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Tuesday, 22 March 1966

Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- It is my view that the preservation of the undemocratic and corrupt Government of South Vietnam is not worth one drop of Australian blood. Those who are prepared to send other people to that country to do what they tell us is the national duty have very little to say for themselves. The notable fact is that throughout Australia's long history of voluntary enlistment, of the preparedness of Australians to shoulder the burdens imposed upon them by foreign policies of which the concensus of opinion has been in favour, there has never been a necessity to drag people into the recruiting places. This is the first challenge that must be put before the House.. I think it is the moral issue that now faces the whole nation, and I hope to examine it.

First I want to examine some of the remarks of the honorable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer). What rather puzzles me is what one might call the China neurosis which seems to afflict people of the honorable member's political persuasion. The position of China is such that now, apparently, it presents very great difficulties. China is capable of all sorts of actions. China does this and it does that. It has invaded here and destroyed there. But what are the facts? The Chinese Government is much like other governments. It is capable of monstrous errors and it is capable of being a good neighbour. Communist China has been the neighbour of North Korea for some 16 or 17 years but, as far as we can tell, China has not taken over North Korea. China has been the neighbour of North Vietnam for some 12 years, since that country acquired an independent government. So far as one can tell there has been no effort by China to take over North Vietnam. China has been the neighbour of Burma for 16 or 17 years and as far as one can determine, its behaviour on the China-Burma border over the last 12 or 13 years has been scrupulous. I think China's relationship with India has been malicious and mischievous. Apparently China has reached some rapport with Pakistan. I believe its behaviour towards Tibet was murderous in the extreme. It was worthy of the behaviour of some European governments at various points of history. So China in many respects has been not greatly different from other governments, good and bad, at various times in all parts of the world.

But one of the interesting facts about China is that at present it is almost completely isolated from the rest of the world. It is isolated in a way in which perhaps no other country except South Africa is isolated. It has the world's largest or second largest military power on its northern and western frontiers - the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - watching it carefully.

It has upset the largest democracy in the world, the country with the second largest population, India, which it seems has started to mobilise to keep China in order. It has the United States of America, the world's most formidable power, on its doorstep keeping watch and ward. It has offended the people of Indonesia and most of the people of Africa. I am pointing out to the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Irwin), who is trying to interject, that to build China up into a world wide ogre is, to my mind, a piece of nonsense which cannot be reasonably sustained. If honorable members opposite were dinkum in any way they would do two things. They would stop their trading with China and those of them who are in the acceptable age group would enlist and encourage others to do so. Their own sons would be in one or other of the Services or in the Citizen Military Forces.

But this is not an argument about China; it is an argument about Australia's own policy. I look at the people concerned with this question. I look at some of the people taking the stump at various places around the world and talking about this tremendous fight for freedom. I look at L. B. Johnson, who is not going to be bombed, at Ho Chi Minh who is not going to be bombed, at Mao Tse-tung who is not going to be bombed and at the Prime Minister of Australia (Mr. Harold Holt) who is not going to be bombed. It seems to me that a monstrous exercise in immorality is being carried out by many large nations of the world on both sides of the fence. What we have to do is to bend all our efforts towards preventing a continuation of the present hostilities and to shed some tears for the people of Vietnam who are being slaughtered by both sides in causes which cannot be sustained. This is the challenge before the Australian people.

Australia is one of the most secure, stable and prosperous nations of the world. It is a nation that is acquiring the kind of wealth that gives a certain prestige in the world. It ought to be trying to assert its authority in an attempt to preserve the people of Vietnam from their present slaughter, misery and sorrow. That is why the Labour Party is so intent on seeing that Australia withdraws from its military commitment there and that it attempts to produce some rapport around the world, so that the people of Vietnam will know -hat their interests come first and the interests of ideologies will come a bad last.

When I look at the statement made to this Parliament by the Prime -Minister on bis first taking office, the aspect of it that concerns me as an Australian is its demonstration of an absolute insufficiency on the part of the Government. It shows the Government's apathy towards many subjects, its complacency about others and its insufficiency in three very important fields. We have become a nation devoted to its own ingrowing inferiority complex. We have to get overseas interests to come here and develop our mineral deposits. We are pleading for somebody else to defend us. It is as though there were 11 million of us cowering in a corner of the continent and waiting for somebody else to save us. We have no foreign policy of our own. We merely follow in the footsteps of others. We have spent 60 or 70 years in getting rid of the shackles imposed on us by Whitehall, only to acquire another lot that has just been forged in the White House. It is time that Australia spoke for itself. It is time that Australia realised it has a mission in the world.

