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Thursday, 5 May 1994
Page: 383

Senator BURNS (6.58 p.m.) —I rise with some sadness that a debate like this should occur. Senator Loosley has accused Senator Short, I think with some justification, of moving this motion in a shoddy attempt to get votes. I put that aside and suggest it is possible that Senator Short has a very well-founded belief that this is a useful motion. So we will look at what it really does.

  We did go through the Vietnam War years in a way that was divisive to Australia. I spent a lot of time and energy opposing the war and seeking to have us pull out of Vietnam. On occasions I even spent time as a guest of the Queensland police in the watch-house as a result of those efforts.

  I was certainly insulted by the Special Branch, which kept a record on me for quite a long time. I also had many arguments: as a union official, I argued very vigorously with members of our union about the rights and wrongs of the war. Many of those members, of course, were concerned about their sons being caught up in a war that had nothing to do with Australia.

  Looking at Vietnam, a motion like this reopens the merits of the case. It is important to note that, during the Second World War, Ho Chi Minh and the people who fought with him fought against the Japanese and were the allies of America, the United Kingdom, ourselves, the French government in exile, and others. At the same time, certain Vietnamese and the French who were allied with the Vichy French in South Vietnam collaborated with the Japanese. At one stage, when the colony reverted back to the French after the war, even Macarthur sent a telegram saying that it was the greatest sell-out of an ally that he had ever heard of; he was deadly opposed to it.  Even then, the French could not hold on to their colony. Dien Bien Phu has already been mentioned: there the French were defeated by a superior ally. However, the defeat of the French was more the result of the conviction of the people wanting freedom and independence for their own country.

  Then we had the Paris discussions and the division at the 54th parallel. Everyone thought it was peace at last and that an independent Vietnam could be worked out. But, of course, that did not happen. The Americans sought to pick up where the French had left off by sending in what they called `advisers', which gradually escalated the conflict. Sadly, there was no merit in the argument for the involvement of Australia. As Holt put it at the time, it was clearly, `All the way with LBJ' which encapsulated our whole position. We were with the Americans; we were opposed to the communists in Vietnam. Anybody who opposed the government in South Vietnam, which was totally corrupt, was considered a communist.

  Let us, for a moment, look at a couple of the pillars of society in Vietnam. Ngo Dinh Diem tried to steal heaps of money and was totally corrupt. Air Vice Marshal Ky was a corrupt person. None of them went in with any merit, and the people around them made lots of money out of the American troops and everybody else.

  The fact is that our people should not have been there. I agree with Senator Gareth Evans: that is no reflection on those people who went. If I had been of a particular age, I would not have gone and I would have accepted the consequences of law in this country. But very few volunteers went to Vietnam—mostly it was the ballot and conscription. It was pretty unfair to conscript young men from this country to fight in a foreign country 8,000 miles away in a war that was not ours—in a war that most fair-thinking people in this country believed should not have taken place because the Vietnamese should have been granted independence. But that is the merit of the argument. I obviously know the history of it.

  However, at the end of the war we did pull out as a result of a decision of the Labor government. Obviously, we had lost an election on the misguided beliefs of the electorate some years before on the particular question. While that was not the only question, it was certainly an important one. By 1972 the people had realised the real merit of our arguments and they supported a Labor government. As a result of the election of that government, we pulled out of Vietnam.

  One would have thought that we should all have looked at the process of healing. Some came back from the war; some did not come back. It certainly was not the fault of the anti-Vietnam war forces in this country. There was always some sort of argument about whether they got proper recognition by the government. Finally, they did get quite a bit of recognition in a whole number of ways, which I think they should.

  I echo the view that many people went over in the belief that it was the thing to do. I do not knock that. Everybody is entitled to have a view. If they are wrong, they are wrong. If they are right, they are right. But it means that they at least have integrity in that belief. They are not hypocrites who think one thing and do another.

  These people were defending their country. We went 8,000 miles away to get involved in the conflict, and many other people went further. It was a French colony but the French were not prepared to go any further. They did not contribute after they pulled out. The British did not get involved.

  Senator Kemp raised a point about civil liberties. I do not know how much Senator Kemp has contributed towards this issue. I know that I have spent time in the watch-house, fighting and arguing about civil liberties, such as the right to demonstrate peacefully. Frankly, I have a view that civil liberties are very important.

  But many people who talk about civil liberties did not raise their voices when Vietnam was being carpet bombed and the jungle was being defoliated. Innocent people in the villages were clearly torn this way and that. The villagers were afraid of the South Vietnamese soldiers coming in and attacking, shooting or murdering them because they thought they were friendly with the Vietcong. The Vietcong accused the villagers of being friendly with the other side and shot them anyway. It must have been a terrible position to be in. But, at the same time, they were being bombed by the bloody Americans; excuse my French, Madam Acting Deputy President.

Senator Schacht —It's good Australian, not French!

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator West)—Thank you. Please continue.

Senator BURNS —This happened. If that is not a denial of the rights of people to try to survive, I do not know what is. I think it is sheer hypocrisy for people who did not raise their voices at that time to now talk about civil liberties and civil rights.

   The same people did nothing about trying to dismantle apartheid. They opposed us when we talked about sanctions. We became involved in activities against the Springbok tour because of the lack of civil liberties and rights of people in South Africa. I see it as total hypocrisy.

   Senator Kemp made some points about poor growth compared with the Asian tigers. It brings back to my mind a thought I have had for many years based on fact. In the Second World War, the Japanese lost, even though they created a lot of havoc, took many lives and created a lot of misery.

  The Nazi regime in Germany lost the war, but it got quite a large amount of help under the Marshall Plan. A lot of money was invested. It was fortunate that the Russians took most of Germany's old machines. Germany had to put in new ones and as a result it was right up to speed immediately. The Germans became very efficient. In the same way, the Japanese pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. But this happened with the assistance of America and other countries.

  The Vietnamese did a terrible thing; they won the war, so the Americans have been crooked on them ever since. They did not want to have anything to do with them. Only recently have the Americans come to realise that Vietnam is part of the world and if America wants an advantageous trade future it should be prepared to reopen relations with Vietnam in a meaningful way. I do not belittle Mr Clinton's realisation of what would be fair and reasonable.

   Senator Kemp also raised the question of aid. AIDAB is Australia's aid agency. I see that Senator Parer is in the chamber. I recall being with him when looking at a particular aid project in the Philippines. The people who were carrying out that aid project reported that it was fairly well targeted. They were making sure that no bribery was involved and that all the money involved went into that project. I have found that with other projects in the Philippines. I know that it is the case in China and elsewhere.

Senator Sandy Macdonald —This is irrelevant.

Senator BURNS —It is not irrelevant. It does not matter if there are some problems with a government. We do not recognise governments; we recognise countries. If aid is properly targeted to help the poor people in that country, we will have achieved what we set out to do. We do that very well; we do it better than most countries in the world.

  This is really a bad motion, regardless of its motivation. It can only create division and reopen the argument about the Vietnam war. In some cases, it will encourage people to create further division in the community who would otherwise not do so. For that reason, I believe that the chamber should reject it out of hand. It is in the best interests of our country that we do so.