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Wednesday, 16 March 1966

Mr TURNER (Bradfield) .- Mr. Speaker,we are debating the statement presented to the House by the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) on Tuesday of last week. This statement falls into two parts, one of which deals with foreign affairs and the other with domestic matters. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Beaton), to his credit, has just dealt only with domestic affairs. These, of course, are important, but in the short time available to me I propose to concentrate on the subject of Vietnam because I believe that this is the most important matter before this Parliament and the Australian people at the present time. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) that the crucial test of our policy is national security. I should like to quote what he said on this point. These are his words, taken from a speech that he made in this House on an earlier occasion -

The overriding issue which this Parliament has to deal with at all times is the nation's security. All our words, all our policies, all our actions, must be judged ultimately by this one crucial test; what best promotes our national security, what best guarantees our national survival? It is this test which the Labour Party has applied to the Government's decision.

I hope that any party represented in this House would apply that test. I believe that what the honorable gentleman said is absolutely true. In his reply to the Prime Minister's statement, he set out several reasons why Australia should not be involved in the warinVietnam.Hesaid,firstofall,that thisisanunwinnablecivilwar.Iwantto take hisarguments onebyoneand deal with them. First, there is the statement that this war is unwinnable. It is difficult, of course. Does this mean, therefore, that we should not take part in it? I suppose that during World War I when the Allies were thrown back to the Marne, or when the Australian as well as British troops hud to evacuate the Dardanelles, or when the Frenoh stood at Verdun or during the disasters of 1917 many people may have thought that that was an unwinnable war. But did we surrender? We certainly did not. So I say that merely because a war is claimed to be unwinnable that is no reason, firstly, why it should not be won and, secondly, why hope should be abandoned.

In World War II, we suffered the disaster of Dunkirk and later, in our part of the world, the disasters of Singapore and Pearl Harbour. Did we then say: " This is an unwinnable war. We shall abandon it "? We certainly did not. Although victory seemed dubious at that stage, we fought on. There still echo down the pages of history, as they have done for more than 2,000 years, the battles of Thermopylae, where 300 men stood against thousands, and of Marathon. Indeed, the pages of our own and more distant history are full of instances of wars that may have looked unwinnable. But the fact that a war may seem unwinnable is no reason to abandon the fight. So the argument that we should not be in the war in Vietnam because it is unwinnable is not, I believe, one that will appeal to Australians. Indeed, courage, endurance and pertinacity are virtues that will be honoured, I hope, as long as this nation survives, because without them it will not survive.

This is not then, I say, an unwinnable war. But there are more cogent reasons for believing this than I have already given. The South Vietnamese forces now number about 300,000 regular troops as well as some hundreds of thousands of territorials. The Americans already have 215,000 men in their forces in South Vietnam and another 20,000 will follow shortly. Korean, Australian and New Zealand forces also are there. The logistic problem, which has been the great problem in recent times, has been overcome. The Americans have complete air mastery and fire power of enormous proportions. Against this, the Vietcong have about 80,000 regulars, about 120,000 guerrillas and about 18,000 administrative and support personnel. These figures have been stated by the Minister for External Affaairs (Mr. Hasluck). 1 believe that when one looks at these figures alone and relates them to the circumstances, the idea that this is an unwinnable war is not tenable even though, for other reasons, the position may look difficult and it may seem to some members opposite that we should abandon the contest.

I believe that this war has three fronts. The first is the military front. I have said a little about that. The second is the social and economic front, if one chooses to adopt that description. The third is the psychological front. Each is very important and I want to deal with them in turn. I have touched lightly on the military front. Let us now look at the social and economic front.

Mr Clyde Cameron - That is the most important of all.

