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Thursday, 14 March 1968


Order! The honourable member is out of his place.

Mr JESS - I believe that the people of Australia are entitled to know the answer to that question and that the honourable member for Wills should stand up and tell us when he last protested.

Recently the people of this country have been subjected to Press articles concerning an incident that was supposed to have occurred in Vietnam in 1966. I question how this whole thing originated and indeed how the news was first released to the Australian public and why. To a certain extent the situation reminds me of what happened when the book 'The Group' came out and it would not sell. No-one bothered to buy it and so the interests behind it had it banned; then everyone knew what pages to read and the book had an assured market from there on. I understand that the controversy over the Vietnam incident was sparked off by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which seems to have a consistency in these matters, in a reference to a book written by an American author in relation to events in Vietnam. A new Minister for the Army had just been appointed. I do not blame him; who has no sympathy for a man thrown suddenly into this sort of task and suddenly asked to go on television for an interview? I do not think that the interviewer was very much on his side. Perhaps he made a few mistakes. In the 'Sydney Morning Herald' of Monday, 11th March this report appears:

In a television interview tonight Melbourne journalist (John Sorell) said he had not written a story about the alleged torture . . .

Is the alleged torture what is alleged by the American author or what is alleged by Mr Sorell? I do not know. We then come to the question of the cameraman and one other gentleman who were present and who denied this completely. In the Melbourne 'Age' of a later date, we read this report:

Two newspapermen who were present at the torture' incident at Nui Dat, South Vietnam, have given accounts of the interrogation of a Viet Cong girl which do not support allegations of torture.

Up to date it is two to one against the American who got it second hand. He does not know whether his story is true, but he put it in his book. A reporter and another witness say that they went round the back of the tent and they did not see anything, though they heard something related to water. We had an incident in this House when the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) became so carried away that he himself was involved in a water incident. The Press of this country could have written up stories stating that the Minister for

External Affairs (Mr Hasluck) was staggered and that he reeled, went stark white, choked and gulped because this vicious character on the other side of the chamber had not been able to control himself and had thrown a jug of water over the Minister.

I ask myself how decent men in Parliament or in the Press on the facts that are available to them can ask for the blowing up of an incident which happened 2 years ago. I had sympathy for 'the ugly American, but I think this is an atrocious Australian who claims that he saw this incident in 1966. The evidence is that the correspondents did not see it but were behind the tent when everything happened. The man concerned, as he had every right to do, gave a report to the area commander, who investigated it. The correspondent then sat tight and did nothing from 1966 to 1968 until some American - and I do not know what type of American - wrote a book which seems to be mainly a criticism of the Australian Army and the Australian soldier. I would not have blamed the correspondent a bit if he had not been satisfied with the area commander's investigation. He was a reporter for a powerful newspaper. He could have reported the affair to his paper, which could have taken it up in Canberra is necessary. This matter could have been raised in a higher sphere; but he did not raise it there. The American has written about things that he did not see - and he admits that he did not see them. Once his book came out, a comment came from the journalist.

Honourable members who read the 'Daily Telegraph' today will have seen an article under the heading 'US Author wrote of "torture he missed" ', which reads:

The other thing I missed (during his absence from the Australian base camp) was listening to the interrogation of a female prisoner.

Moseley said she was young and good looking. He and Sjoberg -

Whoever that may be - stood outside the tent. . . . '

What the Leader of the Opposition is asking is that we bring the Vietcong girl out here so that she can be put up to accuse an Australian soldier who has been in Vietnam and who returned from there after the case had been investigated and after he had been interrogated in 1966. The

Leader of the Opposition is asking that the incident should be blown up in the press all over the world.

