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, 22 March 1966


Mr McEWEN (Murray) (Minister for Trade and Industry) . - It is an important debate when the Opposition challenges the Government on major points of its policy. Of course, it must be recognised as a debate of great significance by the extent to which the Government's foreign affairs policy and its conduct of affairs in Vietnam is under challenge. I listened to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) with close attention. I will not comment on the number of slick political tricks that he sought to take, but there was one thing of substance in his speech. He said that the Government's latest attitude to conscription was deliberately timed to distract attention from the extra cost of the FI 1 1 aircraft. This was a contemptible statement. It must be known by any reasonable person to be untrue - and known to be untrue when made - and I make no more comment on it than that. This debate ought to provide better opportunities than that. My second comment on his speech is that in a situation in which there is great worry in this country and in other countries - great concern at what will be the ultimate outcome of the Vietnam situation and great concern and nagging worry in the minds of all people about Communism - the Deputy Leader of the Australian Labour Party spoke for 20 minutes without uttering the word " Communism ". He does not recognise that it is an issue in this regard at all, and that is quite wrong. It is proper that we should debate the differing points of view that we may legitimately hold, but it is not proper that we should take advantage of our positions in the Parliament to debate an issue as serious as the Vietnam situation, where there is capacity for genuinely differing views, and seek to do no more than score a trick or two, or a political point. What is really important is for this Parliament to form a judgment on what is the correct course for the Australian nation and for the Australian people in these circumstances. What is the correct course in the interests of Australia's long term security? What is the correct course in the interests of our reputation as an unselfish, responsible and dependable nation which has always worked with allies and which needs, in the future to work with allies?

Should national servicemen be included in the formations that go to Vietnam? This is a perfectly legitimate question, and one that is expected to be raised, and I will deal with it before I resume my seat; but it is not the great question. The great question is: Should Australian forces be participating at all in Vietnam? The other becomes an important but subsidiary question to that. Australia has a long history of willingness to accept sacrifices to defend freedom, to defend justice, to defend the rule of law. We accept sacrifice to protect others who may be the subject of aggression, and we expect those with whom we have stood to act in our defence if ever we are under threat of attack. In this age only the very great industrial powers can be really independent as military powers. For Australia the only safety lies in alliances, and alliances must be two way alliances. With New Zealand we have given military aid to Britain, to Belgium, to France, to Greece, to Korea, to Malaya, to Malaysia and, lest it be forgotten, to Russia, for we have had Australian airmen operating in Russian skies helping defend Russia against aggression. And we received military aid from Britain and from the United States of America when we were under threat from Japan. The present course is in our tradition. In this record of ours is our strength - our moral strength and our military strength. Examined on moral grounds the entitlement of South Vietnam to defence by countries that believe in peace and freedom, the case for aid for South Vietnam, is unassailable. South Vietnam is a free state, recognised by the United Nations. Under assault, direct and by subversion, as South Vietnam is from other states, how is this to be described as a civil war? We have not wanted the situation to be settled by war. We have all wanted it settled by negotiation.

The Deputy Leader apparent suggests that all nations may engage separately and perhaps not uniformly in efforts to secure peace by negotiation. That is not really the most powerful approach to the situation. The President of the United States, President Johnson, has spared no effort on the occasions when bombing has been suspended to explore every opportunity to settle this affair by negotiation. He has travelled, canvassed others, attended the United Nations, sent his Vice-President around the world, and sent his Secretary of State around the world to try to marshal whatever help could be marshalled to achieve this result. The reply to his efforts never came from the Vietcong in the field - from those fighting the South Vietnamese and the Americans. The reply to the President's efforts always came from Hanoi, the centre of the subversion, the centre of the military activity against South Vietnam.

I say now, as I have said once before in this House, that I know of no occasion in history when fighting ceased while one side was winning. Fighting ceases when there is complete victory or when there is stalemate. We have made it clear that we have nothing to gain from victory - and the Americans have nothing to gain from victory. We do not want victory: we want negotiation, we want discussion, we want settlement. If stalemate brings this about, this is itself an achievement. The Com- minists will never talk until it is clear that they cannot win by force or by subversion. As in Korea and in many other takeover attempts by the Communists, this is crystal clear. So we fight to protect South Vietnam. Only when the Communists realise that they cannot win will they talk as they talked in Korea and come to a settlement as they did there and as they have done on other occasions that I have referred to previously in the House.

I arn sure that we can count ourselves fortunate, living in this area of the world, that the United States of America, safe in her military strength and geographically remote i rom this area of turmoil, nevertheless still feels it right that she should intervene at great sacrifice to preserve freedom when the freedom of free countries is under assault. What if the United States and our allies would not fight to defend freedom in South Vietnam? I do not think many of us doubt, judging from history, that despite the gallantry of the South Vietnamese they would be overcome by the North Vietnamese with the support North Vietnam is getting, and South Vietnam would fall to Communism. Would that be the end of the story? Is there any honest thinking person who would not believe that that was but setting the stage or the next encroachment of Communism - in Cambodia, Thailand, Malaya or wherever it was next thought best to repeat the process? These countries would not be safe. But they are safe because the United States and the allies who operate with her are pinning the Communists down in South Vietnam. There is every evidence that success only whets the appetite of the Communists.

