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Thursday, 31 March 1966

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member for Reid is suspended from the service of the House for 24 hours. (The honorable member for Reid thereupon withdrew from the chamber) -

Mr BENSON - Like a lot of other honorable members in this chamberI listened with amazement to the remarks of the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) tonight. He made a most provocative speech and it is not my intention to reply to his remarks with the same degree of provocation. I want just to touch on some of the things that he said. He divided his speech into three parts. He said he would tell us about the Government's aims in South Vietnam; he said he would comment on the statement by the Leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Calwell, in which he is alleged to have misled this House: and he also talked about the demonstration which took place at Kew. I want also to quote from the Labour Party's policy on foreign affairs. I want to show honorable members, if I can, that the remarks of the Prime Minister and other members of the Liberal Party are the product of lawyers' methods of twisting words to suit their own ends. 1 say that in all sincerity. It is no use claiming that the Labour Party has changed its foreign policy because in substance our policy is the same as it has been for years. The Prime Minister has tried to create the impression that if the

Labour Party were to come to power it would dishonour international treaties to which Australia is a party. The 1965 Federal Conference of the Labour Party was open to the Press. Anybody who had a mind to do so could have attended the proceedings. Everything said at the conference was recorded by pressmen. Television cameras were focused on the proceedings. The Press did not see anything wrong with what was said at the Conference. If it had seen anything wrong with our policy at that time there would have been headlines in the newspapers about it.

The 1965 Conference was held only a couple of weeks after the break occurred between Singapore and Malaysia. Taking into account what had happened between Singapore and Malaysia, the Conference included paragraph (f) in the preamble to Labour's policy on foreign affairs. The paragraph reads -

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

A new set of circumstances has arisen. As evidence of this I refer honorable members to the article in today's " Australian " under the heading " Singapore Quits Pact." What are we as a responsible party to do? Does any honorable member honestly claim that Australia should not periodically review its defence treaties and alliances to meet new circumstances? Has not a new circumstance arisen now? Singapore has quit the alliance. I point out that, thanks to this Government's action, Australia does not have an alliance with Singapore or Malaysia. The alliance exists between the United Kingdom and Malaysia. Yet we have troops in Malaysia. Later, if time permits, I will tell honorable members what the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs of the Central Government of Malaysia said to me a few months ago about the internal situation and the external situation as he saw them.

On Tuesday night last the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) commented on what the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck) had said in his speech on 10th March. Early in his speech the Minister made one of the most outstanding statements that any Minister has ever made in this House, Remarks such as those of the Minister bring no credit on the Government for its policy on international affairs. The Minister said -

We cannot change Australia's geographical situation and we cannot cancel out the great forces that are bringing massive changes in the world today and particularly in the southern half of Asia.

That is true; there is nothing wrong with that statement. The Minister continued -

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.

Now I come to the important part. The Minister continued -

We cannot withdraw from this region. . . .

That is quite all right, because we live here. When I was a boy my grandmother used to talk to me about going home, meaning going back to England. Those days have gone. This is our country. We are here and we stay here. That is what the Minister means when he says that we cannot withdraw from this region. He continued - and this is most significant - and we cannot do anything to prevent the upheaval.

Why do we have troops all over South East Asia if, as the Minister says, we cannot do anything to prevent the upheaval? I want some honorable member on the Government side to explain that to me. If we cannot do anything to prevent upheaval in South East Asia, what are we doing there?

Mr Stokes - The honorable member has the wrong definition of the word " upheaval ".

Mr BENSON - The honorable member can use his own definition. I think 1 know what upheaval means.

Mr Robinson - Was the honorable member ever in a fog when he was captain of a ship?

Mr BENSON - The honorable member will have an opportunity to put his point of view. I am putting my point of view. The whole business is very emotional. It hinges on the word " conscription ". It is very hard for people throughout Australia to understand the Government's thinking on this matter. To illustrate what is the Government's real attitude to conscription I shall make a few quotations. In 1951, two years after the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck) entered this Parliament he wrote a book entitled "Australia in the War of 1939-45. The Government and the People 1939-41." I shall quote an extract from that book to show what was the Government's attitude to conscription at that time. Wc have to let our minds go back to the period from 1939 to 1945 when a world war was raging. The writer refers to 16th June 1940, the time of the collapse of France. I do not know of a more serious time than that. We were fighting as allies of Britain. Admirers of Mr. Churchill had the great satisfaction of hearing him say -

Now we are alone, come what may.

It was a very serious time indeed. Pointing out the seriousness of the situation, Mr. Hasluck cited the Prime Minister, Mr. Menzies, as having said -

The financial resources of the country would be strained, if necessary, to the point of financial collapse, for financial exhaustion was preferable to national destruction.

