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Wednesday, 24 October 1984
Page: 2368

Senator MASON(8.56) —The Australian Democrats support the provisions of the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill 1984 as far as they go, and it is not necessary at this hour of night for me to go over it again and repeat the excellent exposition of its good points that we have just heard from Senator Hamer. We agree that the establishment of an independent Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal with its Defence Force Advocate is an excellent thing. It will give members of the Defence Force the right that is enjoyed by most other sections of the community of representation in their own industrial affairs, especially in the pay fixing machinery. This is a move forward, perhaps we could even say into the twentieth century.

I listened with care to the second reading amendment that was moved by Senator Hamer on behalf of the Opposition. We will not support that amendment because we believe that it is against all the principles of equity in that a law meant to apply to a class of people should not have one exception, especially when many groups of people claim that they should be exempted. This has been a most controversial area, as we all know. What about airline pilots and others of that kind? The point of equity is overriding and must apply in this case. This does not limit in any way our sympathy towards groups, such as the one that Senator Hamer mentioned.

When the Minister for Defence, Mr Scholes, was in opposition and was the shadow Minister for Defence, he said that a Labor government would not disadvantage service personnel and, indeed, in government he has made some moves in the right direction. In October 1983 Defence Force members won concessions from the Federal Government which had the effect of reducing tax on their lump sum superannuation payouts. The new package allowed Defence Force personnel who retired early to receive a lump sum payment equal to five years instead of four years. That provision has been incorporated into the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill 1984, clauses 83 and 84.

Earlier this year, on 30 June, Senator Jack Evans, speaking for the Australian Democrats, raised the question of defence personnel being discriminated against and he pointed out then, and I reiterate, that Defence Force members are allowed commutation because of the special provision relating to their service. Senator Evans indicated that separate provisions were needed for servicemen and clauses 83 and 84 of the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill are doing just that in such a way that the law is being applied uniformly. The effect is being cushioned by giving service personnel an extra year. In essence, the legislation will provide service people with a lump sum payment approximately equal to their present entitlement.

The legislation is, of course, a miscellany of amendments to the various defence Acts-a true omnibus Bill. I was surprised to hear the Attorney-General ( Senator Gareth Evans) describe this as a Bill of narrow limits, because if it is anything it is not that. For this reason the Australian Democrats feel that this is an excellent opportunity to move an amendment which I moved in this place many years ago, but which is becoming even more topical and current as time goes by. It relates to the overseas service of Australian troops. In view of the uncertain status of this legislation, we have amendments both to the second reading and the Committee stage. I foreshadow a second reading amendment which has been circulated in my name. It says:

At end of motion, add ', but the Senate is of the opinion that Australian troops should not be sent overseas in a war or in a peace-keeping role without the consent of both Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament'.

I shall move that amendment, Madam Acting Deputy President, at the second reading stage, following the first amendment.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that Australian troops would not be sent overseas in a war or in a peacekeeping role without the agreement of both Houses of the Federal Parliament. The Australian Democrats believe this to be something which should have applied in this country many years ago and which is a proper piece of law in any modern democracy, and not to have it is a dangerous anachronism. The provision that we are proposing as an amendment to our legislation is similar to one which has already applied for a considerable period in Canada, whose troops cannot be sent overseas in a war or in a peacekeeping without the agreement of both Houses of the Federal Parliament in Ottawa.

There are considerable merits to this as a sanction and a check on the Executive government. The Australian Democrats consider this to be the most effective way to prevent forever Australia becoming entangled in another Vietnam war. In the uncertain future which faces our country and the world, the chances are greater, with every year that passes, that we might become entangled in another regional conflict of that type. All around us we have countries to which we try to accommodate ourselves which are becoming virtually outright military dictatorships. One can only think of the outrageous civil rights situation in the Philippines and the gross imposition on the people of that country by a military autocracy, led by President Marcos. Whether or not President Marcos survives I predict that the system in the Philippines is likely to remain the same into the indefinite future.

