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Tuesday, 22 March 1966

Mr FOX (Henty) .- When the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) launched his censure motion last Tuesday evening he attacked the Government on six points. As I, unlike the honorable member, have not unlimited time at my disposal I propose to deal with only three of those points.

First, the Leader of the Opposition attacked the Government for its involvement in Vietnam. He described the conflict there as unnecessary and unwinnable, and I believe it is no injustice to the honorable gentleman to say he is completely and utterly opposed to Australia's involvement in Vietnam. The honorable member for Yarra (Dr. J. F. Cairns) left no doubt at all about where he stands on this issue. Both those honorable gentlemen believe that it is a civil war that a going on in Vietnam, that it is no concern of ours and that it is no concern of the United States of America. As a matter of fact the Leader of the Opposition believes that if we left the whole situation to be dealt with by the United Nations everything in the garden would be lovely. Only last Tuesday evening the honorable gentleman said that United Nations action would ensure peace and a better way of life for the Vietnamese people. If that is what he believes, it is not what the powers behind the throne in North Vietnam believe. I want to read to the House extracts from two Press reports. The first appeared in an editorial in the Peking "People's Daily" of 7th August 1965, which said -

The United Nations, dominated by the United States, has never ventured to say a word against the U.S. crimes of aggression, yet when called upon by Washington, it has produced one resolution after another to help out the U.S. aggressor. It has written its own dirty record page after page. So Washington simply cannot pull itself out of the impasse in Vietnam by taking the Vietnam question into the United Nations.

As recently as 1st October 1965 an article in the Hanoi official newspaper " Nhan Dan " contained this extract -

What is more, Wilson had not even the courage to call a cat a cat when he wanted the Vietnam problem discussed under the auspices of the United Nations. It is clear that the British Government is carrying out, behind the scenes, the sinister design of the U.S. aggressors to use the United Nations as a tool to intensify their war of aggression against Vietnam.

So whatever might be the idea of the Leader of the Opposition with regard to calling in the United Nations, it is clear that the powers that be in North Vietnam would not be the slightest bit interested. It is apparent that the Leader of the Opposition is out of step with public opinion and with reality. I think even he realises now that he is out of step with a man he professes to admire, Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister in the United Kingdom Labour Government. Far from contending that the conflict in Vietnam is a civil war and that the best way to ensure peace and a better way of life for the Vietnamese is for the United States to withdraw from Vietnam, Mr. Wilson said in a statement that he made to the United Kingdom Parliament on 19th July 1965-

The American position, which we support, is this, that when conditions have been created in which the people of South Vietnam can determine their own future, free from external interference, the United States will be willing and eager to withdraw her forces from South Vietnam.

Mr. Wilsonwent on to say

A unilateral withdrawal of the U.S. would have incalculable results for a much wider area than Vietnam, not least because it might carry with it the danger that friend and political foe throughout the world would begin to wonder whether the U.S.A. might be induced to abandon other allies when the going got rough.

Those are not the words of our Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt), they are the words of the Prime Minister of Great Britain. But they are also the sentiments of the Australian Government- sentiments which have been condemned by the Leader of the Opposition. When he said the other night that the Opposition will not accept the Government's interpretation of events in Vietnam, he also said, in effect, that the Opposition will not accept the views of Mr. Harold Wilson of the United Kingdom Labour Government or of Mr. Michael Stewart, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. In an address at an Oxford Union "teach-in" on Vietnam on 16th June 1965, the text of which has been made available by the British Information Service, Mr. Stewart pointed out that the report of the International Control Commission for the year 1962 stated that after the division of Vietnam at the 13th parallel as a result of the 1954 Geneva Agreements one million people moved southwards out of the Communist-dominated North and that there was practically no movement in the other direction. Mr. Stewart said that it was very important to notice this because it shows that we cannot make the facile assumption that the ordinary citizen of Vietnam is anxious to be left under Communist rule. He went on to point out that between 1954 and 1959 the two parts of Vietnam lived uneasily but in comparative peace, but that in 1959 the Government of North Vietnam demanded that Vietcong activities in the South be stepped up to a full scale attack on the Government of South Vietnam. These are Mr. Stewart's own words -

Not only did it call for that attack, it proceeded to give help to the Vietcong in men, in weapons and in military direction.

Perhaps that will answer the honorable member for Yarra. Mr. Stewart continued -

And for evidence of that we do not have to look to any partisan source - we can read the report of the International Control Commission for the year 1962, putting beyond doubt that that was what North Vie:nam was doing.

