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Thursday, 17 March 1966

Mr REYNOLDS (Barton) .- I do not want to say much at this stage about Vietnam because I know that we are to have a foreign affairs debate, probably next week. I cannot let the opportunity go, though, without taking up the challenge laid down by different Government speakers who have denigrated the Australian Labour Party as an isolationist Party. I would have expected the spirit of the Labour Party in its concern for international affairs to be well known to all Government members by now. After all, we have been accused of being preoccupied with allegiance to the United Nations Organisation. My predecessor in the electorate of Barton, the late Dr. Evatt, was renowned for his championing of the international view of human relations, and any attempt to gibe at the Labour Party as being a narrow, isolationist, nationalistic group, does not hold water.

When has the Labour Party been found wanting in its support of any move for social and economic help to the countries of Asia, to say nothing of the European states? Was it not the Labour Party which, at the instigation of the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), laid the foundation for and gave impetus to the great immigration scheme that has provided a home in this country for thousands of benighted people from Europe since the war? So any attempt to denigrate us as an isolationist party just does not hold water. But when it comes to military expeditions into countries in which we have forfeited any right to expect allegiance to the democratic way of life because of our neglect of their economic and social conditions, then we have misgivings. In fact, the Government itself is confused about this matter. The Government wants us to believe that we are confronted with a great Communist challenge from China. Yet, as has been said so many times in this debate - and it has not yet been answered - if China is the great conspiratorial power in Asia that threatens to engulf us all, then to allow trade to continue between Australia and China is a pretty shabby performance on the part of this Government. Commodities sold to China include steel, wool and wheat, to say nothing of minerals, particularly titanium, a steel hardener used in the manufacture of armaments. This is trading with the enemy. Is there a more despicable crime than that in any society?

I make no bones about it. I strongly support the Labour Party's objection to the conscription of youths to serve in Vietnam. I cannot go into all the characteristics of that particular campaign at the present time. There are many problems, particularly political problems, associated with it. There is political instability in Vietnam due to the lack of a truly democratic society and to the downtrodden state of these people. These are all things that have to be taken into account when we ask 20-year-olds to serve in Vietnam. I feel strongly on this, probably because I have young boys who will soon be reaching that age and I can well guess at what is in the hearts of many parents as they contemplate the sons they have brought up, nurtured, educated, clothed and fed, being sent off to fight in Vietnam. Our youth would not be found wanting if men were needed to fight for the genuine protection of Australia. Recruits would not he lacking any more than they were during the last war and wars before that.

In our estimation, the most sincere commentary on the Government's policy is the fact that we are not getting enough volunteers to go and serve in Vietnam. This is the simple test. During World War I, World War II and the Korean War, volunteers were forthcoming in their patriotic fervour to serve the country.

Mr Freeth - Not enough in World War II for the Australian Labour Party. It had to conscript men then.

Mr REYNOLDS - World War II was different from what is happening in Vietnam today. My thought is that if in this undeclared war Australia needs only a comparatively small number of men, some of whom will probably make the maximum sacrifice, then we should call for volunteers and we should be prepared to make it worthwhile for men to enlist. Nobody can convince me that we have made the ultimate appeal to people to serve. Nobody can say that the pay of servicemen and the conditions of service are such that they could not possibly be bettered. Despite the Government's fervent assurances about the welfare of our troops in Vietnam, the Sydney "Sun" of 19th December 1965 - just a few months ago - published the following report -

Troops feel " forgotten ".

Australian troops in Vietnam felt they were forgotten men, it was claimed yesterday.

Mr. W.B. Watson, a senior official of the R.S.L. backed Australian Forces Overseas Amenities Fund, said he believed the majority of

Australian people neither understood nor cared about the battle they were fighting . . .

Mr. Watsonsaid: " Amenities for the men in Vietnam as practically nil."

Honorable members will recall that I was bitterly criticised during the last sessional period for having drawn attention to the deficiencies of the conditions under which these men were serving. Mr. Watson went on to say -

They are working and fighting hard in a hostile territory where the pressure is never relaxed.

