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Thursday, 6 May 1965

Senator BISHOP (South Australia) . - My opinion is that the Government has a fixation about the effectiveness of military operations. On this occasion and during previous debates on international affairs we of the Australian Labour Party have made it quite clear that we do not take the view that America should withdraw from Vietnam but we do believe that the Australian Government - not relying on some other government - should take a stronger line in relation to negotiations and a stronger line in relation to social, economic and political advances in South Vietnam and in all countries of South East Asia with which we are allied under the South East Asia Treaty Organisation. On each occasion when we have raised this matter there have been only apologies from Government spokesmen.

This latest decision by the Australian Government has been taken at a time when S.E.A.T.O. discussions are being held, when our Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck) is saying that there is an imminent danger of war in South East Asia and when the British Foreign Secretary is saying that the British Government cannot commit troops to South Vietnam because it is already very heavily committed in Malaysia. We believe that Australia should be strongly and actively pursuing every possibility of negotiation. On the issue of negotiations and on the importance of the social, economic and political aspects of the situation in Vietnam, the Opposition has always disagreed with the Government, and will continue to do so.

The Australian Government has apparently committed itself, with the United States of America, to a policy which will mean that the war in South Vietnam will no longer be on a limited basis, as was the pattern in 1964. Instead there will be an escalation of the conflict.

An important point was made by Senator Turnbull and it is of major significance to Australia as well: How can we afford to send a quarter of our armed fighting men to South Vietnam at a time when the challenge from other powers in our area is becoming stronger and Malaysia, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, is likely to demand our active assistance? The United Kingdom Government cannot afford to send troops to South Vietnam because it has already 20,000 troops in Malaysia. The potential of Great Britain is much greater than ours, as is the potential of the United States of America; but if you listen to the statements in this Senate and in another place by Ministers, including the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies), you would think we have the great manpower and economic potential of the U.S.A., China and the Soviet Union. We just have not got that potential, and we should measure this question on the basis of whether we can afford to give this assistance when our own position might be challenged.

We should consider the need for the Australian Government to take a strong line through peaceful methods so that we can instil within the countries we support the ideals of freedom, the establishment of a sound economy and stability. These are all factors in the production of good fighting men. On many occasions the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator McKenna) has pointed out that under the South East Asia Treaty Organisation arrangements we are obliged to assist wherever we can in developing the pattern of freedom and improving the economic and social welfare of the people. We have never taken this up in South Vietnam as a mission nor have we ever seriously considered it.

I asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Paltridge) a pertinent question this morning in that connection because, for the first time, at the S.E.A.T.O. conference being held in London, the Minister for External Affairs has made the important point with some strength that military action alone cannot necessarily win this sort of war and that the real basis of the fight rests on convincing these people that they must be removed from poverty. That must apply strongly in a country which has very low standards of living. For these reasons alone the Australian people should look seriously at this proposal to send Australian troops to assist South Vietnam.

We should also be watchful against an extension of this move. Figuratively, this is only a foot in the door. If the escalation continues and we find, as we have reason to expect, that the intrusion of Communist China and North Vietnam becomes more purposeful and leads to more important and more practical military action, we will have been committed. Our young people will be committed to continue to add to a stream of reinforcements to help a country which in itself is not on a proper basis to fight such a war. These are the premises on which the Opposition unanimously takes the view that our troops should not be sent to these countries. Over the years, we have agreed unswervingly to the utmost economic aid and political assistance that we can give in places such as Vietnam. I do not speak against such assistance because I think this is the key to any successful campaign in the area.

I was interested in the references made by Senator Laught to Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister of Singapore. Senator Laught said he had had discussions with Mr. Lee Kuan Yew when he was in Canberra. So also had we. Honorable senators can read the life story of this man in the Parliamentary Library if they wish to do so. We must remember that Mr. Lee is putting up the same sort of thesis in relation to his own problem in Malaysia as we are. Mr. Lee is arguing that the real basis of successful work against Communist intrusion and subversion is to raise the social standards of the people of Malaysia and to establish a system of political democracy. This is the note he strikes and it is a note of which we should be aware in relation to his visit to Australia. It is why some of Mr. Lee's comments in Australia were criticised by the Malaysian rulers.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 4 p.m.

