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, 29 March 1966


Mr SPEAKER - Order! I point out to the House that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro is leading for his party and a little courtesy would not be out of place. The honorable member for La Trobe is one of the offenders.


Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I would say at once, however, that these Government members to whom I have referred are not lacking in a patriotism of their own. In the time of national danger they will themselves unhesitatingly enlist for the service of Australia. Their records in two World Wars is the evidence of their willingness to do this, and it is evidence of their patriotism. It is a record of which they are justly proud. The fact that not one of them has so far enlisted for this conflict is the proof that they do not believe in the danger of the war situation which they are continually proclaiming. Do they lack patriotism or do they not believe that Australia is in grave war danger? I believe the latter to be the case, and that this is why instead of enlisting themselves they send 20 year old conscripts to do the job.

It is not necessary to doubt the sincerity of the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck), but reference to his statement to this House on 10th March shows him to be an utterly confused man. Since he is the Minister for foreign affairs in an Australian Government which has no foreign policy whatever of its own. it is not astonishing that he should be confused. This makes his confusion understandable, though it does not make it less dangerous. The Minister showed in his statement on 10th March, as he has done on previous occasions, his recognition, to quote his own words, that -

Great forces are bringing massive changes in the southern half of Asia and we cannot cancel out these great forces.

He also showed his recognition - again to quote his own words - that Australians - are living on the edge of a great upheaval in human relations and in the ideas which influence human conduct and that we cannot do anything to prevent this upheaval.

Yet, as his statement proceeds, the Minister sets aside this recognition entirely. He becomes again the politician, the agent of a foreign policy which contradicts much that he himself believes to be true. Within a few minutes he has forgotten that it is an inevitably changing world and he is busy describing what we must do to resist the changes which he has recognised as irresistible. Nowhere else in his speech is there any idea of an adjustment to these changes or to the upheaval in the ideas which influence human conduct. Instead, as he puts it, all those who possess ideas or principles different from our own quickly become dangerous enemies who must at ail costs be held back and restrained.

The Minister's confusion is particularly shown in his attitude to China. He warns of the immense danger of active and belligerent Asian Communist imperialism, as he calls it. He describes freedom as being blotted out by the domination of the new imperialism of China and he speaks of the throttling grip of Communist aggressors. He describes their implacable purpose as to bring all their neighbours under Communist rule through a national enslavement front. That is a very plain and very clear statement. Yet in almost the same breath, or a couple of paragraphs later, he speaks of reaching an accommodation with China and says mildly -

Chine it'.elf must make some response and some movement towards accommodation.

How do you accommodate yourself to an implacable enemy? Is it possible? How do you accommodate yourself to a powerful aggressor utterly determined to dominate its neighbours by force? Can Government supporters reconcile those statements? If China is as the Minister describes it, no accommodation would be possible any more than it was possible with Hitler's Germany. Plainly the Minister is bemused. He reaches his utmost confusion when he justifies the Australian commitment to Vietnam as being the defence of freedom, democracy and independence in that country. He says: " We are in Vietnam to defend the independence and freedom of the South Vietnamese people ". Here the Minister is either carried away by the need to transform the facts of life into fairy tales for political purposes or he just does not know what he is talking about.


Mr Daly - That is probably right.


Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think it probably is. He is a confused man. He says, for example, that in South Vietnam we are standing up for the principle that its people shall not be dominated by force or threat of force. By what are they dominated now? Everybody knows that they are dominated by force today. They have no free elections. They do not choose their Government. Each of the eight or nine successive Governments in South Vietnam in the last two years or so has been established by military force and maintained by military force alone. Even in the few days since the Minister spoke there has been continuous evidence of growing opposition within South Vietnam to the Government which we are upholding in the name of freedom. Those who oppose that Government have no opportunity to take the course which people enjoying freedom would be able to take in order to change their government. The people of South Vietnam simply cannot change their government today except by force, and our force is there to help maintain that government.

