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Wednesday, 27 November 1985
Page: 2427

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Community Services)(11.09) —I will seek information about the subject raised by Senator Reid, medicab and its possible subsidy, and the transfer of WIN 4 station in Wollongong from VHF to UHF, which was raised by Senator Michael Baume. I have no knowledge of what is happening there. It certainly seems difficult for WIN 4. I will seek information on that matter from the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy).

Senator Boswell gave what he sees as his Party's view on the problems of farmers in Queensland and their need for fertiliser. He wants the anti-dumping levy and the Australian National Line monopoly removed. Well he may. I hope he sought the same thing when the previous Government was in power.

Senator Kilgariff's views on land rights are well known. He gave a long and detailed discourse on this tonight which I am sure the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) will be interested in.

We then heard Senator Lewis. If I have ever not been concerned about anything I have said in this place, I certainly am not concerned about anything I have said tonight after hearing Senator Lewis speak, both on the adjournment and during his speech earlier tonight on the Veterans' Entitlements Bill. Firstly, I point out to the Senate-several people are present now who were here at the time-that I did not turn my head away from the Deputy President and make any comments. I actually got vigorously excited, thumped the table, looked directly at Senator Lewis and said what I had to say. Senator Lewis got somewhat agitated, and I am sorry that I agitated him as much as I did.

But I remind honourable senators that this episode started tonight during Senator Lewis's speech when he chose to condemn the Whitlam Government-I became a member of parliament soon after these events-for the way that it brought people back from Vietnam. On the adjournment, Senator Lewis attributed many of the difficulties faced by Vietnam veterans to the way that they were brought back. But not a word was said about the way that they were sent to Vietnam. The comment I made was simply--

Senator Walters —They were volunteers.

Senator GRIMES —They were not all volunteers. The comment I made was simply that there are people in this Parliament and relatives of people in this Parliament who at that time vigorously supported the sending of troops to Vietnam, who at that time vigorously supported the parties who were sending those troops to Vietnam, and who were young enough themselves to volunteer to go but did not have the guts to go because they were in their late twenties and it might have cost them money. We heard tonight that they might have lost income. Those of us who opposed the Vietnam episode-

Senator Walters —Who were traitors to it.

Senator GRIMES —They were called traitors by the likes of Senator Walters. They were called traitors for standing up and expressing their views. What do we find out now, after the Vietnam war? We have found that the then Australian Government was not even asked to take part in that war or to contribute. We know now from Cabinet documents that have since been released that the Menzies' Government requested the United States Government: `Please ask us to send our troops to Vietnam so that we can big-note ourselves'.

Senator Walters —What were you doing-undermining our fighting boys?

Senator GRIMES —Senator Walters should not talk to me about Menzies. Menzies is the best example of someone whose brilliant military career was ruined by the onset of war. He got out of the Army as soon as World War I started. Those of us who opposed the Vietnam war had the courage-Senator Walters may not think it was courage-in small groups, in small towns and cities, to stand up for our beliefs. We were called communists and were abused by the likes of Senator Walters who had a great time in Hobart using language-I say this to Senator Lewis-about people who were walking down the street expressing their views, much worse than any language I used tonight about Senator Lewis or anybody else.

But there were people in this Parliament, in the Liberal Party and the National Party, who supported the Vietnam war, who were fit enough and young enough to go to war but who would not volunteer to do so because it might have hurt their pockets. They are the ones who are traitors to this country. They are the ones who are gutless. They are the ones who said to 18, 19 and 20-year-olds: `Go over there; fight in that miserable war. Go and spend some of those hundreds of millions of dollars that we spend on death and destruction, but we will not go'. I opposed them going there, but what I did not do--

Senator Walters —What did you do?

Senator GRIMES —Senator Walters was raising money and saying: `Send these kids to Vietnam and let them get killed'. It is people such as Senator Walters who are responsible for the death of the 400 Australians in Vietnam, not me. It was people like Senator Walters who egged them on and said that what they were doing was defending democracy and all this sort of thing. What happened in the end? Unfortunately what happened in the end was what people like me and others said would happen in the end: They came home to a divided society about what they had done. It was not their fault. They were glad to get home. In the first three years after they got home the government of the day was the Whitlam Government. Soon afterwards I became Opposition shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs. I held that position for a long time. I remember the words of the Returned Services League, which is a very conservative organisation. In its annual report it said that the Government-that is, the Whitlam Government-had done more for the conditions of veterans than any previous government since the Second World War. What is said was true. We realised that we had a duty to do by our veterans, be they veterans of Vietnam, the Seceond World War or anywhere else. We realised that there was a responsibility in this country to do that. We improved the conditions of those Vietnam veterans.

All these years later we see Senator Walters in this place pouring out all the vitriol she used to pour out in those days. As people expressed their views in Tasmania she used to say that we had no right at all to express views contrary to the views held by the government of the day. I wonder what she would say if we had the cheek to get up today and say: `Look, the people of this country have a duty to support the Government's line and no one else's'. We had a debate about that this morning. In those days Senator Walters said that. She said that it was our duty not to disagree with our involvement in Vietnam, not to disagree with the sending of conscripts to Vietnam and not to disagree with the blood, the carnage and everything else that was going on over there; it was our duty to support the government of the day-our country-right or wrong. That is not my philosophy.