So, at that time we were prepared to strain our resources to the point of financial collapse. Mr. Hasluck then went on to record the Prime Minister as having used these most significant words -

The only limit would be that there would be no conscription for overseas service. In the exercising of these vast powers, the Government would welcome the fullest co-operation from everybody. In particular, it invited the co-operation of the trade union movement. 1 have quoted that passage from page 216 of Mr. Hasluck's book, lt was, as he said, a desperate situation. The Prime Minister of the day found it unnecessary to introduce conscription. Now, in order to raise 4,500 men to go to Vietnam, we are told conscription is necessary, although Mr. Hasluck has said that we cannot withdraw from this region and we cannot do anything to prevent the upheaval. How can the people of Australia fathom what is happening in those circumstances? Let me quote further from what the then Prime Minister said. He went on to say -

This is not a time when any of us must look for advantages. We are an integral, proud and British community, and to preserve those attributes must practice a community of sacrifice. I have never yet met an Australian, whatever his religious faith, whatever his political colour, whatever his share of the world's goods, who was not prepared to do his part in a time of emergency provided he felt that everybody else was doing his part also. So tonight I want to say to you as your servant and on behalf of those who are your servants at this fateful hour the watchword is " All In " - everything that we have, our savings, our property, our skill, the service of our hands, it' necesary the service of our lives, for the country that wc love.

Is it a case of all in this time? Of course, it is not. The Government says that certain people in the community - those in the 20 year age group - are the only ones who are to be allowed to give their all. And, I am sorry to say, without any heroics whatever, some of them will give their all. I read in the Press last week about a woman who was left a widow. What is she going to get out of it? Is she going to be any better off? Forget that her husband has passed away, ls her financial lot going to be any better?

Dr Forbes - Her husband was a volunteer. The honorable member is changing his ground.

Mr BENSON - I am not changing my ground; I am talking about the sacrifices that are going to be made. Let me quote further from what the former Prime Minister said. At page 232 of the book to which I have referred it is stated that he went on to say -

Although the Government was asking Parliament to give it powers of compulsion, it wanted cooperation. The power might be compulsive, but the method must be cooperative. He promised that the Government would not ask any section of the community to bear a burden more intolerable than that which other sections had to bear.

In that war the Government said that no section of the community would be expected to bear a more intolerable burden than any other section. How can any member of this House, whether he sits on this side or the other side, feel comfortable about letting somebody else do what the Government says is dirty work for the country? If it is good enough to conscript the youth or the manpower - call it whatever you like - of this country to give their all, is it not also good enough to conscript other things? Why should the sacrifices be unequal? What greater thing can a man do than lay down his life? Several people have laid down their lives in this war already. During the short time for which the war in Vietnam has been in progress, the number of killed and wounded in proportion to the number of people serving, has been far greater than during World War II.

In an attempt to gloss over the situation in this House, a "Dorothy Dix" question was asked by the honorable member for Bowman (Dr. Gibbs) of the Minister for

Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth). The honorable member asked how many 20 year olds had been killed on the roads in Australia and how many 20 year olds had been killed in Vietnam. I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as an ex-serviceman, to consider the answer given by the Minister for the Army. He said that four such young people had been killed in Vietnam. To gloss over something like that is not the right sort of thing to do. My information is that over 100 people have been killed and wounded in the area up to the present time. If honorable members work out the proportion that 100 casualties in 1,000 men represent, they will find it is a ratio of 1 in 10. That is pretty high. Therefore I say that, from the figures I have been able to obtain, the casualty rate in Vietnam is greater than the casualty rate in World War II.

Mr Turner - What rot.

Mr BENSON - Let the honorable member produce the figures. I know what the figures are.

Mr Turner - The Minister for the Army gave the figures.

Mr BENSON - I know what the figures are. The correct figure is not four. When honorable members opposite try to belittle this matter they are also belittling the relatives and friends who are suffering so much during this war. I am sorry to hear the honorable member say that. I wish to place on record what the Permanent Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, Dato M. Ghazali bin Shafie, in the Central Government of Malaysia had to say when I saw him. He said that as far as Malaysia was concerned his country had adopted the international attitude of Malaysia first. He said that sometimes this had been an embarrassment to Malaysia's friends and sometimes an embarrassment to Malaysia so far as its friends were generally concerned. But he continued that Malaysia was adopting the attitude that just because the United States of America or Great Britain did something it did not necessarily follow that Malaysia should do the same thing, too. My time is running out and I will not be able to read to honorable members all that this gentleman said to me. However he told me that, in his opinion, the British Labour Government was much more forthright in its statements supporting Malaysia than the previous British Conservative Government had been. He felt that if the Labour Party came into office in Australia there would be no change in international policy as far as Malaysia was concerned because, he said: " We know that Australians want to be friends and want to see Malaysia retained ".

Mr. Deputy Speaker,those are the words of Dato M. Ghazali bin Shafie to myself and to five of my colleagues when we were in Malaysia in July of last year. This was just before the split with Singapore occurred. That statement goes to prove that, as far as this Party is concerned, thinking in Malaysia is not as the Prime Minister thinks it is. The Prime Minister has come into this House and has tried to pull the wool over the eyes of the Australian people and frighten them by saying: " If you put the Australian Labour Party into power, it will dishonour every treaty that was ever written ". This is untrue, as the Prime Minister well knows. It is unfair, and what is more, it is un-Australian. It is unwarranted. It is not the sort of thing that should be said by any Prime Minister in an effort to score political advantage for himself.

Mr James - Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation. I claim to have been misrepresented.

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