The honorable member for Mitchell is still trying to interject. Well, he may be insufficient; I think he is in many respects, but the other one million of us have a good deal of capacity and tremendous wealth and goodwill at our disposal to which we should be turning our attention.

I am concerned with the general question of conscription of people for overseas service and with defence as it is related to such conscription. First I want to deal with the history of conscription, secondly the necessity for it and thirdly the morality of it. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) has just informed me that no son of any member of the Liberal Party in this House has enlisted to take his place with the forces overseas, but that is a matter for their own consciences and it is a matter on which they can answer after consulting their consciences. There seems to be a great deal of confusion about our present conscription system. There has been provision for universal training in this country for very many years. I think the first suggestion of it was in the Defence

Act of 1903. In 1909 provision for conscription was finally .passed through the Parliament. In 1911 universal training for home service during peace and war became the standard policy of the country. Then, during the First World War, we had the basic policy of voluntary enlistment for overseas service. Efforts were made by the Government to introduce conscription but a referendum proposal for that purpose was rejected. That was the only occasion on which a proposal for conscription for overseas service was submitted to the people of Australia, and it was rejected.

In 1929 the compulsory training system was suspended, but again it is interesting to note that as the Second World War came closer - and this was apparent to many - the decision to raise the strength of the Citizen Military Forces to 70,000 was made in late 1938 and by March 1939 this target had been achieved. By November 1939 there were about 80,000 volunteers in the C.M.F. The universal training scheme was reintroduced by proclamation on 30th November 1939. I recall that the first people called up were compelled to enlist. They were required to enlist, as it was then called, and went into camp in about December 1939.

The system of training or service with which honorable members opposite are charging us with the introduction of conscription was in fact no more than an extension in time of service and in area of service of the system that had been introduced in November 1939. That was in 1943. The conscription on this occasion is completely different. This is the conscription of a selected group in peace time to carry out Australia's foreign policy. It is the conscription of a selected group. It is the imposition on the minority by the majority of the necessity to carry the sacrifice for the nation. lt is not the same as the system which was introduced in November i 95 1 . which was for home service and which was suspended in 1957 after it had cost some £150 million. But the most insidious thing about the system which has been introduced now is the way it has been sneaked upon the people

Of Australia.

Some five or six years ago the Crimes Act was changed. I suggest that honorable members might look at the sections in the Crimes Act about proclaimed countries to see how this was, in effect, preparation for the kind of operation that is going on. Then the C.M.F. enlistment was changed to include overseas service. Then in 1964 we had the announcement of conscription somewhere before the Senate election. But at this time, so far as I can recall and I can gather, there was no suggestion that these people were to be sent overseas. Then some 12 months ago we had the announcement of the commitment to Vietnam. The Defence Act was amended so that " service " could be overseas service of men between the ages of 18 and 60 years in time of war. At about the same time we had the extension of the national service requirement, if necessary, to a term of five years. These were the six insidious steps by which this has been sneaked upon the Australian community. There has never been a definite statement by the Government as to what its policy is, what the ultimate commitment is or what the ultimate objectives are.

We on this side of the House believe that if the nation is challenged in such a way, the strength of the nation is such that voluntary service would probably prevail. Within our own history, it was the Fisher Government in 1911 which introduced the universal training. It was a Labour Government in 1943 which expanded the universal service system, as I have explained. Therefore, both compulsory service and voluntary service are part of our tradition. But it is interesting to look at the figures. In 1900, when our population was 3,700,000, there were 27,000 people in the services in the various States, mostly part-time and mostly, I should say, members of the militia. We had a population of 5 million in 1914, yet 400,000 volunteered for service overseas. Our population in 1939 was 7 million. During the war about 750,000 volunteered for service anywhere. About 1 million served in the various services. At the outbreak of war about 80,000 were in the voluntary services. In 1965, with a population of 11 million, we have to conscript people when we want a mere handful to fill our regular services. We have 109,000 in the various services now - 38,000 in the citizen services and 67,000 in the regular arms of the services. Honorable members opposite have said that nobody else is able to achieve these results without compulsory service, but Britain is doing it. Britain has more than 420,000 in its various services - territorials and otherwise - all on a voluntary system. Canada has 170,000 including some 50,000 in the militia presently serving on a voluntary basis. In both instances there is voluntary service because there is a concensus about the foreign policy of the nation and, particularly as regards Canada, the terms of service are such that they attract people to the training. This, I believe, is part of the history and a part that should be examined.

