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Tuesday, 19 April 1966


Mr HOWSON (Fawkner) (Minister for Air) . - Despite the remarks of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) we are debating the statement on foreign affairs made six weeks ago by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck). While the statement surveyed many aspects of the world scene, the subsequent debate has concentrated on the situation in South Vietnam. There has also been introduced into the debate another important issue - that of national service. I think, therefore, that it is important that these two subjects be considered, but they should be considered separately because they are in fact separate issues. The first issue concerns the rights and wrongs of the conflict now taking place in South Vietnam, lt is not a simple issue. There are many complex and difficult reasons, all of which have to be considered. I suggest that they must be considered -under three headings: First, the issues involved within South Vietnam itself; secondly, the context in which this situation within Vietnam can be related to other events that have taken place in other countries since 1945; and, thirdly, the implications of this examination as it affects Australia's own security.

Dealing first with the situation in South Vietnam, we must remember the origin of the struggle which started soon after the Geneva Agreement was signed in 1954. We remember the reign of terror initiated by the Vietcong in the countryside and in the villages, the training of guerrilla leaders in Hanoi, the gradual build up of logistical support along the Ho Chi Minh trail and the gradual escalation of the conflict. While we know that there has been a succession of governments in South Vietnam, the essential feature which must always be kept in mind is that every government has adopted as its major objective the defeat of the Vietcong and the determination to avoid the domination of their country by Hanoi. During the whole of this time, every government that has been in power has been able to maintain an army of over 400,000 South Vietnamese soldiers in the battle areas. Quite clearly, therefore, there is ample evidence, unlike that put forward by the honorable member for Hunter, to demonstrate the will of the majority of people in South Vietnam at the present time.

It is also important for us to know the aims of the Vietcong and the National Liberation Front which is now operating in South Vietnam. These were clearly stated in a party training manual dated October 1965, captured recently from the Vietcong and referred to in an article in the " Reporter " by Douglas Pike dated 24th February 1966. Referring to the Vietcong and the National Liberation Front, the article stated -

The Party's objective is to overthrow imperialism, colonialism, and feudalism, to smash the United States and to liberate South Vietnam. Once independence is obtained the next step is unification of the two Vietnams. Then will come social re-organisation work, along socialistcommunist principles; land without demarcations, re-education of individuals, nationalisation of private property, and finally the aim of helping other small weak countries to struggle against imperialism.

Quite clearly the society envisaged by the Vietcong and its puppet, the National Liberation Front, for South Vietnam is a Communist one. However great the difficulties that exist between Buddhist and Catholics in South Vietnam, they are all united in one aim which is to defeat the Vietcong and to avoid domination by Communist governments in Hanoi. 1 shall again quote from the same article for the benefit of those honorable members opposite who persist in stating that it is a civil war in Vietnam in which the mass of the people are united against the government in Saigon. The article states -

The Vietcong, from 1958 to the present time, has assassinated or executed an estimated 61,000 Vietnamese village leaders and government representatives and yet even today, after a reign of terror which has been going on in parts of the countryside for nearly 10 years, reliable estimates show that the Vietcong could only count for certain on gaining 10 per cent, of the votes in South Vietnam at a free election. Nothing at the moment indicates that the Vietcong leadership is willing to take its chance at the polls. The Vietcong has not now, and has never had, the majority of the people behind it. The aim of the Government of South Vietnam, supported by the forces of the United States and of Australia, is to eliminate the reign of terror that has existed in these parts of South Vietnam, and to establish a situation wherein a proper free election can be held in order to determine the true will of the people of that country.

We must also look at the pattern of the aggression that has occurred throughout many parts of the world since 1945. This pattern was referred to very ably by the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) in his speech two weeks ago. In this pattern we can see a series of probes along the lines that separate Russian and Chinese influence from the rest of the world. A study of pre-war history shows that a similar series of probes, when allowed to go unchecked in the 1930's, resulted in the explosion of the second world war. Since then, determined resistance in Berlin, Korea and Cuba has prevented further aggression in Europe and has led there to a period of peaceful co-existence in which each new nation can work out its own destiny and way of life in its own way. New nations in Asia are now trying to work out their own destiny and their own way of life, but there has been a common pattern of covert aggression that now can be seen to be designed to prevent this process. We can see it in Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and India. The pattern in South Vietnam differs only in degree from that in the other countries.

Before we judge the issue in South Vietnam we must answer two questions: First, would the people of Laos, Thailand, Malaysia or India really be happier under the tutelage or vassalage of China or her allies than they are at present? Secondly, if such a situation developed, Gould we then feel that our own security was not endangered? Quite clearly, we believe that the majority of the citizens of South Vietnam prefer to live in their present state than to be governed from Hanoi. History shows that in Vietnam there is little affinity between the people of the South and the people of the North. This relationship provided the basis for the start of the conflict to which I have already referred, but it was only the match that set alight the wider conflict which is operating today. From this conflict we cannot stand aside as onlookers. We resist aggression on the shores of Vietnam or we resist it on our own shores. In my opinion, there is no intermediate course.

The Government believes, therefore, that the events in South Vietnam are endangering the eventual security of Australia just as much as the security of the people of Western Europe was endangered by aggression against Berlin in 1948. We have a clear duty. Originally this was to help the people of South Vietnam to resist undercover violation of their frontiers by people wishing to change the established order of government. Now that the situation has escalated into open conflict, our aim is to aid the established Government of South Vietnam and our allies in this conflict in order to protect them and, at the same time, to protect ourselves.

