25th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir AlisterMcMullin) took the chair at 1 1 a.m., and read prayers.
– Could the Minister representing the Minister for Defence explain the makeup of the proposed Australian task force of 4,500 which is contemplated for service in Vietnam? Does he think that Australian intervention in Vietnam by a task force of this magnitude has distinct strategic advantages over the military formation in which the Australian force finds itself at the present time?
– The Minister for the Army has issued a Press statement on the makeup of the force. It is fairly lengthy; but in part it says -
In addition to the5th and 6th Battalions,
Royal Australian Regiment, the following units with their varied support units, will be involved either complete or in part:
Headquarters, 1st Task Force. 1st Field Regiment, R.A.A. (105 mm. Howitzers) . 131st Divisional Locating Battery, R.A.A. 1st Field Squadron, R.A.E. (Engineers). 17th Construction Squadron, R.A.E. (Engineers). 30th Terminal Squadron, R.A.E. (Ship loadingunloading). 103rd Signals Squadron, Royal Australian Signals. 130th Signals Squadron, Royal Australian Signals. 3rd Special Air Services Squadron, Royal Australian Infantry.
Headquarters, 1st Company, Royal Australian Army Service Corps (Logistic Support). 176th Air Despatch Company, R.A.A.S.C. 2nd Field Ambulance, R.A.A.M.C. 33rd Dental Unit, R.A.A.D.C. 2nd Composite Ordnance Depot, R.A.A.O.C. 101st Field Workshop, R.A.E.M.E. (ElectricalMechanical Engineers).
I believe that without any question a composite force which is able to provide its own backing to a great degree and is able to act as a unit under Australian control and not be associated with units of other countries is a far more satisfactory arrangement than the previous ones.
– I ask the Acting Minister of External Affairs a question. As a party to the conflict in Vietnam, has the Australian Government any knowledge of the reasons for the dismissal of Lieutenant-General Thi from the position of northern commander of the South Vietnamese forces? As, according to Press reports, the dismissal has caused anti-government demonstrations and anti-American propaganda by the people whom we are defending, I ask whether the United States of America was responsible for the dismissal and whether the general was dismissed for military or political reasons.
– Clearly, it is not a responsibility of a Minister for External Affairs to give certain opinions in the Parliament - nor would it be proper for him to do so - on why another government took any action which was entirely within its own responsibility.
-Order! I could have ruled that question out of order, as I have ruled other questions out of order, for the simple reason that no Minister in this Parliament is responsible for activities of the nature referred to in it and no Minister could give a reasonable reply to such a question. I suggest that in future honorable senators refrain from asking questions of such a nature that Ministers cannot accept direct responsibility for the answers.
– Does the Minister representing the Minister for Defence know whether there is any proof of recent statements that Russia has supplied North Vietnam with $1,000 million worth of aid which, it is said, includes rocket installations, anti-aircraft artillery, planes, tanks and warships? Can the Minister give any information as to the extent of aid given to North Vietnam by Communist China?
– I think Senator Branson’s question is similar to the previous question. The Minister cannot be expected to answer it.
– I rise to a point of order, Mr. President. Is it not in order to ask a Minister for factual information on any public matter, whether internal or international, as to which the Government of which he is a member has some responsibility? I refer to factual information from an authoritative source which is necessary to provide a basis for discussion by members of this Parliament. I do not wish to create general debate, but I do wish to put this point of order before you, Mr. President, for consideration lest debate in this chamber be unnecessarily restricted or stultified because of the lack of an authoritative base upon which subsequent debate may proceed.
– I do not think either of the last two questions comes within the category outlined by Senator Wright. I wish to make it quite clear that if a Minister makes a statement he has to accept ministerial responsibility for it. If he has the information, that is well and good; he has an authoritative basis to work on. However, neither of the last two questions comes within the description of questions referred to by Senator Wright. Questions for which a Minister can accept ministerial responsibility for answering are in order. The last two questions are definitely not in order.
– I direct my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. In order to protect the integrity of Australia, as well as the seas in our immediate vicinity and our fishing and other offshore industries, will the Government give attention to declaring a territorial limit more in keeping with the needs of this continent than any supposed three mile limit?
– The honorable senator’s question concerns a matter of policy entirely. At the present time, the Government operates, as Senator Murphy has suggested, on a three mile limit. He has asked an important question which should be placed on the notice paper so that the Prime Minister may examine it and provide an answer.
– Can the Minister representing the Treasurer inform the Senate of the procedure to be adopted by land owners desirous of obtaining special loan moneys under the scheme proposed recently by the Prime Minister?
– On 8th March the Prime Minister issued a statement on rural credit policy. I suggest that if the honorable senator examines it he will see there the main proposals put forward in respect of the farm loan fund. The information sought by the honorable senator should be contained in the statement. If the honorable senator does not have a copy of it, I shall send a copy to him.
– I preface my question to the Minister for Supply by informing him that on 15th March last in another place the Minister for Defence, acting on behalf of the Minister for Supply, informed the House that it was expected that by the end of April a pretty good idea could be had of the future plans of the European Launcher Development Organisation. He also added that there was one project coming in, in which there is a joint United States, United Kingdom and Australian interest. I am wondering whether the Minister is able to give the Senate more details of the project to which the Minister for Defence referred.
– The date at the end of April, to which the Minister referred, was, of course, the date of the meeting of the E.L.D.O. Ministers. The meeting is to take place in Paris. It was to have been held in March, but owing to the British elections, it was deferred until 27th, 28th and 29th or 26th, 27th and 28th of April. I am not in a position to give any further information on the other project to which the Minister referred. It has not as yet advanced to the stage of finality.
– I desire to ask the Acting Minister for External Affairs a question. As Australia is a party to the present conflict in Vietnam what say, if any, has the Australian Government in the conduct of military operations in Vietnam?
– The Australian force in Vietnam is under the control of its own commanding officer, who has the facility of communicating with the Australian Government, just as was the situation with Australian forces engaged in various theatres in the last World War.
– I would like to ask a question of the Minister- representing the Treasurer. It follows the question which was asked by Senator Webster. Apparently the position is not clear as to the procedure which a primary producer must follow in order to obtain money under the farm loan scheme. I ask the Minister: Has any procedure been laid down? What action has a farmer or a grazier to take to obtain the money? How does he go about it? Where can he find out the procedure to be followed?
– I have not the details of the procedure to be followed. I suggest that the honorable senator approach either the Treasurer or the Minister for Primary Industry to obtain those details.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. Will the Minister comment on the suggestion that the scheme to equalise the price of petroleum products throughout Australia is not proving successful in certain instances? Will the Minister also comment on instances of non-equalisation of prices that may have come to the knowledge of the Department in the last few months?
– I think that the Minister for Customs and Excise has a statement to make covering the aspects to which the honorable senator has referred. I am not in a position to make any comment on the administration of the scheme. To the best of my knowledge, the scheme has been very successful and has been the source of great profit to the people in the outback. If there are any anomalies to which the honorable senator can refer, I suggest that as the Minister for Customs and Excise is the administering authority in this matter, it would be better to refer the question to him.
(Question No. 789.)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
Will the Minister give an assurance that the anticipated reaffirmation of a policy by the Meat Industry Advisory Committee of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation favouring a total ban on the export of kangaroo meat will receive early consideration by the Government?
– The Minister for Primary Industry has supplied the following answer to the honorable senator’s question -
Yes. The subject is at present under consideration by the Government.
– On behalf of the Public Accounts Committee, I present the following reports -
Seventy-eighth Report - Report of the AuditorGeneral - Financial Year 1964-65;
Seventy-ninth Report - Treasury Minutes on the Sixty-eighth, Seventieth and Seventy-second Reports together with summaries of those reports.
I ask for leave to make a short statement.
– There being no objection, leave is granted.
– The seventyeighth report relates to the report of the Auditor-General for the financial year 1964-65. The Committee’s inquiry into that report was somewhat more widespread than similar inquiries conducted in recent years and included an examination of taxes written off which had not been the subject of criticism by the Auditor-General but which provided an opportunity for a thorough examination to be made of an important aspect of financial administration.
Evidence taken by the Committee from the Prime Minister’s Department and the Departments of External Affairs, Trade and Industry and Treasury has reflected a continuing unsatisfactory state of affairs in the financial arrangements at overseas posts notwithstanding previous inquiries by your Committee in this area of administration. In the case of the Department of the Interior, the Committee was concerned to find that although it had inquired into the Parks and Gardens Section of the Department in connection with the AuditorGeneral’s report for 1962-63, little real progress has been made to rectify the problems then discovered and the Department has continued to attract criticism from the Auditor-General.
Although the matters reported on by the Auditor-General in respect of the Department of the Army had been rectified when your Committee conducted its inquiry, the irregularities reported on were of such a nature as to raise doubts in your Committee’s mind as to whether there may have been a deterioration in normal Army peacetime discipline.
The Seventy-ninth report relates to Treasury minutes on the Sixty-eighth, Seventieth and Seventy-second reports of your Committee. This report shows that your Committee has re-endorsed the procedures agreed to with the Treasurer in 1954 relating to Treasury minutes and has developed, in association with the Treasurer, a refinement of those procedures whereby exploratory discussions will be held with officers of the Department of the Treasury in the case of Treasury minutes which contain recommendations not fully dealt with or which are subject to a further Treasury minute. This report contains, in its introductory chapter, a full statement of the current mutually agreed procedures for processing, through the Treasury minute arrangements, your Committe’s recommendations arising from inquiries it has made.
I commend the reports to honorable senators.
That the reports be printed.
– by leave - As honorable senators are aware, the petroleum products subsidisation scheme has now been in operation for just six months and I feel that it is an opportune time for me to outline the progress of the scheme and to answer some of the queries which have been raised by honorable senators and others in respect of the operation of the scheme.
Honorable senators will recall that the subsidy scheme is designed to reduce the transportation costs of country people and country industries. To achieve this the scheme aimed at lowering the wholesale price of certain petroleum products at recognised oil industry distribution points in country areas to not more than 3.3 cents above capital city prices. The scheme operates in respect of motor spirit, power kerosene, automotive distillate, aviation gasoline and aviation turbine fuel. These are the five petroleum products most commonly used in transport.
The reduction in wholesale prices at recognised points of distribution in country areas was achieved by an arrangement between the Commonwealth and State Governments and the oil companies. The oil companies have entered into agreements which bind them to pass on the subsidy at the wholesale level and I am pleased to say that without exception all oil companies throughout Australia have honoured their agreements and have fully passed on the subsidy at the wholesale level.
As I have mentioned, the scheme is concerned with ensuring as tar as possible that the price to the consumer of the five subsidised products is reduced to not more than 3.3 cents above capital city prices and it was expected that payment of subsidy at the wholesale level would achieve that objective. In the main, I am satisfied that the scheme is working as the Government intended, as retail margins for the most part throughout the Commonwealth are much the same as those that operate in capital cities. However, at the time of introduction of the scheme the Government was aware that retail margins in some remote areas, particularly those of Western Australia and the Northern Territory, have traditionally exceeded capital city margins. In fact, such margins often varied even between resellers in the same town.
The variations in retail margins in these areas exist for a number of reasons and it was found that no scheme could be worked out which was capable of taking into account all these different factors. The rates of subsidy, therefore, were related to the oil company “ differentials “, which are the equivalent of the cost of transportation from capital cities to each particular location. This method has the advantage of tying the rates of subsidy to the most stable factor in the oil industry pricing arrangements.
Accordingly it was recognised that in some remote localities because of the traditional operation of excess retail margins the retail prices of subsidised products would remain above the 3.3 cents margin envisaged by the scheme. At the same time it was expected that resellers would meet their obligations to their customers by passing on the full benefit of the subsidy received by them. From time to time since the scheme was introduced I have received complaints that consumers in some remote areas are being charged prices for subsidised products which are in excess of 3.3 cents above capital city prices. 1 can assure honorable senators that I have had these complaints fully investigated. Also officers of the Department of Customs and Excise have conducted extensive surveys of various areas to ensure that the benefits of the subsidy have been passed on.
Officers of the Department will continue to conduct field surveys to ensure that the subsidy is correctly passed on and I give an assurance that if inquiries disclose that a reseller is refusing to pass on the full benefit of subsidy received by him I will take prompt corrective action through my Department. This subsidy scheme is ons of considerable magnitude. It involves the payment of individual subsidies at more than 5,000 distribution points spread over the length and breadth of our vast continent. Viewed against this background I have no hesitation in saying that to date the scheme has been an unqualified success and has brought significant benefits to country people.
Motion (by Senator Henty) - by leave - proposed -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Act 1948-1964, Senator Kennelly be appointed a trustee to serve on the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Trust.
– I received the notification of this motion for the first time this minute. I respectfully ask the Minister to explain the circumstances in which the proposed appointment is submitted to the Senate for approval.
– in reply - The appointment is proposed in order to provide a replacement for Senator Cooke, who has retired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I have received a message from the House of Representatives acquainting the Senate that in accordance with the provisions of the Public Accounts Committee Act 1951-1965 Mr. Reynolds, a member of the House of Representatives, has been appointed a member of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts in the place of Mr. Costa, who is discharged from attendance on the Committee.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Anderson) read a first time.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission Act 1956-64 in order to meet the needs of the Commission for greater borrowing powers and to give it greater flexibility within its capital structure.
The Commission is faced with substantial capital expenditure over the next few years for the construction of new vessels which it has on order, or intends to build, and for the erection of associated shore facilities. The Commission now has on order one 47,500 deadweight tons bulk carrier which is expected to be commissioned within the next few months, and it is committed to the construction of a second 47,500 deadweight tons bulk carrier. It has ordered two roll-on roll-off cargo vessels for the MelbourneBrisbane and the Melbourne-Sydney-north Queensland trades, and has announced it has under consideration a proposal to construct a second Bass Strait passenger vessel. There is also a requirement for a new specialised vessel for the Darwin trade.
For some time the Commission has been concerned that it is disadvantageous^ placed in tendering for long term contracts, particularly for the carriage of bulk cargoes, because of the restrictions the existing Act places on its capital structure. Other Australian shipowners can, through the availability of long term finance at reasonable rates of interest, set up a relationship of ordinary share capital to loan borrowings which permits them to achieve a higher earning rate on capital from a lower freight rate than would be the case if their capital were wholly in the form of share or equity capital.
