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Tuesday, 22 March 1966


Mr McMAHON (Lowe) (Treasurer) . - This afternoon I should like to confine my comments to the first paragraph of the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). That paragraph emphasises the Opposition's bitter opposition to the increase in our commitment to South Vietnam and to the inclusion of national servicemen in our armed forces serving there. If this were another occasion, and if time permitted, I would have liked to deal with some of Australia's economic problems; but time will not permit of my doing that and I hope to be able to make a statement on economic problems to the House next week.

I have mentioned the Opposition's views on the war in Vietnam. The Leader of the Opposition went further. He said that if the Labour Party had the opportunity it would withdraw all our troops from Vietnam. Here we see the gulf that exists between the Liberal-Country Party Government and some members - perhaps the majority of members - of the Labour Party opposite. That gulf is unbridgeable, and I am glad that the Opposition, by its amendment, has given us the opportunity to highlight the differences between our views so that the Australian people may make up their minds where they stand on this issue. Do they want this policy of defeatism espoused by the Opposition or do they want to support us in our efforts to defend South Vietnam and therefore to defend ourselves?

First, I want to make the point that I do not think that conditions in South Vietnam and in South East Asia generally have so changed since 1964 as to require our changing the policy decisions we then made. In fact, if we look at all the circumstances, such as, for example, the explosion of a nuclear device by China, we will be prepared to say that some conditions have changed for the worse and, therefore, that we are justified in sustaining and perhaps even increasing our present effort. Admittedly, some conditions have improved. I do not express any opinion as to whether confrontation of Malaysia has diminished in intensity because, at the moment, noone other than members of the ruling military junta in Indonesia can make up his mind on that.

I want to point out to the House first that the war is still going on in Vietnam, that aggression is still taking place there and that, as I shall prove later, we owe it to the people of South Vietnam to defend them as well as ourselves. The confrontation of Malaysia continues. We know, too, that in Laos, in Thailand, and in other parts of South East Asia, whenever the opportunity arises for the Communists to create disorder or do some damage to the established government, they are always ready and anxious to do it. They are always ready and anxious to show that their final objective is the complete domination of every part of the Asian continent. This is the strategic as well as tactical background against which we -have to consider the Government's policy in relation to what we ire doing.

Let me return to 1964, when our policies were changed. I then had the pleasure and responsibility of introducing into this House on behalf of the Government, the Bill which inaugurated national service training. We decided that because of our commitments and our responsibilities we had to increase the size of the Army. We found that the only way in which we could do that was by introducing national service training. We therefore decided to call up 8,400 20 year olds each year. We decided that they would have -five years of service - two years with the Regular Army Supplement and three years in the Reserve. We also decided in 1964, and announced to the Australian people in this House, that these national service trainees - the Labour Party can call them conscripts if it wishes - should be liable for overseas service.

In May 1965, we changed the conditions of service because we then believed that conditions in Vietnam had become so much worse that we were justified in making national service trainees liable for a continuous period of service of up to five years in the case of a defence emergency. Those were the conditions that existed in 1964 and 1965, at the time when the Government's decisions were made. I freely admit that some people could well have changed their minds between the date when those decisions were made and now, 12 or 14 months later, whoa it is necessary for national service trainees to be sent overseas. Therefore, a heavy responsibility is imposed upon us as a Government to prove not only that we were right in 1964 and 1965 but also that there is now increasingly good reason why we should act according to the decisions we then made.

I want to analyse three or four problems, depending on the amount of time that is available to me. The first question that I want to face up to and answer, although it has been faced up to and answered before, is: Why are we fighting in South Vietnam? I know that answers to this have been given. We face a continuing problem. We face the constant necessity to prove to the Australian people that the decisions we made were right. We also face a constant necessity to prove to them that we deserve their backing, and I am certain that we will receive their backing when the case is put to them again.

The second question I want to answer, because I believe it will be highlighted during the course of the next few months, is this: Is it necessary to send national service trainees to South Vietnam? The third question with which I wish to deal - because I believe the answer to it can well be a morale booster not only to us but also to the people of South Vietnam is: Is this war winnable? I hope to be able to answer each of those questions in succession. If time permits, I might then deal with the prospects and possibilities of escalation.

First let me say why Australian troops are fighting beside the South Vietnamese, Koreans and, in particular, forces from the United States of America in South Vietnam. Our troops are there because the defence of South Vietnam is of crucial importance to the security of Australia itself. It is of crucial importance to the defence of South East Asia and it is of crucial importance to the integrity and stability of the whole of the south west Pacific area in which we live. This is the paramount reason why we are fighting in South Vietnam - our security is at stake. It is of crucial importance to us as an Australian community that we fight the Communists and that they be defeated there.

I put that point to the House against the background of the continuing effort of the Communists, whether they be the local Communists of North Vietnam, or the Communists of China generally. We have to Jook at the efforts of the local Communists of North Vietnam and the more general aggressive activities of Communist China as part and parcel of a continuing policy of one or other of the Communist governments to defeat by aggression or subversion, and to dominate, the whole of South East Asia. This is the strategic and tactical background against which we as Australians have to consider this problem. 1 know it can be argued that the North Vietnamese are nationalists, that they are Titoist Communists; and that, consequently, if we were to get out of Vietnam, and if the Americans and the Koreans were to get out, then the probability would be that the North Vietnamese, having defeated and kept the South Vietnamese under suppression, would call it a day and would have no further territorial ambitions. We have heard this before. It may or may not be true and 1 will not argue it. What I want to argue is this: If it so happened that South Vietnam succumbed to the Communists what would happen to Thailand, Burma, which is now under subversive attack, to Malaysia and to Singapore? I believe that Vietnam is the place where we have to fight now. If we do not we will have to fight somewhere else under much less favorable conditions than we now fight, with our allies, in South Vietnam. This is a place where a stand must be made, not only in our own interests but in the interests of the free people of the world as well.

