was the original annual Australian marketing quota of 26,000,000 lb.
Now that the initial difficulties associated with operating the tobacco leaf stabilisation plan have been overcome with experience, I am pleased to see continuing co-operation amongst the various sections of the industry and the governments involved. This ensures a sound basis for continuing the plan.
Debate resumed (vide page 120).
– I wish to pay a tribute first to the late Harold Holt. However much we on this side of the House may have disagreed with some of his policies and attitudes, 1 do not think any of us would deny that he was a man most diligent in his duties and most courteous to all honourable members who approached him. I join with all Australians in extending to his widow my deepest sympathy. That a man holding the highest position in the land should be lost under such tragic circumstances is more distressing than the fact of death itself. Most of us live in the face of death. The mortality rate amongst members of Parliament is proportionately higher than in most other sections of the community. On this, the first opportunity since this unfortunate accident, I join with other honourable members and the Governor-General in expressing my regret at the death of Harold Holt.
In his Speech opening the Parliament, the Governor-General would have the people of Australia believe that this is a new Parliament. Perhaps there are a few new faces. During the weeks and months preceding the opening of the Parliament there was a good deal of propaganda designed to convince the people that there would be a big new deal. But having listened to the Governor-General’s Speech most honourable members will agree that this is the same old Arm, albeit with a few new faces for various reasons, and that we can expect very little more, if any more, than we got in the past.
I was pleased to hear the right honourable member for Fisher (Mr Adermann), a former Minister for Primary Industry, refer to the development of water resources. This is a matter that must be uppermost in the minds of those honourable members who represent the southern States of Australia. I appreciate that the former Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Adermann) has urged that additional money be made available for the development of water resources. The reference by the GovernorGeneral to an expenditure of $50m over 5 years for this purpose is the same story as was told by the late Prime Minister in his policy speech in 1966. Like the right honourable member for Fisher, I, too, hope that the Government will have a change of heart on this matter. I am sorry that the right honourable gentleman was not able to persuade the Government to act while he was a member of the Cabinet. I know that he had an interest in this matter and that he was given a good deal of information about it, particularly the Kolan project. I am particularly interested in this project. It is not in my electorate but the people of my electorate stand to benefit from it. I concede everything thai the right honourable gentleman said about the project. It will bring some form of stability to an industry in a proven and closely settled area. The farms are already there. We do not need pilot farms to see what can be grown. We know what can be grown. From bitter experience we know the difference between producing in a drought year and producing in a year of good rains. We know also the difference between crops grown under irrigation and crops not grown under irrigation. In 1964, with irrigation available, a farm of 127 acres harvested 100.9 acres of cane at a rate of 31.1 tons to the acre, giving an aggregate harvest of 3,143 tons. Next door a farm of 130 acres, not irrigated, harvested only 30.9 acres at a rate of 20.2 tons to the acre, making a total harvest of only 629 tons. That second farm was under the same ownership as the first, so there would be no difference in management skill.
Due to drought this area has become irrigation conscious. In 1953 there were only 12 bores in the Fairymead mill area. In 1965 there were 312. The failure of surface water supplies meant additional costs because supplies in the underground basin declined. All these matters have been placed before the Government for its consideration. I regret that the Nogoa scheme was given precedence over the Kolan scheme as I am personally interested in the Kolan scheme. Nevertheless, I hope that the day is not very far off when finance will be made available by the Commonwealth Government to the State of Queensland for the Kolan scheme. On that occasion I shall look for the support of the honourable member for Fisher.
The people of Australia were subjected to various types of propaganda in the weeks following the unfortunate disappearance of the late Prime Minister, Mr Harold Holt, but after hearing statements made by the new leader of the Liberal Party most people were wondering whether they were going to get a new deal. People had heard him speak so much of the need to reform social services that members of the Australian Pensioners League said to me: ‘This new Prime Minister does not seem to be a bad chap. Do you think he will give us a better deal than we were getting before?’ I replied that we would have to wait and see. The Australian Pensioners League wrote a letter to the Prime Minister in regard to social services. His reply was received on the eve of or just after the Higgins by-election and it was to the effect that an increase in pensions would be a matter to be considered in the Budget. It was the usual reply that is given. It was the same reply as has been given over the years by the Government.
Usually the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply to the GovernorGeneral’s Speech is moved and seconded by members making their maiden speech. On this occasion there were no maidens on the Government side, so perhaps we can put the event in the ‘encourage’ class. But I would point out to the honourable members who moved and seconded the motion that this does not mean much in the long run because even hot favourites are beaten. There probably would not have been a hotter favourite for the role of Prime Minister than the Treasurer (Mr McMahon), but he was nobbled by the Leader of the Australian Country Party and Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen) before he even put his nomination in.
– What did he say?
– He said that the Country Party would not serve under Mr McMahon as Prime Minister.
– What made him say that?
– This is a question that I, and I suppose other honourable members, have been asked everywhere. People have said: Why did this happen? Why does the leader of the Country Party not like the Treasurer? Why does the Country Party not like the Treasurer? What have they against Mr McMahon? We can only speculate. Perhaps some of us have been given the wrong information. One newspaper suggested that the reason was an association with a certain reporter. This is ridiculous. You, Mr Speaker, no doubt have friends who are presidents of Labor Party branches. I do not suggest that because of this you should be expelled from the Liberal Party. Though people may have differing views on politics, in true friendship this does not matter one way or the other. So I do not think that this would be the reason. However, there has been so much speculation about this matter that the Minister for Trade and Industry, in justice to himself and to stop this speculation should inform the House why he would not serve under the Treasurer if that gentleman were appointed Prime Minister. He should inform the House why he feels that the Treasurer is not competent to be Prime Minister but is competent to be Treasurer.
– He has no striped pants.
– He has pyjamas. I think it would stop a lot of speculation if a direct answer were given. There must be a direct answer. However, I wish to make the point that even hot favourites are beaten, sometimes even before they get to the starter.
The Governor-General made no reference at all to education. This is. an item which is exercising the minds of the majority of Australians, particularly those with children and grandchildren. I am pleased to see that it is still exercising the mind of the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies. He has commented on the lack of funds provided for education and has pointed out how the States are falling behind in their efforts to provide better education. We frequently read references in the Press to the fact that education is a lottery and that the standard of education available depends upon the area in which people live and even on the income of the parents. I do not believe that we in Australia can afford to waste the talents of any girl or boy who has the ability but not the finance to go ahead and further her or his education. We must educate all our children to build up our country in the future. No mention is made of higher education in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech.
The Governor-General did indicate that his Government was negotiating an agreement with State governments to help mothers who are not eligible for benefits under the existing Social Services Act but who are in need. He said that the Commonwealth was prepared to meet half the cost of State expenditure in this field. The Department of Social Services has seen fit to give assistance to women in need, particularly those who have not passed the 6 months qualifying period for a deserted wife’s or widow’s allowance. But in other fields where the State governments are giving assistance - mostly under legislation set up by Labor governments - the Commonwealth denies any responsibility. I know that the previous Minister for Social Services was sympathetic towards some of these cases and he was trying to reach some sort of an agreement in the matter. I would not like to see the position arise where the Commonwealth will meet half of what the States are already spending if the States are not prepared to give what they are giving at the moment. The application of the means test is enough trouble already.
There is a section of the community which is being deprived of social service benefits under both State and Commonwealth legislation. These people are being deprived of benefits not to the detriment of themselves but to the detriment of their children. I refer to the unmarried mothers where the fathers have absconded and left the women to rear the children. In all these cases the Department of Social Services claims that because the children were born out of wedlock the Department has no responsibility towards them. I do not deny for one minute that the fathers ot the children should have to contribute towards the upkeep of the children, but you, Mr Speaker, and other members of the House who have had cases of this nature brought before them, know full well the difficulties associated with trying to track down a delinquent father. He moves from job to jog and if an order is taken on his wages he is not there the next day. The responsibility for raising children therefore is left with the mothers. Perhaps a woman in these circumstances has made a mistake in the social scale of events, but why should she be penalised for the rest of her life? In all probability if she had money she would not have been in this situation as she could have afforded an abortion; but because she has no money she has to bear and rear these children and be a social outcast. I take my hat off to such women. The children are not recognised as dependants if the mother is in receipt of a widow’s pension already. A particular case that I would like to mention is that of a widow of an ex-serviceman, who had three children tj her husband. After his death, she began an association with a man, perhaps through loneliness. Eventually he left her. She had a child to him. She has not been able to find the father of the child whom she has reared for 6 years. The eldest child by her marriage will be 16 years of age soon and wants to leave school. The widow will not be 45 until another 12 months more have passed. Her daughter will be 16 before then. Unless the daughter stays at school until the widow turns 45, the mother will no: be eligible for a widow’s pension for another 5 years and still would have to rear tha boy of 6 years of age. I could mention other cases. I have mentioned this one to illustrate the narrow borderlines that are being drawn. I sincerely hope that some arrangement can be entered into between the Commonwealth and the States. When a widow has suffered hardship, she is not the only one who has made sacrifices; other members of the family must have made sacrifices. The widow to whom I referred has used part of her widow’s pension for the upkeep of her little boy. Honourable members, who have had experience in dealing with such matters, will realise that some action must be taken. Widows cannot be treated in the way in which they have been treated over the years.
In the short time left to me I would like to touch on a matter that has concerned most Queenslanders in recent times. I refer to the invasion of territorial waters by fishing vessels and particularly ho the damage done lo the Great Barrier Reef by crews of such vessels. The Barrier Reef is one of the natural wonders of the world. It can be despoiled and lost to the people of the future is some action is not taken now. Foreign prawning vessels are fishing in the waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria. As long as they keep away from the shore line they are within international waters and the Government has no jurisdiction or control over them. I was surprised to read in the Press last week of a Japanese plan for cray fishing. Three Japanese firms are forming partnerships with Australian firms to engage in crayfishing in the Gulf of Carpentaria and in the Arafura Sea. My knowledge of crayfish in those waters is that they follow the reefs and are found in the shallower and warmer waters. The natives of Papua and New Guinea and of Thursday Island fish for crays along the reefs. By catching crays the natives are able to supplement their incomes and also their diet. 1 should like to know whether these firms have been given approval to operate. If they have, does the fact that a partnership has been formed with an Australian firm give the Japanese firm authority to operate within territorial waters? Does such approval mean that the Japanese firms will be recognised as Australian firms? Will any restriction be placed on the catch? I point out that the Tasmanian Department of Fisheries saw fit to place a quota on the catch of licensed persons catching crayfish off Tasmania. What conditions will be laid down to ensure that these crayfishing operations will not be another form of selling our assets overseas without leaving anything for our own people in the future? Our natural resources and minerals are being sold overseas. The Governor-General’s Speech mentioned the large scale export of minerals. His words sounded very well. While permitting the export of minerals, the Government should ensure that some of the basic industries associated with the processing of minerals are established in Australia, thus giving employment to present and future Australians and expanding the population in isolated areas. Small countries that we consider are not as advanced as we are have insisted on the developer who is exploiting their mineral resources for the benefit of overseas interests, be they private or governmental, establishing some industry so that the future citizens of the country will have some stake in its mineral wealth and will not be left only with memories and holes in the ground.
The north has been exploited by foreigners too often in the past. Perhaps the goldfields of our north were not exploited by foreigners, but I draw the attention of honourable members to the present plight of some previous goldfields in the north. I instance Croydon. My friend, the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Fulton), knows only too well of the booming goldfields in his electorate at the turn of the last century. Up to a dozen hotels flourished in individual mining centres then; today ruins and memories remain and only a few goats wander about the streets. I do not suggest, for one moment, that the honourable member represents only goats; he does not seek to. He represents electors. I make that point quite clear in case any electoral distribution commissioners are listening. We do not want to see happen in the future what happened in the past.
I have mentioned a few matters that were omitted from the Governor-General’s Speech and some matters that were included. I do make this point: People have been deluded into believing that we would have a new government with new thinking and new ideas. Certainly we have a new Prime Minister, but the old establishment is still behind him. If certain people thought that a change would take place they have been deluded very greatly by the Speech delivered by His Excellency the Governor-General.
– I rise to speak to the Address-in-Reply this afternoon. I preface my remarks by a few observations on the sequence of events that have taken place in the last 3 months. I emphasise the importance of the fact that these events took place and that we find ourselves here this week with the parliamentary system operating with the same confidence and the same effect that it had when we went into recess in November of last year. In the intervening period a series of events convulsed the whole of the national political scene - events of a kind unheard of in Australia and in the main Western nations for many decades, and possibly for centuries. What a tribute to our democratic way of life that such a convulsion or series of events can take place, and yet we can find ourselves in the position in which we are today, with no convulsion on the stock exchanges, no uncertainty in business and no uncertainty in the minds of the people, distressed as they were, about the series of events, and particularly the passing of the former Prime Minister, Mr Harold Holt. The situation today is a great tribute to our system. It also might be an answer to those people who from time to time wish to undermine the democratic system that prevails in this and many other countries. It also may be an effective lesson for those who, I believe, fail to pause and think of the effects of the actions that they take, perhaps unwittingly, towards weakening the fabric of the Australian democratic and parliamentary systems. At all events, I returned here this week more confident than ever that our way of life, our administration, and our politics have been strengthened by our capacity to deal with the events which have arisen in recent days and weeks.
Adverting particularly to the Speech given by His Excellency the Governor-General, there are a number of things, particularly on the domestic scene, to which I intend to refer. There has been somewhat of a shaking out of certain features of our domestic arena mentioned in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech which has been denigrated to some degree by members of the Opposition. We have a new Prime Minister (Mr Gorton). He was elected under unusual circumstances, which I outlined earlier. I emphasised the importance of retaining the confidence of the people in the leadership of the nation - indeed, the confidence of people throughout the world. The attitude taken by this new Government reveals a refreshing approach to a number of policies. Yet the approach is not so spectacular, not so convulsive, as to upset the equilibrium of the Australian way of life. This is why I believe that the Speech given by the Governor-General reflects a very sober and sane approach to a change-over from one administration to another. Certainly the majority of the policies are identical with those of the previous period. At all events, we do know that there has been a change of thought about a number of fields.
I read with great satisfaction the reference to the dairying industry in His Excellency’s Speech. This relates to one of a number of shake-outs, shall we say, which are going on and which this Government proposes to undertake in the not too distant future to rectify difficulties that have developed in our administration over a number of years. The previous administration of the dairying industry was, we believe, soundly based in its original concept. But experience has shown that this concept has outlived its usefulness. Now, $27m is to be put into a dairy scheme because the Government believes that the position needs rectifying. Certain facets of the existing scheme have been making some dairy farmers richer whilst embalming others in inefficiency. We look with great satisfaction at this re-direction of our energies, this redirection of our agricultural capacities, this redirection of our finances, into a field where, it is to be hoped, they will be much more lucrative and of much greater benefit to the country and the rural industry generally.
I heard someone mention that it is to be hoped that there will be some redirection in forestry activities. What better activity towards which our energies could be redirected? Think of the value of eventually re-directing $27m into forestry. In the last 12 months we heard a very clear outline of the endeavours of this Government, through the Australian Forestry Council, to insure against the situation in which we well may find ourselves in respect of forestry products by the turn of the century. If I remember the figures correctly we will be footing a bill of about $400m for forestry imports by the turn of the century if we do not do someting emphatic about the industry. This is just one of the subjects from a wide field mentioned briefly in the Governor-General’s Speech.
I want to refer to that part of His Excellency’s Speech in which he drew attention to the decision of his Government to undertake an extensive inquiry into social welfare services. There is a situation prevailing in this field similar to that in the dairying industry. This Government, over a period of some 18 years, built into the Australian social welfare system a basis of self-help. The Government has survived some substantial onslaughts against its principles and its effectiveness in our society, particularly when our system is compared with a number of other systems throughout the world, not the least being those in operation in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and some of the Scandinavian countries.
Attempts have been made in no small way to write down the contribution made by our particular system to the Australian way of life. In the main, these attacks have failed to prove that thz system brought into being by this Government is not of great benefit to the community at large because of the way it operates. However, as time proceeds and events take place it is logical, because of a change of thinking, a change of social graces, and a change in our social life, that variations should intervene, and that there should be additions and deletions to the original concept of our plan. This, in fact, is what has happened in the social welfare field in Australia.
I refer, first, to the question of medical benefit funds. Every honourable member is aware of the fact that something needs to be done about these. The Government is aware of this and has already made a move to assist chronic cases by providing for greater repayments. Let us be frank: something needed to be done in this regard. There are other phases of our health services which need reappraising. One field in which it is considered that some specific endeavour, particularly in the way of organisation and financial lead by the Commonwealth is required, is the care of our aged persons. Again, in this field, many and varied efforts have been made by this Government. Every effort has been outstanding. However, the assimilation of these efforts into one centrally directed scheme needs reappraisal. Unquestionably there is room for improvement in geriatric services. The Government cannot fail to appreciate the economic savings that would result from a widened and more sophisticated application of the present domiciliary nursing services, geriatric services, and aged persons homes schemes. If these can be brought together to become a more cohesive force, then the satisfaction of the Government and of the community will be quite significant.
Referring to another significant pocket of great need in the social welfare field, I now come to the question of deserted women, whether they be de jure or de facto wives. This matter was mentioned by the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen). Something should be done in this field, first, to track down the delinquent men. Secondly, something more specific should be done by the Commonwealth Government to meet the immediate needs of a deserted wife without haggling about small details of principle. It is difficult to get over to a woman with two or three children who has not a dollar to her name, or very few dollars, that a question of principle is involved before she can be given any money to buy food for her children. I noticed in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech that the Government proposes to direct attention to this matter. This needs to be done on a much wider scope than is indicated in the Governor-General’s Speech.
I wish to refer particularly to certain aspects of the problem confronting the deserted wife or other deserted woman, and particularly to what the Government is going to do to assist these women and their children. Let us consider that section of deserted women which immediately attracts our attention - the class A widows. I believe that we have been remiss in trying to put this woman pensioner in the general category of age, invalid or other pensioners. Without wishing to speak in derogatory terms of this woman, 1 say that she could be potentially dangerous to the Australian way of life when she has the responsibility of looking after a child or even two or three children. In meeting her responsibility she has no help as we normally know it; yet she has the responsibility of directing that child and his or her psychology. It is important not only to her but also to Australia that the child should grow and develop as a normal individual. How can we expect a child to develop properly if he or she is to be inhibited day by day by being deprived of even simple things? For instance the mother may be unable to pay sports fees to the school. Although there is a practice in some States by which headmasters may waive payment of fees, the decision is left to the individual. In this situation the independence of mind of the child and the mother could be restricted.
This is just one example of a number of difficulties in which the class A widow, the deserted wife and the deserted unmarried female finds herself from day to day. The effect on the child in this situation no doubt depends on the capacity of the woman, but as he grows up he must develop a complex, which is unsatisfactory for the community. This could lead to social problems, the ramifications of which may cost us in the long run much more than it will cost us to do something positive, rather than negative, in the immediate future. I strongly recommend to the Government, and particularly to the new Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth), that this is one field in which he could best direct his activities - if I may be impertinent enough to say such a thing to a Minister. I suggest that this is a field of greatest need and that one particular need in this area is for some sort of education allowance for the class A widow. It is necessary also to provide some means of rehabilitating herself so that she may go back into commercial life. If we want her to assume her responsibilities under our system in which she is permitted to earn $10 per week for herself and $3 per week for each child, she must be able to go to work. But how is she able to work if she has not been employed for about IS years? Is it not reasonable to give her an opportunity to rehabilitate herself in much the same way as our Army boys are rehabilitated? I appreciate that servicemen are given compensation, but would it not be a reasonably practical proposition to give the widow some sort of rehabilitation education allowance? We have inhibited ourselves for too long with outdated psychology in our attitude to the class A widow. Our approach to this problem is badly in need of revision. She should be placed in a category which enables her to be treated differently from the way in which she is now treated.
I commend to the Minister also consideration of the invalid pensioner, particularly the male invalid pensioner, who finds himself in a difficult situation at about the age of 40 or 50 years. He still has a mortgage on his house and has the responsibility of raising children. This category of pensioner must also be investigated; he should not be, merely for our convenience, grouped with general rate pensioners. He must be given more help than he is receiving at the moment.
There are a number of other miscellaneous matters in the wide ambit of what I shall term the domestic category to which I should like to refer. I have mentioned in some respects the rural field and the social welfare field, but if there is one area in which the Government needs to give a lead it is on the question of road safety. I hope that the new Prime Minister will look into this matter. Australia’s efforts in this field, both by State and Federal governments, are deplorable. It is difficult to understand how we come to be in the position that is revealed by some statistics. In the United States of America the death rate per 100 million miles dropped from 15.91 persons to 5.57 persons over a period of about 20 years prior to 1965. Our death rate has also dropped steadily until we have now reached a figure of about 10 deaths per million miles travelled. The important point about this is that the figure of 10 at which we have now arrived was achieved in the United States in 1935 - 22 years ago. This gives some indication of how far we are behind in the field of road safety.
I have no doubt that the Federal Government has power to take action in regard to road safety, but it can only achieve success by financial manoeuvring, dirty as that term may sound, and by financial pressure on State governments to get together and to conduct research to ascertain what the problems are. From what I can see of the situation today, the attempts which are being made at the Federal level unquestionably involve horsetrading. Safety measures are not adopted on their merits; it becomes a matter of saying: ‘If you will adopt some of our methods we will adopt some of yours’. The sole purpose of this is to enable State pride to be maintained. But what the devil does it matter whether State pride is at stake? Does it matter whether a good idea comes from the Northern Territory or some other place? The significant point is that on our record we should be doing something about the situation.
A Senate Select Committee on Road Safety in 1960 brought in a very good report. Among its recommendations were the following: More Commonwealth money for road safety research; better road safety education; a uniform traffic code; increased driver training; absolute speed limits; chemical tests for intoxication; the fitting of seat belts to ail motor vehicles, and the compulsory wearing of safety helmets by motor cyclists. The main proposal affecting this Parliament was for the establishment and financing by the Commonwealth of a research group under a Federal Minister. No-one can suggest that the little that has been done by the expenditure of the money allocated since then has reached the effort envisaged by the Senate Committee in its No. 1 recommendation. Let us consider our record of road safety since 1960. Since that time 20,000 people have died on Australian roads. If we had achieved a record similar to that attained in New Zealand or the American State of Connecticut where the road toll is one-third of ours, 13,000 or 14,000 people who have lost their lives in the last 7 years would be alive today. From your approach to this subject, Mr Deputy Speaker, I can see that you agree with me when I say that the loss of this number of people, which is not an insignificant figure, costs the Australian economy something of the order of $200m or $3 00m per annum in a variety of ways. At the federal level we are spending only $234,000 this year which, if I may use the old cliche, is only chicken feed. Clearly in this field the Commonwealth has a weapon which it can use quite effectively.
As the Commonwealth Aid Roads Grant comes up for consideration again in June of this year, now is the time when the Government could consider instituting a system whereby the States would be committed to a much more aggressive campaign in the field of road safety. Perhaps bonuses could be given to those States which undertook really aggressive campaigns and, conversely, penalties could be imposed on those States which did not fulfil their responsibilities. Perhaps we could adopt the American system. The Americans have the same problem as we experience here. They have many separate State administrations and there the Federal Government underwrites up to 50% - we could make it 75% if that were preferred - of the cost of a road safety campaign.
I have waxed for far too long on domestic issues. I bad wanted to speak for a short while on the external situation so far as it concerns Australia. 1 wanted to speak in particular on matters referred to by His Excellency. In recent days we have looked with satisfaction at the observations of the representative from Liberia on the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations with respect to New Guinea. We note with satisfaction that the Government intends to bring in some sort of ministerial responsibility for more people in New Guinea. Obviously we are on the right track so far as New Guinea is concerned, again contrary to many complaints from the other side of the House and from other parts of the world - obviously for political reasons. Our record is emerging as one of steady and substantial progress for these people with obvious satisfaction for most of them. We are clearly moving in the right direction. These matters have been referred to at length and within the next 2 weeks or so many honourable members will devote much of their 25-minute speeches to the prosperity of this country. They will speak of what it can do, what it is doing, of the changing economic situation and the changes in the domestic, industrial and economic fields. We shall hear how we are starting to emerge as an important factor in world affairs and as a consequence must get in step and have our feet ready in the right position so that we can move when required.
I should like to conclude by noting the increase to 1 38,000 in the size of the armed services. This, together with the spectacular expansion in our defence commitment over the years is making tremendous inroads into our gross national product and affecting our rate of growth which is currently running at 4.7% - nearly 5%. One should heed the warning given in recent weeks. I doubt whether we can maintain the figure at 5% but there is no need for panic. We have the capacity and the depth of economic wealth to achieve a great expansion of our gross national product. All this wealth and this society of which we are so proud must be defended. We must see that the world understands our point of view. A reorientation of Government policy is emerging and giving tremendous satisfaction. In a few years the results, not only of the policies outlined by His Excellency the GovernorGeneral but of those outlined by governments over recent years, will show that we are on the right track.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I listened with interest to the remarks of the previous speaker and was interested to note those in receipt of social services. Many in the community are affected and those on this community are affected and those on this side of the House who take an interest in this field are just as much concerned as the honourable member for St George (Mr
Bosman) or any Government supporter. I is a pity that we cannot hope to see some action taken by the Government to relieve the poverty that exists amongst this section of the community living on fixed incomes and having to depend on handouts from the Government. I do not say that I can jump with jubilation at what was contained in His Excellency’s Speech outlining the Government’s intentions over the next couple of months. The impression I have from this Speech is that the incoming Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) has inherited a Treasury with very little finance with the result that he is stonewalling. Probably in the Budget session we shall find that taxation in many fields will be increased. Then we might find that the Government will give some thought to the intentions set out in His Excellency’s Speech.
