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Tuesday, 6 April 1965

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) .- I believe that never before in our time in the Senate have we approached a debate on foreign affairs with a greater cause for anxiety because of the gravity of the situation. When I read the statement presented by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck) in which he says that there is a dual issue confronting the country - the first is its survival and the second is the establishment of decent principles of behaviour internationally - I believe that this Senate and this Parliament need a little alerting to their responsibility to the people of this country not merely in an oratorical but in a real sense. It seems to me that we should begin- one hears incoherent remarks upon this subject, the product of some weeks of anxious consideration - to acknowledge, first of all, the import of the statement of the Minister for External Affairs. I believe it showed a thoughtful understanding and an awareness of the many issues involved in the present situation. I am very grateful to the Minister for that statement, which he presented to the Parliament after a most impressive, visit to Europe, Asia and America.

The second thing I want to say in this debate is that I believe that on this occasion the political parties represented in the Parliament have come closer to a sense of national unity than on any previous occasion. For myself, I do not regard this debate as an opportunity in any sense to develop any argument of party political significance. I am particularly indebted to Senator Cavanagh for his speech of two weeks ago, when he put before us a most thoughtful thesis. I did not quite agree with some of his conclusions; nevertheless, I believe that there would be merit in. thinking along the lines he followed.

The Minister's statement was divided into four compartments. He dealt first with the situation in Vietnam; secondly, with Australia's relationships with Asia; and, thirdly, with the United Nations. I acknowledge most gratefully his treatment of the United Nations or, perhaps I should say, the analytical way in which he gave attention to that subject, but I must express some degree of disappointment with his treatment of the matter in the sense of indicating any action. I will return to that in a moment. In the fourth compartment of his speech he referred to world affairs.

I wish to deal rather briefly with four subjects, but with no sense that time presses in the Senate tonight. I will' deal, first with Vietnam; secondly, with Indonesia; thirdly, with Che United Nations; and fourthly - as the appendix to the Minister's speech most thoughtfully revealed to us- with the relevance of the subject of a united Europe. With regard to Vietnam, we have heard it stated that the division of this unhappy country - this primitive country, as I understand - had its origin in the Geneva treaty of 1954, when, to put an end to the war which was vexing France, an artificial line was drawn and governments were set up for the two countries north and south of that line. I am not qualified to speak about conditions in those countries, but my understanding is that the areas are primitive, economically backward and undeveloped. Very soon after the signing of that treaty there was contention and, from both the south and the north, came accusations of non-compliance with the treaty. The northern Communist Government was ready with the accusation that ' the south had allowed entry pf American arms and influence, contrary to a specific provision of the treaty.

If we examine the situation in North Vietnam we find there a government, as Senator Benn said, moulded on the dictatorial pattern of Communist China and undoubtedly espousing the Communist purpose. That immediately drives one to reflect upon whether or not the problem that these opposing forces present can find a solution in either war or peace. I think the situation confronts the most studious statesman and the most resolute protagonist of peace with a problem that is very difficult indeed. We start with the proposition that it is established - the Minister's statement brings the matter right up to date - that the North Vietnamese have infiltrated South Vietnam with guerrilla bands of military personnel, that they hold in reserve great military forces and that they are steadily equipping their country, through the channels of communication that exist, with ammunition bases and supply lines.

That seems to suggest to any reasonable person that here we have the approach and the apparatus of a typical Communist front. When you have the situation that attacks by guerrilla bands whose organisation undoubtedly comes from north of the border are being made over the border I believe you must be convinced, by reason, that at the 17rh parallel today there is a line from which Communist attack and aggression is forging ahead. It is the unhappy conclusion of the Minister for External Affairs that not only here but also generally throughout the world - I will deal with this more regretfully in my reference to the United Nations - people must devote their attention to the realities of power politics until some other system is accepted by the great powers as well as by the multitudinous small powers. There we have a typical Communist approach. We must interpret it as Chamberlain should have interpreted Hitler through " Mein Kampf", but, unfortunately, he had never read that book. We must interpret this approach through the announcements of Chinese Communist policy which have been made. To me, the inescapable conclusion is that a concentration of force has been developed for the purpose of moving the Communist front forward by force. This is being done not by open declaration of war but by means more appropriate to propaganda through the guerrilla effort.

