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Thursday, 2 November 1967

Mr McEWEN (Murray) (Minister for Trade and Industry) - Mr Deputy Speaker, if 1 may give this debate a different aspect, let me say that as a farmer 1 have on occasions had the job of trying to sort out the seeds and grain from the mass of hay and straw. I have listened closely tonight to the words of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) and never have I had a greater problem in trying to discover a few grains amidst the mass of straw that I have had this evening. I have noted the only positive points that honourable gentlemen opposite have made, and I shall deal with them presently. Let us first get our responsibilities in perspective. At this point of time, we on this side of the Parliament constitute the Government of this country. We have been put here to govern and, as problems arise, we decide our attitude to them. We then come into the Parliament and state our attitude, explaining it fully, and we compose our policies to conform with our stated attitude. We have done this time and again in respect of the subject that we are discussing tonight - the war in Vietnam. But, in the nature of things, there is another party - an opposition party. Its purpose is to criticise our attitude. But it has a duty to do more than that. As it aspires to displace us and to become the government of the country, it has a duty to state to the people what its attitude would be if it were to become the government. It would be utterly wrong for an opposition party to trick the people into voting it into office without its allowing the people to know what its essential policies were. But that is what the Labor Opposition is attempting at present. I believe that this approach is more true of the political Opposition than of the Australian Labor Party as a wider organisation. However, this is the present position of the political Labor Party, as a political opposition.

On this occasion, as on many others, one finds it difficult to sort out the words uttered by those who have been authorised to speak on this issue for the alternative government and to discover any identifiable points that have been made. What would be the attitude of the Labor Party if it were to assume the responsibility of government? Until that Party is prepared to state where it stands, what it would do and what its attitude would be to the great issues confronting the allies, it not only should not come to government but it never will come to government. The sooner members opposite learn this the better. We do not want the Australian public tricked or deluded into electing a government that has no policy at all. As a Government, we have many responsibilities to ourselves, to our friends, to our traditional allies and to the poorer people around the world. We have spoken of these responsibilities many times. But there is no greater responsibility that any national government has than that its own nation should survive.

What we have seen in the last year, for the first time in any of our lives, is the picture of Australia without British allies in a position and without power to come massively to our aid if we were under threat. We have negotiated, as a government, an alliance with the most powerful country in the world which is pledged to come to our aid if we are under threat. That is the policy of this Government. The No. 1 point of policy of this Government is that the Australian nation should survive through its own efforts and with the sure aid of allies. I find nothing in the Labor Party's mouthings that indicate a consciousness on its part that it should formulate policies and make arrangements designed to ensure that the country should survive if under threat. Would any honest person say that in the light of all history we can for the first time since the dawn of time feel that never again shall a country like this be threatened? It is almost 2 years to the day since the attempted revolution in Indonesia. Six generals were murdered in an attempt by Communists directed from China to seize power in Indonesia, our nearest neighbour. Had that attempt succeeded we would have been living for the last 2 years under the shadow of a nation of 100 million people - our next-door neighbours - subjected to the influence and direction of China, the greatest aggressive Communist power today. Whether or not members opposite think that might or might not have happened, it is sufficient evidence that no thinking, honest person can say that Australia can feel safe for ever after, that we need no friends, that we need no strength and that we need no positive policies. We have them, and we need them.

This Government recognises, formulates and openly states its policies and says where it stands. We do not ask the Opposition to agree with us. The very term 'Opposition' indicates that we do not expect members opposite to agree. We are not trying to sell them the idea that our views are right. What the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt), myself and others are saying is: 'If you do not like our policy, then tell us what your policy is. Let the people judge.'

We cannot discover what is the Opposition's policy. When the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was speaking he was challenged to state his Party's policy. He said that he would accept the challenge and state the policy. To put a stop to the bombing of North Vietnam was one of the few positive statements he made. The only other positive statement that could be described as a policy was that the Labor Party could not countenance a settlement which ignored the National Liberation Front. In short, if peace could be achieved without the approval of the National Liberation Front, the Labor Party does not want peace. That is what his words meant. There is an awful lot of silence from the Opposition side when these things are exposed.

Let me turn now to the bombing of North Vietnam. If we were in the situation of North Vietnam and were in trouble in the military sense and unable to defeat our enemy, or suppress him, or contain him, what would be our greatest hope? If we look to guerrilla tactics we can meet our enemy. If we look to mortar bombing, we can meet him. If we look to sustaining our supply lines, we can contrive to do it. There is only one thing to which it is patently evident that North Vietnam has no answer, and is not matching, and that is bombing. Bombing cannot be prevented by counterbombing. How then is it to be prevented? By infiltrating the minds of the enemy - Australia, America and our other allies - and trying to persuade them that it is essential for them to surrender their superiority in the only area in which they have unquestioned superiority.