I do not wish to devote much time to His Excellency’s Speech but want to speak about a report submitted to this Parliament during the first session. I refer to the report of the Board of Accident Inquiry into the loss of the Viscount aircraft VH-RMI near Winton in Queensland on 22nd September 1966. This was presented to the Parliament in the first session and it would be a miscarriage of justice if some comment did not appear in the annals of this Parliament upon this national disaster. The inquiry extended over some months with many investigations carried out by Department of Civil Aviation officials. The Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz) made his report available to the chairman of the committee appointed to conduct the official inquiry. I now wish to put forward some personal observations on the report. Although I do not maintain that I am an expert in the field of aviation I assure the Parliament that my submissions are supported by advice given to me by experts in the various fields. I am of the firm opinion that the inquiry has shown that there has been a great deal of laxity on the part of Department of Civil Aviation officials in the policing of air navigation regulations, especially in the field of maintenance. I shall elaborate on this a little later in my speech. From the outset it appears there have been endeavours to whitewash the whole affair.
My first criticism concerns the constitution of the Board of Inquiry - a matter that I have previously raised with the Parliament and the Minister. This related to the inclu- sion of Captain Griffin who had a fiduciary relationship with the company whose aircraft was involved in the accident. I am convinced that a person with this type of relationship should not have been permitted to serve on the Board of Inquiry nor on any other inquiry and, further, that any board of inquiry should consist of independent arbitrators. At the opening of the inquiry Mr W. C. Crockett, the legal representative for Godfrey Engineering also protested to the Chairman of the Board, Mr Justice Spicer, about the inclusion of Captain Griffin but was informed by the Chairman that he had no jurisdiction in the matter and that any protest on the constitution of the Board should have been directed to the Minister for Civil Aviation when the names of the Board members were announced. I am sure that any protest in this matter would have received the same answer as I have received from the Minister.
In a democratic country such as ours the common-law courts would not allow a judge or juryman who had a relationship with a company to preside over or sit on a jury in any case in which that company were involved. But to all intents and purposes in this inquiry the cardinal commonlaw concept that no man shall be judge in his own cause was cast to the four winds of heaven. Another criticism that I should like to make concerns a statement made by the Chairman during the course of the inquiry. In an interview with a newspaper correspondent for the ‘Australian’ after flying from Melbourne in a Department of Civil Aviation VIP aircraft the chairman said: ‘I think a plane is looked after better than any other vehicle we travel in.’ I claim that he is not an expert in the field of transport and could not be farmiliar with the type of maintenance given to all types of public transport. This clearly indicates to me that the Chairman had a biased mind from the outset. Operators of other forms of public transport would refute this claim. Statistics show that the percentage of fatalities relating to aircraft accidents is greater than the percentage for other forms of public transport. All public transport is subject to strict maintenance control, especially where safety is concerned. Honourable members will be aware of the maintenance requirements of various departments in respect of taxis, railways and buses.
What would be the reaction of the public to a judge who was presiding over criminal proceedings and who remarked either that all criminals were good or that all criminals were bad? Such a statement would not be accepted lightly. Though the defence advocate might employ such a technique in an effort to influence a jury it is hardly the type of comment one would expect from a learned and impartial judge.
The inquiry concluded with the result that it set out to achieve - that the accident was caused by a fire in a cabin blower in the nacelle section of number two engine of the aircraft. Great emphasis has been placed on the fact that two other instances of fire in this section of Viscount aircraft had occurred, one in Canada and the other in the West Indies. However, in neither of these fires was there any loss of life. The inquiry revealed that there have ‘been more than 600 incidents involving failure of cabin blowers, but in only three of them, including this one, was there actually fire, which is a very small percentage of the total number of failures.
When an aircraft becomes airborne and is maintaining a climb to cruising level, the cabin blower plays the important part of pressurising the cabin. Just after takeoff and during the climb it is called upon for peak performance to obtain and then maintain the required cabin pressure. Failure of a cabin blower is immediately shown by an indicator warning on the flight instrument panel of the aircraft. In this particular flight the aircraft apparently flew for approximately 47 minutes before any warning was received that something was amiss with the plane. It appears that by this time an extensive fire was burning in the wing, no doubt in an area not serviced by fire warning or fire fighting equipment. Therefore the pilot was unable to take action to prevent the fire spreading. Admittedly he operated the fire extinguishers that were available, but as they only serviced the engines they did not assist to control the fire or prevent it from spreading. We have all heard the familiar saying that where there is smoke there is fire. Had there been a fire in the cabin blower of this aeroplane surely smoke would have travelled through the air duct that carries the compressed air and it would have been seen or smelt either by the passengers or some members of the crew. In the West Indies incident it is recorded that smoke did enter the aircraft.
If members were to refer to the Viscount manual they will find, under a section dealing with the failure of cabin blowers, the statement that if smoke is caused by cabin compressor failure as evidenced by smoke entering the cabin through the air conditioning outlets, both spill valves should be opened to endeavour to isolate the faulty compressor. So even in the manual it is pointed out that if there is a fire in this section of the aircraft, smoke will be smelt in the cabin.
It is unfortunate that a voice recorder was not installed in the aircraft and that therefore no record was kept of cockpit conversation during the emergency descent just prior to the wing falling off the aircraft and the plane tumbling to the ground. Five months ago the Minister informed me that these recorders are being re-installed in aircraft in Australia and that it would not be long before they were operating in all our commercial aircraft. I have to report to the Parliament that this is untrue and that a great number of aircraft are flying in this country without voice recorders. Had this vital equipment been installed in this Viscount, there could well have been a different slant on the inquiry.
During my research into this disaster I came across a report of a finding by the Civil Aeronautical Board of the USA of 9th July 1964, in regard to the crash of a Viscount aircraft in America with the loss of thirty-four passengers and four crew members. The evidence of witnesses showed a familiar pattern of fire, similar in many aspects to the Winton disaster. The United States inquiry failed to find the cause of the accident. The conclusions reached included the opinion that it was caused by a fire of unknown origin.
The Winton inquiry went to great pains to link the crash to the failure of the cabin blower, but nowhere in any evidence submitted before the inquiry was a reference made to the American accident. Why? Perhaps the Minister can answer the question. Had it any significance in regard to the Winton disaster? If it had, evidence should have been submitted to emphasise that fact. I place my submissions before Parliament for consideration. On the day of the disaster the temperature on the tarmac was in the vicinity of the high eighties. The aircraft fuel tanks were filled to capacity prior to takeoff. The time taken to reach the flight plan cruising level of 17,500 feet was calculated at 30 minutes. I note that it is accepted that the aircraft de-icing system would be switched on. Accordingly, it is reasonable to assume that the temperature of the fuel during the climb would be such that the percentage of fuel vapour would be in a range capable of supporting combustion. No doubt it would be obvious to all that in such a situation the one additional ingredient needed to cause a fire was something capable of igniting a fuel vapour. A firing fault in an electrical loom could be that ingredient.
It must also be obvious that if residual fuel were lying in the wing due to a leak or weep in some portion of the fuel system - the Minister for Civil Aviation has admitted previously that this sort of thing does happen - the risk of fire would be greatly increased. It is stated quite definitely in the report that an in flight fire existed in cell 2 of tank 2, and that it was due to the heat generated by this fire that the main wing spar collapsed. By the way, this statement is about the only evidence concerning the accident that is based on fact and not on conjecture. The report states that, up till 1966, 611 cabin blower failures had occurred and of these only two had resulted in fire. I have stated already that if an aircraft suffers a blower fire or a break up of the blower, any smoke generated by such an occurrence will quickly enter the cabin and cockpit via the air vents. On 10th May 1964, a Canadian Viscount aircraft was forced to land due to smoke entering the cabin following a cabin blower break up. No relevant comments were broadcast by the crew of VH RMI. The failure to do so is highly significant and if placed before the Board, no doubt it would have influenced their findings. Likewise it is significant that the glowing in the cockpit of an air flow failure light alone has never been viewed with much concern by operators or the Department of Civil Aviation.
No mention is made in the report that the fire could have originated in the wing or that if it did originate in the blower, it could have been intensified by the igniting of fuel lying in the wing. The possibility of a fuel leak being a contributory cause of the accident is not recognised, and yet it is a possibility that cannot be proved or disproved. Therefore it should have been included. After all, Viscount aircraft have a significant history of fuel leaks or weeps. Lack of fuel dripping from the wing at Mount Isa does not eliminate this possibility by any means. A leak could have existed high up in the tank and would only become evident after the aircraft had been refuelled to maximum capacity, as was done at Mount Isa. Such a weep or leak need not be immediately evident. The theory that the fire could have originated in the wing was disregarded purely on the ground that it had not happened before.
I have already referred to an air disaster in the USA involving a Viscount when the fire origin was unknown. I still cannot understand why this crash evidence was omitted from the inquiry. Also I am unable to agree with the Chairman’s view that the weather had no bearing on the accident. If the deicing equipment were in use it would be a direct result of the weather, and when it is realised that the temperature of air supplied for de-icing is in the vicinity of 180 degrees centigrade, members will realise that it would have considerable bearing on the intensity of the fire and therefore the accident. Statistics can be used to prove anything. The Department has always relied heavily on them and in this inquiry the Board has done likewise. First, the Board accepts that a blower fire rate of one in every 4 million flying hours is sufficient justification for their conclusions. This is in spite of the fact that no blower fire was recorded in the first 11 years of Viscount operation and of Mr Madgwick’s view that the probability of fire in this region was remote. Secondly, to deny any possibility of a malfunctioning fuel system being an alternative cause, the Board simply says: Tt never has occurred previously’. This is in spite of the fact that the only irrefutable evidence regarding the fire that was available to the Board was that fire existed in a fuel tank. I find the Board’s reasoning unconvincing and inconsistent.
The degree of disagreement over the path that the fire was supposed to have travelled, the amount of conjecture and the number of possibilities relied on were such that a conclusive finding was not justified. I am also concerned at the lack of imagination shown in the Board’s recommendations. I note with alarm that there is to be no installation of fire fighting and detection equipment in Zone 3. One excuse offered is that the cost of such a modification might imperil the economic future of the aircraft. Another is that with the locking of the nuts and studs retaining the metering unit the fire hazard from the area will be virtually nil. Surely this modification will not prevent future blower failures. Is there not always the possibility that a fire could start in this region from some other cause?
I also note that the Chairman of the Board failed to say whether an examination of the relevant pilot’s reports confirmed that this aircraft had a sustained history of unserviceability. Records of the history of this aircraft presented to the Board were dated only two days before the disaster. Why were not the records for a week, a month or three months presented? Do these records show any relevant facts that could have contributed to the disaster? The inquiry has shown that many anomalies exist in our Air Navigation Regulations, mainly due to the failure of the Department of Civil Aviation to police the regulations. Records show that some components exceeded their required maintenance schedule overhaul time. The inquiry has ruled that none of these components that were overdue for overhaul contributed to the accident. What concerns me is how these components were allowed to exceed their maintenance overhaul time. The fact is that the overhaul maintenance of these items escaped the attention of the person responsible for a period exceeding 3 months. This is concluded from the fact that a Viscount’s normal weekly flying operations cover approximately 40 hours. If a person is conversant with the overhaul maintenance requirements, as approved by the Department of Civil Aviation in the maintenance manual for each aircraft, he will know that particular maintenance is required at the end of periods ranging from 100 to 400 hours.
When I inspected these manuals in Melbourne departmental officials were adamant that if a maintenance requirement were missed on a 100-hour schedule it would be picked up on a 200-hour schedule, and so on up to 400 hours. Here we have a blatant case of six components being missed, one on more than five occasions. It is hard to accept that this was because of the outdated method of recording. If the disaster had not occurred, how long would the aircraft have flown and when would the component parts have been overhauled? Can the Minister give an assurance that a searching investigation of this company’s aircraft maintenance records has been completed to ascertain whether any other aircraft are flying with components operating for periods in excess of those approved by his Department? Can he say whether such an investigation will be carried out periodically? I should like to bring under the notice of the Minister the fact that in the report submitted on the Viscount disaster at Botany Bay in 1962 the following words appear at page 8:
Some minor deficiencies disclosed by the maintenance records were noted, but none of these have any bearing on the accident.
Although this was not elaborated upon in the report and the overdue maintenance items were not listed, it clearly indicates that there is something wrong with this company’s method of keeping the maintenance records.
The report mentioned the lack of information that is forwarded to airline operators by manufacturers, especially when there is a breakdown in some manufactured part. I refer to the failure of the manufacturer of the cabin blower to report the incidents of cabin blower failure in Canada and the West Indies. The report referred also to irregularities in the drawing of component parts circularised by the manufacturers. Misreading of plans resulted in the vent plug being placed in the wrong position on the cabin blower. The employee involved in this matter stated that he had read the plans on the floor of his lounge room - no doubt when he was looking at television. Is this the usual practice? There was reference also to the senior person responsible to the Department of Civil Aviation initialling work as satisfactory without checking to see whether the work had been carried out as specified in Air Navigation Regulations. Mr Deputy Speaker, this inquiry has shown that many anomalies exist in our system of checking air navigation requirements. I sincerely hope that the Department will in future enforce strict policing of these regulations so that airline operators do not abuse the trust that has been placed in them.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I was gratified when listening to the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General to note the importance that was placed upon the future development of Papua and New Guinea. During the recess I spent some weeks in New Guinea observing the elections for the House of Assembly. I was most impressed with what has been achieved by the Australian Government and the Administration in that country. It is not generally realised by the Australian public that the Australian Government, by both direct grants and departmental expenditure, is contributing over $100m per annum to the development of Papua and New Guinea. When one realises that Melbourne has been shelving an underground railway for decades because of lack of finance - yet this could be built for far less than one annual contribution by Australia to New Guinea - and when one considers how many Ord River and Snowy Mountains schemes could be financed with this money, one cannot help but feel proud of what Australia is doing to develop New Guinea, a land of some 178,000 square miles and some 2.2 million people.
His Excellency stated that the Government had decided to reconstitute the Department of Territories as the Department of External Territories, transferring administration of the Northern Territory to the Department of the Interior. I believe this to be a wise decision. It is a recognition by the Government that the present problems and the future destiny of Papua and New Guinea differ greatly from those of the Northern Territory. It will enable the Minister and his Department to devote all of their energies to the development of New Guinea. The policy of the Government is to develop the Territory for selfdetermination. It will become a selfgoverning country if and when the majority of the indigenous population clearly indicate that this is their wish. While I was in New Guinea I spoke with a large number of people, both indigenous and Australian, including many candidates for the House of Assembly elections, to obtain their views on independence. Almost without exception they expressed the view that New Guinea would not be ready for independence for some 10, 15 or 20 years, and most were critical of the United
Nations for endeavouring to foist upon them what they termed premature independence.
While I was at Mount Hagen I met Mr A. F. Caine, the Liberian delegate to the United Nations Trusteeship Council. Bearing in mind the scathing attack that had been made by Mr Eastman, a previous Liberian delegate, on Australia’s efforts in the Territory, I questioned Mr Caine on democracy in his country. He told be that elections were held every 4 years but admitted, on being questioned, that there was only one party in his country. When I asked him whether his party put up two or three candidates so that people could have a choice, he said: ‘Oh no, they only have one candidate’. When I pointed out that this did not seem very democratic because people could not vote against the Government if they wished and did not have any choice, he replied: ‘But that is the way the people want it’. Is it any wonder that, under this system, President Tubman has held office in Liberia for 25 years. I must say, in deference to Mr Caine, that unlike his predecessors, he admitted to the Chamber of Commerce in Mount Hagen while I was there that excellent Australian guidance was evident in the area. I shall be very interested to hear whether he says the same thing when he gets back to Liberia. I was staggered to realise that the United Nations would send to New Guinea to investigate whether we were bringing democracy to the Territory adequately a man who comes from a country which obviously does not practise democracy itself. But then, when one looks at so many of the decisions of the United Nations one realises how this august body, for which most of us once held such great hopes, has been allowed to deteriorate almost into a propaganda organisation for the so called emerging nations and the Communist powers. Their insistence that we must give early independence to Papua and New Guinea while putting the seal of approval on Indonesia’s annexation of West New Guinea is just one manifestation of this attitude.
The vote of 64 to 8 in the United Nations Trusteeship Council last December criticising Australia for discriminatory practices in the Territory and demanding early independence irrespective of the wishes of the people is another. I must say, Mr Deputy
Speaker, that, for my part, I saw no discrimination against any person because of race or colour while I was in the Territory. When I was at Mount Hagen, meetings were held, both there and at Wabag, between the United Nations delegation and the local population. At Mount Hagen one of the local councillors said: ‘All our fathers did was fight. Now the Administration is here the people do not fight. Australia is the only country helping the Territory. If the United Nations is so concerned, why do not they themselves provide assistance to New Guinea? In Wabag, 300 tribesmen met the mission. Mr Tei Abal, the local member of the House of Assembly, told the United Nations visitors: ‘Independence is not something for the United Nations to push Australia into and it is not something for Australia alone to decide. We do not want Australia to hurry us too much because early independence could end in chaos.’ This was largely the view of the mountain people, who seem to feel that early independence would result in their domination by the more sophisticated people of the coastal regions. But even in the coastal regions I found great reluctance to have early independence. The uniformity of this view was striking. When one realises that there are about 1,000 different tribes in New Guinea speaking some 750 languages, it is not difficult to understand that the people prefer the paternal administration of the Australian Government, with which they are familiar, to the unknown consequences of independence at the present time.
During Australia Day weekend I attended in Canberra a conference on independence for New Guinea that was sponsored by the Australian Institute of Political Science. At this conference I heard a New Guinea delegate, the Secretary of the Pangu Pati, Mr Albert Maori Kiki, tell the 700 delegates present that Australians in New Guinea made the indigenous people lick their boots. He made other attacks on the Australian administration. As I said earlier, I saw no evidence to support these remarks. Most people in New Guinea with whom I discussed these incidents were annoyed at the damage that this sort of irresponsible talk could do. One opinion was that Mr Maori Kiki saw himself as the future President of New Guinea and wished only to hasten the day when he could take control. This, I believe, highlights the need for Australia to make sure that when self government is granted to the Territory the continuation of the democratic process which we have set in train in New Guinea is assured.
Possibly the most interesting highlight of my visit to New Guinea was the opportunity to observe the elections for the House of Assembly. The fact that 484 candidates, who each had to put up a deposit, were prepared to stand is a very healthy sign. So, too, is the fact that about 10% of the contenders were European and Chinese. Over 900,000 electors, many of them unable to read or write, will elect new members for the 69 open and 15 regional electorates. Voting has been in progress for 4 weeks and will continue until next Saturday. During the next 2 weeks, absentee votes will come in and preferences will be distributed. When one realises the enormity of the task which the Administration has performed with remarkable precision in 1964 and again at the present elections, one cannot help but admire the dedication and devotion to duty which are shown by the officers of the Administration.
While in Lae I travelled some 50 miles up the Markham Valley to see Jim Benson, the son of the honourable member for Batman (Mr Benson). Jim was conducting an election at a village called Tereren. Most of the voters were unable to read and write and relied on what is known as the whisper vote. Photos of the canadidates were prominently displayed in the polling booth. The elector would point to the photograph and the Returning Officer would mark the ballot paper accordingly.
– I would do all right there.
– I dare say the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith would be reelected every time. This system is not perfect but to date it has worked very well. However, there is a danger that if, following independence, an unscrupulous government wished to remain in office, that government could appoint returning officers who would see that only government candidates were elected. But this, I believe, is a problem for the future. Another interesting fact was mat the candidates were reluctant to identify themselves with the five parties already in existence and the people seemed reluctant to vote for party candidates, preferring the independent whose loyalty was, they believed, to the electorate rather than to the party.
I was impressed with the work of the local councils. There are in Papua and New Guinea some 140 councils, each with an average of approximately 30 councillors. These councils tax the local population and with the funds so acquired build schools, and roads, and provide first aid posts and various other community services. When I was in Rabaul, I felt that democracy was really on the way. The local Council had just raised taxation from $8 per annum to $16 per annum and the ratepayers were protesting. It was very much like home. Consideration of developments in New Guinea would not be complete without due attention to economic development. Primary industry is expanding daily with products such as coffee, cocoa, tea, rubber, pyrethrum, copra and passionfruit. The livestock industry has been established and fishing and forestry are well under way. But secondary industry also has not been neglected. During my visit I inspected a furniture factory which was run and staffed completely by indigenes. The chairman of directors was himself an indigene. I saw also a cement brick making factory at Rabaul, a refrigerator assembly factory at Port Moresby and a tobacco factory at Madang. Expansion of economic activity has been vigorously pursued toy the Administration and renewed emphasis will be given in the future to increasing the role of Papuans and New Guineans in economic development.
I cannot speak too highly of the Administration and its officers in the Territory. I gained the impression that all whom I met are dedicated men anxious to advance the country in which they work. They have done much with limited funds. Schools, hospitals and roads have been built. Their construction is steadily expanding. As I said earlier, this is a wonderful contribution by Australia, bearing in mind that we ourselves are a developing country. But much remains to be done. We must continue with our efforts to encourage indigenous people in the Public Service of the Territory to attain positions of authority. The next step in constitutional development is to bridge the gap between a fully representative parliament and fully responsible government. I welcome the announcement by the Governor-General of legislation to amend the Papua and New Guinea Act to increase the participation of the people of Papua and New Guinea in their government. These proposals will introduce a system of limited ministerial responsibility for a number of elected members and the setting up of an Administrator’s Executive Council to be consulted by the Administrator on major executive decisions.
The administering of a portfolio such as Territories, or External Territories as it is now known, is not easy. It is not surprising that in the past Ministers holding this portfolio have been criticised. But the proof of the success of the policies of the present Minister for External Territories (Mr Barnes) and his predecessor, who was Minister for Territories, is self-evident. The State of New Guinea today is a tribute to both those men.
Australia does not expect undue praise for the work it has done in training a stoneage society to take its place in the modern world, but neither do we expect undue criticism from outside countries which themselves do not know the meaning of democracy. What we are doing in New Guinea is morally right. We must not allow ourselves to be stampeded by outside pressures into forcing independence onto New Guinea until the people of the Territory clearly show that ‘they themselves desire it.
– The Governor-General’s Speech contained many promises of value but there was no promise that the Government would do anything to alleviate the plight of those people in our community who are almost starving.
I wish to pay a tribute to the late Mr Harold Holt. Some four or five years ago I was a trustee of the Irish National Association which about ten years ago opened in Sydney a building cost about £100,000. Matters proceeded satisfactorily for some time. The Association had heavy commitments. It managed to raise some finance from the Commonwealth Bank. We had our lean times as well as our good times. Some people, knowing that we wanted more money, said that we should not have any difficulty since we had a club with poker machines and a liquor licence. But I told them that we had no poker machines and no liquor licence and that while I remained a trustee of the Association we would never have them. The Association works solely to help the needy in every walk of life.
Our organisation is only small hut it has built no fewer than four cottage homes for people who have fallen on hard times. Within 6 months two young men with families of four and five children respectively dropped dead one at work and one on his way home from work. The Association provided their widows with homes so that they might rear their children. At the time we ran short of money and I interviewed the late Mr Harold Holt on the matter. He was then Treasurer. He said that he did not think he could do anything for me. I said: If you cannot do anything, nobody can. Our property is worth more than £100,000. Surely you can help in some way.’ Mr Holt told me to go to the Commonwealth Bank in Sydney and submit my case. I am glad to say that within 3 weeks we were accommodated with £8,000. It would be most ungracious of me not to say how grateful I am to Mr Holt for his efforts, because I have no doubt in the world that the man whom I saw at the Commonwealth Bank in Sydney had heard, from Mr Holt. The Association has since repaid the loan. As an association we feel that we owe a lot to the late Mr Holt.
I turn now to the Government as a whole. It may have done some good things in its time, but in the Budget brought down last year it decided that pensioners could live well enough on what they were getting. That was the most dastardly decision any body of men could have made. In its Budget the Government dealt in millions of dollars, but the only people it was game to leave out of its considerations were the pensioners. The Government did not neglect its friends in the business world and those people who pay large amounts of income tax. After all, before you are required to pay a lot of income tax you must earn a lot of money. The Government has a duty to protect those people not able to look after themselves. I have spent the greater part of my life caring for the young and the old. I have devoted a lot of time to the welfare of children attending school. I do not at this stage want to resurrect the state aid issue, which was fought over four or five years. In these days mothers were sending their children to school and were not able to pay school fees or to clothe their children. I am glad now that the people of Australia have seen the light and are prepared to pay, at least in part, for the education of all children, be they black, white or brindle.
In my electorate the Sydney University has taken over 19 acres of ground. There were previously 600 homes on that ground but these homes have been demolished. At least 180 pensioners were put out of their homes at that particular time. They were given £50 or £100. However, this money would have been of little help to them because prices for food, housing and everything else have risen. Yesterday I asked the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) a question about immediate increases in all pensions. I thought that I would receive a better answer from him than the answers that I have received from previous Ministers because he has attended in my electorate and has spoken about social services. However, he did not answer my question at all yesterday. He said that it was a matter of policy for the Government. That is the kind of answer one would not expect even from the greatest Tory on the Government front bench. This man took 18 years to rise to the Ministry. I do not know why he was kept out of the Ministry for so long. He is a personal friend of mine and I am glad to see him in the Ministry.
