Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 16 March 1966

Mr WEBB (Stirling) .- I rise to support the amendment so ably moved and spoken to by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) and to express the strong objection felt by honorable members on this side of the House to the Government's sending of conscripted youths to Vietnam. The Government's action in committing 4,500 troops in this way is to be condemned. As has been pointed out already, although the present intake of national service trainees is 8,400 per annum, it is certain that this will be increased to at least 14,000 a year as time goes on. These lads will have no say in the matter. They will be taken from their jobs, without any thought being given to their future careers and indeed, in some cases, without any thought being given to their lives. Possibly many of them will be maimed as a result of having to serve in this theatre of war. They are 20 years of age. They are lads who are considered to be not old enough to vote but quite old enough to fight. Their names are drawn out of a ballot box. This is one lottery that no one wants to win. Actually, this Government is gambling with the lives of the youth of this country.

Some sections of the Press and other interests are sooling the Government on. So far as they are concerned, what the Government is doing is quite all right so long as people other than themselves are making the sacrifice. I wonder whether they would be so keen if the proposal from this side of the House that wealth be conscripted were adopted. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Nixon) stated that when the Labour Party was in government during the last war it agreed to conscription. That is true. It did. It allowed youths to be conscripted for service as far north as the equator only, and the circumstances obtaining then were entirely different from those obtaining now. Only yesterday, the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) said that we were not at war at the present time. Apparently he does not treat this so called war seriously. If he did, Australia would be on a complete war footing; we would not be sending only our 20-year olds to bear the burden. The whole of Australia would be making some sacrifice.

The Government has failed to understand the nature of the war in Vietnam. Here 1 join issue with the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen). The war in Vietnam cannot be treated merely as military aggression from the north. Who can deny that it is also a civil war? It is well known that the majority of the Vietcong are South Vietnamese. They are South Vietnamese civilians by day and Vietcong fighters by night. It is well known that those who are fighting on the side which this Government supports admit that there is no way of telling which is which and that therefore the policy is to shoot first and ask questions afterwards. We are told that we are fighting for freedom, self government and resistance to aggression. There is something new and ugly in the way in which, it is supposed, we are fighting for these ideals by dropping high explosive and naphthalene bombs on peasant villages and killing and maiming people whom we profess to be defending from aggression.

There is an increased disregard for noncombatants in this war. I do not deny that terrible atrocities are being committed by both sides. We are not responsible for what is being done by the other side, but we should have some say in the things that are being done by the side that this Government supports. After all, we are supposed to have higher standards in these matters than those on the other side. We have seen in Press reports and official documents not only reports but also photographs of the torture of suspects by the South Vietnamese. I know that this sort of thing occurs on the other side too, but we should not be committed to any side that adopts standards such as this. We should refuse to support a government that commits atrocities such as these. If we continue to support such a government, ve are just as guilty of the atrocities as are those who actually commit them. We on this side of the House condemn all atrocities regardless of which side commits them.

We on the Opposition side in this Parliament are not alone in our opposition to Australian participation in this dirty war, as it is described. The trade union movement of Australia is opposed to our participation and the Australian Council of Trade Unions has expressed opposition also. The World Council of Churches, with 214 member Churches, holds that no military solution to the war is possible and calls for a halt to the bombing. In the United States of America, 2,500 Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish clergymen, in an open letter to President Johnson, have condemned the war. This open letter appeared under big headlines in the Press which stated -

Mr. President,in the name of God stop it.

It is well known that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is concerned about the situation. The " Australian ", on 9th Febru ary of this year, reported some remarks that had been made by Senator Wayne Morse. The report was in these terms -

Senator WayneMorse, the Senate's most vocal critic of the Vietnam war, fired back at President Johnson's Honolulu attacks on special pleaders who counsel retreat.

The senator, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the President's militant call to arms on Sunday made a mockery of his appeal to the United Nations to help end the war.

Senator Morseasked President Johnson who he was talking about in his Honolulu statement and in his reference to a group that had always been blind to experience and deaf to hope. " Do you mean Pope Paul? " he asked in a Senate speech. " Do you mean senators who believe communism in Asia will not fall before weapons?

