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Wednesday, 13 October 1971
Page: 2320

Dr MACKAY (Evans) (Minister for the Navy) (12:42 PM) - The honourable member for Swan (Mr Bennett) quoted a number of letters and drew attention to a great deal of speculation with regard to Australian troops returning from Vietnam. The Minister for the Army (Mr Peacock) was unable to be present tonight, but the honourable member gave him prior intimation of his intention to raise this matter, and the Minister has provided mc with some information which I now convey to the House. The honourable member for Swan said, and the letters which he has quoted suggested that there was a difference in the treatment given to officers and to ordinary servicemen who were denied access to air transport. The suggestion was that the Government was being very pinch- penny in its attitude in not providing means of transport in order to honour the promise that these servicemen would be able to be with their families at Christmas. But this is hardly in keeping with the facts.

The Minister for the Army has assured me and, through me, assures the House that all our planning is directed towards ensuring that every member of the Australian forces in Vietnam who is due to come out with the main withdrawal will be able to be with his family by Christmas. That means only one thing, that men coming out of Vietnam with that withdrawal will not be travelling by train on Christmas Day; they will be with their families, if this can possibly be arranged. Honourable members will appreciate that our troops will not be coming home only in HMAS 'Sydney'. It is true that aircraft are used in this defence manoeuvre for bringing these men out. There is a chartered Boeing 707 flight once a week, and twice a week CI 30 aircraft belonging to the Royal Australian Air Force are used for this ferrying service. So there is a good deal of flexibility.

Mr Kennedy - Will these men be flown back to Victoria from their arrival point in northern Australia?

Dr MACKAY - These men will be flown out to Australia from Vietnam by the means which I have just described, and the Army has undertaken that all these men who are coming out by these means will be able to be with their families by Christmas - unforeseen circumstances excepting. Of course, this means that naturally the Army will be looking at methods of transportation which will enable this aim to be achieved. The Minister for the Army says that at this stage he can only repeat that there is no reason for him to believe that that aim will not be achieved. So I think that the speculation is unnecessary. In addition to ships, planes are being used. There is every indication that the promise will be kept and that the men coming out in this main force withdrawal will be with their families by Christmas.

The other point, to which the Minister has not referred, relates to the small number of men who will be required to remain behind. If my memory is correct, this has been described as a necessary factor to safeguard the remaining equipment and other logistic support material that will be left behind in the area prior to its shipment to Australia. I do not think that purpose would be achieved if, as was suggested tonight, the men were flown home for Christmas and then, as I understand the suggestion, flown back again to carry on guarding this material until finally it is shipped to Australia. I think this is one of the things that naturally are unfortunate. We would have liked to have had all the men home. There is an indication, from what has been said in previous answers to questions in the House by the Minister for the Army, that there will be a small remaining force. But those men, of course, will be withdrawn as soon as it is physically possible to withdraw them.

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