When I was engaged in making representations for the restoration of the Sydney General Post Office clock I received all kinds of excuses for inaction. I was told by a former Postmaster-General from Queensland that it would cost £300,000 to restore the clock. I informed him on that occasion that when the clock was originally taken down it was estimated that it would cost £100,000 to restore. But the estimate rose to £250,000 and then to £300,000. I remember that on one occasion when I spoke in this House about the restoration of the G.P.O. clock the next speaker was the present Minister for Social Services. He told the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, that if such a thing had happened in Melbourne it would not take 3 months to restore the clock, irrespective of the price. I think that it was the lecture that he gave to the former Prime Minister, and to the then Postmaster-General who was opposing the restoration, that clinched the re-erection of the clock. A tender was received from Mr Edwards, a builder, and, strange to say, the whole tower was put back in its original form for £95,000. That is an indication of what we have to put up with. The story that it would cost £300,000 was just an excuse. The Government is making excuses all the time.
I refer now to Lord Howe Island, which is in my electorate. The Island is 430 miles from Sydney. I have tried and tried to get the Government to do something for the residents of the Island. One cannot ring them up or contact them very easily in any other way. There are approximately 300 people living on the Island. It is the best place for a holiday in Australia. When the overworked barristers and judges require a holiday, usually Lord Howe Island is their favourite spot. I am told on good authority that before they leave at the end of their holiday they book for their next holiday. Strange to say, even the Federal member representing the Island could not take his two grandchildren there during recent school holidays as accommodation was not available. I tried to obtain accommodation at two places but I was unsuccessful. The people who live on the Island have no security of tenure of their property. It is only leased for 5 or 10 years. Therefore, the banks will not give them finance of any kind to improve their places. When they want to build an extra room or more nouses they have to save all the money before commencing building. The Government has a radar station on the Island and it employs nineteen people. This station must be of some service to the Commonwealth otherwise it would not be there. But the Government will not help the residents of the Island in any way.
Just as British troops are to be withdrawn from the Asian countries in 1971, the flying boat service is to be withdrawn from Lord Howe Island in 1970 - a year earlier. The Government has given no promise of an alternative to the people who live on this Island. Many of these people have lived on the Island all their lives, and their fathers and mothers before them but they are not in a position to finance the development work that the Island requires. A liquor bar is open for three days a week, two hours a day, but there is no hotel accommodation of any kind.
There is, of course, residential accommodation of a good standard - if you can get into it. Also, a visitor must be prepared to stay 2 or 3 days longer than scheduled because if the wind is blowing in a certain direction the flying boat is unable to land. 1 do not know what will happen to Lord Howe Island when the next redistribution of seats occurs, but I hope and trust that the commissioners will do what I urged in this House some 10 to 15 years ago - change the name of the electorate of West Sydney to Sydney. That is the logical name for the electorate.
– Why not call it Minogue?
– That would probably be a better name for an electorate than the honourable member’s name would be. I had an opportunity to represent Australia in Canada in 1955. The position there is similar to our own in that Canada is a federation with ten Provinces. Visitors are certainly well looked after. Every day we attended a mayor’s dinner in a large city. At night we were invited to a State banquet. Our visit finished in Ottawa where the official conference lasted 3 or 4 days. My name was a little hard for Canadians to pronounce, but they got over it one way or another. I was asked: ‘Where is Sydney? Straight away two or three men said: ‘In what part of Western Australia is it? I was there during the war.’ I said: ‘It doesn’t happen to be in Western Australia at all. Kalgoorlie is there and a good man represents that area in the Commonwealth Parliament. They are lucky to have a man like him’. After all, his electorate is larger than New South Wales, Victoria or Queensland. If he was not a Labor man he could not do it. He puts all his time into it. I once visited the Kalgoorlie electorate to give my colleague a hand at the time of a preselection ballot. Everybody knows his name. On reaching Western Australia after some hours of flying, I had to fly again about 200 miles. Between every meeting we had to travel another 100 miles. I said: ‘If you gave me this electorate and a guarantee of appointment for the next 50 years I would not take it’. Perhaps the redistribution of electoral boundaries will change all that.
Sydney is the third largest city in the British Commonwealth of Nations. Birmingham is larger. I do not know why we should tinker with the name of a city when naming a Federal electorate. The other five capital cities have named their Federal electorates after the cities. I hope that on this occasion the Electoral Commissioners will heed what I have said and will change the name of my electorate to ‘Sydney*.
– What about ‘East Sydney’?
– What about ‘West Sydney’? It does not matter whether you are east or west so long as you are doing the right thing. Then you can always go to the people. The people understand exactly what is done. I hope and trust that the Government will remedy the mistake it made in 1967 when it did not grant an increase of one penny piece to pensioners. Nearly 16 months have elapsed since that time and it will be August of this year before any change is made. I suppose it will be an increase of a mere 30c a week. It is cruel that in a country like Australia, where fruit and other foods appear in abundance in shop windows, pensioners cannot afford to buy one piece of fruit.
I thank Mr Sinclair, the previous Minister for Social Services, for the great job he did in introducing legislation to allow to municipal councils grants on a basis of $2 for $1 in respect of homes for aged persons. I think that will be a great boon to aged people who have lived their lives in a certain district and do not want to leave it. Now a council can obtain finance from the Commonwealth Government. I appreciate that very much. I hope that within 6 months a home to accommodate 51 aged people will be built in Glebe. But that is a very minor step in view of the number of aged people looking for homes. The Government should not rest on its laurels until all aged people are secure in some type of home or hostel where they will be looked after.
I suppose it is not of much use for me to talk about the Post Office, because its officers do not do much when you ask them. For 10 years I have been looking for support for the building of a new post office in Glebe. Young women with babies in prams go to the post office there to get their allowances. They are sent to a street around from the post office where they are paid in a very dismal old shed. Pensioners are in the same position. Glebe has a population of about 16,000 people but the Government stands aloof. Apparently the people of Glebe have no real credentials, but they must use the post office for many purposes. The only likely move is that the post office there will be closed on a Saturday. The present accommodation is so bad that it would not matter if it were closed all week. Any alternative could not be worse than the present accommodation. It is three quarters of a mile from any other post office. Pensioners wishing to buy a stamp must pay a bus fare of about 5c to travel a mile to the post office, where the accommodation provided for the people of Glebe is a downright disgrace.
– It is always a pleasure to follow the honourable member for West Sydney (Mr Minogue). His work on behalf of pensioners is known and appreciated on both sides of the chamber. The most striking tribute that could possibly be paid to our new Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) has been paid in the last couple of days by the Opposition in this House. The Opposition has chosen to launch a scurrilous attack on the character of the youngest member of the House and has also vigorously attacked the honour and integrity of certain Army personnel who interrogated a Vietcong spy a couple Of years ago. I do not know whether the intention is to damage the respect in which the Army is held in the community at large, but it may have that effect if the debate is prolonged and carried on in the way that it has been by the Opposition. It is to be deplored, but Government supporters can draw comfort from the fact that with all the great issues available today, domestic and foreign, the Opposition has been reduced to attacking the Government on such a ragbag of scurrilous trifles. The appointment of the new Prime Minister has quite evidently demoralised the Opposition. Although this Parliament has not met for some months, that is the best that the Opposition can produce. That says more for the character, intention and effect of the new Prime Minister on the Australian people than any personal tribute that I could pay.
I feel very strongly that we are at a point in our history in Australia when we should take a new look at the Australian economy and the Australian situation in the world. I believe that Australia is the richest country, per head of population, in the world today. Our standard of living compares more than favourably with the standard of living of any other country in the world. Despite the high standard of living we divert away from consumption towards foreign aid, defence and capital works, so necessary in a developing economy, a greater proportion of our national income than any other country in the world. While we are diverting funds away from consumption and deliberately suppressing our standard of living we are maintaining our standard at a level comparable with other countries such as the United States of America, Canada or Sweden. Any traveller who has visited other countries and witnessed their agonies of racialism, poverty and distress has returned with the conviction that Australia is by far the most attractive country in which to live. We are the richest country, per head, in the world today. Yet we can see, thanks to the discoveries of minerals, oil and gas, that new riches await us just around the corner. In 10 or 20 years time when these riches have been developed, have become hard cash and their potential has been realised, Australia’s wealth is bound to grow and so our standing in the world is bound to rise. We must anticipate the heavy responsibilities which will fall upon our shoulders in such a short time; we must be ready to accept them. We must take action now to ensure that our governmental institutions, our attitude to the world and our policies are correct and in accord with the heavy responsibilities that are shouldered by wealthy and powerful people, who are the envy of those less fortunate in the world. So I welcome the change in the Government at this particular time, although I am sad that it should have come to about in the way that it did. It was our destiny that the change should come about at a particular stage in our history that is so vital to our future.
Having said that we are so wealthy, I want to highlight the three great and grave problems which still confront us on the domestic front. Quite clearly we have only a few years to run with our available water reserves. Investment in conservation works is a long term project, as was pointed out this afternoon by my colleague, the right honourable member for Fisher (Mr Adermann). The need to act well in advance, by making funds available for conservation works, is urgent and we should make sure that we profit by the lessons learnt by other countries which have been at the game longer than we have. We should adopt the procedures that have been adopted in other countries, such as the United States, in conservation works. We should establish a national co-ordinating body, because the task of conserving our water and soils is far and away beyond the resources of the States. We must provide the national coordinating body with the necessary funds. We must coordinate all forms of conservation. Matters concerning soils, forests, flora and fauna, and everything associated with water conservation and the pollution of water should be covered. All the works that such a body believes should be co-ordinated must be controlled so that we do not waste money but make the best possible use of the slender funds that we can allocate for such a purpose. They are slender by comparison with the need. People do not appreciate sufficiently how short of fresh water the United States of America is now; yet the United States of America has infinitely greater reserves and resources of fresh water than Australia has. There the problem is extremely grave and is recognised as such. I read a report in the Press today that in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics alarm is being expressed because industry consumes and pollutes such a lot of water that there is a growing shortage of fresh water for human consumption. Water conservation must receive our closest and most urgent attention if we are to achieve results before disaster strikes. Water is the one resource in Australia to which there is a definite limit, and that limit is not very far away. Thank goodness that the lesson of conservation has been brought home in the last few years to the people who live in the large cities of Sydney and Melbourne. Perhaps now we will get some support for water conservation from those cities that are so well favoured in other respects. I look forward to positive action on the part of the Government. I believe that the Government is determined to implement positive policies, and water conservation on a national basis should receive first attention.
The second major problem that confronts the nation is the building up of our work force. We are very fortunate in having a homogeneous work force, a happy and highly skilled work force. But we need more of the same type of people. We need more and more people to bring our great mineral resources and our developmental work to fruition. We need more and more highly skilled, able people. This should be the criterion for immigration. We should consider not the racial origin of an intending migrant but solely his ability to make a useful and worthwhile contribution to the Australian economy. I have spoken previously of the advantage that would accrue to Australia by bringing here highly skilled Japanese and Chinese and I have been viciously attacked by members of the Opposition for making such a statement. The fact remains that small numbers of these people have been excellent settlers in this country and in the United States. The record of Japanese and their loyalty to the United States, after they have settled there, is a striking one. It is well worth studying and bearing in mind for future application in Australia. Highly skilled tradesmen and professional people in Japan, Hong Kong and other places are being attracted to the United States and Canada now. They are being accorded a warm welcome in those countries. How can we be foolish enough to have them kept out of Australia because of some narrow and anachronistic attitude on the part of certain sections of the Australian people? We are very foolish if we allow ourselves to be swayed by these illogical, irrational sentiments. We need to build up a powerful work force, and we need to build it up as rapidly as possible. We must not degrade it by bringing into this country only people who are destitute and despairing, people who can make no worthwhile contribution to our future; we must look to the importation of quality all the time, from wherever it may come.
The third problem, which is a constantly pressing and worrying one, is the supply of capital for the continuing development of Australia. Fortunately, capital comes to us in many ways from many countries. We now attract capital in its various forms from most of the advanced countries in the world - from European countries, from the United Kingdom, from Canada and from the United States of America. But we constantly need more capital and so long as we maintain a stable administration in Australia, so long as we maintain good housekeeping in this country, so long as we can show a wealth of resources to be tapped through the application of capital, we shall continue to attract it to our shores.
But the more urgent need is not capital that comes to us by way of loans or by way of investment. I say in passing that there has been very much criticism of investment capital in Australia by sections of the Australian Labor Party that overlooks completely the value of investment capital. A very large proportion of this capital comes in as risk capital, or venture capital, the kind of capital that we cannot supply in Australia. We just do not have enough money to undertake risky ventures; so we are dependent on foreign investors to take these big plunges and to engage in wildcat investments in Australia.
We also need capital that comes in association with know-how. A great deal of capital that comes into Australia is in this category. The range extends from skilled cotton farmers from California right up to chemical plants. This capital which comes in association with technical know-how that we cannot supply in Australia is extremely valuable and I hope we get much more of it.
I indicated that I propose to speak of another form of capital. That is the capital that we earn ourselves from our exports, or the capital that we save by not importing goods from overseas because we are producing them ourselves. At the present time, with our economy moving along so rapidly there is a danger that our trade gap will widen. A trade gap has been with us for the last 10 years or so. We have had to live with it, and there is a danger that it may widen this year, or some time thereafter because the economy is importing so much machinery that is essential for development and so many materials that cannot be supplied in Australia. We could do more to build up our export trade and I was very pleased to see in His Excellency’s Speech a promise that we are to have coming before us, later in the year, legislation to provide for some additional incentives to manufacturers to encourage them to get into the export trade. We can do very much more than we have done in the past in supplying import replacements, particularly in the rural sector. For example, we are now importing $200m worth of forest products a year, whereas we should be exporting $200m worth of forest products annually. We have the potential here to produce softwoods in a large way, and we should utilise that potential. I am sure from ali the indications we have seen that the Government is ready to develop import replacement and export incentives and I hope that it does so on a large enough scale to be worth while.
We should not be importing vegetable oils; yet we are. There is a large export market for vegetable oils of different kinds. We should be encouraging and stimulating their production in Australia and their export from Australia. For example, we do not produce soya beans. But we could establish a very large export trade in these beans. Since soya beans are grown from Canada right down to South America, I see no reason at all why we cannot find in Australia climatic conditions suitable for the production of one, two or even more strains of soya beans and so get into the export trade with that commodity.
I have a suggestion to offer the Govern ment at this point for diverting rural production away from industries which are languishing for one reason or another into more useful and more valuable forms o.r production. It relates to supervised credit. Supervised credit is a form of supplying finance to farmers which has worked eminently successfully in the United States of America. It has worked also in a form in the United Kingdom but I do not intend to draw any parallel between Australian conditions and those obtaining in the United Kingdom, because to do that would bc absurd. The United States, however, can be compared with Australia and, since this form of providing finance to farmers has been so successful in the United States I believe that it is certainly worth a try in Australia. Its effect would be to encourage farmers to aggregate holdings and move out of small uneconomic areas and uneconomic or less valuable forms of production into economic holdings and more valuable forms of production. Professor J. N. Lewis, of the University of New England says that supervised credit is the most efficient method by which farmers can finance development of their properties. He said:
Supervised credit means money is advanced to the borrower for an approved programme of farm development or reorganisation.
This programme is appraised by specialist agriculture consultants, who satisfy themselves and the lender that the measure is economically sound.
Apart from applying this job of loan appraisal, the consultants also provide a service to clients. They assist in the preparation of the farm plan, make sure the fanner understands the full implications and requirements for success and provided specialised advice on technical problems involved.
Unfortunately, ‘supervised credit’ is a term that is virtually unknown in Australia. It is known to a few experts such as Professor Lewis, but, for some reason or other, it has not received wide acceptance among fanners’ organisations or among departments of agriculture. One expert, a departmental officer whose name I shall not mention, said this recently:
The benefit to be gained by bringing together the farmer, his technical and economic advisers, and the finance supplier into a systematic use of credit through an agreed and supervised farm plan for development has so far not been availed of in this country.
Why has this not been availed of? Why has this not been fitted into the general picture of farm credits? The ignorance is extraordinary. It is hard to explain when our need is so great. There are farmers in my electorate who suffered very badly during the drought that was centred in that area 2 years ago. They lost their stock so they turned to wheat production last year. Well, in many cases they did not get a crop and now they are worse off than they were 2 years ago. This is the type of people who could be helped with a system such as I have referred to and who cannot get any help at all from the present banking system. In fact, the banks themselves do not know what to do. They have no suggestions to offer. They merely turn these men away.
The Farmers Home Administration which looks after this scheme in the United States of America provides 40- year loans at 5% interest for the purchase, enlargement, or. development of farms not larger than family farms. The scheme has been very successful in the U.S.A. I will not read all the details in this report of the scheme which I have but it has been stated by an eminent authority on agricultural credit that credit to farmers without technical assistance is futile, and technical assistance without credit is dangerous. Experience in the United States of America and many other countries confirms the importance of coordinating these two forms of assistance.
I will leave the matter at that stage, Mr Deputy Speaker. The system of supervised credit deserves a much wider appreciation in Australia than it has received. It deserves very close study by this Government. It would be much cheaper to institute such a system than to adopt a proposal to buy out dairy farmers which was mentioned in the Governor-General’s Speech. This could be a dead loss and a complete waste to the Treasury because die farmers, with a bit of cash in their pockets, might go back up into the hills and again start producing more milk and butter. They should not be allowed to do anything of that kind. Instead, the good, active, progressive dairy farmers should be able to receive the kind of accommodation they need to succeed in production by aggregating their properties or changing to other forms of production which would be more valuable to the community and far more profitable to them. I commend that suggestion to the Government
– Order! I call the honourable member for Capricornia and I remind honourable members that this is his maiden speech.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, a few months ago this House lost a prospective Minister for Defence, my friend, the late George Gray. He preceded me as the honourable member for Capricornia. I believe he died because he did not spare himself. During a visit to India, he and a colleague contracted an infection. Mr Gray, in his forthright fashion, chose to ignore that infection. He stayed on his feet but never fully regained his health. He cannot be adequately replaced. He would not wish me to let go unchallenged the issues of defence on which he would have given expert opinion. That is one reason why I will devote some time to war and defence this afternoon. He would expect me to question the franchise of the South Vietnamese Government which was taken for granted in the Governor-General’s Speech as if it were a masterpiece of democracy under difficulties.
The man appointed by the White House to assess the will of the South Vietnamese to fight on each side of the civil war, Professor Galbraith of Harvard University - the President’s top Asian diplomat - dismissed the election of that government as a fake - as window dressing. In his book How to Get Out of Vietnam’, Professor Galbraith proposed what is virtually the policy of the Australian Labor Party: to hold the areas that are clearly under Saigon’s control - mainly urban areas - where Catholics, landowners and other refugees live by choice, and to cede to the Vietcong the areas that are clearly theirs and which no amount of escalation will clear and hold for Saigon. Then negotiations should start along the lines of the Geneva settlement.
It is a standing disgrace to this country that never have the legalities of this war been presented, debated or investigated in a way that responsible electors have a right to expect in this House of decision, or indeed, in any parliament outside that of the United States of America. Most nations of the world do not recognise the Vietnam war as being a war between two sovereign nations. The Geneva Accords refer specifically to two zones which are not to be regarded in any sense as separate countries. This is a case in which two wrongs do not make a right. Australia should have United Nations sanction for breaking the Accords. We should abide by the version of the International Control Commission in Vietnam, not our own version of what, or how often, or in what order, or how seriously the Accords have been broken by each party concerned and what other breaches may be justified in retaliation.
When the South Vietnamese Government set up a committee to investigate alleged irregularities in the recent election in that country, the committee found irregularities so serious that it unanimously recommended a new election. With the leading civil candidate at the election in gaol and a state security chief in the gallery watching the parliamentary proceedings, the new parliament, by a narrow majority, rejected the committee’s recommendation and decided to let its irregular election stand.
Legalities, of course, are not the main issue. Justice not only should be done but should also appear to be done. This fundamental legal principle applies especially where grave matters have to be judged and there is no graver issue before us than our going to war. I believe, with George Gray, that we are making more defence problems by killing Asians than we are solving by militarily cultivating the United States, and by joint adventures with that country on other continents than hers and ours. We antagonise Asians with our old, rigid immigration policy. Constructive help is the only way in which to reverse that hostility. The United States, as always in the past, will come to the help of anyone only if she feels that her vital interests are threatened and if she is not fighting on her own ground - and we cannot assume that this will happen in any future world war. The American nuclear umbrella turns out to be a nuclear boomerang and such weapons are not selfdefensive - they are self-destructive.
The late George Gray visited most of the Asian countries over a period of some quarter of a century. He spoke Chinese fluently and, like his son, he served as a full-time soldier. He was not unfamiliar with Asian ideas of democracy. He told me that there was only one parliamentary democracy in South East Asia and that was Malaysia. But not long afterwards I read of the imprisonment in Malaysia of the Malaysian opposition leader who was, I believe, a democratic socialist as we are on this side of the House. I believe that this is the fate of laissez faire democracy in most underdeveloped countries and I believe that that is one reason why Communism often has more attraction for underdeveloped countries. Unfortunately, our great wartime ally against Nazism, Fascism and Japanese ambitions, the United States, now has only one official yardstick for democracy. If you hate Communism, which forbids freedom to foreign capital to enter, to buy cheaply and to make profits, then you are in the free world, whatever tyrannies you practice. If you embrace Communism, whether it be Titoism, Maoism, Castroism or any other variety, no matter how savage the dictatorship it replaces, you are an enemy of freedom. And if you stay neutral, then you are soft on Communism and are a fellow traveller, a security risk and a liability.
It is said that even the devil may quote scripture, and the war hawks do this. They say, referring out of context to military actions, ‘He who is not for me is against me’. This is neither Australian fair play nor British justice. It is not sane diplomacy, nor is it warfare within the provisions of the Geneva conventions. It is a mental disorder known as paranonia which affects persons, groups, towns, districts, states and nations. It is kept under control in individuals by family tolerance or force, by chemical or psychological treatment, or by basic retraining related to certain brainwashing procedures. It is kept under control among groups, towns, districts and the states of a federation by the rule of law. It is not controlled among the nations, and this is the essence of international disorder, as compared with national, state or civic order.
The solution lies in developing among nations and among citizens of different nations the ingredients of sanity and the rule of law to keep the peace. These ingredients include, first, a growing sense of communal interest between those who now see themselves as living in opposing camps. This wider world loyalty, which can only enhance national loyalty, could now be fostered by moves to exchange with other countries newspaper space, radio and television time, cultural and educational scholarships, teachers and so on. A daily worldwide selection of television and radio programmes and, indeed, of newspapers printed by radio in each home is within the reach of modern satellite technicians. Let us use these new media, not to destroy, but to unite this planet.
A second essential ingredient for a world without war is the admission of error in high places and the submission of grave issues to commonly respected independent arbitrators. How often do the great powers, or their client nations, take their disputes to the International Court of Justice? Every time we send a military force overseas in anger without doing this, in effect we do, on the international scale, what pirates, bandits and gangsters do on a national scale. We show contempt for the chief organ of the very laws that we are claiming to uphold by our so-called police actions. The police who so acted within any country would be sacked, tried and sentenced. So must international adventurers be arrested and tried under a strengthening world parliament which we see in embryo in the United Nations.
We should restrict our foreign intervention to civil aid and vigorous mediation, as Sweden and Switzerland do, and, like Britain, we should post up prominently the sign ‘Trespassers Evicted, by our own hands if necessary’. George Gray believed this, as I do.
Britain was invaded across 22 miles of channel many times. The invaders never succeeded, except in 1066 when no one saw them coming. Hitler’s Europe, on its knees after taking on Russia, with its air force in shreds and a well organised resistance movement to contend with, still required the patiently massed and marshalled might of the two greatest powers on earth to invade it from that gallant island across the same 22 miles of salt water. Yet here we are with a continent several days sail from any invader. We have the know-how to build up an unbeatable guerilla defence; we have defensive missile know-how leading the world, and we have the experience, facilities and raw materials to construct our own ships, planes and tanks. And what do we do? We spend four times as much as we need spend to pay other people to build missile-armed destroyers, in particular. We have the know-how and the resources but that is all that we do.
The only major armament item mentioned in the Governor-General’s Speech as being made in Australia was the item of 75 Macchi jet trainers. We are being forced to depend on foreign suppliers of spare parts, which in a crisis might not reach us. We can make arms as well as Sweden can, and for a lot less money. The purpose of all this spending is stated to be to make significant contribution to collective defence or to bear the first shock of any attack on ourselves’. This appears in the Governor-General’s Speech. This is the sole and complete purpose - to contribute to collective defence or to bear the first shock of any attack on ourselves. How the Swiss and the Israelis must laugh at our defence attitude. The mountain, being in labour, bringeth forth a mouse. If America is hard pressed on her mainland in any future war, no doubt we will send men to her if we are not equally hard pressed here. But if we are under pressure here we will not do so and, what is more, the United States will not send men to help us while she is hard pressed. This is the risk that we ought to be equal to in a world war.
Do we say to ourselves: ‘We never deserved this country anyhow. Come in, all you who are driven by despair and by dictators, and dictate to us’? This is the logical consequence of our long tradition of clinging to John Bull’s coat-tails which are now being snipped off, or to Uncle Sam’s coattails, which are getting badly singed in his Asian, Middle East and Latin American adventures. What would have happened to Lionel Rose if he had clung to the dressing gowns of the heavyweights Joe Louis, Sugar’ Ray or Cassius Clay, instead of going in and boxing on for himself? He would never have earned the respect of the world for Australia. We could have such respect for our defence, along with Sweden and Switzerland, both nations having none of our range of resources and natural defences and no prouder record than ours of physical courage in war, sport or any other fields of endeavour.
