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Wednesday, 5 May 1965

The PRESIDENT - Order! The honorable senator will withdraw that remark.

Senator Dittmer - I will withdraw it, Mr. President. I. was only being facetious.

The PRESIDENT - Order! The honorable Senator should not be facetious in such circumstances.

Senator PALTRIDGE - As I said, these Communists are active in this area that lies on the border of Malaysia and Thailand and are a continuing source of worry and concern to the Government of Thailand in the north east area of that country. In Laos the North Vietnamese Army, 200,000 strong and supported from Peking, is sup porting action by the Communist Pathet Lao in Laos. Is there one thing that I have said which is not correct? In Sarawak the clandestine Communist organisation, Peking orientated, is receiving support and assistance from Peking.

Senator Kennelly - ls the Minister sure that some of those are not the Moscow-

Senator PALTRIDGE - I specifically said Peking.

Senator Kennelly - I just wanted to make sure.

Senator PALTRIDGE - That is all right. The honorable senator should do his best to follow the argument. I have mentioned these things to indicate that any approach to the problem of South Vietnam which does not take into account the wide nature of the activities of aggressive Communism in this area is not an assessment that is worthwhile, yet this is the kind of assessment we have heard this afternoon from the Leader of the Opposition.

Before leaving the subject I want to say something about what the Labour Opposition is prepared to refer to as a civil war. Even the most cursory glance at the origin and record of the Vietcong reveals that the situation in South Vietnam is no mere civil war. The Vietcong, the military arm of the so-called National Liberation Front in South Vietnam, is the recognised and admitted instrument of the North Vietnamese Communist Party. Overall direction of the movement is the responsibility of the central committee of the North Vietnamese Communists - the Lao Dong Party itself. In North Vietnam the Lao Dong Party has created, in defiance of all the traditions of the Vietnamese people, the most rigidly controlled Communist State outside Communist China itself. The rule of fear has been imposed through the well known police system, reinforced by the largest standing army in Asia outside of Communist China. This is the system which the Vietcong is trying to impose upon the South Vietnamese. One of the means which they have used in the past in an effort to appeal to the peasantry of South Vietnam is the promise of their brand of economic and social reform and of social justice. But what, in fact, have these meant to the millions of Vietnamese in North Vietnam? It has meant the collectivisation, not the redistribution of the ownership of land. It has meant rigid rationing and not an abundance of food and materials. It has meant summary justice in accordance with the interests of the Communist Party and not justice based upon the rule of law. This is reflected at present in the not insignificant desertion rate among Vietcong infiltrators of northern origin who are seizing the opportunity of infiltration to leave North Vietnam permanently. The fact is that in South Vietnam successive governments have so far been hampered severely in achieving economic and social reforms although programmes for so doing do exist. Indeed, they have been partially implemented for large scale land reforms, the re-organisation of rice marketing procedures and general social improvements. That these schemes have not been completely carried out is not due to the lack of will to do so but to the lack of means in the face of the continued and increasing pressure of the Vietcong who have consistently assassinated or terrorised the provincial officials and village leaders who have attempted to implement the programme. School teachers have been a particular target. In 1964 alone, 436 South Vietnam hamlet chiefs and other Government officials were executed by the Vietcong and 1,131 were kidnapped.

Now I want to refer to the intervention of the North. The Leader of the Opposition had something to say about the lack of effect of this intervention. The intervention of the North, supported by Communist China, is becoming heavier and heavier. Since 1959 there have been up to 40,000 infiltrators from North Vietnam. For 1964 we have confirmation that between 5,000 and 8,000 personnel infiltrated and, because of the time lag between the actual infiltration and confirmation, the number is likely to be at least 10,000. The evidence suggests that approximately 75 to 80 per cent, of those who infiltrated during 1964 were born in North Vietnam. The infiltrators during 1964 and the early months of 1965 are thus different from previous infiltrators who were drawn from a pool of approximately 90,000 natives of South Vietnam who went north when the country was divided ten years ago.

I want to say something about military supplies because this was mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition. The great bulk of military supplies and requirements of the Vietcong is increasingly coming from outside South Vietnam.

Senator Kennelly - Will the Minister give us his informant?

Senator PALTRIDGE__Yes. This is information which has been collected and collated in Vietnam.

Senator Kennelly - By whom?

