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Tuesday, 19 April 1966

Mr McIVOR (Gellibrand) .- In all of the debates that have taken place in this House concerning the war in South Vietnam - this was evident also during question time today - Government speakers have invariably claimed that the Government has sent our regular troops and is now sending conscripted 20 year old youths to fight in South Vietnam to defeat Communist aggression against that country. The Government claims its action is a crusade to help the United States of America rid South Vietnam of Communists and Communism - nothing else. However, what Government supporters do not tell us is that this sort of crusade has been going on for 25 years. If the words of the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) can be taken literally - he says that this war could go on for another 10 years - 10 year old bays of today can expect to celebrate their 21st birthdays fighting in the jungles and swamps of South Vietnam. But strangely enough, those who support this so-called crusade to exterminate Communists and Communism never, by raising their voices or in any other way, make an effort to exterminate the causes of Communism. They make no mention of the fact that the world in which we live today, despite all its marvellous achievements, is still a world in which life's experience for most people is. one of prolonged suffering. They make no mention of the fact that the size and strength of America's military power has not been able to win the most important battle of all, that is, the battle to win the hearts and the minds of the peasant people of South Vietnam. Recent events have proved beyond doubt the abject failure in this regard. No mention either is made of the fact that more than one third of the world's population suffers chronic hunger and many of these unfortunate people are in South Vietnam.

The fact that every day more than 10,000 people throughout the world die "of starvation means nothing to the crusaders against Communism. No doubt quite a few South Vietnamese peasants are among those 1.0,000. Speakers on the Government side overlook entirely the fact that in the next ten years 10,000,000 children will die of starvation in India alone, lt means nothing to Government supporters that their family dogs get more to eat than the average Indian worker gets. I ask: Are not these conditions the cause of Communism, root, branch and tree? What are these great crusaders against Communism and the Communists doing about dispelling the causes of Communism? No doubt their answer would be: " We are selling wheat and wool to Communist China and trading with North Vietnam ".

Can hunger, poverty, disease and human misery be overcome by bombs, torture and destruction? It has been proved beyond a shadow of doubt, in South Vietnam perhaps more than in any other country, that war can only destroy; it cannot create. Lord Bertrand Russell said that by the middle of 1963 160,000 people had been killed in this war and that 60 per cent, of them were peasants who were not involved in military actions. He also said that 700,000 had been tortured and maimed, 31,000 had been raped, 3,000 had been disembowelled and gutted while still living, 4,000 had been burned alive, 1,000 temples had been destroyed and 46 villages had been attacked by chemical warfare. I wonder what the figures are in April 1966.

Whilst nearly 1 million people have been rendered homeless in South Vietnam due to the war, whilst thousands have died and thousands more will die in the bottomless pit of death and misery, whilst poverty, hunger and disease stalk the world, and whilst 4 million people in India face death by starvation due to famine, no less than 1 million dollars a day is being spent on a civil war in South Vietnam to support and uphold the corrupt rulers of that unfortunate country. Events in South Vietnam, Korea, China and other countries that have thrown off the shackles of colonial oppression will go down in history, not as achievements by the Western world for the betterment of mankind, but as achievements of corruption never before equalled in the history of the world. The least one can say about the war in Korea is that it was a war we did not lose and we did not win; but at least we had the sense to quit. I am of the opinion that that will be the final outcome of the war in South Vietnam.

The facts that I have just related present a challenge to our Western way of life. Vietnam is just another facet of the challenge which Communism presents to the Western democracies. The war in South Vietnam will not give to the people of that stricken country a solution to their problems. It will not raise their living standards or keep starvation, poverty, misery and disease from their doors. The " Hong Kong Standard " of 30th June 1 965 reveals how corrupt are the rulers of South Vietnam. It reveals that these so-called rulers place their political and personal welfare before that of their country or of their people. The newspaper, under the heading " Missing on the Political Front - 20 Saigon generals out and not 1 killed in battle", states -

More than 20 generals have been knocked out of military life in the political struggle in South Vietnam, but not one has been killed in five years of war against the Communist Vietcong.

This pattern of attrition among general officers explains why many of the country's top military leaders are more pre-occupied today with internal politics than with winning the war.

Once again a military government, including the 10 top generals, is ruling South Vietnam and the perennial question is being asked: " Who is running the war?"

