Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tuesday, 30 March 1965

Senator WILLESEE (Western Australia) . - Let me say at the outset that the document presented by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck) - his first as Minister for External Affairs - covers some obvious subjects, such as Vietnam and Indonesia, and invites members of both Houses of the Parliament to examine any other subjects in which they are interested. I propose to comment on Senator Cormack's interesting remarks on Indonesia and Vietnam, but before doing so I would like to make one comment on the Minister's remarks on the question of nuclear power.

He argued that the great deterrent of nuclear power is best kept in the hands of a few people because if it gets into many hands it will become uncontrollable. In fact, the Minister argued, as did the late President Kennedy - I think President Johnston has also expressed himself on this - that it is desirable that the nuclear club be kept as small as possible. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) took the matter one step further. He advocated that China, which has taken unto itself nuclear power and, though uninvited, has joined the nuclear club, even though as a junior member, ought to be kicked out of the club by taking away its nuclear power.

It speaks volumes for the propaganda machine of the Liberal Party that such a suggested course becomes a virtue today, when advocated by the honorable member for Mackellar and by the Minister for External Affairs as spokesmen for the Government on these matters, because when we of the Australian Labour Party advocated this course as long as three years ago, saying that Australia ought to be taking the lead in the Pacific area and should make haste to get the acquiescence of other nations to declare it a nuclear free zone, we were said to be anti-American, unAustralian and pro-Communist. Honorable senators opposite used all the fluent phraseology which they are so adept at using when dealing with these very important matters at election times. The fact is that they are saying today precisely what we said three years ago. They are following what the General Assembly of the United Nations itself said when dealing with the question of South America. However belated is the conversion and whatever is the basis of it, the Government nevertheless is welcome to the non-nuclear club. It has finally seen what might happen in the Pacific area.

I turn now to Indonesia. I think that every one of the theses that Senator Cormack put forward on Indonesia is acceptable. He asked what sort of government Indonesia will have in the future. This is always a tantalising speculation when thinking of Indonesia. Because Indonesia is such a splendid and potentially wealthy country, and because the common person there is of such a lovable type, one is upset to think that that country has taken the course it has in fact taken. The attitude of the Australian Labour Party is that we should keep the door open, so that if there is any change of heart or any alteration of the present bewildering actions of Indonesia, we can take advantage of the opportunity then offered. If there are two nations on God's earth that ought to be friendly and co-operating in every way they are Indonesia and Australia. As long as the earth continues to spin, the Indonesians will be our nearest neighbours.

The population of Indonesia will continue to increase. It is probably one of the most undeveloped countries in the world, although one of the richest. If the land was used properly, Indonesia would be one of the most under-populated areas in the world. The Indonesians do not need more land, but they need to put to better use the land which they already have. It would appear - I hope I am wrong in using this phrase - that over the last few years Australia has been on a collision course with Indonesia. Since 1950 I have been critical of this Government's attitude towards Indonesia. I have criticised its brushing aside of Indonesia and of the fact that although we have been flying Prime Ministers and other minis ters to London every year, they have nothad time to call on Indonesia. I do not want to go into that matter again. In debating this statement, we should be informing ourselves about the clash of opinion on the situation that exists today. We discussed the background and the causes of it last August.

We want to be friendly with Indonesia. Australia and Indonesia should be trading with one another and making contacts. But because of the principles that we hold, because of hundreds of years of tradition, and because we know what has happened in the past and what will happen in the future if we drop those principles, we find that we must oppose Indonesia's views on Malaysia. I do not agree with one of the points that was advanced by an Opposition speaker last week when he was dealing with the history of Indonesia. He compared its attitude towards Malaysia with its attitude towards West New Guinea. I have defended Indonesia over the question of West New Guinea because that was an understandable situation. There were differing views on whether Indonesia should take over West New Guinea. But to anybody who was in Indonesia during the relevant, years it was perfectly obvious that the move to take over West New Guinea was not a mere diversion to keep the minds of the. Indonesians from the deteriorating economy in their own country, although it must have had that effect. After speaking to people in many organisations, such as political parties, trade unions and law societies, I have no doubt that the idea of taking over West New Guinea was rooted deep in the heart of the Indonesian people. In simple terms, when Indonesia took over the Netherlands East Indies it was a perfectly reasonable proposition for the people to think that they were taking over the whole of the Netherlands East Indies and that there was not to be a part of the country held back. I do not want to go into the legalities of that situation. The legal situation at the time was that the Dutch could have been right, but the psychological point was that the Indonesians believed that West Irian should have become part of their country.

Senator Wright - That goes back a long time.

