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Tuesday, 22 March 1966


Dr J F Cairns (YARRA, VICTORIA) .- It seems to me very remarkable that the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr. McEwen) should spend the last 20 minutes telling us of the extraordinary danger which this country faces from China when, in the last five years, that same Minister has presided over the sale of £500 million worth of wool and wheat to that country. He has also presided over the sale of $100 million worth of metal to that country during this time. We have a Minister who has painted a picture of a menace facing Australia today, flowing back through South Vietnam and North Vietnam to this Communist mammoth in the north which has the objective of dominating the world. Yet he is the Minister who has presided over these enormous deals that Australian exporters have made with China during this time.

I welcome the proposition of the Minister that there can be genuinely different points of view in respect of the war in Vietnam. I wish that were a proposition that was shared by some of the people on the other side of the House because we have reached a stage in the minds of a number of members sitting behind the Minister for Trade and Industry where it' is no longer possible for there to be any differing points of view in respect to this war. I welcome this proposition from the Minister because it has always been possible to debate the important subjects facing this country with him, but it is not possible to do this with a good many supporters of the Government.

The Minister mentioned Indonesia during the course of his remarks. He said that he believed there had been a wave of relief throughout Australia about what had happened in Indonesia. Had it been the other way around and had Communist forces killed 120,000 people we would have had members on the other side of the House taunting those on this side of the House by saying: " Have you protested against this act of genocide? " But the Minister for Trade and Industry treat's this matter as providing a wave of relief. I think it would have been most unfortunate for political developments in Australia if there had been a Communist victory in Indonesia because it would have meant the end of any progressive development in Australia for a good many years. It would have installed something pretty close to Fascism in this country. From Australia's point of view, we should be pleased there has not' been a Communist victory in Indonesia.

I am not one of those people who welcome with a wave of relief the victory of military leaders in any country capable of setting up - as I think they are capable of setting up in Indonesia - a military dictatorship. I have not adopted the simple power politics point of view that the Minister for Trade and Industry has taken in respect of this matter.

He made another point which I think has a number of interesting implications. He said that if it were not for the American assistance in South Vietnam, then the South Vietnamese would be defeated easily and quickly. I wonder why that is? I wonder why the Minister is so sure that if it were not for 220,000 American troops, the enormous American Air Force and the American Seventh Fleet, the people of South Vietnam whom he is supporting would be defeated so easily and quickly? Is it because the people he is supporting in South Vietnam have no strength of their own? Is it because they have no real backing from the people in that country? Is this not the reason that is underlying the situation? Is it not that for 25 years the people in South Vietnam whom he is backing have not been able to hold their own with their own people? Is it that since 1963 there have been nine governments in that country, none of which could claim any support from its own people by any express will of those people? Of course this is one of the factors that the Minister for Trade and Industry conveniently overlooked.

The Minister told us that fighting never ceases while one side is winning. He illustrated this as a proposition that could be applied in Vietnam at the present time. Now, which side is it that is winning at the present time and which prevents the fighting from ceasing? Is it the other side? Is it that the other side is winning? Is that what the Minister for Trade and Industry wishes to tell us in this proposition that fighting will not cease in South Vietnam because one side is winning? I think a number of the propositions that the Minister put to us tonight are very little developed and have left a great deal to be desired as propositions which might guide this country in the very great question that the Minister has rightly put to us.

The Minister said that we have to decide what is the correct course for Australia to follow in this great matter. I think that for the first time in the history of the world we live at a time when, we have the power to bring all civilisation to an end. Four hundred million dollars a day is being spent for military security around the world, yet we have never felt less secure. A single fighter plane costs half a million bushels of wheat and one third of the world is hungry all the time. We have in the world today the knowledge and resources to destroy civilisation but we also have the knowledge and resources to transform the condition of life of every person on earth. Slums can be cleared. Water can be brought to deserts. Highways can be built and grain can be grown in what are today deserts. Hospitals, schools and playgrounds can be built on a scale quite undreamed of in previous generations. Within a generation hunger, disease and illiteracy can be eliminated from the earth. This world in which we live can become either an inconceivable hell or a paradise. This is the choice which faces us today. This is the alternative that faces the world.