Mr. Stewartfurther said

There was no need for this, lt was a deliberate decision by the Communist North to make an attack on its neighbour, and it cannot be said that this could be excused by blaming it on a United States presence in the South. When this attack began there were only 700 American troops and civilian advisers in the South.

Mr. Stewartpointed out that although for five years North Vietnam was attacking the South it was not until 1959, after the unprovoked attack on United States warships in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin that the United States attacked the territory of North Vietnam.

If the Leader of the Opposition thinks differently from the Australian Government, if he thinks differently from the United States Government and if he thinks differently from the Labour Government of the United Kingdom in regard to the Vietnam war, with whom is he in accord? From all I have been able to learn, he is in accord only with the Communist Party.

Defence unfortunately is an issue on which the Government cannot win. If it makes a large expenditure on defence and there is no war the Government is condemned for a colossal waste of money. It is pointed out, as the honorable member for Yarra pointed out tonight, that the money could be spent on housing and education - and it would be a wonderful thing if this could be done. On the other hand, if the Government's expenditure on defence is small and there is a war the Government is blamed for not being prepared. Similar arguments apply in respect of personnel. If there is no war and we have a national service call-up the Government is condemned for a colossal waste of money and manpower. On the other hand, if there is a war and we have no national service training the Government is again condemned. The critics tell us that service should not be left to the volunteers, that it should be a case of all in.

Labour speakers one after the other have condemned the Government for sending 20 year old conscripts to Vietnam. I have not yet been able to work out whether they object to conscription or to the fact that the conscripts are 20 years of age, or whether their objection is wholly and solely to our involvement in Vietnam, but I have come to the conclusion that this latter Ls their real objection. After all, Labour cannot claim to have always been opposed to conscription because a Labour government introduced conscription in 1943. I wonder why members of the Labour Party oppose it now. I do not know whether there is any significance in the fact that the enemy in 1939 was Fascism and in 1966 it is Communism. The fact is that a Labour government agreed to introduce conscription in 1943, and Labour supporters cannot now object that the conscripts are only 20 years of age because when the Labour Government introduced conscription it sent 18 year olds into war with far less training than our 20 year old conscripts will have. It is pretty obvious that the objection of the Opposition is to our involvement in Vietnam, and we finally get down to the question whether what is going on is a war or whether it is not. Many people were wise after the event at the conclusion of the 1939-45 war. It is unfortunate that many people were wise before the event but nobody listened to them.

The history books record that in 1933 Hitler marched into the Rhineland and nobody did anything to stop him. Encouraged by his success, he took over Austria. Again, nobody did anything to stop him. It was only after he took portion of Czechoslovakia that the Prime Minister of Britain journeyed to Munich and came home and said: " Peace in our time." The world applauded him and accepted Hitler's statement: " I have no more territorial ambitions." History records also that matters did not stop there, that Hitler marched into Poland and, eventually, the Allies had to fight him from a much worse position than if they had taken a stand earlier. Critics say that if Hider had been stopped in 1933 there would have been no war, a lot less misery and not the same loss of life. I believe that. It is because the Americans also believe it that they are determined to see that this type of history is not repeated.

The Americans see exactly the same pattern taking place in South East Asia and they say: " If we are not to take a stand over Vietnam, where do we stand? Do we wait until the Communists take Thailand? " Nobody but a fool is going to believe that once they have Vietnam their territorial ambitions will be satisfied. They will go from Vietnam to Thailand. They will take Singapore, Malaysia and Burma. Perhaps some of those opponents of Australia's involvement in Vietnam would wait until Indonesia fell into the lap of the Communists. Perhaps even then they would say: " This is not Australia's territory and we are not going to send our troops north of the equator." This is what they did in 1943. They would wait until the enemy was into New Guinea and then south of the equator. The United States of America believes that this pattern is taking place. The United Kingdom Labour Government also believes that, and the Australian Government concurs. It is only the Opposition which says " No " and which follows the same line of thinking as the Communist Party. The American Ambassador to Australia, Mr. Clark, said yesterday: " Although no-one likes to fight in such a hell of a place as Vietnam, it is far better than fighting in South Australia or Texas." The Government believes that we have to make a stand now in Vietnam to halt the spread of aggression in South East Asia and it believes that the further away from Australia we do our fighting the better it is. This is where we differ from the thinking of the Opposition. The honorable member for Yarra said that the world can become an inconceivable hell or a paradise. It is because we wish to avoid it becoming an inconceivable hell that we are backing the Americans in Vietnam today and trying to see that people in any country, no matter how small it may be, have their own choice of government.

