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Thursday, 9 December 1971
Page: 4477


Mr FAIRBAIRN (Farrer) (Minister for Defence) - I seek leave to make a statement on the training of Vietnamese and Cambodians in Vietnam.


Mr Bryant - Mr Deputy Speaker, may I ask the Minister whether we are to be permitted to debate this issue now and whether people such as myself will be allowed to speak if we consider it necessary?


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock - Order! There is no point of order.


Mr FAIRBAIRN - This is up to your Deputy Leader.


Mr Bryant - What is the answer?


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member for Wills will resume his seat.


Mr Bryant - Leave is refused.


Mr Barnard - No, leave is not refused.


Mr Bryant - Unless I can speak, he does not speak.


Mr Barnard - Leave is granted.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! I suggest that the House come to order and that interjections from both sides of the House cease.


Mr FAIRBAIRN - I wish to inform the House of the arrangements that have been made for Australian military training elements to assist with the traning in Vietnam


Mr Bryant - 1 take a point of order. I refer to standing order No. Ill which states:

Leave of the House or committee must be granted without any dissentient voice.

If the Minister wishes to make this statement he will offer an equal opportunity to those on this side of the House to speak, otherwise I will exercise my right and refuse leave. The House does not belong to the Minister or any members of the Opposition individually; it belongs to each one of us. This is my right, and I have been run over all this day-


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member for Wills will resume his seat. The position before the Chair is that if leave is refused by one member leave to make the statement is not granted. Normally it is accepted that if the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who is in charge of the business of the House on the Opposition side, gives leave that leave is granted. But if the honourable member foi Wills asserts his right, the standing order he quoted must be upheld.


Mr Bryant - All he has to do is say that he will give us leave lo speak.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The Chair is not able to decide whether something is to be granted by a Government jr whether something is to be granted by the Opposition. The Chair is bound by the Stand.ng Orders, and if the honourable member for Wills asserts his desire to have the standing order to which he referred enforced the Chair must accept that leave has been refused by the honourable member for Wills. At the moment that is the position.


Mr Barnard - 1 want to make my position perfectly clear. A number of ministerial statements have been listed on the blue working sheet today. It is the usual custom for the Leader of the House to discuss these matters with me. I consult the Leader of my Party, and if we agree that a statement is to be made in the House and give an undertaking to that effect I will keep that undertaking. I am not prepared to break a promise. The Leader of the House has not entered into any arrangements different from those we discussed this morning. The matters we discussed are listed on the blue sheet. The statement that the Minister lor Defence wishes to make is a very important statement not only to members in this House but also to people outside this House. I want to make my position perfectly clear. I am not prepared to go back on an undertaking that I made concerning the business of this House. In these ir.cumstances I suggest that the Minister should be granted leave to make his statement.


Mr Calwell - As the oldest inhabitant and the father of the House-


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Strictly speaking the oldest inhabitant should seek leave.


Mr Calwell - 1 am rising on a point of order. The Standing Orders are such that the Government always wins. No matter what Party is in power there is a contingent resolution available and the Minister can move under that contingent resolution that he be given an opportunity to make his statement. The House might have to divide but the Minister can introduce his statement in that way. This is information given without a fee, even if I am only a doctor of law honoris causa.


Mr Swartz - 1 appreciate the comments of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I can assure the House that he has adhered to any arrangements or any agreements we have made in the past in discussions we have had in relation to the business of the House. I appreciate the fact that he has again tonight stood up and expressed himself as he has. I know it is a difficult situation.


Mr Bryant - I wish to make a personal explanation under standing order 64.


Mr Graham - Sit down.


Mr Bryant - Let me make my position clear.


Mr Kennedy - He has as much right as anyone here.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! I suggest that the House come to order. If honourable members ceased interjecting and left the control of the House to the Chair we might get somewhere.


Mr Bryant - I make this explanation under standing order 64. I have refused leave to the Minister to make this statement on defence. I read the blue working sheet. I said to my colleague, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, this afternoon: '1 want to tell the Minister that if I am permitted to answer the Minister or to speak to his statement if I feel I should on behalf of those people I represent, I will not refuse leave.

But if I am refused the opportunity to speak I will refuse leave for the Minister to speak. However, in these circumstances and without withdrawing from my prerogative at all, I am prepared to withdraw my refusal to grant leave. But I want to say emphatically that nobody in this House, the Leader, the Deputy Leader, the Party altogether or the House itself, has any right whatsover to take away from any member the right to speak when he thinks he ought to. I am as important to my constituents as the Minister is to his and if this matter is of some importance to the nation I am entitled to speak and I have a duty to speak. Nobody - I do not care what you do, whomever it may be - will take that right from me and none of you will silence me. I withdraw my opposition to the Minister speaking with leave.


Mr FAIRBAIRN - Then I ask again for leave to make a statement.


Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted. There now being no objection, leave is granted.


Mr FAIRBAIRN - I wish to inform the House of the arrangements that have been made for Australian military training elements to assist with the training in Vietnam of Vietnamese and Cambodian armed forces personnel. The 2 matters under consideration are: Firstly, the maintenance in Vietnam of a small Australian Army Assistance Group (AAAG) after the withdrawal of the Australian Force Vietnam; and secondly, the provision of Australian military instructors to train Cambodian military personnel at United States training establishments set up with the co-operation of the Vietnamese Government in Phuoc Tuy Province.

As explained by Ministers earlier in the session, these matters were to be discussed with the other governments concerned. The Army Assistance Group is a matter for Australia and the Republic of Vietnam; the proposals to train Cambodian troops in Vietnam involve the governments of Australia, the Khmer Republic, the Republic of Vietnam and the United States.