When the Minister comes to the matter of negotiations he is in an obvious dilemma. He is hampered by the position taken by the previous Prime Minister, who said that even if he were the last Head of State to do so he would reject negotiations with these people. The Minister, of course, has to get away from that concept. To justify the conscription of Australian youth for this cruel war he must maintain that it is in no way a civil war but a wholly planned and deliberate aggression against South Vietnam, masterminded in Hanoi and Peking. If this were true, obviously the war would have to go on until the aggressors were driven out. There could be no compromise or negotiations. The only result would have to be victory. When you are fighting an implacable aggressor of that kind you do not stop in the middle of the conflict and ask whether you can negotiate a settlement. If you believe that the conflict in South Vietnam is aggression from outside South Vietnam and you are determined to defeat it, you do not negotiate until you have defeated it, and then you impose your terms of settlement. The Minister shows that he does not believe this is the true picture when he constantly proclaims readiness to seek a negotiated settlement and declares: "We are prepared to accept the present authorities in North Vietnam as they are, to work with them and to have them share in programmes for economic development in South East Asia". That attitude is not consistent with the proclamation of unqualified resistance to unprovoked aggression.

We all know that there must be negotiations as soon as they can be brought about. We all know now that a victory in the struggle in Vietnam is not achievable by either side on the present basis of hostilities. But this in itself is recognition also of the fact that the war began as a civil war and that the great mass of the people fighting in the ranks of the Vietcong are indigenous South Vietnamese and that the Vietcong have the support of the peasantry in a very large part of the area of South Vietnam which they control and administer. The confusion of the Minister for External Affairs is a reflection of the confusion of the American Government and of the Australian Government, which are still unable to state their precise military and political aims in this struggle. We are constantly told by the Government that we are at war but it is impossible to obtain from the Government any precise statement of our military or political aims in this struggle. The object appears to be to find some acceptable way of getting out of Vietnam. This is understandable, and it is also understandable that it is difficult to find an acceptable way.

In a recent article, Walter Lippman said that President Johnson's undoubted sincerity in his desire to negotiate a peace in Viet nam was not the crux of the matter. Lippman continued -

The question is whether President Johnson is prepared to negotiate a truce which recognises the strategic realities of the military situation.

Is there any answer from the Government to the question whether it is prepared to negotiate a truce or to urge Washington to negotiate a truce in accordance with the realities of the present military situation in Vietnam? Lippman then said -

This misconceived war has in fact boomeranged This country has been told that by proving our willingness to fight in South Vietnam we are arousing resistance to the expansion of Chinese Communism. But are we? If China is to be contained it will have to be done not only by the United States but by the containing powers of Asia, mainly Pakistan, India, Japan and the Soviet Union. Yet not one of these great powers of Asia is aligned with us. Quite the contrary.

They are aligned against us.

After pointing to Chinese failures in Africa, India and Indonesia, Lippman concluded by saying -

China's one great success has been thai the United States has become bogged down in the morass of Indo-China and would now be hard put to it to mount a counter revolutionary effort anywhere else in this turbulent world, lt is no wonder then that China will do all she can to prevent us from extricating ourselves from the morass.

To what extent is China today being helped by the attitude of the Australian Government, which is keeping us involved in this Vietnamese morass - in a situation from which nobody except China can benefit? The enormous danger in the Vietnamese situation is not a present danger to Australia from Communist aggression. The danger is that President Johnson may be persuaded by some of his advisers into a great further escalation of the war - that he may order the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong and that American troops may be despatched into North Vietnam and Cambodia. The danger is that the great war with China may begin, lasting for many years and promising no rational solution. It can become a war in which the Soviet Union is involved against us. ft may produce the nuclear war that will destroy humanity. If the Australian Government is prepared to tread that path it has an obligation first to let the Australian people say whether they are prepared to tread that path.