It is not only in world affairs, however, that governments are mentally ill. They are afflicted by a cold war approach to class differences within national borders. On the one hand, some of the more belligerent communists and some of the more militant unionists are telling us that force, defiance and direct action constitute the only language that the bosses understand. On the other hand, there are self-styled Liberals assuming that hereditary privilege is theirs by divine right, to be defended against those born to humbler stations, if necessary by all the force that money can buy, whether legalised with the aid of Press campaigns and distortion of the news that they distribute, or simply justified as the only language that those ‘clods’ can understand. This sort of right and left wing extremism, denying that words can replace wars, would be laughable if it were not so widely believed and acted on as gospel truth, even among the upper echelons of our Government. It is because I believe that this insanity is being overcome best in the party to which I belong that as a university student I changed my voting from the Liberal Party to the Labor Party. I commend such a change of opinion to honourable members opposite. They have an excellent precedent in the late Senator Hannaford.
Another field in which class warfare is rife concerns social services. The Government professes sympathy with the plight of the poor while spending lavishly in less urgent directions. The Government even raised pensions for former members of this House in a year when breadline pensioners were given nothing extra. I am pleased to see that the Government now agrees with me that those least able to pay for illness under our health insurance scheme are those suffering long illnesses. I trust that the resulting review of the National Health Act, which has been virtually forced on the Government by the Senate, will go some way towards implementing our policy of complete health insurance, leaving private health care available to those who want it. I am pleased, also, that the Government contemplates correcting some other anomalies: Vietnam veterans, among others, after a year’s service will receive some pension benefits and the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Scheme will be liberalised along the lines of repatriation benefits.
The development of northern and sparsely settled areas suffers because there are more voters elsewhere. Fortunately this neglect is noted by the electors. In the Dawson and Capricornia by-elections the democratic process supplied the remedy. It is good to see that as our party predicted, and as the Government denied during these by-elections, the solid vote against the Government was followed by action: On the eve of the recent Senate elections big northern development grants were announced. The Governor-General’s Speech shows that, as usual in such cases, the Government has adopted some of our policy. It will survey and set up joint Commonwealth and State projects in coordination with private projects. This is still, of course, a piecemeal policy. It still leaves the great concept of the Snowy scheme to wither away. But it is a start at slowing the decay. We trust that the Snowy concept will not be past resuscitation when the Government is changed next year. Meanwhile we will, I suppose, still traipse along in the wake of private enterprise instead of taking the initiative in planning. The Government would rather give foreigners freight and taxation concessions than put in our own nation’s ill-used capital resources to stimulate new industries. Even then it fails to help State and local governments to provide housing, sewerage and other facilities for the work force which follows these new industries, as in Gladstone, Moura, Biloela, Emerald and other central Queensland towns.
The Government has adopted something else that I have publicly advocated: A plan to develop forestry as an alternative industry for struggling dairymen. I was glad to hear an honourable member opposite say that we need much more softwood to be produced in this country. I am glad also to be able to say that the Government has agreed to extend similar aid to marginal fruit growers. I can only deplore that it does not prevent bankruptcy among primary producers by advance planning, advance rationalisation and cheap loan money for resettlement, instead of waiting for them to become bankrupt. We can accelerate such breakthroughs of commonsense by setting up an Australian Press commission te discourage the slanted reporting which is so widespread at present in our Press. We should not be restricting ourselves to doing what pressure groups tell us to do, what foreigners want and what party hacks ask for. We should be looking at the problems of State and local governments and considering how best and most efficiently this country can be governed. We should not be restricting ourselves and washing our hands of things that we say are State and local government matters. We should be safeguarding and extending civil rights, such as the right of electors by petition to demand a referendum or the recall of an elected representative, as in Switzerland.
We should look far ahead, not only to our own needs but also to the needs of other countries. I have not time to enlarge on the more well known economic and educational needs of other countries. They are known to all honourable members. But one problem which is already acute in some countries is over-population. Although it has not hit us here, we should be thinking about it. The ethical problem of keeping alive one man by cutting the live heart or kidney from another who has been declared dead is a temporary and trifling problem compared with the one which will soon replace it - the problem of keeping alive millions by the aid of plastic hearts and kidneys. This problem will come in our lifetime. Most family doctors in Australia have probably attended at least one person who has been restored from invalidity to active life by the removal of a heart valve and its replacement with a plastic ball valve. Where do we stop the one-track mind of the medical profession which aims to keep as much as possible on the earth’s crust from turning into anything less than human beings? Do we wait until there is no standing room in the solar system or do we start to face now the fact that we are fast running out of fresh air, fresh water, parkland, forest and ocean?
I return to the national health service, which has been strongly criticised by honourable members opposite during this debate. One of them recommended that everyone of pensionable age be allowed the fringe benefits available to pensioners, including free medical care. He is likely to provoke a strike among members of the Australian Medical Association who have believed that only Socialists think that way. What I cannot understand is why it should concern this Government or the medical profession whether the governments of Queensland charge for public bed accommodation or not. For many years Queensland governments, Labor and non-Labor, have clung to free hospitalisation. There is a case to foe made out for charging anybody who takes- himself unbidden to a doctor, but if that doctor, on his own initiative, refers the patient to a specialist, a hospital, a chemist or a physio.terapist, no sort of argument can be put up to justify a charge for this. The patient did not request it. He cannot be accused of over-use of these services, because only a doctor can order their use. Only a doctor can be responsible for over-use of these facilities. There can be no legitimate government or AMA objection to a free service for those items which a qualified doctor orders.
Education is another Cinderella department, because the Government refuses to look or plan ahead and is insensitive to those who have no vote - in this case, school children. All honourable members have heard that we are lagging behind other countries. Instead of spending, as we do now, half as much per student as Israel or Finland does, we ought to be almost doubling their expenditure per student. In this most valuable of all capital investments, the investment in human capacity, the Government has no imagination. I hope that it can be shamed into accepting, to some extent, our policy for a sweeping survey of education. In conclusion, and in short, the Government must stop merely dodging difficulties and start to stimulate statesmanship.
– I enjoyed thoroughly the manner in which the new member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) made his maiden speech. If it had been possible for me to go from my side of the House to his side of the House I would most certainly have done so, not to join the Australian Labor Party but to get a prescription for a tranquiliser. I compliment him on the way he made his speech. I compliment also honourable members on this side of the chamber, and certain sections of the Labor Party, on the way in which they sat in silence and listened to him. The honourable member for Capricornia came here having received a degree of publicity before his arrival. I can only say that having heard his rendition tonight, I think the publicity was very well deserved.
I feel that at a time like this the GovernorGeneral’s Speech is not a policy speech of a new Government but is, in the main* merely a reiteration of the policies which will be carried on by the Government under the new Prime Minister (Mr Gorton), plus certain new matters or certain new approaches to some of the factors involving our ‘country at this time. Before I address myself to the Speech I should like to join with other honourable members on both sides of the House in their tributes to the late Prime Minister, Mr Harold Holt, and say that I indeed regret most deeply his passing. To me he was always most kind and considerate. Whatever differences may have taken place, I regarded him as a gentleman and one who gave me every consideration. I think this country will miss him very greatly.
I do not think the Governor-General’s Speech was a very exciting one. But in reading through it I was glad to find that certain points had been cleared up and that the Australian people had been given a clearer indication of what the Government intended to do. The Governor-General said:
My Government will continue the support accorded to the United States of America and the Government of South Vietnam in an endeavour to ensure that aggression by force of arms, terrorism and subversion is not successful in subjecting the people of South Vietnam to rub by an aggressor.
I believe that it is clearly understood that Australia has no territorial ambitions or territorial claims; that we are a free people; that we are a small nation; and that we believe that we have responsibilities to others to ensure that they are given the things that we ourselves expect. I think that basically members of the Labor Party believe ‘that. But unfortunately the directive from on top is such that they are rather restricted in saying so. The honourable gentleman to whom we have just listened said that he wished to continue the approach of the late George Gray. I knew George Gray very well. I travelled with him on defence committee trips. Either I did not know him or the new member for Capricornia did not know him, because there seemed to be very little similarity between what the new member said and what George Gray said when one got under the surface and discussed matters with him.
Later in his Speech the GovernorGeneral said that we do want peace in South Vietnam. Surely that is or should be known to all the people of Australia. If the Labor Party’s criticism is that we have been inadequate, let it say that we have been inadequate. But without any doubt we are behind the British, American and United Nations moves, and never have we been otherwise. What I can not understand is that never does there come from the other side of the House any criticism of the fact that the North Vietnamese have not accepted any one of the offers that have been made to them. I do not wish to labour that point. But the people of Australia should keep asking themselves why that is the position and when the Labor Party will make some criticism of the North Vietnamese attitude. Today we heard a speech by an honourable member who concluded by saying that he thought South Vietnam would be better off or at least no worse off under Ho Chi Minh. Perhaps that is a noble thought, but it has nothing in common with my own thought.
The Governor-General then referred to the projected British withdrawal from east of Suez. He said that we have to plan to endeavour to fill some of the gap that will be caused by the British evacuation. I believe - this is a criticism of the Government - that it should have been doing this planning some time ago. At present there is a tendency to talk too much and not to plan and prepare quickly enough for some of the things that could affect us very shortly. We should look at what is happening around us. The Australian people should be aware of what is happening around them. Should the United States with draw from Vietnam at any time and should the British get out of Malaysia, as I believe they will, very much more quickly than they have indicated at the moment, who will fill the vacuum? Who will assist the Malaysians, the Singaporeans and the Indonesians? Who will protect our trade routes in the Indian Ocean? Who will protect the area on our western side?
Are the people of Australia aware of the moves being made by the Soviet Union in the equipment of the Indian Navy and in giving other assistance? Let me say that I do not argue against such moves as long as they are for the right purposes and are not a preparation in case certain things in India go wrong on. some future occasion. We in Australia have to be aware of these things. We have to be aware of what is happening in the Persian Gulf and in relation to the Suez Canal. To a large extent, that whole area is now coming into the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence, which is a Communist sphere of influence. If we supporters of the Government sit here and say that we have nothing to worry about, if members of the Labor Party sit here and say that we have nothing to worry about and if members of the Government sit here and say: ‘We do not think we have much to worry about’, then the people of Australia should look at a map and see some of the things that are confronting us.
That brings me to the subject of defence. What is the present state of preparedness of our defence Services? It is all very well to say that the Army has never been better equipped than it is today. That is correct. But never before have we been in a situation such as we are in today and such as we could be in in the future. There is no doubt that at this time the Army is 2,000 junior officers and senior NCOs under strength. If anything serious happened in Vietnam, if we suffered greater losses, I question where we would find the replacements. I question also what we are doing at the moment to plan the replacements. The militia - the backing up forces of the Regular Army - should be planned now because later we may not have the time to set about the planning. I question whether we have an order of battle for the Citizen Military Forces, whether we have the necessary afficers and equipment and whether we could put anybody in the field in less than a considerable period of time.
I come now to the Navy. What is the situation at Williamstown? There has just been a strike there. I suggest that it is reasonable to believe that the strike was arranged by certain Communists and shop stewards, I would think, in opposition to the major trade union movement. But this means that repairs to the ships in this area and future constructions are held up. If war was declared tomorrow, what would the reaction be? How fast could our sailors be put to sea? What risks would our sailors at sea have to face because they might have to take out ships that were not efficient and ready to face the task that they might be asked to perform. Similar things are happening at Garden Island. Honourable gentlement opposite know this. Surely it is time we started to realise that we are not as prepared as we think we are. In fact we have weavils, white ants and termites in certain areas of this country including industries that would be essential in wartime.
I refer now to a question that I asked in the House this morning. It reads as follows:
I ask the Prime Minister a question. As the Opposition and some sections of the Press seem only to be interested in matters likely to lower the morale of Australian troops in Vietnam and at home and also the morale of the citizens of this country, will be at some suitable time implement a debate on the Vietcong and North Vietnamese actions of which there are witnesses galore who have returned from Vietnam, who are here and who have first hand experience of events which are not 2 years old, so that the Australian people can understand more clearly the double standards in the Opposition?
I had only one purpose in asking that question - to ask the people of Australia and honourable members when they last heard of a debate, or a protest meeting attended by any member of the Labor Party, concerning an atrocity or action of the people whom we believe are the enemies of the free world at this time. I believe that the answer to that question will be that they have heard none.
Order! The honourable member is out of his place.
– I believe that the people of Australia are entitled to know the answer to that question and that the honourable member for Wills should stand up and tell us when he last protested.
Recently the people of this country have been subjected to Press articles concerning an incident that was supposed to have occurred in Vietnam in 1966. I question how this whole thing originated and indeed how the news was first released to the Australian public and why. To a certain extent the situation reminds me of what happened when the book ‘The Group’ came out and it would not sell. No-one bothered to buy it and so the interests behind it had it banned; then everyone knew what pages to read and the book had an assured market from there on. I understand that the controversy over the Vietnam incident was sparked off by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which seems to have a consistency in these matters, in a reference to a book written by an American author in relation to events in Vietnam. A new Minister for the Army had just been appointed. I do not blame him; who has no sympathy for a man thrown suddenly into this sort of task and suddenly asked to go on television for an interview? I do not think that the interviewer was very much on his side. Perhaps he made a few mistakes. In the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ of Monday, 11th March this report appears:
In a television interview tonight Melbourne journalist (John Sorell) said he had not written a story about the alleged torture . . .
Is the alleged torture what is alleged by the American author or what is alleged by Mr Sorell? I do not know. We then come to the question of the cameraman and one other gentleman who were present and who denied this completely. In the Melbourne ‘Age’ of a later date, we read this report:
Two newspapermen who were present at the torture’ incident at Nui Dat, South Vietnam, have given accounts of the interrogation of a Viet Cong girl which do not support allegations of torture.
Up to date it is two to one against the American who got it second hand. He does not know whether his story is true, but he put it in his book. A reporter and another witness say that they went round the back of the tent and they did not see anything, though they heard something related to water. We had an incident in this House when the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) became so carried away that he himself was involved in a water incident. The Press of this country could have written up stories stating that the Minister for
External Affairs (Mr Hasluck) was staggered and that he reeled, went stark white, choked and gulped because this vicious character on the other side of the chamber had not been able to control himself and had thrown a jug of water over the Minister.
I ask myself how decent men in Parliament or in the Press on the facts that are available to them can ask for the blowing up of an incident which happened 2 years ago. I had sympathy for ‘the ugly American, but I think this is an atrocious Australian who claims that he saw this incident in 1966. The evidence is that the correspondents did not see it but were behind the tent when everything happened. The man concerned, as he had every right to do, gave a report to the area commander, who investigated it. The correspondent then sat tight and did nothing from 1966 to 1968 until some American - and I do not know what type of American - wrote a book which seems to be mainly a criticism of the Australian Army and the Australian soldier. I would not have blamed the correspondent a bit if he had not been satisfied with the area commander’s investigation. He was a reporter for a powerful newspaper. He could have reported the affair to his paper, which could have taken it up in Canberra is necessary. This matter could have been raised in a higher sphere; but he did not raise it there. The American has written about things that he did not see - and he admits that he did not see them. Once his book came out, a comment came from the journalist.
Honourable members who read the ‘Daily Telegraph’ today will have seen an article under the heading ‘US Author wrote of “torture he missed” ‘, which reads:
The other thing I missed (during his absence from the Australian base camp) was listening to the interrogation of a female prisoner.
Moseley said she was young and good looking. He and Sjoberg -
Whoever that may be - stood outside the tent. . . . ‘
What the Leader of the Opposition is asking is that we bring the Vietcong girl out here so that she can be put up to accuse an Australian soldier who has been in Vietnam and who returned from there after the case had been investigated and after he had been interrogated in 1966. The
Leader of the Opposition is asking that the incident should be blown up in the press all over the world.
I do not care much whether I suffer because of my attitude or whether I disagree with the editorials in the newspapers. I go on record as saying that I shall support the Australian soldier, wherever he may be, and any Australian who gives reasonable thought to those matters should indeed question what is going on in some quarters in this country at this time. We should look at the newspapers, count how many photographs of Vietcong atrocities are published, check how many pictures which turn out eventually, by some inexplicable mistake, to be Vietcong pictures but have been claimed as allied atrocities, have been countermanded, and ask ourselves what is happening and whether any of us on this side of the House or on the Labor side have the right to ask any boy to go to this war unless we are prepared to give him the loyalty and support that he needs. Our boys in Vietnam read the newspapers there and they may look to the Labor Party and hope that it will give them support. I have not heard of any national serviceman who has returned from Vietnam and has supported Labor policy or written to the Press asking what Labor policy is. Let honourable members opposite bring forward, if they can, any national serviceman who has done so. I have heard many who have come back say that they know what they went to fight for. Let us ask ourselves what it is that the Opposition wants. What is it that the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Fulton), who is sitting there wearing his Returned Services League badge, wants.
– For whom does the honourable member want justice? Does he want to smear Australian servicemen, who, up to this time, have had a reputation second to none for courage, kindness and consideration? On the word of one reporter, which is not supported by the two other people quoted, or by evidence that could have been brought before higher authority in Canberra through a powerful newspaper, an American author, using information given to him in 1966, attacks Australian servicemen and the Army’s morale.
Let me in the time left to me read a letter, which, I think, is indicative of many. Honourable members may read another one from an ex-serviceman who returned his medals. I have never had much time for that sort of man and neither has the honourable member for Leichhardt. A letter which appeared in the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ and which was written by a soldier returned from Vietnam, stated:
Why don’t you leave the Digger alone to fight the war? Why do you have to interfere and tip the balance more in favour of the Vietcong?
We’re fighting a war! We’re fighting it as fair as we can, and the Vietcong fight dirty, but we get all the knocks. Nobody kicks if the VC torture anybody.
The information that girl had would have been important. Radio-operators aren’t a dime a dozen.
The letter starts off with some observations concerning what this serving soldier saw in Vietnam. Honourable members opposite never seem to be able to read that sort of comment. The honourable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) could answer some questions about torture by water. He also has had practical experience. No-one walks out. He knows that and I know it. I have never met with a more atrocious and repulsive case put up by an Opposition which seems to lack any moral fibre at all. I think the Australian soldier will remember this for a long time. Since this allegation was first made, I have questioned a number of men returned from Vietnam. The first one whom I asked about the matter said: ‘At times we wonder which side the Press is on’. The second one said: ‘Well, if people want to delve into the trough of filth which is involved in this, what can we do about it?’
I can say only this: If I were the mother of a boy who was up in Vietnam and I listened to what has come from the Opposition, I would question on whose side the Opposition is. It appears that any piece of gossip even if it is unsupported and denied by other witnesses will be used by the Australian Labor Party. If it can be a vehicle for the Labor Party to get onto the bandwagon, it will not be too low. I mention in passing that I rather object to having been able to read in a newspaper a statement as to what is going to be said tonight regarding this matter. If the Government does weaken and does consider that there should be a full inquiry into this alleged torture incident, I will go on record, even if I am the only person in this House to do so, as voting against the proposal. In my book, the soldier has to be supported. The Australian soldier is taking the risks. He is not sitting in a deep green leather chair like the honourable member for Wills who is trying to interject and who is trying to tell everybody how to run this war.
As far as I am concerned, any person who might be listening at this time to the radio broadcast of these proceedings while driving in his motor car should look into the rear vision mirror and ask himself where he stands on the subject of this nitwit who did not have the courage, if he felt so strongly about the matter, to take it further along the correct channels. Instead, he gave the story to this American so that the American could write a book which could be sold. This news item was whipped through to our gallant Australian Broacasting Commission which, without hesitation, put it on air to be purveyed to the Australian people, to the parents of our soldiers serving in Vietnam and also to the world. Frankly, I say at this stage that I feel ashamed to be an Australian when I hear some of the comments from the Opposition about this matter.
- Mr Speaker, first of all I wish to congratulate the honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) on his maiden speech. Having listened to the speech just delivered by the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess), I point out to the House what a change of attitude has taken place. I disagree with the honourable member completely when he says that the Australian Labor Party is not for the soldier in Vietnam. We will support any member of our Army. We are definitely against our soldiers going to Vietnam. We were opposed to the legislation that lead to their going to Vietnam. But we will support the Australian soldier. We will give him all the benefits to which he is entitled when he returns. This is more than the Government will do for him.
What amazes me is the change of attitude that we have seen on the other side of the House. We are not against the soldier involved in this incident. We want to clear his name. As the honourable member for La Trobe has said, this matter has been reported in the world Press. Every nation knows what this soldier has been accused of. If we do not clear his name or hold this inquiry I am afraid that a number of other nations will take up an attitude completely different from the one adopted by the honourable member for La Trobe. This is why we are supporting this soldier. We are not against him in any way. What a change in attitude for the honourable member for La Trobe. What about the other fellow who recently was accused of certain things respecting the ‘Voyager* tragedy. The honourable member for La Trobe said that he was accused wrongly.
– It was a slightly different case.
– It is the same thing.
– There is no similarity.
– A witness was not given a chance at the first Royal Commission hearing to give his evidence because nobody supported him. Nobody would listen to his story. The honourable member for La Trobe did. But he has changed his attitude. He is not prepared to listen on this occasion. This soldier has been accused of something. We want to have his name cleared. We do not want the matter hushed up. The more it is hushed up the worse it will be for him in the Press. But I do not wish to carry on a discussion of this matter. I have a number of more important things to say in this debate. Other speakers from this side, more capable than I am to deal with the honourable member for La Trobe, will take this matter up. But I do not like the imputation which came from the honourable member for La Trobe that I was not a supporter of any soldier who fights for this country in Vietnam. I am against our soldiers going to Vietnam. But while our soldiers are in Vietnam I will support them in every way I can.
In my maiden speech in 1959, 1 spoke of the need for northern development. I warned the members of the Parliament then that if Australia did not persist in developing that area it would lose it. A certain amount of northern development has taken place, but it has been nowhere near what I expected. I thought that the north would be developed by Australians for the benefit of the whole nation. But today we find that other countries are achieving by money what they could not achieve by the use of arms. More foreign countries than ever before are engaged in exploiting our natural resources in the north. I know that we want capital to develop certain industries. But I do not think that the Commonwealth Government, in particular, has played its part as it should have.
Australia’s natural resources are being mined by private enterprise. They are being sold overseas. They are being taken away in their raw state, processed, and then sold back to us. What a difference it would make if we could process these natural resources. Employment could be given to those people who have been made redundant by mechanisation and other causes. The product that we would produce could be sold to overseas countries. This is a sorry state of affairs. We find now that all we are ending up with in the Northern Territory and North Queensland is holes in the ground. All the resources that we have - I am speaking particularly about bauxite but I include other minerals such as iron ore and phosphates - will be taken in the same way. These resources will be extracted from their natural environs in our country, taken overseas and processed. Then we will buy the processed product back from the overseas country concerned.
I agree wholeheartedly with the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen) who said that we should be processing more of our own raw materials. We should be doing this. We should be building our own ships. We should be doing all these things. It is not much good to say that we have not the technicians or that we have not the know how. I believe that we do have these things. If we do not, why should we not buy them? We did not have these things before the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme was commenced. We had to buy the men. We have them here now although the Government is not doing much about retaining their services. I would like to see more done about the retention of the whole of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. It could work particularly for the conservation of water which is vital to the nation. At the present time, the southern part of Australia is dry. In the northern half of the country water is running straight out into the ocean in millions and millions of gallons. This water could be conversed for drought purposes. The north experiences its droughts just as much as the southern area of Australia does. But when there is a drought in the southern part of Australia there are more squeals because there is a bigger population. More cries are heard from these areas than from outlying places where not so many voices are found.
There is another interesting subject to which I would like to refer. It concerns the Great Barrier Reef. This great phenomenon is a world wonder. It is a large mass of coral comprising fauna and marine life. It is an outstanding attraction for scientists from all over the world. Amateur scientists and other people interested in marine life, as well as the professional scientists, are drawn to the Great Barrier Reef. Many people are interested in what is going to happen to the Great Barrier Reef.
A case was heard a little while ago in the Innisfail Court of Petty Sessions. A certain person made an application for special mining lease No. 11 to mine coral from Ellison Reef which is a part of the Barrier Reef. This was stated to be a dead reef. We have it from many sources - from people who know - that this reef has marine life. They say that no such thing as a dead reef exists. These people examined Ellison Reef which was supposed to be dead and they found various species of fish and live coral still in the depths of the allegedly dead reef.
I wish to draw to the attention of the House the reasoning of one of the persons who was concerned in this matter. I have great regard for him. He was a personal friend of the late Prime Minister, Harold Holt. He knew Mr Holt at Bingil Bay. He lives down that way at Mission Beach. He is the President of the Wide Life Preservation Society of Queensland, Innisfail Branch. His name is Mr J. H. Busst. I hope he does not mind me using his name here but, having spoken with him, I am sure he will not, especially because of his great concern about the Barrier Reef. This is what he has had to say on this matter:
We feel that the Mining Warden has made a who, judicial decision in refusing this application. Very considerable public feeling not only in this area, but throughout Australia, has been generated by this test case, and emphatic protests against the granting of this Great Barrier Reef mining licence have been received from famous scientists and scientific bodies throughout the world.
Now we find that the Queensland Government is calling for a lease over the whole 1,200 miles of the Barrier Reef in respect of minerals and oil. If a lease is granted I do not know what will happen when digging begins. I should imagine it will be detrimental to the Reef. It must be remembered that in addition to being a thing of beauty, the Reef, as its name implies, is a barrier for the Queensland coastline. If it were destroyed, cyclones and high winds that now blow in from the Pacific Ocean would be able to sweep across unimpeded, possibily causing the disappearance of many Queensland coastal towns, in much the same way as damage has been caused further south on the Gold Coast, which does not have protection similar to that afforded by the Barrier Reef.
