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Tuesday, 30 March 1965


Senator COHEN (Victoria) . - Mr. Deputy President, the statement of the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck), which the Senate is discussing, is very important. It deals with a number of aspects of Australia's foreign policy, especially with the current tragic situation in Vietnam, the disturbing Indonesian confrontation of Malaysia, the problem of relations with Asia and Asians generally, and the attitude of this and other countries towards the United Nations and its future. On each of these important subjects the Minister's statement spelt out the general principles of the Government's policy. In the course of that exercise the Minister managed very successfully, though, perhaps unwittingly, to draw attention to the prejudices of the Government and the deficiencies of its policy. I propose to say something about each of them and about all of them together, because taken together they represent certain attitudes on the part of this Government which . the Opposition believes are supine, negative and lacking in the kind of initiative that one would expect of this country at this stage of its development.

May I deal, first, with some of the problems that are involved in the situation in South Vietnam. The Government's position is quite clear from the Minister's statement. It strongly supports the present escalated military activities of the United States of America in the bombing of North Vietnam. The Government supports those activities, not only because it is the United States which is carrying them out. but because it believes that the course adopted is fundamentally correct. The Government might well have said: " There are certain aspects of this about which we are not entirely happy. We have reservations as to its effectiveness. We have reservations as to whether it is the correct action to take in the circumstances as an alternative to seeking negotiations in the immediate future, but we are going along with it because we want to express our loyalty and support for our great ally the United States." If the Government had said that and no more, to my mind that would have been an understandable position. But what the Minister has done on this occasion has been to wait until the United States of America has made up its mind which horn of the dilemma it will grasp and then the Government has proceeded to erect a whole series of arguments, ex post facto justifications and rationalisations, to bolster up the position that it has taken on the matter.

May I develop that point in this way? President Johnson obviously had a very difficult problem. This has been said by every responsible commentator, statesman and political leader in the world. The problem was whether to continue with the long drawn out Vietnamese war in the way that it has proceeded for a number of years, whether to pull out - to use the vernacular expression - without further argument at this stage, or whether to do what eventually has been done, that is to seek an expansion, an acceleration, an escalation of the military effort on the stated ground that this action is likely to bring closer a situation in which fruitful negotiations for settlement can take place. Basically, the argument turns upon whether the policy being pursued by the United States and enthusiastically supported by our Government - indeed, with more vehemence and eloquence than in the United States - will be effective in bringing nearer the time when negotiations can take place, or whether it will have the opposite effect of making it more and more difficult for negotiations to take place.

The Commonwealth Government through the mouth of the Minister for External Affairs, has not - inevitably I think - met the challenge posed by that difficult choice facing the President of the United States. Because it has a supine and negative attitude on these matters, our Government has contented itself by saying: " Not only do we go along with that policy, but we think this is the only course the President had to take". Honorable senators can see that very clearly spelt out in the Minister's statement.

The Opposition does not accept that position. We say that the stated purpose of any type of activity of a military character or otherwise in Vietnam at this moment is to accelarate the time when the parties can be brought together and, if necessary, have their heads knocked together in order to work out a sensible political settlement. Our approach is that the military aspect is only part of a very broad picture in which an effort of vast proportions is demanded of the western world and of those who want to see a situation of stability in South East Asia. Senator Cavanagh last Thursday made what I thought was a very interesting and important speech in which be dealt with the whole question of the kind of forces necessary to defeat Communism in South East Asia. He dealt with the overall challenge of the Chinese colossus and with the underlying social and economic problems that have to be talked and with the immense forces, that must be mobilised. He emphasised the relative importance of such matters compared with the military factor in the situation.

The Australian Labour Party is not alone in taking the view that something must be done to bring the parties together. The proposition is involved in the very escalation of the war, in the increasing attacks . on North Vietnam from the air. lt is clearly debatable whether such methods will bring the day of peace nearer.

But since we last met in this Chamber, there have been events which have cast the shadow a little longer over the scene. There has been an overt undertaking by the Peking Government to assist the Government of North Vietnam by military means. There has been the hardening line of the Soviet Union on the problem. There has been the reported attitude of General Maxwell Taylor, the American Ambassador in South Vietnam, that he will seek from Washington this week authority to step up even further the tempo of the war and the magnitude of the aerial attacks. There have been reports of the use of non-lethal gas in the war - admittedly a month or two ago - but we are now being informed of the situation in which this type of gas has been used. I want to say something in connection with that a little later on.

