26th Parliament · 2nd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– 1 wish to ask a question of the Minister representing the Treasurer. Will the Treasurer once again examine the taxation zone allowances prescribed by the Income Tax Act in respect of persons residing and working in remote parts of Queensland to ascertain whether it is reasonably possible to increase substantially the allowances because of higher living costs?
– The honourable senator asks a question on a matter of policy. The matter of taxation zone allowances is one for the Treasurer and the Government, and I therefore ask that the honourable senator put his question on the notice paper.
– I ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. J am deeply concerned that all facts relevant to the initiation of the Chowilla project and to its original acceptance have not been disclosed. This project was not the determination of a snap judgment, but was based on extensive and entirely favourable reports of the River Murray Commission itself. I respectfully ask the Minister whether he will have tabled firstly, all documents, including reports, that the River Murray Commission has on its files relative to the project and leading to the decision to proceed with the project; and secondly, all reports by overseas experts in respect of the project, including those of highly qualified men in water conservation from the United States of America and from England who investigated all aspects of the scheme.
– We had a question last week on Chowilla Dam and now 1 am asked to table all papers in connection with the project. As the honourable senator knows, this matter comes within the portfolio of a Minister in another place. I know of his deep concern for the Chowilla Dam, which is shared by members of the Opposi- tion. However, I should like honourable senators opposite to look at the facts before they ask this sort of question. The Chowilla Dam, as proposed by the South Australian Government to the Commonwealth Government, embodies the construction of a dam of about SOO square miles with an average depth of roughly 16 feet. As honourable senators would know and appreciate, evaporation on a shallow dam like that, located in a hot area of Australia, would be extremely high and would mean the loss of more than 50% of the capacity of the dam every 12 months. However, I shall refer the matter to the Minister for National Development in another place, and if he agrees, we will be glad to table the papers in response to the question asked.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. Has the PostmasterGeneral been informed of a petition signed by 795 residents in the district of Sturt in South Australia and protesting against a departmental decision to close down the Sturt Post Office - which has been operating since 31st October 1849 - when a new post office is opened in an adjacent suburb in a few weeks? If he has not, will he use his authority to have the close-down decision deferred to enable the petitioners’ argument that the effect of the new post office on the old post office will be only marginal to be tested over an operating period of, say, 6 months? Finally, will the Minister representing the Postmaster-General use her best endeavours to have this matter treated as urgent because of the time factor involved?
– I am not aware of the petition to which the honourable senator has referred. 1 do not know whether the Postmaster-General is aware of it. I assure the honourable senator that I will bring this matter to the notice of my colleague, as he has requested.
– I direct a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I understand that he was the chairman of a select committee of the Senate that was set up some years ago on the subject of road safety. Tn view of that experience, no doubt he would be interested in a rather startling statement that was made recently by the Western Australian Minister of Police, who is alleged to have said that road safety was left to the States and that the Commonwealth should show its sincerity in regard to the preservation of lives in Australia. Can the Minister tell the Senate what assistance the Commonwealth is providing in the campaign on this all-important question of road safety?
– My understanding is that the matter raised by the honourable senator comes under the Minister for Shipping and Transport. However, it is true that some years ago we had an all-party select committee of the Senate on the general question of road safety. That committee made many recommendations. It is interesting to recall that, under the constitutional arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States, most if not all of the recommendations that we made had to be made to State governments. I think it is worth recording that quite a number of the recommendations made by that Senate select committee are now being implemented under Acts of the various States. For instance, breathalyser testing is one that readily comes to mind.
In regard to the honourable senator’s reference to a comment made in Western Australia, it is proper to say that the Commonwealth has already taken a very real interest in this matter. The fact that the Commonwealth makes large sums of money available to the States under the Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement in itself means that the State road construction authorities are able to make better and safer roads in terms of engineering, which is one of the three Es in this very serious matter of road safety. The Commonwealth also gives assistance in other ways. It makes special allowances to the States through the Australian Road Safety Council and gives special advice through the Australian Transport Advisory Council on which the State Ministers for Transport sit under the chairmanship of the Commonwealth Minister for Shipping and Transport. In terms of financial assistance and special facilities for publicity and grants for road construction, the Commonwealth plays a very real part.
But it should not be imagined that this problem can be solved as easily as by the mere provision of money. This is a world wide problem. All people of good will at all levels of government will have to play their part if we are to come to grips with it.
– Will the Minister for Customs and Excise examine at an early date the facilities for customs inspection at the port of Sydney which, especially when a large number of passengers have to be processed on landing, are sometimes primitive and inadequate, irritating to passengers and disheartening to customs officers who do their work courteously and efficiently but at times have to cope with large numbers in an almost bare shed? Will the Minister confer with the senior customs officer to ensure that proper modern facilities are provided at all wharves where they are necessary?
- Mr President, already I have made an inspection of the port facilities for the handling of passengers at the overseas shipping terminal in Sydney. I made this inspection last week. I know that passengers are put through very speedily when the ship in question can berth at the overseas terminal but, as honourable senators know, a number of ships bringing passengers to Australia cannot berth at that terminal. Consequently, there is some delay in the processing of passengers by officers of the Department of Customs and Excise. The matter of overseas passenger terminals is entirely the concern of the State governments, as the honourable senator knows. This matter is completely outside the jurisdiction of the Federal Government.
We are quite happy with the facilities that we provide. We are continually examining methods by which passengers can be processed more quickly through both overseas shipping terminals and overseas airport terminals. I am afraid that the question that the honourable senator has directed to me involves a matter that is the concern of the State Government and therefore I cannot do anything about it.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for External Territories inform the Senate of the arrangements for and the progress of a mission reported to be investigating the formation of unions and industrial relationships in Papua and New Guinea?
– In answer to the honourable senator’s question, I wish to inform the Senate that it has been arranged that, in April of this year, a tripartite mission will proceed to New Guinea. That mission will consist of two representatives of employers, Mr Monk of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and Dr Cook of the Department’ of Labour and National Service. In New Guinea this mission will study the procedures for union organisation and the machinery for the resolution of industrial disputes. It is expected that each member of the mission, on his return to Australia, will report to his own organisation after having had the advantage of joint discussions in the Territory.
– I ask the
Minister representing the Minister for Health: Is it a fact that many thousands of pensioners are receiving second class medical treatment and that bureaucratic bullying has forced doctors to choose between neglecting pensioners or treating them for nothing, as stated by four Sydney general practitioners in the last issue of the Sydney ‘Sunday Telegraph’? If these are not the facts will the Minister ascertain the truth, and also the number of doctors who have been called upon by the Department of Health to refund moneys paid to them in respect of amounts which have been charged by them for attending pensioners and which are in dispute and advise the Senate and the Australian people of the situation with the least possible delay?
– I will get from the Minister for Health the information sought by the honourable senator in his question.
– My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Industry, lt refers to an appeal made recently by the Department of Trade and Industry to Australian businessmen to undertake joint manufacturing ventures in Singapore. Can the Minister say whether the Department has been assisting or sponsoring any group of joint ventures for Singa pore? In view of the value of the market in Singapore, and the manner in which a number of supplier nations have increased their pressure following devaluation, can the Minister say whether or not the Department will consider urgent assistance so that joint manufacturing ventures may be established quickly?
– My attention was drawn to an article in the ‘Australian’ dated 18th March dealing with this matter. I sought some information from the Minister for Trade and Industry on it. Sir, I can say that the Government does recognise the importance of Australian businessmen investing overseas to preserve trading markets that they have built up, particularly in Asian markets such as Singapore where competition is keen and the scale of our industry is suitable for the conditions in the market.
As far as investment in Singapore is concerned, the Government is conscious of the increased threat to Australian export trade following the devaluation of sterling and other currencies and in fact recognises that joint venture investment in manufacturing industries in Singapore is in most cases the only way to protect these exports. The Australian Trade Commissioner has been active in this field and will continue to explore all opportunities for suitable joint ventures in order to sustain and increase Australia’s trade in the area. It should be remembered also that several years ago the Australian Government introduced legislation setting up the Export Payments Insurance Corporation, the scheme being designed to insure investments against non-commercial risks, such as war or expropriation, to encourage that kind of investment. I have given only a brief answer. If the honourable senator requires an answer in greater depth I suggest he put his question on the notice paper and I will obtain a more detailed reply for him.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Health inform the Senate of the stage reached in the introduction of the pensioner hearing aid concession service? Has she any information on how soon this service will be available to pensioners? What procedure will pensioners have to adopt to obtain hearing aids at the concession rate?
– I do not have detailed information but I will obtain it for the honourable senator and advise him.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for National Development seen a statement attributed to Mr Siller of the Petroleum Exploration Association in which he is reported to have said that Australia will be self-sufficient in oil and gas by 1975? Is this view held by the Minister?
– I noticed the statement reported to have been made by Mr Siller to the effect that he believed Australia would be self-sufficient in oil by 1975. As a result of the latest discoveries that have been made, we now know that Australia in the near future will have sufficient oil to meet over 60% of its requirements. I think that the statement in the Press is, if anything, a little conservative. At the rate at which we are discovering oil in Australia, particularly as a result of the encouragement that this Government has given to the oil industry by way of subsidies and tax concessions, I believe that we will be more than self-sufficient in oil by 1975.
– I preface my question to the Leader of the Government by reminding him that the 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war, to which Australia subscribes, provides that Australia is legally responsible for the accommodation, feeding and general welfare of all prisoners taken by Australian troops in any theatre of war. Does the Government intend to continue its apparent breach of that section of the Geneva Convention by handing over all prisoners taken by Australian troops to South Vietnamese troops?
– I raise a point of order, Mr President. Is the honourable senator entitled to ask a question which foreshadows a debate already listed on the notice paper?
– Order! The point of order is not upheld.
– I thought I made it clear in the Senate last week that Aus tralia’s attitude was obviously one of conforming to the Geneva Conventions.
– The Prime Minister denies it.
– Regardless of the interjection which has no relevance, let me say that I would like to leave the position at that. It is true that there has not been a debate on the subject in this place but the Minister for Repatriation, who represents the Minister for the Army, will be making a statement at a later hour about the incident that occurred. For that reason I do not want to make any further comment. Australia is a party to the Geneva Convention and, naturally, will adhere to it.
– I direct a question without notice to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Is Australia at war?
– That quite clearly is a legal question,’ and for that reason I ask that it be put on notice.
– I refer to the question of drought assistance and direct my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, representing the Prime Minister in this chamber. The Minister will recall my several questions to him last week and my speech in the Address-in-Reply debate in which I advocated that the Federal Government make finance available to the Victorian State Government for the purpose of paying a subsidy to farmers for the purchase of fodder for breeding stock, and further, that finance be made available to farmers and graziers at a low interest rate for fodder for breeding stock. I ask whether the Minister is aware of the reported decision of the Victorian Premier to make State money available in both these areas for farmers and graziers-
– You know very well.
– In case the Minister did not hear above the interjection, I ask again whether he is aware of the reported decision by the Victorian Premier to make State money available in both these areas to farmers and graziers. Does the Minister realise that State finances are insufficient to meet adequately the likely call for funds that the Commonwealth must support? Will the Minister please request the Prime Minister to give urgent attention to this matter, as previously requested in this Senate?
– I certainly will direct the honourable senator’s question to the Prime Minister.
– 1 wish to direct a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Win the Minister request his colleague the Treasurer to make available an officer of the Taxation Branch to visit the west coast of Tasmania to test the validity of argument put forward over a number of years in support of a case for a higher zone allowance for that region of Tasmania? Will he at the same time give earnest consideration to proceeding in this matter so that the result of his findings may be translated into action in time for the next Federal Budget?
– I will direct the honourable senator’s request to the Treasurer.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. On 3rd November last year I directed the following question to the Minister: ls the Minister aware that unnecessarily long delays to disembarking passengers from Qantas Airways Ltd overseas flights which arrive at Perth Airport at midnight on Wednesdays occur because only one health officer is on duly to examine health and vaccination certificates? As this creates a bad impression of Australia, will the Minister investigate the situation and if necessary increase the examining staff by an additional officer, thus reducing considerably the long wait in a comparatively small waiting room for some fifty or sixty people?
As I have had no reply, will the Minister proceed to present this matter again and ask for an early reply?
– I well recall the honourable senator’s asking this question, which to the best of my recollection was replied to on the last day of the sittings last year. I will check this, but to my recollection the reply was recorded in Hansard. If my recollection is not correct, I will get the information for the honourable senator. I know the reply came forward, and my understanding is that it was incorporated in Hansard on the last day of sitting.
– 1 direct a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Does the Government intend to make an early statement on the consequences to Australia of the recent decisions taken on the price of gold?
– Yes. The Prime Minister issued a statement yesterday on this matter which, as honourable senators know, has had Cabinet consideration during the past several days. I think in the circumstances I should at this point of time merely repeat what the Prime Minister said in his Press statement yesterday. It was:
Today’s Cabinet considered the decision taken by the participants in the Washington meeting. The Government does not regard their decision as requiring action by Australia at present. However, the Government will keep in close touch with any further developments overseas which might happen as a result of the decisions, and which might in some way in the future affect Australia. The implication of these decisions for the Australian gold industry are now being closely studied.
That is as far as I would be prepared to go today.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration. What is the cause of the continued delay associated with the signing of an immigration agreement with Yugoslavia?
– My recollection of this matter is that last year there were discussions between the Australian immigration officers and Yugoslav officers in Belgrade concerning the possible development of an assisted passage scheme. As a result of those discussions, to my recollection there was to be a visit to Australia in January this year of an officer from Yugoslavia. The January visit did not take place. I understand that the Yugoslav authorities are continuing to give consideration to this matter and that the Australian Government is now awaiting advice.
– My question is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate who represents the Treasurer in this chamber. As the Australian Parliament is based on and follows the customs, traditions and procedures of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, I ask the Minister whether he knows of any feeling within the Australian Government that it should introduce its budget just prior to the end of a financial year as the British Government does, rather than some six weeks after the new financial year has commenced.
– This matter has been examined and discussed down the years but it has been the practice of the Australian Parliament to commence its budget session in August. Senator Marriott is suggesting that we should follow the custom followed from time immemorial in the United Kingdom and present our budget at or about the same time as the British do. In fact the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to introduce the budget today. It is a question of where the greatest advantage lies for Australia. I can refer the question to the Treasurer but I believe the arrangement we have is adequate and proper. Without trying to canvass the proposition I suggest that the question be placed on the notice paper so that I can get an answer from the Treasurer.
– My question to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development refers to his previous reply about the Chowilla Dam project but more particularly to the statement made by the Minister for National Development last Friday following a meeting of the River Murray Commission. A report of the statement by the Minister for National Development has been widely circulated in South Australia as indicating a deferment of the Chowilla project. The South Australian Premier has criticised the statement as indicating that the Commission did not consider Chowilla. 1 ask the Minister whether he will consider making a clear statement and say whether or not the Chowilla project has been deferred either temporarily or permanently and also the position of the Commonwealth Government in relation to the project.
– The Commission met on the 15th March and decided to defer any decision until April. Therefore 1 cannot give the honourable senator any further information on Chowilla until this information is available.
– My question is supplementary to one already directed to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. It refers to the Australian situation regarding oil production. I invite the Minister representing the Minister for National Development to tell me whether or not the Government would undertake to examine Australia’s oil situation on two levels - and T am nol referring to matters of policy now. The first is that the price of domestic oil is not entirely the primary consideration in respect of Australia’s self-sufficiency in oil, and the second and more important is an examination to determine whether Australia should or should not maintain a reserve of oil in relation to the extent of oil deposits currently accepted.
– 1 would ask the honourable senator to put his question on the notice paper so that 1 can get a considered reply from the Minister.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. Is it a fact that citrus and dried fruit growers from the Sunraysia district of New South Wales and Victoria made representations to the Commonwealth Government and the three participating State Governments seeking a full inquiry and investigation into evaporation and salination problems associated with the Chowilla Dam before any expenditure was undertaken on this project?
– I am sorry, but at the moment I have no information on that matter. If the honourable senator puts the question on notice I shall get a reply for him from the Minister.
– Will the Leader of the Government in the Senate seek to obtain a film which is in the possession of the Department of the Army and which was taken by a freelance Indian cine cameraman, showing interrogation by Australian forces in Vietnam in 1964, and a copy of the film which was screened on Channel 7’s Adelaide news session last Friday, showing interrogation by Australian forces in Vietnam, with a view to showing such films in private session to members of the Senate so that we may ascertain what is happening regarding interrogation in Vietnam?
– The honourable senator has asked whether I will raise with the Department of the Army the question of the procurement of a film which was taken by an Indian freelance photographer in Vietnam in 1964 and also a film which was shown on television Channel 7 in Adelaide in the last few days, and having secured them, whether they can be shown in the Parliament. It is a matter for the Presiding Officers, on the one hand, and for the Minister for the Army, on the other hand, but 1 shall certainly raise the matter as requested by the honourable senator.
– I desire to ask a further question of the Minister for Customs and Excise. Is the Minister aware that when the steamship ‘Arcadia* berthed in Sydney about 16th February more than 1,000 cruise passengers were processed by customs officers under intolerable conditions in an almost bare shed? Is the Minister also aware that passengers stood for excessively long periods - in some cases for 2 hours - in long queues in intense heat, that there were no counters for their luggage and that when their clothes and belongings had to be removed from their cases for inspection they had to be examined on the bare boards of the wharf? Is it fair to customs officers and passengers merely to dismiss this intolerable situation as being the responsibility of the State? Does the Commonwealth accept no responsibility at least to make representations for a better deal for its customs officers and for passengers?
– In reply to another question asked by the honourable senator, 1 said that I had been in Sydney and had seen the conditions. When the ship to which the honourable senator has referred came to the port of Sydney the overseas terminal was fully occupied. What the honourable senator has said is completely correct. Passengers from this ship suffered considerable inconvenience whilst they were waiting to be passed by the customs officers. I shall have a look at the previous question asked by the honourable senator and also at this follow-up question to see whether it is at all possible to suggest improvements in the conditions prevailing at ports in our capital cities so that passengers on ships may be dealt with more readily.
– My question, which I direct to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, follows on Senator Cavanagh’s question about the filming of interrogations. If the Minister is to discuss this matter with the Presiding Officers and with the Minister for the Army, will he also endeavour to ascertain from that Minister or from any Minister with a Service portfolio, and from the Australian Broadcasting Commission or from any other news media in Australia, whether film is available, even if it must be obtained from overseas sources, showing how the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese conduct their interrogations of prisoners?
– 1 shall link the honourable senator’s question to the representations made by Senator Cavanagh. Quite clearly, if films of any incidents are to be shown it will be proper that films of interrogations conducted by the other side also should be shown so that members of this Parliament may view the position in its proper perspective.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for External Territories inform the Parliament whether a form of censorship - either voluntary or compulsory - has been imposed on the Administration or Australian Press sources in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea? If no form of censorship is operating, will the Minister advise the Parliament why details of demonstrations by indigenes against the Administration are no longer reported by the responsible Minister or the Government or through the normal news channels?
– I have no knowledge of any form of censorship such as is suggested by the honourable senator.
– My question, which I direct to the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, refers to the statements, frequently repeated by the Government, to the effect that Australian forces are in Vietnam owing to obligations under the South East Asia Collective Defence Treaty and the ANZUS treaty. In view of the fact that neither Senator McCarthy nor Senator Robert Kennedy appears to be aware of any such obligations under those treaties, will the Government consider advising those gentlemen, privately if necessary, of the relevant clauses of the treaties so that we shall not be faced with the distressing prospect of having a President of the United States of America who is unaware of his treaty obligations and who as a result may withdraw American forces f, om Vietnam, leaving our troops in South Vietnam with only the forces of South Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines and nobody else?
– I would be amazed if it were necessary for us in Australia to advise candidates for election to presidential office in another country of what they should know. I think that would be a rather pathetic approach to international affairs. However, I suggest that the honourable senator place his question on the notice paper.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. I ask: As feasibility studies of the establishment of a naval base at Cockburn Sound, Western Australia, have been concluded, will the Minister assure me that the conclusions reached will be submitted to Parliament before 30th June next? I have been advocating such a base for nearly 20 years and would like to have the matter resolved before I leave the Senate.