Yet they have no amenities or comforts to lighten the burden.

They feel they have been forgotten by the Australian people.

Their pleasure was fantastic when they found that at last an organisation -

Not a government organisation, but a private organisation - had been set up to look after their interests.

That shows the Government's great concern for the welfare of people who volunteer to serve in this theatre of war. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. King) drew attention to the wretched inequity of the ballot system. Apart from the ballot with its hit or miss system of picking and choosing, there is the completely subjective assessment made by a magistrate or judge in determining whether a youth should or should not go. The law provides that those who are engaged in full time educational pursuits may have their service deferred. What is happening, of course - and I do not blame the parents - is that a number of youngsters are being kept at long term university courses or technical college courses as a means of ensuring that they do not have to face a call up when they are 20 years of age. What sort of people can afford to do this? Generally speaking, only the wealthy people in the community will be able to keep the:r sons at a university in order that they may obtain deferment. Some young men will do a six year course, if necessary, in order to avoid being called up. But the ordinary worker's son, the fellow who, perhaps, had to leave school to help maintain the family, will be called on to serve. His father may have died and his widowed mother may have other younger children *o look after, but despite these responsibilities such young men are being called up regardless of my entreaties and the entreaties of other honorable members.

In my view, there is something immoral about the whole situation when, not in a widespread war such as we had in World War I and World War II, but in the present context of a limited conflict, we ask the 20 year olds - only the 20 year olds and only some of them - to put their bodies between us and the enemy. This reminds me of the customs of some ancient tribe in which the seniors and elders pick out - in effect, conscript - 20 year olds and expect them to make themselves a human band of protection between the tribe and enemy. The 20 year olds are immature and have the smallest vested interest in society at that stage of their lives, though they also have the greatest hope for the future and the greatest part of their lives still to live. There seems to me to be something totally immoral in a situation in which 20 year olds, without any voice in the matter, are chosen and sent out in this way to put themselves between us and the enemy.

As I have said, there has not been a genuine attempt to get volunteers to come forward. The fact that Australians are not volunteering as they did in previous contests when they considered that their country's welfare was at stake is an eloquent commentary on their genuine feeling in their innermost hearts about the present conflict. As I have pointed out, volunteers are not being recruited in the numbers that should be available. Last Thursday, in answer to a question that I had asked, the Minister for the Army (Mr. Malcolm Fraser) had to confess that recruitment to the Australian Regular Army had been static for some time. As a matter of fact, it has been static for about five or six years. The reason is that the present conditions for service offer no inducement to volunteers. I do not intend in this debate to go into all the reasons why conditions are not attractive enough to encourage men to volunteer and make the Services their career.

The other night, the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) also surveyed the Australian economic scene. The Financial Editor of the " Sydney Morning Herald " summed up the right honorable gentleman's performance with respect to economic matters in some comments that were published under the heading " Mr. Holt's Economic Platitudes ". That is just about all they were. The Prime Minister gave us little indication of what the Government intended to do about the very important problems that at present confront the Australian community. I refer especially to economic problems. He said very little to ease our minds concerning the period of stagnation in growth that we have reached. I do not propose this afternoon to weary the House with ail the statistics. It is sufficient for me to say that they indicate that in the final quarter of last year we reached the point of complete stagnation in the growth of our output of goods and services. Allied with this was the decline in personal consumption.

A man like Sir Edgar Coles, who is head of the great chain store organisation of G. J. Coles and Co. Ltd., does not say merely for political motives that we in this country are virtually on the brink of a recession. Sir Edgar has gone on record as expressing himself in these terms. We in the Australian Labour Party have often been accused of trying to raise scares in the community. It is hardly in the interests of a great retail organisation such as G. J. Coles for its head to be trying to spread statements that would tend to damp down public enthusiasm or the people's confidence in the economy. In the last quarter of 1965, personal consumption not only stagnated but in real terms which measure the volume of goods and services that can be bought by the individual's income declined significantly. The decline in the automotive industry also has been mentioned. C. V. Holland Pty. Ltd., a big Holden dealer in my electorate, reported a 12 per cent, decline in sales. Production levels generally are down.