What would be the situation if an executive government of Australia made some kind of deal, without proper reference to the Parliament and the people, to support the Marcos regime, or one like it in the event of its demise? How many young Australian men would be tied up in a war of that kind, in an archipelago of many islands? The Republic of Indonesia is not without its instabilities. There again is a situation in which I do not believe that there is anything like the degree of persecution and military autocracy as in the Philippines but those elements are there. No one can pretend that the Republic of Indonesia is a democracy in the sense that we would understand that. Does Australia want to become involved at some stage, because of some kind of deal carried out by an Executive government which, after all, could always push its measures quite quickly through one House of this Parliament, the House of Representatives, because it controls that House, and that House has no sanction whatever on the executive government?

I remind some honourable senators of history. Between 1962 and 1971, 50,000 Australian servicemen, from all three services, were engaged in the war in Vietnam. During that decade, 492 members of the Australian forces were killed. We lost nearly 500 of our young men. Of those deaths, 187 were of young men who had no choice as to this tragic early end to their lives, because they were conscripts sent to fight in an unwinnable and unjustifiable foreign adventure, which now, and judged by any standard, was a disaster. Far from deterring the spread of communism in Asia, it actually contributed significantly to it and speeded up that process. It is beyond doubt that the dislocation caused in Vietnam led to the great acceleration of the war in that country.

Going back through history to 1946, I can remember when Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh said: 'Give us some weapon against the extremists; you will never regret it', and the Eastern powers, France and the United States, turned their backs on them. At that time the coalition in Hanoi which included the Roman Catholic Church and a variety of moderate forces, disappeared. We were foredoomed then to the long war which eventually resulted in the whole of Vietnam becoming a communist state. Because of the nature of the war, inevitably it extended into Kampuchea. I recall visiting Kampuchea not long before this happened. It is worth saying that it was one of the best organised and best run states in South East Asia under the control of Norodom Sihanouk when he became Prime Minister. One went to that country and found prosperous countryside villages and towns. One found the highest spending country in Asia in terms of education and national development. That was greatly encouraged by the Australian Government which had advisers in Cambodia. That situation was smashed and destroyed as a result of the Vietnam adventure. Because of that Kampuchea is now virtually a communist state. Certainly it is under that kind of control. Any of us who have the naivety to believe that it will be anything other than that, I think, are confusing ourselves. The same situation applies in respect of the third Indo-Chinese state, Laos.

In the Vietnam war we committed the enormous achievement by our military means of accentuating greatly the extension of communism through South East Asia, having of course done the same thing earlier in China. In other words, over the years military methods in Asia have accelerated and in history will be looked on as having created the communist zone of Asia and South East Asia.

Senator MacGibbon —Get the facts, not fantasy.

Senator MASON —I remind Senator MacGibbon, who has just said that he wants facts and not fantasy, that as well as those deaths in Vietnam many more young Australians-nearly 3,000-were injured. These facts may be unpalatable to Senator MacGibbon since it was his political party that perpetrated this monstrosity. I remind Senator MacGibbon that of those people more than 1,000 were conscripts. They were young men who had no right to be sent there. They went there through no choice of their own. It was an intolerable act virtually in peacetime when a decision was taken by our Government to constitute a phoney sense of war, an emergency which did not exist, never had existed and which contributed to exactly the opposite effect of what was intended. Any reasonable government would have foreseen that it would have done that. Anybody who has studied the history of South East Asia and the fall of China would know that a foreign adventure in Vietnam must inevitably lead to that effect, as the French found out at Dien Bien Phu. It is a fact that people who take Senator MacGibbon's apparent sense of persuasion never learn from history. That is one of the tragedies of our modern world. These then were the consequences of a decision taken to involve Australia in a war without the proper consultation of its people and its Parliament and without the right, which we are seeking in our proposed amendment, of the Parliament, as the voice of the people, to have some control over the situation.