Senator WILLESEE - Yes, and it must go back a long time. It is a part of history.

However, 1 do not want to dwell on this point. We can become a little glib when we are accusing people, but we ought to be sure of the grounds on which we accuse them. I suggest that there are two vastly different reasons for the opposition of the Indonesians to the Dutch and their opposition to Malaysia. 1 have said there was a common cause. I do not believe that all they were trying to do was to turn the eyes of the people away from the internal problems and to hold up a light so that the moths would fly around it.

On the question of West New Guinea it must be said in fairness that this Government did not oppose, at any stage, Indonesia becoming our next door neighbour in New Guinea. We said to the Indonesians that we were perfectly willing to have them there and that any arrangement they made would have to be made between the Dutch and themselves. The Government and the Australian Parliament never lifted its voice against the proposal. We welcomed the Indonesians and we trusted them. We want to see responsible behaviour from them in other parts of the world as well as in West New Guinea. We want to feel that we were right in allowing them to go to that area without any opposition from us.

Indonesia today faces a great challenge. This is a matter with which Senator Cormack was dealing without actually saying so. It is a young country which is trying to develop in a period of turmoil and struggle. Its leaders went to gaol for many years because of their views, but they took advantage of the war years and of the Japanese occupation finally to get control. Indonesia is a wealthy country, but it is a country that has many difficulties because of its lack of education and because the many islands which comprise it are so scattered. Nevertheless, its leaders have a great challenge to show that they are capable of running their own country and of giving the Indonesian people a better standard of living than they had under the Dutch. Yet they are not doing this. The great pity is that the challenge is going unheeded. The leaders have not turned their attention to such matters as health and nutrition, which are matters with which a young country should be dealing. They are not taking the opportunity as Asians to build up a stable country in the midst of the Asian scene. Rather, they have been caught up in outside interests and the campaign to crush Malaysia.

We hope that the Indonesians will attain nationhood and be worthy of it. But instead of working towards this end, we see them closing the American picture industry in Djakarta, cutting off the gas to businesses owned by United States interests, taking control of oil refineries, allowing hooligans to break up the United States information centres, and finally withdrawing from the United Nations Organisation. We must say that these are not the actions of a responsible government. This is not good national or international behaviour. It is a constant worry to other countries. Actions such as these would have brought about a break in diplomatic relations 100 years ago.

Because of what has happened with countries like Russia and America, which have learned to live together over the last 20 years, we hope that in this day and age, no matter how bad things are, we will be able to drag Indonesia and Malaysia back from the brink of war and towards a better future. I must say in fairness that T do not admire people such as the group of young Australians who, when the Indonesian Ambassador was about to speak to them recently, threw papers at him and yelled and behaved with not much more control than the Indonesian mobs who stormed the' American embassy. If we invite a person, particularly a representative of another country, to a gathering, in common decency and courtesy we should listen to him.

Senator Wright - There was not the violence which occurred in Indonesia.

Senator WILLESEE - I did not suggest that there was violence. The honorable senator is putting words into my mouth. I am merely saying that in a country where there is education, a group of people should not take such a course. I express my disapproval of it. I think that they should be a little more adult. I can remember when people criticised wharf lumpers and said that they should not be taking the control of international affairs out of the hands of the Australian Government. This was perilously close to that. Not for one minute am I suggesting that it was of the same violence. When we have this tender situation between nations, all people of responsibility ought to be doubly sure that they do not exacerbate a situation which is already bad.

I have only one or two comments to make before I turn to Vietnam. Malaysia is a nation that has a great challenge before it. As I understand it, we have said that it should be allowed to face this challenge in its own way, electing its own governments. We have Australian troops in Malaysia. Their presence there is supported by this Parliament. To avoid exacerbating the position and to hold the situation as long as we possibly can, Australian troops ought not to be used on the peninsula to round up such people as paratroops. As I understood the position, troops from Australia and other nations were in that country for emergencies, to be used when absolutely necessary. Surely it is not necessary to use foreign troops to round up a dozen, 20, 30, 50, 60 or 70 paratroops. This is nothing more nor less than a fairly severe police action. There may be good reasons for the Government's action in this regard. There may be good reasons why the military personnel of this country should be used, but it seems to be unnecessary. This Government is still giving aid to Indonesia and this action is supported by the Australian Labour Party. In those circumstances, it seems to me to be in some way a contradiction to let our troops be used ' before this is absolutely necessary. 1 have referred to the relationship between Indonesian and Australia and have said that we ought to be getting together. These things could be said equally about Indonesia and Malaysia. Here are two Asian nations with a fair amount of cross trade. A lot of development is needed in both countries. Everything we say about relations between Australia and Indonesia we could say, with interest, about Malaysia and Indonesia. Senator Cormack suggested that we did not know what sort of a government Indonesia would have, whether there would be a government in that country, or even whether Indonesia would be a nation in years to come. We must try to get some common sense into the area. We must realise the tremendous force that Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia possess and use it for the development of the region, which is very wealthy, and for the advancement of the people. We could achieve a tremendous amount of good in the next few years. We must do this rather than waste time and energy, sparring around and watching one another from day to day.

