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Thursday, 24 March 1966

Mr SPEAKER - Order! A number of honorable members persist in loudly interjecting. I remind the House that the Prime Minister is limited to 20 minutes. The challenger was unlimited. I ask honorable members to observe the Standing Orders. If they do not do so, I shall have to deal with them.

Mr HAROLD HOLT - We cannot leave the containment of aggressive Communism in Asia to our allies and their national servicemen. The United States has made a sustained, firm and large commitment to the South Vietnamese Government and people. As leaders of our own Government have said previously our stake in preserving the security of South East Asia is at least as great as that of the United States. It would be outside the character of the Australian people to leave the fighting to the Americans in what we know are also our interests and our causes.

It is within our capacity to make the enlarged contribution which we have offered. The Army forces to be deployed to South Vietnam will constitute approximately 10 per cent., in terms of personnel numbers, of the strength of 40,000 to which it has been approved the Army is to rise by 1967. The Government's enlarged contribution to South Vietnam has been measured against all our other commitments including those to Malaysia and Singapore. It has been of great value and reassurance to us to know of the United Kingdom's declared intention to maintain a strong military presence in this area. The deployments to South Vietnam are also, of course, fully consistent with our obligations and requirements to retain adequate forces lor the defence of Australia and its Territories, including Papua and New Guinea.

Now, Sir, I turn to the question of the introduction of national service. The Menzies Government conducted a review of Australia's defence position in 1964 against a background of an accelerated deterioration in the strategic situation in South East Asia. China had committed open aggression against India. North Vietnam, with the encouragement of China, had increased its terrorist and insurgency campaign against South Vietnam. Communist armed activity continued in Laos. There was a resurgence of Communist terrorism in northern Malaya, and Indonesia had stepped up its armed confrontation of Malaysia.

In his report to the Parliament on 10th November 1964, the then Prime Minister,

Sir RobertMenzies, pointed out that Indonesian attacks against Malaysia could create a real risk of war, and that Australia must prepare for all eventualities including the control and, if necessary, defence of the frontier between West New Guinea and the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Our defence review showed clearly that the likely military situations Australia must be prepared to face had increased in number and complexity. Does anybody opposite deny that? It was apparent that the tasks already entered upon must be maintained and that a rapid buildup of ground forces would be required to enable this to be done and to prepare against further possible contingencies including an increase in cold war commitments; meeting agreed commitments under collective security agreements if called upon; providing bilateral assistance to our allies if required at short notice; increased provision for the defence of Australia and her Territories; and the development of forces against a further erosion of the strategic situation in South East Asia and as a basis for rapid expansion in the event of war.

The Regular Army strength at the time was 22,750. The assessment by the Chiefs of Staff Committee of the actual, foreseeable and contingency tasks showed that an effective Army strength of 33,000 was required by the end of 1966. All practicable steps were taken to attract an increase in volunteers for the Regular Army. Pay was increased, conditions of service were improved, quarters were modernised, the number of married quarters was increased, amenities were improved, the retirement benefits scheme was streamlined and an intensive recruiting campaign was undertaken. These measures produced some additional recruits. It became evident, however, that in a time of great prosperity with over full employment and intense competition for young men, it was not possible to obtain the necessary increase in effective strength within the time required. A survey of recruiting trends showed that some 3,000 volunteers would be recruited each year for the Army. Allowing for wastage as members completed their engagements and return to civil life, the net increase in strength would be only of the order of 750 a year. To obtain an increase of some 10,000 in strength in two years, there was no alternative to the introduction of selective national service.

No party in this place has a monopoly of concern for the young manhood of Australia and it is an unwarranted presumption on the part of any member of Parliament to claim it. But this Government has concern for the national security of Australia and when our security, on the advice of expert advisers, had to be supported in the way we have been told as to the numbers required, we faced quite realistically and firmly in the national interest the harsh decision which then lay ahead of us. We have an illustration of how the Opposition would have met that kind of challenge. Our national security produced the need for a national service scheme and, accepting that need, what fairer or more democratic method of selection could be devised?

Mr Calwell - The lottery of death.

Mr HAROLD HOLT - That is the way the Leader of the Opposition distorts the situation. He is running true to form because when his own former leader introduced in a time of national peril a scheme to call up young men in this country for national service, he opposed it. The honorable gentleman resisted it and he is running true to form again. The honorable gentleman cannot get his mind on economic matters away from the depression years of the 1930's. On the defence matters, he cannot get his mind outside the conscription issues of 1916 and 1917. What Australia needs is a government which faces up to the reality that here we have a country which is expected to shoulder its own share of obligations. With maturing nationhood, it is proud to take its share of that responsibility. I say that, sure as I am that the young manhood of Australia will accept its obligations with pride and will serve Australia with credit.

I am glad to be able to tell the House that in the course of the next month, as I indicated in my statement, I shall be visiting our troops in a number of their stations abroad. I am quite certain that when I come back to this Parliament it will be with a heartening recognition that this young Australian battalion which has served us with such distinction in Vietnam, and our troops in Thailand, in Malaysia and in Borneo, are helping to discharge the national obligations of a country which can stand before the rest of the world proudly, knowing that it has faced up to the need to maintain the eternal vigilance that is necessary for the preservation of freedom throughout this troubled world.

We shall not be deterred from that course by the threats of the Opposition. We are confident that once the Australian people know the realities of the situation they have to face they will support this Government and they will support Australia's young manhood in the testing time that lies ahead.

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

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