Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 15 March 1966

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) (Leader of the Opposition) . - Mr. Speaker, I move the following amendment to the motion by the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) that the paper be noted -

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof - " this House records -

(1)   its most emphatic opposition to the despatch of conscripted youths for service in Vietnam and the increased military commitment in that country, and

(2)   its disapproval and grave concern at the

Government's failure -

(a)   to maintain the purchasing power of the Australian community;

(b)   to retain an adequate and proper

Australian share in the ownership and development of our national resources, particularly in Northern Australia;

(c)   to alleviate the effects of the drought and take steps to rehabilitate rural industries and conserve water resources;

(d)   to make adequate provision for housing and associated community facilities, and

(e)   to submit to referendum the two

Bills to alter the Constitution in respect of Aborigines and the Parliament which were passed last year and, in connection with the latter Bill, to disclose the related distribution proposals ".

The Prime Minister's first important speech to this House, Mr. Speaker, delivered last week on the state of the economy, was based on the curious idea that he now leads a new Government that has a completely new policy, different from that of its predecessor. The Prime Minister tried, quite vainly, of course, to suggest that his Government has discovered some new ideas and a new programme to deal with Australia's problems and to plan Australia's future. These are his own words -

We are a new Government and, inevitably, much occupied not only with the very many important and pressing matters arising at home and abroad, but with other matters which beset a new Government.

This attempt to have us believe what is so obviously a myth will deceive no one. How can the Prime Minister call his Government a new government when all that has happened since Sir Robert Menzies retired and another Minister died is that two appointments have been made to fill the vacancies so created? The Prime Minister would dearly like to create the impression that a new and better era for Australia has been made possible by the retirement of Sir Robert Menzies. This is most uncomplimentary to the former Prime Minister and is opposed to the facts. As the Opposition sees it. the Holt Government is just the same old firm the Austraiian people have had to suffer under for the past 16 years. It is certainly the old firm under new management, but the new management is less certain and less efficient than the one that preceded it. There has been no replacement for the former Prime Minister in the Holt Government because there is no one available with his qualities of leadership and his great ability to take his place.

The amendment that I have moved states as its first criticism, in the most positive way, Labour's opposition to the Government's unwarranted and unjustifiable decision to send young conscripts to Vietnam and to treble Australia's commitment in that war zone. Labour is opposed to this unnecessary and unwinnable war. I take leave to read a few extracts from the speech which I delivered in this House on 4th May last year after the announcement by the former Government that one battalion of Australian troops would be sent to Vietnam. The first extract is -

The over-riding issue which this Parliament has to deal with at all times is the nation's security. AH our words, all our policies, all our actions, must be judged ultimately by this one crucial test: What best promotes our national security, what best guarantees our national survival? It is this test which the Labour Party has applied to the Government's decision.

The second extract from my speech reads -

On behalf of all my colleagues of Her Majesty's Opposition, I say that we oppose the Government's decision to send 800 men to fight in Vietnam, and oppose it firmly and completely.

On the 15th March 1966, we are still as firmly and completely opposed to Australian participation in the war in Vietnam as we were a year ago, and tonight we register our strongest and unrelenting opposition to the Government's decision to increase our commitment, which, by the way, was 1,250 and not 800 in May 1965, to 4,500 today. May I quote one more extract from my speech of last year - .

The Government takes the grotesquely oversimplified position that this is a straight forward case of aggression from North Vietnam against an independent South Vietnam. In the Government's view, too, such internal subversion as there may be in South Vietnam, is directed and operated from the North; that is to say, the Communist insurgents - the Vietcong - are merely the agents of the North, recruited in the North, trained in the North, instructed in the North, supported from the North and infiltrated from the North.

According to this theory put forward by the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, everything falls into place as it does with the present Prime Minister, and so the whole operation becomes as I said then and as I repeat now, in the words of Sir Robert Menzies, " part of a thrust by Communist China between the Indian and* the Pacific Oceans." This, to us, is just so much arrant nonsense. The war in South Vietnam is a cruel unwinnable, civil war. aided and abetted, of course, by the North Vietnamese Government, but neither created nor principally maintained by it. The present Prime Minister now says that China is directing this terrible, unwinnable war from Hanoi. What evidence does the Government possess of the presence of Chinese troops in Vietnam? The United States makes no such allegation, and no country other than Australia has ever made such a charge. In fact, the debate on Vietnam policy in the United States is conducted primarily on the grounds that Chinese intervention is a future danger, but not a present threat. While the Prime Minister says one thing, the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck) said precisely the opposite on 30th January last, and what he said agrees with American opinion. The Minister said: -

At the present time we in Australia have no immediate threat. There may be a long term threat, but no immediate threat that our sovereign independence will be overthrown.