Do you mean the millions of Americans who voted for you in 1964 when you counselled them against expanding and elevating the war in Vietnam? "

The senator said it was the President and his advisers who were blind to experience and deaf to hope by putting their trust in the military, and equating the world's problems with the false analogies of the !930's.

Similarly, the Australian Government is blind to experience and deaf to hope because it puts its trust in the military. Honorable members opposite do not understand the nature of the war. We can never stop the spread of Communism by military means. Africa and Asia will be breeding grounds for it as long as the Western world allows their people to go hungry. We know that lavish aid has been given by the United States to South Vietnam, but the Government of that country has not attempted to solve the problems of poverty and unemployment that exist in that unhappy country. There has been strong resistance by the wealthy and the powerful sections of the community to improving the lot of the people. Unfortunately, we find ourselves on the side of the landlords and the wealthy and influential sections of the community in opposition to the mass of the people. We are lined up with those who oppose social and economic reforms. I do not say that the United States and Australia themselves are opposed to economic and social reforms. Indeed, we want them implemented; I am satisfied of that. But the Government of South Vietnam is not doing anything to implement reforms, and neither are the people who are behind that Government. As Walter Lippmann has pointed out, the Government of South Vietnam has never had the support of more than 30 per cent, of the people. Yet this is the Government at whose request we have committed 4,500 troops. And we are told that we are doing this in the name of freedom, self government and resistance to aggression.

We are told that we must contain China and that the Vietnamese war is a test of whether revolutionary wars encouraged by the Chinese Communists will be stopped. This is a myth. As Walter Lippmann has said, the true containment of China is possible only if her great Asian neighbours - the Soviet Union, Japan, India and Pakistan - are aligned together or are at least acting on parallel lines. All those countries are opposed to the action that we are taking in Vietnam. China appears to the United States and Australia as a big, angry giant rearing up and glaring at us while making threatening gestures. At the same time, we would like to believe that Communist China did not exist - except for trade. We close our eyes and say: " We will not recognise you". At the same time, we supply the Chinese with materials that can be used for war.

The Leader of the Opposition pointed out only last night that we are supplying wheat, wool and metals to China. He gave some interesting figures. He pointed out that between July 1960 and January 1966 Australia sold 11.2 million tons of wheat valued at $566 million to mainland China. Between July 1963 and January 1966, Australia sold 2.7 million tons of wheat valued at $141 million to Soviet Russia. In the six years ended with June 1965. we sold 180 million lb. weight of wool valued at SI30 million to Communist China and 255 million lb. valued at $158 million to Soviet Russia. These sales included wool tops. In the same period, Australia sold to Communist China 88,000 tons of metals, including bars, plate and sheet, valued at $9 million. In that time, Russia purchased from us 10,000 tons of metals valued at $1 million. The Leader of the Opposition stated that those figures were official and that they had been given to him by the Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry. Much of that trade went to a country that we do not even recognise. This makes us hypocrites. We are not prepared to re cognise Communist China, but we are prepared to trade with it. The United States is at least consistent. It does not recognise China and it does not trade with her.

China is being truculent because of the way in which she is treated. For centuries, China tried peaceful and tactful methods in dealing with other countries. Because of her experience between 1840 and 1945, she decided to try other methods. In 1840, Britain attacked her. The Opium War was fought for the purpose of forcing the Chinese Government to sanction the importation of Indian grown opium into China. That country was then at the mercy of Britain. The years after 1840 were the years of China's humiliation. Britain, France, Russia, Germany and all grabbed bits of her territory. The foreigners imposed treaties that exempted foreign residents in the country from China's jurisdiction. In the International Settlement at Shanghai, the gates of a public park carried the notice -

Chinese and dogs not admitted.

In the end, China realised that she could not hold her own if she did not adopt the West's weapons. The Chinese have gone Communist. They now have nuclear bombs and because of this they have become important. They have adopted the standards of the West, which has helped to promote Communism in China, producing a result the reverse of that desired. The Western nations bullied China because she was defenceless and we are now reaping the whirlwind. China's militancy is the West's fault. Surely the key to improvement of our relations with China is an alteration pf our attitude to her, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by treating her as an equal and recognising her Government.