Under the Act as it now stands, the Commission has no such freedom. Its capital is determined by section 28 of the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission Act. Its borrowing powers derive from section 30 of the Act under which the Commission may, with the approval of the Treasurer, borrow such amounts as the Minister certifies are necessary for meeting its obligations or discharging its functions. The Commission’s borrowing powers are limited to $10 million - £5 million - under sub-section 6 of section 30, and moneys borrowed by the Commission do not form part of its capital.
The accepted commercial practice in these matters is to achieve an appropriate balance between equity capital, overdraft and some form of loan finance. The Commission is required to pay a reasonable return on its capital and is expected to play a competitive role in its operations. In these circumstances it should have the same freedom to vary the ratio between loan borrowings and equity capital as its competitors, and the purpose of this Bill it to place it in this position.
Whilst the Commission now has access to basically the same methods of financing as are available to private shipowners, its borrowing powers are limited and, if it is to carry through its proposed capital works programme, it must have access to additional funds. This is necessary, particularly if the Commission is to maintain a competitive position in relation to private shipowners, including overseas interests which may wish to enter into Australian coastal trading.
The proposed deletion of sub-section 6 of section 30 removes altogether the provision that amounts borrowed by the Commission and not repaid shall not at any time exceed $10 million. It would give the Commission greater borrowing powers and the required flexibility in its capital structure. The approval of the Minister and the Treasurer will still be necessary before any borrowings are made and this will provide a means of limiting or controlling the borrowings of the Commission in the light of its approved requirements for ships and terminal facilities if this proves to be necessary.
Honorable senators will appreciate also that the Parliament still exercises control over funds made available to the Commission by the Commonwealth through the normal budgetary processes, and in addition the Commission is required by law to present its accounts and a report to the Parliament annually. Clause 3 of the Bill provides for the conversion of references to money in the Act to decimal currency. I commend the Bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Byrne) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 23rd March (vide page 228), on motion by Senator Henty -
That the Senate take note of the following paper - Statement of Policy by new Government - Ministerial Statement, 8th March 1966.
Upon which Senator Kennelly had moved by way of amendment -
Leave out all words after “ That “, insert: - “ the Senate records -
its most emphatic opposition to the despatch of conscripted youths for service in Vietnam and the increased military commitment in that country, and
its disapproval of and grave concern at the Government’s failure -
to maintain the purchasing power of the Australian community;
to retain an adequate and proper Australian share in the ownership and development of our national resources, particularly in Northern Australia;
to alleviate the effects of the drought and take steps to rehabilitate rural industries and conserve water resources:
to make adequate provision for housing and associated community facilities, and
to submit to referendum the two Bills to alter the Constitution in respect of Aborigines and the Parliament which were passedlast year and, in connection with the latter Bill to disclose the related distribution proposals “.
– When the Senate adjourned last night, 1 was developing the argument that two propositions had been submitted by the Government in support of its actions in Vietnam. One is that if we give assistance now to the United States of America, at some time in the future the United States will give assistance to us. The other proposition is that in South Vietnam we are facing an example of world wide aggression which must be met inside South Vietnam to keep aggression from becoming more rampant or getting closer to us.
Last night I tried to show that the argument that if we assist the United States they will assist us in the future is invalid, and that nations go to the assistance of other nations only when it is in their own interest to do so and not because of anything that has happened previously.
I now wish to deal with the argument that we must be in South Vietnam and must send conscripts there because we are there meeting aggression of the kind that was met between 1939 and 1945. Let me say in passing that some of the evidence which has been produced by the Government to justify its view seems to be not quite as adequate as it might be. Yesterday in the Senate Senator Gorton quoted from the report of the International Control Commission, but he was very selective in what he quoted. The key paragraph that he quoted was this -
In examining the complaints and the supporting material, in particular the documentary material sent by the South Vietnamese mission, the Committee has come to the further conclusion that there is evidence to show that the PAVN has allowed the Zone in the North to be used for inciting, encouraging and supporting hostile activities in the Zone in the South, aimed at the overthrow of the administration in the South. The use of the Zone in the North for such activities is in violation of Articles 19, 24 and 27 of the Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Vietnam.
He made one other quotation from the report of the Commission.
– What is the date of that report?
– It is the 1962 report of the International Control Commission. The Minister used both those quotations to show that it was as clear as crystal that there had been a breach of the Geneva Agreement by the North Vietnamese. However, he omitted to read to us, despite an invitation from Senator Cohen to do so, the continuation of the report of the Commission. In particular, it is interesting to note that paragraph 20 states -
Taking all the facts into consideration, and basing itself on its own observations and authorised statements made in the United States of America and the Republic of Vietnam, the Commission concludes that the Republic of Vietnam -
That is South Vietnam - has violated Articles 16 and 17 of the Geneva Agreement in receiving the increased military aid from the United States of America in the absence of any established credit in its favour. The Commission is also of the view that, though there may not be any formal military alliance between the Governments of the United States of America and the Republic of Vietnam, the establishment of a U.S. Military Assistance Command in South Vietnam, as well as the introduction of a large number of U.S. military personnel beyond the stated strength of the MAAG (Military Assistance Advisory Group), amounts to a factual military alliance, which is prohibited under Article 19 of the Geneva Agreement.
I shall omit paragraph 21, which is not very relevant. In paragraph 22 this passage appears -
Fundamental provisions of the Geneva Agreement have been violated by both Parties . . .
Thai was the finding of the International Control Commission. It is nonsense, and I submit misleading and dishonest, to select one paragraph and to say that the Commission found that the North Vietnamese had breached the determination of the Geneva Agreement. Indeed, the International Control Commission found that both parties had breached the Geneva Agreement. If one refers to one party, one must refer to both parties.
– What was the date of the second quotation?
– It also was from the 1962 report of the International Control Commission, which Senator Gorton quoted yesterday. It is the same document. But the Minister read only part of it.
– Would the honorable senator say that the Minister was dishonest?
– 1 am suggesting that the Minister did not read all the relevant passages. He read only those which suited the Government. If one looks at the course of events in Asia since the end of the Second World War, it is interesting to note to what extent it fits in wilh the apocalyptic view of the situation in Asia that is taken by the Government and its supporters. The Government tells us that a new situation has arisen to which can be applied what is called the Domino theory. This means that if there is a Communist Government inside one country, especially in Asia, as apparently, this theory does not seem to apply any longer in Europe, what will happen will be that the country which has a Communist Government will topple the non-Communist Government of the country next door. That country in turn will topple the non-Communist Government of the country next door to it and so on until the whole of the area has gone Communist. The theory is that, so long as there is one Communist country standing next to a nonCommunist country, that Communist country will overthrow the regime in the neighbouring non-Communist country.
This argument is used repeatedly by the Government, lt says that if South Vietnam goes Communist then Thailand will go Communist; then Malaya will go Communist; then Indonesia will go Communist; then Burma will go Communist, and so on. This is the famous Domino theory. I submit that this is a theory that needs to be analysed very carefully because if what the Government is saying is true - that is, that this theory does apply - and if this is what we are countering, then some rather extraordinary consequences flow from it. Not only will it be necessary to defeat the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam but also it will be necessary to remove the Government of North Vietnam. This is so because if the Domino theory does apply and the Communist Government will upset the non-Communist Government in the neighbouring country, then as long as there is a Communist Government in North Vietnam the Domino theory threat to South Vietnam will apply. But why stop there? Why not go into China? Why not go into the Soviet Union? If the Domino theory is a valid theory then so long as there is one Communist government anywhere in the world we face the constant danger that the neighbouring non-Communist countries of that Communist country will be overwhelmed by it. ls this the policy of the Government? If this is the policy of the Government, I believe it ought to be made perfectly clear to us. Does the Government merely say that Communism is dangerous inside South Vietnam, or is it the declared policy of the Government to remove all Communist governments wherever they may be? Are we to engage in a holy war against the governments in Peking, Moscow, Prague, Belgrade and Bucharest? I do not know. But if the principle of the Domino theory is accepted, then this surely is the logical outcome of the argument.
– Would the honorable senator say that a Communist government should be deterred if it is using force?
– That is a totally different point.
– My word it is.
– Yes, it is a totally different thing to say whether a Communist Government should be deterred if it is using force.
– What about dealing with that point then?
– I will deal with that point when I choose to come to it. I am not dealing with it now. 1 am dealing at the moment wilh an argument which I intend to develop without the invitation of Senator Webster to become sidetracked into some other issue.
– So that T can understand this argument, I ask: Who puts forward the argument that Communists as such should be attacked without any aggression on their part?
– I am not saying that anybody here has put forward this argument. What 1 am saying is that-
– Senator, the argument
– Perhaps Senator Wright and Senator Webster will decide between them who wants to ask me these questions?
– If the honorable senator wishes to deliver a monologue, it is all right with me. I wish to indicate an interest in what the honorable senator is saying.
– I appreciate that fact. But I had Senator Webster to contend wilh at the same time as I was trying to answer Senator Wright. I am not suggesting that anybody has said in so many words that action should be taken against all countries with Communist governments. What 1 am saying is that if the Domino theory is accepted as a valid theory then this must bc the logical outcome of the acceptance of that theory. If the Government is going to say that a country with a non-Communist government which has as its neighbour a country with a Communist government will be toppled by that neighbouring Communist government then surely our so called defence policy - the opposition to the Domino theory - cannot be brought to a satisfactory conclusion until all countries which have Communist governments have been eliminated. Surely this is the logical outcome of the acceptance of that theory.
Since the second world war, we have seen tremendous struggles taking place throughout the whole of Asia. There have been the conflicts inside India, Pakistan, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and, of course, I suppose most important of ail, inside China itself where there has been a substantial social revolution which has caused a complete transformation of the government inside that country. The Government of this country seems to have adopted the attitude that all one needs to do is to say. “ This is a Communist plot or a Communist conspiracy”. It seems to believe that this argument, which is so useful for frightening elderly ladies into voting for the Liberal Party at elections in Australia, will, if used inside Asia, produce a solution to the problems there. I submit that it is a totally inadequate argument.
There are national and social revolutions taking place in all the undeveloped and underdeveloped countries of the world, especially those in Asia. In some of those countries the national and social revolutions are under Communist leadership and in others they are not. The Government has often, in the past, found that it is very difficult to distinguish between Communist and non-Communist national revolutions. If one looks back to the Press reports and “Hansard” reports of the middle 1940’s, one finds frequent accusations that people like Hatta and Sjahrir inside Indonesia were Communists. It was alleged that the movements for independence in Burma were
Communist controlled and even that the movements for independence in India were dominated by Communists. But I do not think there is any point in denying that the Government of North Vietnam is a Communist Government. It clearly is a Communist Government. There is no point in denying that the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam has a considerable Communist influence and is probably controlled by Communists, although there are in its ranks and occupying prominent positions considerable numbers of people who are not Communists.
We are being told that only by armed intervention can we deal with any movement which has some substantial Communist influence inside it. But whether it is fortunate or unfortunate, the fact is that the argument which we put forward clearly is not accepted by the great mass oi the Asian people themselves, whether they are Communists or not. There may be some support for it, but certainly there is no mass support, no majority support or no governmental support inside India, Pakistan, Burma, Japan or Indonesia. Even in Indonesia, where, as a consequence of the recent revolution, there is now a much more conservative and right wing administration, the students who have been demonstrating against Sukarno and Subandrio have at the same time been demonstrating against United States intervention in South Vietnam. The great mass of the Asian people appreciate that the struggle inside South Vietnam is a struggle against a force which represents the mass of the South Vietnamese people.
I believe we are very fortunate that China, despite all the criticisms which can be made of it, has not adopted the attitude towards the Asian continent which the United States had adopted towards the continents of North and South America. It is only just a short time ago that we saw the United States intervene in the. Dominican Republic, where there clearly was no intervention from any other foreign power. Whatever was taking place inside that Republic was a result of the internal struggles of its people. But the United States felt completely entitled to intervene in the Dominican Republic, as it attempted to intervene in Cuba and as it intervened in Guatemala. It believes that the form of the government in any country in the South American continent is its business - that it is entitled to select the governments there, or, if it does not like them, to take action to remove them and replace them with governments that it prefers. But apparently the writ of the United States does not run only in North and South America; it runs also inside Asia. So the United States thinks it is entitled to intervene in South Vietnam. 1 suggest that we face a very grave danger by participating in this form of intervention inside Asia. We face the danger that at some time in the future China, with its increasing strength, will adopt the same attitude towards Asia as the United States adopts towards North America and South America; that China will proclaim some sort of Chinese Monroe Doctrine towards Asia and will say: “ What form of government exists inside the Asian continent is the business of China and nobody is entitled to intervene there “. I do not believe that the United States can have this argument both ways. I do not believe that it can say: “ As the major power in North America and South America, we are entitled to determine what form of government exists there, but we are also entitled to determine what form of government exists in the various countries of Asia, despite what the major power in Asia says “.
I believe that these are the major problems that we have to face and to consider. They are real problems. Whether we like it or not, China is growing in strength. Our present policy, if we continue with it, is bound to result in a violent conflict which could destroy the whole of this nation. I believe that the first duty of the Senate is to the Australian people and not to the American people. What we have to examine is: What are the interests of Australia in these conflicts inside Asia? We are the people who have to live with Asia. We are the people who have to come to some sort of friendly relations with the other peoples of Asia. If we follow blindly the American pattern, we could find ourselves involved in a conflict that would lead to the destruction of our whole country.
[I l.47. - I rise to support the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold
Holt) and to oppose the amendment. I should like to pay tribute to the Prime Minister for the excellent statement that he has given to the people of Australia. I believe that the statement is very well appreciated by them. 1 also congratulate him on reaching his high office. Of course, I wish him great success. 1 also pay tribute to the retiring Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies. I believe that, when the historian lays down his pen after writing the history of Australia in this period, Sir Robert’s work will be well recorded and people will know what he has done for the welfare of mankind, the friendship of nations, the development of this great country of ours and the upholding of the dignity of Parliament as an institution. I am sure that all honorable senators will remember the work that this great Australian has done for Australia and, whatever our political colour, be pleased that we shared the road wilh him.