Senator BISHOP - Before the suspension of the sitting, I referred to the view that had been expressed by the Prime Minister of Singapore and suggested that his attitude might he considered by supporters of the Government as indicating the sort of policy that a democratic government might pursue in the present situation and that it might serve to explain the position that the Opposition in this Parliament takes up in relation to the struggle against Communism. The history of the trade union activities of the Prime Minister of Singapore reveals that at one time he was regarded as being a left winger or a Communist. I believe that in some quarters he is still so regarded, because he believes that the only way in which a war can be waged successfully against infiltration, subversion and Communism is to institute as many democratic processes as possible and to achieve a high standard of living with stable economic conditions. He has told us that he has this problem in his own country, but as far as we can see he is handling the problem successfully. What he has said should not only be of importance to us in our attitude to Malaysia but also it ought to be an indication of the attitude we should adopt towards South Vietnam.

We of the Opposition have complained about the way in which the matter we are now debating was brought before the Parliament. The Leader of the Opposition in another place, Mr. Calwell, has pointed out the difficulty that he experienced in obtaining information about the proposal to send troops overseas. The Minister for External Affairs has said that the situation in South Vietnam could quite easily lead to a major war. Yet, before the proposal was announced, the Prime Minister did not consult initially with the Leader of the Opposition. How can a Government expect to win a war without the good officers and the constructive opinions of the Opposition of the day? Having regard to the statements of Government leaders some months ago that assistance to South Vietnam was under review, it was quite improper for the Prime Minister to make his announcement in the way he did without first having consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. No parliamentary system can survive unless there is some sort of liaison between the Opposition and the Government. Such a relationship lies at the very root of democracy.

The Opposition has been annoyed also about the lack of consideration that was extended to the Leader of the Opposition in not providing him with an opportunity to have consultations with Mr. Cabot Lodge when he recently visited Australia. An opportunity for such consultations is all the more important if it is believed that the struggle in South Vietnam is so important and dangerous as to warrant the use of a greater number of armed forces in that country. We can only assume that the request - if it was a request - for, and the decision to send, troops to Vietnam stemmed from the urgency of the situation in that country. If a Government proceeds from sound premises, it must have regard to the co-operation that the Opposition can give. We have always said that the Government cannot expect to involve the Opposition in an action which might lead to war if it acts on motives which the Opposition does not accept. We believe that this Government has a fixation about the use of purely military means to overcome problems such as those which exist in South Vietnam. We agree that economic aid to the value of approximately £6 million - by now it might be more - has been given to countries in South East Asia. Of that sum about £3 million or £3± million has been given to Vietnam. But this Government has shown no initiative in encouraging a stable and democratic system of government in South Vietnam or in trying to persuade the rulers of that country to adopt economic measures which might win back to them the support of the people who are now being influenced by the Communist Vietcong.

We must consider the background of events in South Vietnam. I have not the time now to do more than briefly indicate broad agreement about some of the historical facts that have been mentioned by Opposition speakers and to some extent by speakers on the other side of the Senate. It is of no use saying that this is simply a struggle against Communist forces and policies emanating from the Communist in China. We must have regard to the struggle that was organised against the French, to the combination of nationalist forces which later split into two groups, to the Geneva Agreement, and to the fact that certain elements of the nationalist forces later came under Communist influence and took up a strong position in South Vietnam. In many areas those forces have been in occupation for 20 years. They control large sections of the country simply by reason of the fact that they have been there for so long. Indeed, those who have been watching the situation know that in many places the existing Government of South Vietnam accepts the position that in some areas two sets of taxes are levied upon the peasants, the rubber planters and so forth. In other words, the Government of that country and the Communist forces are imposing taxes, both of them accepting the situation that they both have to work in those areas.

We must have regard not only to the historical background to which I have referred but also to the impact of unstable government. We of the Opposition are not the only ones to say that there has been a great deal of instability in South Vietnam. Indeed, the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Paltridge) made that very point when he returned recently from his trip overseas. But we should not encourage an attitude which leads one to say: " Yes, there is instability. But what can we do about it?" If the Australian Government, as an instrument of the S.E.A.T.O. alliance, is to be effective in encouraging the adoption of higher standards of living and the establishment of free institutions in such countries, it ought to take some initiative. It ought to be playing a greater role in these matters and should not be content with saying: " We have given economic aid. That is as far as we can go." Having listened to the words that have been uttered by leaders of the Government, one cannot help but gain the impression that they are not playing a very persuasive part in helping to improve the conditions of people in South East Asia.

On 23rd March last, the Minister for External Affairs had this to say in another place, as reported at page 232 of " Hansard " -

We are told from time to time that, while external aid can help, it is for the people of South Vietnam themselves to establish a political regime which will withstand internal subversion. We must remember, however, that the South Vietnamese are not dealing simply with a situation of local unrest, but with a large-scale directed' campaign of assassination and terrorism, and the direction comes from outside, it would be a dangerous thing to argue that, because subversive elements inspired from outside have achieved some success in creating instability within a country, these elements thereby earn the right to become the government of that country.