I want now to turn to the other important matter in this debate and to stress once again the reasons that have led the Government to call up some Australian citizens for national service. For many years after Federation, the immediate security of our nation was never directly threatened. We could rely on the protection of the British Navy when wars took place, as they did from time to time. In South Africa and later in Europe we took part in conflicts on the basis that we could rely on volunteers to play their part. We could again rely on this basis in 1940 and 1941, but when our own security became directly threatened in 1943 we realised that the moment had been reached at which every citizen had to become liable to take his place in the defence of the nation against outside aggression.

The pattern of danger to our own security is now in the process of being repeated. The Government believes that the nation's security could in time be threatened. In this situation, the Government believes that everyone should be liable for service and that the security of the nation should not be left only to those who volunteer. The task of defence has changed very much in the last few years. It has become more complex and involves much more training than was required in the past. Consequently, we cannot afford to wait until the conflict starts before we commence a period of training. Again it is necessary to introduce a period of national service in a peacetime situation.

A further reason for the action we have taken is that the pattern of defence is such that the need is for a few. highly trained men rather than for a large mass of partially trained citizens. It is not possible with the funds available to train every youth reaching the age of 20 years. Therefore, the fairest, alternative - selection by ballot - has been adopted by the Government. Those people who still maintain that we should rely on the voluntary system need to be reminded that for a long period, particularly in 1963-64, we endeavoured to recruit soldiers by every available means of persuasion. Today the Australian soldier receives higher pay and allowance than any other private soldier in the world. Even with these benefits, we failed to obtain sufficient volunteers.

I think it is a terrible omission in this debate that members of the Opposition have not had the courage to inform Parliament of exactly what course of action they would propose if they were responsible for the Government of this country. Therefore, we have to infer from a variety of utterances some of the policies they apparently advocate at present. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) has stated that it is his policy to seek the return to Australia of all national servicemen. Apparently he means that he is prepared to carry on the conflict with Australian regular servicemen and to support the policy of the United States and the use of conscripted men in the United States forces in Vietnam. On other occasions he has stated that it is his opinion that it is an unwinnable war in Vietnam and that Australia should not take part in it. Why then does he lack the courage to say unequivocally that he will withdraw all Australian servicemen and desert our ally, the United States, in this theatre?

That would be the practical result of the withdrawal of national servicemen.

The Leader of the Opposition should go on to answer the next question: If Communist infiltration into Thailand escalates and the Thai Government asks for our aid to protect its northern boundaries, would the Leader of the Opposition heed that request? Does he advocate his policy of withdrawal from . Vietnam for political or military reasons? One suspects that it is purely for political reasons and, therefore, that the argument he uses for Vietnam would be used elsewhere for the countries of South East Asia.

Unlike the Leader of the Opposition, the honorable member for Yarra (Dr. J. F. Cairns) has been much more explicit as to the policy that he advocates at present. In his speech in this House on 21st October 1964 he put forward the proposition that Australia should abandon all involvement on the shores of Asia and should adopt a policy of containment based on the line from Kamchatka to Darwin and thence on a line running westward into the Indian ocean. I think this Parliament should again examine the implications of this defence policy. What does it mean? It certainly means that we would lose the benefit of defence establishments on the Asian mainland. We would lose the friendship of nations such as Thailand and Malaysia. We would certainly lose the respect of our allies and probably the help that we can expect through our defence treaties with the United States of America and Great Britain. In such a situation Australia's security could certainly be threatened. The policy of containment along the line advocated by the honorable member for Yarra would certainly involve a tremendous increase in our requirement for air power and also an increase in the size of our Navy, let alone an overall increase in the size of the Army. Has the honorable member for Yarra, in framing his policy statements on this matter, considered what is involved, not only from the political point of view, which has been referred to so often in the course of this debate, but also from the purely military point of view? Two things would be certain to follow. The manpower that would be required for such an increase in our defences could only be obtained by a scheme of national service considerably greater than the present scheme. Has the honorable member for Yarra thought these things through or does he believe that we should leave ourselves defenceless, in the policy of containment that he advocates? We certainly cannot contain aggression by forces from the mainland of Asia unless we have forces with which to repel them. Apparently no member of the Opposition has ever taken this question a stage further and tried to think how the Labour Party would set about implementing such a defence policy. The second point is that the cost of our defence forces would be much greater and so the economic growth of our country would be considerably curtailed.

Apart, therefore, from the many reasons which have been advanced by this Government for supplying aid to Vietnam at the present time there are, to my mind, overwhelming reasons, involving Australia's own security, that compel us to take the action we have taken. I believe that there is much force in the argument referred to generally as the domino theory. If we fail to meet the challenge in Vietnam we shall find the challenge transferred, in the course of years, to our own shores and the risks to our security at that time will be very much greater than the risks we face now. Meeting the challenge at that time will be vastly more expensive than the cost we face at present.

The honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) drew a comparison between the present situation and that which existed in Europe in the late 1930's. He pointed out that if we had met the challenge in 1936 we would have avoided the much more terrible challenge that we had to face in 1939. I agree entirely with the honorable member for Bradfield that the situation we face today has many characteristics similar to that which existed in 1936. It is, therefore, quite clear to me that the Government is entirely right in following the course of action that it has decided to adopt in the present situation.







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