There has been a considerable fall in housing activity. In recent weeks, this has given rise to the following newspaper headlines -

Housing lowest for three years.

Poor figures for quarter - Slump in building of new houses and flats. £4 million loss in N.S.W. Big slump in home building.

January home building approvals down 20 per cent.

The editorial in the Sydney " Sun " on 4th January - a little more than two months ago - which was headed " Haywire Housing ", stated -

There is something haywire about a country which received 140,000 migrants last year - as

Australia did - yet allowed its home building rate to decline by about 16 per cent.

What are we to think when that happens in a country that is screaming out for development at a time when we should take every migrant that we can lay our hands on? This Government is still not facing up after all this time to the problem of housing.

The decline in building activity has related not only to the construction of houses and flats. One newspaper headline stated -

Commercial building boom over.

Statistics show that approvals for commercial and factory buildings fell 22 per cent, in the three months to January last. Indeed, the January figures were 40 per cent, down on those for January of last year and the December figures were 35 per cent, down on those for the previous December. This situation confronts the Australian people with worrying problems. But there was nothing in the Prime Minister's statement the other night to indicate that this Government has any new approach to the country's problems. We have the same old Government without its previous distinguished leader, but still with its reluctance to act and its diffidence about facing up to the country's great problems. The Government's policy leads to a temporary uplift in economic activity followed by a recession and a general decline in activity. This is the sort of treatment that the Australian people get all the time from the sort of government that we have now.

Newspaper reports stated that the new Prime Minister and the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) appeared to be concerned about the decline in building activity. Belatedly an additional SI 5 million is to be allocated to the State housing authorities in an attempt to energise home building. Why should not we have expected the decline in building? After all, only a little more than a year ago, on 10th February 1965, the present Treasurer (Mr. McMahon), who was then Minister for Labour and National Service, was reported as having said, in an address to the Australian Hire Purchase and Finance Conference, that the defence effort would take a greater share of national resources and that the rate of growth in housing and commercial building and in the motor industry should slow down. lt is of no use for the Government to pretend that it is concerned about the situation. It has deliberately created the present situation, for it has allowed the economy to slide down to the present low level of activity. It has brought about a contraction of the volume of bank credit available for home building, with the consequences that we see wherever we look. But there is now an election coming up and the Government believes that therefore it cannot' allow the situation to continue, with migrants pouring into the country and looking for homes and thousands of Australians who were born here still desperately seeking them. At present, a higher proportion of the population than ever before is of marriageable age and more young married couples than ever previously in our history are looking for homes. There are many aged people throughout the community desperately looking for flats at rentals of less than $12 or $14 a week. The Government realises that, with an election pending, it cannot afford to allow this sort of situation to continue. So, belatedly, it tries to plug the gap by making a handout of $15 million. It has adopted no substantial or continuing plan to provide for the future. One wonders what has happened to the much vaunted Housing Loans Insurance Corporation. This was to be the salvation of many people who would otherwise be forced to take second mortgages at exorbitant rates of interest.

Mr Cleaver - Is not the Corporation doing very well?

Mr REYNOLDS - I have not heard anything to indicate that it is doing well or that it is satisfying any kind of demand. If it is doing well, why does the Government consider it necessary at present to bolster the State housing authority field by providing additional finance? Why does it do that if other facilities are available? I find that the Liberal Government in New South Wales, my own State, is now badgering the Commonwealth to do something. The State Government has requested the Commonwealth first to subsidise the State housing authorities for the construction of units for the aged, but this Government will not come to the party. The State has also asked the Commonwealth to widen the scope of the Aged Persons Homes Act. These are things that the Australian Labour Party for years has been asking the Commonwealth Government to do, but nothing has been done.

There are many other fields apart from housing in which the Commonwealth Government's lethargy and indecisiveness are clearly demonstrated. There is the matter of the new Commonwealth roads authority that is being set up. I think it is called the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads. The " Federal News Letter " of the Australian Automobile Association has traced the progress - if you can call it that- of the Government's activities in that regard. It records that back on the 12th March 1964, two years ago, there was a statement made at the Premiers' Conference by the then Federal Treasurer to this effect -

We intend to push on with its early establishment

Meaning the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads - because it has a big and urgent job to do and the sooner it gets launched on this task the better.