As 1 interpret the Minister's remarks, he said that, even if you say that political democracy ought to be established, you cannot establish it where you have subversion. The fact is that many of these subversive elements have not come from the north but are local South Vietnamese who are not satisfied with economic conditions in that country.

In regard to negotiation, we say that this Government ought to show initiative similar to that which has been shown, not only by the present Labour Government in the United Kingdom, but also by its predecessor. The attitude of the Minister for External Affairs has been developed by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Paltridge). In the speech to which I have referred, the Minister for External Affairs said -

It is not a valid policy to call for negotiation unless there is a clear idea what is to be the outcome of negotiation.

He referred to the necessity for negotiations to be very real and" the necessity to consider whether one should withdraw or not. I remind honorable senators that this discussion was taking place a few days before the President of the United States made the statement which apparently surprised the Government. The President made it very clear that the Americans would talk anywhere.

The Opposition wants the Government to pursue a policy actively directed towards negotiations. It is not good enough to say: " If you attempt to negotiate now, nobody will talk with you ". The fact is that we have never tried to negotiate nor accepted that as an obligation. Apparently, we have been content to ride along with the tide and rest on the decisions of the U.S.A. This is wrong. We should be making statements similar to those now being made by the British Foreign Minister at the South East Asia Treaty Organisation Conference, even though the diplomatic situation raises great difficulty and, from the point of view of escalation, the position is very grave. In view of the current situation, the Opposition believes that our mechanical problems of defence will be aggravated by the decision to send our troops .overseas.

Consideration must also be given to the political instability of South Vietnam. Unless the Government is prepared to take the initiative in this connection, some alternative should be discovered. I put it to the Senate that the lesson should be understood now that the only way effectively to combat Communism is to act democratically. This is the method of the trade union movement and the method used successfully by Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister of Singapore.

Senator Cavanagh,I think, made the point that you cannot beat Communism in a country of poverty. I appreciate that it is difficult to establish political freedom and a legislature in a country which is war torn, but I suggest that the Government has never appreciated the importance of that point in its contributions to S.E.A.T.O. Nor has it demonstrated that realisation in statements made by Government supporters in this Parliament. We are informed by the Minister for External Affairs of various changes in Government and military personnel in South Vietnam. Too many changes have occurred for me to quote them now. There have been more than ten. An honorable senator referred to the changes in executive control in the military revolutionary council in attempts to move towards a national congress. If I were to cite now all the circumstances of the changes, I would be here for some hours. It is important to note that unfortunately South Vietnam is ruled by military personnel who, although they are most important in their sphere of operations, must always be an adjunct to a democratic parliament. At various times, South Vietnam has been ruled by 14 generals out of 18. The position has shifted backwards and forwards. Strikes and demonstrations against the Government have been staged. There are, of course, religious difficulties which stand in the way of a move towards a national assembly. As a people who believe in free institutions - as Senator McKenna has said - it is our obligation under S.E.A.T.O. to encourage a move towards a national parliament.

The situation in South Vietnam is turbulent. In the past, some regions have been controlled by military generals who might well have been replaced by civilian mayors. I am aware that somebody might say that the Government has a pacification policy in South Vietnam and that economic measures cannot be carried out because economic advisers who are sent to villages are quickly done away with. This is no solution. There must be an evaluation of the situation. The

Australian Government must follow the policy which, it seems to me, the Minister for External Affairs is putting forward at the present S.E.A.T.O. Conference. It is a policy which he did not embrace last year and which emphasises the importance of freedom of economic planning.

In July of last year I visited South Vietnam. I do not want it thought that 1 proposed a withdrawal of U.S. forces in South Vietnam. It is certainly true that a change ought to be made, with assistance from Australia and the United States of America, towards a civilian or parliamentary system. As I said earlier, some peasants are paying two taxes. That was the situation when I visited that country and I believe that it still obtains. I understand that land taxes are still being paid to absentee landlords. I also gained the impression that the military activities there were not being properly prosecuted. I saw young men being trained in South Vietnam in an academy of the West Point type. Their training was equivalent to university training. It occurred to me that, for the purposes of guerrilla warfare, it would have been preferable to have used the talents of the peasants in the lower ranks who might be allowed to earn commissions in the field.

