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Tuesday, 22 March 1966

Sir JOHN CRAMER (Bennelong) . -It was quite refreshing to hear the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Benson) approach this debate in a modest way. One could perhaps argue about some of the matters that he raised, but he did not deal with his subjects in the trivial manner with which most honorable members opposite have dealt with theirs. It was refreshing to hear the honorable member say that he was not against conscription. He is himself an ex-serviceman and is more qualified than many honorable members opposite to speak on this subject. He said also - this is worth repeating - that it was our duty as a member of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation to go into Vietnam. Coming from an occupant of the Opposition benches who is qualified to speak on this matter, that was a very significant statement.

We have been discussing for several days the first major statement by a new Prime Minister after 16 years in office of a former Prime Minister. This is a significant and historic occasion. We have all become accustomed to what one might call the Menzies era. It was nice to hear the honorable member for Batman pay a tribute to a great man for guiding our destinies in the most prosperous period of our history. Nobody can deny that this is what Sir Robert Menzies did. He created an image but no man is indispensable. So we have had the first major statement by a new Prime Minister.

While he was making his speech I watched the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) very carefully. I think every honorable member will agree that he has a great capacity for the position that he holds. He has prepared himself for his task. He is a positive thinker - a man of action. He is versatile and human. He is very dependable. Australia is fortunate to have a man like him as Prime Minister. The statement that we are debating depicts the man, because it was a courageous and positive statement. It indicates clearly that Australia faces problems of major importance and that the Prime Minister is prepared to grapple with those problems in no uncertain way.

I noted that some sections of the Press criticised the economic content of the statement. I cannot agree with that criticism. In my opinion the Prime Minister gave the most positive review of the situation in Vietnam that we have ever had in this House. He announced the most effective defence policy that we have ever had. He assured the nation that the economy would not be permitted to drift. He announced refreshing new policies on immigration, finance and national development. But the major subject with which he dealt is the subject that we all have been, quite properly I believe, debating. Even though there has been a good deal of repetition in the statements made during the course of this debate I think it is important for the people of Australia to be aware of the differing viewpoints held by Government supporters and Opposition supporters, because this is the most pressing and vital problem facing Australia today. We have other problems. The drought is important. Perhaps development of the north and matters of that kind are important. But none of these matters is in the same category of importance as is the war in South Vietnam because to a large extent the outcome of the conflict will determine the future of this country. We will either live in the shadow of Communism or remain free. That is the measure of the importance of the conflict.

The importance of the war in South Vietnam has not been fully understood by the general public. That is why there have been differences of opinion about the Government's policy. To understand how important this matter is to us we have only to recall the statement made over and over again by Mao Tse-tung that the lives of 200 million Chinese is a price China would be prepared to pay for the triumph of Communism. Nobody, including honorable members opposite, can deny that Mao Tse-tung made that statement. That was a significant statement but, as has been pointed out tonight, no honorable member opposite has said anything about Communism and the effect on the future of South East Asia of pressure from Communist China. It is not only South Vietnam that matters in the war today. The outcome of the war will have an effect on the future of all South East Asia, including, of necessity, Australia. People have said to me, as they have no doubt said to many honorable members and as some sections are saying in America: " Why do we fight in South Vietnam?" The Opposition claims that the conflict is a civil war. This is an argument that we must counter. The people must understand the true position.

After the end of the Second World War Communism flourished. Europe was overrun by Communism. Newly independent countries have arisen in South East Asia and Africa. This is an important period in history. Situated as Australia is geographically on the boundary, so to speak, between Western democracy and Eastern ideology, we must be aware of what is happening. With the exception of Thailand all the countries of South East Asia have obtained independence in recent years. The people of those countries are jealous of their independence but they all are threatened with the infiltration of Communism. Can any honorable member opposite deny this? Is it not true that the Philippines, Malaya and Korea, for example, are threatened with Communism seeping through from Communist China? Yet we never hear one word from honorable lumbers opposite about the relationship between Australia's involvement in those countries and the threat to their independence by the pressure of Communism. In the conditions that exist in Vietnam today we could never stand aside and not be involved. Did we become involved in merely a local matter in Korea? Was the war in Korea a local matter or due to the pressure of Communism? Was the conflict in Malaya a local matter? Do not forget that many thousands of our soldiers died in Korea. For what? Because it was a local war or because of the pressure of Communism? There can be but one answer to these questions, but we never hear a word from honorable members opposite about them.