I am sorry that I upset Senator Lewis tonight. I am sorry that he is so sensitive about the issue. If Senator Lewis is willing to get up in this place and say that the Government of which I was a member and a supporter behaved in the way he says it behaved, I do not think he should be surprised at the response of people such as Senator Tate. I assume, from the things he has said in this place in the past, that he has a much higher regard for Senator Tate than he has for me. Senator Tate got very upset and agitated. He was so upset that he used language in this place that he is not used to using even outside this place and he was reprimanded by the Deputy President. He felt so strongly about the matter that he got up in the adjournment debate to explain why he felt that way. The problem with people such as Senator Lewis and Senator Walters is that they have double standards. They think that it is perfectly all right to get up in this place and make the remarks they made about me and my colleagues. Tonight Senator Walters used the word `traitor' about us and Senator Lewis said that we treated Vietnam veterans in a disgraceful way when we brought them home.

Senator Lewis —I said the Whitlam Government treated them and I still say it.

Senator GRIMES —It is perfectly all right to say that. I do not mind if Senator Lewis says that. I do not care if he says it. This is a robust political House. But if he says that sort of thing, he must cop a bit back, and I have said that before.

Senator Lewis —I have copped it.

Senator GRIMES —You have copped it? You got up and whinged. Senator Lewis got up and whinged and screamed and cried about it. It is a pointless exercise.

Opposition senators interjecting-

Senator GRIMES —I am responding as the Minister on duty, and I shall continue to respond. That is my privilege. I am allowed to respond in this way. The simple fact is that they were difficult and troubled times, when there was a severely divided society and when people on both sides of the debate held their views firmly and conscientiously. I am not denying that Senator Walters did not have very strong views and believed that we should have had people up there. People on our side had opposite views. The problem is that Senator Walters believes that, in expressing our views, we were being traitors and we should not have expressed them. She believes that we should have remained mute about what was happening in Vietnam and the difficulties that were facing our troops there. Senator Lewis is, of course, right. They were an excellent fighting force. They were the cream of--

Senator Walters —You didn't say that at the time.

Senator GRIMES —What we said at the time was-and Senator Walters never heard me; I find that offensive and insulting, but I find the things she says frequently like that-that the government of the day was wrong to send those troops to Vietnam. We said that the government of the day was wrong to involve this country in what was happening in Vietnam. We said that the government of the day was wrong to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in raining death and destruction on that benighted country. We said that we would be better off being not involved, as others would have been in being not involved. We expressed that view very strongly. We did not at any stage-certainly I did not do so and neither did others in my presence-condemn the individual troops who were there, and we believed very strongly that when they returned they should be treated properly and treated as any returning soldiers who had done their duty by their country should be treated. I believe very strongly that we did so. The record of our Government in those days in the treatment of Vietnam veterans and other veterans was much better than that of the Government that preceded it or the Government that followed it. Whether or not the Opposition likes it, that happens to be true, and that is a matter of record. The troops came home to a divided society and, as a result of that, they suffered-as the American veterans did. The problem for the American veterans was that they came home to a divided and difficult society.

I shall finish on this line. I think that the greatest tragedy of Vietnam was the people who stood on the sidelines and egged the Government on, saying not only `You are right in sending the troops you have sent' but `Send more, and send conscripts to Vietnam and spend more money on the war'. Despite the fact of what was happening at that time, the tragedy is that people such as those have learnt nothing and would do the same thing again and again and again. The worst people who said that were those who did not go, and particularly the people who did not go but could have gone.

I accept what Senator Lewis says. He had served six years in the Air Force in this country, in the reserve, so he felt that he had done enough; and it is fair enough that he felt that he had done enough. There are others who sat in this Parliament, actually, who could have gone. There are plenty in this Parliament now who could have gone and who were very vocal at the time but who did not go. That was the reason I made my remarks, and I shall make remarks of that type again if Senator Lewis chooses to make the remarks he did about the Whitlam Government.

I expect people such as Senator Walters to call people traitors. In fact, I say to Senator Lewis that Senator Walters is like the women in the First World War who unthinkingly and unknowingly handed out white feathers to people who were not in uniform, without questioning why they were not in uniform or why they did not go to war. There will always be the Senator Walterses of this world. They will always stand on the sideline, egging people on to kill each other and destroy each other. But some things never change and I suppose that is one of the enduring features of this world.

I apologise to Senator Lewis if he took so much offence at the heated remarks I made. But I make no apologies for responding to what I think were the offensive remarks he made, in the same way as Senator Tate responded to them. I do not believe that the rules of this place are sensible in that they allow people collectively to blackguard one side. But people get very sensitive if that collective blackguarding is turned into individual blackguarding by those who were receiving it. If they do not like it, they should not do it. But they should not expect me to desist.