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Thursday, 21 March 1957

Mr ASTON (Phillip) .- I, like other honorable members, wish to be associated with the expressions of loyalty that have been so ably stated by the honorable members for Wentworth and Barker. I should like to direct my remarks to a paragraph in the Governor-General's Speech dealing with the Seato Conference held recently in this chamber. As honorable members are aware, the Seato Conference was attended by the representatives of the eight signatory nations. The South-East Asia Treaty Organization has been in operation for some three years. I believe that during that time it has made some excellent efforts to stem the onslaught of communism - that cancerous growth - in South-East Asia. To me, the statements contained in the paragraph of the Governor-General's Speech, to which I have referred, indicates a step in the right direction and one with which we can concur. As, apparently, some honorable members have not read the speech, I quote the passage, as follows: -

At the invitation of my Government the Seato Council of Foreign Ministers recently met in

Canberra from the 11th to the 13th March, 1957. This high level meeting approved plans which will further strengthen the organization which provides a shield against aggression in an area of vital interest to Australia. Already the Seato Council has been able lo record rapid progress by member nations in their common problems of defence and of economic and social development. That Council has noted incessant efforts by international communism to subvert the free institutions of the nations of the area. Special attention has, therefore, been given to the threat to the internal security of nations within the region.

I emphasize that the Governor-General said that the council had noted incessant efforts by international communism, and had agreed to make further efforts to counteract this growth in South-East Asia.

Mr Ward - Give us some details.

Mr ASTON - No doubt, at the appropriate time, the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), who had the honour of being the chairman of this conference, will give the House full details. As most honorable members are aware, the Seato Treaty provides for aid to member nations in the event of Communist attack. It does not provide for any aid should the attack come from so-called neutral countries such as Burma, India, Japan or Indonesia. It is with Indonesia that I am so vitally concerned.

We in Australia are in the Asian sphere. On that point I do not think there should be any disagreement. South-East Asia is one of to-day's spots of world instability. There is great discontent among the people of that area, not only with their governments, as recent events in Indonesia have shown, but with their ways of life and standards of living. Australia, in recent years, has grown to nationhood. Its opinions are respected in the councils of the world. The recent honour bestowed on the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in connexion with the negotiations over the Suez crisis provides a further acknowledgment of the statesmanship for which he is held in such high regard among the free nations. We are playing an increasingly important part. Our nation is respected and our actions, in the free world, are taken to be actions which we believe to be right and in the best interests of the free world.

Our attitude to this problem, which is at our very front door, is important. It is a problem of some magnitude and we cannot afford to say, " It cannot happen here ". The last war has shown us that distance and time mean very little. The catastrophe that nearly overtook this country on that occasion has taught thinking people a lesson which will be remembered. But the progress that has been made in modern transport and modern weapons in the twelve years since the war has brought home more forcibly the fact that we cannot be content, as we were in days gone by, with our isolation. We were smug enough years ago, in our isolation in the Pacific, to think that nothing could happen to us here. To-day, that condition has been drastically changed.

The situation in South-East Asia is not a military problem. It is a political problem. The subversion and infiltration of Communist agents through South-East Asian countries are increasing. That is no wonder when we find that their own trained agents are put into this area in order to spread the Communist doctrine. They come in contact with uneducated people in indigent circumstances. They spread their doctrines among these people in the manner in which they are so skilled. The people of South-East Asia do not understand democracy. They do not understand communism. But they are willing to- grasp at a straw when somebody offers it. It is our duty to go to them . and tell them about democracy. It is our duty to tell them about the way in which we live and to show them what has happened in the so-called liberation of other areas by the Communists.

Mr Ward - Show them the people's housing conditions in Australia.

Mr ASTON - I know that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) does not like my talking about the Communists. He has been on their platforms before to-day.

Mr Ward - The honorable member for Philip is giving the House an illustration of how to make a speech without saying anything.

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