On the positive side, we have had something that I thought the Government would be ready to take up and to welcome; that is the announcement over the weekend by the British Prime Minister that Mr. Patrick Gordon Walker - a highly respected former Foreign Secretary, a man who is well liked and who is regarded not only in Labour Party circles but throughout the Western world as a man of balance and integrity - has been sent by. the Government of the United Kingdom to test out the position in the critical area, to see whether he can discuss the matter with the principal parties involved and to search for a basis upon which fruitful negotiations for ending this war can take place. I would have thought that, if ever there were an initiative which should have been welcomed by the Government, it is this one.


Senator O'Byrne - The Bishops asked for it and they were knocked back.


Senator COHEN - They asked for it and they were somewhat ungraciously knocked back. They were knocked back, I think, quite unfairly, and on the basis of misconstruing a very important expression in the letter which they, the 13 Anglican Bishops, addressed to the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies). They asked only for Australia to join in some effort to secure an honorable peace but they were delivered a high sounding lecture on their responsibilities and were treated like a pack of schoolboys.


Senator O'Byrne - A pompous lecture.


Senator COHEN - I will not use any more adjectives. The honorable senator interjected and gave me the opportunity to say something I was going to say a little later on. Here, on Mr. Gordon Walker's mission, is the sort of thing we in the Labour Party are talking about. Apparently it had President Johnson's prior knowledge and approval. What answer did I get from the Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge) 20 minutes ago when I asked whether the Government would express its approval of and support for this important mission? He parried the question and said: " It is a fact finding mission and we will see later on what it has to report". This Government will not step out of line by half an inch unless it believes it has the express approval of the great and important ally whom it is supporting in this struggle. The Leader of the Government had an opportunity but he turned his back on it. Quite plainly, anything which would tend to blur the outline - anything which would tend to make less black and white the underlying assumptions of the Government's policy - is something which the Government does not welcome.

I think there is this to be said: Our Government takes the position that it supports the policy of the United States in this matter. And therefore, in order to test the soundness of that policy, it is necessary to go not to what our Government is doing about the matter but to what the United States Government is doing about it.

I want to refer to some very pertinent remarks that have been made on this subject by a noted political commentator. I am not sure that his views meet with everybody's approval; they certainly are critical of administration policy in the United States of America. But every Australian capital city seems to carry a weekly article by the well-known commentator, Walter Lippmann. He put the problem in a very sensible way. At any rate, he reduced it to some simple elements which most of us, T think, can understand. He called for a serious reappraisal of United States policy in Indo-China. He stated -

It will have to be reappraised in order to avert disaster: The disaster of our expulsion from the area, leaving China supreme over it, and the disaster also of an escalation to a ChineseAmerican war.

This is a pessimistic view, but it is the view that Lippmann put forward with clarity. He continued -

The stated aim of our current policy is to persuade Hanoi to call off its intervention in

South Vietnam and to agree to an international conference.

The success of the policy depends on a highly theoretical assumption: That we can find a point where our measured blows will not be so strong that they precipitate "a wider war" - a North Vietnamese invasion of South Vietnam or the entrance of a Chinese army into Indo-China.

But while the bombing must not be so heavy as to precipitate the wider war, it must be heavy enough to compel Hanoi to give up the struggle in which it is engaged.

There are no signs that we arc anywhere near finding this quite imaginary point between not too much and just enough bombing.

He said -

In my view, the bombing policy is not working because it is only half a policy. It is half baked, or, to change the metaphor, it is all stick and no carrot.

What he means by that statement is that the policy lacks the essential definition of saying openly on what terms the United States Government would be prepared to enter into negotiation for a political settlement in the whole of Vietnam. The same proposition was put to the United States Congress in a resolution introduced last week by Senator Javits, a highly respected Republican senator from New York. He urged the Senate to affirm America's willingness to undertake "honorable negotiations " in Vietnam. The resolution stated -

It is not enough to express our determination to prevent the Communists from taking over South Vietnam, although that is our goal. We must also determine what kind of a negotiated' settlement we are prepared to consider and state ils general principles to the nation and the world.

That is an important point of view. It is a view which finds very wide acceptance.