Senator PALTRIDGE - By people qualified to collect this information. 1 will to official publications in a little while. As I said, the great bulk of military supplies is increasingly coming from outside South Vietnam. Vietcong main force units have been for some time, and continue to be, equipped and trained with the latest Chinese Communist weapons. In February 1965, a month or two ago, a North Vietnamese vessel especially constructed in Communist China was sunk off the South Vietnam coast. It was carrying a cargo of mainly Communist Chinese weapons, sufficient to supply 3,000 men. An appraisal of a weapons cache discovered near where the vessel was sunk indicated that most of the weapons and ammunition contained in it were of Communist Chinese or Czechoslovakian manufacture except for a small number of Soviet carbines. A count of the equipment showed the following items of Chinese origin: 1500 stick grenades, 500 lbs. of T.N.T., 2,000 rounds of 82mm. mortar ammunition, 500 hand grenades, 500 rounds of 56mm. recoilless rifle ammunition, 1500 rounds of 75mm. recoilless rifle ammunition, 2 heavy machine guns, 2,000 Mauser rifles, 1,000 sub-machine guns and 15 light machine-guns. This was the result of the sinking of one ship and the discovery of one cache. I want to tell Senator Kennelly, who is interrupting, that when in Saigon recently, I had an opportunity to visit the military museum where I saw many weapons, captured from the Vietcong and bearing the marks of origin in Communist China, Russia or Czechoslovakia.

So much, then, for Senator McKenna's statement that this is a civil war. It is no civil war. It is a war in which the Communists from the north are exercising their highly developed techniques of the Trojan horse and the fifth column and putting into South Vietnam men and equipment not only to overthrow the Government of South Vietnam but also to imprison forever the South Vietnamese people. I have read with great interest what was said in another place by the Leader of the Australian Labour Party, Mr. Calwell, and I will refer to it before I sit down. Interestingly enough, in February the Leader of the Labour Party declared himself and his party to be in agreement with the policy being pursued by the Americans in South Vietnam.

Senator Ormonde - At that time.

Senator PALTRIDGE - I am glad the honorable senator has reminded me of that, because that was after the start of the big American bombing raids across the border into North Vietnam and after the first movement of United States formations into South Vietnam. The Leader of the Labour Party went on to suggest that all would be beautiful and wonderful if something were done to assist the people of South Vietnam, economically and socially. All I want to say in that respect is that if there is anything from which South Vietnam does not suffer today it is lack of moral support. Many countries are willing and able to give moral support. No fewer than 33 other countries are providing assistance to the South Vietnamese. It is so much clap-trap for the Opposition to say, in this situation, where economic and social aid are available to the South Vietnamese, that a continuation of this kind of aid will solve the problem. It will not.

At this point in their history the South Vietnamese people are intent upon developing their country and improving their own living standards. This is what they want, in common with most other people in the world. Left alone to mind their own business, this is what they would be proceeding to do. But what has happened? Communist subversion has prevented them from doing this. The Vietcong, armed, aided and abetted by the North Vietnamese, is carrying out a campaign against the civilian population of South Vietnam. As good and as high as the intentions of the South Vietnamese are, they are prevented from getting on with the development of their farms and cities and with the lifting of their living standards. They are prevented from doing these things by the Vietcong. They are in the situation of a farmer who wants nothing more than to develop his own farm, but a fire breaks out on his boundary fence - in this case the fire is inside the boundary - so that for the time being he has to drop his plans for developing the farm while he puts out the fire. South Vietnam, proceeding with its development, has attracted the support of one of the greatest democracies that the world has ever known - the United States of America.

The Opposition never gets tired of advancing the theory that there should be negotiation in Vietnam. This idea is lovely. But negotiation is a beautiful dream. We are told that we should do what U Thant wants us to do or what someone else wants us to do; that everyone should get around the negotiation table. I have never heard the Opposition say who will represent North Vietnam or the Communist powers at the negotiations, because they resolutely refuse to negotiate. When honorable senators opposite say that negotiations should occur I ask them: "With whom?". With whom should the negotiations be held? Or is it the intention of the Labour Party, as it is obviously the intention of the North Vietnamese, that if the South Vietnamese voluntarily agree to quit themselves of all the assistance they are getting, then at that time the North Vietnamese and the Chinese Communists will graciously come along and negotiate with the South Vietnamese? The proposition is simply this: The South Vietnamese are being asked by the Australian Labour Party and the Communist North Vietnamese to negotiate themselves out of the only position where they have any strength with which to negotiate. Of course the South Vietnamese and our American allies are not prepared to do that.

Senator Willesee - Does the Minister criticise President Johnson?

Senator PALTRIDGE - I will talk about him in a minute, because he has made some remarkable contributions towards a settlement of the situation in Vietnam. In his now famous Baltimore address President Johnson asked, rhetorically -

Why are we in Vietnam? Why are these realities our concern? Why are we in South Vietnam?

His answer was -

We are there because we have a promise to keep. Since 1954 every American President has offered support to the people of South Vietnam. We have helped to build, and we have helped to defend. Thus, over many years, we have made a national pledge to help South Vietnam defend its independence. And I intend to keep that promise.

To dishonour that pledge - to abandon this small and brave nation to its enemies - and to the terror that must follow - would be an unforgivable wrong.

We are also there to strengthen world order. Around the globe - from Berlin to Thailand - are people whose well-being rests in part on the belief that they can count on us if they are attacked. To leave Vietnam to its fate would shake the confidence of ali these people in the value of an American commitment and in the value of America's word. The result would be increased unrest and instability, and even war.