The Prime Minister in his statement referred to many matters. My colleagues on this side of the Senate have addressed their remarks most splendidly to many of those matters. I believe that we all are greatly indebted to the Acting Minister for External Affairs, Senator Gorton, for the speech that he made last night on international affairs in general and Vietnam in particular. I hope that Australians will read that speech and make themselves very well aware of its contents. The Prime Minister’s statement shows us very clearly the increasingly important part that Australia must play in world affairs and the important issues and events near our shores. A slatement such as this makes every Australian realise the great responsibility that wc as Australians have in the defence of our country and the continuing part that we must play in the fight against Communist aggression. I do not think it would be out of place to quote the following words from the Prime Minister’s statement, which I believe are of paramount importance -
Neither wc, nor our allies, arc in South Vietnam for territorial gain or colonial power. We are there to establish conditions in which ordinary mcn and women . . . can pursue their lives in freedom. We are there because while Communist aggression persists, the whole of Smith East Asia is threatened; while the Chinese Communist philosophy of world domination persists, the whole free world is threatened.
As Australians, we have a responsibility, which we accept, to establish conditions in which ordinary men and women can pursue their lives in freedom. Again, this is something which every Australian feels most keenly and for generations we have accepted that responsibility. 1 wish to turn now to another subject. Australians are very conscious of matters which concern us in the fields of defence and international relationships, but there are also matters of paramount importance within our own community to be considered. The Prime Minister has adopted a very realistic approach to the very important field of housing. This is a field in which 1 take a very keen and personal interest. I was amazed at the wording of the amendment moved by the Opposition.
The Prime Minister, in his realistic approach, speaks of the concern the Government feels at any slackening in the housing programme. To overcome the effects of any slackening, an effective stimulus is given to housing. In the Prime Minister’s statement of 8th March he said that the Government will take any steps necessary to prevent an undue slackening of demand and to prevent unemployment. He referred, as I have done on previous occasions in this chamber, to the additional substantial finance which is being provided for housing by the savings banks. He foreshadowed other measures which will give further support to housing. Honorable senators will recall that on Wednesday of last week I informed the Senate of the Government’s offer of a further $15 million as advances to the States this year under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. It is therefore quite natural that I heard with some surprise the amendment moved by Senator Kennelly on behalf of the Opposition, daring to claim that the Government had failed to make adequate provision for housing.
I shall refer to a number of matters which are all of importance in the field of housing. There is certainly negligible unemployment in home building and in other sectors of the building industry. It is important to note that although the numbers engaged have increased by about 20 per cent, during the past three years there was a slight easing in the employment situation during January, due largely to the influx of a number of school leavers seeking employ ment as apprentices. This influx is gradually being absorbed. Previous years have shown us that this is the normal situation when school leavers enter the employment field.
Much has been said about the decline in the number of commencements of new dwellings. This is a subject in which honorable senators on both sides of the chamber are interested. I have made a statement on this matter. There was a decline in the number of commencements in the December quarter and I expect the number of dwellings to be commenced in the current March quarter to be little different from the number commenced in the last quarter of last year. But too many tend to overlook the fact that this decline has been from a record volume of home building - a volume in excess of a reasonable assessment of our annual needs. As recently as the December quarter last year, a record number of 30,200 dwellings were completed. These figures are interesting. Between 1962-63 and 1964-65 the number of dwellings commenced in Australia rose from 88,270 to 116,700. This not only catered for the needs of those seeking a home, but also provided a very substantial improvement in our standard of housing.
The question in 1965 was whether we could and should continue this rapid rate of improvement in our housing standard in the face of many other increasing pressures on the resources available in the building industry. Sir, I remind you that at this time there was an urgent need for far more buildings for defence purposes. This, of course, is something of which I think all honorable senators should be aware. At the same time there was also a decline in the volume of private savings available for lending through normal channels to the home building industry. Reluctantly, the Government had to accept a small reduction in home building. However, certain safeguards were provided.
In September 1965 the Reserve Bank sought and obtained an assurance from the savings banks, which are the main institutional lenders for housing purposes, that the volume of their new commitments for housing loans would not fall below the very considerable figure of $72 million per quarter. In fact, savings bank lending for housing purposes reached a record level of almost $82 million in the December quarter of last year. This Government will never retreat from its belief that a minimum annual net increase in the number of dwellings is a priority requirement. But we must not be concerned solely with securing a minimum annual addition to our housing stock. We must also do all that we can to see that homes are of a size and standard which meet the needs of all those families and persons who are seeking a home or a better home. Homes should also be built where the need exists.
Mr Deputy President, as you know I have only recently taken over the Housing portfolio. But since 1 have assumed this portfolio, I have commenced to study the housing needs of all sections of the community. I have commenced to study the housing needs of different sections of the community of the old and the young people and of the married and the single people throughout the States and what is being done to meet these needs. This, I believe, is a matter which is of paramount importance in the field of housing and in assisting those people who need homes. 1 want to know as much as I can about what is being done in all these fields of housing. The fact that the Government established a Department of Housing shows that it is well aware of the real and far Teaching significance of good housing. We have always shown very great concern about this matter of housing. We are very conscious of the part that housing plays in the development of Australia, as well as in the welfare and happiness of its citizens.
Shortly after I became Minister for Housing I made a statement. I shall repeat what I said then. The home is a tremendously important place. I want to see Australians living in the best designed, built and equipped dwellings that this country can afford. We need an ever increasing number of homes to house our growing population, especially the increasing number of young married couples and the families of newcomers to Australia. I am also very much aware that we must build more homes outside our capital cities if we are to develop further our broad acres and permit new mining and industrial development in country areas. As I have said in this House on other occasions, when we talk of development in any part of Australia we must remember always the importance of housing to that development.
As the Prime Minister said in another place, a substantial additional amount of finance, estimated at S24 million, is being provided by the savings banks for housing in the second half of 1965-66. Let me emphasise that the effect of this is only now beginning to affect the level of new dwelling commencements. It will have a strong stimulatory effect in the June quarter.
This Government is not unmindful of the housing needs of those in the lower income group and of the growing number of applicants to rent or buy a home from the State housing authorities. From information I have received, I understand that in recent months these authorities have also completed a record number of dwellings but that they expect that the number of dwellings commenced in the current half year will be smaller than the number in recent six monthly periods. As we do not wish to see a curtailment of their activities, the Government decided to offer the States supplementary advances under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreements the greater part of which will go to the housing authorities to enable them to build moderately priced homes for sale or to let at reasonable rentals.
I have also received numerous requests from building societies that the funds available to them be augmented. These societies will benefit from the additional advances the Commonwealth is making to the States through the allocation of at least 30 per cent of the advances to the home builders’ accounts. Let me sum up the position in this way: The banks are lending more, the housing commissions will be building more dwellings, and more money is being made available to the building societies. This Government is certainly doing all that is reasonable to ensure that adequate finance is provided for the acquisition of homes, that the volume of home building activity is maintained and that all reasonable housing needs will be met.
The Senate will be aware that this Government inaugurated the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation. This body has only recently commenced operations but already it has been successful. As 1 announced recently, it is writing new business at the rate of about $1 million a month. But what I think is most pleasing is that its operations have already attracted some money into housing that otherwise would have been invested elsewhere. We shall continue to watch closely the development of the Corporation’s activities.
It was recently my pleasure to visit Adelaide for the conference of State Ministers for Housing and to inform the Ministers that the Commonwealth is willing to continue making advances to the States for housing purposes, substantially in accordance with the terms and conditions of the existing housing agreement, which will run for a further period of five years from 1st July 1966. The State Ministers informed me of their acceptance in principle of the Commonwealth’s offer, and I hope shortly to introduce into this House legislation to authorise the making of further advances for housing under the new agreement. As at present, these advances will bear interest at the long term Commonwealth bond rate applying at the time each advance is made, less one per cent. Our interest concession is of very great benefit to those seeking homes and is warmly appreciated by the State Ministers. The States are free to use this interest concession as they please. It permits them to offer housing loans on very favourable terms and to offer rental rebates to those who need them. Housing commissions have so arranged matters that they are able to offer sizeable rental rebates to necessitous families without incurring a loss on their overall operations. Our interest concession means cheap money for housing, a fact which I think is very often overlooked or ignored by honorable senators opposite. A very large part of the total finance being made available for housing in Australia is offered at a social rather than a commercial interest rale. I remind honorable senators that savings banks lend for housing at interest rates ranging from 5 per cent, to 5i per cent.
When I speak about housing I am very conscious of the people who have housing problems, who are sharing houses, who are living in accommodation which is not up to the standard we want or who cannot move to the house they want as soon as they would like to. I am very conscious of these problems and my sympathy, as always, goes out to the people concerned. However, I am learning the art of bearing in mind what is practicable. This Government has always been concerned about people who have housing problems and has always been most sympathetic towards them. But money is required to build a home, and someone must save that money, whether it be a private person, a company, or a government. While our building industry remains fully engaged a practical limit is set to the number of homes, schools, hospitals, shops, churches, factories and offices which can be built. However, this Government will ensure that sufficient finance is available from time to time to build the homes required to meet our reasonable needs in this field.
As I have done on previous occasions, I wish to direct attention to the fact that we are proud of our record in assisting home ownership in Australia. We have, if not the highest then one of the highest percentages of home ownership of any country in the world - 75 per cent, of Australians either owning their own homes or being in the process of becoming home owners. This is tremendously important. But we must also look to the needs of those people - young married couples, newcomers to Australia and those whose occupations prevent them from settling permanently in a particular town or suburb - who need moderately priced rental accommodation. With the added assistance which this Government is giving in this field because it is very conscious of the importance of housing, I am convinced that shortly there will be a rise in the number of new dwellings being commenced and that this trend will continue for several months. I am now most optimistic about the prospects for the home building industry. These prospects augur better times for all those seeking homes. I assure the Senate that, as Minister for Housing, I will watch this matter very carefully and will always study the needs in this most important field.
I repeat that I support the statement made by the Prime Minister. It was a statement of great importance to this nation, a statement which I believe brings to the notice of all Australians their responsibility as Australians to ensure the best kind of future that is possible for the people of this country and to play their part in the best way possible for the welfare of mankind throughout the world.
– The statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) had two important aspects. It dealt, first of all, with the question of our security and defence and made special reference to Vietnam. Secondly, it dealt with the state of our economy. I think it is unfortunate that we have not had the opportunity to deal with these two aspects in separate debates. To a degree, the major political parties have each reaped some advantage from this. Because the debate has largely centred on Vietnam, the Government has been able to avoid the spotlight being put upon certain very disturbing trends in the economy, which business people, trade union leaders and others feel demand urgent remedial action by the Government. In the case of the Australian Labour Party I would be the last to deny that in a Party with its traditions there would be some who would oppose conscription on principle. I am also prepared to say that a certain section of it welcomes the conscription issue as a desirable political gimmick to take public attention off the troubles which at present afflict the Party.
Turning to the matter of the economy, because I feel it ought not to be neglected, I think everybody who examines the situation knows that there is grave concern among businessmen, trade union leaders and others over certain disturbing trends to be seen at the present time. I do not want to be one of those who seek for political purposes to create a panic which often leads to recession, but I think we have to admit that during the recent parliamentary recess there was a disturbing increase in unemployment and there were loud complaints, particularly from farmers, about what appeared to be a restriction of credit.
– Does the honorable senator mean in the country?
– Yes. Production in a number of industries was definitely down and the industry which in my opinion is probably more important than any other - the building industry - particularly suffered, especially in regard to home building. The latest report of the Bureau of Census and Statistics shows that in quite
I would say that, while there is no necessity for panic and our economy is soundly based, all of those things indicate an urgent need for action, particularly by the Government, lo restore confidence, because there obviously has not been of late the confidence that there should he. I was one who hoped that in the Prime Minister’s statement we would hear of a definite programme to restore confidence. But it appeared to me to a degree to be a kind of “ she’s all right, mate “ speech. The Prime Minister said that he had in mind what people were saying and thinking about the slate of the economy. He said he was going to do the right thing but he indicated that we would have to wait to hear what the right thing was until the relevant legislation was brought in. Anybody who has spoken to business leaders knows that their opinion is that they were let down on that occasion, that something more definite should have been said to restore confidence.
May I say, however, that a claim has been made by the Leader of the Opposition in another place that the attitude of his Party to troops for Vietnam springs from the fact that it is an anti-conscriptionist party. Let me make it clear that there is no anti-conscriptionist party in the Parliament. There is no party in this Parliament which has not the conscription skeleton rattling in its cupboard. The Australian Labour Party in the Kooyong by-election is claiming that it is the anti-conscriptionist party, but its record is that, under the Fisher Government, it was the first party in Australian history to introduce compulsory military training. The motion that it should introduce compulsory military training was proposed by the first Labour Prime Minister in federal history, Mr. J. C. Watson. An examination of the debate indicates that he proposed it because, he said, compulsory military training was a Socialist principle.
– When was this?
– In 1908 at the A.L.P. Federal conference Mr. Watson said that a voluntary army could be composed from those families in a community with a military tradition. Therefore, it was desirable to have your forces taken from the whole mass of the community because then you would get a military force which would represent the community rather than one section with military traditions which could be used against the interests of the working class. So on the testimony of Mr. Watson, which was endorsed when the conference adopted compulsory military training, they believed in compulsion because it was a socialist principle.
When the Curtin Government took action, the Australian Labour Party was the first political party in Australian history to carry out conscription for overseas service. Through the Curtin Government, the Australian Labour Party was also the first party in Australian history to introduce industrial conscription under which the workers were conscripted and directed to the jobs they were to undertake. The present Government has endorsed the principle of conscription. The Party to which I belong is prepared to support what the Government has done to date although it is not prepared to give the Government a blank cheque on this matter. Therefore, the situation is that there is no anti-conscription party in this Parliament. They all support conscription provided the emergency is big enough.
The Australian Labour Party, while admitting conscription might be necessary in a sufficiently strong emergency, differs from the other parties because it says this is not an emergency to justify conscription for overseas.