Let me turn briefly to the next two sections of the censure motion launched by the Leader of the Opposition. First, there is the alleged failure of the Government to maintain the purchasing power of the Australian community. A reference to the " Monthly Review of Business Statistics " which is published by the Government Statistician shows that over the last 12 years - I have chosen this period because the Statistician took 1952-53 as a base year - the consumer price index has moved upwards at an average yearly increase of 2.5 per cent. Over the same period the basic wage has increased at an annual rate of 3 per cent. Total wages, which allow for margins, have increased annually at a rate of 3.7 per cent., and the average weekly male earnings have increased over this period at an annual average rate of 6.6 per cent. So the wage earner cannot claim that he is losing value. Let us consider the pensioner who is dependent on the Government for social services. The standard rate pension has increased over the past 12 years at an annual rate of 4.6 per cent. The single pensioner who receives an additional amount has received an annual increase of 5.9 per cent. Those fortunate enough to receive the rent allowance of up to £1 a week have received an annual average increase of 8.3 per cent., added to which this Government has introduced quite a number of additional benefits, such as guardians' allowances, increased allowances for children and the extension of the pensioner medical service to all pensioners.

In an endeavour to prove that the economy is in a worse state than it actually is, the Leader of the Opposition quoted some figures relating to motor vehicle registrations. He said he quoted from the Australia and New Zealand Bank Ltd. Bulletin. Perhaps he did. He pointed out that in 1965 the annual rate of motor vehicle registrations was 450,000 but that in January this year registrations had fallen to only 350,000. Either the Leader of the Opposition set out deliberately to mislead the public or whoever it is responsible for preparing his statistics on economic matters has very few clues, because anyone who studies these figures will realise that motor vehicle registrations are at their lowest in January and are very little better in February. The June figures are always higher and close to the yearly average. In respect of that let me cite figures for the last couple of years. For 1963-64 the January figure for motor vehicle registrations was 26,200, in June it was 33,800, and the yearly average was 33,300. For 1964-65, in January there were 28,600 registrations, in June 35,900, and the yearly average was 35,100. The same pattern applied to each of the previous three years. So if the honorable gentleman is trying to prove that the economy is running down he should be a little more careful to check his facts and not endeavour deliberately to mislead people. He said in relation to employment -

Whilst some satisfaction may be drawn from the fact that at the end of January only 1.7 per cent, of Australia's work force was registered as unemployed and February figures bring it down to 1.4 per cent., it is not much consolation for those who are without work. That the figure is as high as it is is indicative of continuing bungling in the economy.

Of course, it is a tragic fact that everybody who wants work cannot obtain it, but the kind of attack indulged in by the Leader of the Opposition is inductive to increased unemployment and not reduced unemployment. He lightly dismisses the figure of 1.4 per cent, at the end of February, but Labour, in all its years of office, never achieved figures approaching this. As a matter of fact the Government of which he was a Minister accepted 5 per cent, unemployment as virtually full employment. But ever since the Liberal and Country Party coalition Government came to office in 1949 Australia has enjoyed unprecedented prosperity and there has been a higher percentage of an ever increasing work force employed. I ask people who read the unemployment statistics to bear in mind that the figures include married women whose husbands are already in employment, they include the names of all people who have been compulsorily retired because of age but who feel that they have a number of years useful work ahead of them and want to be able to contribute something to the economy, and they include also those who are unemployable. When people in these three categories are deducted from the figures there are not many left. I should also like to know how many of the people registered for employment have been offered employment but have refused to take it. Admittedly they receive no benefit, but their names are recorded. I hope that the new Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Bury) will make these figures available to the public.

Finally the Leader of the Opposition attacked the Government for its alleged failure to retain an adequate and proper Australian share in the ownership and development of our national resources, particularly in Northern Australia. Again I think he set out deliberately to mislead people. He omitted all the pluses in the story, and there are many of them. The

Western Australian Government has issued a booklet on iron ore in Western Australia. I believe that more people should be aware of the facts that it contains. Far from overseas companies taking out all the wealth and leaving holes in the ground, the facts are these: Very conservatively, the recent discoveries of iron ore are estimated at 15.000 million tons and export permits which have been granted already are for the export of 300 million tons. An export of 300 million tons out of 15,000 million tons does not represent holes in the ground to me. Furthermore, Western Australia has gained a capital investment of $700 million, of which the Broken Hill Pty. Co. Ltd. alone is contributing $200 million - the greatest individual share. In terms of employment. 7,200 men will be employed on construction work and 2,200 will be employed permanently. Western Australia will gain seven large towns in the north west and at least three deep water ports of large capacity. It will gain £120 million worth of royalties out of an export income of $2,670 million.

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