Only just recently has the Government appointed the chairman of that organisation and now, belatedly, he has a staff. About two years after that statement, just now, it is having its first meeting. This is the urgency we were told about. Of course, all over the country local government organisations are being forced to the point of desperation in trying to find finance for road making and maintenance within their local communities. Rates have had to be jacked up and there have been tremendous protests against aldermen; but to my mind they are the innocent people. The Commonwealth Government, which will collect over £31 million in petrol tax, is really the guilty party. No, Mr. Speaker, neither in respect of foreign policy, especially in respect of Vietnam, nor in respect of the economic platitudes presented to this Parliament in the long winded statement of the new Prime Minister the other night do the Australian people have any reason for confidence in this Government. I think before the end of this year the Government will really find itself under serious challenge.

Mr. ASTON(Phillip) [3.17j - The honorable member for Barton (Mr.

Reynolds), who has just sat down, rather amazed me because usually he wants to talk on state aid and matters of that kind, being a former schoolteacher. He has been most vociferous in relation to foreign affairs in this House. I wonder if his removal by the left wing Federal Executive of the Australian Labour Party from its education committee has had anything to do with his silence on this occasion on those matters. He just brushed the foreign affairs problems of this country away, and brushed away the contrasting policy of the Labour Party, by saying that he would say something about foreign policy at a later date. Quite frankly, the honorable member for Barton is in a rather precarious position electorally. I believe that his sitting on the fence in relation to the struggles within his party will not do him much good. He would have done better to have come out today and stated where he stood in relation to his party's policies and in relation to the foreign affairs of this country.

Last Tuesday night in this House, I felt rather sorry for the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). I think most honorable members on this side of the House would share this view because he is rather a pleasant fellow. He is a likeable fellow apart from his politics, of course. The fact that I do not agree with his politics and his statements is completely irrelevant. But neither do many members of his party, and this is relevant. It must be most humiliating and difficult to speak on behalf of a body of men who are themselves divided on the policies expounded and on the quality of the leadership that they are at present receiving. Almost one half of the members sitting behind him want to replace him and another section want to retain him. The right wing despises the left wing for its radicalism. But the Leader of the Opposition, who joined the left wing Victorian Executive last year, has now become its captive and espouses its socialistic and neocommunist foreign policies at its bidding. He is assisting it to wreck the right wing of the Labour Party so that in time the left wing alone will be all powerful on the Federal Executive and will be able wholly and solely to control the parliamentary Labour Party in this House. His position as Leader of the Opposition depends on his ingratiating himself the more fully with the radical left wing of his party. This is the price of leadership.

The Australian people believe in their parliamentarians being free and believe that they should not be the puppets of any executive which controls their pre-selection and which, in addition, instructs them how to vote in this Parliament on policies on which they themselves have no say. The Executive dictates the policy of the Labour Party which is decided outside this Parliament and on it the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition have no vote. This is not democracy as we know it. Nor, I believe, is it democracy as the people of Australia desire it.

It is well to recall the rather farcical and embarrassing position of the Leader of the Opposition and his selfproclaimed man of destiny who ignominiously waited outside a hotel at midnight waiting to receive instructions to oppose the establishment of the United States' radio communications base at Exmouth Gulf. That decision was made by the 36 faceless men, whose numbers included the 12 witless men. The 12 witless men are not to be confused with Whitlam's men because they do not support him. Last year the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) announced his desire for strong action to be taken on unity tickets but when brought under pressure at the Labour Conference of 1965 he did not press the issue. Just recently, something like an elephant at bay, he commenced his caustic criticisms of the Federal Executive of the Australian Labour Party. He also criticised members of his own Party and his own parliamentary colleagues. At that time one newspaper reported him as follows -

He said, "No longer will Federal politicians permit the Federal Executive to stand over them and pick out favourites among them.

Mr Kelly - Who said that?

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