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Wednesday, 9 March 1966

Mr KILLEN (Moreton) .- I wish to take up the time of the House for a few minutes, also to refer to a question addressed to the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck). This was a question which I addressed to him yesterday and which, I submit, was couched in courteous language. I repeat it -

I address a question to the Minister for External Affairs. Has the Australian Government asked the British Government to take such action as would be appropriate to prevent ships flying tha British flag from supplying materials to North Vietnam?

He gave a reply, Sir, which I respectfully hold to be quaint. This was his reply -

The Australian Government has not made such an approach to the British Government. Before considering this question the Government did - as apparently the honorable member has not done - exam ne the figures relating to the trade. The trade is extremely small.

I want to say to the right honorable gentleman that there is a supreme danger in arguing from either one or a set of a prior assumptions, and if the right honorable gentleman takes the view that I have not bothered (myself with this, and he insists on maintaining that view, let there be no complaint from him if he has either his feelings or his hide lacerated.

Every member in this place is entitled to ask questions of Ministers and to seek information from them. I would not like to think that any member of this House would get up and say. " Look, Killen, the question you asked the Minister for External Affairs was uncivil or improper ". The question I asked was a perfectly proper one and I resent the impertinence displayed by the Minister in the reply he tendered to me.

But what was singular about his reply was that there was no denial of the fact that ships flying the British flag are going into Haiphong. The Minister said in a tendentious way that the trade is extremely small. Well, obviously if the right honorable gentleman is in a position to make that claim he has in his possession information to support it, and I would invite him to lay on the table a document setting out the relevant information for, say, the last two years, which would seem to me to represent the critical years in terms of the South Vietnamese struggle. I ask him to give us the following information covering the last two years: The names of the British ships that have gone into Haiphong, the tonnage that they have carried and a dissection of the materials they have carried. I also invite the right honorable gentleman, seeing that he is such a stickler for authority, to tell us, in support of the information in his table, the sources from which he has gleaned the information. That would seem to be a perfectly reasonable request for me to make.

T direct the attention of the right honorable gentleman to a news item which appeared in the London Times " of 19th February 1966 and which referred to a telegram sent to the President of the United States of America on behalf of 29 unions which are members of the American Federation of Labour-Congress of Industrial Organisations' maritime trade department. This is the text of the telegram -

Trade with North Vietnam puts blood money in the pockets of shipowners and other profiteers and so-called allied nations. We believe the time for pussyfooting is long past. We must inform you, therefore, that very soon our members will begin to demonstrate their protests on all waterfronts in this country directed against any and ail ships of those nations which permit trade with North Vietnam.

Whether or not the conclusion of the " Times " was well founded has no relevancy, I submit. But in any case this was the conclusion -

The boycott, which will take the form of refusing to work such ships in United States ports, is expected to affect hundreds of vessels registered in Britain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France, Italy and Egypt.

If the right honorable gentleman is unimpressed by that information, 1 direct his attention to a news item which appeared in the " South China Morning Post " on 14th February 1966, in which there is a plain statement by the agents of a British ship called the " Shirley Christine " to the effect that they had not been officially informed of the ban.

Unlike the Minister, I have not at my disposal a large government department and instrumentality, but I do try to exercise my mind in the sense of at least acquainting myself with the broad outline of information, if I can get it, from such sources as are available to me. I resent very much indeed any Minister sitting on the front bench treating any member of this Parliament, whether on this or the other side of the House, who makes a genuine request for information, with less than courtesy, and failing to give such a member any help that can be given. Therefore I again respectfully invite the Minister for External Affairs to produce a table setting out the information I have asked for. I do not imagine the right honorable gentleman would gainsay the fact that I hold views about the South Vietnamese struggle as strong as those which he holds. I feel very warmly about the issue oi ships that fly British flags carrying supplies to Haiphong to be made available to the North Vietnamese Government. The quantity involved frankly does not impress me but the principle does concern me greatly. I hope the right honorable gentleman will reflect on the rather unfortunate reply he gave to the question yesterday and will respond to the invitation I have issued to him this evening.

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