I was delighted and very pleased to hear in Question Time last Thursday a Minister in this place, the Minister for Social Security, Senator Grimes, make an impassioned declaration in answer to a question. Obviously he has a genuine and strongly held belief that Australia most definitely should not have been involved in the Vietnam war. I was pleased to hear him recall that. After such a heartfelt speech from Senator Grimes I am confident that he at least-that is if he is here, of course-from the Government side will vote in favour of the amendment. I do not see that in any conscience Senator Grimes can vote the other way. I do not see that in any conscience members of the Australian Labor Party can vote against this amendment.

Senator Gareth Evans —Would this amendment have stopped us getting into the Vietnam war in the mid-1960s, given the composition of the Senate then?

Senator MASON —Senator Gareth Evans asks me whether the amendment would have stopped us getting into the war. At least it would have provided a mechanism whereby the matter would have been debated freely in both Houses of the Parliament. I take the honourable senator's point. As he knows, a different situation applies now. We have a situation in which the Senate would have the power to debate and discuss the matter and to raise the questions which the Australian people would want to know before they became involved in the most important and significant decision in which any community can be involved; that is, an act of war which involves every man, woman and child in the country perhaps for years ahead, which destroys the future of so many and which must profoundly affect the lives of perhaps a whole generation. What more serious matter could be brought before the parliament of a country? Other people recognise this. As I have told honourable senators, other civilised, responsible democracies, including Canada, do this because it is seen as an important and serious decision. It is not something an executive decides to do for its own reasons after a late Cabinet meeting. It needs to be brought to the attention of the people.

I know that most honourable senators here, certainly all Labor senators, must, in all conscience, vote for this amendment. The shameful history of the Vietnam war debacle is quite enough to convince any reasonable person to vote for it. I would be most interested later to hear the views of the Government on why honourable senators should not vote for the amendment. I hope it does not bring up the red herring again that it is much better if only the House of Representatives makes the decision. The House of Representatives is always the rubber stamp of the Executive. It is controlled by the Executive. It cannot provide the situation whereby there is discussion and debate on an issue of such fundamental importance.

Let us look again, briefly, at the historical parallel. For many years it was stated officially that Australia fought in Vietnam in answer to a call for help from the Government of South Vietnam. That view is now completely discredited and known to be untrue. Papers released in the United States as a result of the very effective freedom of information law that country has-I remind Senator Gareth Evans that we still do not have effective legislation in this country, which is to his discredit; it is about time we did have it-contain strong indications that the United States wanted Australia in South Vietnam with other countries so that the United States would not be seen to be acting alone. That is the direction of the truth.

A decision was taken by an executive to commit the Australian people to a disastrous course of action on the basis of what probably, on the balance of history, is perceived to have been a lie. That was the motivation. That is why Australia was there. Of course we were not told at the time or subsequently that that was the reason. It was stated over and over again by the then Government that the reason was that the government of a free country had asked us to help. However, that was not true. It was not until the Freedom of Information Act of another country, ironically enough, revealed that, that the truth emerged. The truth, having emerged, can never again be concealed. We have the history of that situation clear in our minds. Again, we must look back to the motivation of executive government; its honesty. Should an executive government be left alone in such a situation without the control of Parliament and the debate in Parliament that would result in the proper questions being asked and the proper answers being given? That control, of course, would result from our proposed amendment should it become a law.

The amendment I will move in the Committee stage is quite lengthy. It goes further than the amendment to the motion for the second reading. It is worth covering some aspects of it because it is important. Basically, section 50C of the Defence Act 1903 requires Australian military forces to serve overseas. It does not contain any provisions whatsoever limiting the carte blanche right of the government to send troops overseas. That is the purpose of our amendment. In other countries the provision we propose applies. In Canada, the Governor-in- Council may deploy troops anywhere, at any time, subject to Parliament meeting within 10 days to approve the action taken. In the Federal Republic of Germany there are limitations. There is a constitutional prohibition against German forces participating in a war of aggression. Participation in a collective military action for the preservation of peace is permissible only if that force is deployed in a situation which, at that time, represents an illegal attack on the Bundesrepublic. Article 9 of the 1947 Constitution of Japan provides:

. . . The Japanese people for ever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation . . .

