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
Tuesday, 22 March 1966

Mr STEWART (Lang) .- The Treasurer (Mr. McMahon) surely has been batting on a very sticky wicket. He neither sounded convincing nor was convincing. The arguments that he has advanced on this occasion are the same as he had advanced on previous occasions in an effort to show that the Government has not been inconsistent in its attitude towards defence, national service training, conscription or the war in South Vietnam. The first point 1 wish to make in reply to the Treasurer is to ask him, or the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Anthony), who is now seated at the table: Is Australia at war or not? Last week in the House at question time the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) vehemently denied that we are at war. Today in the course of his speech the Treasurer on two or three occasions used the words " the war in Vietnam ".

I want to get back to the topic of the speech made by the Treasurer, who spent most of his time endeavouring to show why the Government had been compelled to introduce national service training. He spent a deal of his time in endeavouring to cover up the inconsistency of the approach of the Government in its attitudes towards this matter. I intend to quote, giving chapter and verse, passages to show that this Government changed its mind on national service training over a period of three months. On 20th August 1964 the then Minister for the Army, Dr. Forbes, came into this House and in a 30 minute speech devoted all of his time to explaining why it was not possible for the Government to introduce national service training. He was replying to members on his own side of the House who had been pressing over a number of months for the introduction of national service training. I refer to the honorable member for Sturt (Sir Keith Wilson), the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) and the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid

Kent Hughes). All of these honorable members had been pushing the Government to introduce national service training. In the course of his speech the then Minister for the Army said -

We have not introduced it-

He meant national service training - because to do so would be against the unanimous advice of our military advisers.

Later in the same speech he said that the United States of America had found defects in national service training. He said that the Canadians had no national service training because they too were aware of the defects of such a scheme. He said - . . the attributes to which we attach the greatest importance - readiness, efficiency, availability - would be substantially reduced by a national service scheme on any worthwhile scale in the circumstances existing at present.

During the whole of his speech the Minister addressed the House as the spokesman for the Government and told his own colleagues that they were wasting their time in pushing for the introduction of national service training. He told them that they were wasting their time because it was the unanimous advice of the military advisers that it should not be introduced. The same Minister then travelled to Tasmania to attend the National Congress of the Returned Services League. During the last week of October he told the gathering of ex-servicemen, who also had been pressing for the introduction of national service training, that it should not be done, and he reiterated most of the arguments that he had advanced on 20th August. Yet within two weeks - somewhere about the 10th or 11th November - the Prime Minister at that time, Sir Robert Menzies, announced in the House that national service training was to be introduced. I remember his speech quite well, because I spoke in reply to it on that occasion and I directed attention to the fact that during the course of that speech at no stage did the then Prime Minister say that the Government was acting on the advice of its military advisers. The words . that he used on two occasions - I am quoting from memory and may not be using his exact words - were: " After full consultation with our military advisers we have decided ". He did not say that the Government was acting on the advice of its military advisers.

Mr Erwin - The honorable member is splitting straws.

Mr STEWART - I am not. I am quoting chapter and verse. The former Minister for the Army on 20th August said that it could not happen. Somewhere about 26th October he repeated that it could not happen. The late Senator Paltridge in the Senate also said, in a statement on defence, that national service training would not be introduced. If my memory serves me correctly I am certain that the late Senator Paltridge said in the Senate that under no circumstances would the Government introduce conscription for overseas service unless in time of war.

The inconsistency of the Government is apparent in its whole attitude to national service training and particularly in the sending of national service trainees overseas. I do not want to spend any more time on the arguments that have been advanced by the Treasurer, because I believe that it has been shown by him and by others in this House that the Government did not know where it was going in 1964, did not know where it was going in 1965, and does not know where it is going in 1966.

Mr ERWIN (BALLAARAT, VICTORIA) - It had difficulty in getting volunteers.

Mr STEWART - I will come to that point later. I have a page of notes on the point raised in that interjection.

Dr Gibbs - Did Jim Cairns write this for the honorable member?

Mr STEWART - I shall refrain from answering that interjection. The statement we are discussing now is that delivered by the Prime Minister on 8th March, his first statement in the Parliament as Prime Minister of Australia. He spoke for more than an hour. The speech covered more than 30 quarto pages of single space typing. It is a maze of words - words that give very little indication of where the Government is going in economic affairs or for that matter in foreign affairs and defence. The same old arguments and the same pious platitudes that had been given by the previous Prime Minister were reiterated by our new Prime Minister. He talked about the need to preserve peace in South Vietnam and in the world generally. He talked about the need to repress the Communist advance in South Vietnam. He talked about the reconstruction and rehabilitation of South Vietnam and about aid to undeveloped Asian nations - the same expressions we had been hearing from the previous Prime Minister for a number of years.

The Prime Minister was followed two days later by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck) who made us listen to a speech stretched over 14 foolscap pages. Again we heard the same old arguments, the same old platitudes about the need to work for peace and about the need to help undeveloped nations, particularly in Asia. Within two days we had the arguments again put before us making it perfectly clear to most people that this Government is following a pattern that has been set by a number of other nations of far less maturity. It is a pattern designed to create a national belief that dangers from outside Australia are so grave that economic growth and improved standards of living should become secondary considerations. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, China and Indonesia, to mention only a few countries, have all used similar tactics over the years to prevent national thought and opinion from concentrating on internal issues.

