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Thursday, 7 May 1970

Mr BRYANT (Wills) - First of all, I find myself in agreement with the honourable member for Calare (Mr England) for a change. I believe that rural rates in particular are a very heavy burden from which there ought to be some alleviation. They are only matched, as far as the suburban dweller is concerned, by the iniquitous mediaeval system of private street construction in Melbourne, so we are brothers under the skin in that regard. The honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) who is trying to interject would not know very much about it, but I can tell him at some other time. The honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) denounced the Australian Labor Party for its foreign policy and its moratorium policy. When the honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay) spoke it was not quite clear what he was denouncing. He seemed to be denouncing nearly everybody.

This afternoon I want to say a few words about a statement that was recently issued by a very notable Australia-wide organisation, the Returned Services League. A Press statement issued on 27th April 1970 by the National President of the Returned Services League, Sir Arthur Lee, K.B.E., M.C., has been brought to my attention. Having examined it and the political context of it, I can only say that my advice to that gentleman is: Cobbler, stick to your last. But it is not to be treated as lightly as that. The RSL has been a significant national organisation for over half a century. It has involved the loyalty, devotion and work of hundreds of thousands of people over that time. It calls on many people in all sorts of ways to conduct social exercises which are very valuable for the community. To many of us it has always representead something which I felt was part of the Australian spirit, that is, getting together and sticking together and so on. In the past few years it has buried itself deeply in the political mischief of honourable members on the other side of this House in such a way that it has dragged its own name in the dust and has done the cause of returned servicemen little good whatsoever. I regard the statement by Sir Arthur Lee as a personal insult.

Mr Turnbull - Read it.

Mr BRYANT - If the honourable member for Mallee subscribes to it, I say the same thing to him. Part of the statement reads:

The proposed Moratorium would play a part in undermining Australia's security and is a betrayal both of our national interest and of our young men on the battlefield.

He is accusing us.

Mr McLeay - He is accusing you.

Mr BRYANT - That is so. But by inference I am accusing men like the honourable member for Boothby of dragging Australia's name internationally in the dirt by his idiotic statements overseas. Sir Arthur Lee has accused men who have a record as good as he has of betraying the country. Hundreds of people are involved in the Vietnam Moratorium Campaign in Victoria. Their record would be just as good as that of the honourable member, or for that matter of any other honourable member. There are people on this side of the House who have equally good records. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) has a good a soldiering record as anyone. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) has as good an airman's record as anyone. The honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) and the honourable member for Lalor (Dr J. F. Cairns) did their duty. The honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Birrell) did his duty. The honourable member for Sturt (Mr Foster) was in it from go to whoa. Can all the honourable members opposite say the same? Where are all the young Liberals who speak in this House and smirk? Where are they to be found when the guns are booming and the battlefields are calling? They are sitting here smirking and snarling and sneering. I place the records of these men on the line as being as good as anybody's - even as good as the President of the RSL, no matter what it was like. Without any equivocation whatsoever I regard this statement as a persona] insult. Let us examine some more of the statement made by Sir Arthur Lee.

Mr Turnbull - Read it.

Mr BRYANT - The honourable member can read it for himself. The words are simple enough; even he will understand it. In the first paragraph, Sir Arthur Lee said that the Returned Services League wanted to dispense with rational debate. When will Sir Arthur Lee come out on the platform with us? When will the honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar), who is new to this house, come out on the platform and debate this subject with us? Would any of the honourable members opposite be prepared on Saturday morning to debate it with me in public in my electorate? Let them stand up and speak. But of course they are not prepared to do that. To start with, the point is invalid. Sir Arthur Lee also said:

Attack our parliamentary procedures ....

Little does he know. The people who have damaged the parliamentary procedures in this country are those who sit in the Parliament on the Government side. They are the ones who have made it difficult to have rational and conscientious debate in this place. Sir Arthur also said in this statement:

The appeal is to the mentality of the stormtrooper.

Has he never heard the speeches made by the honourable member for Boothby or the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth)? If there are stormtroopers about they are on the other side of the House, but their activities are never carried on outside the sanctity of this place. Then Sir Arthur talks about 'a long established Communist technique'. This is another example of an exercise in McCarthy ism. Is it not time we gave this approach away? Is it not time that the RSL and honourable members opposite recognised that this is a matter of great debate in the community and that the consensus is that Australia has been taken into a war? All the evidence over the last few weeks is that more than the people of Australia have serious doubts about Australia's military participation in the war. Is it not time that this was recognised? Do not honourable members opposite recognise it?

Mr Holten - They did not 3 years ago.

Mr BRYANT - You cannot carry your own electorate. You are a member of the minority Party in this place. Who are you to speak for the people of Australia? You are the person who is continuing to perpetuate this situation, and that goes for the honourable member who just interjected.

Mr Turnbull - I rise to a point of order. I would suggest that the House would appreciate the honourable member for Wills addressing his remarks to the Chair.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock - I suggest to the honourable member for Wills that he take note of the point of order.

Mr BRYANT - I address my remarks to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to the House. I also address my remarks to the honourable member who interjected and the honourable member who raised the point of order. They form part of the pattern of the present situation. Was not their political integrity, if I might term it that for the service that they give challenged yesterday by the lady in the gallery? Is this not part of the failure of the institution to respond to people's demands? Is not the repatriation system itself one of the most difficult things to break into? Does it not create the greatest amount of frustration? Is that not what the RSL ought to be attacking, root and branch? A person who is successful in being accepted by the repatriation system does very well indeed. It is Australia's most effective social service umbrella, as indeed it ought to be. But the frustrations that flow to people who are not accepted caused that very difficult scene that we witnessed in this House yesterday. The RSL ought to be trying to correct that situation.

Mr Jarman - Are you a member of the RSL?

Mr BRYANT - Yes, I am. I played an active and effective part in the local community as a member of that organisation. I believe that it is betraying the interests of its members, of the people who attend the meetings that I do and of the people who attend the reunions of the battalion of which I am a continuing member. The policy of the League is this:

The League shall be national and non-secretarial and on all questions of parly politics as distinct from national questions, as outlined in the policy of the League, shall maintain a neutral attitude.

I admit that this is a great national issue but it is also a very deep political issue. The Returned Services League is denying its charter and is going against the wishes of many thousands of its members in issuing these ultimatums, memos or whatever they are in the form of Press releases such as this. It is insulting not only members of the League and the community generally but also a large body of deep thinking people of great intellectual integrity.

I also have here other Press releases - and the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Jarman) can read them - from people of importance in the church and State who support the idea that the time has come to stop and examine one's conscience. It may well be the honourable member should do the same. In Sir Arthur's statement he also says that this is 'an un-Australian campaign'. As I said earlier, that is a personal insult which does the RSL no good. It is not a credit to the people who designed it, and it is not true. Now I come to the final melodramatic sentence in his statement. He said:

Leave your lights on and join the procession to Australia's Funeral!

If the people who lead the League continue in that vein they will be leading that organisation to its funeral. That would be to the disadvantage of the people of Australia. The duties of the RSL are quite clear. They are to advance the causes of the servicemen of Australia, to challenge all those eccentricities in the repatriation system which need amendment and to try to make Anzac Day and the Australian flag mean something in the Australian context in modern times and not turn them into the figures of fun as they have done with so many young people of today. This is a matter which I deeply regret.

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