The clash between two senior Ministers on this issue is like the clash between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen) on the effect of overseas investment.

Let me return to Vietnam. In a decade of resistance to France, Ho Chi Minh wanted the assistance of no foreign troops. He is a Communist. He is also a nationalist and, , if you like, a realist, and he knows and has always known that, once Chinese troops enter Vietnam, his days of independent choice are over and the independence of Vietnam is finished. Our Government - the Menzies Government which was the predecessor of the Holt Government - by its encouragement of the French in a decade of futile endeavour to maintain IndoChina as a French colony, shares responsibility for a policy which caused the IndoChinese independence movement to pass under Communist control. That fact is unchallengeable; its truth is incontrovertible.

The West backed Bao Dai and abandoned him. The West backed Ngo Dinh Diem and abandoned him. The West allowed Ngo Dinh Diem and his two brothers to be murdered. The West has no standards and apparently no scruples. The Americans have already supported eight so-called governments in Vietnam, and all of them have been military dictatorships, and all have been tyrannical and oppressive.

Mr Buchanan - Fancy Labour saying that.

Mr CALWELL - Labour always tells the truth. Has there been one Government in South Vietnam that was popularly elected? Every one has been a dictatorship. There is no democracy in North Vietnam or South Vietnam but the attitude of this Government is that it is supporting a popularly elected government. It says that it has nothing closer to its heart than to see peace restored in Vietnam and the withdrawal of all troops. It may say that on occasions but every action it takes means the opposite. Our view on the question of intervention in Vietnam is that we should aim to convert an intervention into a United Nations action to pacify the country, to neutralise it, and to ensure that its people have freedom of choice. Nineteen years of intervention by Communist and anti-Communist powers from 1947 to 1966 has created a battle ground, but it has created nothing that gives any hope of a new life in Vietnam. United Nations action would ensure peace and a better life for the Vietnamese people, and would end all great power rivalries. In this country we never seem to think how much the Vietnamese people are being used in great power rivalries.

Australia's present Government is primarily concerned, unfortunately, not about peace, but about the way the events in South East Asia can be used to influence political thinking in Australia. Accusing China of hostile intentions helps build a war atmosphere in Australia, while trading with China produces votes for Government supporters in rural areas. The concern in both cases is simply to obtain votes for the Government and not to deal with the realities of life in Vietnam. On the one hand the Government says in effect that we are at war with China and, on the other hand, by its trade with China in rutile sands, it ensures that China has the most vital element for its war economy. Rutiles are the source of titanium, and titanium super hardens steel. Titanium is absolutely essential for aircraft and rocket engines, and so the Government is playing a major part in Chinese development of atomic bomb delivery systems. Let honorable members opposite deny that if they can. I know that recently, because of our attitude as an Opposition, the Government has cancelled any more sales of rutile sands to China. But the Government still proclaims that it forbids the export of strategic materials to Mainland China.

The Government must stop this crude propaganda about Vietnam. If the issues are as simple as the present Prime Minister makes out, why does not the United States go all out and bomb Vietnam? If we are already at war with China, as the Prime Minister alleges, and which he gives as the reason for expanding Australian intervention in Vietnam, what is the aim of his Government in relation to China? Perhaps it is the defeat of China? If we are ai war with China, and if we want to defeat China, why is this country not now on a war footing? Why does :he Government say that the lives o;" :he 4,500 servicemen, including

I, 500 conscripts, who will be sent to Vietnam are expendable, while the rest of the community can enjoy itself to the full? And that is lbc policy of this Co'ernment. To our disgrace the only people in Australia today *ho ure concerned about what happen.; in Vietnam are the relatives of those serving in that country. They are the only people who have any feeling in the matter whatever.

Mr Killen - What rot.

Mr CALWELL - Let the representative.; of reaction slate their opposition when the time comes. There are only two or three who would deny the truth of that assertion.

