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Wednesday, 5 May 1965

Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) . - This debate has been really pathetic, particularly as we recall the lamentable statements that have been made and the tedious repetition about the expansion of Communism and the way in which we propose to stop it with 800 men. I pay a tribute to the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Paltridge) for the excellent speech wilh all its pathos, that he delivered today. 1 thought he was very impressive. Indeed, nobody could fail to be impressed by his oratory. I thought he made a grand speech on this occasion. He did not rely upon his eloquence alone but supported his oratory with figures which he submitted to the Senate. In that respect he differed from other speakers in this debate who have simply made statements without naming authorities to back them up. Two exceptions were Senator Morris and Senator Lillico who did have some backing or authority for their statements. However, they referred only to the expansion of Communism, the authorities being a resolution carried at a Communist Party meeting and the statement of a member of the United States Internal Security Committee as to the aims of the Communists.

Nobody has produced proof that a Chinese soldier has been captured while fighting in Vietnam or that there has been heavy infiltration by Communist forces, or by those who support the Communist ideology, into South Vietnam. Senator Paltridge gave some figures - one figure was 50,000 - in relation to personnel, machinery and ammunition captured in Vietnam. As support for those figures he stated that he had seen captured equipment in a museum when he was visiting Vietnam. When he was asked to name his authority, at first he said that he was the authority and then he said that the information came from Vietnam.

While I concede that Senator Paltridge made a brilliant speech, if the correctness of his figures is disproved, he was simply building up a false case, despite his eloquence. He could not substantiate anything he said, as I shall show during the course of my speech. The figures cited by the Minister disagree with those cited in an American White Paper brought out in February of this year, and with the figures cited by Mr. McNamara, the United States Secretary of Defence in his statement last week. Senator Paltridge could not tell us the source of his information and, as I have said, it does not agree with the figures included in American reports and the American White Paper. It is stated in the American White Paper that guns have been captured which were manufactured in other countries but it is not stated that they are of Chinese manufacture. Our Minister states that he saw hundreds of thousands of guns in a museum in Saigon. I do not know whether he was seeing double on that occasion, but the lack of authority for his figures is consistent with the way in which this debate has been conducted by honorable senators opposite. The Government has failed to lay the full facts on the table so that we may consider them.

Honorable senators will remember that last Thursday I asked a question of Senator Gorton, the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck) in this chamber. I asked whether it was true that 800 Australian combat troops were to be sent to South Vietnam and, if so, was it the result of the visit of the American special envoy, Mr. Cabot Lodge. If not, whose was the responsibility? Immediately I asked the first part of that question Senator Paltridge turned from the table to speak softly to the Minister behind him whose duty it was to answer my question. I do not know what Senator Paltridge said, but I do know that the Minister, who is Leader of the Government in the Senate, turned and engaged Senator Gorton in conversation. This immediately indicated to me that there was no need for the Minister to whom my question was directed to listen to the rest of my question because, for some reason or other, a direct answer would be evaded. Senator Paltridge, with his knowledge of parliamentary procedure, knows that it is wrong to commence a conversation - whether it was about the races or the football I do not know - with a Minister whose duty it is to listen to a question directed to him by an honorable senator so that he may furnish an accurate reply. It became very obvious to me that Senator Paltridge and Senator Gorton did not think it necessary to listen to my question because no attempt would be made to answer it accurately. Senator Gorton replied -

I know nothing of the matter which the honorable senator has raised. In fact. I have not even seen the report to which he referred.

At the very moment he was answering my question, the afternoon editions of the daily Press were coming out in the capital cities bearing headlines on the front page announcing the decision to send 800 troops to South Vietnam. The Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) has said that this was not a sudden decision; that it was made by Cabinet on 7th April. Perhaps, as it was a decision of the Cabinet, not the full Ministry, it was thought that the Minister who represents the Minister for External Affairs in the Senate was not sufficiently trustworthy to be told of it. For that reason, the information may have been withheld from him and his answer to me may have been truthful. However, one would think that the Government would appraise the representatives of Ministers in this chamber with accurate details concerning the departments they represent so that they can impart that information to keep honorable senators fully advised. One would also think that Senator Paltridge, as Leader of the Government in the Senate, would have brought his knowledge as a member of the Cabinet to assist Senator Gorton to advise the Senate of the exact position. I do not know whether he told Senator Gorton how to answer my question, but it seems to me that the Senate should not have been left in doubt. It was evident last Thursday that there was a desire to hide from the Senate information which, incidentally, was announced the previous night over an American radio station. The behaviour of