I introduced this argument in order to show that one has to look at both sides of the question. I think it is wrong of the Chinese and of the North Vietnamese to insist upon the withdrawal of American forces as a precondition of any kind of talks. But it is also wrong for the United States to insist upon the complete cessation of all attacks - not only North Vietnamese attacks, but also Vietcong attacks - as a precondition of talks. If both sides adhere to this uncompromising attitude it is plain that there must be a head-on collision between the two giants - America and China - in the not too distant future. Something has to be done to avert that ultimate madness and tragedy. Something statesmanlike has to be done to see whether in an exploratory way they can be brought together. These are not propositions that are in any way a presentation of an outlandish point of view on the matter. They are shared by a very large number of Americans, including some influential leaders in the United States Congress itself and in the organs of government and the administration, and they are endorsed widely in Asia, Europe and other parts of the Western world.

I sum up what I have to say on this particular question in this way: We take issue with the Government over its essentially negative attitude to its responsibilities in this area. We all understand that this is an immense problem. It is not easy of solution and it is profoundly worrying and disturbing to anybody who has the welfare of his fellow man at heart. But somehow or other we miss in the Australian Government the capacity for moving, even slightly, away from the line, into a position where it can be said, not only to Mr. Wilson, the British Prime Minister, " We applaud your efforts in sending Mr. Patrick Gordon Walker to the trouble spot", but also to the United States: "We applaud this effort and we support those who have raised their voices in favour of negotiations to bring about a ceasefire now". That has not been done and it does not look as though-


Senator Wright - The American President himself has said that within the past seven days, has he not?


Senator COHEN - He has said it. What I am complaining about, if that is the right word, is that he has not spelt out - and I do not suppose that one can expect him to do it in detail - the kind of place that Vietnam is to be as a result of successful negotiations, that is, short of unconditional surrender, short of a complete military victory. We do not know. I am sure the Australian Government does not know. I see the honorable senator shaking his head. I dare say that he will have his own comments to make on the situation in the course of this debate. We in our party are not alone in stressing the importance of moving to positive initiatives on this problem.

In the same way, when the Minister comes to deal in his statement with the future of United Nations, he again takes an essentially negative position. He goes through the motions of expressing Australia's unqualified support for the United Nations, but he qualifies that immediately by referring to two matters which more or less cancel out his original position. He says that experience has shown that -

.   . the General Assembly is not able to function at present as it was intended to function as the great forum of the world in which the conscience of the world might find expression and help to establish a body of principle by which the exercise of power might be restrained.

His second observation is - . . at the present time the General Assembly, and indeed the Security Council, cannot be relied upon as a significant and effective means of keeping the peace of the world.

I do not underestimate the difficulties that we all have in using the United Nations effectively at the present moment. Certain weaknesses have appeared and they are imposing great stress on the international organisation itself, but I missed completely - and I have read the Minister's speech several times - any reference at all to the appeal made by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, U Thant, to the parties involved in the South East Asian conflict to shift the quest for a solution away from the battlefield to the conference table. That was an earnest and eloquent plea by a man occupying this centra] position as permanent head of the United Nations, and it was completely ignored by the Minister.


Senator Wright - About what date was that?


Senator COHEN - It was 25th February. U Thant renewed his previous appeal for a negotiated settlement of the Vietnam crisis to enable the United States, as he put it, to " withdraw gracefully ". He was expressing an opinion based upon what the Burmese experienced in his own time. He said that he did not now advocate and never had advocated the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam, that this involved questions of " face and prestige ", but that the United States could withdraw " with dignity " once diplomatic and political methods had produced a perceptible improvement in the situation and restored some sort of stability. It was obvious at the time that that plea did not have a warm reception in the United States Administration. But that does not mean that it should not find a ready response in our country, as it did in other countries of the world.

It is not of much assistance for the Minister to complain about the ineffectiveness of the United Nations at the present time, to pledge full and unqualified support for that Organisation and then not even to mention in a statement of this kind the initiative that had come from the SecretaryGeneral in relation to the most burning military question of the day. I think it is important that we should continue to pin our faith on the United Nations. I believe that, with all its imperfections, we must build and enhance its prestige and not denigrate it. It started with very high hopes. It has run into some massive difficulties created by polarisation of different power groups in the cold war, and it has had some important new problems since the rapid multiplication of the number of member States, particularly from the emerging countries of Asia and -Africa.

