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Thursday, 14 March 1968


Mr UREN (Reid) - I support the amendment that has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and I feel that all honourable members understand that we of the Australian Labor Party have made our position perfectly clear. The people of Australia have understood our Party stand. We are opposed to

Australian troops going to Vietnam. But since their commitment to that conflict, every member of the Opposition has protected the interests of every Australian serving in Vietnam. I believe that the ' Government is wrong in thinking that by its action tonight it is helping to protect the interests of Australians in Vietnam. Australians are divided on the question of our participation in this conflict and there is a similar division of opinion in America. In a situation in which most civilised countries are against the participation by Australia and America in the Vietnam war, it is important that we act as a civilised nation. We should not condone even one individual carrying out such a barbaric or Gestapo-like action. Surely every Australian should ask for a public inquiry as has been requested by the Leader of the Opposition.

The Leader of the Opposition stated clearly that no honourable member on this side of the chamber had made any statement with regard to this inquiry. He made the first statement on this subject and in it he said that there should be an inquiry and that it should be open to the public so that the people of Australia, the churches and the Press would know what really happened. We want to make sure that this kind of thing does not happen again. Many honourable members in this place were prisoners of war of the Japanese during World War II. I ask them to cast their minds back to the many cruel interrogations that they witnessed. Many prisoners were persecuted. Many prisoners came back limbless and a very great percentage did not come back at all The militarist Japanese treated Australian, British, American and Dutch servicemen as cruelly and sadistically as prisoners were treated by the Nazis in Germany. I have the greatest respect for Army leaders. I served under fine Army leaders who were trained at Duntroon and

Irespected them. I respect Army leaders today. But I want to make sure that the Australian Army stands proudly because it bears a proud name. Hushing up the results of an inquiry into this incident will not increase our pride in the Army. We have a fine record and I hope that we can retain that record. We have been told of pis sadistic brute who said: TMI get it out of this bitch.' We must know what action the Army has taken against the sadistic individual who interrogated this young girl. We must stop Fascism in individual persons, wherever we find it. If this man carried out a barbaric action then we should know what punishment he received. It has been admitted that this act was a breach of the Geneva Convention whether the person interrogated was a spy or a soldier of the Vietcong. Anyway, how could one tell the difference? The world knows that the allies do not know who are members of the Vietcong in Saigon or Hue. But out in the jungle they say: 'That one who was shot was a Vietcong soldier, but this one whom we captured is a spy'. It is just laughable. There is no identification mark in Vietcong soldiers. That is why the allies cannot detect them. But even if this girl was a spy, as the Government categorises her, she is protected under the Geneva Convention and she also has the protection that we are a civilised race. We should make sure that we act in a civilised way.

I   . want to know whether the then Attorney-General, who is now the Minister for Immigration (Mr Snedden), was informed and, if he was, what action he took against this Australian soldier for breaking the Geneva Convention. It has been admitted tonight that the soldier did break the Geneva Convention on the brutalities of war. What action did the then AttorneyGeneral take? What action did the Army take? What did Brigadier Jackson, the Task Force commander, do? What did the then Minister for the Army do? Did he know about it? We, the Australian people, and we, the representatives of the Australian people, want to know the truth. We want a public inquiry to make sure that the people of Australia know the truth; that the Australian Army's name, which is a proud one, remains clean and clear; and that we do not allow any people with brutal and Fascist tendencies to take the fore in the Australian Army.

I have seen the horrors of war. I know what men do in the heat of combat. In the heat of combat I have seen Australian medical orderlies hanging up by their feet with their throats cut. In retaliation I have seen my fellow Australians incinerate wounded Japanese by burning native huts in which they were sheltering. We did not care a damn, because it was in the heat of battle and we were on the move. We had to move. But that was in the heat of battle. This incident was not in the heat of battle. This woman was brought back to the camp for interrogation. She was interrogated by a sadistic individual. It is to the detriment of the Army that such a man had such authority. If John Sorell is correct, it would seem that men of senior rank watched this man do what he did. This is a mark against the Australian Army which has to be cleared up. Only an inquiry can do that.

There is no argument on the basic facts now. The Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch) said:

But it is now established that the investigation on the spot had in fact confirmed that the newspaper report was substantially true.

Of course, no Minister who has spoken tonight has admitted that the water torture continued for 30 minutes. John Sorell said that it continued for 30 minutes; but, although no Minister has admitted that, the Government says that Sorell's report was substantially true. The word 'substantially' has a very wide meaning. I have had some experience of the courts over the last 4 or 5 years. I know what can be done with words on a question of law. I believe that there must be a public inquiry. I have not always agreed with the judiciary. But on this occasion I support the holding of a judicial inquiry because I believe that in such an inquiry many of the facts will come out and then the people of Australia will be able to judge the real facts of the matter.

I wish to make one other point. I felt that as a former prisoner of war, like the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Anderson), who is a member of the Cabinet, and the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz), who is a member of the Ministry, I had a mora! obligation to speak in this debate. They must have had some part in the decision that has been made. Let us not look on the gloomy side, but the problem in Vietnam today is critical. Who is to say that we may not lose thousands of men in one fell swoop - men taken prisoner - as we have lost our soldiers in the past? I make it perfectly clear that I am against Russian, American, Chinese, Australian or Viet namese brutality. I want to see our men treated with respect even as prisoners of war. After all, what are these soldiers doing? They cannot help it; they are in Vietnam because they are carrying out the decisions of their democratically elected government. They have to go there, many of them against their own will; but they are there. Consequently, we want to make sure that if there is some turn in this war our Australian soldiers will be protected.

The Ministers who have spoken tonight have said time and time again that we must not undermine morale. We do not want to undermine morale but we want to make sure that we in Australia are a civilised race. We believe in a progressive and enlightened civilisation. In the last war we had to fight against the barbarity of Nazi Germany and Fascist Japan. We do not want to copy their behaviour even though we know that both sides in the Vietnam war - the South Vietnamese government forces on the one hand and the Vietcong on the other - are doing terrible things to one another. We saw an example recently in a photograph on the front page of many Australian newspapers of the head of the police force in Saigon shooting a Vietcong soldier without trial. We were horrified at that. We know that many of the government officials in various villages have had their stomachs ripped open and their entrails exposed. We know all this but we do not want to drop to this level. We have been informed that action was taken to ensure that this so-called warrant officer will no longer be an interrogator but no Government supporter has told us what disciplinary action was taken against the soldier. We have not been told whether the Minister for Immigration (Mr Snedden), who was formerly Attorney-General, or the present Attorney-General (Mr Bowen) has looked at this position from the legal aspect. No Minister tonight has said that. Therefore I feel that the propositions put by the Leader of the Opposition were reasonable and in the best interests of Australia, the Australian people and the Australian Army.







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