– But the members of the A.L.P. claim that they oppose conscription.
– They do, and on the record, 1 do not think they are entitled to say that. They have endorsed the principle and made a Federal decision to that effect.
– In the defence of Australia.
– In the defence of Australia, definitely; but as Mr. Curtin pointed out when he moved a motion to make conscription a policy of the Australian Labour Party, the defence of Australia in his view depended upon the islands to the north of Australia. Therefore, at that time he supported conscription for overseas service as far as the Equator. That is the policy of the Australian Labour Party. Let us turn now to the question upon which we differ. That is the question whether the situation in Vietnam is sufficient to justify the compulsory sending of Australian citizens to war there. All kinds of reasons have been given for the situation in South Vietnam. As one who has made some study over the years of Communism and how it works, let me say that the situation there as it developed after the departure of the French is no different from the situation which Communism always develops in those circumstances. Its objective is always to turn imperialistic or colonial war into class war. The Communists did that in every country in Europe where they took power and they proceeded to do it in Vietnam because Ho Chi Minh is an orthodox Leninist. When the French went, he proceeded to try to turn the imperialist war into a class war. That is when the atrocities occurred of which the Minister for Works (Senator Gorton) gave evidence last night.
At the time, by the intervention of a number of other countries, an agreement was reached at Geneva to partition the country. A suggestion has been made that since that agreement, North Vietnam has been completely pure and innocent whereas South Vietnam has inevitably been doing the wrong thing, refusing to hold free elections and everything of that sort. The question arises: Who is at fault? We have had arguments from all kinds of people on one side or the other. Some say North Vietnam is at fault; some say South Vietnam. I suppose even the A.L.P. would have some respect for the views of the spokesman of the British Labour Party on these matters. Let me quote a statement by Mr. Michael Stewart. British Foreign Secretary and a member of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, on where he thinks the fault lies. He said -
Yet even that limited settlement could have been helpful to both North and South. For a time both parts continued to endeavour to put themselves in order and to make economic and social progress. Those possibilities remained open until, in 1959, there was a call by the Government of North Vietnam for an intensification of the Vietcong activities in the South and for full-scale guerrilla warfare against the Government of South Vietnam. Not only did the Northern’ Government call for that; they then proceeded to help it with more weapons and military advice, as was made clear by the majority report of the International Control Commission in 1962.
Faced with that situation, South Vietnam appealed to the United States for help, and the United Stales responded. But it is important to notice that in 1959, when this pressure from the North began, and even as late as 1961 - nearly two years later - there were still only 700 members of the U.S. Armed Forces in South Vietnam. I think it important to remind the House of this, because it cannot be claimed that the action taken by the North was the result of a considerable U.S. military presence in the South. The action from the North preceded the arrival of U.S. forces in any considerable degree in the South.
So the United States did not rush in. lt did not force itself in. It remained out for a long time. According to the British Foreign Secretary of the Labour Government, it came in only when such action was inevitable. I had that confirmed by an Australian officer of some repute in World War II whom I met about the time to which Mr. Stewart has referred and who had been on a visit to the Far East. He had interviewed President Ngo Dinh Diem. At that time guerrilla activity had begun and the officer asked Ngo Dinh Diem what he would do about it. The reply was: “ What can I do about it? They are coming into my country with assistance from the North and setting out to make organised government impossible. They go into the villages and threaten the head men, the teachers, postal officials and police - anybody associated with the Government - that if they obey the orders of the Government, they will be dealt with. If they are defied they call back and cut the throats of those who will not obey. Governmental organisation in those circumstances is becoming impossible.” Ngo Dinh Diem asked the Australian colonel: “ What would you do if they came over your borders and did that sort of thing?”. The Australian officer said to the President: “ We would retaliate.” Ngo Dinh Diem replied: “ But you must understand, Colonel, that there are two standards today so “far as my country is concerned. When the Communists come down and murder my people, outsiders say: ‘ Well, that is the normal way for Communist guerrillas to behave. What can you do about it?’ But when I suggest that we attack and retaliate, I have my instructions from the British and United States Ambassadors that I must not do that because it might endanger peace.”
There is the answer to the people who depict our ally, the United States of America, as a warmonger. The situation bluntly is this: The Americans stayed out of becoming involved in South Vietnam to a degree when the position became almost impossible to restore. Now that they have come in with strong forces I believe at last they are doing the right thing and I believe we have an obligation ourselves also to do something about it.
There are people who have said that this is just American imperialism and that we have been sucked in. They have asked: “ Where is there any feeling in Asia in favour of what is being done by the Americans?” 1 know that members of the Australian Labour Party have a high admiration for Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister of Singapore. Many of them have told me that he is a man of great ability and high principle. They admire him and regard him as being an authority on Asia. When Lee Kuan Yew addressed the Young Asian Socialist Conference at Bombay, in India, on 6th May 1965 he said -
We know that if the Communists are able to advance their frontiers to envelop South Vietnam it will only be a matter of time before the same process of emasculation by military and political techniques will overtake the neighbouring countries.
So he does not agree with the scorn that has been heaped on the domino theory from the other side. I repeat that he is an Asian whom they admire and regard as a great authority on affairs in that area. Lee Kuan Yew continued -
We have been unable to advance a more constructive alternative than to talk of unconditional negotiations, hoping that negotiations may lead to a neutral South Vietnam. However, we know this is hardly likely to bc the end result of negotiations. For what is required to keep the rest of South East Asia free from going through similar tribulations is not just a neutral South Vietnam, but also a non-Communist South Vietnam.
As democratic socialists we must insist that the South Vietnamese have the right not to be pressured through armed might and organised terror and finally overwhelmed by Communism.
That is what we are saying, too. I am amazed at the attitude that has been adopted by a number of people who have spoken on this particular issue and who have tended to suggest that there is no section of Asian opinion which believes that what is being done is justified.
In my view, what is happening is that the Communist Party has decided to convince the people of South Vietnam and other Asian areas that they will not be permitted to have peace and prosperity except under a Communist government. Today, when these countries are spoken of as have-not countries and floods of tears are being shed over the admittedly sad situation of these people from the point of view of food, shelter and education, millions of pounds which could be used to raise the standards of those people are being used to supply armaments purely because it is the definite and distinct policy of Communism, stemming from Peking, to prove to these people that unless they sacrifice their freedom they will never be allowed peace.
We have been told that we are not in any danger. My mind goes back 25 years to the time when the people next door to me were digging air raid shelters in their backyards. We seemed to be in danger then. To my way of thinking, .the world has not improved one iota since then. There have been improvements in communications and arms. Will anybody agree with Mr. Calwell when he states that any suggestion that we are under threat is just too ridiculous to contemplate? Even the members of Mr. Calwell’s own Party do not agree with him. Mr. Benson, a member of the Australian Labour Party in another place, said this on 25th March 1965- 1 believe the Minister for External Affairs (Mr.
Hasluck) was right when he said there is a challenge to Australia’s survival. Wc must accept the challenge and act while there is yet lime for survival. Only a fool can disregard the actions of China and Indonesia.
What does that mean? It means that there is not one defence and foreign policy for the official Opposition but two such policies. There are members of the Australian Labour Party who believe, as we do, that we face serious dangers which we must meet. Then there are those who, as justification for decrying any move in this country to promote its own security by standing firm with those whom we must have as allies if we are to survive, say that there is no danger at all.
As an illustration of the differences of opinion in the Labour Party and of my contention that there is not one policy on defence and foreign affairs but two policies, let me quote the following statement by
Mr. Beazley, (he honorable member for Fremantle, made on 23rd March 1965 -
The essential position of the United States in South Vietnam is quite simply this: Negotiation in the past produced the partition of Vietnam. The partition was supposed to be a final settlement. But if the motive of one party to the agreement was merely to make a Sinkiang-type base from which to continue a thrust for world power, the negotiations of 1954 were not a settlement; they were merely a phase in war. If we wish to avoid a nuclear holocaust it is no use asking people to bc unreal about negotiations that are intended to destroy them. As ] said, 1 am a passionate adherent of the “ Get out “ philosophy, but it does not go far enough.
I am in favour of the lot of them getting out -
I agree with him there. I agree that all forces, Communist and otherwise, should get out of the countries of Europe or elsewhere where they should not be. Mr. Beazley said, to repeat some of his words -
I am in favour of the lot of them getting out and allowing the people! of the occupied countries to determine their own fate. But I am not in favour of the kind of selective argument that demands that the West should permanently abandon positions because we are frightened and truckling to those who threaten, while we will not make a stand and ask for others to leave territories they ought not to be occupying. 1 am glad to be able to say that there is a substantial body of opinion within the Australian Labour Party which does not agree with the much publicised policies on the surface but which takes a stand that in my view is a stand for Australia’s security.
– They all will do what the Executive tells them to do.
– That remains to be seen. I am hoping. There was one lot of people in the Labour Party who did not do what they were told. Now we come to the question of voluntary recruitment. I listened to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in another place castigate the Government for the failure of voluntary recruitment. He asked the assembled ranks of the Government parties: “ What did you do to get volunteers?” I suppose I was very dissatisfied with the Government’s performance in encouraging recruitment, but I realise that this is a time of full employment and that it is difficult to get recruits. However, I was never wrapped up with the idea of spending .300,000 a year trying to get recruits on the basis that men should join the Army because it was not a bad job. That was the basis of the advertising. We will not get many people to sacrifice their freedom on the ground that a job with the Army is not a bad job when they can get better jobs outside with a lot more personal freedom. If the Government wanted to encourage recruitment, its leaders could have gone before the people and have said: “ A grave situation faces your country. We appeal to patriotic young men who want to serve their country to come forward and do so “. I believe they would have done better with that approach than by telling them that it was not a bad job. I contest the right of the Opposition to complain about the voluntary system not being a success when day after day and week after week, when volunteers were being sought, the Leader of the Opposition went before the people telling them that anybody who went from Australia to fight in Vietnam was going to a bottomless pit of blood, slime and filth. Does Senator Cavanagh who is interjecting agree with that statement? When the Australian Labour Party does all it can to discourage people from enlisting in a voluntary capacity by telling them that South Vietnam is a morass of blood, slime and filth, members of the Labour Party are not entitled to turn around and say, “ Why are you conscripting people? You should have got volunteers “ because they did their best to see that there were no volunteers and they have to accept therefore some of the responsibility for the introduction of conscription.
For about eight years my Party was the only party in the Australian Parliament to demand increased defence spending. When I became a senator in 1956 Australia was spending £200 million on defence. When the people of the country decided in 1962 that they would be better off without me, we were still spending £200 million on defence, although the value of money had greatly decreased and the danger to our country had greatly increased. At the 1961 election the Democratic Labour Party asked for the Australian defence spending to be doubled. The Leader of the Opposition in another place said at that time that the only point on which he agreed with the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, was on defence. The Leader of the Opposition said: “ If 1 become Prime Minister, I will spend the same amount on defence as the present Government is spending”. In effect, the proposals of the Australian Labour Party involved a reduction in defence spending because the policy of the A.L.P., as I heard it expressed in this House and elsewhere over the years that I was a senator on the first occasion, was this: A good deal of the £200 million should be spent not on weapons but on roads, bridges and .things of that sort. We were badly enough off in 1961 but we would have been a darn sight worse off if the A.L.P. had had its way and carried out its policy.
I do not want conscription. I do not like it. I am one who is certainly not going to give the Government a blank cheque - the Government has not suggested that it wants one, I must add, to be fair to it - in regard to this question of calling up people for service overseas. [ think that it is demanded of us that the situation should be examined all the time. We need to have regard to the needs of our own home defence and to other circumstances, too. But when we were not able to convince enough people that we should strengthen Australian defence - if we had been able to double the size of our regular forces we would have had enough soldiers to send to Vietnam without conscription - we had to meet the situation. The issue was: Should Australia take its stand in Vietnam with its allies or should it not? We answered “ Yes “ to that question. The question having arisen and having been answered, we found that through our fault volunteers were not available. We had no hesitation in saying that we would support the action of the Government. I regret the necessity for this action. I believe that everything should be done to achieve peace in Vietnam through negotiations. No side - I mean the democracies - has done more in recent months to achieve peace than our side. On every occasion we have suggested peace we have been knocked back with insult by Hanoi and Peking. In all those circumstances, there was no alternative. Because of that the Democratic Labour Party in its policy accepted the situation. We supported the increase through national service but, as I said before, we will keep a very careful eye on proposals for further increases if they are made. I note that the Prime Minister has said that there is no proposal to do this in the near future.
I think that the average Australian is going to accept the present situation provided proper measures are taken to enable him to understand it. There has been some talk about the result of gallup polls. I do not believe that these polls on every occasion reflect the views of the people. But as there has been so much talk about a majority being against the sending of national servicemen to Vietnam, we should notice also that there have been powerful majorities in favour of Australia assisting Vietnam and, indeed, powerful gallup poll majorities in favour of national service as such. So it appears that our people realise the need for strong defence. They are concerned about Vietnam and whether we have to help there.
I say that the Opposition is right when it suggests that many of our people, while they accept those two points of view, are a little confused because they have not been informed as they should have been informed by the leaders of the Government. I think that a great deal more could be done to put before the people of this country the reasons why we are in Vietnam. In any war, a government should begin with a statement of its war aims. I do not believe that the Australian people have had from the Government yet a clear statement of Australia’s aims in Vietnam. I hope, therefore, that measures will be taken at the earliest possible moment for the leader of our Government, the Prime Minister, or other persons in a position to do so, to go before the people on television and in other ways and state to them the reasons why we are in Vietnam and why Australia has to take this stand to hold up the southward drive of aggressive Communism.
There are some people in the community - I am the first to admit this - who on grounds of solid principle and also on conscientious grounds, oppose the sending of national servicemen to Vietnam. I respect their opinion. They are entitled to it and they are entitled to have a full opportunity to use the various methods of publicity and propaganda in the community to put their case. But I must say this: I suspect the bona fides of some of the more vociferous groups amongst these people. I have in my hand an advertisement which appeared in the “ Daily
Telegraph “ of 15th March 1966. It was inserted by the Save Our Sons Movement. It says that this organisation - . . offers legal aid to test the Government’s constitutional power to draft conscripts for overseas. Contact immediately Save Our Sons Legal Aid P.O. Box 247, Haymarket.