It is unfortunate that the United States of America should be the greatest enemy of China today. The United States, mark you, was the one powerful foreign country that did not take advantage of China's weakness during its century of humiliation. Since China turned to Communism, the United States has been treating it as a delinquent child. This is infuriating to the Chinese. At present, the United States is keeping China out of the United Nations and is trying to destroy China's foreign trade. Finally, the United States will have to come to terms with China. These two countries will have to co-exist for many years to come. The Australian Government should adopt an independent line and declare for the recognition of continental China as Britain and so many other countries have done. We should support the admission of China to the United Nations. China cannot be contained by the war in Vietnam. Sooner or later the United States and Australian troops will have to leave that unfortunate country. If South Vietnam goes Communist, as a majority of people appear to want, it would be a nationalist Communism. The aim would be to keep China out of Vietnam. This was the paramount aim of Vietnam and Korean foreign policy for over two thousand years. Under a regime similar to that in Yugoslavia, both countries could become effective neutral buffers.

The amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition seeks to censure the Government. It covers several matters, some of them closely related. The question of the state of the economy, which is part and parcel of this amendment, is causing grave concern. Unemployment, despite the fall that took place in last month's figures - we are advised that the position is worse than what it was at this time last year - is causing concern. Housing approvals for January 1966 compared with January 1965 have declined from 7,412 to 5,933. This represents a fall of 20 per cent. Comparing the number of new nouses and flats commenced in the December quarter of 1965 with the number of houses and flats commenced in the December quarter of 1964, we find that there has been a decline of 11.3 per cent. Personal consumption expenditure in the December quarter 1964 was $3,136 million whereas in the December quarter 1965 it was $3,279 million. Allowing for the increase in prices of 4 per cent, registered on the consumer price index over that same period, we find that this represents an increase of only .6 per cent, in real terms. When allowance is made for the increase in population, the evidence shows a decline in real consumption per head of population.

This decline has been brought about by the real value of wage standards being permitted to decline. This applies to both margins and the basic wage. The result of the 1965 basic wage decision of the Com monwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission was that the worker was able to purchase less in that year with the basic wage than he could purchase in 1964 and 1961. This Government stands condemned for its part in approving the pegging of the basic wage. When it made its submission to the Commission through its representative, the Government said -

An increase in the basic wage at this juncture would be fraught with great danger for the economy and . . . there are at present such special factors in the economy and in the circumstances impinging on the economy which . . . make it inadvisable to allow price increases indicated in the consumer price index to be reflected in the basic wage.

This attitude was responsible for the reduction in the real value of wages which has reflected itself now in the present rundown state of our economy.

In addition, taxation was increased. This reduced purchasing power even further. The little people have been hit hard by this Government. We have only to consider the plight of the pensioner. Not only has the age pension been pegged, but, according io the Commonwealth Statistician's latest publication, prices have gone up by 4 per cent. That was before the introduction of decimal currency which greedy business interests used as a further excuse to increase prices. We are advised that the cost of living has jumped by 7s. to 10s. a week since the introduction of decimal currency. The plight of the pensioner is a national scandal. Their poverty is appalling. This state of affairs is a reflection on our society. The aged are wondering whether it is a crime to grow old. Surely our pensioners are entitled '.n ask this question when they know that the existing pension does not buy as much today as it did in 1964. I think the Government should give consideration to increasing the pension now and should not wait to give consideration to increasing it when the Budget is presented next August. The pension ought to be increased now to help these poor unfortunate people.

Decimal currency has been responsible undoubtedly for increased prices. The increase in prices has been brought about by the refusal of the Government to adopt our proposal for a decimal currency dollar unit of 8s. 4d. instead of the unit of 10s. which has been adopted. The Opposition raised this subject as a matter of urgency, pointing out the disadvantages and price increases which would Row from making 10s. the basic unit instead of 8s. 4d. If our advice had been taken, no alteration in prices following the conversion to decimal currency would have taken place because 8s. 4d. is 100 pence and, therefore, if this unit had been used, 100 cents would equal 1 00 pence. In other words, 1 cent would be worth 1 penny. The present cent has a purchasing power of 1.2 pence. Therefore, something which cost 3d. before 14th February now costs the equivalent of 3.6d. Everyone knows that every adjustment of prices has been upwards and not downwards. The 10s. unit has increased prices on a huge range of articles such as bread, soft drinks, fares, beer, some groceries, overseas postage and many other items as well.

Suggest corrections