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Thursday, 24 March 1966


Mr BARNARD (Bass) .- I thought the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Kevin Cairns) suggested that the Australian Labour Party and the Opposition in this Parliament would be prepared to remove Australian troops from Vietnam. I want to say to the honorable member that the Opposition in this Parliament, and indeed the Australian Labour Party generally, have made it perfectly clear that we opposed in 1965 the sending of Australian troops to Vietnam. On that occasion we made our position quite clear. We have not deviated from that policy in any way. We believe that in stating that policy and in advancing that point of view we have the support of the great majority of the people of Australia. We said in 1965 that we did not believe it was a wise decision on the part of the Government to send Australian troops to Vietnam. Circumstances have shown the point of view expressed by the Australian Labour Party to be the correct one.

The honorable member for Lilley, like most speakers on the Government side, spent some time criticising the attitude of the people of this country, and particularly the attitude of the Australian Labour Party, towards Red China. The Australian Labour Party again has made its attitude clear in relation to mainland China. We believe that the Australian Government should recognise mainland China. In this respect we do not stand alone. Our opinion is shared by the Governments, both Socialist and Conservative, which have been in office in Great Britain in recent years, by France and by a great many other countries. If we are to solve many of the problems which afflict Asia and if we are to get mainland China to a position in which we can negotiate with her, surely the correct and proper place to do so is at the United Nations. This Government has consistently opposed the recognition of Red China. Only a few nights ago, while listening to the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck), it seemed to me that even he, who is a senior Minister in the Government, was coming round to the point of view that sooner or later the countries of the western world have to recognise mainland China.

Did the honorable member for Lilley mention our trade with mainland China? Like most honorable members on the Government side of the House he completely ignored this aspect of the Government's attitude towards mainland China. He did not mention for the benefit of honorable members and for the benefit of people outside who may be listening to the broadcast of proceedings this evening that for some years now this Government has been trading with mainland China. The honorable member knows only too well that in recent years our trade with mainland China has amounted to 31,000 million. In the last two years alone this trade has amounted to $500 million. We are supplying mainland China with wheat to feed her armies. We are supplying mainland China with wool to clothe her armies. Far worse than that, we are supplying mainland China with steel to provide weapons for her armies.

This Government has consistently opposed the entry of mainland China into the United Nations, yet for its own selfish political reasons it has been quite prepared to trade with mainland China. These matters have been pointed out to honorable members on the Government side for a long time but not one of them has been prepared to rise in his place and defend the Government's attitude. They claim that it is completely wrong for mainland China to demand a voice in the affairs of Asia yet they believe there is nothing wrong in trading with mainland China. The facts which I have cited should be made known to the people of Australia who, I am sure, will soon demand an answer to the question why the Government is prepared, on the one hand, to oppose consistently the entry of mainland China into the United Nations while, on the other hand, consistently trading with that country for its own selfish political reasons.

I rise to support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). It is divided into two parts. In the first part, the Leader of the Opposition points out, on behalf of honorable members on this side of the House, that the Opposition and the Australian Labour Party are most emphatically opposed to the despatch of conscripted youths for service in Vietnam, and to the increased military commitment in that country. In the second part, the Leader of the Opposition expresses the Opposition's disapproval and grave concern at the Government's failure to maintain the purchasing power of the Australian community. I refer, of course, particularly to people who are living on fixed incomes - pensioners and others - who are fully aware of the decline in the purchasing power of their income in recent years since this Government has been in office.

The Leader of the Opposition also criticises the Government for its failure to retain an adequate and proper Australian share in the ownership and development of our natural resources, particularly in northern Australia. Further, he criticises the Government for its failure to alleviate the effects of the drought and to take steps to rehabilitate rural industries and conserve water resources. He also criticises the Government for its failure to make adequate provision for housing and associated community facilities, directing attention to the serious housing shortage in Australia. Finally, he criticises the Government for its failure to submit to referendum the two bills to alter the Constitution in respect of Aborigines and the Parliament which were passed last year and, in connection with the latter Bill, to disclose the related distribution proposals. So the Opposition believes that the Government deserves to be censured on these proposals.

I do not want to deal with the latter part of the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition. I am concerned tonight with the first part of the amendment which deals, as I have already indicated, with the question of the participation of this Government, and Australia, in Vietnam, and, more importantly, the decision of the Government to increase Australia's force in Vietnam and to conscript Australian youths for service in that country. 1 have already indicated that, in the opinion of honorable members on this side of the House, this was not the right decision. We do not believe it was the correct decision and we certainly oppose the conscription of 20 year old youths who are denied by this Government a right to vote and to make any decision on the type of government that they would like to have in this country. These are the youths who are denied a right to vote but they are to be conscripted by this Government for service in Vietnam.

In April 1965 the Government committed this country to the conflict in Vietnam. It agreed on that occasion that the First Battalion of the Australian Regular Army would be sent for service in Vietnam. That unit comprised 800 troops. If I remember correctly, on that occasion the Leader of the Opposition prophesied that within 12 months this Government would increase the number of Australian forces serving in Vietnam and that in addition it would be necessary for it to conscript national service trainees for service with the Regular Army in that country. That is the situation at this stage. Now the Government has decided that the force serving in Vietnam will be increased from 800 Regular troops, the First Battalion, to 4,500 troops. The only way that it can secure sufficient servicemen to serve in Vietnam is by conscripting 20 year old youths in this country. I believe that this decision is wrong.