The Government insists that we are already at war but it is time to ask again: With whom are we at war and with what object are we at war? We are not at war with the Vietcong. The Government makes it plain that the National Liberation Front is not recognised as being a government or as being an independent force. Nor are we at war with the Government of North Vietnam. This has been made plain over and over again. It is claimed that the Government of North Vietnam is merely an agent of Communist China. We are certainly not at war with Communist China, because you do not trade with your enemy and we trade very heavily with Communist China. So it comes down to the vague statement that we hear repeatedly from the mouths of Government members, namely, that we are at war with Communism. Of course we are. We are at war with Communism but this is a war for the minds of men, and this war cannot be won with bullets. What can be done with bullets is to kill Communists. This, and this alone, at present appears to be the Australian Governments' war aim. Our success is counted in the daily tally of the number of Communists killed - 18 one day, 23 the next, 37 the next and whatever it may be. The tally is carefully kept " You are better dead than Red ", we tell these Communists as we kill them. We mean, of course, that it is better for us that they should be dead rather than Red, not better for them. The simple thinking seems to be that Red they are a menace to us and dead they are not a menace to anybody. The simple logic is to go on killing Communists. Of course, we rose some men of our own in the process.

The awkward consideration is that even this killing of Communists becomes pointless when our actions in Vietnam are bringing recruits to the Communists faster than we can kill them. For every Communist we kill, two more spring up, and there is an almost unlimited reservoir of more of the same in North Vietnam and in China. The obvious extension of the logic, therefore, is that it is not enough to kill some Communists; all Communists must be exterminated. This is quite practicable today by the use of nuclear weapons - the only disadvantage being that in the process the whole human race will be destroyed.

If the Australian Government is not prepared to tread the path to world war it must oppose escalation of the Vietnamese war, because that is the path to world war. It must recognise that the present situation is a stalemate in which military victory is impossible on the present basis of hostilities. There is a consensus among responsible observers that the American and associated forces cannot be expelled from Vietnam and cannot be conquered, but that equally they cannot seek out and destroy the Vietcong so as to obtain complete control of South Vietnam. This, therefore, is military stalemate. Where neither side can win, the alternative to further tragic conflict is obviously a truce and negotiations for a settlement.

It is no use the Government abusing the Vietcong, the North Vietnamese or the Chinese for refusing to negotiate unless it states plainly the basis upon which it is prepared to negotiate. This has never been specifically set out. Are we prepared to negotiate on the basis of the existing military situation, or do we demand that as a precedent in this case to negotiations the control of South Vietnam must first be handed to the Saigon Government? If we take the second course we are raising an obstacle to the negotiations that we claim to seek. When the Minister for External Affairs says: " nor is it our aim to prevent North and South Vietnam from coming closer together after fighting has stopped ", does he mean that a South Vietnamese Government would be left entirely free to negotiate with North Vietnam on the future government of Vietnam?

Is South Vietnam free today to negotiate a compromise government of Communists and non-Communists in South Vietnam, or is it our determination to continue to impose a non-Communist government in South Vietnam? With one breath we say that we are in Vietnam to prevent a Communist takeover and in the next breath our Government says that we will leave the South Vietnamese and the North Vietnamese Governments free to work out any solution that they choose. Which of these statements is true? Do we, in fact, insist on imposing terms of peace not only on North Vietnam but also on South Vietnam? Without plain answers to these questions the Government's claim that the other side bears the whole responsibility for the failure to reach the stage of negotiations is simply not true.

I refer again to the theme that the only interest served by a continuance of the present struggle appears to be the interest of China. Certainly it must be to the advantage of China to keep America and Australia heavily engaged in Vietnam. It serves the interests of China politically and militarily alike; but it certainly cannot serve the interests of the suffering people of either South Vietnam or North Vietnam, and it is difficult indeed to see how the continuation of an unwinnable war suits the interests of either America or Australia. It suits China. Whom else does it suit?

Even if the war could be brought to a military victory - and Hanson Baldwin estimates that one million American troops would be required and the outcome still would be doubtful - we would be committed to a long military occupation with a largely hostile peasantry in a country right on the doorstep of China. It is surely in the general interest that the Australian Government should now urge in Washington that a most specific statement should be made of the terms upon which we will negotiate. As a step to the conference the Government should be prepared to agree that the Vietcong - the National Liberation Front so called - should be recognised as a party principal in the negotiations.