I propose now to deal briefly with the necessity of conscription. I do not believe that the conscription system has anything to do with the defence of Australia. I do not believe that Australia is in dire peril. I do not believe that the Chinese or anybody else, within the foreseeable future, can invade us. We are paying a premium of some sort to allies for some sort of service which they may render in the future or, again, they may not. Let us examine the situation. In Asia there are six nations with a population larger than ours - Pakistan, India, Japan, Indonesia, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and India. First let us consider Pakistan. Does anybody suggest that we will be invaded by Pakistan? Does anyone suggest that we will be invaded by India? Will Japan bother to come when this Government and its allies in the various States are selling us at 6d. per ton? Is Indonesia a likely starter? Of course it is not. Honorable members opposite, with great glee, recount the massacres in Indonesia. What about the U.S.S.R.? It is obvious from talking to people who are in touch with these affairs that Russia is no longer regarded as having this kind of adventurous spirit. So we come finally to China.

What are the potential menaces from China? I refer honorable members to a speech by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) a few days ago when he cited the military strength of China. China, for the next 1 5 or 20 years, will not be a military threat, so far as I can tell. She has about 500,000 tons of shipping. Honorable members would have only to turn to the history of the last war to realise what is involved in a naval invasion of any country.

Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes (CHISHOLM, VICTORIA) - What about the 7th Division?

Mr BRYANT - The 7th Division went to Balikpapan in 1945 with 20,000 men in the first wave. That landing took 204 ships - very large ones. In the invasion of the Philippines 250,000 men were engaged and about 1,700 very large vessels, naval and otherwise, were needed to put them there. Dr. Millar has suggested in his book that the only countries with the shipping capacities to invade Australia would be the U.S.S.R. and the United States of America. I believe that honorable members opposite are doing the nation and the world a grave disservice by trying to build into us this neurosis.

Let us consider some of the other nations. We are, geographically, one of the most secure nations on earth. We have a mobilisation capacity of more than one million men and, even including some of the people opposite who do not look like likely starters, I think that is a powerful force. The honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) who is now interjecting has a redoubtable fighting record of which any Australian could be proud and of which the rest of us can be proud that he has it. He would know full well that it would take at least 500,000 men landed on the shores of Australia to suppress it satisfactorily and that, logistically, it would be an impossible feat for anyone in the foreseeable future I ask him to stand up and to work out the staff tables for this potential invasion. There is another characteristic, of course. Since 1945 there has been the creation of a series of buffers between ourselves and the people of Asia. In 1941-42 when Japan invaded Indo China the Japanese were welcomed at Hanoi. They were more or less welcomed in Malaya. They met little resistance from the locals in the Philippines, and in Indonesia they were liberators. But anyone who tries to step ashore in most of those countries now would have the population of the country armed against him. Anyone "'ho landed and tried to take over North Vietnam now would know full well that he had the job in front of him. If honorable members sit down and analyse this from the point of view of logistics, logic and strategy, they will realise that most of the hysteria among honorable members opposite is not based on fact.

Lastly, there is the morality of it all. Why are we in Vietnam? Are we fighting for freedom? Is there any honorable member opposite who says our action is free or democratic, or that it has any of the qualities which we all respect? It is even more undemocratic than the Australian Country Party and that is. taking it along way down the line. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Nixon) is of a fine military age. There are splendid uniforms to fit men such as he. He could wear one instead of sitting there and calling up other men's sons to go. We are not fighting for integrity and we are not fighting for stability. I believe that we are fighting to protect an error in American foreign policy. America is like other nations in that it is sometimes right - it was right in Suez - and is sometimes wrong. I believe it is wrong about China. I believe it was wrong in West New Guinea. I believe it was wrong in its blockade of Cuba. I believe it has made a strategic error now. The challenge before us is not to commit more Australians to Vietnam but to ensure, by every step within our capacity, that China is not provoked to enter the fight. I would simply say to honorable members opposite that any man who reckons that Australian blood should be shed to protect Air Vice-Marshal Ky and his Government should stand up in public and say so.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Irwin) adjourned.

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