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Wednesday, 16 March 1966


Mr DEVINE (East Sydney) .- Whenever the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) speaks in this House on the Vietnam issue we hear the same old jargon. The honorable member spoke once again about the war that is going on in Vietnam. I think that what most Australians want to know at the present moment is whether Australia is really at war in Vietnam. Has Australia declared war against the Vietcong or North' Vietnam? On every occasion that the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt and the Minister for Defence (Mr. Fairhall) have been asked whether Australia is at war in Vietnam they have replied that we are not. But we hear Government members talk about the great war that is going on in Vietnam. They tell us that we are not at war in South Vietnam. Everybody knows that throughout Australia's history and particularly in World War I and World War II, when Australians have been asked to de. end their country or some other democracy they have always risen to the occasion. They have always volunteered and have gone overseas and done their duty. On this occasion we cannot get enough volunteers because the people of Australia know that the war in Vietnam is not a war in which we should be involved. " The Government is not sincere in sending young conscripts to fight in the bottomless pit of Vietnam against the Vietcong. Australians should keep their noses clean and keep out of this war. How can this Government claim to be sincere when it supplies wool, wheat, rutile and other commodities to Communist China? The Government says that China is supporting North Vietnam in its struggle against the South or that it is supporting the Vietcong. Yet this Government is supplying China with food and with wool to make clothing and with rutile for the manufacture of equipment. I do not believe that this Government is sincere. Nobody can convince me that it is good policy to feed one's enemy, and at present this Government is following a policy which involves feeding and supplying a nation ^ which it claims is our enemy.

How do we explain the situation to the mothers of the young conscripts whose names are drawn in the lottery of death? Incidentally, what is the procedure with this lottery? Certain birth dates are selected but are not made known to the public. The authorities then select persons of the required age and born on the designated dates, conscript them for national service and send them to fight in the jungles of Vietnam. How can anybody know exactly what process is fallowed in selecting these trainees? I do not know how it is done and I am pretty sure that a great many other people are in similar ignorance. I believe that if birth dates are to be drawn they should be made known publicly. I think the Government has been pulling the wool over the eyes of the Australian people. It may have been using this device to ensure that the numbers of trainees are spread evenly throughout the country, so that no more will be called up from certain suburbs or towns than from others. This is the kind of practice that could be indulged in, and nobody knows that it is not being done now. Nobody can possibly be sure until the selected birth dates are made known.

The honorable member for Bradfield said that not one of the successive governments of Vietnam had attempted to conduct negotiations with the Vietcong. The fact is that most of those governments have been controlled by professional soldiers, and I believe that the professional soldier has an outlook similar to that of the professional salesman. Whenever there is a war on the professional soldiers have good jobs, and I believe that what most of them are interested in is ensuring that they continue to have good jobs. As long as there is a war in progress they know that they will be looked after.

I do not want to go into too much detail about the situation in Vietnam because the subject has been covered today by a great many other speakers. Naturally honorable members on the Government side will support the policy announced by the Prime Minister on behalf of his Government. I believe that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) last night clearly set out the policy of the Labour Party in regard to this question and we of the Opposition wholeheartedly support that policy. The Leader of the Opposition gave the facts concerning the policy of the Government. He showed that it is an insincere Government. He pointed out that while on the one hand the Government condemns and criticises China for its action in Vietnam, it then holds out its hand for the money that China pays for the wool, wheat and rutile that Australia sells to her. This reminds me of an earlier incident in Australia's history when a government led by the former Prime Minister condoned the sale of pig iron to Japan. At that time the waterside workers. whom this Government is always out to condemn, refused to load the pig iron because they knew that the country to which it was going was an aggressive and warlike country. Although the waterside workers were condemned on many occasions for this refusal, the fact was that many of our soldiers subsequently were on the receiving end of this pig iron, and they got it for nothing. It was returned in the form of bullets, bombs and shrapnel. A similar policy is being followed by the Government today. Although the former Prime Minister received the Order of the Thistle and titles such as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, he is still known to many waterside workers in this country as " Pig Iron Bob ".

I said previously that this Government is feeding the enemy, but again I ask: Are these people the enemy? Are we at war? If so, why has not the industry of this country been conscripted or nationalised for the purpose of improving our war effort? Nationalisation has been resorted to only in respect of the poor 20-year-old conscripts. These young fellows will be taken into the Army, trained and sent into action in Vietnam. We know that the constant cry of the troops who are there at present is: " When are we going to be sent home out of these Vietnamese jungles? " They know that the main battle is not with the Vietcong but with the jungle itself. That is the enemy they are fighting at present, and they will be glad to be released. They want to come home and it is pleasing to see that they are to be sent home. I believe that Australia should keep its nose clean and keep out of the war in Vietnam. The Government has no mandate from the people to send conscripts overseas and I believe that the reaction of the people to this policy of the Government will be shown at the next election. I am sure that the Labour Party will give the people the facts concerning the actions of this insincere Government.

There is another question that remains unanswered in the minds of many Australians. Recently the Vice-President of the United States visited Australia and the Prime Minister said that he received first hand information about the talks in Hawaii between President Johnson and Air Marshal Ky. I would like to ask why Australia was not represented at these talks. This country is supposed to be an ally of South Vietnam and of America. Our forces are serving in Vietnam because Australia is a member of S.E.A.T.O. I may say that Australia, New Zealand and America are the only three members of S.E.A.T.O. which have forces in Vietnam at present. If Australia is an ally of these countries, it should have been represented at the talks at Hawaii. We should not get our information as second hand. If the Government has committed our troops in Vietnam we should at least have a voice in talks such as this so that we may know what is going on and whether there is any intention to engage in peace negotiations. I believe that we should retain our policy of negotiating for peace. We should continue to try to get all interested parties around a table to talk things over so that we may eventually have peace.