As a result of happenings in the last week or so, it appears at the moment that the very real risk of Indonesia falling into the hands and control of the Communists has been averted. We can gauge Australia's feelings about the whole problem of Communist encroachment in South East Asia and our own instinctive concern with our own security by considering for a moment the reaction of Australians to the displacement of the pro-Communists in Indonesia. No-one would deny that there has been a wave of relief throughout Australia at the turn of events. There is a wave of relief because it seems that, for the time being at least, we are not to have a Communist next door neighbour. This is what Australians fear, and what Australians are entitled to fear. Yet it is something to which the Opposition will not refer. This general instinctive assessment of our own self-interest reflects our concern at the spreading towards Australia of the front of Communism.

The moral issues warrant our help in South Vietnam. The American initiative and strong determination make our help practical and worthwhile. If we showed today a selfish indifference to the fate of this small neighbour nation, what right would we have to appeal for help ourselves in similar circumstances? If we had not stood by our British friends in Malaya, as we did several years ago when they were withstanding Communist encroachment, if we did not stand with our American friends today when they are resisting the encroachment towards Australia of Communism in South Vietnam, what right would we have to call on them to stand by us? Every consideration of correct conduct or of sheer selfinterest shows how we should act.

Of course this is a horrible war; but it is not more horrible to the soldier than was the war in the terrible trenches of France, nor is it more terrible to the civilians than was the mass bombing of civilians in the last war. All war is horrible. The only thing that is more horrible than war is the loss of freedom. But the objectives of those who fight to preserve freedom in South Vietnam are good and high. President Johnson stated his country's objective - and ours - when he spoke on his return from interviewing the leaders of South Vietnam in Honolulu recently. He used these words -

One front is the military. The other front is the struggle against social injustice, against hunger and disease and ignorance - against political apathy and indifference.

He went on to say, speaking for himself and the South Vietnamese leaders -

We talked of rural agricultural credits, of rural construction, electrification, of new seeds and fertilisers for their crops, of schools and teachers and text books for their children, of medical schools and clinics and equipment to give them better health, of how to give training and education to the refugees, of how to deal with inflation in a war torn country, of how to build the basis for a democratic constitution and for free elections, of how to seek the peace, and of how to effectively conduct the war.

How fortunate we are to stand with a great power of such high purpose as this. President Johnson said that the military front was one front, but there was another front in which we believed, lt is wrong to say that Australia has not been helping on that front. On occasions, we have had as many as 80 civilian experts in Vietnam helping and advising in a whole range of agricultural and technical developments. We have also been accepting in this country hundreds of South Vietnamese students. It is against this background that this Government stands by the United States, South Vietnam, New Zealand and the other countries that are engaged in the area. It is in our interests to help and it is but right that Australia should be recognised as a steadfast ally.

We would prefer to have all our troops volunteers, each person making his own decision as to whether he will endanger his own life and as to whether he will dislocate his future civilian life. This is the Australian tradition, and we would prefer that. The rates of pay and conditions of service have been reviewed and reviewed and reviewed in an effort to attract recruits, but the cold truth of the matter is that there have not been sufficient suitable recruits coming forward. It is nonsense for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to say that all that is needed is for a speaker from the Government side to make an appeal and recruits will come forward. Appeals have been made. But, if honorable members opposite believe this, what about the Opposition making an appeal for volunteers?

In these circumstances, we Australians must do what every other country does - call up into active service enough of our young men to join the young men who have been called up by our great allies to resist aggression. Only by so doing can we establish our right to expect others, if the need should ever arise, to call up their young men to resist aggression directed at Australia, or at New Guinea. Our conduct should be as we perceive our duty to Australia to be. To anyone who would say: " We Australians will never be in need of friends to help defend Australia, therefore we have no need to make sacrifices, no need to build goodwill towards us in the hearts of others ", I say that it would be flying in the face of all history to believe that we will never need allies. In modern times, Britain France, the United States of America and Russia, all immensely powerful military powers, have been violently attacked; to believe that we will never be attacked, that it can never happen to us, is completely dangerous and fallacious thinking.

I would say to any public man, or to any person in a position of influence in this community, that he would expose himself to the terrible judgment of history if he should affront or stand apart from our friends and allies today in the belief that we will never need their help. I am sure, and my colleagues are sure, that Australians recognise our nation's correct course today. It is the course that is right and good in the interests of all free people and it is the course that has been set out by the United Nations. It requires that we do that which is right in order to entitle us to expect the support of great and powerful friends should we ever be in peril ourselves.







Suggest corrections