Therefore it is essential that notice should be taken of the views of experts in this field. I know probably more than any other member of this chamber about the practical aspects of this problem but others who have scientific and professional knowledge of the Reef that I do not possess have written to me, requesting me to protest as strongly as I can against the possible destruction of this natural barrier. In doing so I ask all honourable members to take notice of what I am saying and to endeavour to inform themselves on the real nature of the Barrier Reef and why it should be preserved. Professor Birch of the University of Sydney calls it the most unique structure ever created by any organism, including man. Therefore anything done to destroy or damage the Reef, irrespective of the commercial profit involved, will amount to an act of utter vandalism. If the reef is destroyed for monetary gain, the people responsible must bear in mind that the damage done ultimately to the whole of the Queensland coastline will far exceed their gain.
Newspaper reports have claimed recently that enough oil can now be obtained from wells drilled throughout Australia to meet our oil needs, and that even further development is possible. Why destroy the Barrier Reef if oil is available from other sources? If the Reef is drilled for oil this will certainly lead to its destruction. I do not know what form of mining will be attempted there. Possibly it will be to obtain lime from coral, but this too could lead to the destruction of the Reef.
Other depradation is being caused by fishermen. Honourable members may have read or heard about some Chinese fishermen who were wrecked on the Reef. They were definitely fishing for clams, because on their ship they had big crowbars with a spoon-like bill that they used for digging into the coral to prise off the big clams, some of which weigh half a ton or even a ton. However, medium size clams contain only about 1 lb or H lb of muscle meat. The fishermen open the clam, extract the meat they want, and in the process destroy the clam. They throw the shell away except for pieces they might want to sell later in the form of souvenirs. The damage they do also could lead ultimately to destruction of the Reef.
I am sure that members have heard about fee starfish - I forget its technical name - and how its numbers have increased as a result of the action of visitors to the Barrier Reef in collecting a shell that they regard as valuable. I think it is called the hornbill shell. The removal of these shells has upset the natural balance of the Reef. One result has been the increase in the number of starfish. Had the Reef not been interfered with I am sure that the number of starfish would not have increased so steeply. I have been so informed by experts. A similar position applies to clam shells. If these shells are removed from the Reef in large numbers the imbalance of nature will be affected and it will lead to more damage than is caused now by the removal of the shells.
Fishermen have been operating in the vicinity of the Reef for the past 2 or 3 years but only lately have they become interested in clams. If some effective action is not taken to prevent these operations, instead of just one or two ships coming to the Reef for these shells, there will be hundreds. Already large numbers of Japanese ships are fishing for prawns in the Gulf of Carpentaria. A statement has been attributed to the responsible Minister that he welcomes the Japanese fishermen because they have the technique and knowledge to engage efficiently in prawn fishing. This is not correct. Australian fishermen have as much technical knowledge of this type of fishing as the Japanese or anyon else.
Something similar occurred in regard to diving for pearl shell off the Torres Strait Islands. Honourable members will recall that Okinawans were brought down to gather pearl shell on the pretext that the Torres Strait Islanders were not as efficient as the Japanese. This view was proved to be false; the Japanese were not as good at diving for these shells as the local islanders. Unfortunately, the bottom fell out of this business following the introduction of synthetics. But even if the market had not been affected in this way I am sure that no more Okinawan divers would have been brought to Thursday Island because they were not as successful as it was alleged they would be. I make a similar pronouncement in regard to prawning in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Recently some Japanese prawning vessels have been converted for this operation after being used to fish for tuna. This has been done because of the big find of prawns made in the area by the scientists of the CSIRO. The Japanese are quick to take advantage of discoveries like that. I hope that soon legislation will be introduced on this matter in this House or a motion on this subject will be debated here. Therefore, I shall not dwell on this matter now. I emphasise that prawn fishermen now operating trawlers in Queensland waters are capable of exploiting the prawns in the Gulf of Carpentaria. These fishermen have been working the waters off the coastline in the vicinity of Brisbane for many years and have sufficient experience at their calling. They are moving to the Gulf of Carpentaria, having received sufficient financial backing to do so. They are willing to go into the prawn business in a big way but they do not want the Japanese operating in waters that are really theirs. It is their right to develop this industry and they can do it. I am assured of this by several companies that are interested in this operation. Action should be taken quickly to prevent any intrusion of outside fishermen into the Gulf of Carpentaria by declaring the whole of it to be within our own boundaries. If the Government will not accede to this request, I make another one: I submit that any Japanese lugger or trawler coming into Australian waters on a joint fishing venture with Australians should have Australian crews and Australian skippers, not Japanese cheap labour crews. We have the men and we can do the work. There is no need for Japanese fishermen to come into our waters. We can work this great industry and earn a lot of money for Australia, while providing plenty of work for fishermen who are now having difficulty in making a living.
As I have said, Australian fishermen have sufficient knowledge of the necessary techniques; we do not need to look beyond this country for this knowledge. They have as much fishing, boating and sailing sense, and as much knowledge of prawning techniques as the fishermen of any other country. I suggest earnestly that the Government -quickly examine the notion of forming partly Japanese and partly Australian companies for fishing operations off our coast. I am sure we can succeed in such a venture; I can give any information that is required on it. There is no doubt that private Aus talian companies, using Australian ships, -sailors and fishermen, can work this industry in the Gulf of Carpentaria without help from any other country.
Debate (on motion by Mr Buchanan)
Sitting suspended from 5.57 to 8 p.m.
– by leave - On about 7th March 1968 reports were made in various Australian newspapers concerning a book by an American, Martin Russ, which suggested in generalised terms that Australian soldiers attempted to avoid the Vietcong in a somewhat cowardly fashion, that they were unduly rough with the civilian population and -that they tortured prisoners. I denied these allegations and stated that there was no truth in them and no evidence to support them. This statement was based on my information at that time. In saying that I considered that there was no foundation for the allegations, I also indicated that the matters raised would be investigated in detail. The specific incident of the Nui Dat interrogation, to which the book made a hearsay reference, was not known to me at the time. Why this was so when some information was in the hands of my advisers is an internal matter which I shall resolve with the officers concerned. However, I accept, of course, that responsibility is mine and I do not for one moment attempt to avoid that responsibility in any way. After my own statement, a Melbourne journalist, Mr Sorell, informed me that in his opinion there was truth in the statement in the book about the Nui Dat incident and that he, Mr Sorell, had witnessed the incident and was the source of the reference in the book. He subsequently published a story of what he claimed to have seen. I then pressed inquiries in the Department, and the facts are these:
Following the sharp action at Long Tan, in which 18 of our men had been killed and 21 wounded, the Australian forces had been harassed and endangered through the activities of an agent spy for the Vietcong who had been observing their camp and the movements of their patrols and reporting upon these matters by radio, and I say that I do not need to emphasise ‘the danger to Australian lives which this in fact entailed. On the afternoon of 24th October 1966, an Australian patrol discovered a tunnel complex in the hills west of the Task Force Headquarters. Some equipment and a radio aerial were discovered. A thorough search eventually found a woman with a powerful radio transceiver hiding in a well concealed tunnel. This woman was the agent of whom I have spoken and was the central figure of the incident we are discussing here tonight. Because of the onset of darkness, the agent remained in custody in the hills overnight and soon after 8 a.m. the next day she was flown by helicopter to the Task Force Headquarters at Nui Dat. On arrival at Nui Dat at approximately 8.30 a.m., she was photographed by pressmen for 10 to 15 minutes and was then taken to the interrogation tent to be questioned. She left the interrogation tent at approximately 10 a.m. and, soon afterwards on the same morning, she was flown out of Nui Dat and ‘handed over to the United States Field Force Headquarters at Long Binh. The agent was therefore under interrogation, in an interrogation teat, for approximately an hour. The commander of the Australian Task Force subsequently became aware of circumstances relating to this interrogation which caused him to appoint an officer of the rank of major to conduct an investigation. The investigating officer completed his investigation on 31st October 1966. A report of this investigation was received in Canberra on Tuesday. 12th March 1968, after having been specially requested.
The investigation established that at the interrogation the interrogator had raised his voice to the woman, shouted at her, banged on the table, used threats and attempted to intimidate the woman in an endeavour to obtain truthful answers to questions - answers which, let if be remembered by honourable members on both sides of the House, could well have affected the life or death of Australian soldiers. In addition to these actions, the interrogator also threatened to use the water torture, stood behind the agent, held her nose and, when she opened her mouth, attempted to pour water into it, using some four or five tin cups of water at intervals. Apparently much of this was spilled, it being judged that the woman was made to swallow about one cup of water. The interrogating officer did in fact threaten and seek to intimidate and actually commenced to use water in interrogating the enemy spy. Instructions given by the Army as to methods of interrogation make it clear that these actions are contrary both to the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and to the issued Army instructions. For these reasons, the interrogator, once these facts had been established, was barred from interrogation duties by direction of the Commander. The situation therefore is that there was an enemy agent acting for the Vietcong, dressed in civilian clothes, who had been reporting on and putting in danger Australian troops. The woman and the radio set used for reporting Australian movements were captured. The interrogator did no more than shout at the woman, bang the table, use threats and proceed to pour some water down the woman’s throat. I say that this was done in an endeavour to secure answers to questions which could affect–
– Order! The House will come to order. There are far too many interjections on both sides of the House.
– I say again that the interrogator did these things in an endeavour to secure answers to questions which could have been vital to the safety and security of Australian soldiers.
– We ought to pour water into you.
– Order! The honourable member for Hindmarsh will cease interjecting.
– After the interrogation, the woman walked out of the tent. She was composed and posed for photograph1!.
After the newspaper report of the incident came to noticeI understood, according to advice made available to me, that an investigation on the spot had established that there had been no ill treatment. It was at that time therefore decided to set up a court of inquiry to check the accuracy of the newspaper report. Honourable members will appreciate that it is now established that the investigation on the spot had in fact confirmed that the newspaper report was substantially true. There is therefore no need for a court of inquiry to inquire whether it was true, and there therefore will be no court of inquiry.
For the Army in general and for our forces as a whole engaged in these difficult, dangerous and complex operations in Vietnam, I - and I hope all honourable members of the House - can have nothing but admiration. I believe that their record speaks for itself. They have earned the respect of their allies in Vietnam. They have earned the confidence of the village people whose security they are helping to maintain. This is a record which confirms beyond doubt that general accusations of brutality or cruelty could not be seriously entertained of a dedicated and hard-working Army of Australian soldiers. I present the following paper:
Army Interrogation Incident in Vietnam - Ministerial Statement, 14 March 1968.
Motion (by Mr Snedden) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
- Mr Speaker, I move:
Let me explain the relevance of the proposals in the amendment I have moved. The only inquiry so far held into this matter was held by an Army major. If one wanted to have the facts from civilians as well as from military personnel there would have to be a judge. Furthermore, a judge would not have any preferment to jeopardise or to secure. A judge would clearly be an impartial person.
Now let me turn to the proposed terms of reference for the inquiry. Article 130 of the Prisoner of War Convention refers to the offence of torture or inhuman treatment. The second term of reference asks why reports of this woman’s interrogation were classified as secret. Could security in any way have been jeopardised at any time since this event by allowing the reports to be published? It will be remembered that the interrogation took place within a month of the last House of Representatives election. There was clearly, among other reasons, a political motive in classifying this interrogation.
The third term of reference asks why war correspondents who observed or filmed the interrogation were not asked to give evidence before the major. The major conducted his inquiry on 31 October - one week after the interrogation. The pressmen Sorell and Ahmad were still available. They were not asked to give evidence. The remaining term of reference asks why the matters disclosed to the major were not promptly brought to the attention of the Attorney-General (Mr Bowen) and the former Minister for the Army. Under the Administrative Arrangements Order the Attorney-General is responsible for the Geneva Conventions Act 1957, which was proclaimed to come into force in September 1959. Prosecutions under the Act for breaches of the Australian law are initiated by the Attorney-General. He presumably never heard of these allegations - of this breach of the Convention or the spirit of the Convention, as the present Minister for the Army states it - until the last few days. The Minister for the Army did not know what the nature of the investigation was until he made inquiries apparently during a 7-hours conference last Friday with his officers after he had been given the account by Sorell. Then the papers finally arrived in Canberra 2 days ago. This document, this investigation, this breach of the ‘spirit of the Geneva Convention’ remained in Vietnam from 31 October 1966 to 12 March 1968 and the present Prime Minister (Mr Gorton), his predecessor and all of their Ministers had never known that the law of this land might have been broken and that Australia’s international obligations might have been breached.
The Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch) has stated that the account by Sorell was substantially true, but he certainly gives a modified account of that given by Sorell - presumably the same account that Sorell gave to the Minister last Friday and that Sorell published in the Melbourne ‘Herald’ of last Friday. To refresh the recollections of honourable members I will read the relevant passages from Sorell’s article. It reads:
The soldiers, led by a warrant officer of the Provost Corps, used a form of water torture.
For half an hour I watched the warrant officer pour water down the struggling girl’s throat.
The girl was later dragged, half unconscious, to a tent. She was then taken to the local Vietnamese authorities for further questioning.
Some of the soldiers told me later that watching the torture had made them ‘feel sick’.
It was a crook thing to do,’ one said. ‘It made me feel ashamed’.
The girl was brought to the camp by helicopter. Referring to the warrant officer, Sorell states:
He dragged the girl into the tent and bound her by rope to a chair.
The girl refused to talk. Then the torture began.
The girl’s head was held back over the top of the chair and the warrant officer began to pour water down her throat.
Another soldier prised open the girl’s mouth.
The girl immediately began to choke. Tears poured from her eyes.
The water was pouring into her mouth from an army field pannikin.
It was not a cup. The article continues:
After several minutes the torture was stopped. The girl was close lo fainting. She was asked again to give information.
Again she refused. And the water treatment started once more.
Honourable members on the Government side are laughing at this, but this is the account given by a war correspondent. The Minister has said that his account is ‘substantially true’. The article continued:
Then I was noticed in the group around the tent. The soldiers were obviously embarrassed that an outsider was witnessing the torture.
I was asked to move away as the girl started to scream.
The soldiers lowered the flaps on the tent as the ‘questioning’ continued. 1 watched 5 yards away.
After about half an hour, the tent was opened and the warrant officer walked out.
He was angry. I can recall him saying: The bloody bitch is tough. I can’t break her. But give me half a day and I’ll have her talking. There arc better ways than using water.’
The girl, who had fainted, was then carried to the POW compound at the camp.
Later I told the Army Press relations officer, Major Ross ‘ Smith, who was with me when the torture took place, that I intended to write the story.
Smith immediately went to see Brigadier Jackson and 1 was told that the story was ‘classified’.
This is the account given by a war correspondent who could not have been at the scene except with the Army’s permission and with Army facilities. The account is substantially true’, in the words of the Minister. He admits it is substantially true, but he has substantially modified it in the telling.
It will be remembered that last Thursday the Minister stated that there was ‘not’ a scintilla’ of evidence to support this story. Sorell then told him his account. The Minisster was closeted with his officials for 7 hours on Friday. He then prepared a statement. He issued it as an official Press release, lt was not a Press conference; it was not just a television interview as was the case on last Thursday. The Minister prepared a deliberate statement - an official handout. In it he gave an account substantially distilling what he has said tonight and giving the essence of what the Major found in Vietnam in October 1966. But in that statement the Minister stated quite plainly that there would be a court of inquiry. He stated that its composition would be announced later. In fact, Sorell and others were told that they could have legal representation before the court of inquiry. It was a very deliberate and very well prepared statement.
The Prime Minister must have agreed to this announcement. Clearly, the most junior Minister would not have been permitted to make this decision on his own responsibility. Last Monday I read the account given in a signed article in the ‘Daily Mirror’ of what had been arranged over the weekend. The article stated:
Principals in the inquiry, expected to open in Canberra late this week, began arriving in Canberra late yesterday afternoon and last night.
They included a major from the same intelligence unit as the Warrant Officer, and Brigadier O. D. Jackson, the Australian Commander in Vietnam at the time of the alleged torture of the Vietcong woman.
In a surprise move today the Army agreed to pay for legal representation at the court of inquiry for any witnesses whose reputations could suffer as a result of its findings.
Two witnesses, the warrant officer and Mr John Sorell, Melbourne journalist, who claims he saw the woman prisoner tortured, are understood to have applied already for legal representation.
The Army has decided that a three-man panel, headed by a senior Army officer, will preside over the court.
At least one of the panel members will be a prominent civilian or CMF officer with a legal background.
The woman allegedly maltreated under interrogation has now been found to have been, a high ranking officer in Vietcong Intelligence.
That signed article appeared in the ‘Daily Mirror’ last Monday. It is in keeping with everything which was published by every newspaper in Australia on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It was only last night, at about midnight, after several Cabinet meetings during the day, that at last it emerged that after all there would be no court of inquiry. The Prime Minister himself has changed his mind in this matter. He was widely reported as wanting a court of inquiry which was open. He was praised for wanting it. lt was said that he was resisting Army pressures to have a closed court - a court in camera. The briefings made on his behalf asserted that he wanted an open court of inquiry, and it was so asserted on his behalf right up to yesterday. Even this morning’s newspaper editorials praised him for his steadfastness in the face of pressure for a secret inquiry.
It will be noticed that yesterday, for the first time, the woman involved was referred to as a spy. The Prime Minister made that first reference. Tonight she has been constantly referred to as ‘an agent’. The Minister for the Army, in his prepared statement last Friday night, on three occasions referred to her as a ‘prisoner’. This, of course, is what she was under the Geneva Conventions and under the Australian Geneva Conventions Act of 1957. Whatever she was doing, she was a prisoner, and under the law of our country and under the international Conventions which we are bound to uphold, that is the correct description of this woman. Whether she be a spy, an agent or whatever she is called, and whatever she did, she is a prisoner under a convention and under a statute of this Parliament.
The Minister for the Army is utterly discredited in this episode. Last Thursday he said that there was not a ‘scintilla of evidence’. Last Friday he said that there would be a court of inquiry. Tonight he has said that there will be no court of inquiry. But where does this leave the Prime Minister? He, too, is out on a limb. For all these months neither he nor his predecessor nor any of the Ministers knew anything about this matter. What sort of administrative system is it that leaves a possible breach of laws and conventions unable to be tested in Canberra, where decisions have to be made?
It is quite clear from the Prime Minister’s answers to questions yesterday and today that he has decided to denigrate the Opposition for daring to raise this matter. I point out that when this matter was first ventilated in the Australian Press a week ago I made no comment, and none of my colleagues commented. Again, on the Friday, when there was speculation about this matter, I made no comment, and none of my colleagues commented. It was only after the Minister had made a statement on the Friday night, which was reported in the Press on the Saturday, that there would be a court of inquiry and that further details were to be given about it, and after there was speculation that it would be a closed court of inquiry, that I then stated that it ought to be an open court of inquiry. Certainly, every medium of public opinion in Australia has said that it ought to be an open court of inquiry.
The question of the morale of our forces has been raised today by, of all people, the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess), who has interjected continuously during my speech tonight. He raised this matter in a question to the Prime Minister. He referred to the effect on morale. I point out that
I did not say anything on this matter on Thursday or Friday last. It was not until last Saturday night that I said anything about it, and the only thing that I said was that it should be an open court of inquiry. The Minister himself had already said there should be a court. There was no prejudging of the conduct of Australian servicemen in this matter at all. I am certain that they are sickened by Vietcong bestialities and cruelties in Vietnam. 1 heard from their own lips that they are sickened by these things. I can well believe that the same people who knew of this incident were sickened at it, as Sorell wrote last Friday. The honourable member for La Trobe should know very well - better than any man in this chamber - about this matter of morale. For 3 years he was prevented by the predecessor of the late Prime Minister, and was even dissuaded for some time by the late Prime Minister, from raising the ‘Voyager’ question because it might affect Navy morale. It has been to the credit of the honourable member for La Trobe that he stuck to his guns. He has been justified in his stand by the outcome of the second inquiry, which was a larger, open judicial inquiry. Ministers are now repeating that same process which landed them and the Armed Forces in so much trouble in the case of the ‘Voyager’ debate, the VIP documents and the Fill costs.
The central question, Mr Speaker, is still that of the breach of the Geneva Convention. We are a party to this Convention. It is true that we took 10 years to adopt it. Vietnam adopted it in 1953. North Vietnam adopted it in 1957. We adopted it in 1959. But we passed the statute permitting us to adopt it over 10 years ago - in 1957. Is the behaviour now under discussion a breach of the Geneva Convention? Does it amount to inhuman treatment? I would have thought that anybody reading the report of Mr Sorell; an accredited war correspondent, would say that this was inhuman treatment. Accordingly, if true, it is a breach of the Geneva Convention. Even the Minister for the Army admits that it is a breach of the spirit of the Convention. Is it not a breach also of the letter of the Convention and a breach of the law of Australia? Are Ministers discharging their oaths in conniving at a breach of the law, in covering up a breach of the Convention? We on this side suggest that a judge should be asked to report on this. I do not think lt is in order that honourable members should be satisfied that a major or even a junior Minister should be the judge of this matter. Australia’s reputation is at stake in this matter the safety of Australian soldiers themselves is at stake. It is much harder for us to criticise breaches of the conventions by others if we appear ourselves to be guilty of breaches. How can we expose and condemn breaches of the Geneva Convention by North Vietnam which ratified the Convention in 1957, how can we deter breaches of the Convention by South Vietnam, who acceded to it in 1953 but whose police chief has openly breached the Convention by shooting a prisoner, as we all have seen on television, how can we protest about North Vietnam or how can we deter South Vietnam from breaches if we condone them ourselves?
The safety of Australian soldiers themselves may be involved because the time may come when Australians are taken prisoners in South Vietnam and we will then insist that they have the benefits of the Geneva Convention.
I conclude by quoting a statement made on the 2nd February on the responsibility of government. The speaker said:
I believe that governments ought never seek to suppress news or information whether those governments feel it is for the moment to their advantage to do it or not to their advantage to do it.
Mr Speaker, those were the words of the new Prime Minister.
– Mr Speaker, I second the amendment moved by the Leader of the
Opposition and reserve my right to speak later.
– Mr Speaker, at the conclusion of (he speech which he has just made the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) quoted some words which he attributed to me, and I think attributed rightly, to the effect that it was proper that information should not be suppressed and that facts should not be withheld from the public of Australia. I suggest, Mr Speaker, that the statement which has been made by the Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch) tonight bears out completely that the Government believes in that and is acting in accordance with that because the facts of this incident have been presented by the Minister for the Army to this chamber.
– What about Jackson’s report. Let us have a look at that.
-Order! I have already warned the honourable member for Hindmarsh earlier in the debate. If he persists in interjecting I will have to deal with him.
– The honourable member for Hindmarsh is quite eager, Mr Speaker, no doubt. But what is it that the Minister for the Army’s statement has presented to this House as to what has happened? Let me recapitulate the situation that has been presented by the Minister for the Army - a situation which has not been denigrated or attacked at all by the Leader of the Opposition. That situation was that Australian troops in Vietnam, having just been engaged in one of the greatest engagements fought by Australian troops in that area, were being harassed. Their patrols were being reported upon. They were being endangered by an enemy agent with a radio set who was reporting on their movements and reporting on what was happening in their base camp. Is it not clear that this would endanger the lives of Australian soldiers? Is that not perfectly evident? That was disclosed and so far has not been rebutted. Then, Mr Speaker, what happened? What happened was that the agent so engaged was captured along with the transceiver and the radio set which she was using as an enemy agent to endanger Australian troops. Then she was taken to an interrogation tent and, Mr Speaker, at this stage I must say that it is perfectly true that having been taken to an interrogation tent the spirit of the Geneva Agreement, which probably did not apply to this civilian anyway-
Opposition members - Oh!
– All right. The Opposition wants to apply it. Apply it. I am speaking in my own way.
-Order! The honourable member for Stirling will cease interjecting. I have already warned him already in the debate.
-If I have not warned him then I am warning him now. I suggest he should not continue to interrupt.
– To repeat what I was saying, whether members of the Opposition like it or not - and perhaps they do not - the Geneva Agreement, as I understand it, applies to prisoners of war, not to civilian franc tireurs, but the Australian Government applies, and seeks to apply, the spirit of the Geneva Agreement even to these civilian agents and franc tireurs. But it is nevertheless true no matter what brouhaha comes from the other side of the House that the Geneva Agreement itself in these circumstances is most unlikely to apply. But the agent was taken and the spirit of the Geneva Agreement, I am bound to say, was exceeded. To what extent? It was exceeded to the extent that the interrogating officer raised his voice and this is not allowed under the Geneva Agreement. Honourable members opposite should read it if they do not believe this. Prisoners may only be asked questions as to their name, their rank and their number. The interrogator is not even allowed to ask for that information in a loud voice. But this interrogating officer did. He raised his voice. He shouted. Do you know what he did, Mr Speaker? He even banged on the table when he was talking to this spy who was engaged in activities endangering Australian forces. He even smashed his fist on the table. This is not allowed by the Geneva Agreement, but this is what he did. He went further. He sought by threats and by intimidation, which are not allowed by the Geneva Agreement, to discover information. I do not know what that information was, but could it not have been - and if it were would it not have been important - ‘What were the last messages you sent out as to where Australian patrols were and where they were going?’, so that ambushes could be laid for them? I do not know. But he banged his fist on the table when he was seeking this information. He raised his voice. He went further. He threatened and he intimidated. This is all in the report of the Minister for the Army. He went further than that. He went much further than that because he not only threatened that he would use the water treatment - or water torture as the Opposition would call it - but he began to pour water down the throat of this woman.