The second part of the answer to this question is that we are in South Vietnam because of our treaty obligations in that part of the world. In 1954 - and, again, I repeat what has been said in this place but I think it has to be repeated to bring home again to the Australian people what our obligations are - the Geneva protocols were signed. Prior to that there had been aggression and warlike operations in South Vietnam. At Geneva it was agreed that there would be a grouping of the various armies and that aggression would cease. Subsequently, the pact relating to the South East Asia Treaty Organisation was negotiated. It was negotiated as a mutual defence treaty for the defence of Australia as well as of South East Asia. We were parties to that treaty, we have the benefit of it, and correspondingly we have obligations under it.

Notwithstanding the Geneva protocols, the North Vietnamese were guilty of blatant aggression against the South Vietnamese in defiance of that protocol. Over 70,000 North Vietnamese have entered South Vietnam since 1959. Over nine regular battalions of North Vietnamese have been identified. Here we find clear evidence of aggression of a kind which, if I may use the words of the Manila declaration of the S.E.A.T.O. council, was clearly aggression against the people of South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese displayed a truculent and defiant attitude towards the S.E.A.T.O. partners and this was done in defiance of the purpose of the S.E.A.T.O. treaty itself. Consequently, the S.E.A.T.O. council called upon the various members of S.E.A.T.O. to live up to their obligations to defend South Vietnam as part of the defence of South East Asia, and as part and parcel of the defence of Australia.

Last, to put this case in perspective, we have troops in South Vietnam to defend a cause, not a regime. We are there to defend the cause of freedom as with the air lift to West Berlin, as with our contribution to the effort in Malaysia and before that in Malaya, and as with our contribution in Korea. In each of these cases, we were fighting for a cause and that cause was the cause of freedom. So, too, are we now defending the cause of freedom in South Vietnam.

I am glad the Opposition has given us an opportunity to debate this issue and to crystallise it. I believe that the more clear cut are these issues which do divide us, the more quickly we as a Government will receive the full approval of the Australian people That was the first problem I wanted to deal with.

The second was whether it was wise, proper or prudent to send Australian national servicemen to fight in Vietnam. I might take honorable members back over history and mention that in 1964 we decided to have another look at our defence policy. Because of the heightened tension and particularly because of confrontation, the Government decided that it would have to increase the size of the Army from 22,750 to 37,000 or 37,500, of which 33,000 would be effectives. At that time the Government had full discussions with the Chiefs of Staff of the Army, Navy and Air Force and with the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. I was able to say in this House, in answer to a question, that they recommended and advised the Government that the only way in which Australia could meet the responsibility of raising 33,000 effective troops was to call up. first, 6,400 national servicemen and later 8.400 national servicemen. Otherwise wc could not have lived up to our responsibilities - to our commitments in South Vietnam, in West New Guinea, in Malaysia and to the responsibility we had of building up our military capability at home. The Government decided to recruit eight battalions ready by the end of this year, together with all supporting forces.

I want to state in clear and emphatic terms that there was no alternative to national service training. Next I want to answer the question whether the Government should have taken out of the Army the 1.500 national servicemen who are now going to Vietnam. This would have necessitated two armies - a national service army and a regular army. I believe that would have been anathema, not only to the Australian people, but to the national servicemen themselves. Secondly, it would have created great logistic problems. It would have meant that, at a time when movement overseas was to take place, the national servicemen would have to be disengaged and regular troops would have to be put into the battalions. Re-training as a regiment would have had to commence.

Logistic problems would have been enormous, both in terms of personnel and equipment. I want to state emphatically that it is the opinion of the Army advisers to the Government that if we were determined to live up to our commitments it would not have been practicable to have had two armies; it would not have been practicable to disengage the national servicemen and to permit only regular troops to go overseas.

The only other point I want to mention, as my time is slipping by, is the argument of the Leader of the Opposition that the war in Vietnam is unwinnable. That may have been the case a year ago when it looked as though it could have been a long drawn out struggle, ultimately leading to a stalemate and possible compulsion at the conference table. That is not the case today. The truth is, Sir, that in terms of our limited objectives - and they are limited - this war can and will be won. Those limited objectives are not the destruction of North Vietnam. They ate to deter the North Vietnamese from carrying on aggressive operations in South Vietnam and to bring them to to the conference table so that we can have a just peace and so that the people of South Vietnam will have the opportunity to live their lives in freedom and in peace. We have heard of this question of winnability before. We remember the fall of Singapore and the clamour of honorable members such as the Leader of the Opposition that the war was unwinnable and that we should capitulate. After Dunkirk we heard that the Germans could not be defeated. We heard from Lord Russell that we should surrender to the Germans and let them dominate Great Britain. We heard this said, too, immediately after Pearl Harbour. Honorable members who have any historical knowledge will know that in the battles of Marathon when the Persians appeared to have defeated the Greeks, the Greeks rallied their forces and won. This is history. If we surrender in Vietnam there is no doubt that we will face another Munich and another day of destiny. We will be compelled to fight under circumstances much less favorable to us than they are today in South Vietnam.

Sir, Iwant to thank the Opposition for giving us the opportunity to join issue with it. I am certain that the more facts and the philosophy on each side are made clear to the Australian people the more certain is it that they will support the Government and disown this renegade Labour Opposition which is ruled, not by a parliamentary party, but by 36 faceless men and 12 witless men who dominate the Federal Executive of the Australian Labour Party today.







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