But how do many people react to this? How do most of these people sitting on their benches opposite and interjecting like birds in a breeze react to this? They react by saying that it all depends on the enemy. They are saying that it is only the enemy that can bring about adverse conditions whereas it depends alone upon our side to bring the virtues into existence. I suggest that this extreme dichotomy that governs the thinking of most of the people who support the Government in this House is far too simple. It does not make sense. I consider that we have to accept responsibilities ourselves for what is happening in the world today. We need a greater sense of responsibility in respect to quite a number of things.

One of those things is the policy of conscription that ha$ been imposed on the Australian people in recent months by the present Government. The issue of conscription and the war in Vietnam cannot be completely separated. Conscription could be justified in a country if that country faced an emergency and there were no other way of facing it. I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that Australia does not face an emergency today. If Australia faced an emergency the Government would not be behaving in the way that it is. It would not be conducting the economy in the normal way. It would not be relying upon 1,400 conscripts to build up a force to use for that emergency. The Government's own conduct proves that it is not facing the emergency which would be necessary to justify conscription if that conscription were to be just and fair.

The war in Vietnam is said to be vital to Australia. If it is vital to Australia we should not have to rely upon 1,400 young Australian boys whom we are forcing into military service. We are forcing them to risk their lives in circumstances in which Government supporters will not pay more in taxes. They are forced to risk their lives at the same time as the growers of wheat and wool in this country are making millions out of selling wheat and wool to the people that are considered by the Government to be its enemies. The Government is, on the one hand, forcing Australians to risk their lives in Vietnam whilst on the other hand it has assured the city manufacturers that they are going to get their fair share of points out of the war contracts let in respect of South Vietnam. The conscription of young men into the armed services and the treatment of the woolgrowers, wheat growers and manufacturers in this country, show thz unequal treatment that exists and the inequity of conscription. Conscription in Australia today is grossly unfair. Will the community continue to accept it? I do not believe the Australian community will continue to accept conscription in this inequitable situation that exists today. Conscription in Australia is quite unnecessary as well as being unfair and unequal. It would be justified if Australia were being threatened by a military emergency. It would be justified, perhaps, if the Government could show that what is being done in Vietnam is in the interests of the self determination of the people of that country; but, Mr. Speaker, it has not been proved that Australia is threatened by the war in Vietnam or by the circumstances of that war. Nor has it been proved that the United StatesAustralian intervention in that country is helping the Vietnamese people to determine their own affairs.

The Government refuses to recognise that there is any such thing as a national uprising in Vietnam. It refuses to recognise that people in Vietnam have national feelings which could cause them to oppose foreign intervention by the French, by the Americans or by the Chinese. The Government refuses to recognise that there are any conditions in Vietnam which produce the need for economic changes, which could substantially produce much of what is happening in that country today.

I was struck by the speech made by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck) in the House last week, because for the first time he began to recognise the things that 1 have just been talking about. He said in the early part of his speech -

We in Australia are living on the edge of a great upheaval both in human relations and in the ideas which influence the conduct of mankind. We cannot withdraw from this region and we cannot do anything to prevent the upheaval.

The Minister for External Affairs recognises that there is an upheaval in South East Asia and he says that we cannot do anything to prevent that upheaval. Yet he is in a Government which is sending Australian conscripted youth into that situation, presumably to attempt to prevent an upheaval which at the same time he says he cannot do anything to prevent. Later in his speech he said -

We do not imagine for a moment that we or any other power can turn back history or cancel the changes talcing place in Asia.

What does he mean when he says that we cannot prevent the upheaval? What docs he mean when he says that we do not imagine for a moment that we or any other power can turn back history or cancel the changes taking place in Asia? I suggest that the thing about which the Minister for External Affairs is talking is the natural inclination of these people towards national independance, which has developed since 1905 and continued almost without a break, until it emerged in the post-Second World War period in an agreement with the French. The agreement was eventually broken by by the French. It then emerged into a war of ten years duration against the French. Is it not. natural that people living in circumstances such as these should require, should seek and should eventually obtain the rights and the opportunities to govern themselves free of interference by any other foreign power? These are some of the conditions that the Minister for External Affairs recognises.