– I can give no assurances in relation to another portfolio, but I shall bring the honourable senator’s question to the attention of the Minister for Defence.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior. Will the Minister for the Interior ask his Department to investigate the claim made in the latest issue of the journal of the Soil Conservation Service of New South Wales of the strong possibility of siltation in Lake Burley Griffin? This article points out that the lake has a small storage capacity in relation to its catchment. It has a storage capacity of only 37 acre feet per square mile compared with the Burrinjuck dam’s capacity of 167 acre feet. It further points out that only 3.6% of the catchment is in the area of the Australian Capital Territory. So it is subject to the hazard of erosion in an area largely outside that controlled by the Australian Capital Territory.
– We all know about (he problems of siltation in dams not only in the Australian Capital Territory but throughout the Commonwealth. I ask the honourable senator to put his question on notice so that I may obtain an answer from the Minister for the Interior.
– I address a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Under what clauses of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation agreement or ANZUS agreement are we committed to the civil war in Vietnam?
– I suggest that the honourable senator put that question on notice.
– I ask a question of the Leader of the Government in the Senate. It relates to questions already asked about the showing of films purporting to depict interrogations. Will an investigation be made into the bone tides of any such films to establish whether they constitute objective reporting or merely propaganda?
– That is a good question. I am sure everybody recognises the degree of propaganda permeating films relating to the unfortunate conflict in Vietnam. I do not know that the honourable senator’s question is related to the direct questions which have already been asked as to whether one or a number of films can be obtained and shown. Therefore, 1 shall treat it as a separate question, take notice of it and obtain an answer for the honourable senator.
– I address a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. It relates to that asked by Senator Wheeldon. Will the Minister have published for the education of members of the Opposition clause 4 of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation agreement and the protocol thereto?
– The answer to that question is yes.
– I address a question to the Minister for Works. What is the situation of the work at the National Library following last year’s serious fire? When is it expected that the Library work will be completed?
– I shall obtain for the honourable senator the required information as to that particular project.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. No doubt the Minister will be aware of questions asked in the Senate last week about the rejection by the United States of over 2,000 tons of Australian meat and the Ministerial statement that the cargo would be unloaded and held for some weeks in Canada. Is the Minister aware of where the responsibility lies for financial loss incurred by way of freight, handling costs, storage charges and deterioration in value of the cargo?
– I think I am aware of where the responsibility lies, but I am not prepared to state it. I should like to inform the honourable senator that I made inquires of the Department of Primary Industry this morning as to whether there had been any further development in connection with this meat’ and the reply received from the Department was that there is no further information available.
– I wish to address a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Tn view of his eagerness to illuminate me darkness of ignorance in the minds of members of the Opposition over clause 4 of the SEATO Treaty, could he give a brief outline of the contents of clause 4?
– A preceding question had been directed to me and-
– What do you say?
– Is the honourable senator asking a question or giving an answer? A previous question had been asked of me and I requested that it be placed on notice so that a full answer could be given. The subsequent question referred to clause 4 of the treaty and to that question 1 replied ‘Yes’.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Army. Will he at range for copies of questions asked in the Senate about Vietnam by honourable senators of the Australian Labor Party to be supplied to all our troops fighting in Vietnam so that they may see for themselves how the Australian Labor Party is carrying out its pledge to give support to our boys in the difficult, times through which they are passing?
– I rise to order, Mr President. This is an offensive question and I ask that it be ruled out of order.
– I shall allow the question to go through to the responsible Minister. The point of order is not upheld.
– The answer to the question is no, because I think our boys over there want their morale lifted and their spirits encouraged, and that would not be doing it.
– Will the Leader of the Government in the Senate, when making the text of clause 4 of the SEATO Treaty available to Opposition senators, advise the Senate whether Australia has some obligations under this particular clause in our activities in Vietnam?
– The question asked by Senator Wheeldon will be picked up in the original question on this subject, which I requested to be put on notice. For that reason I do not think that the question now asked is relevant.
(Question No. 35)
asked the Minister repre senting the Minister for the Navy, upon notice:
– The Minister for the Navy has supplied the following answer:
The present position is that the firm of consultant engineers which was engaged to carry out an investigation into the feasibility of establishing naval support facilities at Cockburn Sound has completed its technical investigations. The report, which will be available shortly, will then be examined by the Departments of the Navy and of Works, prior to consideration of proposals by the Government.
– The Minister in Charge of Tourist Activities has asked me to reply to a question by Senator Willesee on Thursday last in respect of passengers who travel on interstate ships. As vessels engaged solely in the interstate trade are not entitled, under the Customs Act, to duty free ships’ stores, passengers travelling interstate on these ships are not entitled to the same duty free concessions as passengers travelling interstate on overseas ships. In any event, if the concessions were extended to Australian coastal ships, it would be difficult to deny them to other interstate carriers.
– I refer to a question which Senator Murphy asked me last week and which represented an imputation that there was a bungle at the Sydney Airport. I repudiate the imputation in that question, and state factually, in regard to the detail that he mentioned, that in the terminal building there are no precast beams which are too short. The completion date for this work based on the present planning is during the first half of 1970, as has been stated on several occasions by the Minister for Civil Aviation. As I indicated last week, I am having prepared a statement on the whole progress of the contract. Honourable senators will be interested to note that over the weekend I had the privilege of announcing the letting of the contact for the second stage of the construction of the terminal building involving an expenditure of about $14m. This is the largest contract that the Department of Works has signed in its history.
– I refer to a question that Senator McManus asked me last week about the completion of the work on the old Customs House in Melbourne.I now provide the following answer:
It is a fact that the contract for the work of remodelling the old Customs House, Melbourne, and for which tenders were invited in October 1967, provides for a completion date of 19th May 1969.
The Department of Customs and Excise transferred in stages to its new building, as and when appropriate areas were completed, and the old Customs House Building was not available for handing over to the contractor until October 1967.
The reason for this timing for the completion of the old Customs House project is due solely to the fact that, although contract documents were complete for the invitation of tenders, advertising action had to be postponed until the old building was completely vacated, but the date for this move was later than expected because of the necessity to extend the final completion date of this new Customs House which has recently been erected in Melbourne.
– by leave - In the ministerial statement that I am about to read the first person personal pronoun refers to the Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch).
On about 7th March 1968 reports were made in various Australian newspapers concerning a book by an American, Martin Russ, which suggested in generalised terms that Australian soldiers attempted to avoid the Vietcong in a somewhat cowardly fashion, that they were unduly rough with the civilian population and that they tortured prisoners. I denied these allegations and stated that there was no truth in them and no evidence to support them. This statement was based on my information at the time. In saying that I considered that there was no foundation for the allegations, I also indicated that the matters raised would be investigated in detail. The specific incident of the Nui Dat interrogation to which the book made a hearsay reference was not known to me at the time. Why this was so when some information was in the hands of my advisers is an internal matter which I shall resolve with the officers concerned. However, I accept, of course, that responsibility is mine and I do not attempt to avoid that in any way. After my own statement, a Melbourne journalist, Mr Sorell, informed me that in his opinion there was truth in the statement in the book about the Nui Dat incident and that he, Mr Sorell, had witnessed the incident and was the source of the reference in the book. He subsequently published a story of what he claimed to have seen. I then pressed inquiries in the Department, and the facts are these:
Following the sharp action at Long Tan, in which 18 of our men had been killed and 21 wounded, the Australian Forces had for some weeks been harassed and endangered through the activities of an agent spy for the Vietcong who had been Observing their camp and the movements of their patrols and had been reporting on those matters by radio. I do not need to emphasise the danger to Australian lives which this entailed. On the afternoon of 24th October 1966 an Australian patrol discovered a tunnel complex in the hills west of the Task Force Headquarters. Some equipment and a radio aerial were discovered. A thorough search eventually found a woman with a powerful radio transceiver hiding in a well concealed tunnel. This woman was the agent of whom I have spoken and was the central figure of the incident we are discussing. Because of the onset of darkness, the agent remained in custody in the hills over night and soon after 8 a.m. the next morning she was flown by helicopter to the Task Force Headquarters at Nui Dat. On arrival at Nui Dat, at approximately 8.30 a.m., she was photographed by pressmen for 10 to 15 minutes and was then taken to the interrogation tent to be questioned. She left the interrogation tent at approximately 10 a.m. and, soon afterwards on the same morning, she was flown out of Nui Dat and handed over to the United States Field Force Headquarters at Long Binh. The agent was therefore under interrogation, in an interrogation tent, for approximately an hour. The Commander of the Australian Task Force subsequently became aware of circumstances relating to this interrogation which caused him to appoint an officer of the rank of major to conduct an investigation. The investigating officer completed his investigation on 31st October 1966. A report of the investigation was received in Canberra on Tuesday, 12th March 1968, after having been specially requested.
The investigation established that at the interrogation the interrogator had raised his voice to the woman, shouted at her, banged on the table, used threats and attempted to intimidate the woman, to try to obtain truthful answers to questions - answers which, let it be remembered, could well have affected the life or death of Australian soldiers. In addition to these actions, the interrogator also threatened to use the water torture, stood behind the agent, held her nose, and when she opened her mouth attempted to pour water into it using some four or five tin cups of water at intervals. Apparently much of this was spilled, it being judged that the woman was made to swallow about one cup of water. The interrogating officer did in fact threaten and seek to intimidate and actually commenced to use water in interrogating the enemy spy. Instructions given by the Army as to methods of interrogation make it clear that these actions are contrary both to the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and to the issued Army instructions. For these reasons, the interrogator, once these facts had been established, was barred from interrogation duties by direction of the Commander.
The situation therefore is that there was an enemy agent, acting for the Vietcong, dressed in civilian clothes, who had been reporting on and putting in danger Australian troops. The woman and the radio set used for reporting Australian movements were captured. The interrogator did no more than shout at the woman, bang the table, use threats and proceed to pour some water down the woman’s throat in an endeavour to secure answers to .questions which could have been vital to the safety of Australian soldiers. After the interrogation the woman walked out of .the tent. She was composed and posed for photographs.
After the newspaper report of the incident came to notice, I understood that an investigation on the spot had established that there had been no ill treatment. It was therefore decided to set up a court of inquiry to check the accuracy of the newspaper report. But it is now established that the investigation on the spot had in fact confirmed that the newspaper report was substantially true. There is therefore no need for a court of inquiry to inquire whether it was true, and there will therefore be no court of inquiry.
For the Army in general and for our forces as a whole engaged in these difficult, dangerous and complex operations in Vietnam I - andI hope all honourable members of this House - can have nothing but admiration. I believe that their record speaks for itself. They have earned the respect of their allies in Vietnam. They have earned the confidence of the village people whose security they are helping to maintain. This is a record which confirms beyond doubt that general accusations of brutality or cruelties could not be seriously entertained of a dedicated and hard-working Army of Australian soldiers.
I present the following paper:
Army Interrogation Incident in Vietnam - Ministerial Statement, 19 March 1968- and move:
That the Senate take note of the paper.
Motion (by Senator Anderson) agreed to-
That standing order 14 be suspended to enable the debate on the ministerial statement to be entered upon before the Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General’s Speech has been adopted.
– The motion before us concerns a ministerial statement which reveals a sorry record of suppression, minimisation of the truth and the failure of the Government to deal responsibly and resolutely with a breach of the Geneva Conventions. Those Conventions are a milepost in the struggle of mankind to drag itself away from war and violence to law and civilisation. It is extremely important, not only to every soldier but also to every human being, that there should be no impairment of those Conventions, that no-one derides them and that no-one suggests that because a war situation might be difficult a departure from the Conventions is justified. Yet that is what we have seen in this very case.
The Government has set out to attack the Opposition because the Opposition has said that the Conventions must be observed; that the standards of treatment set down must be maintained; that those who have infringed the Conventions should be punished and that the Government itself should take resolute action to see to it that everyone understands that any breach of the Conventions will not be tolerated. The Opposition will continue to adopt that stand. It will not be deflected by any suggestion that for an Australian in this Parliament to say that the Geneva Conventions should be observed and that there should be no ill treatment of prisoners is in some way unpatriotic.
These 1949 Conventions, which follow earlier ones, were made in the expectation that they would be applied in the most difficult situations, whether in the heat of battle or in the face of problems confronting those expected to observe them. Everyone knows that there are instincts of hatred and destruction in men, and in an atmosphere where those instincts are encouraged - in the midst of war - they are likely to come to the fore. The Conventions are an attempt to ensure that as far as possible civilised means are used. Let no-one confuse this debate by the argument that because the Vietcong may be, and undoubtedly are, guilty of brutality, that excuses similar breaches on the part of our military forces. We have undertaken to observe those obligations. It is our international duty to see to it that they are observed as far as possible and nothing should be done in this Parliament to allow any breakaway from the Conventions.
The Minister in his statement said that it is substantially true that what Mr Sorell said had occurred had in fact occurred. Mr Malcolm Fraser, who was the Minister for the Army at the time of these occurrences, was even more explicit. In relation to the Opposition’s proposal for a public inquiry he said in another place:
Why does the Opposition want an inquiry? Does it want an inquiry to check on Sorell? Nobody is questioning what he says. It is accepted. Do honourable members opposite want it to verify the facts of the incident? What facts are there to verify when the facts of the incident are not in dispute?
That is at least clear and unambiguous.
– Why does not the Leader of the Opposition quote him verbatim?
– If the Minister wants me to read anything further and indicates the portion I will read it right now.
– My only objection, which gave rise to my interjection, was that the Leader of the Opposition was purporting to quote the former Minister for the Army and I ask: ‘Why does not the Leader of the Opposition quote him verbatim?’
– I think that what I read was verbatim in the relevant portions. If the Minister will indicate where he thinks 1 have left out something or misquoted the former Minister of the Army I will read it again. I note the Minister has not responded to my suggestion. If any honourable senator wants to check the portion I have read it appears on page 181 of Hansard of the House of Representatives.
Mr Sorell’s statement has been accepted as the truth. There has been no suggestion that his statement is to be doubted in any way. This is what he said:
I saw Australian soldiers torture a Vietcong girl prisoner. 1 am the man who told American author Martin Russ about it. I shared a tent with him. lt happened in October 1966 at Nui Dat, the Australian base camp in South Vietnam. The Army told me that the story was classified and asked me not to write it.
The soldiers, led by a warrant officer of the Provost Corps, used a form of water torture. The girl was about 18 or 19, good looking with long black hair and even a touch of lipstick. For half an hour I watched the warrant officer pour water down the struggling girl’s throat.
I repeat thai sentence:
For half an hour I watched the warrant officer pour water down the struggling girl’s throat. He was trying to make her talk. He failed. The girl was later dragged, half unconscious, to a tent. She was then taken to the local Vietnamese authorities for further questioning.
Several soldiers, including an officer and an interpreter, watched the girl being tortured. Some helped the warrant officer. Some of the soldiers told me later that watching the torture had made them ‘feel sick’. ‘It was a crook thing to do,’ one said, ‘lt made me feel ashamed’.
I later told senior Australian officers at the Nui Dat camp about the torture. I said I would file the story to Australia but the base commander, Brigadier David Jackson, asked me not to. I agreed to his wishes. Several days later I was told that the warrant officer had been sent back to Australia, 1 first heard of the girl when I was tipped off that an Australian patrol had captured a Vietcong operating a radio transmitter in the hills east of the Task Force.
The girl was brought back to the camp by helicopter for questioning.
She arrived gagged, blindfolded and wearing a loose black jacket and long black pants.
She had been ill several times on the helicopter flight and had to be half dragged, half carried to the interrogation tent.
I remarked about her lipstick to one of the soldiers. It was unusual to see a Vietnamese wearing lipstick.
The girl was very thin and obviously had not had much food in the past few days.
She was terrified. When they took off the gag and blindfold, she started to cry hysterically.
The questioning was under the control of the warrant officer. He was a big, blond man.
He dragged the girl into the tent and bound her by rope to a chair.
I watched from outside the tent. 1 remember him saying: ‘Don’t worry mate, this little bitch will talk by the time I’m finished with her.’
Then he asked a soldier to get him a bucket of water.
An interpreter asked the girl to give information about the movements of Viet Cong units.
Th: girl refused to talk. Then the torture began.
The girl’s head was held back over the top of the chair and the warrant officer began to pour water down her throat.
Another soldier prised open the girl’s mouth.
The girl immediately began to choke. Tears poured from her eyes.
The water was poured into her mouth from an Army field pannikin. After several minutes the torture was stopped.
The girl was close to fainting. She was asked again to give information.
Again she refused. And the water treatment started once more.
Then I was noticed in the group around the tent. The soldiers were obviously embarrassed that an outsider was witnessing the torture.
I was asked to move away as the girl started to scream.
The soldiers lowered the Maps on the tent as the ‘questioning’ continued. 1 watched five yards away.
After about half an hour, the tent was opened and the warrant officer walked out.
He was angry. I can recall him saying: ‘The bloody bitch is tough. I can’t break her. But give me half a day and I’ll have her talking.’ “There are better ways than using water.’
The girl, who had fainted, was then carried to the POW compound at the camp.
Later I told the Army Press relations officer, Major Ross Smith, who was with me when the torture took place, that I intended to write the story.
Smith immediately went to see Brigadier Jackson and I was told that the story was classified’.
No story could be written about the girl as she was required for further questioning and they did not want the Viet Cong to know they had captured her. Brigadier Jackson, telephoned for comment at his office of Chief of Staff, Headquarters, Eastern Command, said today: ‘I have no comment. I think this is a matter for the Minister for the Army, who is already dealing with it.*
What are the provisions of the Geneva Convention? I would say that after some shuffling, the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) has conceded that these provisions ought to have been observed in relation to the woman. Leaving aside any technicalities or quibbles, we can look at these provisions and see whether they were complied with. The prime matter to be observed about this Convention is that prisoners of war are in the hands of the enemy power, not of the individuals or military units that have captured them. Irrespective of the individual responsibilities that may exist, the detaining power is responsible for the treatment given to prisoners. This means that they are in the hands of Australia, not of any individual soldiers, and this country is responsible for the treatment that is given to them. It goes further than that. The Geneva Convention provides further:
Prisoners of war may only be transferred by the Detaining Power to a Power which is a party to the Convention and after the Detaining Power has satisfied itself of the willingness and ability of such transferee Power to apply the Convention. When prisoners of war are transferred under such circumstances, responsibility for the application of the Convention rests on the Power accepting them while they are in its custody.
Nevertheless, if that Power fails to carry out the provisions of the Convention in any important respect, the Power to whom the prisoners of war were transferred shall, upon being notified by the Protecting Power, take effective measures to correct the situation or shall request the return of the prisoners of war. Such requests must be complied with.
What kind of a joke is it to transfer prisoners to the South Vietnamese? The whole world knows of the brutality that is taking place and of the open breaches of this Convention. One sees them on television and in newspaper photographs. The treatment of prisoners is becoming notorious. Many articles have been written, and never denied, of the open brutality towards prisoners. In spite of this we have the situation in which, according to Mr Sorell’s statement - and this has not been denied anywhere - that the woman prisoner was ultimately handed over to the South Vietnamese. There is no doubt that other prisoners are handed over by our authorities. If this is not so, I should like the Government to say clearly in the course of this debate that they are not handed over. The obligations under the Geneva Convention include these:
Prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.
Prisoners of war are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honour.
Women shall be treated with all the regard due to their sex and shall in all cases benefit by treatment as favourable as that granted to men.
Article 17 of the Convention provides:
No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.
It is beyond question that those provisions have been broken. As I say, leaving aside the technicalities - and the Government concedes there was an obligation to observe those requirements in respect of this person, and they were not observed - what has happened? We find that the person who was responsible for the torture, for the ill treatment, for the degrading treatment of the prisoner has merely been taken away from the task of questioning. He will no longer be permitted to inflict the same sort of treatment on any other prisoner. What has been done to discipline that person, to ensure that such treatment shall not be inflicted on any other prisoner? As I understand it, the Government has at no time stated that it intends to take every step to see that the Convention is observed. There has been no statement from this Government that it will not tolerate torture or ill treatment of prisoners. If the remarks of the Government spokesmen in another place are to be taken as I read them, then indeed the Government is encouraging the use of ill treatment in certain circumstances. How else can one understand the Prime Minister’s saying:
What I was asking the honourable member for Oxley before he ceased to restrain himself was whether, if he were in charge of a military camp in Vietnam and he discovered in that camp a civilian who he knew had set booby traps throughout that camp, he would regard it as such a terrible thing to raise his voice when he asked that person where those booby traps were, or to bash his fist on the table when he said: ‘Did you put them in these tents or those tents?’ Or would Ire - perhaps he would - say: ‘Well, this is just too bad. We will let the Australian troops find out where the booby traps are by falling over them.’