It has been claimed by people who understand the military situation in Vietnam that there is not much difference between the fighting abilities of the North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese, but that the people who have gone to the North have been brainwashed and are more dedicated fighters. They are opposed by people who have not been trained in guerrilla fighting but have been given the training that is approved from the Western point of view. If South Vietnam forces are to operate effectively they should be trained in the needs of guerrilla warfare. In World War II we learned of the advantages of guerrilla activity. Guerrilla activity in support of the Allies was only effective because it had the support of the civilian population. Training must be given to the South Vietnamese in methods to combat the subversive activities of the elements trained by the Communists who have come down from the North. The civilian population - the ordinary people who make the area their home - will not react strongly against the Communists unless they feel that they are a part of the total activity.

Since Ngo Dinh Diem was deposed in November 1963 there have been at least 14 occasions when the heads of the State, or the Prime Minister, have been deposed. Three attempts have been made to set up a national council which would incorporate civilian elements. In the most recent move, General Khanh was deposed and made an ambassador. I believe that the criticism I have made regarding the Government's view on political regimes is reflected in the statement of the Prime Minister when he referred to Diem, who had maintained some stability in South Vietnam. The Prime Minister made the point that our criticism is often misplaced when we refer to military juntas and the lack of universal control by the South Vietnamese people. At page 1112 of " Hansard " of 4th May, he is reported as saying -

Now Sir, this is a matter which, I venture to say, is unarguable -

He is referring to the need to stop the civil war - but the last point that the Leader of the Opposition undertook to make was that in South Vietnam there was a poor government - a corrupt government. This word " corrupt " comes trippingly to the tongue. Every government of this kind is " corrupt " or it is " Fascist ". 1 know of no evidence that the Quat Government in South Vietnam is corrupt. 1 certainly have had no evidence that the Government of Ngo Dinh Diem was corrupt. I thought he was a brave and honest little man, and a patriot.

I come now to what has been said about Ngo Dinh Diem in a document issued by the Embassy of the Republic of Vietnam in Canberra. I shall quote from a document entitled "The Revolution of November 1st 1963."- It states -

On November 1st 1963 after a secret and swift movement of troops into Saigon, several units of the Vietnamese armed Forces began an attack on the basic points of Ngo Dinh Diem's defence system, and overcame all resistance within less than a day.

For nine years the Ngo Dinh Diem Government had pursued a dictatorial and tyrannical policy. Power was concentrated in the hands of the Ngo family and those of a number of their close, incompetent and interested collaborators whose main concern was to humiliate themselves in flattery before Diem, Nhu, Can and Le Xuan (Nhu's wife).

The natural and necessary outcome of the situation therefore had to be the overthrow of the Ngo regime. The whole Vietnamese population was united in hopes for a coup d'etat.

Bringing about the reforms which had been consistently denied to the people, the Revolution resurrected political activities, which had been a mockery, and above all, it restored the people's confidence in the future of the nation.

I have referred to the fact that the various groups of generals who have had control of the South Vietnam Government have made declarations about the need to restore freedom of religion, political assembly, &c, but there are difficulties, as everybody can imagine, when a country has a government consisting of military personnel. Somebody will say, as apparently the Minister for External Affairs has said, that that is a matter for the people concerned. I suggest that it is not. I suggest that if we are to send our boys there, if we are to spend £3.5 million in aid to the country and if we are to wind up on the winning side, we ought to see that there is a possibility of winning and the only way to do so is to see that these conditions exist. We are not satisfied that the statements which have been made by the Government do in fact represent the position.

We think that the South East Asia Treaty Organisation ought to have been commissioned to discuss the question of military aid to South Vietnam, which should not rest simply upon a request from the South Vietnamese, which could be misinterpreted, as Senator Kennelly has said, or could be the result of many factors. If S.E.A.T.O. is to be a satisfactory organisation to resist Communist influence in these areas, its members must work as a combination. Members must consult with each other and act in conjunction. It has been said that even in Thailand there is some subversion. I was glad to hear Senator Turnbull make the point that there is subversion in the north of Thailand because the country is impoverished. It may be that the task of the Government is difficult. These are things of the sort that we should be worrying about. If we want to fight Communism emphasis should be given to this question.

We should not say that we will run the risk of a world war and that we have to send troops to South Vietnam because this is what a friend would do. When our initial forces are diminished, we might have to consider sending overseas the younger ones, the trainees. This could easily lead to a very serious situation for this country. We will find, as time elapses and casualties occur - as they will occur- that the people of Australia will act as they acted during World War I, when the first persons to oppose conscription were the members of the armed forces. The Government should not act in this way. The only weapon we can properly use is the weapon to which I have referred, if we are to win in the long run.