The present Government realises that it is losing popular support. I believe that one of the undisclosed reasons why Sir Robert Menzies retired from his position was that he realised the closeness of electoral disaster. It remains only for the Labour Party to recognise the opportunity and to alter its approach to certain matters of national importance for it to accomplish a landslide victory at the next election. The Australian people are ready for a change. They want a change because of the inconsistency of this Government in the fields of foreign affairs and defence. The straw that has broken the camel's back is the sending of Australian boys of 20 years of age to fight in the war in South Vietnam, a war the existence of which is denied by some leading members of the Government but acknowledged by others.

Australians generally appreciate the importance of our active participation in assisting South Vietnam to defeat the Communist plan to take over that country. Australians generally appreciate also the need for co-operation with the United States. But there is a grave misunderstanding of the attitude of the Australian Labour Party on this important question because we have the audacity to criticise the Government's policy and suggest an alternative. There is no doubt that it is regarded as audacious for anyone in the Parliament, whether on the Liberal benches, the Country Party benches or the Labour Party benches, to criticise any policy of the Government. Ask the honorable member for Chisholm how he is treated in his own party. Ask the honorable member for Bradfield, the honorable member for Mackellar and the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) how they are treated because they happen to express on some occasions opinions contrary to the policies laid down by the Government. They are criticised and ostracised.

As for the Australian Labour Party, our policy on foreign affairs is clearly written. It is available in pamphlet form for purchase at any branch of the Party in any of the States, or at the Federal Secretariat in Canberra. In an endeavour to clear up some of the misunderstanding which exists concerning the Labour Party's policy let me read the preamble only to our policy on foreign affairs. It is as follows -

The Labour Party, as a democratic socialist and internationalist Party, believes that every nation must share in the skills of mankind and the resources of the world according to its needs and must contribute to those skills and resources according to its capacity.

The Labour Party believes Australia cannot isolate itself from the struggles of the peoples of the world for economic development, security and self-government.

(a)   While the Commonwealth of Nations continues to exist Australia must always remain an integral part of it.

(b)   Australia must give unswerving and para mount loyalty to the United Nations and seek to have carried out the principles of the United Nations Charter, and in particular their application to the areas of the South Pacific and Indian Oceans.

(c)   Co-operation with the U.S. in the areas of the South Pacific and Indian Oceans is of crucial importance and must be maintained, subject to the understanding that Australia must remain free to order its policies in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

(d)   Australia has a moral duty to co-operate in the development of the South East

Asian area to strengthen the fabric of peace and freedom and to uphold the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law, and to promote economic well-being and development.

(e)   Australia must take the initiative for the maintenance of peace and good relations between itself and its neighbours and in the whole South East Asia area.

(f)   Australia must periodically review its defence treaties and alliances to meet new circumstances as they arise.

That policy certainly does not mean that the Labour Party believes that military aid should form the major contribution to strengthening the fabric of peace and freedom and encouraging and upholding the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. Neither does it mean that in no circumstances will the Australian Labour Party condone the granting of Australian military aid when circumstances warrant assistance in such a form. The present Government believes in taking the easy way out, as did the previous Government under Sir Robert Menzies. When there is some trouble in South Vietnam or in Malaysia or elsewhere the Government believes that the way to ease those troubles or prevent them from becoming worse is to send troops so that those who are causing insurrection or some other kind of trouble will be put in fear of their lives and will be induced to curtail their activities. This Government believes in granting more and more military aid. Perhaps it is doing so at present at the request of the U.S. If so, it is about time that some responsible member of the Government told this Parliament and the Australian people that that is the position. Because the Government has been unable to induce enough volunteers to enter the Regular Army it has taken the easy way out by conscripting 20 year olds for national service training. Then it has gone a step further and declared that the national service trainees shall go to South Vietnam to fight in a war in which they have very little concern and which many people in Australia believe should be stopped immediately.

It was only in the last three years of the 1939-45 war that the then Labour Government found it necessary to conscript youths for service outside Australia. In a so-called national emergency, if the arguments advanced by the Treasurer, the Prime Minister and other members of the Government can be accepted, we cannot get sufficient volunteers to protect our country. In the 1939-45 war we were able to recruit a large expeditionary force and it was not until 1943 that service outside Australia became necessary.

The Government has not made any real attempt to obtain volunteers for this force that it considers is necessary in Vietnam, lt has not set up, for instance, a special expeditionary force so that people who want to do so - including, perhaps, the 20 year old sons of Government supporters, if they have any - may be able to volunteer for service in South Vietnam to protect this country in what we are told is a time of national emergency. The young men of Australia proved their worth in 1914-18 and in 1939-45, and if this Government can convince them that the situation now is as dangerous as it was in 1939-45, and if it establishes a special expeditionary force, I am certain there will be no need to send 20 year old conscripts to South Vietnam.

There are a number of other topics I would have liked to mention, but I am afraid I have devoted too much of my time to answering the fallacious arguments advanced by the Treasurer. If I have done nothing other than to convince some people that the Government has been inconsistent in its approach to defence and foreign affairs in Australia over most of the years that it has been in office, but in particular in the last two years, then I am satisfied to wait until another day to speak on these topics.

Suggest corrections