The remarks of the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) constitute a disgraceful attack on the Opposition for raising this matter. By implication again the Government is encouraging the breach of this Convention. What is incorporated in the Geneva Convention is, after all, a precise statement of what is also included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 5 of the Declaration states that no-one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. That is the common standard to be applied in respect of all persons whatever their sex, country, religion or colour. It is a shameful thing that Australia should be allowing, even by implication, the impression to be created that it is not prepared to insist upon the highest standard of adherence to the Declaration of Human Rights and to the Geneva Convention regarding prisoners of war.
– I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy President. I ask you, Sir, to rule whether or not the Leader of the Opposition is infringing the standing order which prohibits reference to debate in another place. On two occasions he has quoted directly from a debate. During a debate last session on the No case for a referendum it was ruled that this procedure was not permissible. A vote taken then for the suspension of Standing Orders was defeated. I ask you to rule whether or not the Leader of the Opposition is in order.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Drake-Brockman) - The point of order raised is that a senator is not allowed to refer to a debate in another place. This rule is not strictly enforced if such a reference helps the speaker. It is left to the discretion of the Chair. I call Senator Murphy.
– This matter having been dealt with elsewhere, and it now being discussed in this chamber, at the very least I ask the Government to make it clear that it not only does not condone what happened in this particular instance but will not tolerate breaches of the Geneva Convention. Everyone knows that these breaches cannot be prevented. No person can prevent breaches of the law. These always will take place. But when the breaches do take place it is incumbent upon the Government and upon every other person in authority who knows of them to see that they are stamped out and that the proper disciplinary action is taken to make it clear to everyone concerned that such breaches will not be tolerated. This is the one thing that the Government so far has refused to do. In fact, everything that has been said has been given a colouring. The Government has said: ‘Well, we admit that there has been some slight breach but would you not do the same thing if you were in those circumstances?’ To adopt this approach is virtually to hold out an invitation, or to imply that the Government is going to close an eye to these things. There is an implication that a blind eye will be shown towards any infringements of the Geneva Convention. If the circumstances are such that the necessities of war require the Convention to be broken, the implication is that people should go ahead and break it and the Government will not do anything about it.
That is not good enough. The purpose of this Convention is to introduce civilisation into circumstances where it is extremely difficult for civilisation to be observed. The only way to introduce this civilising medium is by insistence upon the utmost adherence to the Convention. When some incident is brought to the light of day, then that is the occasion for the Government to be resolute and courageous and to say that it will not stand for such action and that anyone who breaks the Convention will be disciplined, and to let everyone concerned know that such action will not be permitted or tolerated in any way by the Government of Australia.
– Could the honourable senator help me? Is there any doubt at all in his mind that the type of citizen concerned in this case is perhaps not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention? Is there any doubt in the mind of the Opposition?
– In answer to the honourable senator, I say it seems to me that the person concerned is covered. The circumstances indicated in Mr Sorell’s statement would show that this person was covered by the Convention.
– i thought there was some doubt.
– Doubt that the person was a prisoner? Some doubt was raised in the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) but the Prime Minister did indicate that in any event, irrespective of the technicalities, the requirement was that the Convention be observed and that this case was covered.
– That is quite so but what was the law? Let us establish that point.
– Not only was it an obligation under the Geneva Convention; it was also an obligation under Army instructions. As I said, this is one of the standards to be observed by all civilised nations, as set out by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
– I would like the honourable senator to quote that provision if he could in order to show that it covers this class of person.
– Perhaps it would help the honourable senator if I quote the statement made by the International Commission of Jurists which called upon the 1 17 signatories to the Geneva War Conventions to sec that they were observed in Vietnam. The newspaper report of the Commission’s comment stated:
The commission, which has United Nations consultative’ status, supported the recent International Red Cross protest against summary executions and torture of prisoners in Vietnam.
The committing of atrocities by one side to a conflict can neither justify nor excuse the atrocities of the other,’ it said. lt is imperative to the stability of our present civilisation that the growing brutality and the massacres of innocent victims in Vietnam and in other strife-torn areas be brought to an end,’ the commission said.
Surely there can be no question about this. The honourable senator raised the question of whether there was an obligation to be observed in this case. I would have thought that every Australian would take the view that the provisions of these Conventions and the requirements set out therein ought to be observed in relation to these persons in Vietnam, even though the Leader of the Government in this place, the Minister for Supply (Senator Anderson) is not able to say whether Australia is at war in Vietnam.
The Government has avoided this question every time it has been raised in this Senate.
I understand the Government to say that Australia is not really at war in Vietnam, but it is much the same thing as if we were at war. The Government must accept the consequence of this. There is an undeclared war being carried on in Vietnam, if honourable senators like to call it such. It is being said that although it is not strictly legally a war the conflict nevertheless amounts to the same thing. My friend the Prime Minister, or Senator Gorton as he then was, has said: What does it matter if a man is being shot at? If he is killed it is just the same whether it is a declared war or an undeclared war. If we are to engage in this kind of activity then we have to take with us the responsibilities that apply to us as though we were in a real and declared war.
Let us leave aside the legalities and the legal basis of this war. If the Government wants to resile from the moral obligation to observe these provisions in respect of persons captured in Vietnam let it say so, and say so clearly, and not do so by some kind of subterfuge. The Government should not say that it is all very nice to have these provisions but if things are sticky enough one would not expect anyone to observe them, and then let them be breached. If one examines the way in which this matter arose one finds that clearly there has been suppression on the part of persons who knew of what had happened and who were responsible for taking steps to see that it did not recur. The incident happened some 18 months ago. The news of it was suppressed until very recently. Then it came out in a curious way. It was revealed in a book and then through the medium of the Press. The truth would not have emerged but for the courage and forth rightness of Mr Sorell. This should be remembered at a time when it is suggested that there should be heavier censorship of Press reports from Vietnam.
I ask the Government: Why was not this incident known to the then Minister for the Army at the time it occurred? If it was known, why were not steps taken then to discipline the persons responsible and to see that firm instructions were given to prevent, so far as possible, any recurrence? If the former Minister for the Army knew of the incident, then why did the Government announce to the public, through the medium of the present Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch), that there was not a scintilla of evidence to support these allegations?
This is only one of a number of examples of breakdown of ministerial responsibility. There seems to be a growing pattern of behaviour in which the responsible Ministers do not know what is going on in their departments. Statements are being made by them which subsequently prove to be not the truth. The answer is that the Minister was not informed or was misinformed by those advising him. This cannot be easily forgiven when the matter concerns this country’s honour and international relations. Some explanation ought to be given to the Parliament at this stage as to how the nation came to bc misled by the present Minister for the Army who staled that there was not a scintilla of evidence to support the allegations; how it came to be misled later when the Prime Minister said that there was an incident but that there was no ill-treatment; and why the Government refuses to accede to the Opposition’s request for a public inquiry into this matter. A public inquiry is made necessary not merely by the circumstances of the matter but also by reason of the conflicting statements made by the Ministers concerned.
Would the Government also tell us frankly whether any Minister was aware of the (ruth of the matter before statements were made by the present Minister for the Army? In particular, was the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) aware of what had taken place? If the Minister for Defence and the Minister for the Army were not told of the incident, would the Government inform us, again frankly, why they were not so informed? ls it that the Army is proceeding on the basis that, although there has been tin admitted breach of the regulations, and an inquiry has been held into a matter which has bad international implications, apparently the Minister in charge of the Department of the Army was not informed of what had taken place? Will the Minister inform us, so far as he can, what happened not only to the soldier who conducted the interrogation but also to the other soldiers who, according to Mr Sorell’s statement which has been accepted as being true and which has not been questioned by the Government, participated in the illtreatment and torture of the prisoner?
Will the Minister tell the Senate why this information was regarded as classified and for how long it was to be treated as classified? I ask this question because it might be suggested that at the immediate time, or perhaps for a few days or a few weeks afterwards, the capture of a prisoner could be regarded as being a military secret. But surely that position cannot continue for 18 months after an incident has taken place. An absolute ban seems to have been placed on this information. Leaving aside the names or the immediate military requirements, on behalf of the Opposition I would say that this kind of information should be and must be made available to the nation. It certainly must be made available to the Parliament of this nation. Where our country not only is alleged to have broken moral obligations in respect of the ill treatment of prisoners but also admits to having broken those obligations, surely it is a matter of which Ministers ought to have been informed and they in turn ought to have informed this Parliament so that action could be taken to insist that the provisions of the Conventions be observed.
This is another disgraceful incident in which the Government has been concerned. The disgrace to the Government does not arise from the initial incident. No one supposes that all such incidents can be prevented. The disgrace arises from the failure to see that proper corrective measures, such as the imposition of discipline and punishment, were taken, the failure to sec that the matter was truthfully accounted for not only to the nation but also to this Parliament, and the shuffling and attempts to evade responsibility. I ask the Senate this question: Is not it apparent that the truth of this matter would never have come out except for Mr Sorell’s action in stating that he was there, that he saw the incident and that it happened? The truth so far has come out only because of Mr Sorell’s action, his courage, his forthrightness and his passion for the truth. Up to that point the Government’s stand, through its Minister, was that no such thing had happened, that there had been no ill treatment, and that there was not a scintilla of evidence to support the allegations.
This is another instance of the endeavours by this Government to suppress matters until something happens which makes it impossible to suppress them any longer. We saw this happen on a number of occasions last year and we are to see another instance of it in relation to the ‘Voyager’. The Government is prepared to hide the truth until, circumstances occur which make it impossible to hide the truth. The disgrace is that the Government has not yet explained to the nation how this state of affairs came about. It is disgraceful that the Government should have been told that there was not a scintilla of evidence and now it is clear that Mr Sorell’s statement is substantially true. Even more, it is an utter disgrace that not even yet has the Government said firmly that it will take every step within its power to ensure that no further ill treatment or torture of prisoners occurs in Vietnam.
– The Leader of. the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Murphy) has covered a very wide range. It should be recognised that when a ministerial statement similar to the one made in this chamber earlier this afternoon was debated in another place last Thursday evening it attracted from the Opposition a request that a judicial inquiry be held publicly, and an amendment was proposed in an effort to achieve this. I now conclude, and I assume that other honourable senators conclude, that having studied the record of that debate and having examined the facts and circumstances surrounding the unfortunate affair, members of the Opposition have decided that a continuation of their first approach is not necessarily justified.
– The request was rejected by the Government, was it not?
– The Government rejected it for reasons which were fit and proper. I shall enlarge on those reasons only briefly. If the conclusion that I have reached about the attitude of the Opposition is correct, this unfortunate instance of the tragedies of war - undeclared war or any form of warfare - regrettably has been magnified out of all proportion to the circumstances surrounding it. The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate has posed a series of questions. For example, he has asked whether the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) or the present Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser), who was at the time Minister for the Army, knew of the incident. It is rather significant that Senator Murphy quoted from the speeches made by those honourable gentlemen. Therefore we are entitled to conclude that if the honourable senator did not hear those speeches made in another place, at least he has read the report of them. It is abundantly clear from those speeches that those Ministers were not informed and did not know of the circumstances of the incident until a few days before it was debated in another place. In a rhetorical type of address the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate suggested that those Ministers were not aware of the incident. To suit his own convenience, he quoted from their speeches while ignoring their statements that they were unaware of the circumstances of the incident.
As a backdrop to my comments I shall give a brief outline of the circumstances relating to the capture and interrogation of the Vietcong woman concerned. In the Phuoc Tuy province of South Vietnam in October 1966, in a severe military engagement at Long Thanh, eighteen Australian soldiers were killed and twenty-one were wounded. At that time it was apparent that the Vietcong was receiving accurate and continuous intelligence reports concerning activities of the Australian Task Force. I suggest that those matters are not in dispute. The facts clearly indicate that there was a thorough Vietcong observation of the Australian camp and the activities of Australian patrols. All movements on the Saigon to Vung Tau road were the subject of observations from high ground by observers who were protected by the cover of jungle and who obviously were linked by radio full time with other Vietcong radio units in the province.
Senator Murphy acknowledged that .in certain circumstances it is not possible to be categorical about the reactions of men. At that time the Australian Task Force found itself in very difficult and terrible circumstances. The continued operation of the radio observation post presented constant harassment and very real danger to the Australian troops. On the afternoon of 24th October 1966 an Australian patrol located a complex of tunnels in the hills west of the headquarters of the Task Force. A preliminary search revealed some equipment and a radio aerial. A further intensive search resulted in the finding and apprehension of a Vietcong woman who was in possession of a powerful radio transmitter and receiver, referred to as a ‘transceiver’ in the debate in another place. Beyond reasonable doubt, the patrol had found a radio observation post which for 3 months had provided effective information to the Vietcong. Because of the onset of darkness the Australian patrol remained in the hills overnight and shortly after 8 o’clock the next morning the woman was brought out to the Task Force headquarters, where she was photographed by a number of pressmen from all over the world.
– Because of the peculiar circumstances of that campaign, pressmen and photographers are allowed to obtain information in Vietnam to provide news for people all over the world. That is one of the peculiarities of the Vietnam campaign as against any other campaigns that have been fought’ - within memory, at least. It is a fact that the Vietcong woman was photographed and observed by a number of pressmen from various countries. That occupied a period of from 10 to 15 minutes. She was taken into an interrogation tent at approximately 10 a.m. She subsequently left the tent and was again photographed by correspondents. The statement has been made that at the time she was composed and that she posed for photographs to be taken. She was then flown to the United States Field Force Headquarters at Long Binh. Senator Murphy produced an argument which as a generality might have some significance, but in this case it has no force at all.
Shortly afterwards, the Commander of the Australian Task Force learned of the interrogation and appointed an officer of field rank to conduct an investigation. That investigation was completed on 3 1st October 1966. As a direct result of its findings, the person who conducted the interrogation of the Vietcong woman was transferred from interrogation duty. That was quite clearly stated by the Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch). Seventeen months later, on 7th March 1968, a number of Australian newspapers drew attention to a book recently published by Martin Russ, an American author, in which he wrote that Australian soldiers in Vietnam attempted to avoid the Vietcong. I repeat that that statement appears in a book written by an
American author. He alleged that the Australian soldiers in Vietnam attempted to avoid the Vietcong, for cowardly reasons. The implications of that statement I think are disgraceful. This American author also wrote that the Australian soldiers handled the civilian population roughly and used torture on prisoners to extract information. The generality of those statements would, I am sure, create an instant reaction in the heart and mind of any Australian, particularly in the hearts and minds of exservicemen and servicemen. The Minister for the Army, from the information then available to him, denied these allegations. And let it be said here again that one can quite understand the reaction of the Minister for the Army to these allegations. It would be the same reaction as any one of us would have on reading generalised allegations of avoiding the enemy and so on.
As I say, on the information then available to him, the Minister for the Army denied the allegations and indicated that a detailed investigation would be made. After the Minister’s statement had been published, a Melbourne journalist named Mr Sorell, who had been a war correspondent in Vietnam, informed the Minister that he, Sorell, had personally witnessed the interrogation and had supplied an American writer named Martin Russ with the details. This afternoon, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Murphy) read out Mr Sorell’s statement, as did the Leader of the Opposition in another place (Mr Whitlam). Mr Sorell stated that he was asked, for security reasons, not to publish the report, and he did not do so. But, on his own say-so, he did supply the information to some journalist who wanted to write a sensational book in another country. I do not see any great virtue in Mr Sorell’s statement at all. I find the two things extraordinarily incompatible. If, for 17 months. Mr Sorell did not feel that he had any obligation in respect of what he said he saw - and what he said he saw is not in dispute - then I find it an extraordinary approach to the sort of mental problem that he must have had that he should in fact supply background information for somebody to put in a novel written for money.
– Did Sorell inform Martin Russ that the Australians were conducting themselves in a cowardly fashion and running away from the Vietcong?
– This is the statement that was read out here. I come now to the substance of what was found as a result of the investigation that was carried out by an officer of field rank - and I am not walking around it. On 12th March 1968 which is not so very long ago the report of the Army investigation held some 17 months ago was received in Canberra. That report substantially confirmed the statement by Mr Sorell. It disclosed that the interrogator had breached the instructions laid down by the Australian Army as to methods of interrogation and that the interrogation was not carried out in accordance with the spirit of and the principles laid down by the Geneva Convention. There is no doubt about that, and the Government has not attempted in any way to walk round that fact. As a consequence of the finding of the investigator, the officer who was responsible for interrogation was removed from interrogation duties.
The point that I want to emphasise here is that, in the name of all that is Australian, the fact that there was this one unfortunate incident should never be used as a basis for suggesting that there have been many more incident in which Australian soldiers have been involved in this way. The Minister for Defence in another place made it quite clear in his speech that inquiries have categorically established that Australian soldiers have not been involved in any other interrogation incidents of this nature, and this one incident should not have been used by the American writer in question as a basis for suggesting in his book that Australians are by nature and inclination brutal or cowardly. Such a suggestion must be completely repulsive and revolting to every decent citizen in Australia, and in saying that I make no exceptions on the ground of creed, class, politics or anything else. To find such a suggestion linked with this particular incident, regrettable as it was, is something which stirs my emotions and I am sure the emotions of any decent Australian. I find it hard to control my feelings, and our servicemen and ex-servicemen must find it particularly hard to do so.
I repeat, there has been no evidence at all of any other such incidents involving Australians in South Vietnam where, as I have already stated, there are 450 or 500 journalists who represent what are no doubt bona fide journals and newspapers throughout the world. All these men are scrutinising the war in detail and publicising what is going on in Vietnam by way of photographs and stories. These men make no suggestion of our involvement in similar incidents. They do not make similar allegations to those made by this American author, and the Government is satisfied that in fact the substance of what has been alleged has been shown to be true.
I do not move away from that fact at all, but I do point out that no war in history has been subjected to such close scrutiny and such detailed reporting as the war in Vietnam, and the fact that all these other journalists who are specialists at their work, and who have been sent there to record matters such as this, have made no allegations of incidents other than the one in question should be emphasised here, it is interesting to note that whilst in the free world area - South Vietnam - ample provision is made for the dissemination throughout the world by means of Press, radio, and other mass communication media of news relating to the war, we hear nothing about, free Press, free radio or free television reporting behind the Vietcong lines. Indeed, we have no information as to what is happening there in the way of interrogation. lt was suggested earlier in another place that there should be an inquiry. Let me say in fairness to the Leader of the Opposition, this suggestion has not been pursued here. Therefore I do not propose to direct my mind or my argument to it. But there has been some argument as to whether the woman in question was in fact an agent, a spy, or a soldier, and this has been linked with reference to the Geneva Conventions. I must say, too, in fairness to the Leader of the Opposition that he did not pursue this argument, but the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) did make it clear that suggestions made were without foundation, that the members of the Australian forces had in fact been instructed that they must comply with the conditions laid down by the Geneva Conventions. Senator Murphy made passing reference to the point, but the fact is that throughout the whole of the debate in another place it was never suggested that the conditions of the Geneva Conventions should not have been complied with in this instance. The fact is that all Australian servicemen are given full instructions as to what these conditions are and what they mean.
– Order! Two hours having elapsed from the time set down for the meeting of the Senate, the business of the day will be called on.
Motion (by Senator Anderson) agreed to:
That consideration of orders of the day be postponed until after further consideration of the Ministerial Statement on the Army Interrogation incident in Vietnam.
– Though this incident cannot be condoned there should be in the minds of all of us some attempt to understand the type of provocation which led up to it. I do not think that any of us can ignore the circumstances of war, declared or otherwise - and J do not want to have a discussion with Senator Tangney on the difference between the two. In the circumstances confronting these men it is easy to understand that sometimes something can go wrong. Even Senator Murphy acknowledged this in the point that he made.
– I said that the Government should not tolerate it.
– The Government has indicated that it does not tolerate this type of conduct.. It has made that perfectly clear.
– How did you punish them?
– Does the honourable senator suggest that in these circumstances, some 17 months after an incident, the measure of a Government’s sincerity is to be determined by the amount of punishment that it bands out to an individual?
– I am talking about punishment at the time, not 17 months later.
– Do you not think that there are refinements of punishment which do not involve what you have in mind? The fact is that the person concerned was taken off interrogation duty. That was an acknowledgment that a serious mistake had been made. As I . have said, the Vietcong woman was a trained person. A situation had built up over a period - it did not happen in a day - and it became desirable to try to get some information which would have the effect of saving the lives of Australian servicemen. It is true that, in the event, intimidation was used and that some intimidatory as well as painful treatment was indulged in, though it should never have been used. I say that with some knowledge of the matter.