In the last few days the Prime Minister has tried to raise a smokescreen over conscription by Suggesting that a Labour government will repudiate Australia's treaties and defence alliances. Of course, these are timeworn Liberal panic tactics to which we have become accustomed over many years. If the Prime Minister had quoted the relevant passages in the Labour Party's platform and policy to which he referred he would, of course, have destroyed his own bogey man. Because the Government always must have a bogy man he did not quote what the Labour Party's policy shows. The opportunity to do so is most welcome because quotations from the policy will show that the Labour Party is most specific and definite in maintaining Australia's alliances and defence commitments. In fact, the Labour Party's policy in this respect is in the sharpest contrast to the vacillating and vague statements on these issues that pass for defence and foreign policies in the Liberal Party document. The platform of the Labour Party sets out a series of propositions clearly and unmistakably. It says that while ever the Commonwealth of Nations continues to exist Australia must always remain an integral part of it. It lays down that co-operation with the United States in the areas of the South Pacific and Indian Oceans is of crucial importance and must be maintained. It declares that the defensive alliance with the United States of America and New Zealand, referred to as A.N.Z.U.S., is essential and must continue. While pointing out that the South East Asia Treaty Organisation is ineffective it emphasises that -

Australia should not withdraw from S.E.A.T.O. until adequate arrangements are made for new treaties.

This is the very basis of Labour Party thinking which holds, as expressed in the platform, that -

Australia must periodically review its defence treaties and alliances to meet new circumstances as they arise.

This is the practice of all civilised governments. Setting the matter beyond all possible doubt, the defence platform of the Labour Party provides for - and again 1 quote -

The development by negotiation of a regional defence system of United Nations Member States within the South East Asia and Indian subcontinental areas for mutual defence, consistent wilh the requirements of the United Nations charter, and not inconsistent with the general provisions of Australia's existing defence treaty commitments.

What statement could be plainer, clearer or more definite? Here, I suggest, is a statement on defence and foreign policy which is entirely acceptable to every true Australian, irrespective of his politics. The Liberal Party might well wish that it had anything half as good to offer. But then, of course, the Liberal Party is not an Australian Party because its policy must be such as to meet the dictates of the overseas and foreign financial interests which effectively control the Liberal Party at every level. The Prime Minister has, even though unwittingly, allowed the real facts of this matter to be publicised.

It is obvious that the Government is relying on public apathy to get away with conscription. It is true that there is still far too much apathy in Australia, but every day more people are rousing to the importance of the issues now at stake. This awakening of deep public concern is occurring on an increasingly wide scale in America - we see evidence or it every day - and it is beginning to grow strongly in Australia also. Government members fortify themselves by reading conscriptionist editorials in some metropolitan dailies. I say " some " because it is to the credit of the Press that some journals have expressed the greatest misgivings at the Government's action on conscription. It is well to remember that, no matter how large a newspaper's circulation, no matter how many hundreds of thousands of copies are sold, the majestic editorial "We" usually expresses the view of one man only - either the editor or the proprietor. It is well to remember also that in most metropolitan newspapers the actual leader writer is necessarily writing not his own opinions, but to order, and that his own views may be far different from those which he writes, at dictation, to persuade the readership of that newspaper.

Personally, I give thanks every day for the continued lively existence in Australia of a vigorous provincial Press in which an independent editor is not shut away from his readers but mingles with them every day in the town, and in which he writes his own leading article expressing his own forthright opinions. The other day, the " CoomaMonaro Express"-


Mr Luchetti - An excellent paper.


Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - An excellent paper. I thank the honorable member. This journal, which is published in the capital of the great Snowy Mountains area, published an excellent leading article on conscription, from which I shall quote some passages. I emphasise that this is not a Labour newspaper and that it is not opposed to the war in Vietnam. It cannot be regarded as tn anti-Government journal. I quote this from the editorial -

The men of the Regular Army are volunteers. They are professional soldiers who have trained in nearly every sort of warfare over a period of several years - not like the conscripts who are forced into training for only one year.