When Senator Mattner and I were in Vietnam - I do not think that he will dispute this - the emphasis was on non-escalation. The President of the United States made this clear a number of times. After the incident in the Gulf of Tonkin last August he made it clear that the United States did not want a wider war, that it wanted to limit the war. I carried out the ordinary tests that anybody can make in an excursion of this sort in pursuing the point of view that T have. I am satisfied that when I was there the important leaders and ambassadors of the most important countries were anxious to limit and contain the war, to ensure that it did not spread. This is the situation that should obtain today. We should not be in a position which, easily and quickly, could lead to escalation of the conflict which might produce a world war.

If the Government puts us in this position, it must fact up to the issue that I mentioned earlier, namely, the potential that we have in this respect in view of our obligations in our geographical situation. We have suggested a very wise course. The United Kingdom Government was pursuing this course and it displayed this purpose in its negotiations in relation to Laos. By way of demonstrating this, let me mention the strange paradox in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, where the Government, led by what one might call a Labour man, a Social Democrat, and supported by almost everybody except the Pathet Lao, agreed that the headquarters of the Pathet Lao remain in Vientiane. This course was supported by representatives of other governments in the country. In fact, there was a radio link with the Pathet Lao forces.

We queried this and we were told that this seemed a common sense course because it made possible the keeping open of an avenue for discussion with the Pathet Lao. The objective was finally to bring the Pathet Lao. the Communist section, back into the Government. Later there were conferences, supported by the United Kingdom Government, to exploit this approach. They have not been satisfactory, as yet, but we must have regard to this sort of purpose. We must not think that the problem of South Vietnam can be settled only by consideration of South Vietnam. Senator Laught mentioned the Mekong River, which flows through the countries of South East Asia. All of the countries are intermixed. The factors that are present in South Vietnam are just as important to Cambodia and Laos as they are to Thailand, so Australia must, in my opinion, take the initiative displayed by the United Kingdom Labour Government and even by the previous United Kingdom Government. I know that the British experts were moving towards limitation. We should be very watchful concerning an extension.

I shall not detain the Senate much longer, because other speakers want to make their points. Obviously, in such a situation the dangers of escalation should not be discounted. I have never heard anybody discount them. On either side, everybody has referred to the practical implications. We say, as we said last year, that we must stop now and look at the causes. The Government should consult with the Opposition. It should place before the Opposition any demands, if there are demands, and say whether Australia is just making a prestige or token display of force to suit the United States Government. I do not make any carping criticism of the United States because it has itself involved in this situation. In our case we are making more than a token contribution. This force is a vital factor to Australia. In issues of this sort the Opposition ought to be fully informed and given every opportunity to examine the policies which the Government initiates and which get us into this position.

Nobody can bellieve that if we are involved in a war of this sort we can get the industrial movement on side by legislative action, without consultation. Unless the Labour Party has a confirmed belief that the Government is correct in its action the industrial movement will not move anywhere. Every stable government - in fact, every government except a dictatorship, where stability does not obtain for long - knows that to have a satisfactory economy, with the working force carrying out its functions, it is necessary to have the cooperation of the trade union movement. You must be able to talk to the Australian Council of Trade Unions. It, in turn, must be able to talk to you so that you can arrive at agreements that are reasonable.

As I think everyone knows, the A.C.T.U., which is not a Communist controlled body - it is the trade union centre of Australia - has declared that Labour's policy is the correct one. It has sent telegrams to the Prime Minister seeking a reversal of the Government's policies to bring them into line with the policies which we adopt. If the present situation should become more serious, it is obvious that the Government will have against it not only the Opposition but also a large section of the Australian community. I suggest that this must follow if the Government has to call up trainees for military service overseas. In addition, the Government will be faced with the opposition of the organised labour movement - a movement whose co-operation is essential to the success of any planned wartime economy. At present the Government does not have the support of the three sectors of the Australian population to which I have referred.

We of the Opposition, and most of the Australian people, want to see a peaceful solution of the present situation, but if we cannot have peace we want the war to remain as limited as is possible. We do not want the war to escalate. We believe that the situation which obtained last year was much more conducive to world peace, and much safer for Australia, than is the present situation. In addition, the Opposition wants the Government to take the steps to which I have referred. We want the Government to agree with us that even now, in the far:e of the refusal of Communist China and North Vietnam to come to the conference table, the flag of negotiation must be waved. The parties concerned must talk because eventually - everyone must accept this - there will have to be negotiation.

The point that Senator Ridley put to me within the last two or three hours is a very sound one. Let me put this as a matter for consideration by the Senate: If it is true that difficulty is being experienced in supplying manpower for the armed forces of the United States in South Vietnam, that would not be a matter of concern to China. China probably would like to see the situation worsen and America placed in an embarrassing position. Even though the time may be later than we think, we still must make peace overtures. Most of all, the Senate must realise that the only way to

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