– What did they do to the officer?
– Where is he today?
– The warrant officer was removed from that type of duty in the future. I conclude by saying, Madam Deputy President, that investigation revealed this incident as having occurred. When the Minister for the Army got the full facts he made a complete statement in another place. The Government has revealed that, in substance, what was alleged did occur. It was made abundantly clear by the Prime Minister and eight throughout the debate in another place that the Government does not condone or approve of what happened. It is completely contrary to Australian commitments under the Geneva Conventions. For that reason, and in the interests of our own servicemen and of our country and of all those men who have served it in the past, having taken the point that a grave error occurred and that corrective action was taken and having accepted the Government’s assurance that this incident will not recur, we should as quickly as possible put the whole incident behind us. We are aware that it happened in tragic circumstances but we know that this sort of thing is not part of the Australian character or of military procedure - indeed, that it is contrary to what we would require of our armed forces. Having put the matter behind us, the sooner we get on to the next item on the business paper, the better.
– Before I address myself to the motion I should like to refer to several matters to which the Minister for Supply (Senator Anderson) has referred. In reply to Senator Murphy he said that he has taken the fact that the Labor Party has not proceeded with its amendment that a committee of inquiry be appointed to inquire into this matter as some evidence that the Parly no longer wished to proceed with that course of action, or that it had abandoned the idea that it was a suitable course. This is not so. The Minister’s inference is not correct. It was seen the other evening in another place that the Government is not willing to accept such an amendtion. Therefore, it was the view of the Opposition that it would merely be a waste of time, procedurally, to carry on with such a proposition when clearly it would be rejected. My colleagues and I felt that we would be serving a much better purpose if we were to discuss the matter without going through that procedure.
The second point that I want to mention is the criticism contained in the Minister’s remarks against Mr Sorell, the journalist. Senator Anderson told the Senate a few moments ago that there was some thing reprehensible about Mr Sorell’s conduct, and that this journalist had an obligation to report the incident when it took place. I am mystified as to whom Mr Sorell could have been expected to report. He was aware that a major was present, among other officers, at the time and one would assume that he would have expected that if any breach of the Geneva Conventions or of Army regulations were taking place, the matter would have been dealt with. Mr Sorell is not a permanent ombudsman for the Australian Army who has to ensure that every breach of regulations that he witnesses is reported to the Minister for the Army. Indeed, he felt he had to act only when he saw printed in the Press the denial by the Minister for the Army that this episode had taken place.
Mr Sorell was taken to task for talking to an American journalist about this matter. I must say that this is a strange interpretation by the Minister of the American alliance. I should have thought that if we are to have this alliance, if it is so important and if men are to be killed as a result of of it, surely it includes free exchange of information among journalists. One can only wonder why the Government should wish to prevent the exchange of information between the journalists from these two great, free countries of the United States of America and Australia.
– They also asked Sorell not to report the matter.
– Yes. Sorell was asked by the Army at the time not to report the matter, as it was classified. I come now to a rather minor point which is not strictly relevant to the debate, but a point was made by the Minister to which I feel I should refer. My memory does not go back to the Boer War or to the Crimean War and I do not know whether what the Minister was saying is correct. He said that this war is the best reported war in history. I do not know whether this is so. The Minister added that this was so only so far as South Vietnam and the free world were concerned. One does not find these same foreign journalists in North Vietnam. Unfortunately the Library of this Parliament does not receive any foreign language journals, as far as I know. If one were to look at West German, French, Italian and Japanese newspapers one would find that a considerable number of newspapers published in the Western world have correspondents stationed in North Vietnam and they provide very detailed reports, apparently to the satisfaction of those newspapers, on the events that are occurring inside North Vietnam.
The Opposition would agree with Senator Anderson that there was possibly considerable provocation for the unfortunate event which took place and which has given rise to this debate. In the course of a battle one must expect events like this one to occur from time to time. We are not disputing that. It is more than 100 years since the destruction of Atlanta, when General Sherman said that war is all hell. It is for this reason that the Labor Party is opposed to our soldiers being involved in this war. It is for this reason that the Labor Party believes that unless there is an overwhelming case for participation in any war the soldiers of this country should not be sent to take part in it. That is what we believe. It is because we know that matters of this kind are bound to arise in the event of a war that we are opposed to Australian soldiers being involved in this war.
We are not engaged in casting any reflections on the Australian Army. We would agree with Senator Anderson that, in fact, in this very closely reported war few if any episodes, other than this one, of brutality on the part of Australian soldiers have been reported. We are not disputing that. It is not the purpose of members of the Opposition as Australian members of Parliament to discredit the Australian Army. But we believe that the most patriotic service that one can give to one’s country is to see that the armed forces of one’s country function according to the highest principles. We do not believe - I certainly do not believe - that those Germans who knew of atrocities committed by the SS or of the atrocities committed by the Gestapo or of the extermination camps and who kept quiet about those matters were the most patriotic Germans. I submit that the most patriotic Germans were those who were prepared to expose atrocities committed by their own country.
We have no evidence that atrocities of that nature have occurred in Vietnam, but we do have evidence that a member of the Australian armed forces committed one particular act which according to the ministerial statement was contrary to the spirit of the Geneva Convention and contrary to Army regulations. We believe that if matters such as this do occur they should be dealt with; they should not be swept under the carpet. If any merit at all is to be obtained from Australia’s participation in the horrible war in Vietnam it is that the Australian soldiers are conducting themselves in such a way that the people of Asia may say that the soldiers, even though they disagree with the policy of their Government, are acquitting themselves honourably and adding credit to their country. We believe that, if we do not deal with matters such as this one that has been reported, that will not he the case and dishonour will result both to the Australian Army and to the Australian people.
There seems to have been a certain measure of hedging by the Government on this whole question of what took place in October 1966. For example, the Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch) said in his statement in another place that the matter of the alleged torture was investigated one week after the incident took place, which was on 24th October 1966. In a speech made in another place in the course of the debate on that statement the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) said that he was in the locality on 31st October 1966. So, if both the Minister for Defence and the Minister for the Army were correct in the statements that they made in another place, the Minister for Defence was in the same locality at the time when the investigation was taking place.
It seems to be a most extraordinary state of affairs that an investigation of such a serious matter as a breach of the spirit of the Geneva Convention - let us not argue about the letter of the Convention if that disturbs Senator Webster or anybody else - was being held while the Minister for Defence was present, yet he knew nothing whatsoever about it until some disclosures were made by Mr Sorell of the Melbourne Herald’ and a journalist writing in the United States of America. This whole question seems to have been shrouded in some sort of evasion.
Let me refer to a question which I asked and which is recorded in the Senate Hansard for 4th May 1966. It was Question No. 867. The Hansard report reads:
asked the Minister tor External Affairs, upon notice -
– The Minister for External Affairs has furnished the following reply -
That question was answered in May 1966, and the incident that we are debating this afternoon took place in October of the same year. It seems rather extraordinary that on such a serious matter, an answer having been given to the Parilament to the effect that interrogation was not undertaken by Australian troops-
– This was a preliminary interrogation.
-. . . before prisoners were handed over to the United States authorities, there should have been a departure of this nature without Parliament being advised of it. I heard an interjection - I think it came from Senator Wright - to the effect that this was a preliminary interrogation. Well, if this was a preliminary interrogation T certainly would not like to be given the full treatment. If preliminary interrogation involves a breach of the Geneva Convention and causes an incident such as this to occur, one dreads to think what a complete investigation would be like. If this is what Senator Wright regards as a preliminary investigation, what would a complete investigation be like?
One of the most distressing features of this discussion has been the tendency of many members of the Government and its affiliated parties - in this instance I am not referring to Senator Anderson, who spoke this afternoon - to impute some lack of patriotism to people who dare to criticise either the conduct of this war or the nature of certain actions of the Australian forces. A very difficult situation will arise soon because we see from the most recent gall up poll that more than 50% of the population of the United States are now calling for immediate withdrawal from the war in Vietnam. The people who want to keep Australian troops in Vietnam will have to think of some argument other than the American alliance in order to justify Australian participation in the war. They will have to use the Philippines alliance, the Thai alliance or the New Zealand alliance in order to justify it. The American alliance will not be of any great help to them in future.
It is not reasonable to say - I do not think this proposition would be accepted by any decent Australian - that there is anything unpatriotic about calling attention to failings in the administration of the armed forces of one’s own country. It is my view - I believe that it is the view of the Australian Labor Party - that the most patriotic Australians are those who are prepared to risk the calumny that comes from a number of military heroes such as Senator McManus when anybody makes any statement of that nature.
– I was just sitting here behaving myself.
– Earlier in this debate Senator McManus raised a matter of this nature.
– The honourable senator should have known belter than to mention my name.
– I do not think that I will worry about that interjection. But Senator McManus implied that any person who questioned the policy of Australia in Vietnam was unpatriotic.
– Not all people, but only people like the honourable senator.
– Oh, only people like me? Well, to be called unpatriotic by Senator McManus I take as a compliment. I think that he said the same thing of Senator O’Byrne on another occasion. If Senator McManus could emulate the record of service to this country that Senator O’Byrne has, I would be prepared to listen to him. To date, he cannot do so.
– We are both happy.
– He cannot do so at the moment, and I am completely happy. I notice ‘that there is the same hilarity in this chamber this evening as there was in another place on the occasion when this very serious matter was being debated.
– The honourable senator has to admit that he is speaking now.
– That is a most intelligent contribution. I am sure that the grinning Ministers and grinning members of the Senate who support the Government have a great deal to grin about. But I do not think that any person who has any reasonable measure of humanity can find any humour whatsoever in an accusation of torture being made against members of our Armed Forces serving in Vietnam. There is nothing in the slightest degree funny in such a matter as this.
Madam Acting Deputy President, submissions have been made this afternoon by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate which in fact have been endorsed by statements which were made in another place by the Minister for the Army and repeated by his representative here in the Senate this afternoon, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar). The Minister has said quite clearly that instructions given by the Army as to methods of interrogation, make it clear that this action was contrary both to the spirit of the Geneva Convention and to the issued Army instructions. Still, we find a situation where, if it had not been for the action of this journalist Sorell, the Australian Parliament, the Australian people, and, apparently, even the Australian Government would have been completely unaware that the episode ever took place. We can be thankful to Mr Sorell. If it had not been for Mr Sorell, this shocking matter would not have been brought even to the attention of the Australian Parliament or of the Australian people.
– Did he not also slur Australian soldiers by saying that they were not game to fight?
– I do not know whether Mr Sorell said that. I do not know whether he said it, but a statement to that effect was made in the American book. Whether that information was provided by Mr Sorell or not, f do not have the slightest idea. I do know this: Mr Sorell has provided information concerning this matter which has been admitted by the Government itself. The Government has admitted the truth of the allegations which were made by Mr Sorell.
There is still no evidence that any action has been taken by the Australian authorities to prevent similar happenings in the future. All that we have been told about what has happened to the warrant officer who was responsible for this interrogation is that he has been removed from duties of interrogation. We do not know where he is now; what has happened to him; or whether he did suffer any form of punishment. The Opposition is not arguing at this stage, 17 months after the event, that this man should be victimised. We are not saying that action should be taken against this man at this stage some 17 months later.
What we are saying is that if the Geneva Convention is breached by members of the Australian Armed Forces, it is not much use saying that instructions given by the Army as to methods of interrogation make it clear that these actions are not allowed, and so on, if absolutely nothing is done by the Army when such actions are reported to it. Otherwise, the statement is completely meaningless. If we say that we are going to make it clear that this conduct is contrary to the Geneva Convention but w: cannot do anything about it, we may just as well save our breath and we may just as well go along with senior Ministers and some senior members of this Parliament who are acting in a manner that would suggest that such atrocities are completely justified.
– And scrap the Convention.
– Yes, and scrap the Convention, as Senator Hendrickson says. The Minister for Repatriation, when he was speaking this afternoon, said that although a breach of the Convention had occurred this breach was committed in order to save the lives of certain Australian soldiers. This is always the case when any interrogation is taking place. It is always the case when torture is used. The purpose always is to obtain information that is of some benefit to the army to which the interrogator belongs. Although I suppose il does happen in some circumstances, it would be very rare for anyone to torture someone for fun. The torture and harsh methods of interrogation indeed are used in order to obtain information, lt was because civilised nations recognised that there were certain circumstances in which individual soldiers understandably would be tempted to engage in harsh methods of interrogation that the civilised nations adopted the Geneva Convention.
The purpose of the Geneva Convention was to place the onus on nations which were parties to it to see that by their own actions they would prevent the understandable reactions by their own ordinary soldiers in the field. They were making it clear to soldiers in the field that however tempting it might be to extort information from a prisoner by harsh means, by torture or by another method, the nature of civilisation was such that this should be prevented. That was the purpose of the Geneva Convention.
I believe that we have been seeing both in the debate which took place in another place and in part of the debate that has taken place here some evidence of a slide into barbarism by this country. Whatever it may be, this matter is not a funny matter. It is not a laughing matter. It is not a matter for jeering, hooting, giggling and hollering as we have heard both in the Senate and in another place. It is a serious matter upon which the honour of Australia depends.
The Opposition still makes it clear that we are not offering any insult to the Australian Armed Forces overseas. We are not saying that one cannot admit that there are circumstances when people’s tempers or their nerves become so frayed that actions of this type take place. But we are saying this: It is a very serious matter when a government docs not strictly enforce such solemn agreements as the Geneva Convention. It is a serious matter when Ministers, including senior Ministers, speak in such a way, as Senator Murphy already has referred to, that it can only be taken that they are endorsing any actions, whatever they may be, which are taken in order to extract information from people to whom we may be opposed.
This is what the Opposition stands against. We do not stand in opposition to the Australian Army. We do not stand in opposition even to the individual Australian soldier who was involved very likely in the heat of a horrible battle in this most distressing episode. We do say this: The Government must make it clear to this Parliament, to the Australian people and to the whole world that, despite the implication which followed from certain statements that have been made, Australia has not abandoned the Geneva Convention and that however horrible this war may be and whatever anybody else might do Australians at least will try to carry themselves like civilised human beings and not like animals.
– Mr Acting Deputy President, in taking part in this debate, I feel that I should reply to some of the things that were said by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy). He commenced his speech by saying that certain information had been suppressed. I ask the Senate in the first place: How could we suppress some 450 journalists who were in Vietnam at this time? They were there. This embargo to my knowledge did not apply to them. How is it that over the 17 months that have elapsed since this incident those journalists did not see fit to report this matter? Some of the topline journalists in the world are in Vietnam. Why did this information have to come from some obscure person?
– Who was the one who witnessed it?
– Never mind. J wish to treat this matter in a calm way because a debate like this can develop to the stage where personalities come into it. This is the last thing that I. want to see. About 450 journalists were there - among them some of the top line journalists in the world - yet they did not see fit to report this incident that occurred 17 months ago.
– They ignored it but this one did not.
– It is obvious, to me anyhow, that this is probably the only incident of its kind in Vietnam in which Australian troops have been involved. I hold that opinion because of the blaze of publicity, fanned by the Opposition, which surrounds it. If there had been any similar incident I am sure it would have been brought to light. I am convinced that this minor incident is the only one of its kind that has occurred in Vietnam. Correct behaviour is in keeping with the tradition of the Australian soldier when he is involved in war. 1 am reminded that after the Japanese capitulation in Singapore, when our own troops had the opportunity to vent their spleen on their captors, the number of times on which that occurred could be counted on the fingers of one hand because it is not in keeping with the tradition of an Australian soldier. I certainly would be the last to condone such behaviour.
The Leader of the Opposition praised Mr Sorell and said that he was a very courageous person. I wonder how Sorell lived with his conscience for 17 months in the knowledge that he had broken his word by giving this information to an obscure American journalist. It is interesting to ask why the Opposition has changed its ground. In another place it saw fit, at the conclusion of the debate, to force two divisions, one on the motion that the question be put and the other when the question was put. Has the Opposition realised that there is no further political mileage in this incident? On the other hand, has the Opposition realised that the Australian people have felt a wave of revulsion that so much capital should have been made out of this one minor incident involving our Australian troops who have been fighting abroad for many years now, in the Korean war, the Malayan war and now this war? I pose those questions to the Senate.
I cannot recall any similar incident in any of those wars and I am wondering whether the Opposition has not made the same move as was made in the other place because it realises that there is no further political mileage in this incident. I am not the slightest impressed by Senator Wheeldon’s explanation because I truly believe he had his tongue in his cheek when he was making it. In the 10 ½ years I have been here I cannot recall an instance in which the Opposition has forced a debate to a vote in the other place and has abandoned that procedure in the Senate. It may have happened, of course, and I will be interested to learn of it. The honourable senator did not impress me with his statement that he would not press the matter here because Labor does not have the numbers. I wonder why it was pressed in the other place because everyone knows darn well that Labor certainly does not have the numbers there.
– I did not say it was because we did not have the numbers here, I said because it had been rejected in another place.
– That is right. It was pretty safe to propose an amendment because Labor knew the amendment could not be carried. How does the honourable senator know that he would not have received support from this side of the chamber as has happened before?
– Will the honourable senator support a motion if we propose one?
– I did not say 1 would support the Opposition.
– If the honourable senator is inviting us to do so, we will move it.
– No, I am not. I am wondering at the Opposition’s inconsistency in forcing this matter to a vote in the other place and not doing so here. I interpret that as an indication that the Opposition realises that there is no further political mileage in the incident and that the Australian people are against Labor for the move it made in the other place.
I am delighted that our Australian ti oops in Vietnam cannot listen to a debate such as has taken place here today, and I include in that my own contribution. I believe they must regard with utter and deserved contempt the attitude that the Opposition adopts in the Australian Parliament. The Opposition seems to seek to undermine the excellent morale of our men in Vietnam who are fighting so bravely in difficult circumstances. 1 have no doubt that the enemy will know of this debate - at least the part that suits them - in a matter of a few hours. If the enemy could hear it they would be gleefully clapping their hands at the .kind of assistance they are receiving in fighting the psychological side of this war. Why must members of the Opposition always put Australian soldiers in the wrong? I must point out that I do not include all members of the Opposition in that because I know it does not apply to the vast majority of them.
It is significant that the Minister in his statement said that after interrogation the woman walked out of the tent, was composed and even posed for photographs.
– That is not exactly what Sorell said. There is a little inconsistency.
– 1 did not say what Sorell said; I said what the Minister said. I want it to be clearly understood that I, and I am sure very other member in this chamber, would not condone action of the kind reported to have taken place because anyone who has seen torture, who has experienced torture or who has watched his fellow man experience torture must have a feeling of complete and utter revulsion from this kind of thing. I believe this incident has been blown up out ot all proportion.
– The Minister said there was not a scintilla of evidence and the next ti. ing we heard-
– Do not cite that. The Minister has made an explanation. He said that he was given incorrect information and that this is an internal matter in relation to which he will deal with the officers who gave him that information. The honourable senator can deal with it as he wishes but I claim that this incident has been blown up out of all proportion largely because of the debate that was initiated in the other place. This is having an effect in Australia and throughout the world. An insidious psychological war is going on which is designed to break the will of men to fight in a war from which, quite frankly. we have nothing to gain. We are only defending the rights of free people to make their own decisions.
– It is a war, is it?
– Wherever people are shooting at each other I believe there is a war. The honourable senator has been where I have been - at the blunt end of a rifle - and I know he would agree that it is a war.
– Then why nol declare it a war?
– I say it is a war.
– Why does not the Government say it is a war and have done with it?
-] say it is a war but 1 do not happen to be the Government. 1 am a supporter of the Government.
– Why not declare it?
– I have the floor. If the honourable senator wants to turn such a serious matter into something ridiculous, he can do so but I will not follow him along the tortuous paths his mind is taking him. I reinforce my arguments by referring to a letter written by Mr J. Rex Hall of Glen Iris, a citizen whom I do not know. This is what he said:
The incident of alleged torture bv one of our servicemen has, through Mr Whitlam and his colleagues, assumed dimensions beyond reasonable comprehension.