Senator Paltridgelast Thursday is consistent with his endeavours today to rely on his eloquence to carry him through, as the Prime Minister relies upon his glib tongue in another place. The rights of the people to the facts are disregarded.

The paper we are debating tonight tells us that the South Vietnamese Government has requested military aid. We are not even told whether South Vietnam wants our soldiers there. Its Government has asked for additional military aid. If we had been given the full facts, we would know whether we have been requested to supply troops. There is strong evidence that our troops could be an embarrassment in South Vietnam. We are simply told that we are sending troops as additional military aid. If it would have been possible for us to have taken alternative action, we have not been told about it.

The Opposition has not been taken into the confidence of the Government so that we could offer assistance. The information we are given is very far from the truth and is insufficient for the Opposition to determine whether it should support the Government's proposals. Honorable senators opposite blindly follow the lead that has been given and repeat in parrot fashion that we must stop the expansion of Communist China. No facts are given to support that statement. In order to cover the lack of facts to support its assertions, the Government attempts to establish that our aid to South Vietnam is not an isolated case. The Minister stated -

In addition to Australia and the United States, some 30 other countries are providing assistance or have undertaken to do so in the military or non-military aid fields. This includes assistance from a significant and important group of Asian countries, including the Philippines, Malaysia, Japan, Thailand and the Republic of Korea, who are contributing either economic or military aid.

There we have a statement that one cannot say that we are an isolated country coming to America's assistance. There are 30 other countries, some of which are named, giving military or non-military aid, that is, military or economic aid. The Minister does not state which countries are giving military assistance. To bolster up this weak case, the Government is linking this country's assistance to the American excursion into Vietnam with those countries which are trying to benefit South Vietnam by giving economic or non-military assistance. Those countries are linked in order to defend our attitude on this occasion. That is the way the Government approaches this question. The case of the Leader of the Government in the Senate was supported, I submit, by inaccurate figures. No one from- the other side of the chamber can hold out any possibility of a solution to this question other than fighting it out with guns and blasting it out with bullets. Senator Cole has the novel idea that the problem can be solved by cutting off trade with China and banning peace movements. That is his solution, but the others want bullets.

Looking at this question we see that there was a failure on the part of the Government to take us into its confidence. The matter had been decided on 7th April. No security was involved. Troops were not moving and subject to attack. There was only a decision to send troops. Although the matter was decided on 7th April, the decision could not even be entrusted three weeks later to the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs in this chamber. It could not even be disclosed to the responsible Minister. Three weeks later he knew nothing about it. Does it not make one suspicious that there may be something in the report of the statement of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold' Holt), which was read by Senator Kennelly? Is it any wonder that we hear reference to dollars for bodies, bullion for bodies - an expression that was used, I think, in the other place - and dollars for blood? Is it cause for suspicion that this decision is made right at the time when there is a revolt in the American Senate, members of which are leading a big section of American opinion in favour of withdrawal from Vietnam? At this time we come to the assistance of the American Government, which can say: " America is not isolated in the fight. Now we cannot withdraw. We have to consider what Australia has done on this question."

I spoke quite recently on the subject of Vietnam. I endeavoured to deliver a speech that I had thought out. No criticism was made of the argument I advanced, other than by Senator Cormack. The argument was that Communism bred in the social conditions that exist in South East Asia, that its only hope of success was in a period of war and that all advances of Communism had been in periods of war. I said that conditions had been festering in South Vietnam to such an extent that there was a revolt, that we supplied the very munitions that would permit a takeover by Communist forces in Vietnam, and that we would do it in every other country in turn unless we approached the entire question differently. Conditions are getting difficult in the south, so we start bombing the north to try to impede the inflow of arms from the north. As I said in an earlier speech, according to the words of the United States Secretary for Defence, Mr. McNamara, there was no evidence of any great infiltration or inflow of armaments in South Vietnam up to 1963. An American White Paper showed that in 1964 there were only 19,550 confirmed foreign troops in South Vietnam, with an estimated additional 17,550. If the estimate was right, this was a total of 37,100, not 50,000 as an honorable senator opposite told us today, reading from a document which he asked us to swallow and accept as authentic, although he could not disclose the name of the author.