Unfortunately for this Movement, P.O. Box 247, Haymarket, Sydney, happens to be the address of the Australian Congress for Peace and Disarmament which not only Government leaders but also a number of other prominent Australian citizens not so long ago branded as an agency of the Communist Party.
– I thought that it was forgotten and had died now.
– Senator Cavanagh would like it to be forgotten. But I concede to the Save Our Sons Movement the right to put its case. I think it is essential always that people should know who is putting the case and the fact that this particular organisation uses the address of a Communist subsidiary must affect the attitude of the great bulk of the people to the bona fides of the cause it is putting.
There are other groups. I have in my hand material from a so-called students’ organisation in Melbourne which has been printed by Coronation Press. This is the press owned by the Communist Party in Melbourne. I freely admit that there are people in the community opposing the sending of national servicemen to Vietnam who are bona fide people. They are entitled to put their case. I respect their views. But I do not respect the most vociferous organisation which, when tracked down, can usually be found, as in this case, to have the address of a Communist organisation.
Why are we in Vietnam? In my view we are there because this is Australia’s front line. Mr. Curtin himself said, when introducing conscription, that the defence of Australia must depend on the islands north of this island. I agree with him. But as transport has become so much more rapid since he expressed that view I think we have to adopt the concept that our front line can be even further north than those islands. I have no doubt at all that those people who put forward what has been sneered at as the domino theory have very sound grounds for what they say. Let us look at these circumstances: Not only is action being taken at present in North Vietnam, but on 5th February 1965 Peking Radio announced the setting up of a National Liberation Front for Thailand. On 9th March 1966 Peking Radio announced that a mission of the Malay Liberation League had been established in Peking. So Peking and Hanoi are not in any doubt about the Domino theory. They are already at work on it. I agree that conscription can be a contentious issue.
Sitting suspended from 12.51 to 2.15 p.m.
– I conclude my remarks by saying that in my view all Australians regret that it is necessary for our troops to fight in Vietnam, but the vast majority of them realise that it is inevitable. I hope that the Government will do more to show Australians the reasons why we must play our part in Vietnam.
– We are debating the statement that was made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) on 8th March. It contained a comprehensive review of the state of the economy. It dealt with economic affairs, national development, immigration and, above all, Australia’s commitments in the field of foreign affairs - particularly in Vietnam - and Australia’s aid to less developed countries.
In the debate in this chamber and also in the debate in another place, the Opposition has chosen to discuss the Prime Minister’s statement almost exclusively on the matter of Australia’s conduct and participation in the struggle in Vietnam. The amendment put down by the Opposition says -
. the Senate records -
I invite the Opposition to be precise as to what it means by this amendment. I understand that I am to be followed in this debate by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna). I invite him to say whether his party, as such, supports or rejects the existing Australian commitment of military forces to Vietnam. Does the Labour Party want to withdraw our existing forces? After listening to the debate in this place and reading the “ Hansard “ record of the statements by honorable senators and honorable members of the House of Representatives, we are entitled to assume that it does. Does the Opposition propose that we should break with the United States, New Zealand and Korea which, along with us, are giving aid to the South Vietnamese forces and resisting the blatant Communist aggression that casts a shadow over the free world?
Does the Opposition suggest that we leave the forces that we have already committed to Vietnam unsupported or unreinforced? That is a fair question to ask. Quite frankly, it has been almost impossible to glean from the Opposition’s contribution to this debate just where it stands on this issue. I suggest that in this debate members of the Labour Party have engaged in brinksmanship. They have been walking the tightrope. They have attacked Australia’s participation in Vietnam, but they have lacked the intestinal fortitude to stand up ,and be counted on where they stand on this issue.
I invite honorable senators, and particularly members of the Opposition, to compare the statement of the Leader of the Opposition in another place (Mr. Calwell) to which Senator Sim referred last evening in his very informative speech, with the “ Hansard “ report of what the Leader of the Opposition said in the debate on the Prime Minister’s statement in another place. Such a comparison shows the inconsistent pattern which has been followed consistently by Opposition speakers in this debate. Senator Kennelly led for the Opposition. It is recorded in “ Hansard “ - I have the relevant “ Hansard “ report with me in case anybody has any doubt about this - that I deliberately, and perhaps in contravention of the Standing Orders, interrupted him. The purpose of the interruption was to try to ascertain from him just where the Opposition stands on Australia’s commitments to Vietnam. But he shied away from the question. Perhaps it is significant that he did so.
I suggest that the Labour Party is playing politics on an issue which is associated with our national security and which affects the ultimate freedom of the free world. It is not prepared to say - I invite Senator McKenna to say this - whether in fact it supports our existing commitment to Vietnam or whether, as Senator Cavanagh said by way of interjection yesterday^ it wants to pull our troops out. Mr. Uren has also suggested in another place that they should not be there. I believe that the people of Australia are entitled to know what view the alternative government holds on this great question.
So I say to the people who are interested in this matter: Have a good look at the “ Hansard “ report of this debate and have a good look at a party which is not prepared to go the full distance, which is prepared to knock and decry Australian participation in the fight against aggression, but which lacks the will to go into the witness box of Australian public opinion with an amendment in line with what its members have been saying in this debate. That is my first point of criticism of the Opposition’s contribution to the debate. This issue cannot be used merely as a debating point. It affects the security of Australia and of the free world. I suggest that this is not a question of winning political points in debate; it is a question of being prepared to stand fast en a matter of policy and to go out on to the highways and byways of Australia, making clear what the real issues are so that the electors can judge.
Mr. Calwell has suggested that there should be a referendum on this issue. I merely need to remind the Senate that in the last Senate election campaign the then Prime Minister made the Australian Government’s views on the commitment to Vietnam abundantly clear. In his fighting words of the election campaign, he proposed to have a national service training system through which trainees could, when properly trained, be used to assist in our commitments away from Australia. The Australian Labour Party has used a negative weapon in debates on foreign affairs, and in view of the sorry plight of their domestic affairs that is not surprising.
If Communism is not to be halted in Vietnam, where is it to be halted? Perhaps in Malaysia? But the same arguments used by the Opposition today against our continued participation in Vietnam were used when it became necessary for the countries of the free world to resist Communist aggression in Malaya and Malaysia. If we do not stand in Malaysia, where then do we stand?
Do we make a stand in New Guinea? Do we perhaps make a stand on Australian soil? The whole pattern of the debate in which the Opposition has moved an amendment is a pattern which suggests a policy of isolationism on behalf of the Opposition. It is a policy which suggests that aggression can be resisted but the resistance should wait until the aggressors are at the front door.
All the lessons of history and our experience of contemporary living convince us that such thinking is rank stupidity. If Australia and New Zealand were to withdraw their forces from South Vietnam, does the Opposition expect that the other allies, faced with a loss of support, would be disposed to come to Australia’s assistance if we were confronted? Is it to be a one way right in which we are to walk out on responsibility that we share jointly with other nations, and then wait for the day when we are committed ourselves? To those people in this chamber and in another place who take every opportunity to air their antiAmericanism I suggest that they would be leading the vanguard, waving the flag of another nation from whom they would seek support.
It is inconceivable that we should withdraw from Vietnam. We have commitments and responsiblities, not only for our own preservation but also for the preservation of a way of life which is consistent with the way of life of free people in a free world. If we were to abandon Vietnam today, leaving that country with no lasting and genuine solution for its people we would be deliberately denying our heritage. We would be ignoring the lessons of history and our own experience. As a classic example, we have had the lesson of the sad story of Berlin; we have had the experience of Korea, Cuba and Malaya. We do not have to look up history books to learn these lessons, because all of us who have reached adulthood have learned that wherever the free world has stood firm it has halted Communist aggression. It is very difficult to judge from the debate just where the Opposition stands in relation to the issue of Communist aggression.
For reasons which are known to all honorable senators I do not intend to speak at great length in this debate. I wish to refer to two matters that have been raised and J am very sorry to see that Senator
McClelland, who is concerned, in one of the matters, has left the chamber. I want to bring to his attention a matter about which I believe he should know my views. Senator O’Byrne suggested in his contribution to the debate that Australia’s participation in Vietnam could involve us in living in a hostile Asia. He suggested that the United States of America could in adversity in the campaign in Vietnam return to the Monroe Doctrine. It could put back the clock and return to a state of isolationism. As a consequence of this possibility, we in Australia - to quote Senator O’Byrne’s words - would have 1,000 million neighbours with whom we have had to deal and whose disrespect, to say the least, we had earned. Those words used by Senator O’Byrne are dangerous nonsense. He ignores our South East Asia Treaty Organisation and our obligations under the Security Treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the United States. The honorable senator ignores our mutual and honorable joint participation with the United States and New Zealand in Vietnam, and contemporary history which every Australian should never forget - a history of a magnificent all-out American war effort in the Pacific which with Australia’s participation saved Australia from 1942 to 1945.
Senator O’Byrne’s comments are wrong on all counts, because Asia in general is against the downward thrust of Communism. The names of Asian countries which are resisting this vicious and evil penetration could be rattled off. I refer, for example, to the reactions of the people in Malaysia, Laos, Thailand, Tibet and more recently in Indonesia. This is happening before our eyes and to suggest that we are to be isolated in Asia because of our principles in resisting Communism flies in the face of everything we know and everything we have been able to establish by the facts. Only a few days ago, South Korea doubled its fighting force to join American, Australian and New Zealand troops in Vietnam. For Senator O’Byrne to suggest that Australia, as part of Asia - and we are - is to be a nation isolated from Asia is not talking in terms of reality.
The Opposition has attempted to build an argument’ for Australia’s nonparticipation in Vietnam around the proposition that we are confronted with a civil war there, and because it is a civil war, there is no need for Australia to participate in it. The Leader of the Opposition in another place (Mr. Calwell) called it a cruet, unwinnable civil war. It is true that it is a cruel war, but what war is not cruel? It is also a brutal and barbaric war. But the Communists themselves in Hanoi and Peking have described it, not as a civil war, but as a war of liberation. What is happening in Vietnam is not a local rebellion which has occurred through internal discontent, but an application of the methods and doctrines of Communist guerrilla warfare which, we all know, have been practised in China and in North Vietnam. It is not a civil war. It is a war to destroy the separate existence of the people of South Vietnam, to impose upon them the Communist doctrine and to unify Vietnam under a philosophy which denies in every way freedom as we understand and appreciate it.
Senator McClelland made two points. I regret that he endeavoured to point an argument by referring to the Kranji cemetery on the island of Singapore. There are many of us in this chamber who are conscious, perhaps more than other people, of the fact that a great number of brave men, some named and some known only to God, remained in Singapore. I say to the honorable senator with deliberation: Never point an argument by bringing into the field of controversy those who remain there. I could say more, but I shall let it go at that. This is not the way in which to debate such a subject.
Senator McClelland went on to suggest that we should bring the warring parties to the conference table. I believe those were the words he used. I do not think that I need remind the Senate of the things that have been done by the free world and by the United States of America to bring the Vietcong to the conference table. Senator McClelland would know this as well as anybody else in the chamber. It has been documented.
– Everybody should know it.
– Yes. But because it was a debating point we will answer it. 1 do not think that I need remind the Senate of the fact that the British Foreign Minister as co-chairman of the Geneva Conference, made an unsuccessful attempt to bring the members of the conference together. The Soviet Foreign Minister refused to cooperate. The British Foreign Minister, acting on his own, approached the other powers. There was no response from the Communist side. As we all know, the mission of Mr. Gordon Walker was rebuffed. The 1 7 non-aligned nations made an appeal, which was described by the enemy as a manoeuvre. The Commonwealth Prime Ministers »set up a mission, but it was not received. In an attempt to find some hope for the Commonwealth mission, Mr. Davies, who was a junior Minister in the .United Kingdom Government and who had personal links with Hanoi, attempted to explore the .grounds with a view to calling a conference. He was not even heard. The Secretary-General of the United Nations - and we hear so much about the United Nations from our friends on the Opposition side - made an attempt to get the parties together. The President of India also made an attempt to get them together. African leaders, President Tito and President Nasser all made similar overtures. They also failed. The fact is that the Vietcong do not want to come to the conference table.
There is no need for me to remind the Senate that the United States ceased bombing in an attempt to get a peaceful solution to this situation. What was the military effect of the cessation of bombing? This is the point that we must remember. The United States Government knew that militarily the cessation would operate against its own forces and against the South Vietnamese, Australian and New Zealand forces. The cessation of bombing gave the Vietcong a breathing space in which to recover from what the United States had done in the past. This course was taken, against the military position, in an attempt to call a conference and find a solution to this problem. I am appalled when I hear people in this Parliament and in other places blackguarding, as it were, the United States for its contribution in Vietnam. This great power of the world is making a contribution, not for territorial or other gains, but for the peace of the world and the security of the free world. It is doing so at the risk of the lives of its own fighting forces who, after this attempt at achieving peace had failed, had to go back again.
We still have to contend with the political argument, which is used for reasons which I can imagine that the contributions and the motives of our allies and ourselves are suspect. Frankly, 1 do not understand it. We all hate war. Some of us have reason to hate it more than others. But, thank God, we have a little bit of stomach and we are game enough to stand up and say that if we can make a contribution which will preserve peace, the rights of innocent people and our own security, we are going to make it. It is as simple as that. If we have to defend Australia, we will defend it as far away from Australia as we can. These are the issues that are involved.
I invite the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) to say whether he supports Australia’s participation in Vietnam, or alternatively, whether he wants us to withdraw our forces. Further, does he suggest that we should leave our forces there unsupported and not reinforced? These are big issues. They are issues on which every Australian has to make up his own mind. Do we in Australia carry on in the tradition of our short history, or are we going to wilt and become an inconsequential, colorless and weak nation? We are up against forces of evil which would regard Australia as a rich prize. We have had to fight for Australia before and we may have to fight for it again. If we can make firm allies and good friends in the process, it is reasonable, logical and sensible that we do so.
