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Wednesday, 27 November 1985
Page: 2425

Senator LEWIS(11.59) —I believe that I have no alternative but to respond to the despicable personal attack made on me earlier this evening by the Minister for Community Services, Senator Grimes. Some honourable senators know that sometimes Senator Grimes adopts his medico, bedside technique, and appears to be all sweetness and light, but frequently in this chamber he turns his head away from the Chair so that it will not be obvious that he is speaking about someone and he makes despicable personal attacks on honourable senators on this side of the chamber. He has frequently made the sort of attack that he made on me tonight on other senators on this side of the chamber. Then he responds by getting up and giving us his famous statement. `If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen', as if that is some sort of salve to his conscience. I assure Senator Grimes that I can stand the heat and I will be in this kitchen for as long as he will and I will give him as much as he wants to give me anytime.

I respond to Senator Grimes on behalf of all of those on this side who have had to suffer this attack-because he says it so frequently in this place to us on this side he probably says it to others outside the chamber-that he does not know the personal circumstances of any individual that determine whether or not he served in any force. There were people during World War I who were handed white feathers who were not deserving of the criticism that was being made of them by the people who were handing them the white feathers. There were people during World War II who, for their own reasons, might have been unable to go away on service. I say to Senator Grimes, and to all honourable senators on the Government benches, that they want to be very careful in what they allege about people who may or may not have been able to, or have wanted to, serve in any force at any time. I say that on behalf of people generally.

I now turn to my record in the Services, because I am proud of it. In 1951, when attending my first year at Melbourne University and before any question of national service training was mentioned by anyone, I joined the Melbourne University air squadron and I was delighted to be one of the six selected out of 380 applicants for the air crew. I was proud of being in that situation and I served the Melbourne University air squadron from 1951 until the end of 1953 as a member of the air crew. At some stage during 1951 the then Menzies Government introduced national service training and I applied for the Royal Australian Air Force, for which I was selected. I served in the Air Force for two periods of three months during consecutive university vacations, commencing in December and serving through January and February, and again I was pleased to be selected for air crew in national service training. So I gave a total of six months service in two periods in national service training.

In 1953 I applied to join, and was successful, the No. 21 City of Melbourne fighter squadron, again in air crew, where I trained on Wirraways and more advanced fighter aircraft. In 1956 I was very seriously considering taking a seven-year short term commission with the Royal Air Force, which was available to me. I had to choose between that and going into the practice of law. I made the decision to go into the practice of law, but I could very easily have been a permanent officer in the Services. By the time Australia got around to sending troops to Vietnam it was 10 years later. I had not flown for 10 years and I was a father of a young family. Although I wanted to volunteer to join the Services I thought it was sensible not to do so. That is not to say that I did not consider doing it, even though I was in my late 20's.

I ask Senator Grimes whether he can match that record, because if I understand his interjection correctly he was probably required under the Menzies Government to do national service training and did the Army service training of about three months short term training and then served for two weeks a year for the next five years. He somehow or other thinks that that equates with my six years of service in the Air Force, of which, as I say, I am very proud. But the fact that 10 years later, for a variety of reasons which I do not intend to go into, I decided that I would not volunteer to go to Vietnam-and I was clearly far too old to be called up to go to Vietnam-is a matter for my conscience and not for Senator Grimes.

Senator Aulich —It certainly is for your conscience.

Senator LEWIS —Senator Aulich says it is a matter for my conscience. I would be interested to hear what his record is. Let him tell us what his record is. He may have served in Vietnam for all I know, but let him get up to tell us rather than interject. He wants to lay it on the line.

Senator Aulich —I was a conchie and proud of it.

Senator LEWIS —He was a conchie and proud of it. Let me now turn to the main point of this discussion tonight. I do not think I know any servicemen who served in Vietnam who were not proud of it. By a device, the Vietnam troops chosen by Australia were the cream of Aus- tralia's youth. Let me tell honourable senators how it was done. First of all there was a ballot based on the date of birth but as a result of that ballot the number of people available was more than double the amount required. So the doctors-I do not know whether the honourable senator even knows this-selected the cream of those who had been called up. The result was we sent to Vietnam a cracker-jack force, a force equivalent to the volunteers we sent to World War I. They were the cream of Australia's young men. We always need to remember that and be proud of them. That is why I am so concerned that they are now suffering the conditions they are suffering.

I do not believe it is the result of agent orange; it is the result of a combination of events because the cream of Australia's young men served in that war, came back here and now suffer all these problems. That is as matter which the coalition Government should have done something about; we tried to do something about it. This Government should have been doing something about it. One of the reasons Vietnam veterans are now facing these problems is the way in which they were treated by the Whitlam Government in 1973 when it brought them back. Instead of proudly marching them through the streets of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth and saying `These are the fine men who we sent to Vietnam. These are the people who you can be proud of', instead of giving them a warm welcome back, they were sneaked into the country as if they had done something wrong.

Senator Kilgariff —That is why they feel as they do now.

Senator LEWIS —Senator Kilgariff is quite right. That is one of the reasons they feel the way they feel now: They were never treated properly by the government of Australia when they were brought back here in 1973. That is why I responded to Senator Tate tonight when he made an attack on me in relation to this matter. If the Government is critical of the Liberal-National Party Government for sending troops to Vietnam it should criticise that Government but it should not criticise the troops. That is what the Government did, in effect. I believe that the Government was pandering to its left wing. The Australian Labor Party would not have been game to say `What a fine body of men; aren't these marvellous troops' because members of its left wing would have gone right off their minds. They were off their minds anyway over Vietnam. That is what went wrong and that is why I say that one of the causes-I am not saying it is the only cause-of the Vietnam veterans' problems today is the folly of the way in which Whitlam and his Government treated them in 1973.