I turn now to the urgent, immediate problems of Vietnam. I do not want to go over the matters that we dealt with last August. Most of us then dealt with the background to Vietnam, and how its problems had come about. Because of what has happened there in the past few weeks, it behoves us to deal now with the urgentsituation that exists today. Senator Cormack made some very interesting remarks in criticism of Senator Cavanagh on the question of Communism. Senator Cavanagh spoke of starvation. Senator Cormack made the point that the Communists had made their gains largely as a result not of starvation but of bringing in military force. I suggest to Senator Cormack that he is liable to fall into the old error of drawing all things sharply in" black and white instead of in varying degrees of grey.

Listening at various times to our opponents, one would think that the trade union movement was the harbour of Communists throughout the world, and that it was there that all the damage was being done. But looking at the Communists who are serving gaol sentences or who have, in some cases, gone to the electric chair, we find such names as Doctor Nunn May, Dr. Fuchs, the Rosenbergs, and Horatio Alger Hiss, who were very far removed from the area where the propaganda machine seems to suggest the danger lies. It is quite silly to deal with Communism by saying it is in this particular area or that particular area, because it is a very capable international organisation and it will naturally flow on to all the levels and into all the cracks where it can possibly move.

I agree with Senator Cormack that nobody in this nation has any monopoly of the concern we feel about the . situation in Vietnam. Australians have a dual worry, because everybody knows that no matter how small any war might be it carries within itself a tremendous potential for. expansion. Like a bushfire out of control, it can attack onlookers as well as critics, and engulf the. world in an incredibly short space of time. Through the Vietnam war, the pressure has shifted from Europe to

Asia. Australians know the geographic situation. We know that this war can quickly affect areas which are vital to us. Perhaps as Australians we appreciate more than do people of the old world the difficulties of the Asian area. Nobody has a monopoly of worry or anxiety, and nobody has the complete answer beyond knowing that somehow, somewhere, this war has to end. I think that the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck) had this kind of thing in mind when he prefaced his remarks with the word " personally ". He said that Australia was fighting for its very survival. I thought then that if somebody was sub-editing that speech, that would be the heading rather than being tucked away in a paragraph. We have seen this war, one might almost say, meandering along over a fairly long period. We have seen attack from the north, sabotage, anti-personnel bombs in Saigon, and terrorism. We have seen the holding war, with the Americans and their allies trying to contain the situation. The war has been difficult to define from day to day.

Senator Hannaford - Including the religious by-play.

Senator WILLESEE - I was about to say that there were side issues and byplays and contradictions. At the moment we see North Vietnam, standing like a customs officer, taking a toll on the petrol going through to the American forces. This would have been unbelievable in the wars to which we have been used and in which Australian forces have fought. That is the type of thing going on at present. The religious by-play, to which Senator Hannaford referred, "has not been on clear lines as between north and south. It has produced all sorts of strange and stupid situations in the south.

We could talk about things of this type for weeks and probably not get very far. The only certain thing is that out of this hodge-podge the situation for America and its allies - Australia has some troops there - has been deteriorating. It has deteriorated because following the exhortation of Mao Tse-tung, the Communist guerrillas have lived like the fish in the sea, striking and moving back. The change that has taken place has been of same order. We all know about these things. We are fighting amongst a war Weary, innocent people. lt is a type of war in which the bystanders suffer at least as much as, and probably very much more than, the soldiers themselves. The deteriorating situation brought the suggestion that America was about to leave the continent altogether; that she intended to surrender the people of South Vietnam whom she had gone in to defend; that she intended to take up her swag and move off.

While we had this situation and while the north was winning the fight, it was impossible to talk about negotiation. Quite frankly, and speaking personally, 1 could never understand how anyone could give any credence to the suggestion that America would pull out of this region. If you read carefully the many statements that have been made by people such as Dean Rusk and the Presidents of the United States of America, but particularly Dean Rusk, you will see that never at any time has there been a real suggestion that there should be an American withdrawal from the continent. It is true that many columnists in America - there seem to be myriads of them and they contradict themselves from day to day - say that there will be a withdrawal, but never, so far as I have been able to learn, has there been such a suggestion by any authority. In a situation such as this, particularly if you consider the -events just before and just after the last war, surrender and appeasement are completely impossible and unthinkable.