As the honorable member for Bradfield has said, Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky has stated that he is opposed to peace. He does not want peace in South Vietnam because he knows he cannot control the people of that country. They do not want his regime; they are looking for a democratic Government. That is something that was promised to them by the Geneva Convention of 1954. The memoirs of former President Eisenhower disclose that he had been told by all his advisers that if there had been a general election in Vietnam in 1956 a coalition Government under Ho Chi Minh would have been elected. The result was that no democratic election was allowed to take place in Vietnam. This has been the cause of the struggle. It was not until 1960 that the Vietcong was formed to try to liberate the people of South Vietnam. This was done because of the persecution of the people under many of the governments that had ruled that country. These are the things about which he people of Australia ought to know & a great deal more.

Wars have been going on since time immemorial, and many of them were started in order to solve the economic problems of the countries concerned. Many people make a lot of money out of wars. Everybody must be alarmed at the articles that have been appearing in the Press recently about the black marketeering and profiteering that is going on in South Vietnam. We have read about the open sale in the markets of Vietnam of commodities intended for the troops. This week we read of the execution of a millionaire who had been convicted of profiteering. We have heard stories also of Americans who have been sending vast amounts of money to America as a result of profiteering and black marketeering in South Vietnam. lt is marvellous how things happen. When the Prime Minister made the announcement that Australia was increasing her commitments to Vietnam he informed the House that America required Australian industries to supply goods and equipment to American forces in Vietnam. We remember that on a prior occasion, when the Government announced that Australia was to send troops to Vietnam, the present Prime Minister, who was then Treasurer, made a hurried visit to America to obtain dollars. Again we find that with an increase in our commitments Australia is to get some orders for the supply of goods to American troops. I think it is another case of trading Australian diggers for dollars.

Prior to the escalation of the war in Vietnam and the announcement that America had decided to increase the number of its troops in that area, America had many internal problems, one of which was unemployment. At that time approximately six million people were unemployed in America. Today, as a result of the escalation of the war in Vietnam, 30 million people are employed in some way manufacturing goods needed for the war. The prices of the shares of many firms manufacturing war equipment have risen considerably, while the unemployment figure in America has dropped to one and a half million. Honorable members will note that as a result of the escalation of the war in Vietnam America has been able to solve one of its great economic problems. We on this side of the House know that Australia is going to have some economic problems, and we sincerely hope that the Government's reason for increasing the number of troops in Vietnam is not an attempt to solve some of these problems in advance. It is simply marvellous how much money can be found to finance a war.

I should like, in the few minutes left to me, to deal with one of the great internal problems that confronts Australia. I do not refer to the drought. Everybody knows that the drought is going to affect the Australian economy to a great extent. I wish to speak of the big problem of housing which affects many people in this country. A large number of industries are affected by the position in the building industry. The other evening the Prime Minister in his speech referred to only one great national problem. He spoke of the aid that Australia would give to countries overseas - a lot of charity. But I believe that charity begins at home and that we ought to be giving soma charity to the Australian people. The Prime Minister said -

A substantial additional amount of finance, estimated at £24 million, is being provided by the savings banks for housing in the second half of 1965-66. The effect of this has yet to show up fully. We have under consideration other measures to give further support to housing.

Today the Treasurer (Mr. McMahon) followed up the statement of the Prime Minister by informing the House that the Government would make finance available to the State Governments to the extent of $15 million under the Housing Loans Agreement Act. This money will be of some assistance, but when divided among the States it will not greatly relieve people on the long lists of home seekers. Many people have to build through a housing commission, but as a result of the grant announced today only about 1,200 homes will be built. The Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement was introduced by the late Ben Chifley, specifically to assist low income earners, but this Government has diverted the money that should have been available to these persons into other fields. Money can be found to fight wars but we cannot find money to look after the welfare of the Australian people. The wage earners in the low income group represent one section of the community which is in dire need of better and cheaper homes.

Pensioners, because of this Government's policy and its failure to make money available to State housing commissions, are forced to live in slums. Because of the high rentals charged for rooms many pensioners are living in a state of poverty. Last year 80,000 home seekers were on the lists of the housing commissions of the various States. There has been a sharp increase in the number of applications for housing commission homes in New South Wales. Last year the increase in the number of applicants was the highest since 1945. These applications represent the needy cases who are unable to purchase homes because of the high cost of construction and the exorbitant interest rates. The number of new applications received last year by the New South Wales housing Commission was 18.000, the highest for many years. This represented an increase of more than 2,000 over the previous year. In New South Wales last year the Housing Commission completed only 5,400 dwellings. This means that only one sixth of the present applicants will receive a home; the rest will have to wait for between five and six years.

I should like to refer to the incomes of some of the applicants for the homes. The figures show that 84 per cent, earned under $50 per week, or £25, a week; 31 per cent, earned between S40 and $50; 16 per cent, earned between S3 6 and $40; 9 per cent, between $30 and $36; and 23 per cent, earned under $24 a week. In other words, 23 per cent, earned under £12 a week. These are the people who are depending on the New South Wales Housing Commission for homes because they are unable to save the money required for a deposit. The honorable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer), who appears to speak as a member of the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales, has stated that there are plenty of houses for rental and for sale. We know that a certain number of homes are available for rental and for sale, but that the people who own them can afford to keep them empty. On the other hand, the people who require these homes cannot afford either to rent or purchase them. I could cite the case of a young couple who came to me. They intended to purchase a home through a big developer.







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