I reject the Opposition’s proposed amendment and I support to the absolute limit the policies of the Australian Government. For so long as I remain here, I hope to be able to raise my voice in opposition to the voice of weakness which has been allowed to make itself heard in this debate. There is much more that I would like to say, but it would all be on the same theme - the theme of willingness to co-operate with our allies, preparedness to recognise the risks involved in such co-operation, and preparedness to see to it that, as far as is practicable, this country of some 1 1 million people will make a worthy contribution, however modest, to the preservation of the free world.
– I have listened to most of this debate during the past few days and 1 must confess that, despite strongly held convictions of diverse types, there has been a very high degree of objectivity in the debate. I think it is good for the prestige of the Senate that one should be able to make a comment of that kind.
The Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson) displayed himself in very curious mood. He asked a great many questions of the Opposition. I propose to answer them. Those that I do not dispose of in the course of my general comments I shall certainly answer specifically before 1 resume my seat. I would have thought that the Minister would have been better occupied in addressing himself to the confusion which exists in the minds of the Australian people regarding the issues connected with the proceedings in Vietnam. I had heard even honorable senators on the Government side make a plea for clarification, and I hoped that we might have from the Minister, speaking late in the debate, some response to that plea. However, it has not been forthcoming. I indicate at once that I support the Opposition’s proposed amendment, particularly the first item, which invites the Senate to record its most emphatic opposition to the despatch of conscripted youths for service in Vietnam and to our increased military commitment in that country. I shall give reasons for my support of that proposition before I conclude.
Before proceeding to debate that mailer, however, I want to touch very briefly and rapidly upon one or two other matters. I rather resent the attempt which has been made to present the Holt Government as an entirely new Government - the attempt to, as it were, dissociate it from all that happened in the past. In fact, it is the same Government with only two changes, although certainly they are two important changes. The Government lost two of its greatest stalwarts in the former Prime Minister and the late Minister for Defence. I felt it was not even sporting to adopt the attitude that was adopted in this instance, because all that happened in the past was supported by those who constitute the Ministry today. The very first act of the new Government was, in effect, to repudiate the old Government and to dishonour itself. I refer to what was done in relation to the referendum proposals. These proposals, as we know, went through the Parliament, supported by huge majorities, at the end of last year. We were expecting, in view of what we were told by the Government, that a referendum would be held at the end of May this year.
– This is a case where the numbers were not so significant.
– That is true. It is also a case where the courage of the Government was not so significant. Indeed, it could not even be discerned. I think there was a great deal of cowardice on the part of the Government. Let me point out - I have had a check made to verify what I now say - that only two of the present Ministers did not vote in favour of the referendum proposals, and those two were not present in the Parliament on the day the vote was taken. They were Mr. Opperman and Mr. J. M. Fraser. At that time Mr. Fraser was not a member of the Ministry. So one may almost say that every member of the present Ministry recorded his vole in favour of the two referendum proposals and very shortly afterwards ran right away from them.
The reasons given were that the new Government had many other matters on hand and that there was no urgency about the referendum. The Government deferred the referendum, if you please, not until the next election, which normally would take place about the end of the ‘year, but to some indefinite date after that. It will incur two lots of costs in consulting the people of Australia. Let me say that if any government defers a matter of this kind until it has no other matters on hand, we shall never have the referendum at all.
– The Government has not been able to tell me even now what is the cost.
– I would think the cost would be not less than £500,000. That figure would be close to the mark.
– Up to date?
– That would be the cost of holding a referendum dissociated from an election. I was not addressing my mind to the cost to date of the abortive proceedings. I make the point that the Government has shown complete contempt for the Parliament. The two relevant bills were put through the Parliament with massive majorities, indicating that it was the wish of the Parliament that a referendum be held. The Executive has by-passed that clear decision of the Parliament. This is a tragic repetition of the dithering that has marked this Government and its predecessors for the past 16 years. The Government had held the recommendation of the Constitutional Review Committee relating to these matters since 1958. The recommendations were adopted in 1965 and abandoned early in 1966.
The prestige of the Opposition was involved in these referendum proposals. We supported them. It would not have been a matter of the Government carrying the whole of the odium of presenting proposals which might not have been accepted. The Opposition had committed itself fully and completely to them. It had pledged its own prestige along with that of the Government. So the Government is weak and cowardly. Although the Opposition was bracketed with it and accepted the fullest responsibility in the matter, the Government ran away because of a few seemingly unfavourable results of gallup polls taken at a time when the case for the referendum proposals had not been put to the people of Australia. I recall that when we went to the people in 1951 on the occasion of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill referendum there were I suppose, only 20 per cent, of the people favouring a “ no “ vote. Dr. Evatt and others of us who were associated with him were not dismayed by that. We went out into the electorate, we campaigned for our case and in due course we won the campaign against the referendum. We were not deterred by the fact that 80 per cent, of the people appeared, according to the gallup polls, to be in favour of the proposal. But for that courage, but for the effort that was made by the Labour Party on that occasion, we would have had the shame of living in a police state in this country today. With that example before it, why should the Government be dismayed or afraid, particularly when it has its political opposition bracketed with it?
The other matters to which I wish to make brief reference are the visits we had from the United Kingdom Minister for Defence, Mr. Healey, the Vice-President of the United States, Mr. Humphrey, and the Prime Minister of Thailand. They were all important visits. The White Paper from the
United Kingdom shows that Britain intends, if possible, to preserve a presence in the South East Asia area. That is good; it is important to us. lt is good in many ways, including the fact that the United Kingdom, by its presence here, can continue to exert its mature influence upon the policy of its allies in this area - ourselves, the New Zealanders and the Americans. That element of maturity is helpful in an outlook upon world problems, particularly when the United Kingdom is not immediately further caught up in the area. The United Kingdom indicates a desire to retire from the area with honour and gracefully, as circumstances permit. It draws attention to the fact that it may be obliged to leave its bases in Malaysia and Singapore, a nd if that occurs it will be looking to us to provide facilities to accommodate what forces it wants to have here. The Government has decided to have a Service investigation to prepare for that eventuality. It is wise that such an inquiry should be made.
The question of bases and the location of troops of that kind on our soil are matters that will be dealt with by us when they arise. We have already determined our attitude to foreign bases on our soil. The United Kingdom docs not ask for bases for itself. It does not suggest that they should be taken out of our hands, lt asks us to provide the facilities and to indicate the terms, lt has indicated three conditions: first, Britain must not undertake major operations of war except in co-operation with allies; secondly, it will not accept an obligation to provide any country with military assistance unless it is prepared to provide that country with facilities needed to make such assistance effective; and finally, there must be no attempt to maintain defence facilities in an independent country against its wishes. All of these are proper conditions. Those who arc interested will find set out in our official publications our own outlook upon bases in this country utilised by other troops. I do not take time to go through them now but I uphold every one of them: the preservation of Australian sovereignty; the control by Australia of its own citizens; the application of Australian law; and no action by those who are using our bases that could be construed as an act involving Australia in war, without consultation with and approval by Australia. Matters of that nature are the considerations that we very properly had in mind. I was privileged to hear the Vice-President of the United States speak at the luncheon given by the Government in Canberra. His address was very inspiring and informative.
I come now directly to the question of the increased contribution in Vietnam announced by the Government on 8th March in the report to the nation by the Prime Minister. The decision to treble our forces came as a complete surprise in the light of the events that had preceded it. The commitment of conscripts to those forces in Vietnam came as a shock. It was not altogether unexpected but it did come as a shock. We were lulled into a sense of relative peace and security by some statements that had enamated from the Government not long before. I refer to the speech made by the Minister of External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck) on 29th January of this year. He was speaking to the Zionist Federation of Australia. In the course of his remarks he said -
At the present time we in Australia have no immediate threat. There may be a long term threat but no immediate threat that our sovereign independence will be overthrown.
In other words, the sky above Australia was relatively clear on 29th January 1966. We were supported in the thought that such was the case by the speech to which I have already referred, made by the VicePresident of the United States on 19th February, only three weeks later. Let me cite this paragraph, in which he said -
So the United States and others - our good friends here in Australia - stand shoulder to shoulder, not because there is an immediate threat to Australia, not because of an immediate threat to the United States.
I ask the Senate to notice the next sentence particularly -
In our lifetime we could maybe forget this and be buried in the knowledge that nothing had hit us as yet, but men in public life have a greater obligation than to think about the immediate. You must take a look at the future.
In justice to him, I go on with the next paragraph -
If there is any lesson in history that should have been drilled into the minds of contemporaries it is this, that you can never let the aggressor have his way. If he has his way. then there is no way for free people except the way of despair and destruction.
That puts in proper perspective the matter upon which I am focussing. But there is no dodging the fact that he was laying down the proposition that in the lifetime of those who were listening to him - they were men of all ages, some 200 of them, I should think - there was no danger to us from this source, and that we were committed together at the time when he spoke.
The Australian people, hearing those two statements - from one of the chiefs of our great ally and from our Minister for External Affairs - would have a sense of reasonable happiness and security as to their future. Then on 8th March the Prime Minister delivered a speech which altered the whole outlook - ran right across it. Talking of the prospects in Vietnam, he said -
This is no civil war. . . .
I shall come back to that proposition -
It is the principal present manifestation of the expansionist activities of Communist China. These activities are channelled through and directed from Hanoi. All the countries in Sooth East Asia are facing the threat of Communist China’s expansion in one form or another.
Following that, we have heard from Government senators and other Government speakers in this Parliament that if Vietnam falls the Chinese will take over the next country - Laos - and then Cambodia, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore and presently Australia. We are all on the list - all to be at the mercy of Chinese expansionism. With that clarion note the Prime Minister announced that we were to treble the forces that were already committed in Vietnam. This involves not only a great addition to the forces but also a great addition to the maintenance of them there. It means the preparation of forces in reserve, the continuous changing and keeping up of reinforcements and replacements. Above all, those of the 20 year olds who are conscripted for service are to serve in that area. That was a dramatic change from the tone of the Minister for External Affairs and the statement by the Vice-President of the United States. Let me in turn pass on a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty) who will follow me and ask him what prompted this dramatic change, particularly as the VicePresident of the United States said he did not ask for additional forces in Vietnam. He left it entirely for the Australian Government to do what it thought fit.
One would expect more about the threat of Chinese expansionism at the meeting in Honolulu between the South Vietnamese and the President of the United States of America. We have the relevant documents before us in the volume entitled “ Select Documents on International Affairs No. 7 - Vietnam “. One will find at page 101 and the pages that follow, first a speech by Air Vice-Marshal Ky, Premier of South Vietnam, and then a declaration and a joint communique by Air Vice-Marshal Ky and the President of the United States as to the position of America. One will look in vain at the separate statements made on behalf of the Government of South Vietnam and on behalf of the United States Government and at the joint communique to find one word about the Chinese, their expansionism or their activities. There is not one word from the people immediately involved - the South Vietnamese and the Americans. I invite honorable senators to read through the documents. They will find references to aggression and to the claim that America is in Vietnam to prevent aggression, but there is a most careful abstention from talking about Chinese aggression. I was struck by the same phenomenon in the speech by the Minister for Works (Senator Gorton) yesterday. He, too, carefully avoided talking about Chinese aggression or expansionism and confined his remarks entirely to aggression generally.
– Not entirely. That is not fair.
– I want to be fair. Let me put it another way. The Minister for Works did not direct his attack, as the Prime Minister did, at Chinese expansionism or the threat from China. All his remarks were directed to the activities by North Vietnam against South Vietnam. He was very careful to avoid following the line taken by the Prime Minister.
– He mentioned Tibet and India and aggressive activities in Europe.
– That is very true but I am speaking of Chinese activity in relation to Vietnam. That is the subject of my talk now and that is why I am referring to what was said by the Prime Minister of Vietnam and the President of the U.S.A. I am concentrating on that one field at the moment, lt behoves the Government to say something upon that particular point. A great deal depends upon it, for the people of Australia should know the immediacy of the threat to Australia. They should know from what quarter it. comes and when it might be expected. On this point we have heard nothing from the Government that is clear and explicit. You cannot expect the people of Australia to respond to a threat which is so indefinite or ill explained and which is accompanied by other circumstances such as this.
But if, as the Prime Minister has said, China is the sole villain in the piece, why do we trade with her? The people of Australia must understand that. Trade must help, support and strengthen. The people of Australia must have been shocked to learn in the past few days that people who were our allies - the nationals of Great Britain, Switzerland, Germany and italy - have combined, apparently under the authority of their Governments, to provide steel mills for Communist China. The total cost is to be $135 million. The West German Government has guaranteed for five years $72 million credit to German companies for the plant. The companies are to put up the plant and the Government is to guarantee them five years’ credit. Lt supports what they are doing in China. Great Britain is one of the consortium of governments and companies to provide the plant. French, British, Italian and Swiss firms will share in the building, lt is not known whether governments other than that of West Germany have guaranteed their nationals against loss in providing these things. Mr. Dean Rusk, the Secretary of State for the United States, was asked about it and among other things he said this -
Wc are concerned about anything that would add to the strength of Peking until there is some indication of a change in its policy. So 1 hope our friends in Europe will keep this matter under view and before they get into a situation where they are producing 2 million tons more steel for Peking they will give more thought to the problems of peace.
I point to that as another factor in the situation that adds to the confusion and needs explaining. If the Prime Minister is right as to where the threat is and if it is urgent, why are we trading with China?
Why do our allies and friends in the European sphere ignore the building up of China in this most vital way?
Coming back to Vietnam itself, we. find that we and the Americans are supporting governments that are non-elected and of most temporary tenure of office. The very government whose representative spoke at Honolulu only a few weks ago, early in February, is already about to topple, according to the cables we are reading today. The increase in our forces in Vietnam which are to be trebled has been decided upon a.t the request of a government that would appear now to be about to topple. This is the ninth or tenth Government in South Vietnam recently. The people of Australia are conscious of what goes on in Vietnam. They are conscious of the deficiencies in that country and in its government. As evidence of what is going on I quote from the document on Vietnam at pages 101. and 102, from the speech of Air Vice-Marshal Ky at Honolulu on 7th February. I shall take a minute or two to read this because it is very significant. He said -
We have had to fight external aggression from a base weakened by corruption, disappointment and mismanagement.