In one sense it is wilting under the strain, but it must have our unqualified support as the forum in which international conflicts can be fought out, rather than on the battlefield, and as the place where some kind of conciliatory and negotiating machinery can be evolved whenever a practical situation arises to be dealt with. That is why the Australian Labour Party always suggests the United Nations as the first avenue of recourse whenever there is an international conflict. Wc did that in relation to events to our near north in the Indonesian situation. We have done it in relation to South East Asia. Primarily, of course, we would like to see the reconvening of the Geneva Conference. Perhaps even now, in spite of hardening attitudes on both sides, it is not too late to find a way to reconvene that conference, which created a political settlement at the end of the war in Indo-China. Britain and Russia, as cochairmen, must try again to find it. It is perhaps a little optimistic to think in that way, but this certainly is not something which we should put aside as being unattainable.

I want to refer briefly to the conflict to our near north. The Australian Labour Party has made it plain on many occasions that it strongly disapproves of and opposes Indonesia's policy of confrontation. Nevertheless, we have maintained that we want Australia to have long term good relationships with both Malaysia and Indonesia. As

I have levelled some strong criticism at the Minister and the Government in these remarks, let me say in fairness that the Minister has exhibited a rather balanced attitude towards the current problem of whether economic aid of one kind or another to Indonesia should be continued. There has been a good deal of pressure on him to withdraw all forms of aid. We in our Party state quite plainly that we think the present forms of aid, short of anything which would give military assistance to Indonesia, should be continued. In recent days the Minister, I think quite properly, has resisted attempts to abandon all forms of aid and has emphasised that fundamentally there are long term reasons why good relationships should continue between Australia and Indonesia.

The Australian Labour Party has stated recently that all Australian initiative in the area - we believe that the Government could take some initiative but has not yet done so - should be exercised having in mind that Indonesian/ Austral ian friendship is not only possible but essential for the wellbeing of both countries, and that we should press and offer to negotiate a friendship, trade and non-aggression pact with Indonesia at the earliest appropriate time. This is not an isolated attitude for the Australian Labour Party to adopt. We have adopted as a cardinal point of our policy in these matters that conditions should be developed by which pacts of friendship, trade and non-aggression can be established with all the peoples of South East Asia, both those who have stabilised political conditions and those who in due course will have stabilised political conditions. That is the only firm basis of lasting and positive peace in the area.

We should be prepared to do much more than we are now doing by way of contribution to the welfare and development of under developed countries. We pledge ourselves, as a matter of party policy, that not less than 1 per cent, of Australia's national income should be spent on aid to under developed nations. At present we are spending about i per cent, of our national income in this way, and two-thirds of that percentage goes to New Guinea. We are not wedded to 1 per cent, as having any final and ultimate wisdom, but we have suggested it because it indicates a desire to offer a definite minimum amount of our annual national income to those who are sorely in need.

We have suggested also that such aid be provided on the basis of a pooling of resources of all the nations in the area rather than on the selective basis on which very valuable programmes like the Colombo Plan are now carried out. This is not an argument against the Colombo Plan; it is an argument for a greatly enlarged concept of the pooling of resources on a regional basis in this part of the world.


Senator O'Byrne - An escalation of peaceful purposes.


Senator COHEN - An escalation of peaceful purposes and developmental effort. As a party we have endorsed the proposal made by our Federal leader that to remove any ground for Indonesia's fears of encirclement a four power guarantee of Indonesia's security and independence be offered. We believe that to be important because it would remove any basis for the argument that Indonesia was under attack or in danger from those she is at present confronting with such vigour.

Let me refer now to the general observation that the Minister made in his statement about Australia's relationships with Asia. High minded as many of his phrases are, his statement falls short of offering some kind of tangible expression to the people of Asia of what we want to do for them. As I said a little earlier, and as Senator Cavanagh pointed out the other day in his speech, there has to be on our part a massive effort to convince the people of Asia by practical example and precept that we want to help them to live out their lives in freedom, to establish conditions under which they can govern themselves in freedom and security and to have standards approaching the standards that we in our more fortunate part of the world enjoy.