Just before the military National Leadership Committee took control of the country away from the civilians recently, senior generals were so busy dealing with the political crisis that they scarcely could give attention to the biggest battle of the war at Dong Xoai. The better part of three battalions was lost in beating off a Vietcong assault on that district town 60 miles north of Saigon.

The article goes on further to say -

Of the some 60 South Vietnamese generals, about one-third are out of jobs or in diplomatic exile with the rank of ambassador.

Mr. Acting Speaker,this is the sort of patriotism that Australian troops and 20 year old conscripts are expected to fight and die for. This is the type of leadership that has caused thousands of South Vietnamese troops to desert the army and join the Vietcong. This is the sort of leadership that has brought death, destruction and misery to thousands of peasants not involved in any conflict. Is it any wonder that the people of South Vietnam have risen in revolt against these leaders, these political generals?

Exploitation and oppression of these people have earned us their distrust in the past. Our actions in South Vietnam have caused them to distrust us in the present. Our actions will cause them to distrust us more completely in the future. In fact, the net result of the bloodshed, death, misery and torture in South Vietnam has been to drive these people further and further into the hands of those from whom we pretend we are trying to save them. Yet, our participation in South Vietnam means little to the thousands of homeless, grief stricken people of that unfortunate country. The fact that impresses them more than all the others is that most of the dreadful travail and misery of this war has been inflicted upon them. They know, too, that they have to go on living in South Vietnam until they die irrespective of what the ruling regime may be - Communist or anti-Communist - or how corrupt that regime may be. For them, there is no escape from the tragedy and horror which are referred to as the price that they must pay for their freedom from Communist aggression. To these unfortunates, politics means nothing. Their greatest struggle is to exist. Their support and friendship can be won only by giving them the chance to exist.

I have here an article containing the remarks made by Mr. Callaghan, the Managing Director of the Commonwealth Banking Corporation, in an address he gave. This article emphasises what I have just said. It is headed: " Asia Hunger ' Danger to Australia ' ". The article reads -

Australia would reap the whirlwind of Asia's poverty unless wider, intensive action was taken to combat it.

Continuing his remarks. Mr. Callaghan is reported as saying - the willingness of underdeveloped countries to help themselves was an important facet of foreign aid. " The greatest problem of underdeveloped countries is the shortage of human capital - people wilh enough skills to use efficiently the. resources available," he said. " We need much greater knowledge and understanding than in the past and a realisation of a particular area's basic needs."

Mr. Callaghansaid the peasant was still the core of most Asian societies.

Mr. Callaghangoes further. He is reported to have said - " If, through aid, you can improve a peasant's skill and method, then you materially contribute to his country's development," he said.

In the past, aid has often never reached the peasantry. " The aid, or the effect of the aid, has been channelled into the pockets of corrupt officials or the landlord. " This has helped spark resentment among the peasantry. " lt has undoubtedly helped the propaganda of Communism."

So, millions of dollars are being spent to achieve destruction, loss of life and misery. However, this sort of action does nothing to combat the whirlwind of Asia's poverty, as Mr. Callaghan describes it. The tide of Communist aggression, as the Prime Minister said today, must be stopped. But America makes no such charge. It says nothing about Communist aggression. America says that Chinese intervention is a future danger, not a present threat. Is the future danger that America referred to revealed in a report, which appeared in the " Australian " of 8th April? It stated -

The Soviet has begun a huge civil defence drive to bring home to Russians the horrors of nuclear catastrophe ... It was not immediately clear whether China's emergence as a nuclear power has provided the stimulus to the new thinking on civil defence.

Can it be that this is the reason for the war in South Vietnam? Is South Vietnam to be made another Formosa or another Korea? I think that, as we are learning now, this will prove to be the case. But here is another side to the story. In 1950 the " New York Times " had this to say -

Indo-China is a prize worth a large gamble. In the north are exportable tin, tungsten, zinc, manganese, coal, lumber and rice; and in the south are rice, rubber, tea, pepper, cattle and hides.

Is it the fact that China is becoming a nuclear power, or can it be that these are the reasons that make America so interested in saving this country from Communism? Or can it be that Thailand and South Vietnam, in particular, are to be made buffer zones to contain China? If this is so, let me point out that the same system, by reason of its threat and provocation, made Russia the world's greatest military power.