– What a scandalous thing.
– Yes, a shocking thing. But let me say this in response to something the Leader of the Opposition said.
He said that we would have little chance to complain if Australian soldiers were captured by the Vietcong or the North Vietnamese. If the worst that happened to Australian soldiers was that somebody banged on the table, raised his voice and poured one cup of water down their throats then we would not have very much to complain of. There are people in this House and there are people in this country who know what a water treatment or a water torture really is. There are people in this House who have been prisoners of war and who had the real water torture, not this matter, applied to them. Those in this House and those throughout this country know this: Nobody walks away from that; nobody walks out of a tent under his own power, is photographed, poses and is driven away.
What has been disclosed on this? Let us be clear that the spirit of the Geneva Agreement has been transgressed but it has not been transgressed to the extent to which it is sought to be presented that it has been transgressed. It has not been transgressed to the point that any real torture has been applied. Even so, in compliance with the approach of the Australian Military Forces, . in compliance with the instructions issued to the Australian Military Forces, because this went beyond the bounds that were laid down, therefore in spite of what 1 have said, the interrogator was removed from in the future interrogating any other prisoners. That I suggest clearly indicates the approach of the Australian Military Forces in this matter. It clearly indicates that even in this kind of circumstance the Australians are operating not only in an honourable way but in a way which in effect is dangerous to them - far more dangerous to them than what the Leader of the Opposition has suggested that something which could come out of this incident could be dangerous to , them. Let me ask all members of the House a question. We are - perhaps the Opposition is not but the rest of us are and the majority of the people of this country are - responsible for believing that we should be serving in Vietnam and for sending troops to serve in Vietnam. Having done that, even members of the Opposition, I would have thought, would want to see that the safety of those troops was safeguarded.
– Turn it up.
– All right. Let me ask them this and see what answer I get to this question: If they were in charge of a military camp in Vietnam and they discovered, any one of them-
– What about Archbishop Strong’s attitude?
– You, if you like. You are a policeman. If you discovered-
– What are Archbishop Strong’s views?
-Order! The honourable member for Oxley is continually interjecting. I ask him to restrain himself.
-What 1 was asking the honourable member for Oxley before he ceased to restrain himself was whether, if he were in charge of a military camp in Vietnam and he discovered in that camp a civilian who he knew had set booby traps throughout that camp, he would regard it as such a terrible thing to raise his voice when he asked that person where those booby traps were, or to bash his fist on the table when he said: ‘Did you put them in these tents or those tents?’ Or would he - perhaps he would - say: ‘Well, this is just too bad. We will let the Australian troops find out where the booby traps are by falling over them.’
-Order! I warn the honourable member for Mitchell, who is interjecting.
– Would he only say to this civilian: ‘What is your name? What is your rank? What is your number?’ and let things go. It is not to be assumed for one minute from what 1 am saying that the Australian Army does not apply the Geneva conventions because it does. It is not to be assumed for one minute - and the actions of the Army authorities underline this - that they believe even the departure which this interrogator made should be condoned. But we do need, I think, as a House of Parliament and as a nation, to realise this: We are engaged in armed combat. There is talk of bringing people out - flying them out. After all, people spoke about what was attributed to me and it was not attributed to me in my name and I can do the same. This talk, which I have no doubt is well based, of flying out this enemy agent to put her in a box somewhere in Australia, under safe conduct, to be examined by a Judge, to say anything she liked, to make any kind of propaganda she liked, to make any kind of lying story she liked, is an impossible approach to a situation in which we in Australia find ourselves today. Let us draw the lines perfectly clearly here. We are not going to be put into a situation where the morale of our armed forces is going to be attacked by this kind of imputation. We are not going to be put into a situation where our intelligence techniques are laid open to an enemy by some open inquiry such as is suggested by the Opposition. We will not do it. If they want to do it, let them say so. We say we will not. Let us fight it out on that line, if it takes all summer.
That having been said, I now go on to this, Mr. Speaker: There has been some attack upon the Minister for the Army, some suggestion that he has been improper in what he has done. He has not been improper in any way at all and the statement which he presented to this House makes this abundantly clear. He was under the impression and given the information that there had been an investigation in Vietnam which had said there had been no ill-treatment. Because he felt that needed further investigation he said that he would set up a court of inquiry. Subsequently, because he then discovered - not having been told before - that there had been an investigation in Vietnam which in fact had discovered this degree of ill-treatment, it became perfectly abundantly clear, surely, that there was no point in setting up a court of inquiry to discover whether the facts about an incident should be investigated when in fact the facts about that incident had already, by the first investigation, been made clear and been presented to this House. In relation to this incident there can be no requirement for any further action. The facts have been presented. There has been some ill-treatment of a degree which the Australian people in their own commonsense and their own judgment will judge, lt has gone beyond the strict letter of the Geneva Convention, lt has gone beyond it in circumstances of not calm - legal discussion - not an atmosphere of courts of law - but beyond it in a situation of fighting and of strife and of violence and of life and of death. I would like to say, Mr Speaker, that this kind of thing will never happen again, because we do not believe it should. But it would be a wrong and stupid thing for me to say that this kind of thing could never happen again. Men are engaged in war. Their lives are forfeit. It is an astonishing thing to me - perhaps not so astonishing considering some of the experiences we have all had - that in this kind of circumstances there have not been allegations of real substance made about mistreatment, not of prisoners-of-war because that does not happen, but of civilian spies - that there have not been real allegations of substantive mistreatment, that there have not been more instances of this. I think it says a great deal for the Australian Military Forces and for the instructions which they are given and to which they adhere, that in this kind of warfare, that in the circumstances of espionage and reporting to which they are exposed, there has come out of this conflict merely this one incident which we deplore, which we hope will not be repeated but which, when it is all boiled down, relates to threats, to intimidation, to a loud voice, to bluff about water torture and to the beginning - and this we do not condone - of such torture. At the end of it-
– Does the Prime Minister support thuggery?
– I cannot pick up a word the honourable member is saying.
– I said-
-Order! The House will come to order.
– I said: Do you support thuggery? Thuggery is a-
– I can assure the honourable member that I do not support thuggery. Indeed, I thought it was abolished in India some 50 years ago by imperial decree. If it has not been abolished then I would be glad to help to abolish it. What I was saying before I became intermittently interrupted was that out of this incident has emerged this: There was somebody endangering Australian troops. That somebody was interrogated. That interrogation did go beyond the bounds of the Geneva Convention. At the end - perhaps this has something to do with thuggery - of that interrogation the subject was able to walk out of the tent to be photographed, to pose for photographs. Then-
– A bit wet perhaps.
– Yes, a little wet, I agree. Perhaps, Mr Speaker, we could conclude on that interjection. At the end of the interrogation she was able to walk out. She was able to be photographed. She was able to be flown out in a United States aircraft. But it must be admitted, she was a little wet. Let me say this: This sort of interrogation should not happen. But to put it in perspective, how far did it go? Was there real torture of the kind that people in this House know? In the stress and strain of fighting this may happen again; but if it does it will be as it was on this occasion. It will be because of an individual acting against the instructions given by the Army and against the instructions given by the Government, and who, because he acted in that way, was removed from the position he previously held.
– I would like to go on from where the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) left off. The Prime Minister inferred that there was no suggestion of torture. On the other hand we have the statement by a very competent war journalist who has clearly said that in his opinion there was torture. The Prime Minister dismisses this. But the Prime Minister clearly indicated in his speech that, as on so many other occasions since he was elected Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party, he was prepared to make statements on his own initiative but was not prepared to stand up to them in Cabinet. It is abundantly clear - I use the word ‘abundantly’, because the Prime Minister used it tonight on a number of occasions - that during the last week the Prime Minister actively supported the Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch) on the establishment of a court of inquiry to examine allegations that had been made on this matter. For the first time, probably, in any parliament in the world-
-Order! There is far too much audible conversation in the chamber. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is entitled to be heard, and he will be heard.
– Mr Speaker, I was about to say that probably for the first time in any parliament in the world a Prime Minister has rubbished the Geneva Convention. Indeed, I believe that tonight he sneered at the Geneva Convention on treatment of prisoners of war.
Let me deal with the Prime Minister’s speech in detail. He has not given reasons why he thought there should be or should not be an open court of inquiry. He has in effect replied to the original allegation without giving any explanation of the course the Government took for the whole of last week. I believe a further point that ought to be considered by the House at this stage relates to the need to take immediate action, referred to by the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Army, to get information from this girl. I think we ought to put the record straight on this question. The girl was captured on the afternoon of 24th October 1 966. She did not arrive at Nui Dat until 8.30 a.m. the next day and, according to the Minister for the Army, she was photographed by pressmen for 10 to 15 minutes and was then taken to the interrogation tent to be questioned. So the urgency was such that a whole night was allowed to elapse, plus time to pose for photographs, before her interrogation. Yet we have the Minister and the Prime Minister talking about the need for immediate action. The Prime Minister has certainly said nothing tonight which would overthrow the contention of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam), and the Opposition in this Parliament generally, that there is a need for an open inquiry into this matter. For the third time in less than a year the credibility of the Government and the administration of the so-called ‘junior’ portfolios are under challenge. The first occasion was in the Voyager’ debate, in which the then Minister for the Navy, the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Attorney-General denied that a statement by a naval officer could be corroborated. We have since seen substantial corroboration of this statement in the second Voyager’ Royal Commission.
The second issue was the V.I.P. aircraft issue, which seems to have been responsible for the end of the term as Minister for Air of the unfortunate honourable member for Fawkner (Mr Howson).
On this occasion a junior member of this House, who has suddenly been elevated to a highly responsible portfolio, finds himself in an intolerable position, descredited by contradictory statements, grossly misled by departmental officers and dumped by his Cabinet. These three sorry episodes raise grave doubts about the whole defence administration of this Government. It is incredible that the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) can sit in Cabinet and disclaim responsibility for any of these episodes. We have the situation that the senior defence Minister is in the Cabinet and the three Service portfolios are in the Ministry. Until the recent reshuffle the portfolios of Navy, Army and Air were at the bottom of the Ministry. Quite clearly the Government’s policy of blooding its new Ministers in the Service portfolios has failed disastrously. In the past 18 months three Service Ministers have been unceremoniously sacked from these portfolios. The present Minister for the Army may survive, and the Opposition acknowledges his plight and concedes that his responsibility in this squalid episode is limited. However, quite plainly the Minister has contradicated himself most blatantly in three statements. In a television interview he said quite blandly that there was not a scintilla of evidence to support the allegations. After further investigations, following statements by a journalist and a freelance photographer, the Minister backtracked rapidly and announced that an inquiry would be held. Several aspects of that statement by the Minister are worth repeating. According to the Minister these allegations were fully investigated by an independent investigating officer of field rank who found that they were not substantiated. The Minister emphasised that Australia is a party to the Geneva Conventions and attached great importance to their scrupulous observation in the treatment of prisoners. He went on to indicate that the composition of the court and its terms of reference would be the subject of a separate announcement. Now the Minister has been put in the invidious position of announcing to the House that there will be no inquiry, after emphasising that the Army regarded any allegations impugning its behaviour with the utmost seriousness and that a searching investigation would be made into all facts of the case.
How can any faith be put in a Government which cynically changed its intentions in such a short space of time? Now we find that there is to be no inquiry either in camera or open to the Press and the public. This is an amazing sequence of events, probably without parallel in the history of this Parliament. The Prime Minister gained considerable credit for the way in which he opened the VIP debate by tabling relevant documents in the Senate - documents which it had been claimed did not exist. This spurred the subsequent attacks on the Holt Government’s credibility in this House. The right honourable gentleman who has commendably emphasised the need for the utmost disclosure of information to the Press and the public has another opportunity to perform a signal service for this Parliament. We urge him to lay upon the table of this House the evidence given before and the report made by the officer of field rank who investigated these grave allegations in South Vietnam. There is no’ reason why this should not be done if the Government is satisfied that this is only an isolated incident.
The Prime Minister should go a step further by reversing the . decision of Cabinet and establishing a. commission under a judge with full powers to test witnesses and assess these allegations. As the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out, these allegations can be tested only by judicial examination of the witnesses who saw and filmed this incident. We should remember here the spectacular results produced by the testing of Lieutenant-Commander Cabban’s evidence which was vilified in this Chamber. I do not suggest that such an inquiry could produce similar results, but it certainly would establish whether this was an isolated occurrence or part of an accepted pattern of treatment of prisoners of war in Vietnam. The Opposition does not assert that the great majority of Australian troops engage in inhumane and humiliating treatment of civilians and prisoners of war. Certainly my experience of Australian soldiers during the last world conflict would not indicate that this was a feature of the activities of Australian troops. I have no reason to believe that the troops who are now serving in Vietnam are any different from those who served in the Australian forces during World- War II. However, the failure to inquire openly into these allegations can react only to the overall discredit of the Australian forces and in particular to the intelligence sections which conduct interrogation of prisoners of war. It is only just to these men that a full investigation be made of the procedure of interrogation and whether there is any pattern of abuse of the accepted conventions of treatment of prisoners of war. Such an inquiry cannot harm the morale of Australian forces in Vietnam. It can serve only to clear them of any stigma that may attach to them and in particular to the intelligence sections from these allegations.
The Geneva Conventions are quite clear on this issue. It is no mitigation of abuse of the Conventions to point up the fact that the woman in question was a Vietcong spy. The Leader of the Opposition pointed out that she has been referred to as a spy, an agent and a civilian. Article 85 of the Geneva Conventions of 12th August 1949 relative to the treatment of prisoners of war, states that prisoners of war prosecuted under the laws of the detaining power for acts committed before capture shall retain, even if convicted, the benefits of the present Conventions. If the Australian officers in Vietnam were satisfied that the woman was a Vietcong spy she could have been dealt with as a military criminal under military law. In fact this was not done. After interrogation this woman was transferred to the South Vietnamese authorities. Even if the woman were proved to be a spy, quite clearly under Article 85 she would still receive the benefits of the present Conventions.
I should like briefly to refer to the conditions specified for treatment of prisoners under these Conventions. Article 13 says that prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the detaining power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited and is regarded as a serious breach of the Conventions. The Article states that prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity. Article 14 states that prisoners of war are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honour. Women shall be treated with all the regard due to their sex and shall in all cases benefit by treatment as favourable as that granted to men. la Article 17 it is emphasised that no physical or mental torture nor any other form of coercion may be inflicted upon prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind. In Article 129 the high contracting parties to the Conventions undertake to enact any legislation necessary to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing or ordering to be committed any of the grave breaches of the Conventions. These breaches include wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, and wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health. Those are the relevant sections of the Geneva Conventions signed by Australia. As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out tonight, we are party to that agreement.
In his Press statement of 8th March the Minister said of these Conventions:
All Australian soldiers are fully briefed in this regard and instructions concerning humane treatment are quite explicit.
Quite clearly, whether there has been a breach of the articles of the Conventions can only be determined by an inquiry conducted by a judge and with evidence taken from the correspondents who observed or filmed the interrogation but were not asked to give evidence before the investigating officer. On the facts there must be very grave suspicion that sections of the Geneva Conventions so rightly emphasised by the Minister for the Army have been transgressed. It is most important that these allegations and the procedures of Army interrogation units be fully probed because the conduct of Australian soldiers in this war must be of the highest standard. I am not suggesting that there has been any consistent breach of that standard but the very nature of this war makes it essential that the allegations be fully tested and the interrogation and treatment of prisoners of war be put beyond reproach.
There are many reservations to be made about this miserable and agonising war. Those reservations can only be reinforced by even the slightest suggestion of torture. Any form of torture should be repugnant to any soldier worthy of the name and conscious of his fighting reputation. Torture can never be justified by the results obtained. It denotes not only suffering but also the most bestial and insulting form of contempt for humanity. There will always be human beings with moral weaknesses and defects who find outlets in the humiliation and degradation of others. We believe that the Army should take every step to ensure that this kind of person is not found in units interrogating and handling prisoners of war. We must reject all reasons adduced for the support of torture as vehemently as we reject the taking of hostages, the execution of prisoners, the imposition of collective sanctions against whole populations and punishment without trial.
This controversy again has exposed the complete lack of credibility of this Government. The Prime Minister’s much wanted new broom has done nothing to remove the grave doubts about the Government’s veracity. I do not want to be harsh with the Minister for the Army, but it is an incredible performance that in the space of 10 days he has made three completely contradictory statements. Quite clearly he was misled initially by his Department and by Army officials. In the second instance he acknowledged his rashness and made a commendable statement promising a committee of inquiry and emphasising that Australia subscribed to the Geneva Conventions relating to the treatment of prisoners of war. Now, under Cabinet pressure he has retracted his pledges and shelved the proposed inquiry on grounds which the Opposition finds highly unsatisfactory. This whole sequence of events is indicative of inefficient administration and sloppy government.
In fairness to the Minister and his predecessor, and in fairness to the Australian forces in the field, it must be established whether this was an isolated incident or part of a pattern of procedure. The Opposition asserts that this can only be done by a judge with full powers to summon civil and military witnesses in Australia and with full facilities to bring civil or military witnesses to Australia. Furthermore, the Government should table in the House the initial report of the investigation of the incident in South Vietnam so that honourable members can make their own assessment of these allegations.
Neither the Minister for the Army nor the Prime Minister gave any reason to the House why the findings of the committee of investigation in Vietnam should not be tabled. We believe that the House should be fully informed of the situation that applied in Nui Dat back in 1966. The Minister himself has indicated that what happened on that occasion was not in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. He tried to play down the whole episode but it is clear that there is a contradiction between the Minister for the Army and the Prime Minister on one side and, on the other, a very competent war journalist who witnessed the incident. In the circumstances I believe that the motion proposed by the Leader of the Opposition should be accepted by this House.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– The House will recall that the former Leader of the Opposition expressed in this House his disagreement with Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam war but gave an undertaking that in no circumstances would Australian troops in the field suffer from the displeasure of the Labor Party. I am sure there will be a wave of revulsion amongst all Australians who have worn a uniform, and amongst those who love them, against the expressed determination of the Labor Party this evening to put on trial for a minor misdemeanor one of their compatriots who is at this moment looking after the security of Australia.
We are dealing with charges of torture. The word ‘torture’ has been drastically overdrawn, as was disclosed by the report represented by the Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch). It is true that the means of interrogation were harsh. The report disclosed it; the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) confirmed it and, of course, it is a fact. It has been admitted in the statement. But there is also evidence that the matter was dealt with immediately and adequately and the incident was closed without comment from those who might first be expected to report it because this is the first war, as far as I know, in which pressmen have had complete freedom to see everything going on in the field, at headquarters, in camp or wherever they might be.
– That is not so.
– What do you mean, it is not so? It is quite true.
– I had experience in the last war and I know-
– The fact is that during this war the Press has presented a steady diet of sensation. If a matter of this kind had been sensational it would have attracted the interest of pressmen there and it certainly would have been reported at that time, but the fact is that the incident was of so little significance that an international journalist on the spot thought fit to make no report upon it. lt was not until 17 months later that an undistinguished journalist wrote a book dealing with this particular matter. But it must be remembered that the story was based on the acknowledged hearsay evidence of another journalist whose credibility has been seriously challenged by his contemporaries who were with him at the time of this reported incident. That indicates just how penetrating and authentic it was. Mr Sorell said that he was a witness to these events which we are now told were so serious as to shake the reputation of the Australian armed services and indeed of the Government. Mr Sorell said that he was asked not to report the matter, and I give him his due. If he was so asked and did not in fact report the matter, all credit to him. But it is an odd circumstance that other international journalists present there were not so asked to suppress the story. And they still did not consider it a story worth reporting throughout the world in any detail whatsoever.
The story is a simple one. There was a captured spy. It is interesting that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam), knowing that there is a grey area about an undeclared war, knowing that there is a grey area about the application of the Geneva Convention - and wondering what really is the classification of this spy, should have sought to upgrade her. On whose side is the Leader of the Opposition in an argument of this kind? The fact is that for 3 months, before her capture she had been sitting in this tunnel with a powerful radio set communicating every move on the Saigon to Vung Tau road overlooking, as it was ultimately shown, the whole of the activities of our Task Force in Phuoc Tuy province. She was undoubtedly reporting to other units of a radio network of an intelligence group, and to active units of the Vietcong. She was referred to by journalist Geoffrey Murray as the ‘barefoot Vietnamese Mata Hari’. If it is reasonable to quote the Press in one instance, let us quote this journalist who took her to be a spy. It is reasonable to assume that her spying activities were directly responsible for a considerable number of casualties. Her task was to operate with the network of intelligence agents in order to kill allied and Australian servicemen. Let us keep that in mind.
She was taken back for interrogation. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) made great play in saying that there could not have been any urgency because she was not taken back until the next day. The fact of the matter is that she was captured late in the day. I flew over this area a week after the event took place. I was shown the area in which this woman was captured. It is jungle covered hillside. There is one jutting rock on it and this is the only place where, with skill, determination and a great deal of luck, a pilot might be able to land a helicopter. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has suggested that that should have been done in the dark. That is a great tribute to our Australian flyers.
The woman was captured and questioned. Does any honourable member with any appreciation of these matters really believe that it was unimportant that we should find out from her quickly, if it were possible to do so, the whereabouts of the other radio installations with which she was in communication and the whereabouts of the Vietcong groups that she was directing with her spying intelligence? It is clear that it would not have been very long before her comrades found out that she was no longer on the air and had been captured. They would then have slipped into the jungle, as they usually do, and would have been left alive to serve another day and threaten the lives of allied and Australian soldiers. It was of the essence to get from this woman as quickly as possible all the information that could be gained. She was interrogated. To use the words of journalist Sorell, the interrogator did not play according to the rules. He trangressed the spirit of the Geneva Conventions. Despite the fact that there is this great grey area of doubt as to whether she was a spy to whom the Genera Conventions did not apply or whether she was a prisoner of war to whom they might apply in an undeclared war, we gave the benefit of the doubt. We said that we would apply the terms of the Geneva Conventions.
Charges of torture are made, no less. This is such exaggeration as to be laughable. Any decent and reasonable Australian in this community will be completely reassured that this questionable behaviour was immediately stopped when it was known. Adequate steps were taken to prevent a recurrence. The officer concerned was transferred to other duties so that he would not again be tempted even under the most powerful provocation which a soldier in a fighting theatre of war can meet and which perhaps, in this peaceful and happy country, we cannot fully understand. The provocation stirred him to do all that he possibly could to preserve the security and, maybe, the lives of his fighting compatriots. But our friends of the Opposition complain about that.
I have taken the liberty and the precaution of checking, by signal to Vietnam, personally among those who have been in command in Vietnam throughout the war in order to determine whether somewhere there might be a record of a similar incident. There is none whatsoever. The Leader of the Opposition demands an inquiry into an isolated incident, the facts of which have been admitted. Such an inquiry cannot do any more than establish facts already admitted. The honourable gentleman knows very well what would flow from an inquiry of that kind. There would be unlimited headlines and unlimited opportunities for the anti-Vietnam, anti-Government and proCommunist group to bang the propaganda drum. It would be done all round the place. Such an inquiry would provide unlimited occasion to promote and sharpen the psychological offensive that goes on throughout the world, and no less in our own country. This offensive is designed to attack the reputation of our own fighting men and to weaken their morale. This is the end product of such an exercise.
Only today the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ published a photograph of a London pantomime in which a group of people gathered with banners flying. They were conducting a pantomime about the water torture. In the nature of things, the incident will be reported all round the world. Does anybody believe that such demonstrators are really concerned about the atrocities in Vietnam? If they were, they would be carrying their demonstrations to the North Vietnamese and to the- Vietcong, who have made torture and atrocity an article of faith and an instrument of their kind of war. I remind honourable members that the Vietcong have directed such activities against the very people of their own race whom they say they have come to liberate. Is it any wonder that the people of South Vietnam do not like this kind of liberation and have asked us for help against it?
Let us understand the situation. The Leader of the Opposition is very critical about the water treatment. Somebody said a little earlier this evening that there had been a water throwing incident in this Parliament in which none other than the Leader of the . Opposition himself was involved. Here was an occasion when the honourable gentleman threw water with no more lofty purpose in mind than to provide an outlet for his own instant temper. We all know that he has been guilty of using the most intemperate language to honourable members on this side of the House - all because of his uncontrollable tongue. I am not terribly worried about that. It is one of those things that happen. I do not hold it particularly against the Leader of the Opposition. He made his apology to the House at the time. In words reported in the Press he said: T was provoked into an incident of this kind’. How much greater was the provocation of an interrogating officer in the circumstances with which we are dealing? He had before him a captured spy who was herself an instrument of the death and destruction of the fighting compatriots of that man - of our allies and, indeed, of Australian soldiers. If one is able to understand that kind of provocation, then how much more excusable is the indiscretion of this interrogating officer?
