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Tuesday, 22 March 1966

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- Before the suspension of the sitting, the honorable member for Bowman (Dr. Gibbs) supported the policy statement on Vietnam made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt). The honorable gentleman is the only doctor in the House. One would have thought that he would have supported some of the non-military assistance which has been given by a number of countries to that divided and devastated country. I refer, for instance, to the fully equipped and manned hospital ship which the West German Government has provided for service in Vietnamese waters. The honorable gentle man, however, confined himself to military aspects. One would be glad to know whether he agrees with the statement made by the late Minister for Defence just over a year before the honorable member was elected to the House. The Minister said -

If the proposition were that we were going to war and were sending troops overseas, then, of course, we would recruit or conscript doctors.

The honorable gentleman devoted himself mainly to the history of the Vietnamese conflict. I do not propose to spend much of my time on this subject. It is a matter upon which Cabinet members differ very widely themselves. Only half a year ago, the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck) stated -

In about five years from 1954 to 1959, the two parts of Vietnam lived in comparative peace, although in an uneasy relationship. In 1959, however, the Government of North Vietnam demanded that Vietcong activities in the South be stepped up to a full scale attack on the Government of South Vietnam and it proceeded to provide help to the Vietcong in men, weapons and military direction and in training. Those actions in 1959 were the beginning of the course of events that has ended in the sad situation of today.

A week ago, however, the Minister for Defence (Mr. Fairhall) stated -

The Geneva Accords-

These were signed in 1954 - separated the Communist North from the nonCommunist South, .//. almost immediately there was subversion on the widest possible scale in South Vietnam.

Later he stated -

Immediately after the partition there was Communist infiltration into the South.

Thus we have two senior members of the Cabinet differing by five years on matters of recent history. They are confused about the origins of the war.

If the Cabinet is ignorant of historical facts, it is seriously insensitive to contemporary reactions. A fortnight ago, the Prime Minister stated -

This is no civil war.

If we concede that Vietnam is a divided country, quite clearly any war between the north and the south is a civil war. If we believe that South Vietnam is a separate country, clearly the war that has been going on there between different sections is a civil war, unless we assume that all the people who oppose Saigon come from outside South Vietnam. Clearly, this is at least partly a civil war. Yet the Prime Minister expects to be taken seriously when he states -

This is no civil war.

It is natural that we should become very sceptical of the assessments made by senior members of the Government. Last September, the Minister for External Affairs stated -

Up to date the North Vietnamese and behind them, China, have shown no interest in discussions of any kind.

This was put in the official booklet which the Government has distributed to clergy and school principals. We now know, however, that late in 1964 an offer was made by North Vietnam, through U Thant, for discussions to be held in Burma. Was the Minister for External Affairs not told or is it that he just did not tell us?

Mr Erwin - It was not published.

Mr WHITLAM - Does the honorable member seriously think the Minister was not told? A fortnight ago, the Prime Minister stated -

During the suspension of bombing in December and January, every conceivable effort was" made to bring the North Vietnamese authorities to the conference table.

It is significant that neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister for External Affairs gave one instance of Australian efforts in this regard. Do they have no interest in bringing the North Vietnamese to the conference table or do they have no influence? Australia should have some influence. It has considerable commercial relations with the other great powers in this area - Japan, India and Indonesia. We can help our allies and ourselves by making efforts to this end. There can be no peace or development in any region of the world unless the military and economic resources of the great powers, especially the United States, the greatest of them all, are integrated with those of the region itself. Australia, which is no military or economic threat to its neighbours, can and should do much more to interpret the motives of her allies. In this way, she will help her allies; she will also do much more to secure her own future in this region, where she is inextricably involved.

Our Prime Minister and his predecessor have never paid even lip service to the need for negotiations to pacify and neutralise

Vietnam. At least, the new Prime Minister has spared us the pretence that Australia is in South Vietnam because the Saigon regime has asked Australia to be there or that Australia is in South Vietnam because she is obliged to assist through her obligation to the South East Asia Treaty Organisation. The Australian people are more divided on the issue of this war than on any in which they have ever been engaged. They are convinced that their Government has been cynical in its motives and secretive in its operations. I used the term " war ". There does not have to be a declaration of war in order to bring about the legal or constitutional consequences of war. We never declared war over Korea. Yet the Commonwealth contended, and the High Court upheld the contention, that at that time the Government's powers were sufficient to introduce capital issues control. One would think that at least at the present time the Government's powers, if what it says about the Vietnamese situation is correct, are wide enough to curb exploitation flowing from the decimal changeover.

I have lamented the fact that even persons like the honorable member for Bowman have never referred to the nonmilitary assistance to Vietnam. In fact, we gave no non-military assistance until October 1964, six months after the United States suggested that we should provide it. The first assistance we provided was a pest exterminator.

The next issue that we must decide on this subject is: What is our objective? The Australian people are divided and unconvinced on this issue, because the Government has never frankly stated its objectives. The Prime Minister spoke about the need to check the Communist threat in Vietnam. Two days later, the Minister for External Affairs said -

Our aims are to defend South Vietnam, to preserve its security and to allow it freely to determine the economic and political system it wants. . . . Nor is it our aim to prevent South Vietnam and North Vietnam from coming closer together after fighting has stopped.

If given their right to self-determination, the population, at least in a unified Vietnam, might determine on a Titoist type Communist government. Would the Australian Government accept this? If not, let it say what it would accept. Until the West clearly states its peace objectives, there is unlikely to be any worthwhile response from the Other side. There will also be continued opposition at home to Western policy on Vietnam. The sending of more troops will not help negotiations. In the total scheme of things they will be militarily insignificant. If all the Government was seeking was a symbolic commitment, the present increase will achieve nothing.