The Government takes the two best and important years of a conscript's life and fate is the only thing that makes tho decision when the barrel rolls.

A conscript - a young man whose name is picked by a marble coinciding with the day on which he was born, and a man who could find his birthdays are ended by a sniper's bullet in the jungles of Vietnam.

If he survives that sniper's bullet, booby trap, mortar bomb and the other sinister weapons being used in the " dirty war ", the conscript comes back to a civilian world which has left him two years behind.

Thousands of Australian men will be left behind in their careers, in their social life and in their thinking while the lucky man who laughed at fate and was not conscripted earns a high income, has many social and family lies and is capable of thinking with the times.

I think that is a complete condemnation of the Government's failure, in a situation which it proclaims to be of the utmost war danger to this country, to take action in Australia comparable to the action with which it is forcing conscripted youths to go to Vietnam.

The very idea of conscription for Vietnam is, of course, hateful - the idea that you transport a youth against his will to a foreign country and then force him to kill the people of that country or bs killed by them. You can hardly think of a more hateful idea than that. In extreme national danger, when the preservation of the State becomes the highest good and all other considerations of human conduct must be subordinated to the preservation of the State, then conscription may be necessary for that supreme purpose. But in recent days I have watched Government members scurrying for cover on this issue with the cry that a Labour government, in World War II, also imposed conscription; that this Government is justified in doing it because the Labour Government did it during World War II. There is no hiding place for any of them there. In World War II the condition precedent to the extension of the area of conscript service for Australia's defence was that the military forces of Japan were on the point of invading this country; that it was an hour of supreme peril and that - this is the point - the whole of the resources of Australia, the whole of them, manpower and material alike, were mobilised, by Government decree, to resist that peril.


Mr Peters - Vastly different.


Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is not the slightest parallel in the present situation. There is no imminent invasion and there has been no total mobilisation of Australian resources, or anything faintly resembling it.

Far from requiring a total mobilisation, the Government's view is that there is no immediate threat to Australia. That is the real view of every honorable member on the Government side. They all have the view that there is no immediate threat to Australia, no present threat to our sovereign independence, although there may be a long term threat. In a situation in which the Government proclaims, through its Minister for External Affairs, that there is no immediate threat to Australia but possibly only a long term threat, the Government conscripts Australian youths, but at the same time finds justification for taking no other action to mobilise Australia's resources.

The other day, General Maxwell Taylor, special adviser to President Johnson, gave an address at West Point, New York, in which he said -

We must realise that military force can hardly bc expected to bring about the unconditional surrender of the Vietcong. Nor is the destruction of North Vietnam a likely or even desirable objective for our military efforts.

A very fine statement expressing very fine sentiments. General Taylor proceeded to quote a Greek historian - I have never heard of him - named Polybius, who, he said, lived over 100 years before Christ. The quotation was this -

It is not the object of war to annihilate those who have given provocation for it but to cause them to mend their ways.

General Taylor said that this described the American objective in Vietnam. All I would say is that, no matter how high-minded our objective, our actions must speak louder to the Vietcong and to the North Vietnamese than do our words. If we are not trying to destroy the enemy, we are giving a pretty effective imitation of it. Our actions are speaking loud indeed as we rain high explosives not only on strategic objectives but, in North Vietnam and South Vietnam alike, on the dams that water the peasants' rice crops and on every place where Vietcong or Vietcong sympathisers and their families may be stationed, even to the destruction of whole peaceful villages - of course, after a timely warning to flee from their homes has been given, if possible. Our actions speak louder than words when we employ the naming fury of napalm to sear the bodies of Vietnamese guerrillas and of any of their friends or families who may get in the way with them. And our actions speak loud indeed when we now employ chemicals to spray and poison the rice crops in areas of South Vietnam controlled by the Vietcong so that they will be starved into submission, and the civilian population starved incidentally in the process also.