The Leader of the Opposition - surprisingly, unbelievably - is reported in today’s Press as having urged that we should give safe passage to this Vietcong spy, that we should bring her to Australia to give evidence against one of our own compatriots who was guilty of only a minor indescretion
The honourable gentleman has taken leave of his senses. He offers an insult to every Australian serviceman, past, present and prospective. He and his Party, by their demand for an inquiry, aim at keeping open an avenue that can produce only injury to the Australian serviceman in the field. I appreciate that in this community today there are people who are honestly and deeply concerned about the matters charged on this occasion, but I also know that there are many people in this community whose motives are not by any means so pure. For the benefit of those who want to wring their hands in mock horror - and it is mock horror - over these charges, I wish to quote from yesterday’s issue of the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ words wrung from the heart of a serving soldier. He signs his letter Serving Soldier’. These words might be equally the cry of everyone of the 8,000 Australian servicemen in the Vietnamese theatre. I ask honourable members to listen to what he wrote. These are his words:
It is easy to judge, back here in Australia, it’s : easy to judge when you are in base areas in Vietnam. You can be as self-righteous as you like. - Things change, though, when all you have between you and eternity is a rifle, and your senses. When you have to go out and kill the enemy. When you have to patrol through the jungle, and your next move could be your last.
Why don’t you leave the Digger alone to fight the war? Why do you have to interfere and tip the balance more in favour of the Vietcong?
I ask honourable members to take in these words:
We’re fighting a war! We’re fighting it as fair as we can, and the Vietcong fight dirty, but we get all the knocks. Nobody kicks if the VC torture anybody.
These words ought to be written on the heart of every honourable member. There was a day when patriots, so understood, had a slogan. They admitted the weaknesses of their country and they said: ‘My country, right or wrong.’ But the new leftist patriots on the other side of the House have rewritten that magnificent set of words. They have paraphrased the slogan: It is now: ‘My country is always wrong.’ The statement by the Minister and the exposition by the Prime Minister show that the matter is not one of real substance and do not indicate any departure from the accepted code of behaviour under the circumstances set out. Those statements prove that the matter was dealt with immediately and no reasonable person who wanted to know the facts of the matter would dare say that it had not been dealt with adequately.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition sought to attack a young Minister who has recently come into office. In the first place the Minister was misinformed. He admits that, and he will make amends and take action. But the Minister did not know the background of this particular event because information on it had not been sent to Canberra. If the secretarial work of a hardpressed and over-stretched army in a base, which is constantly at risk, is a little behind time then no charges will be issued about that. If the matter had been reported when it happened it would have been accepted then, as it is now, as an incident in a wretched war, leaving reasonable, understanding people in this country to wonder how it came about that so little has come out of the war which might cast any shadow over the magnificent performance of this country’s fighting men.
I am reported in this morning’s Press as having persuaded the Government not to hold any inquiry. But I assure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the Government needed no persuasion not to hold an openended exercise which would be of benefit only to the Vietcong and our other enemies, which could denigrate and sap the morale of our fighting men and which could lead to more and more losses in this wretched war.
I hope that the community as well as the House will take a responsible view cf the situation and understand the deep-seated reasons why an inquiry should not be held. An inquiry would not produce more facts than have been admitted in the House this evening. It could, as everybody will know, open up the psychological warfare referred to by my friend, the Minister, who has a vast knowledge of these matters, and it could be to the detriment of our fighting men and of our country’s effort to save and secure democracy in South East Asia.
– The Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) has just put to the House that he may have been the Cabinet Minister who persuaded the Government not to hold an inquiry.
– I did not say that. I said that the Government did not need that kind of persuasion.
– The Minister said that the Government did not need that kind of persuasion. But the House knows that both the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) and the Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch), during the course of the last few days, have said that they were in favour of an inquiry. We know that the information that comes out of the discussions that go on between Government members, much of which is accurate, was conveying to the Australian people the impression that the Australian Government thought it necessary and desirable to hold an inquiry. But there has been a change in this attitude and it seems to me that if the Minister for Defence, who seems to be particularly responsible for this, felt that an inquiry could be of any benefit in the matter and could clear the situation better than it has been cleared now, an inquiry would have been held. It seems to me that the Minister for Defence has adopted the attitude that no inquiry should be held and that the Government has gone along with that attitude because it is not confident that the position would be improved if an inquiry were held. It seems to me that the Minister for Defence and his supporters are afraid of an inquiry and of the publicity that might be directed to what has been done. The Minister himself said this. If the situation has come about - and I fear that it has - that in a great many of the activities of this Government, not only in the Army but elsewhere, the Government is afraid of publicity then it is no defence to say that no inquiry should be held in this case or in any other case.
The Minister began by making the point, at great length, that the Australian Labor Party wants to put an Australian soldier on trial. But an Australian soldier is on trial. He has been put on trial by the manner in which the Government and its officers have mishandled the question since it first arose. At first, the Minister for the Army ridiculed any possibility that anything like this could have happened. There was not a scintilla of evidence, he said. The assumption was that nothing like this could happen in the Australian Army. Then evidence came forward that it had happened in the Australian Army. The Government has put this man on trial by virtue of the mishandling for which it has been responsible since the matter first came to public notice and long before publicity on the matter has spread throughout the world.
The Minister for Defence said that he is aware that somewhere overseas Australia is being associated, on ‘ television or on the stage, with water torture. The only way to put the matter straight is to have an inquiry, conducted by a judge, so that people can have confidence in the result. How could anyone have confidence in the handling of a situation like this by the Ministers of this Government? A few moments ago the Minister said something that exhibited a lack of the confidence that one in his position should have. I refer to two particular points. The Minister spoke of the eye witness, Mr Sorell, who works for the Melbourne ‘Herald’. The Minister said that Sorell’s credibility had been questioned. The argument was that you do not take notice of him. But I remind the House and the people of Australia that the Minister for the Army, in a considered statement here tonight, said that Mr Sorell’s statement was substantially correct. So the Minister for the Army wants it both ways. He wants, on the one hand, to say that Sorell can be ignored; yet the Minister is prepared to say that Sorell’s evidence is substantially correct.
Let us consider another point made by the Minister for Defence. The Minister spoke of the woman who was captured and admitted that the Vietcong would have known very soon afterwards that this woman was captured. Yet the whole matter was classified as secret and the reason given for that was that it was done so that the Vietcong would not find out that the woman had been captured. The Minister for Defence made a considered statement that contradicted the very reason given by the Army for classifying the matter as secret. This is the kind of inconsistency that occurs. This is the kind of misleading, if not untruthful, explanation that is given time and time again by Ministers and their advisers in respect of the matter. I suggest that the House should not allow that point to escape its attention.
How do we know what the woman was? We are told that she was a spy. Suggestions have been made that she was a Vietcong officer. How do we know what she was? I could not bring myself to say that I could accept the statement made by the Minister for Defence about what she was in view of the background and the way in which statements have been changed during the history of the matter, not only by Ministers but by their advisers. What did this woman admit in the course of the hour’s interrogation during which water was used? Has anyone sought to tell us what she admitted? Did she make one admission? It seems to me perfectly reasonable that the propositions contained in the Opposition motion deserve support. The second matter into which we ask for an inquiry is why reports of her interrogation were classified as secret. A conflict exists between what the Minister for Defence has said in this House tonight and what the Army has said about the reasons for the classification of that interrogation as secret. We want to know also what happened in that interrogation and therefore we ask that the original report be tabled in this House.
– Listen to this.
– Order! I remind the honourable member for Mitchell that he has been warned previously about interjections and I warn him again now.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to make a statement-
-Order! The honourable member for Mitchell will resume his seat.
– The honourable member has opportunities to make speeches in this House but since he has been here he has very rarely taken them. He makes interjections in a voice so loud that he cannot be understood. He has not the courage to get on his feet and make these statements so that they can be understood.
– On a point of order. I speak frequently in this House-
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. There is no point of order.
– The Minister for Defence concluded his speech on a very high note indeed. He suggested that the people who are concerned about this - or some of them - are wringing their hands in mock horror, and he quoted a soldier who had written to one of the newspapers about the difficulties that our servicemen face in Vietnam. There is no question about these difficulties, and I regret that Australians have been put in this position. This is a cruel war. Many cruel things have happened in the course of it, and many more will happen. This is inevitable and I suggest that when the Australian people and the Australian Government have been willing to send Australians into such a situation, they had better expect that things like this incident of the water torture will happen, and will probably continue to happen. I believe that in, this House there is a good deal of support for this sort of thing and that if a number of these back bench members who scream for blood had the courage of their convictions they would get up and say that they support it.
– Name those who support it.
– You are one for a start.
– If these people were honest this is what they would do.
– I rise to order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I said in my interjection: ‘Name those who support it’, and an honourable member opposite said that I was one. That is most offensive, untrue and unfair.
– You are asking for the remark to be withdrawn?
– To accuse anybody in this House of being in favour of water torture, which no honourable members opposite experienced but some of us on this side experienced, is most contemptible and I demand a withdrawal.
-The honourable member for Chisholm has asked for the withdrawal of an interjection, but ( am afraid that I did not hear it.
Mr Barnard - The honourable member is out of order by interjecting while he is out of his place.
-The Deputy Leader of the Opposition should know that that is not strictly so in this House. The honourable member for Chisholm has asked for a withdrawal of a remark made by interjection. I did not hear the interjection and, in any event, interjections are disorderly. I think that is where the position should stand.
– We are concerned here not to stand for our country right or wrong, but to see that our country does right. I think that the honourable member for Chisholm, in view of his background in two wars, ought to be very careful to ensure that the provisions of the Geneva Convention relating to prisoners of war are observed. We are concerned to ensure that the Geneva Convention shall be observed. Tonight we listened to probably the only Prime Minister of a civilised country who would try to diminish the significance of the Geneva Convention. He began by diminishing the significance of this incident altogether. Those who believed that the Prime Minister was going to take a stand in this country in some way upon moral grounds will be very disappointed by the speech that he made tonight. He began to diminish the whole incident, giving a version, or authorising a version through the Minister for the Army, which has considerably downgraded the evidence upon which it was based. At the same time he said that he substantially accepted the evidence of this man Sorell.
The Prime Minister tried to downgrade the whole incident. He said that the man who interrogated this girl raised his voice and banged on the table. He was suggesting that this was a very minor incident. But if that had been all that was involved, the matter would never have come to the attention of the House at all. The Prime Minister, after having attempted to downgrade the whole incident began to slither away from the Geneva Convention. He suggested that perhaps it should not apply to a woman such as this one. I do not know whether the Prime Minister knows much about the Geneva Convention but the last time he had the opportunity to discuss it in the Senate he took up U columns of Hansard. He began on that occasion by saying that he supported the Bill that had been brought in at long last after 10 years by the Government to ratify the Convention, but that he did so with reservations. Then he took li columns of Hansard to explain his reservations. I think the people of Australia will have the right to be somewhat disappointed in the attitude of their Prime Minister towards the Geneva Convention. Perhaps the right honourable gentleman does not know that the 1949 Geneva Convention applies without qualification to a spy as well as to anyone else.
– Where does it say that?
– If the honourable member wants to look it up, he will find it. He knows where a copy of the convention can be found - in the library of this Parliament. The Prime Minister wants to slither away from the Geneva Convention, yet at the same time he was suggesting that this woman was an integral part of the Vietcong, whom we are supposed to be fighting. That Convention was brought up to date in 1949 to cover civil and revolutionary wars - the wars that are now said to be the main ones with which we are concerned. Does the Prime Minister want to argue that the Geneva Convention does not apply to many people in wars of this sort? ls he preparing the ground to allow Australia and others to slip out of the application of the Convention to certain aspects of this war in Vietnam? He says that he wishes he could say that this sort of thing will not happen again. Is he actually inviting people to go ahead with this kind of treatment?
There is an atmosphere underlying the attitude of the Government in this matter that seems to suggest that there is a lot of support for action of this sort. I should feel a lot better about this if those members of the Government whom I feel might have that attitude were willing to bring it out into the open. I should have thought much more of the Prime Minister if he had been prepared to come into the House and say: ‘Wrong has been done in this incident in Vietnam, lt is one of our main responsibilities to ensure that the Geneva Convention is applied to all prisoners in our possession and we will ensure that this is done in the future. There will be nothing of this sort again.’ However, he and the rest of his Ministers and many of his supporters on the back benches have left many of us on this side in doubt about whether that is the position taken by the Government. I suggest that when this debate is over this evening we will be left in a state of serious doubt about what did happen in Vietnam on this occasion. An Australian serviceman has been put on trial by the inefficient procedures of this Government, by Press comment and by the refusal of the Government to appoint a judge to clear up this matter once and for all. I think tonight’s discussion will leave some doubt in the minds of the Australian people about where many people around the Government stand on this issue.
This morning the Prime Minister was asked a question by the honourable member for La Trobe. He asked whether the Prime Minister would give details of the brutalities and the cruelties that had been committed in Vietnam by the Vietcong. What was the point of this? lt seemed to me that the point of it was to suggest to the Australian people that because the Vietcong were brutal and cruel, and they very often are, there was some justification for us to be brutal and cruel also. There is some implication in this that in the kind of war that we are fighting, in which we have to face the brutalities and cruelties of a civil war, an ideological war and a religious war, we also may have to act in this way and are justified in taking this kind of action. This, I think, is implicit in the position which the Prime Minister took very aggressively in the House tonight. It was a position taken also by many honourable members who support him.
I should like to know what members of the Government, like the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) and the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Anderson), who have been prisoners of war, not to mention the honourable member for Chisholm, think about this attitude and how much they are concerned to see that every prisoner of war is given full protection by the Geneva Convention. Men and women who have had to live in prisoner of war camps under the Geneva Convention and with practically no other protection should not be prepared to support the kind of attitude that has been put to the Parliament tonight by the Prime Minister, by the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) and by those who have supported them. In my view it is a very callous and unconcerned attitude, and I am not satisfied with it in any way.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, the honourable member for Yarra (Dr J. F. Cairns) has misrepresented a question which I asked today and said that it was asked so that the Geneva Convention could be subverted. He said also that what I said was justification for Australian troops to subvert it in the future. I explained this afternoon that I asked the question with one intent and one intent only, so that the Opposition would be given the opportunity to show when it had ever protested about any action of the Vietcong.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, there is no point of order involved in what the honourable member has said. The meaning of the Minister’s speech is a matter of debate. I am as much entitled to my view and to express that view as the honourable member is entitled to put his view.
-Order! In regard to the point raised by the honourable member for Yarra, the honourable member for La Trobe was given the opportunity to explain the question that he asked this afternoon.
– The House tonight is considering what I think was basically an incident. From this incident we are trying to determine whether or not justice has been done. The Opposition has suggested to us that there is a need for a further inquiry. But, beyond this, we are looking at the standards of the Australian Army and the standards of the Australian people. The honourable member for Yarra (Dr J. F. Cairns), whom we have just heard, has been pursuing a line of attack which is insidiously creeping in and undermining the Australian and the free world effort in South Vietnam.
– I rise to order on that offensive remark, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Minister has just said that I am deliberately trying insidiously to undermine the free world. 1 regard that remark as offensive and I ask you to request the Minister to withdraw it.
-Order! The Minister for Shipping and Transport did not make a deliberate statement about the attitude of the honourable member for Yarra. As I understood him he said that the comment made by the honourable member for Yarra was parallel to a form of thinking which was coming into this House.
– With due respect to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, you could not have been listening. You have parcelled his words up with abstractions and indirections whereas his words were direct. He said that 1 have deliberately been doing this, insidiously working to undermine the free world. I ask you to request him to withdraw the remark, as I regard it as completely offensive.
– I withdraw the remark insofar as I did not say anything in regard to the free world. I was carrying on to say that the efforts of the free world forces in South Vietnam are being undermined by insidious attacks made throughout the Press of the world on their efforts.
– Am I to understand, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the Minister has withdrawn the remark?
-I ask the
Minister for Shipping and Transport whether he used the words complained of, that the honourable member for Yarra was deliberately putting forward a certain point of view. If the Minister said that the honourable member for Yarra was deliberately doing this, 1 ask him to withdraw the remark.
– 1 withdraw the words to which the honourable member has taken offence, but I shall continue with my point, which is that the effect of the speeches and the effect of the publicity being spread throughout the world today are insidiously undermining the efforts of the free world forces in South Vietnam. These efforts are directed at trying to restore peace, stability, order and good government to a sorely oppressed people in a war which is serious, which is sad, which is devastating, which is cruel and which is tearing of life and limb. I do not think that any honourable member in this House would deny the horror of war. But what we on this side of the chamber are concerned about is that as a result of the publicity which to my mind is undermining the morale not only of the forces in the field, but also of the South Vietnamese themselves, there will be a lessening of the resolution of the people who are determined that democracy and right and freedom shall prevail. If this should happen, the future not only of South Vietnam and South East Asia but also of the whole free world will bc at stake. In a message today I noticed that General Tri, who, I understand, is the Minister for Revolutionary Development in South Vietnam, said that the Vietcong make effective use of the Western Press to persuade the people in the countryside and elsewhere, including the cities, that they, the Vietcong, retain plenty of strength to defeat the Americans all over the country. During the Tet offensive, for example, the Vietcong would go into homes, villages and hamlets carrying cuttings from many Western newspapers and magazines, such as ‘Newsweek’, which depict the results of a Vietcong attack on an installation, or portray American battle casualties. The particular point is made that these are not cuttings from the Vietnamese or the Vietcong Press, but are the genuine article from the Press of the so-called Imperialists themselves. What a diabolical thing it would be if ever the Hansard report of the Australian Parliament were used in that way. What a diabolical thing it would be if ever an Australian voice were used to say to the people of South Vietnam: ‘These Australian forces are not here really to protect freedom. They are using torture and cruelty. They are acting in a way that is detrimental to democracy, humanity and all the things for which they say they stand.’ To my mind, that is the basis of the incident that the House is debating tonight. This debate is related to a filthy war, a war that none of us likes, a war that we hope will preserve freedom for Australians alive today and their children. That is the reason why to my mind, although perhaps not to the mind of any one of the people directly involved in this incident, we have to look at it and determine that in our examination and appraisal of it we in no way lead to that type of result because of the criticism which I have suggested could be diametrically opposed to our national interest.
Let us look at the incident itself. It involves the safety of Australian soldiers - some of them national servicemen; some of them volunteers; some of them regular soldiers; but all of them Australian citizens. They are the sons of Australian men and women. They are in Vietnam fighting a war. It is a hard war. It is a strange war by comparison with the wars of yesteryear. Nonetheless, it is a war. It is a war to preserve freedom. It is a war equal to but different from any other war in which we have fought. For- that reason we have to be concerned about the safety of the men in the field. If somebody representing the enemy gives information as a result of which, we are told, eighteen Australian men are killed and twenty-one are wounded, we must not condone a situation in which that person cannot be brought into a camp and asked: ‘In what way have you given information on our future troop movements? In what way are you committing or have you committed the lives of the men in this base camp?’
This is an incident in which a person - albeit a woman - was apprehended in circumstances in which it was established that Australian lives had been lost. We are examining whether Australian service personnel have a right to protect their base camp area and to protect their lives and the lives of their fellows. That is the incident on which this discussion tonight is centred. Beyond that, exactly what happened? There was a search which revealed a tunnel complex. It was a tunnel complex in the hills. It was not something that one could just ride on to. It was hidden away from the camp in a position of strategic advantage, giving the person who was there an opportunity to see into the area and to observe the activities of Australian soldiers.
In the result a person was apprehended. She having been apprehended, because of the onset of darkness it was impossible to take her back to the camp that night. We are told that the following morning she was flown by helicopter back to Task Force headquarters. It would appear from newspaper and other reports that it was the first helicopter flight she had had. Apparently she was air sick. Then she was interrogated. It was established in the inquiry that was held on the field that in the interrogation certain things did happen. No Australian condones the use of unnecessary force or the use of anything that will in any way prejudice the high standing in which Australian servicemen and the Australian people stand in the world. But in those circumstances the interrogator, for reasons which one can imagine existed in the particularly critical situation in which the Australian Task Force was placed, was subjected to pressures as a result of which he used force and the threat of force. He used dramatics. An inquiry was conducted into the extent to which he used these methods, and as a result of the inquiry action was taken.
What the Opposition is suggesting is that every time such an incident occurs and every time a Service inquiry is held the whole matter must necessarily be brought back to Australia for re-examination, that a judge must be appointed with all the red tape and procedures involved in the administration of the law - necessary as they may be in civilian cases - and that an inquiry must be conducted here in Australia into what happened in a critical war situation. That is the position in South Vietnam. It is this sort of proposition that the Leader of the Opposition has submitted to the House tonight in his amendment. He suggests that every case in which a soldier in the field is subjected to an inquiry which the commanding officer in the field considers sufficient in the light of the nature of the offence, should at some future stage be brought back to Australia. The soldier would never know when the case would be brought back here. The suggestion is that though the case has been once judged and finally resolved in the minds of the men in the field, the commanding officer and the senior officer in charge of the area, it ought to be returned to Australia and re-examined in a court of law.
The Opposition suggests that the incident, which has been established as applying to a woman found in the jungle who by her actions was threatening the lives of Australian personnel - an incident which has already been the subject of an inquiry that has established that in a certain extremity a threat of violence had been used - should be brought back to Australia for a legal court of inquiry. Basically we have to determine that Australian servicemen in South Vietnam are given every protection and encouragement to ensure that the high standards of morale, justice and integrity are maintained as they have been in the past. As a result of the inquiry and the decision that flowed from it I believe that this is what has happened in this instance.
I do not see that any case has been established before this House tonight which justifies the return to Australia of those involved and a re-examination of this incident which happened 17 months ago. It was observed by a number of Press correspondents in the field, none of whom in a war in which we have already had perhaps an excess of publicity, decided before the publication of a book by an obscure American - not a wau correspondent as the Leader of the Opposition suggests - to raise the matter. It took 17 months before it came to the light of day and if the incident had been as extreme and violent as the Opposition has suggested, is it realistic to think it would have taken so long to come to light? A number of other facets perturb me. I can see that as a result of what the Opposition has done, perhaps unintentionally - I am being charitable, but one sometimes wonders - there has been a deliberate and malicious attempt to sow a seed of doubt within the minds of the South Vietnamese people as to the resolution of the Australian people to maintain the standard we have set for the maintenance of freedom and democracy in South Vietnam.
Mr Deputy Speaker, frankly I do not think that any one of us, or any other true Australian, would think for one moment that if what we were doing undermined the efforts of our Australian forces we would be doing something worth while. I suggest that, be it unwittingly, this sort of undermining might well be a result of this debate, with the attendant publicity and its concentration on the single incident that was the basis of this episode that happened 17 months ago.
In South Vietnam today there are approximately 400 to 450 journalists. There are about ten Australian journalists permanently there and a number of other journalists who are intermittent visitors. Some of them are writing background stories. Some are following trends. Some are trying to analyse the reasons for the events that are happening. Others are most concerned with the political facets of the war. Not one of these men has reported this incident in 17 months. In Vietnam we have a war in which incidents are blown up through the kind of distortion that we see on this occasion. Yet, here was a story which should surely have made headlines. If there was a measure of violence and if there was the complete contravention of the Geneva Conventions that has been suggested, surely it could not have been kept secret for as long as this.
The honourable member for Yarra made a great deal of the Geneva Conventions. He suggested that the Prime Minister has not supported, by what he said tonight, the maintenance of the standards set by the Geneva Conventions to which Australia subscribes. The honourable member for Yarra fails to realise that not only this Prime Minister but also successive earlier
Prime Ministers, as well as successive Ministers for the Army and Ministers for Defence, each of whom has a responsibility in this field, have said that, although the Geneva Conventions do not appear to apply directly to many of the actions in which Australian forces are involved in South Vietnam, they were determined that the standards that are prescribed by the Geneva Conventions should be followed.
But, Mr Deputy Speaker, in the circumstances of war when a spy - a person who is an infiltrator, and who is undermining the lives and the safety of the establishment of Australian personnel - is captured, and when the information that that person can divulge may affect the safety and the life of Australian forces, there may be occasions when, perhaps in the stress of the moment or just through sheer emotional force, an interrogating officer may do as was done in this instance. We do not condone what was done, and action was taken. We believe that that action was sufficient. Every one of us must be concerned basically with the objectives of the Geneva Conventions, and particularly those which, to my mind, are designed to secure democracy and freedom for all people.
I am concerned that, out of the whole of this incident, nothing should be said or done which undermines the tremendous confidence that I think all of us have in the high standards of Australian soldiers, in the quality of the Australian Task Force and in the job that it is doing in South Vietnam to preserve peace, to establish security and to give democracy a chance in this sorely oppressed land. If we all can go away from this debate feeling confident that none of us has undermined in any way the efforts of Australian servicemen, we should be able to feel that the night has not been lost and we should be able to go forth tomorrow and say that we all are extremely proud of the job that Australian servicemen are continuing to do.
– I could find myself in agreement with the Minister for Snipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) that this is a debate centered on a filthy war, but it seems to me that we are losing sight of certain basic points in this rather sad debate which was begun by the Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch). With all respect to him, in almost his maiden speech as Minister he delivered a truculent but basically unsure statement about the situation. He was followed by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton). To my mind his performance was appalling because he did not seem to want to admit that what had happened, in fact, has happened. In due course, he was followed by the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) and finally we have heard from the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair). I ask: ‘Justifying what?’ We have been told what has taken place, and I shall use the words of the Minister for the Army:
The specific incident of the Nui Oat interrogation, to which the book made a hearsay reference, was not known to me at the time.
That is, not known to him as Minister for the Army. I suggest it was not known to a lot of other people at the time. It was not known to most people until the publication quite recently of the book. He went on:
Why this was so when some information was in the hands of my advisers-
They were not his advisers until a few weeks ago. They had been the advisers of at least two former Ministers for the Army. He continued: is an internal matter which I shall resolve with the office us concerned.
