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Tuesday, 8 March 1966

It was of great advantage to us to receive a visit from Vice-President Humphrey and Governor Harriman so soon after the defence discussions with Mr. Healey. The Vice-President was with us on 18th and 19th February. This is only the second occasion on which a Vice-President of the United States has visited Australia. Mr. Humphrey came to us after a rapid tour embracing a number of the key countries of South East Asia. He was able to bring us a complete account of the talks between President Johnson and Prime Minister Ky of South Vietnam. We found our own assessment of the situation there, based on information reaching us from our own sources, to be very much in line with that conveyed by Vice-President Humphrey to us. In his public statements in Australia he brought out compellingly the critical and fundamental character of the struggle in South Vietnam. We had earlier told him we applauded the initiatives advanced by Prime Minister Ky and President Johnson for a vigorous programme of economic and social reform. We all recognise that there is far more to the problem of South Vietnam than the checking of the Communists by military means. There is a need for reconstruction and rehabilitation. There is a need for an effective national administration pressing on with desired reforms and the improvement of standards.

Most of the people of South Vietnam live in villages and hamlets. Many of these have suffered the ravages of terrorist activities for years. First, the affected areas must be cleared of the enemy and made secure against Vietcong reinfiltration. The next phase is the establishment of effective administration so that the benefits of modern services can be brought to scattered rural communities. So many leaders have been murdered that the Government of South Vietnam has launched an extensive, but concentrated, programme of training. It aims to produce as quickly as possible successive teams of people who will return to the ravaged areas as leaders in various activities of significance to the local communities. They include people trained in the business of administration and government, and in health and rural development; they include also teachers and personnel trained to undertake such rehabilitation tasks as the building of homes, schools, roads and hospitals. Already hundreds of these teams are operating and the South Vietnamese Government plans to have many more available by the end of 1966. The Government is planning in this way for the progressive rebuilding of the social fabric of the community. Australians are assisting in this valuable work. I speak, in particular, of our surgical teams, which are providing medical help in a country which has far too few trained doctors serving the community of 14 million people. Australians are also helping as advisers in agriculture and road building.

I pay tribute, also, Mr. Speaker, to the contributions made by Australian forces in the area. Since 1962, we have had military advisers with the South Vietnamese forces. These are highly trained and dedicated men, who at great risk, and in some cases casualty, to themselves, have stood beside their South Vietnamese counterparts in the field. Since 1964, a flight of Royal Australian Air Force Caribou aircraft has been used in a great variety of ways for general transport purposes, and to bring supplies quickly to meet emergency needs. Last year Australia committed the First Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment to Vietnam, which was subsequently expanded to a battalion group. The Battalion has to great effect and purpose been conducting operations from its base at Bien Hoa, and has earned praise and respect from our South Vietnamese and American allies. VicePresident Humphrey made particular reference during his visit here to the high value placed on the Australian contingent, both in their role as fighting men and their conduct generally amongst the Vietnamese people.

The Vice-President spoke of the overall prospects in terms of what he described as " restrained optimism ". The information we and the Americans have is that the tide of war is turning in our favour. Progress is being made in rescuing new areas, in clearing them of Vietcong and in preparing them for orderly civil government. The critical nature of the conflict in South Vietnam has not been fully recognised by all, and this certainly includes many members of the Opposition. We are told that we over-simplify the issue there. It is more accurate to say that our critics overcomplicate it. We still hear from some representatives of the Opposition that this is a civil war and that we have no good cause for participation. This view runs against all the information and advice reaching us. The discovery by our own forces of extensive headquarters and military facilities in close vicinity to Saigon illustrates the long-term planning and the years of preparation with outside assistance which lie behind the activities of the Vietcong. This is no civil war. It is the principal present manifestation of the expansionist activities of Communist China. These activities are channelled through, and directed from, Hanoi. All the countries in South East Asia are facing the threat of Communist China's expansion in one form or another. In Laos, for example, there is fighting between Chinese-supplied Pathet Lao - or Communist forces - and the forces of the Government. The Prime Minister of Thailand and the senior Ministerial colleagues who accompanied him gave us a graphic account of increasing Communist subversion, infiltration, and terrorist activities threatening that country. In India there have been direct attacks by troops of the Communist Chinese Army across the Indian border. Honorable members will see in these and other countries the manifestation, in one form or another, of externally-directed Communist aggression.

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