We have always been an anticonscriptionist Party and we are proud of it. When we cease to be that, we cease to be an Austraiian Labour Party. We have agreed to the imposition of conscription only once in our history, and that was in World War

II.   But on that occasion, the Party agreed to send conscripts no further north than tha equator. The benighted Holt Government is prepared to send them to Vietnam and anywhere else if by so doing it can curry favour with international capitalism. The only thing that matters to this materialistically minded Government is trade. Indeed, the whole trade policy of the Government strengthens, and is intended to strengthen, China. The Prime Minister admitted all this last Friday night, inferentially, at least, at the University of Melbourne. He was much more frank and revealing with his handpicked youthful audience that night than he was in the House of Representatives three nights earlier. He may have been driven to it, of course, because of heckling and because he felt uncomfortable before the young people whom he proposed to conscript. He made three very interesting, but fallacious observations to his mesmerised audience. The first was " that many people were unaware of the contemporary history of Asia, particularly in relation to Malaysia, Korea, and Taiwan ". His view was that these and other areas were now threatened by Chinese expansion and where this threat existed, it had to be resisted. Australia must, accord ing to this type of logic, agree to send conscripts to he'p Vietnam, Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, India and Tibet. The second observation nude by the Prime Minister was tha; by the sale of wheat, wool and iv.el&l;. \-. China, we are developing support for Australia, and thereby helping to defend this country. This observation was not included in last Tuesday's speech, but it was made in :hs Melbourne University in answer to an interjection.

Incidentally, our sales to Communist China have been of the order of millions of tons of wheat and millions of bales of wool. Let me give a few details to show " how the jingle of the guinea helps the hurt that honour feels ", because all of these exports are most important in the context of Chinese military power. Between July I960 and January 1966, Australia sold 1 1.2 million tons of wheat valued at $566 million to Mainland China. Between July 1963 and January 1966 Australia sold 2.7 million tons of wheat valued at $141 million to Soviet Russia. In the matter of wool, in the 6 years ended June 1965, Australia sold 180 million lb. valued at SI 30 million to Communist China and 255 million lb. valued at Si 58 million to Soviet Russia. These sales included wool tops. In the same period Australia sold to Communist China 88,000 tons of metals which included bars, plate, sheet, etc., which were valued at $9 million. Russia in that time purchased 10.000 tons of metals valued at SI million. These figures were supplied to me today by Sir Alan Westerman, Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry.

The third observation the Prime Minister made was that the Vietnam war is of greater interest to Australia than it is to the United States. This is not so. It is completely false. The United States went into Vietnam before Australia did and any attempt to prove that Australia should conscript its youth to serve anywhere outside Australia because American conscripts are serving in Vietnam and Europe is ludicrous. We do know this: If the United States pulled out of Vietnam tomorrow we would have to go, too. The fact that America conscripts its youth for overseas service is its business and not ours. The American forces cannot and will not be defeated on the battlefields of South Vietnam, but there is a large and growing body of influential opinion in the United

States and elsewhere that the United States cannot win there either.

In an endeavour to force a victorious conclusion to the allied campaign, the Americans may feel they have to escalate the war. Indeed, they have been obliged almost from the beginning of their involvement in this unwinnable war to commit more and more men of all arms of their services. And victory still eludes them. It is as far off as ever. How far can the United States go in increasing the size and variety of her forces? She has a quarter of a million men locked in conflict with no foreseeable satisfactory result. Would a force of one million Americans overwhelm the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong? No American statesman or leading military figure has said so.

At the moment there are more than a million United States and South Vietnamese troops seeking the elusive enemy and registering only small local successes but no major triumphs. There must be a limit imposed by considerations of manpower and materials on the decisive role America can play in the Vietnam war, and there must come a time when America will have to decide how far she can escalate the war in her desire for an early victory and without risking a direct conflict with China.

The Prime Minister used these words in his statement: "The search for peace will go on, but a long period of fighting is the prospect which we face." It is plain that in the beginning America thought she could win this war relatively easily. It is equally clear that she wants peace and has made determined efforts to persuade Hanoi to agree to a cease-fire arrangement and come to the conference table. Her cessation of bombing of North Vietnam for a period is evidence of her earnestness to finish this dreadful conflict in the only way it can be ended. That is by a peace conference of all the nations involved and those, too, that are concerned with peace in South East Asia.

We think the United States should not have resumed the bombing of North Vietnam because, apart from all the tragedy of destruction, the more that country is destroyed the more the cause of Chinese Communism is served. There is much evidence that United States policy is directed to avoiding war with China and this determination governs how far the bombing of North Vietnam will increase and which targets will be attacked or not attacked. How to contain China without fighting her and still win in Vietnam is America's great and seemingly insoluble problem. At least 29 United States senators are not satisfied with the way the war is progressing and with the way the Johnson Administration is conducting it.