That is the record in South Vietnam. He continued -
South Vietnam was fighting for her land and for the lives of her people with men who were ready to give up their land if only they could save their lives. We were dying for a cause but wc saw little evidence that that cause was worth laying down our lives for.
Wc were deluding ourselves wilh the idea that our weaknesses could not be remedied while we were fighting a war. We said that once the aggressor was driven from our land we would turn to our political and social defects.
It has taken this country a long time lo realise that we will not completely drive out the aggressor until we make a start at eliminating these political and social defects. We must be indestructible, not vulnerable.
For we do feel, and we think that recent events have shown, that we can only deal with the Communists when we have an indestructible position - a position in which all the major weaknesses have been eliminated. And our position in Vietnam I admit freely, still has many weaknesses.
He said further -
The recent history of Vietnam is one in which, for almost one hundred years, the lot of the individual citizen was not considered to be very important. This has led to resignation for some, to resolution for others. This situation is no doubt at the roots of many of our problems today. It is certainly the condition in which Communism, whether in North Vietnam, or in China, or Soviet Russia, was able to gain power.
Certainly we need an atmosphere of peace to bring about a solution to all these social and political problems.
He said also -
For us to go in a weakened condition to the peace table with the Communists would be courting suicide and would endanger the survival of the people of South Vietnam and of all of South East Asia. It would negate the meaning of the sacrifice? made by the valiant combatants of the Free World who have given their lives on our soil.
Then he pointed out what needs to be done - to have properly elected democratic governments, to let the people have a say, to give them land reform, social services and health services, and to cure poverty, ignorance and disease. He realises, as appears in the communique, that these things must be done before they will ever win out in Vietnam. la other words, they have come back to the stand that we took on this matter at the very outset - that there is no military solution alone to the problem in Vietnam. We have said from the very outset that side by side with that there had to be political, economic and social reform of the kind that I have mentioned. That has been our attitude from the beginning.
– Everybody believes that.
– - They did not believe that at the time. The Minister for External Affairs did not say that at the time. We had to press that point of view. It is only now that Air Vice-Marshal Ky acknowledges that. It is only now that others are realising it.
– Oh, no.
– That is quite true. That appears quite plainly in the documents that are available. If anybody cares to look at the purposes of the Government of Vietnam as set out at page 106 of the document from which I have been- quoting, he will read of all the weaknesses that need to be cured. The powers that be in Vietnam have taken too long to get on with these things. That is plainly and clearly acknowledged in this document.
The next matter that I want to refer to and which the people of Australia are taking into account is whether or not there is civil war in South Vietnam. I shall go back to the utterances of the Prime Minister of South Vietnam on 7th February and, above all, to the communique that was issued after his meeting with President Johnson. This passage appears in the communique -
To those future citizens of a free, democratic South Vietnam now fighting with the Vietcong, we take this occasion to say come and join in this national revolutionary adventure.
Air Vice-Marshal Ky was speaking there of the reforms that are now in contemplation. He continued -
Come safely to join us through the “ open arms “ programme. Stop killing your brothers, sisters, their elders and their children. Come and work through constitutional democracy to build together that life of dignity, freedom and peace those in the north would deny the people of Vietnam.
What is that but civil war, whether those concerned are North Vietnamese who have come down to fight in South Vietnam or are South Vietnamese who are opposed to the existing regime in their own country? They are all brothers and sisters. They are all Vietnamese. They are all people of the one race. As to whether this is civil war, let me quote the following statement which was made on 7th February by Air ViceMarshal Ky and which appears at page 104 of the document issued by the Department of External Affairs -
The Vietcong themselves are rallying to our cause in increasing numbers. Our Chieu Hoi program, the “ open arms “ program, is working. As more and more members of the Vietcong become disenchanted with the promises of their leaders, they are coming over to us. The recent joint American and Vietnamese campaign during our Lunar New Year to convince the Vietcong to come back home was a success.
There are all the elements of civil war, if ever I saw any. Those words came from the lips of the Prime Minister of the Republic of South Vietnam. Unquestionably it is primarily that kind of war, and unquestionably it will be resolved by the people of Vietnam themselves. Sooner or later there will be democratic elections and sooner or later there will be a determination as to whether the Communist or the anti-Communist outlook in South Vietnam is to prevail.
– Does the honorable senator mean free elections in North Vietnam and South Vietnam?
– I mean free elections in the north and the south, separately or jointly, as was intended.
– In North Vietnam and South Vietnam?
– That is so. They were provided for in the Geneva Agreement.
– Does the honorable senator believe in that?
– I do believe in that type of thing. I am not pretending that it will be easy to achieve that result, but until an effort is made to have free elections there will be no resolution of the trouble in Vietnam. There will be fighting, turmoil and civil war until there are free elections and the people express their will.
– How can you hold free elections in those circumstances?
– r concede that it is not easy. I am not pretending that the answer as to how you go about that immediately is easy.
– That is the question.
– I concede readily that great efforts have been made by the Americans to get peace and to get those concerned to the conference table. Quite frankly, my own suggestion is this: Australia should have done as was contended by the Labour Party in the beginning. Instead of committing troops, we should have said that we would work in the interests of the other side of the picture and help in the political, economic and social development of the country while the Vietcong were being held. We should have gone in without having committed ourselves to shooting Asians and fighting them, remembering that we would still have to live in this area after the war was over and the Americans had gone. We must remember that we are part of Asia and that our performance will be remembered and held against us. If we had gone in there on a mission of mercy, with the understanding of our great ally America - that could have been arranged if we had been so minded - this war would not have escalated. It would have begun to ease out and we might have been the one force in all Asia that could have brought the Vietcong and the South Vietnamese together.
– What would be our position if America adopted that attitude toward us when we were under threat? What would be our position if the Americans said that they would not help us but would give us only the sort of spiritual aid that tha honorable senator is talking about?
– It so happens that the two cases are quite different. We are not in need of political, economic or social help. We are not in the kind of difficulty that Vietnam is in. That situation simply does not arise. The two situations are not comparable. The one thing for which we could look to America would be physical aid against aggression. I have no doubt that that would be readily forthcoming. The Vietnamese have two problems. They have to fight aggression and at the same time to win over the Vietcong, who are members of their own community, and their own people through political, social and economic advancement.
– How will they fight aggression without help?
– I do not suggest that they can. I have said repeatedly in this place that, valuable as any Australian unit would be, it has no significance in relation to the proportions that are waging war there. Not even the trebling of our force will be a significant factor in determining the difference between defeat and victory. It will not be a significant factor that will do that.
It is important to America that it should be able to say that other people in the free world are standing with it in Vietnam. It is possible for countries to do that honorably and effectively without shouldering arms. America is a mighty power. It is a tolerant power. I have paid it tribute repeatedly from my place in the Senate. I do not think the Senate will forget that, for. I have expressed the gratitude that we feel and should feel to America for what it has done for us, and for the part that it is playing in world affairs in money and men. It is a magnificent contribution. We of the Australian Labour Party have no shred of anti-Americanism in us. We are grateful to America and we recognise what it is doing. We honour our commitments to America under the A.N.Z.U.S. pact. We appreciate that.
I will answer at once the questions that were asked of me by the Minister for Customs and Excise. He asked whether we now supported or rejected those who are already committed from Australia in Vietnam; whether we would have them recalled; and whether we would honour the treaties that were made? I say instantly that we honour the treaties to which Australia is committed and that have been made, whether we entered into them or not. While they stand, they will be honoured by us in government or in opposition. I was asked whether we support or reject those who have already been committed to Australia’s defence. We did not favour their going overseas. We said so. At the same time I remind honorable senators that the Leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Mr. Calwell, said that when they were in Vietnam they would be supported to the hilt by every member of the Australian Labour Party in every possible way. He made that completely plain.
– Your leader said: “ Whilst they were there.” Is it his policy to withdraw them? That is the point.
– No. We have never suggested any such thing. We would not have sent these men to Vietnam. We believe Australia should have played an entirely different role there. We believe the diplomatic role would have been infinitely better. 1 spoke in this place twice on this matter, in March and May of last year. Refreshing my mind on what I said, I find I remarked in May that America had lifted its force to 3,500. That was the only armed force America had there. But I was worried about that situation. The Americans had put those men there to defend their air bases and so on. Today America has 220,000 men in South Vietnam and the South Vietnamese army totals 300,000 personnel. North Vietnam is being bombed. All the escalation of the war that we feared has taken place. It is as simple as the relations between individuals. One develops hostility to the other. The other reacts with hostility. This is mct with further hostility. Event follows event with rising crescendo till in this situation - and this is our great fear - it can finish only in the cataclysm of world war and nuclear war. It is like individuals bumping and pushing until the situation gets out of hand.
The position is made worse in South Vietnam because of the events of the last few days. We. see China and Russia in conflict. Apparently Russia has circulated to Communist countries a letter indicating all that it has done for, and the colossal help that it has given to, North Vietnam and the Vietcong. Competition is about to be set up between China and Russia as to who is doing a better job for Communism. This is the new field of dangerous activity that is now taking place before our eyes. The fact that China and Russia are at variance is no consolation. It might even be the greatest of all dangers to spur both countries on to give greater aid and to greater activity that will result in reaction from the American side and our side in the form of increased bombing. The flashpoint that will lead to nuclear war and world war, about which I spoke a year ago from this place, is very much nearer now than it was when I first mentioned it.
It is not an easy situation. It is a difficult situation. But surely we can face objectively the fact that hostility will be met with hostility. This will grow and grow until it erupts into something enormous.
– Having tried negotiations for peace, which we all want, what else can we do? If we accept what the honorable senator says as being true - and I think escalation is - do we say that we cannot afford this, so we stop and let them come on? What does the honorable senator think is the answer?
– The only answer is to keep trying. At least that is the view that I put and I am putting it at the moment as a personal view. The real trouble is between the people in Hanoi, the North Vietnamese, and the South Vietnamese. They have caused this trouble by stirring up the Liberation Front and by pouring their troops into the South and assisting them in their activities down there. 1 think what has to be tried for is a round table conference between the South Vietnamese, the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong. Let that be tried. Let these parties acknowledge that here is a stalemate; that victory is no good; that defeat is no good; and neither seems attainable. Let both sides acknowledge stalemate and get around a table to discuss the situation. As Air-Vice Marshal Ky said, it is no use having conferences while his country has dreadful weaknesses. South Vietnam has no democracy and no proper social conditions. Air Vice-Marshal Ky said also that he has nothing really to attract his people back from the Vietcong into his Held until he can establish these things. So I say to the honorable senator with all the earnestness that I can that the first step is to do what Ky has said is needed and rectify these fundamental human weaknesses. Cure these injustices. We ought to be helping in that field rather than pulling triggers and helping the war to escalate. That is the view we take of the matter. But let me pass on from that point.
We are told that we are not at war. Again, the people do not understand this. They find it very hard to understand when our soldiers are in Vietnam, dying and being wounded, and when our force in that country is to be trebled and we will have bigger numbers in both categories. But we are continuing to trade with the alleged enemy. We are supporting governments that are acknowledged to be corrupt and inefficient. We are supporting governments that have not provided proper facilities for their people in all the normal fields. We are told that we are not even at war. One can understand the tremendous confusion and worry in the minds of the Australian people in these circumstances.
Let me pass now to the last phase of my speech. 1 am sorry if I am taking too much time. I refer briefly to the fact that we are sending our men, our national servicemen - our conscripts - to Vietnam. I resist the efforts made by Government senators to outlaw the words “ conscripts “ and “ conscription “. No words describe the situation better, more clearly and more perfectly. The words are used by senators on this side for that reason and entirely without offence to the personnel involved. I reject any sense of denigration of the people to whom I refer when I use the word “ conscript “.
– The deliberateness with which the honorable senator uses the word could have no other intent. It has all the odium which attached to the conscription issue in 1917.
– I invite the honorable senator to pick up any newspaper which is dealing with this matter and he will see the heading: “ Conscripts for Vietnam “. The newspapers use the word.
– i know that.
– It is a most common word. We of the Opposition - and I in particular - are not going to be pre vented from using that word by the efforts of Government senators to prevent its use. I just want to make that completely plain. I will use that word.
– You do not say “ conscripted unionism “. You say “ compulsory unionism “.
– I do not mind compulsory service, but it is very difficult to speak of the people concerned as compulsory servants. We all know exactly what the word “ conscript “ means. I know what I mean when I say it and I propose to keep on saying it, with the meaning I attach to it. Let me now pass on. Young men in one age group are selected from the whole population of Australia, on the basis of their birthdays and then by means of a ballot. They are selected to go to war in Vietnam. It is a most difficult war, with the enemy hard to identify. The fighting is in jungles. It is difficult, and great physical fitness and great courage are required. These young fellows of 20 are being selected. The Government was most solicitous at this time last year to make sure that they would be allowed to drink intoxicating liquor. When the Government put through an amendment to the Defence Act, it made special provision to enable these men to take intoxicating liquor.
At that time I pointed out that a greater and more distinguishing badge of adulthood might be given to them - the right to vote. I made a particular and special plea on that occasion that that be done, but nothing has been done in the matter. Apparently these young men, who will be taken out of their employment, whose careers will be interrupted and who will be trained and sent to this unfortunate war in Vietnam are not to be treated as full adults. They can be kept in service for five years or even longer if there is a war or an emergency. The reasons why not enough people are volunteering are that the Government’s recruiting efforts have not been good enough and that the inducements to men to volunteer - the terms and conditions offered - are not good enough. The people of Australia just cannot understand why these boys, whose careers will be interrupted and who are not to be treated as adults in a vital particular, are the only ones who are to make a contribution to the future security of Australia. For the rest of us, it is business and pleasure as usual. We are not at war, but they have to sacrifice their time and offer their bodies.
– It was the same in Korea and Malaya, was it not? We sent troops there.
– But they were not conscripts.
– They certainly were not. If the Government’s case is a proper one, it should make that case perfectly clear to the people and justify it. The justification for what is being done has never been put forward adequately by the Government. We were asked to state our position plainly, and 1 have done that here this afternoon. I have explained what we think should have been clone and what we think is the way to end the fighting. I have answered the questions Senator Anderson asked me. To conclude my speech, I draw attention to the reaction, as reported last night in the Press, of a woman whose husband, a warrant officer, was killed in Vietnam.