I do not care much whether I suffer because of my attitude or whether I disagree with the editorials in the newspapers. I go on record as saying that I shall support the Australian soldier, wherever he may be, and any Australian who gives reasonable thought to those matters should indeed question what is going on in some quarters in this country at this time. We should look at the newspapers, count how many photographs of Vietcong atrocities are published, check how many pictures which turn out eventually, by some inexplicable mistake, to be Vietcong pictures but have been claimed as allied atrocities, have been countermanded, and ask ourselves what is happening and whether any of us on this side of the House or on the Labor side have the right to ask any boy to go to this war unless we are prepared to give him the loyalty and support that he needs. Our boys in Vietnam read the newspapers there and they may look to the Labor Party and hope that it will give them support. I have not heard of any national serviceman who has returned from Vietnam and has supported Labor policy or written to the Press asking what Labor policy is. Let honourable members opposite bring forward, if they can, any national serviceman who has done so. I have heard many who have come back say that they know what they went to fight for. Let us ask ourselves what it is that the Opposition wants. What is it that the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Fulton), who is sitting there wearing his Returned Services League badge, wants.

Mr Fulton - Justice.

Mr JESS - For whom does the honourable member want justice? Does he want to smear Australian servicemen, who, up to this time, have had a reputation second to none for courage, kindness and consideration? On the word of one reporter, which is not supported by the two other people quoted, or by evidence that could have been brought before higher authority in Canberra through a powerful newspaper, an American author, using information given to him in 1966, attacks Australian servicemen and the Army's morale.

Let me in the time left to me read a letter, which, I think, is indicative of many. Honourable members may read another one from an ex-serviceman who returned his medals. I have never had much time for that sort of man and neither has the honourable member for Leichhardt. A letter which appeared in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' and which was written by a soldier returned from Vietnam, stated:

Why don't you leave the Digger alone to fight the war? Why do you have to interfere and tip the balance more in favour of the Vietcong?

We're fighting a war! We're fighting it as fair as we can, and the Vietcong fight dirty, but we get all the knocks. Nobody kicks if the VC torture anybody.

The information that girl had would have been important. Radio-operators aren't a dime a dozen.

The letter starts off with some observations concerning what this serving soldier saw in Vietnam. Honourable members opposite never seem to be able to read that sort of comment. The honourable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) could answer some questions about torture by water. He also has had practical experience. No-one walks out. He knows that and I know it. I have never met with a more atrocious and repulsive case put up by an Opposition which seems to lack any moral fibre at all. I think the Australian soldier will remember this for a long time. Since this allegation was first made, I have questioned a number of men returned from Vietnam. The first one whom I asked about the matter said: 'At times we wonder which side the Press is on'. The second one said: 'Well, if people want to delve into the trough of filth which is involved in this, what can we do about it?'

I can say only this: If I were the mother of a boy who was up in Vietnam and I listened to what has come from the Opposition, I would question on whose side the Opposition is. It appears that any piece of gossip even if it is unsupported and denied by other witnesses will be used by the Australian Labor Party. If it can be a vehicle for the Labor Party to get onto the bandwagon, it will not be too low. I mention in passing that I rather object to having been able to read in a newspaper a statement as to what is going to be said tonight regarding this matter. If the Government does weaken and does consider that there should be a full inquiry into this alleged torture incident, I will go on record, even if I am the only person in this House to do so, as voting against the proposal. In my book, the soldier has to be supported. The Australian soldier is taking the risks. He is not sitting in a deep green leather chair like the honourable member for Wills who is trying to interject and who is trying to tell everybody how to run this war.

As far as I am concerned, any person who might be listening at this time to the radio broadcast of these proceedings while driving in his motor car should look into the rear vision mirror and ask himself where he stands on the subject of this nitwit who did not have the courage, if he felt so strongly about the matter, to take it further along the correct channels. Instead, he gave the story to this American so that the American could write a book which could be sold. This news item was whipped through to our gallant Australian Broacasting Commission which, without hesitation, put it on air to be purveyed to the Australian people, to the parents of our soldiers serving in Vietnam and also to the world. Frankly, I say at this stage that I feel ashamed to be an Australian when I hear some of the comments from the Opposition about this matter.

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