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Wednesday, 24 March 1965

Senator PALTRIDGE (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Defence) - I think the honorable senator has fallen into the error again of trying to anticipate the conclusions the Government may reach in certain circumstances which he has set out to specify. I recall for the benefit of the Senate that three or four questions were asked yesterday in relation to a number of newspaper reports on the use of phosphorus bombs and some types of gases in Vietnam. Honorable senators will recall that I undertook yesterday to let the Senate know the position. As might be expected, the Department of External Affairs is making inquiries into these reports. In the meantime, however, it might be worthwhile if I were to read some authoritative statements that have been made in respect of this matter. Speaking on 23rd March, the United States Secretary of Defence, Mr. McNamara, stated -

As far as we know they- that is, the gases have been used only two or three times, most recently on January 27th when, in an engagement :n Phu Yen Province, the Communist Vietcong look refuge among non-combatants in a village. Rather than use fire power- against the villagers, including children thereby jeopardising the lives of non-combatants, to drive the Vietcong out of the area, the Vietnamese troops dispensed the riot control agent. Their objective, of course, was to save life. These riot control agents which 1 have described and which the Vietnamese forces utilised are those that have been used on many occasions by metropolitan police forces worldwide in controlling civil disturbances. 1 read now the text of a statement issued by the United States Embassy in Saigon on 22nd March -

In tactical situations in which Vietcong intermingle with, or take refuge among, non-combatants, rather than use artillery or aerial bombardment, Vietnamese troops have used a type of gas which disables temporarily, making the enemy incapable of fighting. Its use in such situations is no different than the use of disabling gases in riot control. The gas is released from dispensers operated by Vietnamese personnel in helicopters.

In the questions in the Senate yesterday, there was some reference to the use of phosphorus bombs. There is no confirmation as yet that phosphorus bombs have been used, although, of course, it should be understood that phosphorus is an element which is used in a variety of weaponry including, for example, smoke markers ;md illuminating flares. A phosphorus bomb is no different from any other type of incendiary bomb used to ignite structures of various types. It would appear, therefore, from what has come officially to notice that the gases which have been used have not been lethal gases. They have been gases of a type used to disperse rioting crowds in many places in the world. The gas has been used by the Vietnamese only.

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