Does anyone disagree that this has been taken beyond the bounds of a minor incident. 1 believe that the blame rests with the Opposition for the move it made in the other place. I am delighted to know that Senator Murphy had the influence - at least he apparently had the courage - to persuade whoever may have been concerned that a similar move should not be made in this place. I think he has at least shown some wisdom. Mr Hall concluded his letter in this way:
Mr Whitlam must know that his action, with the world-wide publicity that will follow, has done a grave disservice to our country, especially in the hands of our enemies. Such political humbug, in my opinion, can only denigrate his status as a leader.
He would have scored full marks had he accepted the situation, and moved that special precautions be taken to preserve the good name of Australia’s fighting services.
– Who said that?
– I said that I did not know the* person, but 1 named him - Mr J. Rex Hall of Glen Iris. I lay quite a bit of blame at the door of the Press of Australia. I know it is the job of the Press to report, but I think there should be some responsible reporting. The newspapers should not take an issue such as this and blow it up out of all proportion. Having aid that against the Press, I now want to say something in favour of one of the newspapers - the ‘Daily Telegraph’. 1 shall quote from an editorial in that publication, and in answer to those who may think that I am quoting out of context, it appeared on 15th March. It reads:
Let us remember that the Australian troops concerned had just emerged from their bloodiest encounter of the campaign, leaving eighteen young Australian dead and many wounded.
Nothing can condone the ill treatment of a prisoner, but I think critics must’ put themselves in the position of the man who perpetrated this act. One would need to have lived in the atmosphere of war, to have seen eighteen or more of his own comrades with whom he had fought killed, and more of them maimed and wounded, to understand why this man broke an Australian tradition, disobeyed the orders of his commanding officer and infringed a convention in which 1 hope we all believe. So one has to put oneself in his position before judging the whole of the Australian military forces - the Army - on the actions of this one man. That is what this leading article in effect says.
– Do you think people would be entitled to do this to a parachuting pilot who had just come out of an aircraft from which he had killed 100 people by bombing?
– No, I do not. I would not do it, and I do not think Senator O’Byrne would do it. However, it is hard for a person sitting or standing here in the quiet confines of the Senate to say just what would happen in a time of stress and war during an incident such as that referred to by Senator O’Byrne. Would one kill a pilot when he is parachuting from an aircraft from which he has bombed and killed 100 of one’s mates? I say now, standing here in the Senate, that I would not, but I do not really know how I would act in a situation like that. I do not think anyone can answer with certainty a hypothetical question like that. The editorial in the ‘Daily Telegraph* continues - these are not my flamboyant expressions:
As Mr Gorton has pointed out, the Australian people, who have the flower of their youth committed in Vietnam, will be the best judges of the rights and wrongs of what happened at Nui Dat when Australian lives were endangered two yean ago.
I believe the Australian people have made up their minds on this. I believe they have looked at it, weighed it, and made their judgment on it. The editorial goes on:
It is a rough, tough, all-in, thoroughly repulsive war in which our soldiers are not playing kissinthering but fighting to survive and to beat an implacable enemy who observe no rules of any kind.
– Whom are you quoting?
– I am quoting from a leading article in the ‘Daily Telegraph’ of 15th March.
Sitting suspended from 5.46 to 8 p.m.
- Mr President, I am sorry that Senator Devitt is not in the chamber at the moment’ because I wanted to apologise to him for shouting at him. It was not a very gentlemanly thing to do. I did answer his interjections, on three occasions I think, and 1 will check this later. I said that’ I did believe it was a war in Vietnam. Whether it is a declared war or an undeclared war does not alter my opinion about it.
– The honourable senator does believe it?
– I do believe it is a war in Vietnam. I categorically said that to Senator Devitt. Then I started to shout at him and 1 have apologised for doing so. Also, I pounded my table with a clenched fist. Already I have committed two of the offences we are debating here today. 1 am glad that I was not provoked enough, retained my senses, and restrained myself from throwing a glass of water over him. He was a bit far away for me to do so. I want to wind up what I have had to say on this matter and to close on this note: So far as the Nui Dat incident is concerned I believe it should now be considered closed. I cannot see any good in further raking over this affair as I believe this would only assist the enemy, both within and without.
– Mr President, the very words used by Senator Branson since the suspension of the sitting describe the trend of the debate throughout the afternoon. The trend has been to try to belittle this incident; to make it appear as just a minor incident that happened 17 months ago; and to say that as it was an isolated incident no person is accusing Australian forces of widespread brutality and therefore the incident should be forgotten. Now I and other Opposition senators take the opposite view in order to prevent any repetition. No matter what an enemy does, at least our hands should be clean on the whole issue. As an assurance that our hands be clean in future we should, amongst other things, use a deterrent in order to prevent any repetition. Of course, those people who know of the brutalities suffered during the last war realise that there is a clear need for recognition of some rules, or convention, in an attempt to prevent brutalities on future occasions. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) this afternoon read a report about an investigation commission which went into the matter of atrocities. That commission’s report said that brutality on one side did not justify brutality on another side. Whatever may be done by the Vietcong, or any other section, at least we should see that our hands are clean so that we have the right to condemn brutality whenever it happens.
– Does the honourable senator say that there was brutality in this actual case?
– If the honourable senator listens to my speech he will come to the conclusion that I am making out a case to show that brutality did occur. Whatever the meaning of the words ‘substantially correct’ may be, there is no likeness between the statement made by the reporter Sorell and the report of the military inquiry. If we accept that the military report is correct I would say that this was a minor incident. If we accept the report of Mr Sorell there is justification for an inquiry. Because I am not prepared to accept either account I say that there is evidence which should be placed before some tribunal, a trained tribunal capable of ascertaining who is telling the truth in this matter and to ascertain the extent of this particular incident.
We do not stop brutality by writing it down and telling of the sacrifices made by someone else. We should not try to lighten the gravity of this incident. If we think about these things we can see the justification for having conventions relating to the treatment of prisoners of war. Those rules are designed to ensure that prisoners of war. people from opposing sides, are treated after capture as human beings. Troops on the other side possibly fight just as keenly as our troops for a cause in which they believe. Once we capture troops from the other side we accept them as human beings. They are entitled to the same humane treatment as we would expect for Australian soldiers captured by our enemies. That was the intention of the Geneva convention.
We do not get over this incident by asking whether the woman came within the terms or classifications of an active prisoner of war, or by asking whether she was a participant. Surely if the woman concerned in this incident did not come within the definition there was still no justification for slow torture. We must recognise that there is an obligation to treat people as human beings even though they are members of an armed enemy force. Even though they are engaged in warfare at the time of capture, upon capture they are entitled to humane treatment. Possibly this is more important in Vietnam than in any other place in which Australians have fought because it is recognised that the campaign in Vietnam cannot be won on military grounds alone. We are also fighting this campaign by using a pacification programme, a programme of civil aid and a programme to develop the hamlets in Vietnam to show a new way of life to the Vietnamese. If there is any substantiation for the charge that we are debating, then all that we are showing those people is the brutality of some sections of our fighting forces. If there is truth in this allegation it means that we people who are trying to bring a new life to the Vietnamese are also showing that we can inflict the same brutality of which we accuse the North Vietnamese and Vietcong. This is one reason why we must be particularly careful to observe the international convention covering this type of fighting in which we are engaged in Vietnam. I again emphasise that this is particularly important in this area, possibly far more important than in any other fighting in which we have been engaged.
These rules governing warfare were also introduced because of the keen desire of each country to protect its own forces. We can expect to get humane treatment for members of our fighting forces captured by the enemy only if our own hands are clean and we can say that we have given humane treatment to our prisoners of war. The responsibility extends past the interrogation stage. The responsibility remains for as long as those people are prisoners of war. Our responsibility to our prisoners is to see that they are treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention which was ratified by this Parliament. We accept that responsibility in the hope that our soldiers, when captured by an enemy, will get similar treatment from the other side. Acceptance of that responsibility on our part gives us a right to condemn if our troops do not receive similar treatment. We forfeit that right if we treat prisoners of war brutally and we cannot complain if our enemy treats our soldiers in a similar way. We have a double responsibility to our own forces - a responsibility to mankind - to see that the humanitarian procedures for the treatment of prisoners of war are observed by Australian forces. 1 think we all accept that this incident is not a general indication of the way Australian soldiers conduct an interrogation. 1 do not think anyone believes that Australian forces would go out of their way, as a matter of practice or habit, to obtain a confession or information by torturing a person. Whether this was an isolated case or whether there might be other cases which we could discover if we had the information, I do not know, and apparently the Minister does not know either because it took him 14 months to discover the treatment which had been handed out in this case.
This case was disclosed only after it had received publicity in the Australian Press. Before that the incident received publicity in a book which everyone wrote off as being propaganda for the purpose of selling the book. But when the account was verified by an Australian reporter who had war reporting credentials, it had to be accepted that there might be some foundation for the allegations. Only when it was so, accepted did the Minister know of the incident which had occurred. If there were other incidents which had not been witnessed by reporters who had a right to be there and who were prepared to speak up about them, they have gone unreported and have not come to our knowledge.
We as an Opposition want to know what has happened to those people in the Department who are responsible for keeping the
Minister so misinformed or uninformed on events in Vietnam that the Minister got up and denied that there was any truth in the allegations at all. Only a few days after making such a denial he had to admit that the allegations were substantially correct. We want to know what is being done in the Department to see that there is no repetition of this incident. I think that is a fair request. We want some information in that regard. We also want to know why the finding of the military inquiry has been accepted as the conclusive finding when it differs so much from the account given by a person who witnessed the incident.
The Leader of the Opposition read out today what reporter Sorell said. He stated:
For half an hour I watched the warrant officer pour water down the struggling girl’s throat.
The Minister said that some water was spilled over her face and approximately a cup of water went down the girl’s throat. There is a difference. Who is telling the truth? Did the military inquiry come to a finding that a cup of water went down the girl’s throat without hearing all the evidence which was available at that particular time? The inquiry was held some 14 days after the incident when the reporter was still in the area. It did not take evidence from the reporter who has received publicity on this occasion. It made a finding without hearing all the evidence which was available to it and was unable to say whether or not there was any truth in the evidence. Where would we find a judicial body which would make a finding after hearing only half of the evidence which was available? That is what has happened in this case. Tonight we are being asked to accept the finding of the military inquiry as being the definitive finding regarding the particular incident.
After the interrogation Sorell stated that the girl was later dragged, half unconscious, to a tent. The Minister said that she walked out and posed for photographs.
– What does the honourable senator think is the truth there?
– I do not know what is the truth. I am saying that I do not know what the Minister means by the word substantially’. But the difference between the Minister’s statement and reporter Sorell’s statement is such that it justifies an inquiry to ascertain whether the incident was a minor breach of the code which relates to the treatment of prisoners of war. If Sorell’s story is correct, I think Senator Webster would agree that it was a major breach deserving the utmost punishment for those responsible for it. Senator Webster asked me: ‘Whom do you believe?’ He does that because he believes what the Minister has said. He believes in the findings of a military court of inquiry which came to a decision after hearing only half of the evidence which was available. That is not good enough for the Opposition. The Opposition wants a judicial inquiry similar to that which is available to any citizen in this country who is charged with an offence. The tribunal in that instance has to hear all the evidence before it makes a finding. Sorell said that the woman was dragged half unconscious to the tent. The Minister said that she walked out and posed for photographs. There is such a difference between what Sorell says and what the Minister says that we cannot let the matter rest at this stage. Surely we must have a further inquiry to see which statement is correct.
It must be remembered that this incident was not brought to public attention as a result of an utterance by Mr Whitlam or by anyone else. Details of the incident were first published in an American book and then the account was substantiated by an Australian author who brought it before the attention of the Australian public. We cannot say that the account was substantially correct unless we link up, more closely, the question of the girl posing for photographers, on the one hand, and her being dragged half unconscious to a tent, on the other hand. How can anyone say that the two statements are substantially true? Sorell then went on to say, referring to the warrant officer:
He dragged the girl into the tent and bound her by rope to a chair.
The girl refused to talk. . . .
Another soldier prised open the girl’s mouth.
The girl immediately began to choke. Tears poured from her eyes.
The water was pouring into her mouth from an army field pannikin.
Is that a minor breach of the Convention? Would anyone dare to suggest it was a minor breach? Senator Webster asked me how I know that the statement to which I have just referred is correct.I do not know it is correct. No one knows whether it is correct. But that is the allegation of an eye witness. Senator Webster dismisses it because some Army inquiry in Vietnam, which did not hear all the evidence which was available, made a finding at the time when the Minister wanted a finding because an inquiry was being sought.
– Mr Fraser has admitted that the account is substantially correct.
– Mr Fraser has admitted that it is substantially correct, but the finding of the military inquiry in no way coincides with the reporter’s account. I say that either the person conducting the military inquiry was examining some other case, not this particular incident, or he came to a partial finding without hearing all the evidence which was available at that time. Sorell’s statement continues:
After several minutes the torture was stopped.
The girl was close to fainting. She was asked again to give information.
He was angry-
That is the warrant officer -
I can recall him saying: The bloody bitch is tough. I can’t break her. But give me half a day and I’ll have her talking. There are better ways than using water.’
The girl, who had fainted, was then carried to the POW compound at the camp.
This is the girl who at this stage was said to be posing for photographs. The statement continues:
Later I told the Army Press relations officer, Major Ross Smith, who was with me when the torture took place, thatI intended to write the story.
Smith immediately went to see Brigadier Jackson andI was told that the story was classified’.
Honourable senators opposite make accusations against the reporter concerned and attempt to condemn him. Government supporters ask why he has told his story 17 months after the incident and they wish to know why he did not tell it at the time. The military authorities were aware of the incident but suppressed publication of the story. The military authorities, even at the time of their inquiry, did not call before them the author of the story to provide verification of it and to submit to cressexamination so that an opportunity would be provided completely to exonerate Aus tralian officers from involvement in the alleged crime. It is said that Sorell spoke to the American author - a fellow reporter - about the incident. Surely there is no substantial similarity between the story written by Sorell and the story told by the Minister for the Army as a result of the recent inquiry.
Far be it from me to say that Sorell is correct in this matter. I do not wish to accuse anybody. However, an accusation has been made, and no matter how frivolous it is or how far from the truth it may be, an accusation against an individual will be accepted as the truth by people who wish to accept it. In this instance, that could apply to all the forces engaged in Vietnam. Today a majority of the American population want the American forces withdrawn from Vietnam. Our enemy in Vietnam no doubt wishes to accept the accusation concerning the treatment of the woman as the truth. It has been said today that this debate will be taken up by Hanoi and Peking to assist in the publication of propaganda. That is perfectlytrue. But the story has now been written by an American author and published in a book that can be quoted to all opposing forces as justification for any action that the Vietcong may take against captured Australian soldiers. The propaganda to come out of this incident may excite enemy forces to take, without recognition of any rules laid down by their commanders, action similar to that allegedly taken by an Australian soldier. The same emotions that cause us to commit rash deeds at times can influence an enemy who is fighting for what he believes to be an ideal - one that he holds as strongly as we believe in the ideals for which we are fighting.
Surely we owe it to our military forces to say that there is no truth in the allegation. We have not been fair to our own military forces. If there is a fragment of truth in the allegation, action should be taken to provide deterrents so that such breaches will not be repeated. It has been said in this debate that such incidents occur in the stress of war when tempers become inflamed after the lives of colleagues have been lost because of the actions of a spy who has been captured. There may be justification for a lenient view of such incidents to be taken. I believe that leniency should be extended only In the consideration of the penalty to be imposed. Despite all Army orders and regulations there is always the possibility that in the excitement of the moment breaches will occur. It is therefore necessary to provide deterrents to ensure that soldiers take care and do not commit rash actions in the excitement of the moment.
What has happened to the warrant officer concerned? We have pressed the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Anderson) today to tell us the answer to that question. We have been told that the warrant, officer has been taken off interrogation duties. Obviously, he has another job. He may have been promoted. If that is the case, the fact will provide great justification for the enemy to take action against captured Australian soldiers. In future, Australian servicemen under emotional stress and filled with tension because of the course of the conflict would consider carefully, in the light of what happened to the warrant officer, the action they should take. They would bear in mind that when this incident was discussed in the Parliament it was belittled by the Australian Government. Future breaches would be encouraged on the ground that a promotion might accrue to those soldiers who committed them.
We do not know whether the warrant officer has been promoted. The Minister owes it to the Parliament to inform us what punishment, if any, has been awarded. We owe a debt of gratitude to the people who have brought this matter to public notice. There must be no repetition of it in the future. For that reason a full investigation is necessary. I agree that I have concentrated on the worst side of the picture. But if anything that I have said is wrong, we owe it to Army personnel who behave more correctly in interrogations to exonerate them completely from the accusations made against them. Something better is necessary than a rather suspiciously conducted inquiry by a military tribunal that heard only half the evidence available to it.
Senator Branson, in this debate, quoted an editorial in the Sydney ‘Daily Telegraph’. He referred to it as a sensible editorial. He was asked by interjection from this side of the chamber what other view he would have expected to find printed in the ‘Daily Telegraph’. The same view was not taken by all newspapers, and this bears out my contention that accusations are believed by people who want to believe them. The Sydney Morning Herald’ was not so editorially kind to the Government’s attitude. Its editorial of Friday, 14th March, stated:
Not only did Mr. Lynch try to minimise the seriousness of what was done to this woman by an Australian interrogating officer, he also, by the heavy stress he laid on her dangerous activities, gave the appearance of condoning it. Does the Government in its heart condemn this method of interrogation? Apparently not. Is the soldier who carried it out to be punished? Apparently nol.
The editorial creates the impression that the public could not properly believe that the Government condemns the interrogation methods used, or that there was te be punishment of the soldier who employed them. The editorial continued:
It is extraordinary that the Army Minister, with the concurrence of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, should dismiss this shocking affair as lightly as he did last night. The interrogator, he said, ‘did no more than’ hold the women’s nose and pour water- down her throat.
With all sincerity 1 submit to honourable senators that the relevant question is not how much water the woman consumed. A serious allegation which could have serious international repercussions has been made. It is our responsibility to ensure that our hands are clean and to discover the truth of the matter. If the truth approaches what has been stated by the reporter, appropriate punishment should be dealt out. It is not my aim to inflict punishment 17 months after the incident. My primary aim is to ensure that there is a deterrent against a recurrence. The important point here is to justify to the world our right to condemn the commission of atrocities by other people. We forfeit that right if we are not ourselves clean. I repeat that there was a great deal of variation between the statement of the Press reporter and the findings of the Army investigator. It is because we can see no substantial degree of similarity between the two that we ask for an inquiry, not into what the Army investigator found ‘but into what was written by the reporter in order to establish whether his statements had any foundation in fact. At least in that way we can ascertain just how much reliance can be placed upon a man who can make such damaging and untrue statements as those about which we are speaking tonight. Until such time as we prove by investigation that there was no foundation in the allegations, we shall have to submit to accusations such as these by various people from time to time.
This is not the first time on which accusations have been made against us. I have refrained from mentioning other accusations because I was dubious about the source from which they originated and therefore placed no reliance in them. But there are some people in the world who would believe such reports. Therefore, we must be sure at all times that we conduct ourselves in a proper manner, and we must protect our prisoners. We are not protecting them now. Are we really giving them the protection to which the Geneva Convention says they are entitled? Are we protecting the persons whom we capture when we hand them over to some other force to decide their fate? We know full well that the South Vietnamese Government applies the death penalty to prisoners of war. Are we therefore giving our prisoners the protection to which they are entitled when we hand them over to such authorities? I submit that in handing them over under such circumstances we are committting a breach of the Geneva Convention.
The Minister has admitted that there has been some breach of the Geneva Convention which was ratified by this Parliament. Once it was ratified by the Australian Parliament, that Convention became part of the Australian law. Therefore, a breach of the Convention is a breach of the Australian law. If we do not conduct the fullest possible inquiry on this occasion we are in effect, condoning a breach of Australian law, a law passed by this Parliament.
A motion seeking an inquiry into this matter was defeated by the House of Representatives on the votes of Government supporters, one of whom had deemed it to be his duty to report a breach of the electoral laws in Adelaide by a national serviceman who was being sent to Vietnam. I refer to the action taken by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Andrew Jones). He was supported by the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) who condemned a member of the Senate, accusing him of trying to help escape from penalty a person who had been guilty of a breach of some minor law or regulation. At least two supporters of the Government felt it their duty to see that the law was enforced against the national servicemen, but voted to defeat a motion seeking to set. up an inquiry into a breach of the law about which the Minister was not made cognisant until 17 months after it occurred. It would seem that they do not recognise that they have the same obligation to see the law enforced when it is being broken by an officer as they have when a conscript is committing the offence of handing out how to vote cards.
