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Thursday, 14 March 1968

Mr JESS (La Trobe) - I enjoyed thoroughly the manner in which the new member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) made his maiden speech. If it had been possible for me to go from my side of the House to his side of the House I would most certainly have done so, not to join the Australian Labor Party but to get a prescription for a tranquiliser. I compliment him on the way he made his speech. I compliment also honourable members on this side of the chamber, and certain sections of the Labor Party, on the way in which they sat in silence and listened to him. The honourable member for Capricornia came here having received a degree of publicity before his arrival. I can only say that having heard his rendition tonight, I think the publicity was very well deserved.

I feel that at a time like this the GovernorGeneral's Speech is not a policy speech of a new Government but is, in the main* merely a reiteration of the policies which will be carried on by the Government under the new Prime Minister (Mr Gorton), plus certain new matters or certain new approaches to some of the factors involving our 'country at this time. Before I address myself to the Speech I should like to join with other honourable members on both sides of the House in their tributes to the late Prime Minister, Mr Harold Holt, and say that I indeed regret most deeply his passing. To me he was always most kind and considerate. Whatever differences may have taken place, I regarded him as a gentleman and one who gave me every consideration. I think this country will miss him very greatly.

I do not think the Governor-General's Speech was a very exciting one. But in reading through it I was glad to find that certain points had been cleared up and that the Australian people had been given a clearer indication of what the Government intended to do. The Governor-General said:

My Government will continue the support accorded to the United States of America and the Government of South Vietnam in an endeavour to ensure that aggression by force of arms, terrorism and subversion is not successful in subjecting the people of South Vietnam to rub by an aggressor.

I believe that it is clearly understood that Australia has no territorial ambitions or territorial claims; that we are a free people; that we are a small nation; and that we believe that we have responsibilities to others to ensure that they are given the things that we ourselves expect. I think that basically members of the Labor Party believe 'that. But unfortunately the directive from on top is such that they are rather restricted in saying so. The honourable gentleman to whom we have just listened said that he wished to continue the approach of the late George Gray. I knew George Gray very well. I travelled with him on defence committee trips. Either I did not know him or the new member for Capricornia did not know him, because there seemed to be very little similarity between what the new member said and what George Gray said when one got under the surface and discussed matters with him.

Later in his Speech the GovernorGeneral said that we do want peace in South Vietnam. Surely that is or should be known to all the people of Australia. If the Labor Party's criticism is that we have been inadequate, let it say that we have been inadequate. But without any doubt we are behind the British, American and United Nations moves, and never have we been otherwise. What I can not understand is that never does there come from the other side of the House any criticism of the fact that the North Vietnamese have not accepted any one of the offers that have been made to them. I do not wish to labour that point. But the people of Australia should keep asking themselves why that is the position and when the Labor Party will make some criticism of the North Vietnamese attitude. Today we heard a speech by an honourable member who concluded by saying that he thought South Vietnam would be better off or at least no worse off under Ho Chi Minh. Perhaps that is a noble thought, but it has nothing in common with my own thought.

The Governor-General then referred to the projected British withdrawal from east of Suez. He said that we have to plan to endeavour to fill some of the gap that will be caused by the British evacuation. I believe - this is a criticism of the Government - that it should have been doing this planning some time ago. At present there is a tendency to talk too much and not to plan and prepare quickly enough for some of the things that could affect us very shortly. We should look at what is happening around us. The Australian people should be aware of what is happening around them. Should the United States with draw from Vietnam at any time and should the British get out of Malaysia, as I believe they will, very much more quickly than they have indicated at the moment, who will fill the vacuum? Who will assist the Malaysians, the Singaporeans and the Indonesians? Who will protect our trade routes in the Indian Ocean? Who will protect the area on our western side?

Are the people of Australia aware of the moves being made by the Soviet Union in the equipment of the Indian Navy and in giving other assistance? Let me say that I do not argue against such moves as long as they are for the right purposes and are not a preparation in case certain things in India go wrong on. some future occasion. We in Australia have to be aware of these things. We have to be aware of what is happening in the Persian Gulf and in relation to the Suez Canal. To a large extent, that whole area is now coming into the Soviet Union's sphere of influence, which is a Communist sphere of influence. If we supporters of the Government sit here and say that we have nothing to worry about, if members of the Labor Party sit here and say that we have nothing to worry about and if members of the Government sit here and say: 'We do not think we have much to worry about', then the people of Australia should look at a map and see some of the things that are confronting us.

That brings me to the subject of defence. What is the present state of preparedness of our defence Services? It is all very well to say that the Army has never been better equipped than it is today. That is correct. But never before have we been in a situation such as we are in today and such as we could be in in the future. There is no doubt that at this time the Army is 2,000 junior officers and senior NCOs under strength. If anything serious happened in Vietnam, if we suffered greater losses, I question where we would find the replacements. I question also what we are doing at the moment to plan the replacements. The militia - the backing up forces of the Regular Army - should be planned now because later we may not have the time to set about the planning. I question whether we have an order of battle for the Citizen Military Forces, whether we have the necessary afficers and equipment and whether we could put anybody in the field in less than a considerable period of time.

I come now to the Navy. What is the situation at Williamstown? There has just been a strike there. I suggest that it is reasonable to believe that the strike was arranged by certain Communists and shop stewards, I would think, in opposition to the major trade union movement. But this means that repairs to the ships in this area and future constructions are held up. If war was declared tomorrow, what would the reaction be? How fast could our sailors be put to sea? What risks would our sailors at sea have to face because they might have to take out ships that were not efficient and ready to face the task that they might be asked to perform. Similar things are happening at Garden Island. Honourable gentlement opposite know this. Surely it is time we started to realise that we are not as prepared as we think we are. In fact we have weavils, white ants and termites in certain areas of this country including industries that would be essential in wartime.

I refer now to a question that I asked in the House this morning. It reads as follows:

I ask the Prime Minister a question. As the Opposition and some sections of the Press seem only to be interested in matters likely to lower the morale of Australian troops in Vietnam and at home and also the morale of the citizens of this country, will be at some suitable time implement a debate on the Vietcong and North Vietnamese actions of which there are witnesses galore who have returned from Vietnam, who are here and who have first hand experience of events which are not 2 years old, so that the Australian people can understand more clearly the double standards in the Opposition?

I had only one purpose in asking that question - to ask the people of Australia and honourable members when they last heard of a debate, or a protest meeting attended by any member of the Labor Party, concerning an atrocity or action of the people whom we believe are the enemies of the free world at this time. I believe that the answer to that question will be that they have heard none.

Mr Bryant - Rubbish.

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