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Wednesday, 16 March 1966

Mr L R JOHNSON (Hughes) .- The Holt Government, the new Administration, ends its first 50 days of office today. We have witnessed 50 unspectacular days, 50 seemingly wasted days at the end of which there are no antidotes prescribed for the nation's many ailments and no panaceas for the apparent pains that prevail around Australia at the present time. Disappointment and disillusionment are sweeping the country, and a great sense of despair is abroad. The rate of economic growth has fallen from over 9 per cent, per annum to a little more than 3 per cent. There is concern that the new Government shows no signs of urgency about the drought, for example. At a time when there is a 30 per cent, decline in farm income this Government fails to provide any ultimate answer to meet the great need for water conservation which is so apparent in Australia. Then, of course, there is no real indication of a feeling of urgency in regard to the housing crisis and the education deficiencies of Australia. While the Labour movement grapples with the great problems of education on behalf of the people of this nation, the guilty men who have prevailed in Canberra for 17 long years remain unapprehended. Many serious matters were left unattended to in the state of the nation speech by the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt).

The Prime Minister's statement is neither anticipatory nor forward looking. It involves no frank identification of problems and gives no far reaching answers. The Prime Minister said that he regards his Ministry as being on trial. The fact is that the new broom has not swept clean. At the end of the first 50 days the dirt under the carpet remains, and the establishment is grubby as ever. It is a fact that this new Government is on trial, and to the extent that the people of the Dawson electorate have been able to adjudicate they have certainly found the Government wanting. I congratulate the new member for Dawson (Dr. Patterson). It is refreshing to know that in Labour's ranks there is now an effective voice for national development in this Parliament. The clear fact is that those who sit opposite have become a leaderless legion. The hand of the master has gone. I believe that it will not be long before the people take the opportunity - one will be available to them in the Kooyong by-election - to indicate even further displeasure at this Government's lack of urgency in dealing with many of the things I have mentioned.

Defence is a topic which has been seriously neglected in this statement. It is true that some reference is made to defence supplies. The fact that on 19th February the publication " The Australian Manufacturer " called for a full scale inquiry on behalf of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures into the production of armaments; and the fact that Australian industrialists had not been given a share of the big business associated with the war in Vietnam met with a quick response, as anybody with an appreciation of these things would properly expect.

Then the Prime Minister referred to the new Vietnam medal. A statement on the clasp for the medal takes up some part of his state of the nation address. But there is no real analysis of the defence situation. Some tribute is paid to the British Labour Defence Minister, Mr. Denis Healey, who came to Australia a short time ago to talk about defence for the 1970's, the start of which is only four years away, and for the period from 1970 to the 1990's. It would be a wonderful thing for Australia if we had a government looking as far ahead as that. Mr. Healey's representations in Australia concerned the east of Suez problem and the possibility that Britain might withdraw its forces from east of Suez. Yet nowhere in the statement is there indicated the slightest change of policy arising from this very real likelihood which was mentioned by Mr. Healey. The United Kingdam is moving steadfastly in its thinking away from Asfa and inclining more to the European Common Market area with its great trade and defence complex. If we look at the British Labour Government's statement of 1966 on its Defence Estimates, the following important part should capture our imagination -

We have important military facilities in Malaysia and Singapore as have our Australian and New Zealand partners. Against the day when it may no longer be possible for us to use these facilities freely, we have begun to discuss, with the Government of Australia, the practical possibilities of our using military facilities in that country if necessary.

Is it possible that substantial changes of Indonesian foreign policy might result from the new internal position in which that country finds itself today? Would cessation of Sukarno's confrontation policy with Malaysia hasten Britain's departure from Malaya and Singapore, thus leaving a vacuum in respect of which there would be a great problem for Australia? The time will surely come, and in the near future in any event, when Singapore will cease to operate as a bastion of British and Australian defence. Yet we still have no declared intention to provide a major naval base or major air base in either Papua and New Guinea or anywhere in northern Australia.