The plain fact is that two out of three people in this world go to bed hungry every night and most of them live in Asia and Africa. Unless we confront that basic reality of life, no kind of policy, whether it comes from our great ally or from us, is going to be effective in stemming the challenge of another ideology and another great nation which is becoming the dominating power in this area of the world. In this connection, the use of certain weapons becomes open to serious question. It might be argued in a university seminar, or among a group of doctors or academics who are intelligent, sophisticated people of the world, that non-lethal gas is more merciful than bombs. But the use of non-lethal gas in North Vietnam and the disclosure of the more than occasional use of napalm bombs means that we have suffered, by association with this action, something of a propaganda loss as well as a loss of goodwill among the peoples of Asia. Nowhere have I found this better expressed that in :in editorial in the "New York Times" of 25th March 1965. With the leave of the Senate, I shall have this editorial incorporated in " Hansard " and I shall quote from it briefly.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Benn). - Is leave granted?

Government supporters. - No.


Senator COHEN - I propose, then, to read extensively from the editorial. I do not know why supporters of the Government object to its incorporation in " Hansard ".


Senator Wright - I for one want lo understand it and therefore I should like to hear it read.


Senator COHEN - The heading is " Gas (Nonlethal) in Vietnam ", and the editorial states -

The United States, in steady escalation of the Vietnamese conflict, is now revealed to have employed a nonlethal gas. It is possible to argue, as American military and civilian spokesmen have, that military objectives can be achieved with fewer casualties by using a gas that does not kill.

This argument overlooks one vital factor; and it displays, at the very least, a lack of imagination somewhere in the top echelons of the armed forces. People - ordinary people everywhere - have a strong psychological revulsion, if not horror, at the idea of any kind of poisonous gas, even a temporarily disabling type that only causes extreme discomfort including nausea and diarrhoea when used against ordinarily healthy adults. But even this kind of gas can be fatal to the very young, the very old and those ill with heart and lung ailments.

In Vietnam, gas was supplied and sanctioned by white men against Asians. This is something that no Asian, Communist or not, will forget. No other country has employed such a weapon in recent warfare. If the United States believed that people everywhere would be logical and " sensible ;ind would understand that non-lethal gas constitutes really only another normal form of warfare and even a relatively humane one, someone has blundered grievously.

War, as Clausewitz said, " is only a part of political intercourse, therefore by no means an independent thing in itself." It is stupid to lay the United States open to a moral condemnation that is not confined to the Communist world.

The United States claims to be fighting in Vietnam for freedom, right, justice and other moral principles, as well as against Communism and for the security of the United States and the free world. By using a noxious gas- even of ' a nonlethal type - the Johnson Administration is falling back toward the old axiom that all's fair in war. But this happens to be a war in which the moral stature of the United States is at least as vital as bullets, shells and bombs. Gas is a wretched means to achieve even the most valid ends. 1 wanted to direct attention to the fact that the effect on the peoples of Asia of the use of even such a non-lethal gas has been disastrous. And here, in the Senate, the Australian Government had an opportunity to dissociate itself from the use of this weapon. At a time when a question was asked on this matter it was assumed apparently that the gas used was poisonous. In the event, from what we have discovered and have been told, the gas that was used was non-lethal. But on the assumption that it was poison gas, the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Paltridge) was asked by Senator Murphy to say that whatever had happened in the past, the Government would not in the future be associated or identified in any way with the use of such poison gas. The Leader of the Government, however, said that he was unable to give such an assurance.

I should have thought that it would be demonstrably in Australia's interests and entirely proper for the Minister to have given a firm assurance. It was quite proper for him to seek to have the facts investigated, as he did, but the Leader of the Government could have given an assurance that if poison gas were used, we would not go along with such action. That assurance was not given and to that extent inevitably we will be regarded as involved in this sort of activity.

I conclude by saying that the matters that have been raised in the statement of the Minister for External Affairs are of great consequence to us in Australia. One does not take a critical position on such matters merely for the sake of taking it. It would be more comfortable to be able to say that what has been said in the Minister's statement was said on behalf of everyone without qualification. But that is not possible because the statement indicates that the bask ingredients of positive initiative are missing from the Government's approach and the Government's policy at every point where a problem has arisen in the conduct of our international affairs. To that extent we must criticise the policy that has been enunciated and look forward to a time when a government can speak on behalf of all Australians and say that Australia is ready to take an active part in ascertaining whether peace can be brought to the world.







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