In this connection, some very thoughtful remarks fell from the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) in the course of the debate in another place. He reminded the Parliament that we should look to the various fronts that have been established for a reconciliation between the Communist countries and the Western World. The first one is in Berlin, and allied to that is the division between East and West Germany. Let me hasten to add that I see some justification for the Russian attitude in dividing Germany. I am very seised of the last contest that took place between these countries and I recall the formidable potential of the German nation for atrocity, horror and aggression which cannot be lightly removed. But the fact is that ever since that front was established with Communist Russia, there have been major incidents. First there was the Berlin blockade. Since then there has been the cold war with constant heat developing due to the fear that Communist aggression is exerting against its neighbour. Another artificial line has been established in Korea. Then there is the artificial line in Vietnam.

To me, the conclusions are inescapable, and here we are speaking of Vietnam: If we realise the purpose and programme of the Communists on this front, we have to be resolute, not only by means of war which will not solve this problem itself, but also by diplomacy and intelligence to use our maximum effort to reconcile these great forces at the peace table. But we have to be absolutely resolute to hold the front against aggression by force until the general body of world opinion will concentrate to force the combatants into a reasonable solution. Therefore I believe a great debt is owed to the United States, of America for providing, first, advice in economic aid, then advice in military strategy and finally military assistance, to enable the South Vietnamese to hold that front.

We should throw our minds back to American opinion of 25 years ago and consider how much American opinion has expanded relative to its responsibilities. Twentyfive years ago the United States was renouncing any responsibility for involvement in Europe. It took quite a long time to be persuaded that Hitler had his plans actually to attack the United States after the fall of France and Great Britain. Since that time, as the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck) has stated, due to the greatness of the United States both in its outlook and strength, it now has the first responsibility for the containment of Communism. It is a matter for gratitude on the part of this nation that the United States has acknowledged that role and accepted it despite the fact, as Senator Cohen reminded us by interjection tonight, that there are many people in the United States - some of them very thoughtful and devoted people - who criticise the Administration for involvement in Vietnam.

I.   believe, however, that there is no confidence' that the campaign in Vietnam will be won by war, having regard to the nature of the country and the campaign. As Senator Mattner said tonight, all the circumstances and the nature of the country defy the application to the war there of ordinary rules of military strategy and campaigning. I do not believe that a resolution of this problem will come by war; but war is the means that must necessarily be employed to prevent the onward march of aggression by the northern Communists.

We come now to the fact that since 7th February, according to authorised channels of communication, the United States has started more openly to attack the bases and forces north of the 17th parallel in Vietnam. I do not give any jingoistic support to that decision. I support it because the Minister for External Affairs has said it should be supported and I realise from the documents he has put before us that the Department of External Affairs is very comprehensively informed on these matters. I have confidence in the channels of communication between the Australian Government and the United States Government. But I want to criticise the Government I support for not taking purposeful action to advise the Australian people immediately this revolution in the American attitude took place.

The Australian Government should have told the people- just what activities the Americans were retaliating against. It should have kept Australia comprehensively informed from day to day on the attacks from North Vietnam against which we had to retaliate; on the concentration of troops and the military significance of bridges and roads that were the subject of attack. We live in a democracy and every thoughtful man in Australia is entitled to have these facts put before him. It is not as if this campaign depended in any sense for the success of its strategy on the concealment of any of these things. When certain news channels publicised the fact that America had resorted to the use of gas warfare, there was a natural revulsion in the mind of everybody who remembered what had happened in France and the discussions that occurred about the use of gas in the Russian campaign in the Second World War. The Government of this country had an imperative duty to ascertain the facts immediately and to ensure, having regard to the credit that can be attached to what is sometimes called propaganda but what I shall call news information, that we as a country are informed accordingly.

It was only after days of anxiety that I was satisfied upon reading a statement from the President of the United States of America and from the Embassy of the Republic of Vietnam to the effect that gas had been used on only three occasions during minor local military operations; that it was tear gas of a type which momentarily disabled the enemy, putting him out of combat, and was in no way lethal or noxious; that humanitarian considerations were the sole motives leading to the use of the gas, as the Vietcong have often resorted to barbarous methods, using innocent villagers as a protective screen on the battlefield and mingling with the peasants in villages to launch attacks on opposing troops; and that thus the use of non-lethal gas will spare the lives of innocent villagers in tactical situations where conventional weapons are not desirable.

Senator Cavanagh - Does the honorable senator think that two wrongs make a right?

Senator WRIGHT - I prefer to ignore that interjection. It is not on the level on which I wish to discuss this matter. That statement establishes in my mind the fact that not poison gas but a modified form of tear gas has been used. I mention this matter because I claim that we must be much more vigilant in ensuring that there is a proper understanding of the facts if we are to generate the united strength that this nation requires in such a predicament. Mr. President, I understand that it is desired to interpose other business. Regretfully, I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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