Australian Army Assistance Group

The House will recall that on 30th March the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon), when announcing a reduction in Australian combat forces then in South Vietnam, made the observation that:

.   . the Australian Government will continue lo assist the Republic of Vietnam, though the character of our assistance will progressively change.

The Prime Minister went on to refer to various forms of economic assistance and training assistance. On 18th August the Prime Minister informed the House that the Government was discussing with the Vietnamese Government plans to retain in the Republic some military training and advisory elements if they were wanted and if satisfactory arrangements could be made. The hope was expressed that these elements would continue to work in close association with the United States' effort.

I am now able to announce the conclusion of our discussions with the Government of the Republic of Vietnam. That Government welcomes the continuation of this form of practical concern for their future, now that Vietnamese forces are carrying most of the burden of combat and Australian combat forces are about to be entirely withdrawn. In consultation with the Vietnamese Government, we are providing an Australian Army Assistance Group which will have a total strength of the order of150, including 30 instructors assigned to the training of Cambodians in Vietnam to which I will refer later. The Group will include elements to assist in training at the Jungle Warfare Training Centre at its new location in Van Kiep in Phuoc Tuy Province, and to assist in advising and training Territorial Forces also in Phuoc Tuy. It will include a small group of engineering personnel, who will be needed at the Jungle Warfare Training Centre at Van Kiep. and a headquarters and supporting element. None of the elements of the Group will have a combatant role. The costs of maintaining the Australian Army Assistant Group will be borne by the Australian Government. The group will remain in Vietnam so long as that is mutually agreed between the 2 governments and as long as it has a contribution to make.

The Government considers that the small numbers of personnel of the AAAG to assist the Vietnamese in these ways will perform a valuable function. We have previously been engaged in this kind of assistance to the Vietnamese, and Army instructors have won for themselves a fine record. This effort complements the programme of economic and defence aid support to Vietnam, which, as the Prime Minister announced last August, has been increased to $25m over the 3 years from 1971-72. With the withdrawal of our combat contribution to Vietnam it is appropriate that a small group should remain as arranged with the Government of the Republic of Vietnam to continue assistance in the training field.

Training of Personnel of the Khmer Armed Forces

Since Cambodia took up arms to resist North Vietnamese aggression, its Government has made both general and specific appeals dating back to April 1970 for assistance, and the Australian Government has given continuing consideration to these needs and to forms of help which would be appropriate and possible for Australia to give. For this purpose we have had a continuing exchange of information and views at the ministerial and official level with Cambodia and other countries interested in helping that country. As was stated in this House in November, Cabinet approved in principle the provision of a small number of Australian instructors to train Cambodian armed forces personnel at United States training establishments in Phuoc Tuy Province, subject to the feasibility of and arrangements for the proposal being established in discussions between the representatives of the governments concerned in Saigon.

Military representatives of Australia, the Khmer Republic, the Republic of Vietnam and the United States have now recommended practical arrangements for the training of Cambodian personnel in Vietnam, and the suitability of these arrangements has been accepted by the 4 governments. Australia will participate in this scheme with a group of the order of 30 instructors, the exact composition of which will be determined in the light of training requirements. This group of instructors will be included in the total of about150 men in Vietnam referred to above. They will be administered and supported as an integral part of the Australian Army Assistance Group. The costs of this group of instructors will be borne by the Australian Government and they will work within the framework of the United States training establishments in Phuoc Tuy Province. As with the arrangements governing the Australian Army Assistance Group, our participation in the scheme to train Cambodians at United States training establishments in Phuoc Tuy is by mutual arrangement between the governments concerned and will be reviewed according to requirements.

The Australian Government is firmly of the view that the Australian contribution of instructors. though small in number, to train Cambodians wm provide worthwhile and much needed assistance to meet the critical training requirements of the Cambodian armed forces. The requirements of the Cambodian armed forces for such assistance have long been recognised by the Australian Government, which, as announced earlier, is providing some training in Australia, and it can see added advantages in participating in a scheme for Cambodian training in Vietnam.

Australia has been giving material assistance to Cambodia, decisions on which have been announced previously. In June 1970 the Government made a special grant of $500,000 to Cambodia to purchase logistic and defence support items and to help with economic aid. In September of the same year the then Minister for Foreign Affairs announced an additional $900,000 for aid to Cambodia including economic and logistic support items and, if necessary, arms and ammunition. This programme of special aid to Cambodia has continued in 1971-72 when $ 1.35m has been provided including $200,000 for the training of Cambodian servicemen in Australia. The Government believes Australians admire the way in which Cambodians are defending themselves against invading forces of North Vietnam. The Cambodian armed forces are small and not highly trained, and the Cambodian people are accustomed to peace rather than to the need now imposed upon them to defend themselves against military attack by the North Vietnamese. The Australian Government is convinced that Australians will consider that the assignment of some Australian instructors to train Cambodians in Vietnam is a most suitable and practical way of supporting the country in concert wilh others who are concerned.

As I have stated, the instructors will be assisting at training establishments maintained in Phuoc Tuy Province by the United States: there is no intention of sending Australian Service personnel to Cambodia. The Government's policy of not stationing Service personnel in Cambodia (other than the Service Attache at the Australian Embassy) is a long-standing one, and there will be no departure from this. 1 lay on the table of the House for the information of members 2 Memoranda of Understanding, the first covering the Australian Army Assistance Group in Vietnam, the second on Australian participation in the training of Cambodian military personnel in Vietnam. These documents, signed on behalf of the Governments concerned, set out the agreed arrangements concerning the matters I have just outlined. I present the following paper:

Training of Vietnamese and Cambodians in

Vietnam - Ministerial Statement. 9th December

1971.

and move:

That the House take note of the paper.







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