The Opposition rejects the Government's interpretation of events in South Vietnam. I challenge the Government to take a referendum on this question and agree to abide by the result. If it will not do this, I promise the Prime Minister that the Opposition will fight the next general election, whenever it comes, on this major issue. We will fight it in the Kooyong by-election. We stand up for our beliefs. In Kooyong, the citadel of capitalism, the blue ribbon seat of Liberalism, the home of the silvertails, we will make this the issue. We w:!l win the by-election if the people of Kooyong are as sensible as the people of Dawson were a few weeks ago.

There are other issues on which we will seek to defeat this effete, useless, reactionary new Government. We will never support the use of conscripts in overseas wars for the defence of any part of Asia. We will not accept any moral responsibily whatsoever in this matter.

Now I turn to the state of the economy, in other words, to what is happening on the domestic front of Australia. The situation in this field of Australian affairs is very serious but I have only time to deal with a number of the problems associated with that situation. The ever increasing amount of overseas investment in Australian industry and its natural resources, and the ever growing degree of overseas control of those industries and resources, have long since passed the stage of a national scandal. Several of my colleagues who have made a deep study of this question will take part in this debate and state again, as they have so often stated before, our objections to the people of Australia becoming a nation of economic slaves to American, British and Japanese capitalism. Japanese imperialism failed to conquer this country between 1941 and 1945 but Japanese capitalism is doing very well for Japan in Australia in 1966.

The figures released two days ago by the Minister for Trade and Industry indicate the menace which overseas control of our industries poses for our national wellbeing. This menace is now so great that this Government must, as the next Labour Government will, legislate for a substantial proportion of all foreign companies operating being owned by Australian citizens. One can only be astonished at the complacency of the Government in the face of the current economic situation. The official publication, the " Quarterly Review of Agricultural Economics " issued in January this year contains an article dealing with the Australian farm situation 1965/66. It states: -

The gross value of rural production is estimated at $3,039 million. This is $357 million or approximately 10% lower than that in 1964/65.

And, whereas the Government has been referring to the need of a 6% to 7% increase in the volume of exports per annum if our economy is to grow, we are told further on to expect - a drop of 6% in the volume of exports of rural origin in 1965/66.

We applaud the hope the Government has of increasing the volume of exports by 6 per cent, annually, but even discounting the effects of the drought, the Government must accept some responsibility for the fact that the volume of exports will not increase but will drop by 6 per cent, this year. The Review also states -

The value of exports of rural origin could be reduced by as much as 10 per cent, as a result of the smaller volume of exports and lower average export prices for sugar, wool and wheat.

The fall could approximate in value $150 million. In addition to these unfavorable circumstances, the Review points out - lt is expected that the increases in prices paid for farm requisites in 1965-66 will be slightly greater than the 3.5 per cent, experienced last year.

The cumulative result - and again I quota from the Review - is that -

The large fall in the gross value of rural production, together with the small increase in total farm costs, is expected to reduce farm income by nearly 30 per cent, to $927 million.

I repeat that -

.   . to reduce farm income by nearly 30 per cent, to $927 million.

This would be the lowest farm income figure in eight years. Let the Government answer for that if it can.

Dr Gibbs - Why does not the honorable member read other journals?

Mr CALWELL - I read every journal that comes my way. I wish the learned doctor would read something relevant to the Australian situation and be able to make a worthwhile contribution to the debate occasionally. The greatest impact of this rural adversity will be felt in New South Wales and Queensland. Let us hear from some of the representatives of New South Wales and Queensland on the matter of farm incomes during the course of this debate. However, the decline in the rate of Australia's economic growth is not confined to the rural sector. The monthly bulletin of the Australia and New Zealand Bank Ltd. " Business Indicators ", for February 1 966 whilst conceding that -

The nation is still fully employed and incomes are high in general . . . warns that -

There is a danger that slowing down may turn into an actual contraction unless some stimulating factors arise.

The soft spots to which this journal points are housing, motor vehicle sales, easing of demand for labour, and slowing of investment spending. In relation to housing, the bulletin points this out - and it is covered in our amendment -

The January statistics show no response to the stimulus provided by the Reserve Bank's request to savings banks to make further funds available for housing, which suggested a weakness in real demand for housing.

The Opposition agrees that there is a weakness in real demand but it is more than a suggestion of weakness; it is an inevitable result of the chain of circumstances of soaring land prices, rising building costs and high interest rates. These have combined to force out of the market the lower income families who most need houses. The decline in motor vehicle sales arises also from a combination of factors. It is not that there is any change in the nature of the community but there has been a change in its real purchasing power. Because prices of other things have risen, particularly foodstuffs, tobacco and liquor, there is less left over for other things and, in addition, the easing of the demand for labour also tightens the total of family pay packets - less overtime, less two job households.

