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Thursday, 18 April 1985
Page: 1186

Senator MASON(10.04) -by leave-I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to incorporate the second reading speech in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

The purpose of this Bill is to place the responsibility for the decision to send Australian troops overseas with both Houses of Federal Parliament subject to exceptions covering the movement of personnel in the normal course of their peacetime activities and the need to take swift action in an emergency.

In an emergency, the Governor-General may require defence force personnel to serve outside Australia's territorial limits, provided the Government then obtains parliamentary approval within two days.

The Bill excludes overseas service by members of the defence force pursuant to their temporary attachment as provided by section 116B of the Defence Act; as part of an Australian diplomatic or consular mission; on an Australian vessel or aircraft not engaged in hostilities or in operations during which hostilities are likely to occur; for the purpose of their education or training; and for purposes related to the procurement of equipment or stores.

The provision for parliamentary approval of overseas service of troops applies in other countries. In Canada, the Governor-in-Council may deploy troops anywhere, any time, subject to Parliament meeting within 10 days to approve action taken. In the Federal Republic of Germany there are limitations. There is constitutional prohibition against German forces participating in a war of aggression. Participation in a collective military action for preservation of peace is permissable only if that force is deployed in a situation which, at that time, represents an illegal attack on the Bundesrepublic. In Japan, the 1947 Constitution of Japan, by article 9, provides:

. . . the Japanese people for ever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation . . .

The Self-defence Forces are authorised to protect the peace and stability of Japan against direct and indirect aggression. Self-defence Force personnel may not be deployed outside Japan. This has been interpreted by successive governments as precluding participation in United Nations peace keeping and observation teams.

One of the most divisive issues that has ever oppressed our history occurred between 1962 and 1971 when some 50,000 Australian servicemen from all three Services were engaged in the war in Vietnam, the result of which was a communist government for the whole of Vietnam. The hostilities almost certainly resulted also in the later destruction of the free governments in neighbouring Cambodia and Laos and the incorporation of all of what was once French Indo-China into the communist state. During that decade of war 492 members of the Australian forces were killed. Of these deaths, 187 were of young men who had no choice as to this tragic early end to their lives because they were conscripts set to fight in an unwinnable and unjustifiable foreign adventure which, judged on any standard, was a disaster and which, far from deterring the spread of communism in Asia, actually contributed significantly to it and speeded up that process. As well as those deaths many more young Australians were injured, nearly 3,000 of them. Of these more than 1,000 were conscripts.

This is the area of consequence we are talking about as a result of a decision taken to involve Australia in a war without the proper consultation of its people and of its Parliament and without the right, which we are seeking in our proposed amendment, of the Parliament, as the voice of the people, to have some control over the situation. In view of this, it is worth looking at the origins of Australia's involvement in the Vietnam war. There are several versions of how Australia was inveigled into supporting the U.S. in that tragic and wasteful episode. For many years it was stated officially that Australia was there in answer to a call for help from the Government of South Vietnam. That story is now, of course completely discredited.

Papers released in the United States as a result of the effective freedom of information law there indicate that the United States wanted Australia there with other countries so that the United States would not be seen to be acting alone. That was the motivation; that was why Australia was there. Of course, we were not told at the time or subsequently that that was the reason. In fact it was stated over and over again by the then Government that the government of a free country had asked us to help. But that was not true. So again we must look at the motivation of government, and its incentive to be honest, should it be left alone in such a situation without the control of the Parliament and the debate in the Parliament that would result from our proposed amendment should it become law.

What are the motivations of government, the pressures on it, to conceal and to dissimilate? It is said that a nation which cannot learn from the lessons of history has no future. If history has proved anything, it has certainly proved that. So it is reasonable and rational for us to look at the history of the Vietnam war to see what we can learn from it. Australian involvement in that war before it ended was opposed by millions of Australians, certainly by the majority of Australians. It was passionately and actively opposed by scores of thousands-possibly hundreds of thousands. It became a deeply divisive issue in our community and we still bear the scars of it. It has resulted in a deep scepticism on the part of young people about the validity of our process of government. Many of them are not on the electoral roll because they fear future wars in which they might again be sent overseas through no choice of their own to fight, against their own will and against the will of the people.

Australia could, of course, become involved in another Vietnam-like war in our own region, and for very similar reasons. What would happen if civil war broke out in the Philippines, due to the growing strength of the Communist New People's Army and the support it receives because of the repressive nature of the Marcos regime? Such a war, in the many islands of the Philippines, could represent a far greater and long-lasting drain on resources of those defending the present regime than the war in Vietnam. Australia should make it clear to the United States that we would not become involved in a Vietnam-type war in the Philippines.

If this Bill is passed, it will at least ensure a full debate on any such move in both Houses of federal Parliament with a subsequent vote of all our elected federal representatives. This must, as it does in other countries, lead to a more reasoned basis for sending defence force personnel overseas. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Grimes) adjourned.