Are we then persuading the Vietcong and the Vietnamese people generally to mend their ways and be friendly to us instead of hostile? The indications are that we are not. No people of a comparatively small and backward country could continue to resist the immense military might of America unless they were imbued with a spirit of heroism and of sacrifice, and of belief in the justice of their cause. However mistaken their belief may be in our eyes, yet it is clear that they see the Saigon Government as a reactionary and tyrannical government which is maintained in power only by the force of white imperialism just as we are encouraged to view the Vietcong as simply the tools and agents of Chinese imperialism. At least we can all agree, when we remember the struggle that has proceeded in Vietnam now almost continually for 20 years, with the words of Bernard Fall, that the Vietnamese are a people with admirable qualities of frugality, incredible endurance, patience in the face of unavoidable adversity, and deep love for their wartorn homeland. They have indeed earned the right to decide the future of that homeland free from any intervention from outside Vietnam.

There is much evidence today of the spread of hatred both in Australia and in Vietnam and in the surrounding countries of Asia. Not only are the Australian people being mass conditioned into hatred of Asians - and they are today. for political purposes, being mass conditioned into hatred and fear of Asians - but wc are sowing a heritage of Asian hatred for us.


Mr Duthie - We are sowing the wind.


Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I agree with the honorable member for Wilmot. There must come a day of reconciliation and I am impressed by an idea for such a day which has been put forward by the Reverend W. E. Weston, who is the Anglican Minister in Queanbeyan. He has put this idea to the United Nations Organisation and has received a reply from U Thant expressing interest in it and suggesting that it should be introduced to the United

Nations through the Australian representative. In the hope that the Government will be moved to action on these lines, I shall read his proposal and commend it to the Government. Mr. Weston explains that the purpose of the Day of Reconciliation would be-

1.   To challenge us all, first as individuals, secondly as members of a family, thirdly as members of a race, fourthly as members of a nation lo forgive those who have wronged us and to ask forgiveness from those whom we have wronged, to examine ourselves and try to discover how our attitudes to others whether personal or members of a family, race, or nation, have caused hostility.

2.   To inspire us all to think thoughts of peace, acting where possible to promote peace and goodwill whether it is in helping a needy family in our own town or in an appeal to help the less fortunate nations of the world.

3.   To challenge those of us who believe in prayer to use the day as a day of prayer to the God whom we worship for a better understanding of people of other religions, races, and nations, which will lead to lasting peace built on love, truth and justice.

4.   To urge us all, whether we profess a religious belief or not, to respect the opinions of others and work together for the benefit of all mankind.

In my final minutes I put these considerations to the House. The effect of Western actions in Vietnam has been to drive all opponents of the oppressive Saigon regime into the Communist camp. We have increased the strength of the Communist forces in Vietnam. Even today 75 per cent, of the Vietcong forces are made up of indigenous South Vietnamese, many of whom were genuine nationalists opposed to the Saigon regime but who now, of course, have come under Communist influence. More Asian Communists are being made today by Western bullets than are being killed by those bullets. The stated object of preventing South Vietnam going Communist can only be guaranteed by the continued use of military force to prevent it. If you are determined to prevent South Vietnam from going Communist the only way to guarantee this objective is to keep military forces there and to keep them occupied against the enemies of the Saigon Government. But this is inconsistent with the other stated aim of the Government of allowing the Vietnamese people a free hand to decide their future. It is in this state of vagueness and indecision that our men are being killed in Vietnam without any clear statement of our objective. We are alarmed that Vietnam may become subject to China - so we should be - but every intensification of the conflict is increasingly pushing the Vietnamese into that subjection despite their historical fear and distrust of China.

The best that we can hope for after this conflict is a united Vietnam which will cultivate relations with the Soviet Union rather than with China and practice coexistence with the West. The longer the conflict continues the less that prospect will be and the more the military and political aims of China will be advanced. The present conflict in Vietnam began basically as an uprising of South Vietnamese forces to overthrow a repressive Saigon Government. Today we are not fighting in Vietnam to save Australia from a Vietcong invasion. We are fighting in Vietnam to save the military government established in Saigon. There is no present military danger to Australia and the conscription of Australian youth to fight in Vietnam is unjustifiable on any consideration.







Suggest corrections