– That is typical. He was a volunteer and was in the Permanent Army. Volunteers are the people the Opposition wants to send - the only people it wants to send.
– Of course he was a volunteer.
– The Opposition is not concerned with volunteers.
– The Government wants to add conscripts to the volunteers. But let me tell honorable senators of the reaction of the widow of a man who was sent to Vietnam and killed there. She said -
When it is all over nothing will have been achieved.
I am not saying whether she is right or wrong, but that was her reaction. She said also - ] would like to think that his death had achieved something, but 1 know in my heart that it has not. Knowing that he died in a war that nobody seems to know anything about does not help mc and it does not help the children.
That is not an unexpected reaction in the situation in which the Government has left the country with regard to this war. The Government certainly has not convinced the
Opposition that what it has done is desirable or right, or that it will end right. It has not convinced us that what it is doing is not adding fuel to the flames and will not lead to a much wider and much more dangerous war. We want the Government to review the whole position. We do not favour sending greater numbers of troops to Vietnam; nor do we favour the sending of conscripts with them.
– The opportunity is given me now to wind up what I believe has been a very comprehensive and intensely interesting debate on a very great national issue. But before I deal with the great national issue which is exercising all our minds I would like to make one short comment on the point raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) with regard to the referendum. I want to correct what he said. The referendum has not been abandoned. The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) made it perfectly clear that the referendum will be held early in the life of the new Parliament. 1 was sorry that Senator McKenna used the word “ cowardly “. He said this was a cowardly Government which ran away from the referendum and then he contrasted the Opposition with the Government and praised the Opposition for its bravery in the matter of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill.
I will take a minute or two to recount to the Senate the events in 1949-50, when we were in the minority in this House. The Opposition then had here some squatters, left over from the previous election. As I have said, the Government had a minority in this House, but eventually it introduced the Communist Party Dissolution Bill. This was strongly opposed by members of the Opposition for months, using every device available to them. I remember seeing some honorable senators on the opposite side of the chamber with perspiration pouring down their cheeks, because they had been told that they had to speak for an hour. Every one of them had been told that he had to delay the Bill. Everything they could think of was used against the Bill and against the Government which introduced it. The measure was defeated, but it came back again. Then it was realised suddenly by this brave Opposition that the measure could be an election issue, so honorable senators opposite called to their help their Federal Executive - the 12 faceless men.
– The 12 witless men.
– I do not think it was fair of Mr. Whitlam to use those words, but he apologised to Senator Keeffe, rightly or wrongly. I am glad that he withdrew the statement, though whether under compulsion or not I do not know. But I have to finish my story.
– And it is a story.
– It is true, and nobody on the Opposition side can deny that. The Federal Executive, the 12 faceless men - men not popularly elected by the people of Australia and not having to answer to the people - met and said to the Opposition, which had opposed the measure for eight months - this brave Opposition which honorable senators opposite have been contrasting with the cowardly Government: “ If we have an election on this issue we will be decimated. We cannot have this.” Then into this chamber one day walked none other than the Leader of the Opposition himself. He rose in his place and said: “ Mr. President, the Opposition will now support the Bill “. I leave it to honorable senators to judge the difference between cowardice and bravery.
– What has that to Jo with the Government’s abandoning this referendum.
– I was giving an illustration of the contrast that the Leader of the Opposition used in this instance. I have put the record straight.
During this debate the Government’s policy of increased support for the South Vietnamese Government in the face of continued aggression by the Vietcong and North Vietnam has been under challenge by the Opposition. It has been argued that the Government is wrong in sending troops to support the Americans and the South Vietnamese and in sending national servicemen on active service overseas. Let me make it quite clear that I believe that the morality of our action in sending troops to South Vietnam is beyond question; that I believe that the legality of our action is beyond doubt; and that I believe implicitly in the justness of the action to which we are committed in support of our allies and of the free world.
I am proud of the way Australians, whether as advisers to the South Vietnamese or fighting as part of the Australian contingent, have carried out the tasks that spring inevitably from our commitment to the South Vietnamese. I am proud, as I think every Australian should be, to read, as we have read many times, words in praise of our soldiers. An article in this morning’s “ Sydney Morning Herald “, headed “ ‘Aussies ‘ Praised by CO. “, stated that the commanding general of the United States 173rd Airborne Division, BrigadierGeneral Paul F. Smith, said -
The Australians did an excellent job. 1 can’t pay enough compliments to the Aussie soldier. He’s a topnotch professional soldier. That’s the highest compliment I can pay him. The Australians are very capable in this type of war. They take to it.
Therefore, I believe that we are entitled to take pride in the feats of arms of our men in this war.
I believe, as every honorable senator who has spoken in this debate has said, that on this great national issue there is room for sincere differences of opinion. I would emphasise the word “ sincere “. But I deplore the Opposition’s attempt to make political capital out of a solemn national issue. I am mindful of the fact - this stands to the credit of the Australian Labour Party, which once had leaders who could shoulder responsibility - that a Labour government was the first to institute compulsory national service, and that at the age of 18 years, and the first to send such national servicemen overseas. At that time the Labour Party had leaders who could face up to and shoulder responsibility. In view of its record, I believe that we are entitled to question the genuineness of its criticism of the Government’s action now. I do not believe that its criticism is genuine.
At the beginning I said that I believed in the legality and morality of Australian involvement in Vietnam. Why are we there? We are there at the request of the South Vietnamese Government, to help a small country to resist Communist aggression. We have joined with the other countries that are giving military assistance to South Vietnam. We are fighting in that country because we believe that it is the key to South
East Asia and to Australia’s ultimate security and because we will not condone aggression anywhere. We should be fortified by the fact that we share this belief with three great American Presidents, all of whom believed that South Vietnam was the key to South East Asia and that the defence of South East Asia was imperative. I refer to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson. All of them not only believed implicitly in those things but also were prepared to back their belief with action to stem aggression.
What is our mission? We are not out to crush North Vietnam. We are fighting within the boundaries of South Vietnam. We are fighting with the South Vietnamese and the forces of the United States, Korea and New Zealand to defeat the forces of the Vietcong - the military arm of the National Liberation Front, which is the instrument of the Hanoi Government. Our mission is to halt Communist aggression. Surely we can learn from the past. Surely we can learn from the experience of our lifetime. The failure to halt the Japanese aggression against Manchuria and the German aggression against the Rhineland - when the Germans marched across the Rhineland bridges, as history now records, they had instructions to retire if they encountered opposition - then against Austria and then against Czechoslovakia, led to the Second World War. That is the history of our time. That is what we are determined to avoid. We must stand firm wherever aggression occurs, as we did in Berlin, Korea, Cuba and Malaysia. To quote my colleague, Senator Anderson, whenever we of the free world have stood firm we have halted Communist aggression and saved the peace of the world.
The Opposition has challenged us to a referendum. Surely it has not forgotten - unpalatable though the result was - the last Senate election. On 19th November 1964, in opening the Senate election campaign, the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, referred to the introduction of compulsory selective military service. He said to the people -
You are entitled to know now, thoroughly entitled to know, that this is not just a politician’s judgment. We did this on the close and detailed advice of our military advisers and the Military Board and Chief of the General Staff.
So that the people could judge us and our policies, the then Prime Minister said before the election -
The Government has, therefore, decided that there is no alternative to the introduction of selective compulsory service.
He said that those called up would be under an obligation to serve overseas if necessary. What could be clearer? What could be fairer? What referendum does the Opposition want after such a fair and clear statement of the facts to the people who could judge us on our platform? Although honorable senators opposite talk about a referendum, they do not want a referendum. They have had it. In the defence review of 10th November 1964, nine days before the opening of the Senate election campaign, Sir Robert Menzies said -
It follows also that, to enable the Regular Army to achieve the required degree of operational readiness, selective servicemen must serve in regular units on a full time basis . . . those culled up must therefore be under an obligation to serve overseas as necessary and must be available to go with the regular unit in which they are serving.
What could be fairer or clearer than that statement nine days before the launching of an election campaign? The issue was canvassed throughout the campaign and the public was well aware of the importance that the Government placed on national service. It is now said that we should seek recruits. No one can justly accuse this Government of failure to explore recruitment. We tried everything. We increased the pay of the Services and improved conditions. We provided increased benefits such as additional housing, arid all to little effect. We were finally faced with the necessity to turn then to compulsory national service.
The Government is increasing the task force in Vietnam to 4,500 because this is the smallest Australian force that can operate under a unified Australian command. I believe that every Australian would want an Australian task force, fighting alongside our allies under a unified Australian command. We can win this war. Indeed, I believe the tide is now turning. If you listen to the voices of those who fear that this is so and to the propaganda that is now pouring from the Communist countries, you will join me in believing that the tide is turning. We can win the peace because we are now organised to rebuild the South Vietnamese economy that has been systematically destroyed by the Vietcong. The South Vietnamese economy was expanding at a much faster rate than was the economy of North Vietnam under its Communist leadership.
Basically, the main strength of the Vietcong aggression stemmed from about 5,000 Vietminh troops who, in spite of the Geneva Agreements, had been left in South Vietnam. They went underground and there were sporadic terrorist attacks in country areas. In 1957 the Vietcong Communist guerrillas began their offensive to destroy the essential link between the people and the central Government. The Vietcong systematically elim in: :ed village chiefs and village council members. More than 700 were killed in 1957; 4,000 were killed in the 12 months to M.i.: 1960. By mid- 1965 more than 13,000 minor officials had been murdered. This was a systematic destruction of the leaders in the villages and hamlets of South Vietnam. School teachers, too, became a target for murderous attacks and in four years nearly 650 schools were closed by Vietcong terrorism. Social and medical workers were also killed or kidnapped. So the campaign was begun as a deliberate attempt, characterised by familiar methods of murder and brutality, to infiltrate South Vietnam and force that country to submit to Communist domination. The Geneva Agreements had gone for nothing.
– I rise to a point of order, Mr. Deputy President. Is it fair to our less fortunate debaters to allow the Minister to read his speech in the Senate?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Drake-Brockman). - Order! I do not think the Minister is reading his speech.
– I am endeavouring to answer the points raised during the course of the debate. As I said a little while ago, the voices of those who do not want a victory for us in Vietnam are heard coming from North Vietnam and from elsewhere. Supported by the Government of North Vietnam in Hanoi and by Communist China, Vietcong aggression has continued. South Vietnamese forces were aided by American military assistance until 200,000 United States-
– I again rise to a point of order, Mr. President. Is it permissible for the Minister to read his speech in the Senate?
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin). - Order! Senator Henty may continue.
– May I ask for a ruling, Mr. President?
– A ruling on what, Senator?
– Just before you entered the chamber, Sir, Senator Cavanagh asked for a ruling on whether in this chamber any honorable senator is entitled to read his speech. You know, Sir, as well as everybody else, that there is a clear standing order on this matter. It is noi a question of whether we agree or disagree with what the Minister is saying. It is not a question of whether honorable senators opposite heap abuse on us. I have often referred to Standing Orders and you, Mr. President, have insisted on observing Standing Orders in giving your rulings. I ask for a ruling on Senator Cavanagh’s question of whether Senator Henty is entitled, just because he is Leader of the Government in the Senate, to break a standing order.
– The practice has grown up of honorable senators using quite copious notes. Some honorable senators, on both sides of the chamber, have offended by reading their speeches. I disapprove of that practice. However, where a Minister or any honorable senator is referring to notes which are quite copious, I find no fault with the practice. I do object where speeches are read directly. Do not push the matter too far, or honorable senators will find that the axe will fall on both sides of the chamber on speeches which are read.
– I thought that part of my notes was rather interesting and I would like to read it again because it seemed to upset one or two honorable senators.
– The Minister admits that he read it.
– I always read my notes. I do not talk through my ear as the honorable senator does. I wish to refer again to the depredations of the Vietcong in South Vietnam, its consistent and deliberate attempt to eliminate all leadership from the villages and hamlets as it captured them. and its replacement of the former leaders with leaders from the Vietcong so that the people of the hamlets and villages would not have the slightest opportunity ever to rise again. This is a Communist tactic. As I was saying, in 1957, 700 village council members and chiefs were killed; 4,000 were killed in the 12 months to May 1960; and by mid-1965 more than 13,000 minor officials had been murdered. School teachers became the next target of these murderous attacks. In four years the Vietcong closed 650 schools in South Vietnam through their murderous attacks. This is all part of the pattern. This is what we are fighting against. It is against this that the troops of Australia are conducting themselves with such distinction in South Vietnam. They are doing so to ensure that these attacks do not become a permanent feature of South Vietnamese life and also to ensure that the people shall have the right to choose their own way of life. This deliberate campaign was conducted by the familiar methods of murder, brutality and infiltration into South Vietnam in order to force the country to accept Communist domination. As I have said, the Geneva Agreement was thrown overboard. The campaign was supported by the North Vietnamese in Hanoi and by Communist China. The Vietcong aggression has continued.
The South Vietnamese forces have had American and Australian military assistance, until at the present time some 200,000 troops are assisting the South Vietnamese forces. It is essential that South Vietnam should not fall to the Communists. The South Vietnamese must be allowed to choose their own government. The turning point in this campaign has come. It followed the Honolulu conference, to which reference has been made during the course of the debate. The United States has decided to train teams of South Vietnamese to reenter these villages as they are recaptured and consolidated. The United States will train teams to take over the jobs of councillors and schoolteachers in order to help to rehabilitate the South Vietnamese hamlets and villages.
This is a great step forward. I believe that it is far sighted and something which will bring peace to South Vietnam. Seed and machinery will be provided for the farms. New schools, roads and hospitals will be built. Everything possible will be done to rehabilitate these areas as quickly as possible. The work will be financed largely from funds from the United States. This, indeed, is good forward thinking and planning. Here lies the pathway to security and peace for the South Vietnamese people.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Kennellys amendment) be left out.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Alister McMullin.)
Majority . . . . 4
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 4.14 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 24 March 1966, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1966/19660324_senate_25_s31/>.