It seems to me that this is the Government’s attitude to a lot of things. Things that ought to be made public and objectives that ought to be openly espoused are dealt with as though they were internal matters that can be resolved with the officers concerned. Of course, when that sort of statement is made you do not have government at all; you have bureaucracy, dictatorship, or something else. Those who suggest that what is now being done is being done because it might endanger the lives of Australian soldiers should have begun to ask a lot earlier what endangers the lives of Australian soldiers. What primarily endangers their lives is the act of going to war. At least that is something that ought to be considered. Even if foolishly you decide to go to war, at least you should acknowledge that in the battlefield lives will be endangered. But I think also that sometimes, even in the heat of battle, such things as civil liberties and human decencies ought to be considered.
The ignoring of civil liberties and human decencies has been abhorred not only by the Australian public but also by a lot of other people- la view of the revelations in this book, conceding that the events referred to happened 18 months or 2 years ago, surely we should ask: ‘Ought those events to have happened at all, and are those events likely to happen again?’ It is somewhat difficult to ascertain the facts of the situation. I find a rather curious dichotomy in the suggestion of the Minister for Defence that something was a minor misdemeanour, when a few sentences earlier he had said that some woman had what he called a ‘powerful radio transceiver’. Apparently nobody has had any chance to identify how powerful the transceiver was, but we are supposed to accept the fact that what occurred was a minor misdemeanour. 1 suggest that the Australian public does hot think it is a minor misdemeanour to pour water down a woman’s throat. Somebody suggested that the interrogators had attempted to pour only five pannikins - not cups - of water down the woman’s throat and that only one of them eventually got there. We are told too that this happened away back in 1966. Whether it happened in 1966 or 1968, it may happen again, ls this supposed to be only a minor thing? Or is it something which offends what may be called civil liberties and human decency? At least there is no argument on this side of the House. We are not debating whether we ought to be at war in Vietnam or not. That is not at issue tonight. What we are discussing is whether, if we are supposed to be fighting for democracy and freedom, we can maintain democracy and freedom by taking prisoners and then using methods of this sort to interrogate them. It may be that this was an isolated incident, but the Government has made no attempt this evening to show that it was an isolated incident.
– You were not listening then.
– I should like the Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch) or the. former Minister for the Army (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to correct me if I am wrong. I have been given the information, rightly or wrongly, that in the course of training Australian troops for service in Vietnam, certain instructions are given as to how they should interrogate prisoners. It was said this evening - the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) was one who said it - that this sort of interrogation infringed standards that were supposed to be observed. If interrogation is part of the order of battle, why not lay on the table the conditions under which interrogation is supposed to be carried out? The honourable member for Yarra (Dr J. F. Cairns) has implied that there are some people who, if they were honest enough to get up and say so, would say that in warfare anything is justified. That is not the stand that is taken on this side of the House. I have heard plenty of people brag when it suited them about what they did or would do or would like to do if somebody were found in some sort of circumstance that endangered the lives of men on their side rather than the other. There may be some justification for the stand that in warfare all means are fair, I for one do not maintain that and I suggest with all respect that ultimately that is what this debate is about. It is not a matter of isolating one event in retrospect and doing so only because some journalist wrote about it. The Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch) spoke of the incident as a matter of hearsay, not known to the Government at the time. Apparently it was known to some people in Australia at the time, but was considered to be best left hidden. Apparently it was known to some people in Australia at the time, but because it was thought better not to say anything about it it was left hidden. If that is the way members on the Government side think that the war should be conducted, fair enough; but let them get up and say so. It is not the attitude of members on this side of the House, and I do not think it is the attitude of certain members of the Australian Press who have reported this incident.
I refer honourable members to the wording of the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition. The amendment states:
The House is of the opinion that the Government should table the evidence-
And why not table it? The amendment continues: . . given before and the report made by the major whom the Task Force commander appointed to investigate the allegations and should commision a judge-
And he should have full power to summon civilian and military witnesses in Australia and should have the facilities to bring civilian and military witnesses to Australia -
We are dealing with something that happened almost 2 years ago. Has anything happened in the 2 year interim that no journalist or reporter has written about or that no journalist has been able to see? Has the Government anything to hide? The Government made an awful mess of what was referred to as the VIP nights. What fool ever called them VIP I do not know, and in the ultimate I do not know what the Government had to hide. If it has anything to hide in respect of this interrogation - and if this has been the only interrogation of this kind - why not come out frankly and say what it is? Is the Government fearful of tabling the instructions given to Australian troops concerning the interrogation of prisoners in what the Minister described as a filthy war? Why not let us know the details of such instructions?
– would the honourable member let the Vietcong see all our training?
– If, as the honourable member suggests, it can be suggested that such action would be telegraphing our intentions in advance, then he should say so. If the Government persists in its attitude of sending decent Australian youths to these foreign places, the Australian public should know in advance what is expected of these gallant young gentlemen. I have never thought that war anywhere was lovely. No war has been more unlovely than the war in Vietnam, and I doubt whether in aggregate, when history is written, there will be any war less lovely than it. However, we are participants in that war. We are considering an incident which seems not to be an incident in isolation but one that was unlucky enough to see the light of day. The Government has suggested that this incident was a minor event. I do not regard it as minor. I think it is abhorrent to civil liberty and human decency. What the Government is concerned about is that the incident has received . the full and in the Government’s mind unwelcome, light of publicity. The only way that the Government can clear itself is to have the sort of inquiry demanded in the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition. Let me refer to the terms of the amendment that he has proposed. The list of matters for inquiry commences:
Whether the prisoner-
If she were only ‘the prisoner’ perhaps the whole thing was an excess of zeal on the part of some democrat who thought that by being excessively zealous he would cause the day of democracy to dawn sooner, particularly if he tipped some cold water on the inspiration underneath. I return to the proposed amendment:
Whether the prisoner was subjected to torture or inhuman treatment.
I suggest honourable members on the Government side would have some difficulty in defining ‘inhuman’. If they boggle at the word ‘inhuman’ then at least ‘torture’ remains. If anyone is prepared to suggest that in certain circumstances torture is justified, let him stand and argue it. Let him tell us just how far he thinks torture should go. Perhaps when torture goes far enough it does become-
– Every speaker in the debate has denied that.
-Order! The honourable member for Evans will cease interjecting.
– If every speaker has denied it, I do not know why there is so much shamefacedness about the situation.
– The honourable member is not justified in saying that.
– The honourable gentleman has suggested dishonesty.
-Order! The honourable member for Angas will restrain himself. I have already warned him about previous interjections.
– I listened to a debate last evening in which the word ‘dishonest’ was used rather freely, if I may say so, by honourable members on both sides of the House. At least 1 am not being dishonest this evening. Misinformed I may be, ill informed I would think I am because of the way in which the Government approaches these situations. If I am misinformed and ill informed, what about the people of Australia? Surely the Parliament is the place in which information should be given and in which misinformation should be queried. Perhaps members such as I are misinformed or ill informed. I do not claim to be an expert in everything - perhaps the honourable gentleman does. I have a degree of modesty in some things.
The Minister for the Army used the unfortunate word ‘scintilla’. There is more than a scintilla of doubt as far as I am concerned about whether the incident now before us was the only one of its kind. I hope that I am wrong. If I am wrong, perhaps the light of publicity which this debate has turned on the incident will prevent such incidents occurring in the future. Some of my colleagues have suggested that prisoners who fall into Australian hands may bs well treated, but what about the prisoners who are handed over by Australians to others? Surely that is another aspect that should be considered.
The next part of the proposed amendment reads:
Why reports of her interrogation were classified as secret.
Were they so terrible that if they had been revealed there would have been repercussions or- a destruction of morale? The remaining part of the amendment states:
Why war correspondents who observed or filmed the interrogation were not asked to give evidence before the major.
Why the matters disclosed to him were not promptly brought to the attention of the Attorney-General and the Minister for the Army. presumably they were brought to the attention of the Minister for the Army only after someone had published a book. If that was the first occasion on which they were brought to his knowledge, it certainly was the first occasion on which they were brought to the knowledge of the people of Australia. That is why we are here tonight -to scrutinise only one aspect of this filthy war.
– I want to say at the outset that if any honourable member believes that any particular ministerial responsibility attaches to this incident or the administration of the Army, it should attach to me because I was Minister for the Army at the time at which the incident occurred and not to the present Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch) who has had these responsibilities for 2 or 3 weeks. I think the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Clean) did not sufficiently listen to the earlier part of this debate. The Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) said quite clearly that he had checked closely with people who had been intimately concerned in Vietnam - senior officers who had served there for considerable periods - to see whether there was any suggestion of other instances of this kind.
He had been able to find no suggestion of other instances of this kind. I think the honourable member for Melbourne Ports went some way in trying to suggest that this was not an isolated instance but a common occurrence. On the information we have it is an isolated instance; it is not a common occurrence.
Before turning to the main points I wish to make 1 want to refer to a statement made tonight by the honourable member for Yarra (Dr J. F. Cairns). He said that the provisions of the current Geneva Convention - the 1949 Geneva Convention - applied to all involved in a conflict, whether prisoners of war, civilians, irregulars or spies. As I understand him, he said quite clearly that they applied to everybody. I wish to quote one paragraph from a 1950 United Nations publication which includes the 1949 Geneva Convention. At page 290 article V states:
Where, in the territory of a party to the conflict, the latter is satisfied that an individual protected person is definitely suspected of or engaged in activities hostile to the security of the State, such individual person shall not be entitled to claim such rights and privileges under the present Convention as would, if exercised in the favour of such individual person, be prejudicial to the security of such State.
The honourable member has done in this instance what he has done on a great number of occasions. He has spoken with apparent authority but his statements are not borne out by the facts. I want now to try to describe the circumstances that prevailed in Vietnam in October 1966. Then 1 wish to turn to the Opposition claim for another kind of inquiry into this incident. It needs to be remembered that the Australian Task Force had been lodged at Nui Dat in the previous June, 4 or 5 months before this incident, in an area in which the Vietcong had held unchallenged domination for a great number of years, had terrorised the local population and had established through terror and subversion an infrastructure throughout most of the area. As a result roads were closed, markets were failing and ceasing to exist and production throughout the province was falling. There was a good deal of hardship, suffering and malnutrition in the province. In August perhaps the major battle in which our forces have been involved, with the possible exception of Operation Coburg, occurred at Long Thanh. One Australian company came against 1,500 to 2,000 enemy, including a considerable number of North Vietnamese. It seemed clear from what was learned subsequent to that action that those forces had been gathering to offer a substantial challenge to the Australian Task Force’s base. There was the possibility of further major conflict at any time. Clearly there was tension, stress and a great deal of difficulty and strain in dangerous circumstances. There was the possibility at any time of much heavier casualties than we had so far suffered in Vietnam.
Let there be no mistake about it. In terms of the war in Vietnam and in terms of the casualties that other forces have suffered there, the Australian casualties have to this time not been heavy, however much each casualty is regretted .and however tragic it may be for the individual and his family. In terms of the . overall scene so far the Australian forces have not suffered as heavily as, I think, have other forces in the area. Clearly Australian officers and members of the Australian forces have a great concern for the safety of their own men and a belief in the value of human life. In the dangerous circumstances of Vietnam where at any time there might be a major attack against a task force base, involving a considerable loss of life to Australians, if a rule is broken under these circumstances and in this background, surely we in this House and in the safety of Australia can attempt to understand what has happened even if we do not approve it. Even if it is not condoned and even if the person who breaks that rule was subsequently prevented from breaking it again-
– The Minister is condoning the incident.
– I do not condone it. The honourable member for Hindmarsh refused to admit to having made a charge against the honourable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes). It was a charge against one of the most honourable members of this Parliament which could have come only from the honourable member for Hindmarsh. In Phuoc Tuy province, at the relevant time in 1966 there were two regiments - the 274th and 275th regiments - of Vietcong and D445, a local regiment, or 5,000 to 7,000 enemy troops, in Phuoc Tuy. We had nearly 2,000 combat troops in an area which had been completely dominated by the Vietcong because of a lack of military support and insufficient Government troops in the area. At that time the base defences at Nui Dat still had not been completed. One arm of the force was patrolling the area to seek out the enemy, to learn where they were and what their movements were, and to keep the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese at arm’s length and away from the base to ensure its safety until its defences had been secured. The other arm was developing the base facilities and defences as rapidly as possible. This emphasises the difficulties of the circumstances that then prevailed. It would be easy, from the comfort of Australia, when most Australians and most people in this House have not been touched by the war, except for those who have friends or relatives there and except for those who have been there, to find difficulty in understanding the circumstances that prevailed, unless one at some time had experienced something of this sort.
The honourable member for Yarra, when he demanded a categoric assurance that an incident like this would never occur again, was demanding the impossible, for it is not possible to tell how people will react to the stress and strain of an extremely difficult situation when they are trying to save the lives of their own men. One can say that all efforts will be taken to see that such an event will not occur again, but to demand a categoric assurance and to demand that such a thing never be allowed to occur is to demand the impossible. If the honourable member for Yarra were as honest as he demanded that we be, he would know that such an assurance was not possible.
I come now to the capture ot the woman. The force had known for some time that movements of patrols were being reported and it had been actively trying to find the source of these reports. It needs to be known that the surveillance and reporting were designed to inflict casualties on our force - to increase our casualties - and to make the position of the Task Force more difficult. While one cannot point to a particular casualty and say that this soldier was killed or this one was wounded because of these reports, there can be little doubt that men were wounded and casualties were inflicted as a result of that reporting.
The woman was found, with a powerful radio set, in a tunnel. The aerial of the set had been very cleverly concealed in the branches of the trees, and the whole complex was hidden very cunningly. Perhaps we were lucky to have found it. In any case, when it was found, late one afternoon when the fog was coming down, it was not possible to move the woman to Nui Dat. The following morning she was moved to Nui Dat, leaving the tunnel complex, I understand, at about 8 a.m. Clearly, she was not mistreated during the night. She was photographed for 10 to 15 minutes before she was interrogated. After the interrogation, the television photographer from India reported that she had tidied her hair while he was taking some film with his television camera. We know what happened during the interrogation. The statements made by John Sorell have been substantiated in large measure, if not completely. This is accepted. Nobody is quibbling about it, and if some eye witnesses have differences of opinion, there if no quibble that what John Sorell reported has been substantiated in large measure. I think that if Sorell thought that this was not an isolated instance but a common occurrence, as some honourable members opposite have tried to suggest, he would have reported the instance much earlier than he did.
I come now to the question of an inquiry. Why does the Opposition want an inquiry? Does it want an inquiry to check on Sorell? Nobody is questioning what he says. It is accepted. Do honourable members opposite want it to verify the facts of the incident? What facts are there to verify when the facts of the incident are not in dispute? There is no argument here between the Government and Sorell. Why, then, does the Opposition still insist upon an inquiry? Do honourable members opposite want one hoping that something will appear which will enable them to vilify the Army and to try to undermine the morale of the Army and the support of the Australians for what is happening in Vietnam? I cannot really believe that this is what honourable members opposite wish, but I am trying to find out what they do want and what is their purpose.
Do they want to use this incident to undermine the morale of Australians and the support that they have shown for this
Government in pursuit of the security of this country? Has the Opposition so little faith in Australia and in Australians that it expects this sort of thing to be a common occurrence? Do honourable members opposite not have the same faith that we have in the decency of the great majority of Australians and believe that they do not like this sort of thing and will not condone it and will not tolerate it? At the same time, one cannot give a categorical guarantee in the matter. One cannot say that this sort of thing will never occur again. One can only say that one will do one’s best to ensure that it will not happen again, ls the attitude of the Opposition members and their persistence in the demand for an inquiry a reflection of their own attitudes to human life and lack of faith in Australians? Do they suggest that the soldier concerned should be further punished? I have not heard any honourable member who has spoken suggest that course. The soldier, was prevented from carrying out any further interrogations and 18 months have passed. Knowing of this incident, the Army acted to ensure that it could not happen again at the hands of this soldier. It would be unreasonable, I suggest, to reopen this aspect and I do not believe that the leading spokesman for the Opposition suggested that this should be done.
We need to remember again the circumstances surrounding what is happening in Vietnam. We cannot approve of what has happened and we do not condone it. But we should still try to understand how these things can occur sometimes. Australian lives have been involved and might well have been seriously in jeopardy over what the woman could have reported. From the safety of this House wc adopt an unduly pious attitude if we judge too harshly what occurred on this occasion. The Army, as soon as it knew what had occurred, did not condone it and took action to ensure that it would not be repeated. I believe that no further action is required.
– I support the amendment that has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and I feel that all honourable members understand that we of the Australian Labor Party have made our position perfectly clear. The people of Australia have understood our Party stand. We are opposed to
Australian troops going to Vietnam. But since their commitment to that conflict, every member of the Opposition has protected the interests of every Australian serving in Vietnam. I believe that the ‘ Government is wrong in thinking that by its action tonight it is helping to protect the interests of Australians in Vietnam. Australians are divided on the question of our participation in this conflict and there is a similar division of opinion in America. In a situation in which most civilised countries are against the participation by Australia and America in the Vietnam war, it is important that we act as a civilised nation. We should not condone even one individual carrying out such a barbaric or Gestapo-like action. Surely every Australian should ask for a public inquiry as has been requested by the Leader of the Opposition.
The Leader of the Opposition stated clearly that no honourable member on this side of the chamber had made any statement with regard to this inquiry. He made the first statement on this subject and in it he said that there should be an inquiry and that it should be open to the public so that the people of Australia, the churches and the Press would know what really happened. We want to make sure that this kind of thing does not happen again. Many honourable members in this place were prisoners of war of the Japanese during World War II. I ask them to cast their minds back to the many cruel interrogations that they witnessed. Many prisoners were persecuted. Many prisoners came back limbless and a very great percentage did not come back at all The militarist Japanese treated Australian, British, American and Dutch servicemen as cruelly and sadistically as prisoners were treated by the Nazis in Germany. I have the greatest respect for Army leaders. I served under fine Army leaders who were trained at Duntroon and
I respected them. I respect Army leaders today. But I want to make sure that the Australian Army stands proudly because it bears a proud name. Hushing up the results of an inquiry into this incident will not increase our pride in the Army. We have a fine record and I hope that we can retain that record. We have been told of pis sadistic brute who said: TMI get it out of this bitch.’ We must know what action the Army has taken against the sadistic individual who interrogated this young girl. We must stop Fascism in individual persons, wherever we find it. If this man carried out a barbaric action then we should know what punishment he received. It has been admitted that this act was a breach of the Geneva Convention whether the person interrogated was a spy or a soldier of the Vietcong. Anyway, how could one tell the difference? The world knows that the allies do not know who are members of the Vietcong in Saigon or Hue. But out in the jungle they say: ‘That one who was shot was a Vietcong soldier, but this one whom we captured is a spy’. It is just laughable. There is no identification mark in Vietcong soldiers. That is why the allies cannot detect them. But even if this girl was a spy, as the Government categorises her, she is protected under the Geneva Convention and she also has the protection that we are a civilised race. We should make sure that we act in a civilised way.
I have seen the horrors of war. I know what men do in the heat of combat. In the heat of combat I have seen Australian medical orderlies hanging up by their feet with their throats cut. In retaliation I have seen my fellow Australians incinerate wounded Japanese by burning native huts in which they were sheltering. We did not care a damn, because it was in the heat of battle and we were on the move. We had to move. But that was in the heat of battle. This incident was not in the heat of battle. This woman was brought back to the camp for interrogation. She was interrogated by a sadistic individual. It is to the detriment of the Army that such a man had such authority. If John Sorell is correct, it would seem that men of senior rank watched this man do what he did. This is a mark against the Australian Army which has to be cleared up. Only an inquiry can do that.
There is no argument on the basic facts now. The Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch) said:
But it is now established that the investigation on the spot had in fact confirmed that the newspaper report was substantially true.
Of course, no Minister who has spoken tonight has admitted that the water torture continued for 30 minutes. John Sorell said that it continued for 30 minutes; but, although no Minister has admitted that, the Government says that Sorell’s report was substantially true. The word ‘substantially’ has a very wide meaning. I have had some experience of the courts over the last 4 or 5 years. I know what can be done with words on a question of law. I believe that there must be a public inquiry. I have not always agreed with the judiciary. But on this occasion I support the holding of a judicial inquiry because I believe that in such an inquiry many of the facts will come out and then the people of Australia will be able to judge the real facts of the matter.
I wish to make one other point. I felt that as a former prisoner of war, like the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Anderson), who is a member of the Cabinet, and the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz), who is a member of the Ministry, I had a mora! obligation to speak in this debate. They must have had some part in the decision that has been made. Let us not look on the gloomy side, but the problem in Vietnam today is critical. Who is to say that we may not lose thousands of men in one fell swoop - men taken prisoner - as we have lost our soldiers in the past? I make it perfectly clear that I am against Russian, American, Chinese, Australian or Viet namese brutality. I want to see our men treated with respect even as prisoners of war. After all, what are these soldiers doing? They cannot help it; they are in Vietnam because they are carrying out the decisions of their democratically elected government. They have to go there, many of them against their own will; but they are there. Consequently, we want to make sure that if there is some turn in this war our Australian soldiers will be protected.
The Ministers who have spoken tonight have said time and time again that we must not undermine morale. We do not want to undermine morale but we want to make sure that we in Australia are a civilised race. We believe in a progressive and enlightened civilisation. In the last war we had to fight against the barbarity of Nazi Germany and Fascist Japan. We do not want to copy their behaviour even though we know that both sides in the Vietnam war - the South Vietnamese government forces on the one hand and the Vietcong on the other - are doing terrible things to one another. We saw an example recently in a photograph on the front page of many Australian newspapers of the head of the police force in Saigon shooting a Vietcong soldier without trial. We were horrified at that. We know that many of the government officials in various villages have had their stomachs ripped open and their entrails exposed. We know all this but we do not want to drop to this level. We have been informed that action was taken to ensure that this so-called warrant officer will no longer be an interrogator but no Government supporter has told us what disciplinary action was taken against the soldier. We have not been told whether the Minister for Immigration (Mr Snedden), who was formerly Attorney-General, or the present Attorney-General (Mr Bowen) has looked at this position from the legal aspect. No Minister tonight has said that. Therefore I feel that the propositions put by the Leader of the Opposition were reasonable and in the best interests of Australia, the Australian people and the Australian Army.
– I do not want to delay the. House but I feel that far too much has already been said-
– The honourable member always does.
– The honourable member for Reid has had his say because he felt that he must have his say but he is not the only one who has seen some of these things happen.
-Order! The honourable member for Reid will cease interjecting. He has already spoken in the debate.
– I want to make a few remarks about the Geneva Convention which has been used by all countries as a guide just as every civil police force in Australia gives instructions to policemen on how they shall treat prisoners. I hope that honourable members in the House who have served in a police force will substantiate what I have to say.
Having been a humble justice of the peace who has had to sit on a few occasions, I learnt a few things that go on. It has been said here tonight that when a person is taken as a prisoner of war he is obliged to give his name, number and unit. Does anybody in this House think that no matter what country is involved, all that a person says when taking a prisoner of war is: ‘Look, old boy, what is your name? Where did you come from?’ Does anybody think that when a prisoner of war is taken, whether he has been taken from the sea or from the land, he is welcomed with open arms? I do not like saying these things, but I am speaking of the reality. When a submarine has been sunk and when the few prisoners who have been rescued from the submarine are brought aboard ship, a man who has seen his own country’s ships sunk does not say: ‘Come on board, boys. Sit there. I will find out your names shortly and I will give you a cup of kai’ - as the Navy calls cocoa. That man is pretty distressed about the incident.
It is the emotions of humans that defeat in some ways the terms of the Geneva Convention. We cannot legislate for the feelings of men. Some men are cool and reserved. Some are hot tempered. I do not know what the feelings of these men were when this interrogation took place. But we in this House tonight are being asked to vote and show our feelings, whether our fellings go out to the relatives of the eighteen men who were killed or whether they go out to a female Vietcong, whether she was a spy, an agent or a woman. I know that we, as males in this country, like to display gallantry to women no matter what their race, colour or creed may be. But it is a different thing when people have been tensed up for weeks, when their mates have been killed and they say: ‘That has been the cause of it*.
– The honourable member condones it?
– I am not talking about condoning it. But now that the honourable member for Hindmarsh has said that, let me tell him this: On 4th May 1965, the then Leader of the Opposition, the right honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell), speaking in this House made himself pretty clear as to his feelings regarding the war in Vietnam to which he is opposed. At page 1 107 of Hansard he is reported to have said:
But we shall do our duty to the utmost in supporting you to do your duty. In terms of everything that an army in the field requires, we shall never deny you the aid and support that it is your right to expect in the service of your country.
Mr Speaker, I emphasise the words ‘aid and support’.
– That does not mean-
-Order! The honourable member for Hindmarsh will cease interjecting.
– I would like the honourable member for Hindmarsh to remember the word ‘support’. Are we saying tonight that we are supporting the relatives of the eighteen men who were killed or are we saying that we are supporting, and that our sympathies are with, this wretched Vietcong woman who was captured? That is the issue. My feelings go out to the bereaved people in Australia who are bereaved because of the actions of this woman. I am sorry that this debate has gone on for so long. We know that what is said in this House can be in the hands of the North Vietnamese within 60 hours of it being said. We know, I am sorry to say, that there is an Australian acting as their agent. What is it to be? What is said in this House will be in the hands of the North Vietnamese within a week. I am very sorry that this has come about and I am very sorry that I cannot support the amendment.
Motion (by Mr Snedden) put:
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker - Hon. W. J. Aston)
Majority . . . . 37
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That the amendment (Mr Whitlam’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker- Hon. W. J. Aston)
Majority . . . . 37
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.28 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 March 1968, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1968/19680314_reps_26_hor58/>.