I ask again: Are these the reasons that keep the United States throwing thousands of men and billions of dollars into a war to keep the freedom of South Vietnam? If in 1950 it was reckoned that Indo-China was worth a large gamble, it can be truly said that South Vietnam has been a costly gamble in both lives and money up to the present date. This gamble is becoming even more costly and more dangerous to world peace, due to the use of air bases in Thailand by United States aircraft engaged in bombing raids on North Vietnam. It is true to say that about 50,000 American military personnel are already in Thailand, and 1 think it is time to ask the Prime Minister to make a statement on the reason for and purpose of the presence of Australian troops in Thailand. This is something that has been featured in the " Reporter ". It has been featured in American newspapers, but, strangely, our Government has not told us anything about the presence of Australian troops in Thailand.

Whatever excuse the Government may give for the war in South Vietnam, the stark fact remains that China is a great world power and must be treated as such. Russia admits this. China's admission to the United Nations is an absolute necessity for the peace of the world. We are given the impression that China knows little of the Western world. The truth is that the Western world knows little of China. It is all too easy to fix on China the blame for the presence of our troops in South Vietnam, but that excuse will not bear a great deal of scrutiny because of events in Thailand. The Western world must find a formula for living with China. This applies to Australia more than to all others. This is necessary for the future peace of the world.

I say that those - and there are many - who, in their madness and hatred, advocate nuclear war on China, really advocate universal destruction, for that is precisely what it would bring. As each year goes by, China becomes a greater power, militarily, socially, economically and industrially. Projecting a policy of nuclear war against China becomes more dangerous every day. However, whatever the argument that may be advanced, it is clear that China is neither the attacker nor the attacked. It is hard, therefore, to understand the philosophy that the war in Vietnam is a direct resistance to China. The only way in which this argument can be justified is to say that the war is intended to be an example to China of our determination to resist Communist expansion wherever it occurs and at whatever cost. It does not seem so long ago that we were saying the same thing to Soviet Russia, but Russia is a much more powerful nation today.

If the South Vietnam conflict is just a tryout before China is attacked, let those who advocate this course reflect on the fact that even if this were to occur and 300 million Chinese were killed in consequence, there would still be 400 million left. That fact highlights the absurdity of the whole affair in South Vietnam. I give credit to the Sydney " Daily Mirror" of 10th March for an article on this matter. Most probably the Prime Minister and his supporters would get some unsigned letter concerning the author of this article. Under the heading " Aussies in Vietnam ", it states -

It doesn't really matter whether there are 4500 or 1500 Austraiian troops in Vietnam, except that casualties will increase with the size of our commitment.

The Government's decision to send a " task force " - a term that sounds good but means nothing - to Vietnam will not have the slightest effect on the course of the war.

And it could not be more ill-timed. In the UN yesterday the Secretary-General, U Thant . . . called for a down-scaling of the war, including cessation of bombing of North Vietnam.

This is a reflection of responsible world opinion and also of an important section of opinion in the United States where American action in Vietnam is the subject of massive continuing debate.

In Canberra there is no debate. The Government ignores the complexities of Vietnam in the assumption that there is only one solution - the military one.

Mr. Holt'scase for going all the way with LBJ, disregarding the damage we are doing in our relations with South-East Asian neighbors, is that we are helping to stem the tide of Chinese Communist aggression.

At the same time Australia is trying desperately to sell more and more wheat and wool to feed and clothe the Chinese.

These two policies are in direct conflict. One makes nonsense of the other.

We don't have a simple answer to the tragic problem of Vietnam. But we do know this - Australia would do better sending medical teams and practical aid to the people of this mutilated country rather than throwing in yet another handful of troops.

Those are the sentiments of the Australian Labour Party, Mr. Acting Speaker, and of the majority of the people of Australia. I do not believe that the Prime Minister would be prepared to call the writer of that article a Communist. Such descriptions are reserved for members of the Australian Labour Party and others who disagree with the Government's action in sending regular troops and conscripted 20 year old boys - the cream of the manhood of our nation - to fight and die in the swamps and jungles of South Vietnam in a war that was lost before it was started. Indeed, as each day goes by it becomes more obvious that the question for Australia is not how to make or continue this conflict but how to pacify; how to reconstruct; and how to win friendship, not destroy it.

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