– The reference that fell from Senator Cavanagh at the conclusion of his speech indicates how completely insignificant and superficial Senators can become when discussing a matter that should be debated on the highest possible plane. So far as the enforcement of the Australian law is concerned, a whole lot of considerations would be involved if one were to endeavour to submit a prosecution under Australian law for anything arising out of an incident in Vietnam in October 1966.
But that is not what we are discussing here tonight. We are discussing a motion to take note of a statement by the Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch) and the objection to that motion advanced by the Opposition, an Opposition which claims to represent in this Parliament a substantial section of the Australian people. I emphasise that this objection is taken by the Opposition in the Parliament of the nation, a nation which, by its Parliament, has committed its manhood to war. For practically the first time in history by the compulsion of this Parliament and therefore by the laws of this country, men are being required to engage in conflict overseas - in the Vietnam campaign. Irrespective of whether we think that is right or wrong, at this stage it is the duty of every individual here and every Party here to consider what is the. proper judgment to make from the point of view of the various sections of our country, the Parliament, the constituent elements of the Parliament, the government, the people, and, not the least, the forces who bear the burden of the present campaign as representatives of this country in the face of the enemy. Anything that any individual or substantial section of this country does to subvert the effort of those forces is something that this country will condemn not only today but throughout history.
– Surely the Minister is not suggesting that this debate in this Senate is subversive.
– 1 listened to the Leader of the Opposition with patience, and I intend to be heard.
– Do not suggest that an argument in this Senate is subversive.
– I intend to be heard as clearly and coldly as 1 might bc. We start off with the proposition that we are considering events in Vietnam and not in Canberra. In Vietnam, warlike operations are in progress and our men are engaged in them. If woman or man, directed by the enemy, is operating a radio set as an enemy agent and is spying on the movements of our troops, that person would be shot by any competent soldier on our side by artillery, from the air, by rifle fire or by other means.
– Do you support the killing of Nurse Cavell?
– I rise to order. I just interjected that by his statement a moment ago Senator Wright supported the shooting of Nurse Cavell by the Gormans in World War I.
– Order! There is no substance in the point raised by the honourable senator. In any case, interjections are disorderly.
– The imputation is so low that I shall pass it by. The idea that what was involved in my statement can be associated with Nurse Cavell is just so despicable and low that I would not deign to concern myself with it. What I am saying is that anybody who acted as an enemy agent while we were engaged in war would attract our fire and would be shot.
– Not after capture.
– That is the very point I am coming to, and I remind the honourable senator that the operations of this person contributed to the killing of eighteen and wounding of twenty-one of our men.
– Give us the evidence.
– We have not got any logic so far, and it hurts to find the conscience being tortured by the reflection on the part of the Opposition that this attitude is a betrayal of the Army. The fact is that after contributing to the enemy’s operations in that way, this woman was captured and held in the mountains overnight, during which time there is no suggestion of ill treatment. Early the following morning she was brought to the interrogation tent and then, so far as I am concerned, she was entitled to the complete protection of tha Geneva Agreements.
– But you say she is not.
– Just try to think. She was entitled to the protection of the Geneva Agreements from the time of her capture. This is no time to engage in technical questions as to declared or undeclared wars, or whether certain categories of war combatants are entitled to the protection of those Agreements. The Government of this country takes the view, as stated by Senator Anderson this afternoon, that this woman was entitled to the protection of the Geneva Agreements.
– Why did she not get it?
– 1 will come it it in my own way. I heard the honourable senator out in silence and I want to put my point of view. The Australian spirit demands that protection, the Australian Government insists upon it and the Army enforces et. These attitudes are taken not only in a sense of national pride, but also in the national interest. Who is there in this Parliament not conscious of the fact that the protection accorded to those of our men who have the misfortune to be taken prisoner could be jeopardised by an erroneous decision by the Government on the application of the Geneva Agreements? In this debate we have already heard from Senator Anderson and Senator Branson on my side, and I have the honour to be the third speaker for the Government. The two honourable senators who preceded me were prisoners of war themselves, as were some members of the Opposition. Let us not in political discussion discredit the whole cause for which we stand here, the nation that we represent and the armed forces which are fighting for us, by putting any wrong perspective on this matter. We say that this woman came to the interrogation tent and the fact is thatshe posed for photographs before admission to it.
– The eye witness said it is not a fact.
– Just a moment. The facts are that she entered the tent at about a quarter to nine in the morning and left the tent at approximately 10 o’clock in the morning. She was then handed over, not to the South Vietnamese with the malicious implication that Australia would hand a prisoner over to her death, but to the United States Field Force headquarters. Let me remind honourable senators that these facts disclose that this incident within the tent occupied little more than one hour. I am not approaching the problem of interrogation and use of authority of force and coercion, and making a judgment on it for the first time. These matters are constantly alleged by civilian prisoners being interrogated for crimes by members of the police force.
– They are all subject to investigation.
– In the proper way, as the law provides. I will come to that in a minute. I was coming to what happened within that hour in the tent. I am not going into the matters of raising the voice or making threats, since most of us would regard those matters as comparatively unimportant. The gravamen of this charge - Senator Cavanagh chose to classify it as brutality and went on from that level - is that, in addition to threats and intimidation, the interrogator threatened to use water torture, stood behind the agent and held her nose, and when she opened her mouth attempted to pour water into it, using some four or five tin cups of water at intervals. Apparently much of this was spilt, it being judged that the woman was made to swallow about one cup of water.
– That is not what Mr Sorell said.
– It is not identical with what he said, but the exaggeration that can be in-built into the malicious mind will suggest that there is such a discrepancy between Mr Sorell and this finding - and I will demonstrate the basis of it in a moment - that they are two entirely different stories and that Mr Sorell is describing an incident different from that set out in the Minister’s statement.
– Would the honourable senator say he has a malicious mind?
– Only an unbalanced view could emanate from a mind that makes such a comment to the Senate. The point is that one always gets variations in emphasis on the detail of such an incident. When one takes this statement here as the basis - and I shall proceed in a moment to deal with the authority on which it is based - and strips the statement made to the Melbourne ‘Herald’ of all its journalese, one comes to the bare bones. The incident occupied little more than an hour, early in the morning when the exigencies of duty do not create any want of time if the interrogation is to be projected throughout the day. The agent was photographed before entering the tent and again on exit from the tent, and this was witnessed by strangers. I express my amazement, Mr President, that there can be such credulity on the part o: any responsible parliamentarian as to form a judgment that an incident in those circumstances is one that can properly be described as brutality.
– Mr Sorell called it torture and the Minister for the Army admitted that what he wrote was substantially true.
– Those two phrases, if sewn together in that way, are a talking point, but they do not say much for the judgment of people who assess the whole incident. Let me go on and assert that the action of that interrogator was, according to the standards of the Australian Army, the Australian Government and the Australian citizenry for whom I speak, wrong.
– He was not even fined $15.
– If everyone were served according to his desserts, would the honourable senator be so outspoken? It is quite clear that judgment requires that this incident - the departure from instructions, the excess of force and the application of water at all - as Senator Wheeldon said this afternoon, could be considered to be influenced in some sense by the provocation of seeing the battlefield or knowing the result of the battle. But that does not excuse the action. Perhaps it was provoked. There was an excess of zeal on the part of the interrogator. His error proceeded from an indiscretion as to the degree to which his interrogation should go.
The eye witness then proceeded to report to the Army Commanding Officer. We can suppose, although I do not know this, that other information was considered by the Commanding Officer. What was the reaction of the Australian Army command to one solitary instance of that sort and of the degree that I have stated? Within 7 days an inquiry had been constituted. A major of the Army - a man of senior rank; not the most senior rank, but a man with his majority - completed his investigation on the spot within 7 days. When I as a lawyer entered the Army I thought that legalisms would not exist; that one would go into action and nobody would trouble about individual justice at all. The amazing lesson that I learned was that the British Army and the Australian Army carry the spirit of the rule of law even on to the battlefield.
– But not into the Parliament.
– Could the honourable senator outdo the Army in what it did in this instance? It made an immediate investigation. The report of that investigation, when it was brought to Canberra only last week, revealed the facts upon which the Minister for the Army based his statement. So I say that the Australian Army is deserving of every credit. Having learned of the indiscretion that prompted this interrogator to use excess force, the Army immediately investigated that and put it on the record.
– And kept it quiet.
– The attitude expressed by members of the Opposition shows how miserable is their outlook, how unworthy of this country they are and how they deserve to be rejected by this country and to be opposed by the men who are fighting for the freedom in which they rejoice and which they so much abuse. They say that the findings of the investigating officer have been suppressed. Does every Instance of this sort have to be reported back to civilian headquarters? I do not know what the Army instructions are.
– What does the Minister mean when he says ‘every instance of this sort’? He said that there was only one.
– Let us suppose that a truck overturned in Vietnam tonight; that the driver was drunk; and that three men were killed. Does the Opposition want that reported back to civilian headquarters? After all these incidents that occur on the battlefield the men get on with the war and their operations. If there was inadvertence or an error in not sending information back to headquarters, do members of the Opposition feel proud to say that the findings were suppressed or that they were kept quiet?
Members of the Opposition just cannot restrain themselves when they see a feather floating in the breeze with a little silver tinsel of political atmosphere on it, however it started off. They are just like the old woman on the broomstick. They say: Let us go. We might land this time.’ They depreciate the value of the whole Army tradition and the whole reputation that the Australian Army has for honour in battle and in peace. They make this incident a political vehicle and attract to themselves undeniable discredit when they do not even take the occasion of this debate to dissociate themselves from this American writer’s generalised accusations of cowardice and torture which are made against their Army on the basis of one incident in respect of which there is the sediment of veracity, although exaggerated even to that extent.’ They deserve condemnation equivalent to the respect that this country gives to its Army when they will not even dissociate themselves from the generalised charge of cowardice and torture against the Australian Army in Vietnam.
– This is sickening. This is not the subject matter of the debate at all, and the Minister knows it.
– No, it is not the subject matter of the debate; but, having plucked out of the bog heap muddy imputations that an American author created out of one little puddle, members of the Opposition just cannot bring themselves to that level of integrity which would cause them to give spirit to the Australian Army and to say: ‘We dissociate ourselves from this generalised accusation by this American author. We want to make it plain that we are concentrating on only one incident. We suggest that there is need for further inquiry in respect of only one incident.’
If they were to say that they would reduce themselves to an area of insignificance in which they would be saying that the indiscretion of any warrant officer detected by his superior officers in the field should be a matter of further investigation 15 months later in the isolated atmosphere of Canberra by people unaccustomed to war, with no experience of war and without the tradition of applying military law which is the appropriate law to be applied on the battlefield.
It seems to me that this debate should conclude on the basis of giving some recognition to the honour in which we hold the Australian Army and the pride that we have in the performance of our soldiers on the battlefield and in their kindliness to prisoners of war and civilians in their rear lines. I would hope that before the debate is concluded the Parliament will realise its responsibility to the cause. What is the cause? The cause is the security of this country. Senator Cavanagh, who is now out of the chamber, in one breath put forward the argument that to allay the propaganda that will be made out of this incident by our enemies we ought to go to a judicial inquiry and seek another finding, forsooth, so that the world Press can gorge itself for another fortnight. Then our enemies would say that that judicial finding was of no more value than the military finding.
What I am pleading for is a sense of responsibility which will recognise that this is a solitary incident, being an error in degree probably provoked out of an excess zeal engendered by bitterness and knowledge of casualties on the battlefields. I hope that all sections of the Senate will realise that a decision to honour the finding of the court of inquiry in Vietnam held 18 months ago is the thing to show the confidence that this country ought to show in the judgment of the military authorities who investigated the matter then and placed it on record so that, if it is ever required to be investigated, the record is there to speak for itself.
– Mr President, I am conscious of the importance pf this debate. 1 believe that the reputation and prestige of Australia and the Australian Armed Forces are very closely involved. As Senator Branson has stated tonight, our tradition and our record are proud and excellent ones. Never during the wars that have taken place - the First World War, the Second World War, the wars in Korea, Malaya and even in Vietnam - until this incident has Australia’s record for the observance of the tenets of the Geneva Convention been questioned. Therefore we have reason to examine very carefully the facts of this case.
We have heard much today on the matter of the Geneva Convention. I would say without hesitation that there is not a man or a woman in this chamber who does not embrace those principles very warmly. As Christians and as civilised people we appreciate and value very dearly that standard J aid down for the treatment of our enemies in the time of war. We have heard many excellent sentiments expressed by members of the Opposition on the necessity for the preservation of these things at all cost and for some assurance that the Australian Armed Forces will observe them at all times to the limit. There should never be at any time any ground for doubt or question as to the treatment of our enemies, agents or prisoners of war.
However, I must say that I am not entirely satisfied with the manner in which this important matter has been handled by the Government. I did give consideration today to moving an amendment to the motion to the effect that the interrogation does not agree with the allegations made by Mr Sorell in his story. Therefore I believe that it was incorrect of the Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch) or the Government to say and publish that that report was substantially true. Let us examine what Mr Sorell said. Let us read what he says. Let us read what the Minister for the Army in another place has stated as the facts of the case and examine the difference.
Mr Sorell is the author of all these disturbances because according to reports the interrogation incident was first mentioned in a recently published book entitled Happy Hunting Ground’ by an American, Martin Russ. Subsequently the incident was confirmed by Melbourne journalist John Sorell in an article that he wrote in the Melbourne ‘Herald’ on 8th March of this year. This is what Sorell had to say:
I saw Australian soldiers torture a Vietcong girl prisoner.
I ask honourable senators to note the word torture’ because I propose to come back to it. This is the way Sorell described the incident. He used the word ‘torture’ on seven occasions in this comparatively short article. He continued:
For half an hour ] watched a warrant officer pour water down the struggling girl’s throat.
The girl was later dragged, half unconscious, to a tent.
The girl, who had fainted, was then carried to a prisoner of war compound camp.
The Minister for the Army in bis statement refers to the article by Sorell as having prompted him to make inquiries in his Department. The Minister then outlined the results of his inquiry. The Minister concluded:
It is now established that the investigation on the spot-
This is the investigation that he is referring to: did in fact confirm that the newspaper report was substantially true.
That is all right. However, the details in the explanation given by the Minister do not confirm that what Sorell said was substantially true.
The Minister does not even describe the incident as torture. He describes the incident as contrary both to the spirit of the Geneva Convention and to the issued Army instructions. A better term might be ‘excess of intimidation’ but certainly not ‘torture’. What does ‘Webster’s Dictionary’ say with regard to this word ‘torture’ which has been thrown about this chamber today and which Mr Sorell saw fit to use seven times in a comparatively short statement. According to Webster’s Dictionary’, the definition of torture’ is:
The infliction oi intense pain (as from burning, crushing, wounding) to punish or coerce someone: torment or agony induced to penalise religious or political dissent or non-conformity, to extort a confession or a money contribution.
Can any of us say, after reading all that has been published in this connection, that there was any torture in this case?
– We do not know.
– I am asking the Senate to judge it on what has been adduced up to now. The Minister in another place had this to say:
The investigation established that at the interrogation the interrogator had raised his voice to the woman-
I know a lot of fellows who raise their voice to women - shouted at her-
Awful - banged on the table, used threats and attempted to intimidate the woman in an endeavour to obtain truthful answers to questions - answers which, let it be remembered by honourable members on both sides of the House, could well have affected the life or death of Australian soldiers. In addition to these actions, the interrogator also threatened to use the water torture, stood behind the agent, held her nose and, when she opened her mouth, attempted to pour water into it, using some four or five tin cups of water at intervals. Apparently much of this was spilled, it being judged that the woman was made to swallow about one cup of water. The interrogating officer did in fact threaten and seek to intimidate and actually commenced to use water in interrogating the enemy spy.
That is the Minister’s report of the departmental investigation on the spot. That is quite different from what Mr Sorell said in his Press article.
– But the Minister said that Sorell’s statement was substantially correct.
– That is my grievance. I do not believe that the Minister was justified in saying that Sorell’s statement was substantially correct because if differed too greatly from what actually took place. We need only think of a street accident, a collision between two cars, and read the varied reports of our newshounds. In one newspaper one reads of a minor accident and in another one reads about blood being everywhere, people’s limbs hanging off and that kind of thing. When one searches for the real facts one sees how the extreme, extravagant reporter wants to get headlines. It appears Mr Sorell was indulging in that kind of exercise.
– He did not get his report into the newspaper.
– He got his report over Peking Radio and Moscow Radio. I hope he got a lot of satisfaction from derogating the good name of Australia and of the Australian military forces by having his news and the report that he handed to the American journalist, Martin Russ, broadcast throughout the world through the avenues of news transmission. I hope he got a lot of satisfaction from that.
Having read what Mr Sorell said we now come to the question of corroboration. What do we find? After reading Sorell’s report of. the incident and the Minister’s version one would imagine they were two separate incidents because they differ so vastly in detail. There was no need for the Minister to say that Sorell’s report was substantially true because it was not. Did he say that because he had been in Parliament for only 14 months when he was selected for the onerous task of Minister? Perhaps we might excuse him on that basis, a political tyro who rushed in first and said there was not a scintilla of truth in it and then that there was to be an inquiry, only to have Cabinet say: ‘We will not have an inquiry because there have been certain admissions about the matter’. Apart from that fact, Sorell’s statement has been contradicted by at least three other journalists. That impresses me greatly.
– Does not the honourable senator think that Sorell should be chastised for making wrong statements in a newspaper?
– I would chastise him.
– Why not in this Parliament?
– I might be charged with torturing someone. Canberra journalist Gabriel Carpay said the woman prisoner was perfectly capable of standing on her own feet all the time.
– How does the honourable senator know that?
– This man was there. Mr Carpay said he did not see her faint and did not see her being carried out. He added that photographs taken at the time substantiated that. He went on to say that at no stage did she need assistance to go from one tent to another. There is the report of an eye witness to the whole incident. Does that confirm the view that Sorell’s statement is substantially correct? Then we come to a man named Ahmad, an Indian-Malay journalist who said there certainly was not torture. Last but not least we have Geoffrey Murray, another Australian journalist who was present at the incident with the other journalists, including Sorell. He said: 1 felt that what I had seen was not sufficient to make any judgment, and it would have been dangerous to make any statement based on what 1 assumed might have happened from the noises 1 heard.
So there are three journalists who are in opposition to what Sorell wrote and broadcast throughout the world.
– Does not the honourable senator think that he should be dealt with?
– I would deal with him but my attitude is different from that of others. I would deal with the honourable senator, but a lot of people have compassion on him.
– Does the honourable senator agree with the Minister?
– No, I do not. I do not think the circumstances of the case warrant the Minister or the Cabinet agreeing that Sorell was substantially true because, as I am sure my friends of the legal fraternity would agree, the facts of the case do not justify Cabinet’s decision. All this business about banging tables and raising voices is so much nonsense. We have read in newspapers - I am not making any allegations - about the tactics adopted by members of the Police Force and officers of the Criminal Investigation Branch to extract confessions from criminals or, for that matter, anyone who has been arrested. It more or less becomes the accepted thing. Indeed, 1 have been in police courts and supreme courts and have heard counsel raising their voices and intimidating some timid woman in the witness box to get her to say something that the good woman does not want to say. Oh yes, the voices are raised and 1 have often thought: ‘If the Geneva Conventions were applied here the final decision might be quite different’.
– Who carries the bucket of water?
– A lot of people are given to throwing water and there are other people who are not given to using it very much. When we examine this matter we find so much discrepancy between the case presented by the Minister following the investigation and that published by Mr Sorell in his world wide publication.
– He did not publish it, he got another person to publish it.
– Yes, but he did come forward ultimately and say that he was the author of it and that he had provided Mr Russ, the author of the book, with the information. Personally I think, on examining it carefully, a lot has been said that was unnecessary. In other words, much has been said about an incident-
– An isolated incident.
– Yes, and magnified by a pressman without any regard for its effect upon the good name, reputation and tradition of Australia. It ill becomes him: he has done almost irreparable harm to the country in which he lives, whether he is a native of it or it is the land of his adoption. This is more than a party political debate, it is something that everybody should regret. Everybody should regret the time that has been taken up in debating it.
– The whole thing should never have happened.