Last week a Washington correspondent of the London " Times " interviewed Mr. McNamara to ascertain how the war was going in Vietnam, with our support and the bombing of the north. According to the correspondent, one could only conclude that bombing had encouraged, rather than impeded, the infiltration from the north. He went on -

It is perhaps impertinent to question Mr. McNamara, but as he is the prime source of such information a comparison of official estimates is one of the few means of assessment left to ordinary mortals. The strength of the Vietcong, he said today, was from 38,000 to 46,000 regulars and 100,000 local part time guerrillas. The official White Paper, entitled "Aggression from the North ", published on 28th February, estimated the regular strength at 35,000 and the volunteers at from 60,000 to 80,000. Thus, if one arrives at a mean figure, in less than two months the hard core has been increased by 20 per cent, end the local volunteers by rather more than 40 per cent.

While we can say that there is infiltration from the north by additional troops, it is being supported by local guerrillas. The conflict is becoming more of a civil war than it ever was before the intervention took place. The support of the local inhabitants of Vietnam against the attacks made on them is greater today than it was previously. The report continues -

The Secretary blamed what he called an intelligence lag, but insisted that the Vietcong had been greatly reinforced. No explanation was offered for the increase of South Vietnamese support, although 'ii picture published in the "New York Times " today of a terrified peasant woman clutching a baby and Fleeing from American marines as they charged into her hut is perhaps one explanation.

This is the impression that we have of South Vietnam today. The activities of these forces are winning support over to the Vietcong. The report goes on to say -

The bombing was begun to stop interference from Hanoi and a temporary cessation has been rejected because North Vietnam may draw the wrong conclusion. Nevertheless, Mr. McNamara admits, or claims, that the flow of men and weapons has increased. To say the least, the lesson of the bombing of London and Hamburg, which only strengthened the will to resist, has been ignored.

We blow up bridges, we blow up trains, we make it impossible for these means of transport to be used, but the influx of arms into South Vietnam is increasing. Yet we claim that we are making some progress. The article goes on -

The White Paper made much of the sinking of a ship with a cargo capacity of 100 tons, and no subsequent hauls have been announced. The Secretary said today that since 1960 the Vietcong have captured 39,000 weapons from Government troops and lost 25,000. This represents a net gain of some 14,000 weapons, no mean armament for such a small force, and presumably of American manufacture.

There, in Mr. McNamara's own words, we are told where the arms are coming from. On the basis of the figures contained in the White Paper, the captured weapons represent about 2i per cent, of the imported armaments used by the Vietcong.

If anyone asks the delegation which went to Vietnam last year and visited the Australian instructors who are teaching the South Vietnamese, he will be told that the main trouble is that for every 1,000 men to whom the instructors teach the art of warfare, only 500 ever fight for South Vietnam. The rest are gone. It could well be that our instructors in South Vietnam are training members of the Vietcong because there is no guarantee that the local inhabitants will fight for the Government of South Vietnam. If that information is authentic, we could withdraw those 100 Australian instructors tomorrow without doing a disservice to the cause in South Vietnam because we are training as many soldiers for the Vietcong as we are for the Government of South Vietnam. The article then goes on to say -

The White Paper insisted that the war was not a spontaneous and local rebellion but an undisguised attack from the north. Today the Secretary said that the Vietcong has lost 89,000 men in the past four and a half years.

If the latest estimate of Vietcong strength is accepted, it represents a casualty ratio of about 200 per cent. This sombre picture must surely suggest that the struggle is essentially a civil war in spite of the help that comes from the north.