In his speech, the Prime Minister several times said that China was the threat behind the present situation. If this is so - if the menace of China is so imminent and so great - why do we continue to trade with China? Last financial year China was our fifth largest export market behind Great Britain, Japan, America and New Zealand. In the last two years, our exports to China have totalled more than $300 million. As an earlier speaker said, the Government is much better at wheat negotiations than at peace negotiations.

The decision to increase the Vietnam Commitment disguises other defence deficiencies. The decision just before the Senate election in 1964 to introduce conscription was quite deliberately timed to distract the public's attention from delays in the delivery of defence equipment. The Government's timing now is largely to obscure the cost of the Fill aircraft. The contract to buy these aircraft was not mentioned by the Prime Minister. It will be remembered that the original contract, entered into just prior to the 1963 elections, Was expected to cost £112 million. The Minister for Air (Mr. Howson) appropriately described that figure today as a guess. The present price is said to be £184 million or, as the Minister for Air said today, a damned low price.

Mr Howson - A fair price.

Mr WHITLAM - A damned fair price - an increase of 64 per cent. In April 1964 the then Minister for Air said -

The number of those aircraft to be manufactured has almost doubted. This undoubtedly will tend to lower the price. There will be other factors which will tend to increase the price, but whichever way it goes we know that it will not be very far from the price that was quoted to us.

That is the guess, as the Minister for Air now describes it - an amount which has increased by two-thirds in just over two years.

It is interesting to recall - the Prime Minister glossed over this matter very swiftly - the increase in our involvement which has come about by stealth. In 1962 we had up to 100 military advisers. In 1964 we sent Caribou aircraft. Last year we sent the 1st Battalion, which was then expanded to a battalion group of 1,500 men. This year we are to treble our commitment. We are to have two infantry battalions, a special air services squadron, combat and logistics support and a flight of Iroquois helicopters. In November 1964 the former Prime Minister announced that there would be annual call-ups of about 6,900 men. A fortnight ago the new Prime Minister said -

The Government has also decided that the national service intake will be continued at 8,400 each year.

In addition these men will now be sent to Vietnam.

Conscription is defence on the cheap. The Government is not prepared to raise taxes to recruit a volunteer army. Those who have been most outspoken in pressing the Government for an expanded defence effort would be the first to oppose tax increases to provide it. There will be inequality of sacrifice in terms of money on the one hand and men on the other. The Government will increasingly rely on conscripts. There will be less need to attract volunteers. With the stroke of a pen, the Government can obtain another 10,000 conscripts. To do so does not require the passing of an act of Parliament or new regulation. It can be done in an order which .never comes before the Parliament. The former Prime Minister and the present Prime Minister have never appealed for persons to join the Army. Australians will respond to a clear lead. They have never been given it by the right honorable gentlemen. The only appeal for recruits is through advertisements. The return on our advertisements is one recruit for the Army for every $200 spent. The return this year is rather more expensive in money and less productive in men than even the figure I have just given. Fewer people are now voluntarily enlisting and we are having to spend more dollars on advertisements in order to get them. Australia needs a larger standing army than ever before in her history. The Army is now one of the nation's essential occupations. My party believes that the numbers can be obtained by voluntary means. If two-year conscripts suffice, why not enlist volunteers for a similar period? The defence services must be shown to be as necessary and their conditions as attractive as any other pursuit in the community. The only way to attract and retain regular soldiers in peacetime is to guarantee that they and their dependants will be and will remain on a par with civilians of the same age. They should have war service homes, repatriation health benefits, civilian retraining, scholarships for their children and reasonable retirement or resettlement allowances. These things have not been provided in Australia. By these methods, other countries have ensured that they have adequate regular forces. I do not believe that a nation of 11 million people cannot attract 8,400 more men voluntarily to the Army each year.

Mr Stokes - Full employment is the reason.

Mr WHITLAM - Other countries have full employment. Every country in western Europe and northern Europe has full employment and they all have larger standing armies than has Australia. No Government leader in Australia has made a call to the colours in this respect. There was no difficulty in getting, proportionately, ten times as many people voluntarily to join the forces during the First World War and the Second World War as we are aiming to obtain for the Army by conscription today. If the Australian people were convinced of the need for our commitment in Vietnam and if the Government were to give a clear lead, we would get the additional 8,400 men voluntarily out of a population of 11 million or more. As other countries have had, so can we have a professional army of adequate size by voluntary means. The Government takes the easy and cheap way out with conscription. I hear the honorable member for Bowman (Dr. Gibbs) interjecting. I asked him earlier, quoting from the late Minister for Defence, whether he believed that, if people are to be sent overseas, doctors should be conscripted for the Army.

I do not have time to deal with the other matters which were mentioned by the Prime Minister and which are covered in the amendment which I seconded. It was remarkable that the Prime Minister could make a statement about drought or water resources without referring to the Snowy

Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. It was remarkable that he could refer to minerals without mentioning the metal industries. The plain fact is that the Government has not learned anything from the Dawson byelection. When the Prime Minister made his only appearance in the by-election campaign he referred to the electorate as Watson. The Country Party hustled him out of the electorate as quickly as it could. Not that members of the Country Party were too clear where they were. I heard that the Minister for the Interior (Ms. Anthony) assured one audience that far from being uninterested in developing the north, Canberra was well aware of the problems of the people of Sarina - but he had to be told by a prompter the name of the town in which he was speaking. That went all over the electorate. The great water and mineral resources of this area are known, but we will never get proper development of them under this Government. We shall never get a proper return for our natural resources or a proper opportunity for our human resources until the Commonwealth plans better for all these matters. The Prime Minister made no proposals for the future of the Snowy Mountains Authority; no proposals for processing in Australia the vast mineral wealth in our soil, particularly in the north.

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