– That is so, but accidents happen in the best families and weeds grow in the best-kept gardens. People are often over-zealous in their recalling of events, and after all, when we examine the evidence of the pressmen who were just as much there as Sorell, we find they saw that this woman did not show any ill effects from what took place. According to them, she was able to stand, able to walk. If she was sick on the helicopter, she would not have been any sicker than I would be in the same circumstances.
– Then they ought to apologise to the warrant officer for sacking him.
– There are many things that should be done-
– And they should not have wasted their time on a court of inquiry.
– Let us see that you and I do not fall into the error of making decisions that will perpetuate this matter. Let us put it to bed, to use a saying of today. I conclude by moving this amendment:
At end of motion add: ‘and the Senate expresses its utmost confidence in the Australian troops in Vietnam and believes that they can be relied upon to conduct themselves at all times in a characteristic Australian manner’.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Dame Ivy Wedgwood) - Is the amendment seconded?
– I second it.
– I want to move a further amendment:
At the end of SenatorGair’s proposed amendment add: but the Senate is of the opinion that the Government should table the evidence given before, and the report made by, the major whom the Task Force commander appointed to investigate the allegations and should commission a judge to inquire into and report on the following matters:
Whether the prisoner was subjected to torture or inhuman treatment.
Why reports of her interrogation were classified as secret.
Why War correspondents who observed or Rimed the interrogation were not asked to give evidence before the major.
Why the matters disclosed to him were not promptly brought to the attention of the Attorney-General and the Minister for the Army.’
want to move to this effect because, as everybody who has followed this debate well knows, it is identical with the amendment that was moved in the House of: Representatives.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - I cannot allow the honourable senator to continue with the amendment at this stage. There can be only one amendment to the motion before the Chair at the one time.
– I am seeking guidance on the appropriate time for the Opposition to move its amendment.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - The appropriate time will be after the amendment before the Chair has been disposed of.
-I knew that, but I wanted to read the proposed amendment before proceeding with my speech. It is obvious that under the Standing Orders one amendment must be disposed of before another can be moved, but I felt that honourable senators would be put at a disadvantage if they did not know exactly what I intended to move. Now they know the contents of my amendment. Let me give the reasons for wanting to move the amendment. First of all, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Murphy) decided today not to pursue this aspect. The first part of the amendment seeks an inquiry into the question whether the prisoner was subjected to torture or inhuman treatment.
When my party moved to this effect in the House of Representatives we had all the assurances on television and in the Press that this had not taken place. Much to our surprise, when we raised this in the House of Representatives, no less personages than the Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch) and the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) agreed that it did take place. The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Murphy) then considered that it was no longer necessary to move the amendment. I disagree. I think people should have the opportunity to record their votes on such things rs this. Before dinner Senator Branson put forward the idea that some senators on his side might want to vote with us. People such as the Minister for Works (Senator Wright) have in the past voted with us. Senator Wright has many times demanded an inquiry into certain matters. On those occasions he used to stand on his two feet; tonight he stood on one foot. Honourable senators should beware of what will befall them when they are appointed to the Ministry.
Both’ Senator Wright and Senator Gair brought the police force into this debate, saying that police brutality takes place and that this sort of thing is a common complaint against the police. I say that it was completely unnecessary to bring the police forces of Austrafia into this matter. Both senators indulged in what might be termed smear tactics against the police by attempting to relate instances of police brutality to what is going on in Vietnam today.
– That is not alleged at all.
– I am not one who knocks police officers, saying that they are brutal. 1 believe they perform their duties with credit and distinction. If any of them break the law in any way, however, by mistreating a prisoner, 1 shall be the first to see that the law is enforced against them. Senator Gair made the point that the people in Vietnam were upset about what is going on. What about a police officer in Australia who has to disarm a man with a gun and take him into custody? Do honourable senators not think he is upset? Do they not think he risks his life? Do they not think that a senior constable or detective, or his senior officers, feci upset about allegations of police brutality when a man is taken down to the cells? Senator Gair apparently thinks it is all right for the police to take it out on a prisoner in the cells, but every decent Australian sets his face against that sort of thing. We in Australia train our police and detectives to refrain from brutality regardless of the measure if provocation. Whatever they go through, however they risk their lives, and however upset they become, they must never resort to brutal tactics. They rely on the processes of law and order, taking prisoners to those places which Senator Wright has extolled to us until this session - to the courts where a judicial decision is given by a judge. I deplore that the police forces of Australia have been dragged into this debate tonight. There is no analogy between the police force and the Australian Army in Vietnam. I deplore this attempt to bring a decent body of men into this argument; on behalf of every member of the Opposition I deplore the fact that the police have been brought into the debate. Senator Wright said that everybody knew about this. What he should have said was that everybody knew about it except the Parliament of Australia and the Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch), who now admits that he was given false evidence.
Because of that I want to exonerate him later in my speech in respect of some of the things to which he might take umbrage. The Minister for Works told us about the book written by the American, Martin Russ. The book itself has never been in dispute in this debate. No person has said that we agree with the statements in it. We have not challenged them. We have not mentioned anything that went into the book. But the Minister for Works in the worst part of his advocacy tonight, raised the matter of the book itself and asked whether we disagreed with the charges of cowardice laid against the Australian Army. This matter was never in the debate. This matter never came into the dispute and should not have been dragged into it tonight.
I never met Mr Sorell. I never heard his name until this dispute arose. Yet there has been an insinuation that Sorell, in some way, spoke to this American journalist so that he would include an account of this incident in his book. How in the name of goodness would one journalist talking to another, who was going back to the United States, know that he was going to publish a book and have it distributed throughout the world? I have not published a book yet, but it will be an interesting one if I do so.
The book itself was dragged into this debate because the Government and those that support it are as guilty as they could possibly be.
The Minister for Works has undoubted legal knowledge. Undoubtedly he has made stands for justice. Undoubtedly he has had the flare, time and time again, to be able to stand in this place and demand inquiries, saying that he wanted a case to rest on the evidence. But where is the Minister tonight? Where is he when we want to get the facts of this case to enable us to make up our minds? He does not want an inquiry into this incident. Instead, he dragged in the book as evidence. What evidence is this? No advocate, no first year legal student or junior lawyer, would raise this sort of evidence in the humblest court, even in Tasmania. An advocate would not put this sort of evidence forward - I think honourable senators see the relevance - before a judge, a magistrate or a justice of the peace. Now, because Senator Branson said that we ought to give the opportunity to every honourable senator to state what he believes to be the situation, the Opposition wants to move this amendment. The Leader of the Opposition is now giving me the correct legal-
– Riding instructions.
– He is not giving instructions at all and the honourable senator knows this. The point is that I informed Senator Gair that I proposed to move an amendment. He never had the courtesy to tell me that he was going to move an amendment.
– The honourable senator would have been as wise as I was if I had done so.
– I will tell the Senate what happened. I gave a copy of the amendment to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) and I told Senator Gair that I was going to move it. It is Senator Gair’s affair and responsibility if he does not want to tell me that he intends to move an amendment. The Leader of the Opposition, because I do not have time to think of everything while I am on my feet, has given me the correct-
– I am not obliged to tell the honourable senator anything.
– 1 know the honourable senator is not obliged to do so.
– I will give the honourable senator the same courtesy as he gives me.
– 1 was not obliged to inform the honourable senator, nor to inform the Leader of the Government (Senator Anderson), but I did both because my ethics will not be dictated to by anyone. I have my own ethics and they will not be controverted or dragged down. I have been in this Parliament too long not to observe the decencies. The honourable senator can do what he likes. 1 will do what I like. I always inform the Government when I intend to move an amendment. I will always inform any other person who could be affected by it, whether that is to my advantage or not.
Well, what is the situation we are examining tonight? Let us look at the facts of this case. Firstly, the Government has desperately tried to drag this debate away from the facts. I think the lawyers in this place should listen to the facts of this case. One fact is that the Geneva Convention was breached. This was agreed upon by the Government, by Mr Sorell, by the Opposition and by everybody . else. There is no argument about that. All agree that excess violence was used. Brutality, surely, is admitted. I believe that torture was applied by an Australian soldier. Senator Gair, in his speech, quoted from ‘Webster’s Dictionary’. I have here what the ‘Oxford Dictionary’ says. The wording is somewhat different, as is the pronunciation from that to be found in Webster; but. nevertheless the two dictionaries are more . or less the same.
Torture can be taken to have occurred when the strong use strength against the weak. In this case it is torture when people are physically forced to do things that they do not want to do. We will get to the argument later about whether one pannikin of water is vital to the issue or not. Surely this was torture. After all, we are forever hearing of mental torture in divorce cases, and that form of torture does not go nearly as far as this incident. We have also heard here of judicial torture. Every one of these things fits in with what happened in Vietnam. Honourable senators may quibble at the word torture. I know they may quibble at the word. But regardless of a quibble with the degree of torture, it has been admitted by the ex-Minister for the Army, who is now Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser), admitted by the Prime Minister and admitted by the present Minister for the Army, whether some honourable senators here call it torture or not. Lel us accept the fact that torture was carried out.
Let us now look at the second fact - the fact that the Minister for the Army was misinformed. He admitted this quite candidly. Again there is no argument about this; it is a fact. Let me say immediately that the Minister is not to blame. He has held this portfolio for only a brief time. He asked for a report on the incident and he was misinformed. He has given an assurance in the other place that this is an internal matter and he will deal with it. I am sure he will do so. But I think that the previous Minister can be blamed largely for this. If the information given was wrong then for how long has this sort of thing been going on? What other information has been wrong?
I will digress for a moment. I was interested in the election in Vietnam. This Government was not the only government in the world to send observers there. This Government sent four civil servants. It was the only government to send civil servants as observers. It sent four very honourable civil servants. They were very capable men - top-line men; men of impeccable character and no doubt proven ability. But this does not alter the fact that they were civil servants. I do not accuse those men of looking for biased evidence but they were very guarded in their observations of the situation. Other governments sent people representing all sorts of public opinion - people who might have been critical about Vietnam - and asked them to make observations.
I now turn to this question of advice. In this case we find that misinformation was deliberately given to the Minister for the Army. 1 worked in the Public Service and 1 know the way that public servants work on ministers. I know that they have built up a pattern and that if they want to break a minister down they fly in as many files and as much paper as they can to the Minister’s desk until he is completely loaded down. The new ministers will find out that this is so. Honourable senators can see this happening. They have read the statements made by the Prime Minister. Earlier he made a couple of forthright statements. Then every football team in Australia fell on his shoulders to pull him back into line. The Prime Minister has been forced ignominiously into the situation of making two back-downs and that is not good for our Prime Minister.
– That is a reflection on the Public Service.
– lt is not a reflection; it is the way the whole thing works. If the honourable senator wishes to talk about reflections made today, my reflection on the Public Service is pretty mild compared with the reflections he has cast on Mr Sorell and others associated with this matter.
– And on us.
– Yes, and on the Opposition, as Senator Toohey reminds me. The worrying part of this incident - and I am deadly serious because I think the Government has been trying to get away from the real issue of the debate - is that if the advice was wrong is it not possible that other information has been wrong? Is it not possible that all the advice we have received on Vietnam has been wrong? Just look at the situation that has arisen in the United States of America today following upon the Tonkin Gulf incident. The mildest thing that can be said is that the American Government over-reacted. To students who examine this incident in years to come, this may be the greatest error that any government ever worked on, or ever accepted, and which then dragged that government into a protracted war. To say the least, not the worst, the American Government overreacted. It completely misjudged the whole issue, or wanted to misjudge the whole issue. We have the situation in America where a group of people are saying that another group of people from as wide a cross section of the community as possible - not from the administration advising President Johnson - should go to Vietnam and examine the situation to see whether there should not be a rethinking of our whole approach to Vietnam. This incident could possibly be a minor issue in the context in which I am speaking at the moment, but it strikes at the whole judgment of governments in Australia, the United States and all the other countries which we are proud to call our allies. If we are relying on misinformation, surely to goodness as responsible people we should grab every opportunity to move in and find where it came from and to make sure that our information is completely correct. Nobody, whether he be a trade union official, a businessman, a parliamentarian, an executive officer or an administrator can possibly make correct decisions if the advisers to whom he turns give him wrong information. The Minister has already said that he received wrong information regarding this incident.
– He has said that he will do something about it.
- Senator Mulvihill has made the point that the Minister has said that he will do something about it. The Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) has also said that. These two gentlemen also said that an inquiry would be held. I think it would be true to say that they suggested that an inquiry should be held. After all, when reference to this incident appeared in the Press they were the first people to get on to it. They immediately reacted as I would have, had 1 been in their position. I would have said that there ought to be an open inquiry to find out what had happened so that this thing could be settled for all time. This was their reaction. The fact is that they both backed down. Why did they do so? What did they have to lose? Here were two new men. The Prime Minister had said: Let us rule off the book. Let us start from where I took over my administration.’ He interested Australians. He thrilled Australians with some of his statements. He said, in regard to our policy in Vietnam: So far and no further.’ This was a complete reversal of. the late Harold Holt’s statement: All the way with LBJ’. The new Prime Minister killed that with one statement, but unfortunately it had to be modified a little later. When the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Army said that there would be an inquiry I thought that there would be no argument with the Government. Nobody could argue if an open inquiry were held to find out what actually happened. I say that as new men neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister for the Army had anything to lose. If the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Army had found out the worst - that this was common practice in the
Army - they had nothing to lose because nobody in their wildest dreams would imagine that these people had anything to do with happenings before they took over their new portfolios.
Somebody had a vested interest in this matter. Somebody, to use the parlance, leant on them. Who had something to lose? This brings me to the question of this incident being an isolated one. Was somebody frightened of an inquiry? Was it that the Army did not want an inquiry into this particular incident, not because it was frightened in relation to the incident but because it was frightened of what a wider inquiry might disclose. I shall be perfectly frank. If I have one quarrel with the amendment which I propose to move it is that it does not include a clause which, if the amendment were carried, would enable the inquiry to be widened. If this particular incident was admitted somebody might then come before the inquiry and say: ‘Sure, this thing has been going on for years. What is wrong with you softies? Why, all the sergeants in my battalion carry out this kind of thing.’ Under the terms of the amendment the inquiry should be able to look at this situation, lt has been suggested that there is something wrong, something unpatriotic, something un-Australian or something anti-ally in saying that this incident might not have been an isolated one. When I raise matters 1 am so used to being charged with being unpatriotic or un-Australian that it does not worry me any more. If this is an isolated incident and if the Government is certain that this is the only case that has happened in Vietnam, why not have an inquiry7 Why not prove everything? The Government could then say: ‘We admitted this in the first place. We put a judge in charge. We called all the witnesses we possibly could and we found nothing that we did not know in the first place.’ What would the Government have to lose if that happened? Would an inquiry inevitably show that this was not an isolated case?
Senator Wright has said with the greatest oratory and drama that he can command, that this is an isolated case. I ask him as a lawyer: What evidence has he that this is an isolated case? He is a man who relies on evidence. I am not saying that it is an isolated case. I want to find out whether or not it is. Senator Webster, who is trying to interject, does not know and I do not know. So I want to find out. Senator Wright stood up, pontificated and said that this was an isolated case, without one scintilla of evidence to support the statement. He said that as though he were speaking from the heights of heaven.
I do not know whether this matter has been raised in the debate, but 12 or18 months ago, or 2 years ago - time slips by - there was the question of a soldier who was chained in a gun emplacement. I know that a lot of people said that it served him right. The fact is that he was given punishment outside the Army law. He was given illegal punishment. When the senior officer who administered the pretty severe punishment was asked about it he said: ‘I did not know it was illegal’. In other words he was taking it completely on himself to say what the punishment should be for the particular crime.
Where is this flow of instruction coming down from the Government? Where are these instructions about which we have heard so much in this debate? Where are the instructions which say how our soldiers are to interrogate people? Here was a very senior commissioned officer - not a noncommissioned officer, a lance-jack or a private but a man with very serious responsibilities - saying: ‘I did not know this was wrong’. Was this incident about which we are speaking tonight an isolated one? Was it the one-eighth of the iceberg that is showing above the ocean? There is no evidence on either side. When I look at the evidence all of my instincts lead me to believe that it was not an isolated incident. It is an incident which happened to be brought into the public arena.
– So let us have a witch hunt.
- Senator Branson knows me better than that. He knows that I am not a person who wants a witch hunt. I want to preserve the good nameof the Australian Army. I want the name of the Australian Army to survive in Asia for generations to come. It will not do so if we are to be associated with the torture of people in Asia. Senator Branson was a prisoner of war. He has a great Army record. He knows that in Changi Camp there were certain nationals whom he tried to dodge being under. I do not want to mention them, but he knows there were certain nationals who were more cruel than others. I have been to the countries where these people live. I like these people and I sympathise with them in their problems of starvation and unemployment. But I shall go to my grave knowing that those people did certain things to Senator Branson, Senator Anderson and Mr Tom Uren who were under their jurisdiction and who struggled to get away from them because they knew that they were more cruel than the Japanese themselves. Is that the kind of namewe want to have in Asia? Is that the name we areto gain?I will remember these things until the day I die and so will my children because they are old enough to mix with ex-prisoners of war and to find out what happened to them. Whether these people did those things because of their background and upbringing, I do not know, but the fact is that they will carry this stigma for one generation and possibly two generations. This is the thing that worries me more than anything else.
On this question of isolation I ask the Government whether it will come out and say’ that it has no knowledge of other incidents. I think Senator Anderson said that there is no knowledge of other incidents. Can they confidently believe that there has not been any other such incident? Of course not. One of the things that worries me about Army problems is the attitude one encounters.I have dealt with some minor Army problems within Australia. I have not brought them into this Parliament because I have tried to talk them out with Army personnel, as all members of this Parliament do from time to time. One meets the reaction: ‘It could not happen in the Army. It is just not on. It is not reasonable.’ But when pressed, the people who make those statements completely reverse their attitude and say: ‘After all, this is the Army; and you know what the Army is. These things go on.’ By that one statement they wipe out all considerations of ethics, justice and fairness in the Army. That is not the attitude of the majority of members of the Army. I agree with Senator Gair’s statement that in every avocation there are people who are over zealous, but whereever people have authority which cannot be challenged it is necessary to be extremely cautious. That is the situation in the Army. Soldiers cannot resign. They cannot just walk out of the Army.
All my instincts and the little pieces of evidence totted up lead me to believe that these cases are not isolated. I am coming more and more solidly to the belief that this incident has the earmarks of practice rather than of isolation. Government supporters are trying all the time to demonstrate that members of the Opposition are anti-Australian, anti Army and anti everything else. By trying to submerge this incident, Government supporters are damaging the Australian Army. If it is brought out into the open and killed now, the Australian Army will be helped. Nothing is gained by submerging and subverting the truth. I do not say that has happened on this occasion, but my instincts and the evidence suggest to me that the incident could be part of a practice rather than an isolated occurrence. From time to time examples of excessive punishment occur in the Army.
The Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) seems to occupy a very exalted position in this Parliament. Ministers with Service portfolios are sacked and pushed about, but the Minister for Defence, who probably is more culpable than any of them, can sit back and wash his hands of the whole affair. I wish to quote from the Minister’s speech on this matter in another place. At page 166 of Hansard of 14th March be is reported to have said:
Mr Sorell said that he was asked not to report the matter and J. give him his due.
That contradicts the views expressed tonight by Senator Wright and other honourable senators opposite. The Minister for Defence went on:
If he was so asked and did not in fact report the matter, all credit to him. But it is an odd circumstance that other international journalists present there were not so asked to suppress the story. And they still did not consider it a story worth reporting throughout the world in any detail whatsoever.
The first question I ask about that statement is: What evidence is there that the reporters were not asked to suppress the story? As I understand Mr Sorell’s story, he did not say that he was the only journalist asked to suppress it. He said that he was asked not to report the story and maintained silence until it broke, through the publication of an American author’s book. The other journalists present may not have been asked to keep quiet about it. I do not know. Honourable senators opposite do not know. As the Govern ment will not hold an inquiry, nobody will know the truth. I. suggest that if somebody with quasi-judicial authority conducted an inquiry the other journalists concerned would be asked to give evidence, and not only Sorell’s story would be considered. The Minister for Defence implies that it was a story not worth reporting. I ask honourable senators whether it was worth reporting. Was not this a situation that ought to be reported? If this sort of thing were allowed to go on, could not the name of Australia and of the Australian Army be damaged? At page 167 of Hansard the Minister for Defence is reported to have said:
The Leader of the Opposition demands an inquiry into an isolated incident, the facts of which have been admitted. Such an inquiry cannot do any more than establish facts already admitted.