The mess-up in the decimal changeover will further aggravate the situation because the impact of price cribbing is greatest on those least able to afford it - average income families and pensioners. As the A.N.Z. Bank bulletin points out, the fall in the demand for motor vehicles has been catastrophic. It states -

While last June registrations represented an annual rate of 450,000 the January 1966 figures represented an annual rate of only' 350,000.

Whilst some satisfaction may be drawn from the fact that at the end of January only 1.7% of Australia's work force was registered as unemployed and February figures bring it down to 1.4%, it is not much consolation for those who are without work. That the figure is as high as it is is indicative of continuing bungling in the economy.

Mr Buchanan - It is better than 5 per cent.

Mr CALWELL - Of course it is better than 5 per cent. And it is better than the 30 per cent, of unemployment that existed in this country while the Lyons Government was in power. The A.N.Z. Bank bulletin notes: -

Analysis of males registered at the end of January by class of employment shows more in each class than a year earlier, both in absolute numbers and in proportion to the total, the largest proportionate increases being in the skilled labour classes.

We are all surely entitled to ask why, in a community that is short of skilled labour, the largest proportionate increase in registered male unemployed should be in the skilled labour class. A further significant feature continued also into the February figures released only yesterday is that nearly half of those registered are people under the age of 21 years. Again, I ask: Does this leave room for complacency?

With all these clouds on the economic horizon is there any wonder that there is a slowing in investment? Because, after all, it is rising real demand that is the spur to investment and, looking at the economy as a whole, real demand is not rising but falling. The situation has been aggravated by the measures taken by the Government in its last Budget when it increased taxation by $160 million with the major impact falling on the incomes of the majority of households. The Labour Party said then that the measures were wrong. It says that the greatest stimulus that could be given to the community now would be to reverse that situation and to increase the real purchasing power of the majority of people by reducing indirect taxes and by increasing social service benefits. Our basic economic troubles are due to the slow rate of growth of the national product. No economist, nor anybody concerned with banking would disagree with that. Employers budget for an annual profit increase of 4 per cent, and the trade union movement demands, but sever gets, a real annual gain of the same percentage.

To summarise our indictment of the economic policies of the Government, we claim that instead of steady growth and adequate purchasing power in the hands of the people, we have inflation and rising costs, an increase of from 50 cents to a dollar a week in the cost of living because of the wrongs done during the currency conversion, dwindling overseas balances, the effects of the drought - about which little or nothing has been done or is being done - salary and wage injustice and continuing neglect of those on fixed incomes. Let the Prime Minister tell the House the truth about the state of the economy. There is lack of confidence everywhere. Every stock exchange is dull and some firms have dismissed a quarter of their employees. I can give the names of half a dozen leading Melbourne stockbrokers who have told me that. The Treasurer (Mr. McMahon) nods assent.

Dr Forbes - The Leader of the Opposition is getting desperate.

Mr CALWELL - Oh, no. The Treasurer only occasionally appears to be asleep. I woke him up with that observation and he agreed with what I said. I am not worried about what the backbenchers of this Government think. They are all lucky to be here, anyhow. Will any member on the Government side of the House deny that index prices continue to fall, as business continues to stagnate? Will they deny that Government expenditure continues to rise more quickly than does revenue? Imports have exceeded exports over the past 15 months. Does any Government member deny that? Our overseas trade balance is slipping. Does any Government supporter deny that? There is neither plan nor priorities in the use of our national income. Can anybody deny that? I would have wished to be able to deal adequately with the plight of young couples who are married and who find that their burdens in the payment of interest and the repayment of loans are assuming lifelong proportions. I would have liked to have had time to deal with the degrading conditions of pensioners living in shacks and substandard accommodation everywhere in Australia, but again time does not permit. My colleagues will deal with this problem and with our war on poverty. When I look at the well fed people on the other side of the House I realise that they do not know what poverty means. They have never experienced the lack of a meal on one day of their model existences. They are all well fed. All their pockets are well lined. They are all well-heeled and all yelling like a paddock full of galahs.

The amendment which I have moved but which the people who represent predatory wealth in this Parliament do not like is sufficiently comprehensive to cover everything of moment that is happening in regard to Australia today and in regard to Australia's future. I conclude with an appeal to the Parliament - to members on the Government side, if they will - to vote with us on our amendment because of the justice of our claims and the truth of our propositions. I assert with complete certitude that the policy declarations contained in the Government's statement are either inadequate to the needs of the nation or are so opposed to its best interests that the House is bound to reject them. Australia's very survival demands this course.

Suggest corrections