Mr TURNER - Of course, it is also important to have troops. When an enemy is shooting at one it is always valuable to have something with which to defend oneself. This is not just a matter of economics. It is something that those who have been engaged in military operations appreciate. I can well recall being in Greece when the enemy had superior air power. It would not have helped in the least if a great deal of slum clearance had been going on in Sydney, f turn to the Baltimore speech of President Johnson, since we are talking now about the economic side of the war. This speech, I think, represented a notable landmark. He made it clear that' the Americans were prepared to provide vast sums - I think he mentioned a billion dollars - for the improvement of the economic conditions of the people of South East Asia, including North Vietnam. This policy was again enunciated, clarified and enlarged on in the Declaration of Honolulu. As honorable members will recall, this Declaration set out the purposes of the Government of South Vietnam, the purposes of the United States Government and the joint purposes of both. I should like to quote a few words from the statement of the purposes of the Government of South Vietnam. The Declaration stated -

Here in the mid Pacific, halfway between Asia and North America, we take the opportunity to state again the aims of our Government. . . .

1.   We must defeat the Vietcong and those illegally fighting with them on our soil. . . .

2.   We are dedicated to the eradication of social injustice among our people. We must bring about a true social revolution and construct a modern society in which every man can know that he has a future - that he has respect and dignity - that he has the opportunity for himself and for his children to live in an environment where all is not disappointment, despair and dejection - that the opportunities exist for the full expression of his talents and hopes.

3.   We must establish and maintain a stable, viable economy and build a better material life for our people.

I shall not quote all this declaration of the purposes of the Government of South Vietnam.

Mr Clyde Cameron - Which one?

Mr TURNER - My friend is very funny. There have been a number of Governments in South Vietnam. I am referring, of course, to the present one, which is led by Air Vice-Marshal Ky.

Mr Clyde Cameron - Will its purposes bind the next government?

Mr TURNER - I suppose that the policy of the present Australian Government with respect to Vietnam would not bind a Labour government. That is the disaster of the situation. I shall say more later about the changes of government in South Vietnam. Better still, I shall answer the honorable member at once and then come back to the theme of my remarks if the honorable gentleman will allow me. There have been maybe eight Governments in South Vietnam.

Mr Clyde Cameron - The honorable member has missed some.

Mr TURNER - Perhaps there have been nine.

Mr Clyde Cameron - There have been 11.

Mr TURNER - There may have been 11; there may have been 14. I do not know. But not one of the Governments of South Vietnam has sought to treat with the Vietcong. There has not been a single political figure of any consequence in South Vietnam who has sought to start a parley with the Vietcong. There may have been changes of government, but the policy has been absolutely consistent from start to finish. Those people who claim that the Vietcong represent the will of the people of South Vietnam overlook the fact that the succession of Governments in that country has never for a moment deviated from the line of implacable opposition to the Vietcong. I may add, by the way, that I had the privilege of meeting Air ViceMarshal Ky and his Ministers. I do not know whether the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) has had the same privilege. I found among them youth, vigour and determination to achieve these purposes that are stated in the Declaration of Honolulu, though I met them months before the Declaration was made. What South Vietnam needs, of course, is youth, vigour, enthusiasm and idealism. This is what I believe these leaders have. However, I will pass on from that little interlude.

I think that it is hardly necessary for me to quote what was said in the Declaration by the United States of America because we all recall very clearly that great emphasis was placed upon the economic and social welfare of the people of South Vietnam. It may be worth mentioning at this time that it has been a point of policy with the Vietcong - those people whom so many on the opposite side of the House seem to regard with great favour - to eliminate all the government leaders in the villages. The Vietcong slit the throats of school teachers or any officials of the government who serve to bring peace and order, educa tion and medical aid to the villages and people of South Vietnam. Their throats have been cut systematically. I will not quote figures in this regard because statistics are dull. Honorable gentlemen will be aware of them. But, to summarise I counted in an official document that village, district and other government officials in 1964 who were killed, wounded or kidnapped in pursuance of this deliberate policy by the Vietcong numbered 1,728. The number of other civilians who were killed or wounded through the bomb outrages, which have been part of the system of terror pursued by the Vietcong, was 11,753. The Minister for External Affairs mentioned similar figures relating to last year.