This high casualty ratio suggests that even if as has been claimed, a battalion of North Vietnamese regular soldiers is engaged in South Vietnam, this is insignificant when compared with the number engaged in the conflict. The report continues in these terms -

At present only one North Vietnamese unit has been identified, the 2nd Battalion, 101st Regiment, 325th Division. The Secretary thought that it numbered about 500 men. The remainder, whether they came from the north or south, were presumably volunteers

That is the position in Vietnam today. Everything points to the fact that the harder we fight this war the quicker we are losing the battle.

In my earlier speech I said to the Senate that this side of the House was as much concerned as the Government side in stopping the expansion of Communism. But we ask the Government to face up to the realities. The Allies lost Russia to Communism during the First World War; the Allies lost China to Communism during the Second World War. Today we are losing Vietnam and we will lose not only Laos, Thailand and some other countries, but the whole of South East Asia. The threat of Communism which we fear on our front doorstep will become a real threat if Communism fights ils way successfully against Australian troops to the northern shores of Australia. We must try to stop the march of Communism by means other than sending troops to Vietnam.

Peter Smart, a reporter for the "Australian " and the Adelaide " News " had an article in the 30th April 1965 issue of the Adelaide "News" under a Canberra date line relating to the proposal to send 800 Australian troops to Vietnam. He wrote -

But they are now going to a different sort of war - a war of flitting shadows and sudden, shrill violence.

It is a war of cruelty and torture, of betrayal and subversion, with death in every rice field and jungle valley.

They will have casualties, heavy casualties.

The Australian public will have to prepare for a heavy death roll and frequent grim news.

At this time, despite the ominous lull in the fighting in South Vietnam the death toll in that unhappy and war weary country is about 2,500 a month.

That is the country to which we are sending our troops. Everything points to the fact that we are sending them to assist the very cause that we hope to stem and stop.

Time will not permit me to go further into this matter but I point out that there is a complete answer to the question of the expansion of Communist China. Let me state briefly that if Communism is to take over areas of South East Asia, there must be first the conditions on which revolt thrives. A liberation movement aided by the supporters of an international ideology must involve warfare and this often enables Communism to take over control of a country even though the people are not prepared to accept it. In the developing Asian countries there will be a system of government which is different from that in other countres. It would be a form of Communism but it would differ from country to country. When the Communists change the form of government in a country they claim it is for the purpose of developing the land to the utmost to permit a more equitable distribution of wealth which is so essential for the livelihood of the inhabitants of that country.

Are we opposed to that? Is it anything to do with us if these countries seek another form of government? We are ensuring that governments are changed only with the backing of what we term a world wide imperialist power which seeks world domination. This will result in setting up a number of governments which owe allegiance to the ideology that we are afraid of today. We will have a friend in none of them. We are doing this in company with America which has made a mistake. There is an uprising of American opinion which wants to withdraw from this unholy war in Vietnam. To appease the United States Government, and contrary to the popular feeling of the American people, we are preparing to sacrifice the lives of our sons in the hope that we will obtain consideration in commercial transactions with that country.

Senator Gorton - I wish to make a personal explanation. At the beginning of his speech Senator Cavanagh claimed that last Thursday when he asked a question of me concerning the despatch of troops to Vietnam the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Paltridge) turned to me and said something and, as a result of this, I gave to Senator Cavanagh the answer that I gave. From this he drew various conclusions in the course of his speech. It may be a minor matter against the background of the subject that we are discussing, but since it is a part of the record, I should like to put it straight. On Thursday when Senator Cavanagh asked me a question the Leader of the Government in the Senate did not turn to me. He did not say anything at all to me or to any other honorable senator on this side of the chamber. The answer that I gave to the question asked by Senator Cavanagh was an accurate answer. It was in no way influenced by anything that was said by the Leader of the Government in the Senate because, in fact, he said nothing.

Senator Paltridge - I wish to make a personal explanation. It arises from the same reference in Senator Cavanagh's speech. It is completely untrue to say that I said anything whatever to Senator Gorton immediately after the question was asked by Senator Cavanagh. It is completely wrong to try to create the impression which Senator Cavanagh has tried to create twice today. There was no conversation at all between myself and Senator Gorton on the occasion referred to.

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