The prospect of the war escalating - that is a new word which has come into the phraseology of war - has been raised. It- is said that the action that the Americans are taking now could bring Communist China, a very powerful nation, into the war on the side of the Hanoi Government - that this would result in the war spreading and goodness only knows where it would stop. But there was no guarantee - I have never seen this aspect canvassed very widely - that if the situation in Vietnam were allowed to deteriorate very much further, particularly in view of the unstable political setup there, Communist China would not come in for the final push, possibly on the pretext of forestalling an advance which was threatening its own borders. If Communist China did come into the war, we could expect more air and naval action from th American Fleet, which is not very far away.-

This is a danger, but there is no doubt that there was danger in the other situation.

There has been a lot of talk about bombing and the types of bombs that have been used. I do not believe that any human being can think of bombing, particularly with napalm and similar materials which burn people, without being completely horrified. But it is interesting to recall that napalm has been used for some years in this area, mainly, as has been explained to me, to destroy forests and similar places of hiding so as to deny them to the enemy. Only recently has a non-lethal gas been used. I know my reaction to the bombing of London and other cities during the last war. 1 know also how 1 would feel if I were a simple villager, and overnight I found my village surrounded and certain of my friends picked out to be shot. I have found myself coming back to the conclusion that all war is hell and that the only way to get out of this particular hell is to find a way to stop the war in this part of the world. 1 am afraid that the longer it goes on the more horrible and the more terrible it will be. The final danger that I see is that nuclear bombs will be used. I cannot imagine any nation which, being beaten in a war with conventional weapons and possessing the nuclear bomb, will not bounce off the ropes and throw that final punch.

This war, like all disputes, must end some day. It has to end in one of two ways, either in a surrender or in negotiation. Whether negotiation is imminent or whether we have not yet reached that stage, at some time and at some place it will come about. Because of America's actions over the last few weeks, the mind of the whole world has been turned towards this situation. It is completely impossible to talk about negotiation if you are losing a war, as I believe the allies were until a few weeks ago. There were suggestions that they would pull out because the enemy was winning. Why should the enemy negotiate if he feels that achievement of his aim to liberate South Vietnam, to use his term, is just around the corner? In those circumstances the enemy certainly would not negotiate. On the other hand, you will not get the Americans to the negotiating table unless they feel that they will have some chance of success there. No-one wants to go to the negotiating table, raise the hopes of every individual who is thinking about a new world and then have to scuttle the talks and walk away.

This could be a psychological defeat for one or the other. It could bring tremendous despondency and despair to people in the area who believed that at long last they would get away from war. First, the north has to be convinced that it cannot win - a reversal of the attitude it appears to have adopted for some time - or, if it can win, that it cannot win for a long time and that the cost will not be worth it. Then the allies have to be convinced that when they come to the negotiating table there is a chance of success and that hostilities and attacks will cease, that we will get something like the 1954 Accord and that we will be able to say that this time it will work.

I do not think that any agreement could be made to work unless the border, whether it were at the 17th Parallel or somewhere else - I do not imagine it would be anywhere else, because you would not want to surrender something you so carefully went into in 1954 - was policed. Although Senator Cormack criticised the power of the United Nations to do this kind of thing - I know that events in the Congo do not give one great hope and heart - I suggest that it would be very much better if this kind o£ policing were done by the many rather than by the few, and certainly rather than by individuals. You have to be satisfied that this is possible, that there will be justice, that there will not be any more attacks and that on this occasion the terms of the agreement will be honoured.

When we think of bringing this terrible and vicious war to an end, we must remember that the Vietnamese people themselves - the people we must never forget in all this - are war weary and confused. Most of them have been in and out of wars for many years. I suppose some of them were born during wars and are now fighting in the armies. Often families have sons in the armed forces on both sides. They do not know which side will bomb their village, and they do not care very much whom they blame, because it is very hard to become interested in either side when you see governments collapsing around you, when you do not know where to get a lead, when you are hoping and praying, as you hear bombers overhead, that they are not heading for your village, when you are hoping that one of your sons is not fighting another. The war weariness of the Vietnamese people is something that hardly bears thinking about. Observers throughout the world - people like ourselves - naturally are most apprehensive that if this war goes on very much longer a spark could cause a great conflagration in which we could all be involved. This could happen at any time. In spite of all these things, peace must be kept in South East Asia so that other nations of the world may be given a chance finally to turn their eyes from the wars raging around them and so that they can devote their attention to developing their countries in their own way.

Debate interrupted.

Suggest corrections