I would like to say a word about what is happening on the psychological front. This follows upon something that was said by my colleague, the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes). He has quoted in his valuable " Intelligence Digest" which he sends to some members of this Parliament the ways in which Peking Radio has represented the various little demonstrations in this country and the United States of America against the policy of the United States Government and our own. The honorable member for Chisholm rightly said that these little demonstrations which are put on are of no consequence to us. We know that. We have seen them here. But these demonstrations are blown up in Hanoi and Peking as representing tremendous opposition to the policy of the American and Australian Governments. Indeed, what Peking Radio is trying to do quite deliberately - and these demonstrations whether wittingly or unwittingly are helping them - is to defeat the free world - to defeat America and to defeat us - by this subversive propaganda among our own people and to sustain the morale of their own by suggesting that Washington or Canberra will crumble before internal pressures. This is a serious business. I am glad indeed that the Prime Minister - I congratulate him on this - is going out in this place and into the market place to battle for the truth of the policy that the Government is pursuing. Unfortunately, I have not time to quote the extracts that the honorable member for Chisholm has given from Peking Radio. But this is how these demonstrations are being used.

The war in Vietnam is being represented by members on the other side of the House, particularly by the honorable member for Yarra (Dr. J. F. Cairns), the Leader of the Opposition and others, as merely a civil war. They say it is an unwinnable war and that it is a dirty war. I have mentioned something of the dirtiness of the war proceeding from the Vietcong. Some honorable members opposite say that it is merely a civil war and that therefore we should not be involved in it. That is the argument they put forward. If I had time, I should like to quote from the statement of Mao Tse-tung and others. My friend from Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) shakes his head as if to ask: "What does it matter what Mao Tse-tung says? " I think everybody who is aware of the ramifications of the international communist conspiracy, and particularly Peking propaganda, knows that the war in Vietnam is regarded as part of a whole strategy to overthrow the free world. They know that the line from Peking is that these wars of national liberation, so called, wars of subversion in the countries around the border of China, of course, and in underdeveloped countries generally, are the means whereby the Chinese Communists hope, in the long run, to destroy the free world. The Vietnam war is not a little local war a long way from Australia that has nothing to do with us. It is part of a worldwide Communist conspiracy. We ignore this at our peril. I repeat " at our peril ". I have not time to make these quotations. I pass on to the matter of conscription.

I can see nothing undemocratic in sending conscripts selected by lot to Vietnam. It is the first duty of every citizen ina state to defend that state. All his rights, ! privileges and everything that he has depend upon one thing - the security of the state. Therefore, it is the duty of every citizen to play his part in the defence of the state according to what he can contribute. There is no reason why we should rely upon the willing few, very often people upon whom the duty falls far less heavily than upon those who choose not to go if they have a choice. It indeed is democracy that all citizens should have this responsibility. Someone may ask: " Very well, but why should only some be called upon? " The answer is a fairly obvious one. If the Government needs only some to serve, it does not send all. Another duty of a citizen is to sit on a jury. If only so many hundred jurors are required, all members of the community who are bound to be jurors if called upon, are not sworn in. Naturally only those who are necessary for the job are used. The state is entitled to call upon all those who can best do that job.

Now, we have called upon 20-year olds. They have been selected by lot. Nobody has suggested a fairer way of selecting them. These people are referred to by honorable gentlemen opposite as mere kids. They are not. They are called up for two years. Yes, they are 20 in the first year and 21 in the second year when they go abroad. These are the people who can best do this job under the conditions of jungle warfare. I speak from personal experience. An honorable gentleman opposite smiles at that remark. But I can speak from personal experience because I was one of the volunteers in the last World War. I volunteered at the age of 34, at a time when I had three small children, because others did not come forward. Honorable members opposite call that democracy, do they? I was two years older when I came to jungle warfare in New Guinea and on the Kokoda Trail. I can say that jungle warfare is for younger men - the kind of fit young men who can play football and all the rest of it. It is not a job for men of 34, still less if they have young families. What is just and what is right and proper in democratic theory, in practice and in morality in every way is that those who can best serve the state should be called upon to do so. There is no fairer way than to select them by lot. This' is not to say that one does not have sympathy for their friends, relatives and mothers - of course one must - but if a nation is to survive it must have the will to live. We must be prepared as a nation to accept these responsibilities.

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