In addition there have been great changes of population and of economic circumstances in those countries which the present Government and those advising it have chosen to overlook completely in the past. Are we not in fact trying to do those things that the Minister for External Affairs says in fact we cannot do? De we not look at 80,000 young Australians who become 20 in any one year, select 8,400 of them, largely by a process of lottery, and then take one-sixth of those 8,400 and send them into a process which the Minister for External Affairs says we cannot properly check? In contrast do we not guarantee to Australian business men that they are going to get their profits from the war? Do we not guarantee to Australian wool and wheat sellers that they are going to get their profits from these circumstances? Is this the way we are going to prevent the upheaval in Asia that the Minister says we cannot prevent? Is this the way we are going to turn back history and cancel out some of the changes taking place in Asia which the Minister says we cannot do? Is this the way in which we are going to appeal to the Australian community to support national or Government action?

But more important, I think, is that the Australian people must require its Government to answer these questions. More important still, the Australian people must take part in determining the answers to these questions, and today the Australian people have been given the alternatives. They have been told by the Opposition that it considers that conscription is wrong. We have told the Australian people, as an Opposition, that we consider our involvement in this war is wrong. Those will be the important issues on which the Australian public will be asked to express their opinion in any election from now on until the next general election.

The Minister himself has returned partly to the proposition that what is happening in South Vietnam is a threat to Australia because, as he has put it before, it is aggression from the North. Of course, if in answering this question this proposition was' satisfactorily proved, then the Australian people could be expected to say that intervention in South Vietnam would be justified. This question has been debated throughout Australia over the last 18 months. Evidence in detail has been provided so that the content of public documents and other authorised sources can be examined in public. Summed up, that evidence is that even up to the present day no more than 6 per cent, of the weapons and equipment used in South Vietnam by the Vietcong were imported from Communist countries. These are facts which have never been disputed effectively by any speaker on the other side of the House. I have appeared in public debate with almost everyone on the other side of the House who has taken any interest in this matter, including the Minister for External Affairs, and no-one has effectively tried to quote figures and facts which disprove that proposition. Similarly in respect of manpower: The position is that not more than 10 per cent, of the manpower involved in the fighting in South Vietnam has come from outside South Vietnam, and not one of them is claimed to have come from China itself. Even in some of the most up to date documents, quoted by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Uren) in the House today - the latest Mansfield report, for instance - the position is no different. I think that some of the honorable gentlemen opposite who are interjecting show the same kind of respect for the facts as they show for honorable members on this side of the House, and that is practically nil. I suggest that if they would have a little more humility and decency and listen to what is being said and check the facts for themselves they would create a better reputation for themselves throughout the nation.

I am referring to page 3 of this report in which it is stated that the circumstances disclosed by the Mansfield Committee are that of the 230,000 men fighting for the Vietcong at the end of last year only 14,000 were from North Vietnam which is still part, in fact, of the same country.


Mr Turner - The honorable member should bring the figures up to date.


Dr J F Cairns (YARRA, VICTORIA) - The honorable member for Bradfield will have an opportunity to bring them up to date if he can give us the facts. I have been challenging him and everyone else for over 18 months to do so. I suggest that instead of interjecting he take the opportunity to get to his feet and give the House the facts.


Mr Uren - Who published that document?


Dr J F Cairns (YARRA, VICTORIA) - This is an official document of the Congress of the United States issued by the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate and dated 6th January 1966. As I said, Mr. Speaker, I have challenged the Minister and everyone else to produce details. In his speech the other night. his latest - that of 10th March 1966- all that the Minister for External Affairs was able to say was - 1 saw in Saigon literally thousands of weapons captured from the Vietcong.

He gave no numbers, no quantities and no details. That is not a satisfactory answer.


Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.







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