Honorable members on the Government side have argued that the Australian Labour

Party introduced conscription during the last war. I believe that honorable members on that side of the House know only too well the situation that existed during those years. Between 1939 and 1945 the Labour Government was able to provide four Australian divisions. In point of fact between 1939 and 1942 four Australian divisions were either serving overseas or had been enlisted for service in this country. But the members of those four Australian divisions were volunteers. Every member of them was a volunteer. They all volunteered for service in Australia or outside Australia. Yet today this Government must depend upon 20 year old youths and these youths must be conscripted into the service. This is completely wrong. Why is the Government not able to attract volunteers for service in Vietnam? ls it because the people of this country believe that this conflict is one in which Australia should have no part? I am sure that this is the decision of the Australian people. Why is it necessary for the Government to conscript the youths of this country? Surely if this decision of the Government were the correct one, surely if this conflict were one in which the Australian people should be involved, legally and morally, one would expect that it would be possible for the Government to attract all the volunteers that were required for service in Vietnam. But what is the situation today? The Government must depend upon the conscripts and each year 20 year old youths - 80,000 of them - are obliged to register for national service. From that 80,000 the Government will select approximately 8,500 each year for service in Australia or outside Australia.

We say that situation is wrong. These circumstances should not apply in peace time. We have been told consistently by the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) and responsible Government members that this country is not at war. If we are not at war surely it should not be necessary to send conscripted youths overseas. If the Government can convince the people that we have a legal and moral right to be in Vietnam, surely it is possible for the Government to secure all the men it requires to serve in that country. But the Government has not been able to secure sufficient numbers and now it must depend upon the 20 year old conscripts that it is able to secure each year.

I already indicated to the House that between 1939 and 1945, because this country was involved in a global conflict, it was possible for the government of the day to raise no fewer than four divisions. These were the Sixth Division, the Seventh Division, the Eighth Division and the Ninth Division and they all served inside Australia and outside Australia between 1939 and 1942. Those forces were raised in 1942 when Australia's population was slightly more than 8 million. Because of the difficulties that Australia faced at that time, with the encroachment of the Imperial Japanese Army so close to Australia - it was in New Guinea - it became necessary to seek additional troops. The Labour Government, because this country was involved in a global conflict, did not hesitate to conscript youths for service, but only in Australia and the Australian Territories. No national serviceman in World War II served outside Australia or an Australian Territory. This was the situation that existed during the last war and Government supporters know that that was the position.

We believe that if this Government was prepared to let the people make a decision on this question it would find that they are completely opposed to the despatch of national service trainees to Vietnam. We challenge the Government to go to the people on this issue. I say that the people would give an emphatic answer on this question. They do not believe that the youth of this country should be obliged to fight in Vietnam or in any other country during peace time. If the Government is sincere on this matter, if it wants to be consistent on this issue, and if - as was suggested by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Kevin Cairns) earlier this evening - a state of emergency does exist in Australia, why does the Government not declare a state of emergency? It is not prepared to do so.

The Government says consistently that Australia is not at war. Well, what is the situation that exists in Vietnam? After all, the people of Vietnam have been involved in a civil or guerrilla war since 1945. Almost 20 years of conflict has been the lot of those unhappy people. As a result of the Geneva Conference in 1954 the country was divided at the seventeenth parallel and there was a promise of elections in 1956- two years later. Those elections have never been held. The fact remains that this is a civil war. Government members would have us believe that the situation in Vietnam has been brought about by an invasion of the south by troops from the north. This is not the situation. The Opposition does not deny that there has been some infiltration of South Vietnam by troops from North Vietnam and that probably some arms and supplies have been sent to the Vietcong from'. North Vietnam. But the fact remains that the people who live in South Vietnam today may be divided into three groups. There are those who are opposed to Communism and therefore support the Government of South Vietnam. There are those who are Communist and, therefore, they belong to the Vietcong and actively engage in guerrilla warfare in South Vietnam. But the third group, the great majority of the people who live in South Vietnam, has no interest in these matters at all. All those people want is to be left in peace in their own country. Yet we are told by the Government that there has been an invasion of South Vietnam from North Vietnam. That is not the situation at all. The fact remains that the people of Vietnam are today engaged in a civil conflict and this is a situation that has applied for the last 20 years.

In 1954, when the French were defeated in Vietnam, they had more than 200,000 troops in that country. They suffered approximately 100,000 casualties and they were not able to defeat the soldiers of Vietnam. Yet this Government will have us believe that this conflict in South Vietnam - this civil war - can be solved by military means. The Government must realise that this war cannot be won by military means. This opinion is held not only among the people of Vietnam. Among the peoples of the world there is a growing recognition that the problem of South Vietnam cannot be solved by military means. Military means, in my opinion, will prevent a solution of the problem in that country and there will be no victory now.

The war will end in Vietnam when this realisation penetrates those people who are at present intoxicated with hopes of an early military victory. Possibly the only condition in which there can be a military solution is if there should be an escalation of the war, and this is the real danger. A major war might provide a major solution in Vietnam, but it also might settle a lot of other problems - not least, of course, being the survival of the human race. So the Opposition has made its attitude quite clear on this question. It has continued its opposition to the participation of Australian troops in Vietnam since 1965.


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







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