The Australian Government' is neglecting Australia's defence at a time when it claims that our safety is threatened. The clear fact of the matter is that if Britain cut the percentage of gross national product devoted to defence by 1 per cent, by economies in Asia, the percentage of gross national product devoted to defence would have to increase in Australia by nearly 5 per cent., which is an almost impossible proposition.

Clearly, long term planning is necessary to meet such a likely eventuality. Clearly, we must take greater steps than we have done before to obtain value for the substantial amount of money that we spend on Australia's defence. Substantial though the amount may be, it is very poor by world standards. One has only to look briefly and cursorily at our record in regard to defence expenditure compared with the record of other countries. Australia's defence expenditure, expressed as a percentage of gross national product, remains at 3.4 per cent, at the present time. It has been much lower in preceding years. In Canada the expenditure is as high as 3.7 per cent.; in New Zealand it is 4.4 per cent.; in Germany, 5 per cent.; in France, 5.1 per cent.; in Sweden, 5.2 per cent.; in the United Kingdom, 6.7 per cent.; and in the United States of America, 8.9 per cent.

It is apparent to all that despite the great belligerency displayed by this Government, it has no inclination to back up these belligerent tendencies with the kind of defence expenditure that is provided in other part's of the world. The fact is that we endeavour to obtain our defence provisions on the cheap. At the present time there is a great inclination to put the great defence burden right on the backs and the shoulders of Australia's 20 year olds. When we express the figure pertaining to our defence expenditure as a percentage of gross national product we must be alarmed to know that in 1964-65, which was the last financial year, our figure dropped to as low as 2.9 per cent.

In 1951-52 our defence expenditure was 4.3 per cent, of our gross national product, and in the succeeding seven years it was 4.8 per cent., 3.7 per cent., 3.5 per cent., 3.6 per cent., 3.2 per cent., 3 per cent, and 3 per cent, again. Last financial year, as I have already mentioned, the defence expenditure expressed as a percentage of the gross national product dived right down to 2.9 per cent. Yet the Government professes to be concerned with the defence of the nation.

The present Prime Minister knows better and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen) knows better because each of them has served as a senior Minister in eight successive governments when the defence expenditure, expressed as a percentage of gross national product, exceeded that of last financial year. So it seems to me that this is the first matter which needs overhauling if honorable members opposite have any intentions about defence apart from sacrificing Australia's young manhood and, apparently, sacrificing it where the expenditure is incapable of providing them with the support that they need.

There is wasted substance in our defence with such small or infinitesimal financial resources. The Government reaches the height of folly when it dissipates such a large part of its military resources in the civil war in Vietnam. According to recent public opinion polls the average Australian does not regard it as his patriotic duty to follow slavishly the United States with the Vietnam horror. The contention that honorable members on this side of the House - the Labour Party - are opposed to the United States is not true. We have made our position clear as recently as the last great conference of the Labour Party held last July. We said -

Co-operation with the United States in the areas of the South Pacific and Indian oceans is of crucial importance and must be maintained, subject to the understanding that Australia must remain free to order its policies in accordance with tha principles of the United Nations Charter and tha Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Who among Government supporters would quibble with that great Declaration? To make these unfounded insinuations against the Labour movement is hardly in the cause of ethics. Equally, it is untrue to contend that Labour is not concerned with the defence of Australia and would not conscript Australian forces in any circumstances. The Labour Government which prevailed during the last war was the first Government in Australia to introduce conscription.