The self-defence forces are authorised to protect the peace and stability of Japan against direct and indirect aggression. Self-defence force personnel may not be deployed outside Japan. That has been interpreted by successive governments as precluding participation in United Nations peacekeeping and observation teams. In the United Kingdom, there are no restrictions on the monarch as commander-in-chief to deploy forces on the advice of his Ministers with a successful no confidence motion in Parliament and a subsequent election as the ultimate and only sanction. In the United States, the President has independent power to take military action whenever the interests of the United States require it. Congress, however, has power to raise and support armies and to declare war. However, a study prepared in 1951 for the Committee on Foreign Relations cites at least 125 incidents in America's history in which the President has ordered the armed forces to take action or maintain positions abroad without congressional authorisation. So the Congress's powers in respect of that right have been eroded and, I add at this point, to the great concern of the world. There is now great apprehension throughout the world about the powers which are lying in the hands of President Reagan, an aging man who is likely to be re-elected and who has this total responsibility and power-a single person in a democracy-to carry out this role. Again, there is a lesson which I think supports the Australians Democrats' amendment.

Our amendment seeks to place the responsibility for a decision to send Australian troops abroad with the two Houses of Parliament, subject to exceptions covering the movement of personnel in the normal course of their activities and their need to take quick action in an emergency. The government would still be able to act quickly in an emergency declared by proclamation but must obtain parliamentary approval within 48 hours. If Parliament were not in session, the provisions require that it be recalled to make this decision. I would have thought that was a serious enough step, taking the country to war, to make it necessary to recall Parliament. The amendment would give that provision alone, to allow Parliament to be recalled to look at the nature of a war and its rationale.

I wish to make the point at this stage that we do not necessarily see this as merely operating in an emergency situation. It is only the subsequent recall of Parliament which would be necessary in that kind of emergency. In a normal situation where a government wished to send a force overseas for any reason and where it had the time to do so, it would of course be required to put it through and justify it before both Houses of Parliament in the normal way. The provision has important exclusions. It excludes overseas service by members of the Defence Force pursuant to their temporary attachment, as provided by section 116B, as part of an Australian diplomatic or consular mission on an Australian vessel or aircraft not engaged in hostilities or operations during which hostilities are likely to occur, for the purpose of their education or training or for purposes related to the procurement of equipment or stores.

In those provisions we have tried to provide a situation which is realistic and in which the government has the utmost freedom of action for the normal and ordinary purposes that its armed forces might be concerned with, short of the two major areas of actual hostilities-

Senator Gareth Evans —What about hot pursuit of a fishing boat into international waters?

Senator MASON —I will go back to my last sentence because I feel that I have not made it sufficiently plain to those people here. In those provisions we have tried to provide a situation which is realistic and in which the government has the utmost freedom of action-I think it is reasonable that we should do this-for the normal and ordinary purposes that its armed forces might be concerned with, short of the two major areas of actual hostilities, and for use as a fighting force or as a peacekeeping force in some remote country.

As I said earlier, this is a provision which ought to have been in the law of this country many years ago. It is in the law of other countries. It is something which I believe the citizens of this country want and require. It represents the fact that the power delegated from the people rests not with the Executive. Let us make it quite clear: The executive government does not have delegated power from the people. The place that has delegated power from the people is the Parliament. In Australia that is the two Houses of the Parliament.

Our amendment would correct a great deficiency and evil in the Australian legal system. A balance would be properly established and machinery properly set down by which the people of this country-its young men, women and everybody here- would be protected against another happening, another disaster, another tragedy such as the Vietnam war proved to be.