The independence of Malaya is threatened. Our soldiers have been there for years. Many have died there. Why? To destroy the Communist terrorists who were trying to take over the country. These are undeniable facts, yet we could say that there is no Communism in South East Asia that might affect Australia. We are familiar with what happened when China had her own revolution. We know how Nationalist China was established on Formosa and how it has developed, ably assisted by the United States of America. Is what is happening at present on the borders of India just a local matter? Is it a local matter that Thailand is threatened? We have assisted Thailand, but if South Vietnam goes, Thailand will inevitably be next. Is that a local matter? Is it a local matter in the Philippines where there is great infiltration of Communism? Indeed, is it a local matter in Malaysia and in Indonesia? Right before our eyes one of the greatest Communist parties in any country, the Communist Party in Indonesia, is fighting for supremacy with the free people. Does this all mean nothing to Opposition members? Will they not admit that the drive of Communism toward Australia is a great threat to Australia? Is this not important?

Why have we chosen to fight in South Vietnam? It is essential that a line must be drawn somewhere, and it has been drawn in South Vietnam. It is no use the Opposition saying: " We can desert South Vietnam ". If we take no part in the war and if the American troops are withdrawn from Vietnam, as has been suggested, within 24 hours the Communists will be in charge in South Vietnam. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Opposition will not face this fact, because it is a fact. All I have to say for South East Asia and for Australia is: "Thank God for the United States of America ". There is no other power on earth that could do as much for the protection of the freedom of the independent countries of South East Asia or, indeed, for Australia. We must play our part in the scheme of things.

It is inconceivable to me that a great party like the Australian Labour Party, which played such an important role in World War II - and I give it credit for that - should oppose the help we are obliged to give, with the United States of America, to South Vietnam. I cannot understand why the Leader of the Opposition, whom I respect and who, I know, is not a Communist sympathiser, can call this a civil war in Vietnam, in the light of what I have said about its importance to Australia. The dreadful thing is the damage that he does and Opposition members do to Australia itself. This is a terrible thing, because I know that honorable members opposite, including the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), who is sitting at the table, know that there is a small section in the Labour Party who would welcome Communism throughout Asia and who, indeed, would not object to it having a powerful influence even in Australia. This is a dreadful state of affairs in the once great and powerful Labour Party. I cannot understand, nor can the people understand, why Labour takes this point of view.

We have, in our defence commitment, agreed to increase our forces in Vietnam to 4,500 men. This is a really worthwhile contribution. Today I heard criticism of the former Minister for the Army.

Mr Daly - I rise to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The honorable member for Bennelong has stated that a number of members of the Labour Party would not care if Asia were overrun by Communism or if Communism were a powerful force in this country. Those words are personally objectionable to me and to members of the Labour Party, and I ask that they be withdrawn.

Mr Wentworth - On the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker: The honorable member for Yarra (Dr. J. F. Cairns), speaking in the House tonight, made it quite clear that that was his view. It is a matter of fact that there is in the Labour Party a VietCairns faction.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! It is not the duty of the Chair to sift facts and to determine whether a statement is fiction, fantasy or fact, otherwise the business of the House would not progress. I rule that the point of order lacks substance.

Mr Daly - Mr. Deputy Speaker, I say that the words are personally objectionable to me and I ask that they be withdrawn in accordance with the Standing Orders.

Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER__Order! I have given my ruling.

Debate interrupted.

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