I should like to think that the suggestion that we should stop the bombing is not made with a consciousness of the seriousness of the situation. I am sure there are many members opposite who have been suckered into this - who have been influenced by the emotional feelings that all of us have. Bombing, with its terrible consequences, is not related to our memories of Vietnam only. Did members opposite ever suggest that the 1 ,000 ton bombing raids on Hamburg and Berlin should cease? Those raids were to the same effect. No, those who suggest that we should cease the bombing have had their minds captivated by the enemy. This is the simple truth. Propagandists have captured their minds although, I am sure that most of them are unaware of it. I doubt whether that could be said for 100% of the members opposite. However, it is for us to expose the situation.

We will support policies that will bring about a lasting peace. Members opposite have challenged us to say how long we will sustain the military effort - how long we will stand. What they are asking us really to say is how long it will be before we pull out if we are not successful. That is the real question. They ask: 'Will you undertake, in the Parliament, that if you are not successful in a year, or 3 years, you will withdraw from your American alliance?' That is the question put to us by the alternative government. What a terrifying question to be put. If we were to answer that question it would be the end of any estimate of us as. true and reliable allies.

We have put our hand to the plough to try to help to preserve the freedom of a small country, just as we would hope and pray that others would come to our aid to preserve our freedom if we became the victims of violent aggression. It is a point of principle. It is a point of self-interest. It is one of the few occasions where high principle and self-interest completely reconcile, for we are doing a worthy thing in helping a small free people to preserve their freedom and to establish an example to others in the world that aggression is not going to pay off. In the course of standing up to that high principle we are, at the same time, automatically establishing our entitlement to others to come to our aid if we should be subject to aggression.

This is the policy of the Government. Does any voice in the Labor Party say those are bad objectives? Do members opposite suggest that so that we may avoid some of our men dying and avoid having our own minds tormented by bombing, it would be better that we should bring our troops home, break the American alliance and leave the South Vietnamese to the mercy of the North Vietnamese, if there is any such word as 'mercy' in the North Vietnamese language? This is not where we stand. This is no novel attitude on the part of Australia.

We went to Belgium, we went to Korea, we went to Greece. What was the difference in principle between what we did then and what we are doing now? Were we wrong then? There was a powerful enemy attempting, in the first of the examples I have given, to overrun a small country. The Kaiser or his Chancellor said: 'Why should the British come into defend Belgium simply because of a treaty which is, after all, only a scrap of paper?' There was a principle involved. The British went in and we went in, and we won. Similarly when the British announced that if Greece were attacked by the Hitlerites Britain would stand by that country, we went there also and we won. And now Belgium is free and Greece is free. I have never heard any thinking Australians say that we were wrong.

When the Communists attempted to overrun South Korea, the Americans, thank God, went to defend that country, and we were the first people to stand beside the Americans there. And we won and South Korea is free. There has been no case in which success has not attended proper and powerful action taken in accordance with these high principles. Never have we sought to conquer, to smash, to take the other person's country. What we have sought to do is to prove that the aggressor cannot win, that the aggressor shall not overrun free people - just as we would shed every drop of our blood to ensure that we, as a small but free people, were not overrun. We are large in acres but small in people, and we need friends. This is why we are there and why we will remain there. We will remain there not until North Vietnam is smashed to pulp but until the North Vietnamese reach the point that all human beings in such a position must reach; when they know that the suffering they have deliberately involved themselves in is quite futile and that they have no hope of success. Then they will turn and talk. This is why we went there, why we have remained there and why we shall remain there.

This Government bases its policies on principle and on self-interest. To those who are not very concerned about high principles but are more concerned to take political advantage I say that we have here a wonderful country. Every day brings some new indication that it is perhaps the most desirable land in the world. There is nothing in recorded history to deny the proposition that when a nation becomes an evidently rich and desirable one other people cast covetous eyes on it and seek to take it over. This has happened throughout history and I am not prepared to believe that it will never happen to us. I want our record of principle to remain clean. I want our country to be strong. I want our friends to feel that in us they have true, worthy, steadfast allies who will stand by them and who will expect them to stand by Australia if our country should ever be in need Of their assistance.

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