If such a need arises again, it will show its preparedness to defend Australia by this and any other means that may be necessary. Gallup poll results show the change of public opinion on the Vietnam situation. Not long ago, His Excellency the United States Ambassador to Australia reported that a very large percentage of Australians supported the policy of the United States in Vietnam. Following the publication of his statement I was inundated with protests from irate people in my electorate who did not consider that the statement accorded with the facts. As is my bounden duty, I referred this expression of public opinion to the United States Embassy. I received a reply, which I think is worth relating. The reply was not signed by His Excellency the Ambassador but by the Counsellor of Embassy for Political Affairs. In a personal letter to me, he said -

I have been asked to acknowledge your letter of the 7th February addressed to Ambassador Clark concerning a statement about Vietnam which the Ambassador is alleged to have made. I believe it is necessary to be quite clear regarding what the Ambassador said and what he did not.

The Ambassador said that he believed 83 to 90 per cent, of the Austraiian people supported what the United States was trying to do in Vietnam.

The Ambassador bases his remarks on the fact that the statements of principle of all major Australian political parties supports United States policy. The letters which the Ambassador received and the recent gallup poll results provide support for that assertion.

The assertion is that 85 to 90 per cent, of Australians support the policy of the United States. The letter continued -

What the Ambassador did not do and what he did not intend to do was to discuss Australian involvement in Vietnam. This is a matter between the Australian people and the Australian Government in which the Ambassador did not intend to intrude, nor did he do so.

However, it should be noted that the latest gallop poll results showed 59 per cent, of the Australian people as favouring Australian Government policy, which is in itself a very substantial majority. lt seems that His Excellency had the figures around the wrong way. At first he said 85 to 90 per cent, and now he says that he is not far out anyway because a recent gallup poll, which apparently he is prepared to accept, showed that 59 per cent, of the Australian people favoured the policy of the United States in Vietnam. Of course, the figures have changed since then and it is now almost level pegging. The Australian community is evenly divided on this subject and, as a result of the Government's determination to send large numbers of young Australian conscripts to Vietnam, gallup poll results in the next few weeks will show that fewer people support the Government's policy. It will not be long before an overwhelming percentage of the Australian community rejects the Government's policy. Australians are fast coming to the conclusion that the war in Vietnam has nothing to do with the defence of Australia. There are no Chinese military forces in Vietnam, but continued interven tion in Vietnam may impel the Chinese into active military involvement.

What can we best do to serve Australia's defence interests? I believe it is necessary for the Government to seek the cessation of hostilities in Vietnam. We should pursue a policy of military neutralisation not only in Vietnam but also in Laos and Cambodia. When this is achieved, we should strongly advocate the withdrawal of all forces from this area. We should be anxious to ensure that voting rights are returned to the 30 million people of Vietnam. Who are we to say that these people have no right to choose their own destiny? I admit that it is quite likely that the people of South Vietnam would choose a Communist government. General Eisenhower said this soon after the Geneva Conference on Vietnam. He said something to the effect that he never thought that this would be so, but if there were a democratic election in Vietnam the National Liberation Front would obtain overwhelming support and a Communist government would be elected. Despite this, we still have to decide the moral issue. We must decide whether we will concede to the people of every nation the right to decide their own destiny. For my part, I stand on that position. The clear fact is that the 1954 Geneva Conference declared that there was to be a two year period of neutrality, that there was to be a cessation of hostilities for this period. All countries participating in the Conference set their names to a document that laid down this principle. But the principle was breached. The democratic election in Vietnam would have been an accomplished fact by now except for the unilateral intervention of the United States of America and subsequently of Australia. The result is that the Australian Government has now decided to send national service trainees to Vietnam.

We believe that the course of action adopted by the Government will not serve the defence interests of Australia. We are not at all impressed with the Government's claim that it needs to conscript young men. The figures show beyond doubt that an adequate flow of volunteers was available for this purpose. If honorable members check the figures they will establish to their own satisfaction that in the year national service training was reintroduced the number of volunteers rejected almost equalled the number of people who are now being conscripted to serve in Australia's military forces. We know the concern that is sweeping around Australia as a result of this policy. Even members of the Australian Country Party are concerned to learn that the owners of drought affected properties will not be able to employ these young Australian men to restore their properties when the drought has ended.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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