We are also there because there are great stakes in the balance. Let no one think for a moment that retreat from Vietnam would bring an end to conflict. The battle would be renewed in one country and then another. The central lesson of our time is that the appetite of aggression is never satisfied. To withdraw from one battlefield means only to prepare for the next. We must stay in South East Asia - as we did in Europe - in the words of the Bible: " Hitherto shall thou come, but no further ".

These are words we should all take to heart. This is the leader of a great democratic nation speaking of and in sympathy with a country that finds itself under actual military attack by the Communists. President Johnson has said on behalf of the American people and for the benefit of the free world: " This is where it stops. This far and no further." That is why the vast majority of Australians agree that by putting our flag alongside the American flag we are doing something for the freedom of the world. ft is in the Australian tradition to do this. Europe is a long long way away; yet, in a generation, because someone else's liberty was at stake, Australia supplied troops twice to suppress an aggressor. When freedom was in jeopardy, Australia assisted in the Berlin air lift. Now when freedom is attacked so much closer to our own country and with the stimulus of so much more national peril Australia has said: " We will take up our obligations. We will stop aggression. We will not permit aggression to go forward." The Americans do this because it is right and I believe we are acting for the same reason - not merely because we have an interest at stake but because it is the right thing to do.

Before I sit down I want to make particular reference to one or two questions which were asked by the Leader of the

Opposition. The honorable senator expressed some concern about the deployment of Australian troops. I want to make it clear to the honorable senator that if he had taken notice of the statements of the Prime Minister he would have learned that our decision to commit an Australian battalion to South Vietnam was made only after the fullest consultation not only with our own military advisers to ensure the soundness of the project as a military operation, but also with our allies. When the Prime Minister was able to make an announcement on Thursday night, he did so knowing that it was with the approval of the United Kingdom, the United States of America and South Vietnam.

Senator Kennelly - Did the Minister say the Prime Minister made the announcement with the approval of the United Kingdom?

Senator PALTRIDGE - It is in the

Prime Minister's speech. I might add that it would be inconsistent with the Australian pattern of conduct in this part of the world not to support economic aid as the Leader of the Opposition seemed to suggest. As is well known, we have continued to give aid to many Asian countries, including South Vietnam, over a long period of years. When the Prime Minister made his statement he made it perfectly clear that he, on behalf of the Government and the people of Australia, welcomed the offer made by President Johnson for economic and social aid to the extent of $1,000 million. The Prime Minister went on to say that we will continue our support of this type of activity.

I was disappointed - and I say so quite bluntly to the Leader of the Opposition - that he should have referred to the coincidence in timing of the announcement made by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in the United States balance of payments and the announcement of the commitment of an Australian battalion for Vietnam. I go further and say that it was completely out of character with the general behaviour and conduct of the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. I put it plainly to him that it does no good to say that he does not believe something and then to go on to talk about it for five minutes. If the Leader of the Opposition does not believe there is any connection between the Treasurer's announcement and the committal of a battalion to Vietnam - and I think he does not believe it - he would have been better advised to have said nothing about it. But if there is any lingering doubt in the mind of anyone that this is a diggers for dollars arrangement, let me give it the lie direct. This is the most contemptible charge that could have issued from anyone.

The Leader of the Opposition asked a number of questions about the role and the location of the Australian battalion which is to go to Vietnam. The honorable senator will appreciate my difficulty in this connection. However, 1 should like him to understand that the general pattern of the conduct of the war in Vietnam will follow the line that the Vietnamese Army itself will look after the pacification programme to which he referred. The other troops are in Vietnam for other purposes, some of which he mentioned, but they will not be employed in pacification tasks. The Leader of the Opposition asked for information of the chain of command. The Australian battalion is under the command of an Australian colonel. This battalion will form part of an American brigade but as is normal in operations of this kind waged since the Second World War, there will be available to the Australian commander access to the Australian Government when he feels that his troops are being unnecessarily or unduly placed in danger. 1 conclude on the note that I believe that our obligations under the S.E.A.T.O. and A.N.Z.U.S. pacts are real obligations. From those two treaties we derive great benefits both in the long run and in the short run. They give to us allies who would be valued by any country. But we must accept the fact that we do not get this sort of association for nothing. We have obligations and we must make our contributions. In the case of Vietnam, we have to make another appropriate contribution for the maintenance of peace in this particular area and for the development of peace generally.

Much has been said about the Americans. It is my personal belief, as it is the belief of the Government of which I am a member, that the task the Americans have undertaken in Vietnam and South East Asia generally, is a task which they accept as one of the factors in world leadership. Their duties and obligations extend to every part of the world. As I see history developing in the years to come, I believe that Australia New Zealand and the United States of America might have a rendezvous with destiny. In this part of the world, these three democratic nations together will set the standards on which the peoples of this area may live in peace and ever increasing security.

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