If the facts are already admitted, what has the Government to be afraid cf? I repeat: What are Government supporters afraid of? If an inquiry were held, could it be that it would establish that there was a pattern? One of the things that worries the Government - and rightly so - is the propaganda battle, the battle of the image. This is a very important aspect. Frankly, I think the allies have lost the battle in Vietnam. From time to time photographs are shown in the Press and on television programmes of our allies shooting their prisoners of war. The North Vietnamese cleverly release from captivity a few fat, well fed American servicemen wearing new uniforms. That is clever propaganda. Government supporters claim that all war correspondents in Vietnam are anti allies and anti the Australian Government. It is not necessary to. tell members of the Australian Labor Party about the aspects of newspaper reporting. We know all about them. But it is news to me that the Liberal Party cannot lean on the Australian newspapers. I have not yet seen a crisis in this Parliament in respect of which the newspapers, having started to move against the Government, were not rapidly drawn back into line. But this is a different situation. On this occasion, Government supporters are saying that the newspaper stories about the interrogation incident are dead right. Government supporters agree with everything that journalist Sorell has said. They say that everything that has been said is correct; so there can be no complaint on this aspect of the propaganda battle. The Government has brought this on itself.
Why not table the results of the investigation? An investigation has been conducted but there are several things that we still do not know. We do not know the category into which the captured woman could properly be put. We do not know whether under torture she admitted that she knew absolutely nothing and convinced the Australians of that. On the other hand, Senator Wright has said that she caused the death of eighteen Australian soldiers. Senator Wright knows that but nobody else does, because the Government will not table the details of the investigation. If the Government will not hold the inquiry that we ask for, at least it should table the documents. Why does not the Government table the instructions on interrogation that are given to our soldiers? Honourable senators opposite say: ‘Oh, well, the instructions are there and this fellow went beyond them’. If he were placed in a witness box he might deny that he went beyond the instructions. He might say that the situation was brought about by the Australian Government.
At page 168 of Hansard of 14th March the Minister for Defence is reported as having said:
For the benefit of those who want to wring their hands in mock horror - and it is mock horror - over these charges. . . .
I am prepared to say that I appreciate everybody’s approach to the Vietnam issue. I appreciate the stand of genuine people who believe that Communist aggression has occurred, that the domino theory will operate and that we shall be in danger, but I do not have to agree with them. I can appreciate their feelings on this matter and the feelings of mothers whose sons are conscripted. This is a most terrible thing to hit Ae Western world. I appreciate every aspect, but I do not have to agree with all views. Evidently, Government supporters do not reciprocate that attitude and do not believe that some people are really horrified by the conflict in Vietnam.
I say quite frankly that when I read the first report of this incident I did not believe ft. I said: ‘This is just a lot of rot’. When the Minister for the Army said that there Was not a scintilla of evidence I agreed with him completely. And who convinced me that I was wrong? The Government itself. It took the Australian Government to convince me that my initial reaction was completely wrong. I want to return to the point that has been carefully avoided by the people who opposed the holding of this debate. We must live in Asia for many generations to come. When the Vietnam conflict is ended - and may God grant that it should be shortly - when the American forces have returned to their homeland and Britain has withdrawn its forces from South East Asia, Australia will still be a physical part of Asia. We Australians still must live here. If we are to bear the stigma that we tortured prisoners and did not observe the Geneva Convention, our children and Australian generations to come must carry that burden in our relations with Asia.
We believe that our ideology is superior to that of the Communists. We are saying that we do not believe in what the Communists do, that we believe that their way of life is wrong. In fact, we are so insistent about this that the Australian Government, the American Government and other governments have committed forces to attempting to uphold the claim that we are superior to the Communists. If we imitate the very things that the Communists do, are we demonstrating that we are superior to the Communists? Are we proving that our ideology is superior to theirs or that our Western ways are better than theirs? Or are we saying that we are exactly the same as they are?
We can put it over for a certain time, but the vital question here is what this type of thing is doing to the future of Australia in Asia. What does it do to our name? What does it do to prove our superiority? How does it support our claim that we are greater than the totalitarian powers? No matter how we try to evade the issue, that is the vital question and that is what this Parliament has to face up to tonight. I therefore move:
At the end of Senator Gair’s proposed amendment add: ‘; but the Senate is of the opinion that Che Government should table the evidence given before, and the report made by, the major whom the Task Force commander appointed to investigate the allegations and should commission a judge to inquire into and report on the following matters:
Whether the prisoner was subjected to torture or inhuman treatment.
Why reports of her interrogation were classified as secret.
Why war correspondents who observed or filmed the interrogation were not asked to give evidence before the major.
Why the matters disclosed to him were not promptly brought to the attention of the Attorney-General and the Minister for the Army.’.
– 1 second the amendment.
– 1 feel that this debate is degenerating, and doing little credit to the Senate. 1 am very sorry that Senator Willesee, for whom 1 have a very high regard, devoted most of his speech to putting up Aunt Sallys and then proceeding to knock them down. I am also very sorry that in an endeavour to support the amendment he has just proposed he has relied on instinct. He has said that his instinct tells him that’ there have been other incidents. It is very easy, of course, to rely on instinct. It is very easy to make these imputations, but I suggest in all sincerity that anyone making the kind of imputations he has made should at least produce evidence to support them and not ask us to accept somebody’s instinct as a sound basis for the imputations.
I dismiss all this type of argument. I believe it is unworthy of the honourable senator to suggest, without any proof, and without attempting to produce any proof, that there may have been other occasions which somebody unknown to us wishes to conceal. I am sorry that Senator Willesee did this, because I do not think that this is his usual form. No doubt he was in the same position as most of us now are in - that everything that can be said has been said, and in an attempt to find something new to say he has to introduce irrelevancies. And he did introduce a good deal of irrelevant matter, even though he accused Senator Wright of having done so. He also engaged in the unfortunate practice of making imputations based upon instinct.
Let me make it clear now that I do not condone torture. Nor do I condone ill treatment of prisoners of war whether they be spies or agents. This is as much against my grain as it is against the grain of the Opposition. But I think the Opposition has lost all sense of proportion in this matter. It is very easy in the security of this place to condemn a man who acts in an intemperate manner when under great stress, and that is what has happened in this case.
– This meets with your approval.
– Keep quiet’. If the honourable senator has something to say he can say it later. I can quote incidents to him that will keep him quiet, if he wants them. I repeat that it’ is very easy sitting here to attack a man for acting in the manner in which this man did. I do not condone such actions, but at least I do try to understand how they could happen..
For Senator Keeffe’s benefit, and because an attempt is being made, here to gain some political advantage, and to condemn the Government by suggesting if should do something, let me refer to an incident to which reference was made, unfortunately, in the Australian Press in 1946 when a Labour Government was in office. On that occasion, reference was made to an Australian warrant officer who, under great provocation, took an action which was regarded as ill treatment of a Japanese prisoner of war and which was seen by correspondents, who reported it in the Australian Press. Nobody blamed the Labour Government of the day. Nobody said that the Labour Government should take action. The matter was never raised in Parliament, and I believe that this was because the members of the Parliament had a greater sense of responsibility than the Opposition is showing now. No-one sought to gain some political advantage. On this occasion, however, I suspect that an attempt is being made by the Opposition to gain political advantage. 1. repeat that the Labour Government of 1946 was not held responsible for the action to which I have referred. Indeed, if could not have been held responsible, and should not have been held responsible. The incident referred to was merely a matter of an action taken by one maD under great stress. The type of thing being complained of here tonight has happened before.
The man in question on this occasion acted under great stress. We arc told that he tortured this woman. I believe Senator Gair put the matter in its correct perspective, and we owe a debt of gratitude to him. Torture’ is a nasty word. I submit this woman was not tortured. After all, the whole of the Opposition’s case is built upon what Sorell said. As Senator Gair pointed out, the plain fact is that there were three other witnesses who disputed much of what Sorell said. I agree with Senator Gair. I think the words ‘substantially correct’ were rather unfortunate words to use, because I do not believe that Sorell’s statements were in fact substantially correct in view of what was said by two other Australian witnesses and one Malay witness. Sorell said the woman was dragged half unconscious from the tent. I have seen a photograph of the woman. Certainly she had some water over her, but she was walking quite freely and unassisted. We have the evidence of three others that she was not dragged, that she walked unassisted from the tent and posed for a photograph.
– How do you know?
– The honourable senator might be prepared to dispute what those three witnesses said and accept the evidence of one man. Quite frankly, I prefer to accept the evidence of the three other people, including an Asian pressman who was present. Here let me say to Senator Willesee that this Asian, who has spent some years in Vietnam refutes the suggestion by Senator Willesee that the incident complained of here may not have been an isolated one. The Asian journalist said that he had never known Australian troops to ill treat prisoners of war or anyone else. In fact, he said that Asians all speak in terms of the highest commendation of the conduct and behaviour of Australian troops under stress and when confronted with danger. In view of. all this, I firmly believe that Senator Willesee’s case is based upon very exaggerated evidence.
It is most unfortunate that this debate should have dragged on in this chamber for the whole of the day. I believe that what ought to be said could have been said in a few words. If people feel strongly about these matters it is only right that they should be debated, but for the members of the Opposition to act in the manner in which they have acted today, making charges in an attempt to harass and victimise this man who, no doubt, is an excellent Australian soldier, because of one intemperate act by him when under stress, is to be deplored.
We have even had the completely absurd suggestion from the Leader of the Opposition in another place that this woman should be brought to Australia to give evidence against a gallant loyal Australian. This sort of thing fills me with horror. Surely he was not serious in suggesting that this woman, a trained liar, should be brought here to give evidence against a gallant loyal Australian who, in one moment of stress, did something which he no doubt regrets now. Surely the Leader of the Opposition was not serious in suggesting that this Australian soldier should be tried on the evidence of a born Communist liar. His own record on water is not too good and he claimed that he was speaking under stress. So much more stress would there be on a man in Vietnam trying to interrogate a woman who might have information of great importance in saving Australian lives. This is not to condone what happened, but to try to understand it.
I do not propose to speak at any length in this debate. All I can do is to repeat what has been said, and much has been said far too often already. I welcome the amendment moved by Senator Gair. It is one that should receive the support of the Senate. I oppose the amendment that has been moved by Senator Willesee. I oppose the suggestion that there should be other evidence and another inquiry to harass and to re-try this man who was tried by his superiors and punished for what he did. After all, why should we question the punishment, meted out and justified in the judgment of his superiors? I. have never heard of any previous case of questioning the judgment of superiors who have inflicted punishment for an offence against military law.
I believe that what happened is unfortunate, but I do not believe that an isolated incident such as this - and there is no evidence to suggest that it is not an isolated incident - will spoil Australia’s good name. What I am concerned about is that this type of debate will do nothing but affect the morale of our troops. As has been suggested, it is only giving comfort to our enemies, though I am not saying that Senator Willesee attempted to do this. Part of what has been said here today will no doubt appear in the Peking Review and be broadcast over Peking Radio and Hanoi Radio tomorrow, and can do nothing but give comfort and succour to our enemies. I deplore the manner in which this debate has taken place.
– I am seconding the amendment that has been moved by Senator Willesee to the amendment moved by Senator Gair. If both amendments were carried, the most likely result would be an addendum to the motion. The subject matter of our amendment is that the Government should table the evidence given before the major whom the Task Force commander appointed to investigate the allegations. A lot of confusion has arisen in this debate. Some senators on the Government side were contradicting one another, accusing honourable senators on this side of having distorted the facts that are available. Some honourable senators on the Government side have condoned what has taken place. Others have justified it, and others still have excused it.
– Who condoned it? 1 am interested in that remark.
– I interjected when the honourable senator was speaking and asked what was the difference between this woman agent and an airman who after dropping bombs and napalm on a city, town or village so that he might have destroyed men, women and children as well as their homes, was shot down by anti-aircraft fire, landing by parachute in the midst of the enraged people. Are they entitled to tear him to pieces, or should the Geneva Convention be observed?
– I said that I would not condone it.
– My argument is that the Geneva Convention is the only hope that people have when they arc engaged in war or however one might describe the present situation in Vietnam. For the sake of future civilisation the terms of this agreement, which has been ratified by the North Vietnamese, by the South Vietnamese and by this country must be observed when men are captured. As a nation describing ourselves as a civilised Christian people, we must do our very best to ensure that the terms and conditions of the Geneva Convention arc upheld. Moreover, we should have investigated any suspicion that our soldiers are not upholding it.
My colleagues and I feel that this debate has followed what has become the consistent attitude of some Government members - that you can get away with something by covering things up. Last year the Government had a very torrid time on a number of occasions when it tried to cover things up. The moment that the lid was lifted and light was let in, the whole
Government case faded into thin air. There was, in particular, the case of the VIP Flight. The moment that Senator Gorton brought the files into the House, the whole thing faded away. It was a sterner battle in the House of Representatives to get another inquiry into the ‘Voyager’ disaster, but that is now history. Perhaps different opinions have been given and not everyone is quite happy about the treatment of the man who was responsible for the second Voyager’ inquiry. Perhaps one man was given rather unfair treatment. Nevertheless, the second ‘Voyager’ report is there for everybody to read. If the Government had taken to heart the obvious lesson that was to be learnt from its conduct over the last 12 months, it should have substantiated what the Minister said and produced the report, because there obviously cannot be anything to hide beyond what has now come out through indirect sources. I should like to quote from the Melbourne ‘Herald* of 8th March 1968. This was the first account that I saw of this incident.
– Will the honourable senator quote what he said in his statement?
– Yes. I made that statement before I read this article. Later in this article the correspondent made further charges. He said that Australian officers had used water torture on a woman prisoner and that another prisoner was battered and threatened with shooting before being questioned, but I am not going to develop that one at all. This is the article by E. H. Cox in Canberra, published in the Melbourne ‘Herald’ earlier this month.
The Minister for the Army, Mr Lynch, has asked the Army to make an immediate, searching investigation of allegations that Australians in Vietnam have used torture and brutality.
The allegations are made by American author Martin Russ in a new book, ‘Happy Hunting Ground’.
Mr Lynch called a special Press conference last night to announce that the inquiry had been launched. 1 do not think E. H. Cox could be accused of breaking down the morale of the troops in Vietnam, or of trying to bolster up the side of the North Vietnamese. He said:
The Government is likely to face grilling questions about the accuracy of the allegations when Parliament meets next week. The investigation to establish the facts is expected to be given top, priority.
The Government may be called on in Parliament to present either the complete report, or details of its findings, to the House of Representatives.
Announcing the inquiry last night, Mr Lynch said that pending its completion he did not take the allegations very seriously, as they were not substantiated. They were also contrary to the directions to Australian troops that they should treat Vietcong prisoners humanely.
Suss alleges that Australian officers used water torture on a woman prisoner and that another prisoner was battered and threatened with shooting before being questioned.
As has been mentioned before, John Sorell said in his report:
I saw Australian soldiers torture a Vietcong girl prisoner.
I am the man who told American author Martin Ross about it. I shared a tent with him . . .
The soldiers, led by a warrant officer of the Provost Corps, used a form of water torture.
For half an hour I watched the warrant officer pour water down the struggling girl’s throat.
He was trying to make her talk. He failed.
The girl was later dragged, half unconscious, to a tent. She was then taken to the local Vietnamese authorities for further questioning.
– What did Senator O’Byrne say?
– I will tell the honourable senator what the new Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch) said. He said:
The commander of the Australian Task Force subsequently became aware of circumstances relating to this interrogation which caused him to appoint an officer of the rank of major to conduct an investigation.
This is accepted by Ministers and also by their supporters on the other side of the chamber. Obviously the Minister for the Army has the records of the investigation, and this is what he has said:
The investigating officer completed his investigation on 31st October 1966 . . .
In addition to these actions the interrogator also threatened to use the water torture-
The Minister has admitted that - . . stood behind the agent, held her nose and, when she opened her mouth, attempted to pour water into it, using some four or five tin cups of water at intervals. Apparently much of this was spilled, it being judged that the woman was made to swallow about one cup of water. The interrogating officer did in fact threaten and seek to intimidate and actually commenced to use water In interrogating the enemy spy. Instructions given by the Army as to methods of interrogation make it clear that these actions are contrary both to the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and to the issued Army instructions.
So the Minister has had an examination made of the matter and has made certain admissions. Senator Gair tried to make out that the whole matter had been blown up out of all proportion. Evidently the Minister has created that impression in Senator Gair’s mind. The Minister went on to say:
For these reasons the interrogator, once these facts had been established, was barred from interrogation duties by direction of the commander.
That is an open admission by the Minister that the interrogator transgressed or violated his orders and responsibilities. The Minister said: . . it is now established that the investigation on the spot had in fact confirmed that the newspaper report was substantially true. There is therefore no need for a court of inquiry to inquire whether it was true, and there therefore will be no court of inquiry.
Article 14 of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war states:
Prisoners of war are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honour.
Women shall be treated with all the regard due to their sex and shall in all cases benefit by treatment as favourable as that granted to men.
The point is that, according to the Minister, this woman was ill-treated. Because of the punishment that was meted out to the warrant officer - the interrogating officer - after an inquiry had found him guilty of an offence against the Geneva Convention, it has been our responsibility to try to ascertain to what extent this could become an accepted practice in the Army, whether there is in the allegation the truth that the Minister has admitted there is in it or whether the whole matter has been blown up out of all proportion, as Senator Gair says.
The view that I take is that if we are prepared to allow the Geneva Conventions to be violated it is only a short distance from there to condoning barbarism on all sides. If we as a parliament are prepared to treat this matter lightly and not to express our strongest disapproval of incidents such as this, if what the Minister has said is proved to be correct, then we are openly and flagrantly violating one of the laws that we ourselves have passed. There is no doubt about our commitment to support and our subscription to the Geneva Conventions. Therefore we must abide by them in the spirit and in the letter.
Let me draw attention to some of the implications of condoning this type of transgression of the Geneva Conventions. Some years ago a U2 was flying over the Soviet Union. A man named Gary Powers was in this very small aircraft. He had a little box, which was a transmitter, and other equipment. Out of the blue came some counter missile which brought him down into enemy territory. Had the Russians claimed that he was spying on them and undermining Soviet security they could have given him the treatment. He is now back in the United States, having been returned under an agreement between the two countries. 1 have not heard of any water treatment or any of these other transgressions of the Geneva Conventions in relation to him. 1 say in all sincerity that the Soviet Union, which is also a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, has come out of that U2 incident with prestige for itself. It is traditional for Australia and the United Kingdom to come out of similar incidents with prestige.
I wish to refer to an experience that I had during my time overseas, although it was not actually a personal one. Members of the Canadian forces who had come over to assist the British were engaged in a commando activity on the Normandy coast in 1942. During the exercise they captured a number of Germans. In order to keep them under control, they handcuffed their prisoners prior to interrogation. Unfortunately they were driven back. The exercise, although successful in some directions, was futile. They had to leave their handcuffed prisoners behind. As a reprisal for the action of the Canadians, members of the German High Command went to an Air Force prison camp, handcuffed about SOO of our flying men and kept them handcuffed for nearly 8 months.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMuIlin) - .Order ! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
Thai the Senate do now adjourn.
– Mr President, 1 find myself in an awkward situation. Senator O’Byrne is in continuation. He will not complete his speech until tomorrow, sometime after question time. Today’s Hansard, reporting these proceedings, will be available before then. I am sure that it was not wilful, but Senator O’Byrne has misrepresented badly what I have said. The honourable senator interjected during my speech and asked:
Do you think people would be entitled to do this-
I think that by this he meant carry out an interrogation as was carried out h the incident that we are discussing: . . to a parachuting pilot who had just come out of an aircraft from which he had killed 100 people by bombing?
This is where I was misrepresented. / asked Senator O’Byrne whether he would name the person on this side who had condoned this. My reply to Senator O’Byrne, as it will appear in tomorrow’s Hansard, was:
No, I do not.
That was a categorical statement by me.
I continued: l would not do it. and I do not think Sciator O’Byrne would do it.
I claim that I have been grossly misrepresented. Knowing his sense of fair play, I would hope that tomorrow Senator 0”Byrne will correct the impression that he left with the Senate. I am sure that, he will do that.
– I will do that.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.31 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 19 March 1968, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1968/19680319_senate_26_s37/>.