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Tuesday, 8 March 1966

The Government has for some time been made aware of the desire of the Government df South Vietnam that we increase the size of the Australian force there. There has been a very large build-up in strength of the United States forces. It is evident that the. allies must put forward an increased effort if military successes are to be achieved and then followed effectively by the. tasks of reconstruction.

Honorable members will be aware' that there are at present serving in Vietnam more than 1,500 Australian. Service personnel comprising the Army- training - 'team, the battalion group arid associated headquarters and Royal Australian Air Force personnel. Of these forces, the main element, namely, the infantry battalion - the First Royal Australian Regiment - is due to be, and will be, relieved on the conclusion of its tour of one year in the theatre. Its personnel, other than those who will have served a considerably shorter period, will return by air to their home station in Australia during the first two weeks in June.

Measuring the availability of Australian troops in the light of our other commitments and in consultation with our allies, and at the request of the Government of South Vietnam, the Government has decided that the battalion will be replaced by a selfcontained Australian task force under Australian command embracing all personnel serving there and enlarging our contribution to a total of some 4,500 men - in effect, a trebling of the current strength of our military forces there. The task force will contain, in addition to its headquarters, two infantry battalions, a Special Air Services Squadron, and a substantial force of combat and logistic support units. The task force will need close helicopter support and, for this purpose, we are incorporating with it a flight of eight Royal Australian Air Force Iroquois helicopters. Provision of the flight of Caribou aircraft and of the team of 100 Army advisers will be continued.

This force will make a greatly enlarged Australian contribution to the maintenance of security throughout South East Asia. It is, of course, in addition to our other force contributions in the region for the defence of Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. It is our judgment that, this is the most militarily effective way in which we can assist the overall allied effort in South East Asia at this time.

Honorable members are aware from previous statements by the Government that the obligation to discharge national service with the Army includes an obligation to serve overseas if necessary. The Australian task force which we will be sending to Vietnam in the- middle of the year will contain two Army -battalions, the 5th and 6th Battalions, Royal Australian Regiment, each of which will contain a proportion of fully trained and integrated national servicemen as will all. future substantial Australian - Army units.- deployed overseas . in any theatre. That proportion may vary to some extent from unit to unit, but it will be a continuing feature. The normal tour of duty in Vietnam of personnel in the task force will be 12 months. The Government has also decided that the national service intake will be continued at 8,400 each year.

I am sure that honorable members will, in the light of what I have already said, appreciate the necessity for the Government's decisions. They are decisions nf great responsibility and we have not taken them lightly. Australia cannot stand aside from the struggle to resist the aggressive thrust of Communism in Asia and to ensure conditions in which stability can be achieved. Our own national security demands this course. Do honorable members opposite, who are interjecting, deny that?

Mr Calwell - Yes, I deny it flatly.

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