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Wednesday, 12 May 1965

Senator COHEN (Victoria) .- Having been brought back into the debate I think 1 should say that what I said at the second reading stage was that Senator Sir William Spooner-

Senator Cormack - Is this a personal explanation or do the remarks relate to clause 16?

The CHAIRMAN - Order! We must give Senator Cohen a chance to clarify the matter.

Senator COHEN - If Senator Sir William Spooners remarks were not made by way of a personal explanation, I am not making a personal explanation.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! I ask Senator Cohen to relate his remarks to clause 16.

Senator COHEN - I hope that you, Mr. Chairman, will extend to me the courtesy that you extended to Senator Sir William Spooner in making clear his position and in inviting me to state my position. I speak to clause 16. In justifying the introduction of clause 16 Senator Sir William Spooner in the second reading stage of the debate brought our minds very clearly to the situation in Vietnam. He had gone to some trouble to canvass the questions we canvassed in the debate last week on the Ministerial statement about Vietnam. He did that to show the general military situation against the background of which this legislation was being introduced. What I said was that the Australian Labour Party was opposed to sending troops to Vietnam, whether they were volunteers or conscripts. The honorable senator painted a picture of seriousness and gravity in Vietnam in which it was obvious that more Australian troops would be needed. It was my surmise, based on what is obvious in the present situation, that, if necessary, the Government would be prepared to send conscripted troops to Vietnam. I do not withdraw that statement.

Senator Sir William Spooner - Only in a time of war.

Senator COHEN - I am coming to that. The honorable senator states that conscripted troops could be sent only at a time of war. The legislation provides for the declaration of a time of defence emergency. The meaning of a time of defence emergency is completely indefinite because the definition of the expression in the principal Act is -

Time ot defence emergency means the period between the publication of a proclamation declaring that a state of defence emergency exists in relation to Australia and the publication of a proclamation that that state of defence emergency no longer exists.

That is a broad and indefinite concept. I do not share Senator Sir William Spooner's optimism that we will not reach the stage when a state of defence emergency will be proclaimed to exist.

Senator Sir William Spooner - But this clause would not operate in a state of defence emergency.

Senator COHEN - I appreciate the point the honorable senator is making, but I still remain unsatisfied. Last week Senator Murphy asked a question about the situation in Vietnam, and I raised the matter again during the debate on the ministerial statement on Vietnam. We have combat troops who are to go to Vietnam. They are to fight alongside South Vietnamese and United States troops who are engaged in military operations - combat operations - against the Vietcong. The whole of the Government's case during the debate on Vietnam was that the operations of the Vietcong were directed from North Vietnam. When the Minister for Defence has been asked whether a state of war exists between Australia and Vietnam, he has consistently declined to be drawn into giving a direct affirmative or negative answer. He has said, in effect: " You know perfectly well what the situation is." All I can say is that when our troops are operating alongside United States troops, some of whom are engaged in bombing operations against North Vietnam, he would be a bold person who would say that there did not exist a state of affairs which could noi in the end be said to be a state of war. That is what I want to say in reply to Senator Sir William Spooner. I do not retract the suggestion that this legislation will give the Government power, when it considers it necessary, to send conscripted troops to Vietnam.

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