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Tuesday, 26 March 1968

Mr IAN ALLAN (Gwydir) - Insofar as I could understand the remarks of the honourable member for Bass (Mr Barnard), he seemed to be advocating that Australian soldiers in Vietnam should run out on their mates. I do not know who he represents, but he certainly does not represent, with this sentiment, the great majority of Australians who believe in that peculiarly Australian habit of sticking with one's mates. This is the reason why the public has shown such a complete lack of faith in the Opposition over the past 20 years and will continue to show a lack of faith in and support for the Australian Labor Party which puts up such an unAustralian point of view. We believe in staying with our friends and in helping the free peoples of the world. Our powerful allies, the United States of America and Great Britain, have shown in the past that they serve ideals of a much higher and worthier nature than those served or given lip service to by other nations. They have been prepared to sacrifice their blood and treasure at no gain to themselves' in order to help, in this particular instance, the free people of Vietnam to maintain their way of life, their religious freedom and their right of association - in other words to maintain the four freedoms which were championed during the last war and for which many of us thought we were fighting. This is what we are doing in Vietnam. It is a worthy ideal which some people preserve and which is getting the support of the Australian people. Because of this peculiar un-Australian philosophy of the Labor Party, this year is a crisis year for Australia in foreign affairs. It is a crisis of confidence - a crisis that will test our courage and our conviction. This is partly due to the strange attitude of the Labor Party, but it is due also to the effects of a situation outside Australia. There is the current turmoil in Vietnam, which is more serious than it has ever been in the past and more confusing. There is the threatened withdrawal of British forces from the Pacific and Indian Ocean areas. It is a Presidential election year in the United States - always a year of conflict and difficulty in that nation. 1 have referred to the situation in Vietnam but I have confidence that if we continue resolutely on the path on which we have set out feet we will succeed in Vietnam. We have right on our side and in this fight we will have increasingly the support of all people in South East Asia, particularly those who dwell in troubled Vietnam.

Because of the proposed withdrawal of British forces from east of Suez, Australia feels, for the first time in its history, particularly naked. We have not been in this situation before. There has always been, since Australia was established, a British presence handy and adjacent to our shores. We know that we have to face responsibilities which we have not had to face in the past and this is causing some anxiety in certain places. Our confidence is being assaulted by Press reports emanating from the United States. As this is a Presidential year we are getting the backwash of all the political bally-hoo associated with any Presidential election. It is unfortunate that in this particular year most of the bally-hoo is associated with foreign affairs, and particularly with the war in Vietnam. Furthermore, in the United States, there is a tradition that freedom of the Press is inseparable from democracy. Freedom of the Press is interpreted in that country as a freedom for the Press to print every item of sensationalnews, right or wrong, that it can pick up from any source. This also makes it difficult for us in Australia to plot a steady course. We find it hard to understand quite what is going on in the United States - what their intentions are and what their capabilities are.

Then, of course, there is the third strain in the news which emanates from America. It comes from other countries too, but we get a flood from the United States. I refer to deliberately tainted news - tainted by Communist propaganda. This is a third strain which makes it extremely hard for people in Australia to sift the wheat from the chaff and to get at the true position of the United States or the true state of the war in Vietnam.

What arc we going to do about these matters? First I suggest that we set up an Army public relations unit staffed by officers on short commissions. This service, which we have had in past wars, would provide us with a constant stream of complete and accurate news so that whatever amount of sensation appeared in the Press we would know that there was a steady stream of good, sound and truthful information appearing in our periodicals. This would give confidence to our troops. It would help their morale to know that they had associated with them a public relations unit operating under military discipline and it would help us to wage a successful conflict in Vietnam. Finally, as I have said, it would aid considerably in restoring our confidence and maintaining our confidence at home.

Secondly we can, as the Minister for External Affairs (Mr Hasluck) indicated when he spoke earlier tonight, play our part in assisting the formation of regional pacts for mutual defence in the South East Asian area. It is surprising to many people who do not know anything of the dedication of our diplomats, particularly in the Asian area, that Australia should be held in such high respect throughout Asia, but that is a fact. We are in a particularly favourable position to take a leading role in helping to form regional defensive pacts in Asia. This can do much to help us to stretch out our rather meagre resources to defend Australia now that Britain is to withdraw her forces from our shores. We are extending ourselves very much at present. In fact, we have just about reached the limit, if one compares the amount we spend on defence with that spent by other countries, the amount we allocate to foreign aid - in spite of what the Opposition says - and the amount we allocate towards vast capital works for the development of the nation. It will be seen that we can spare very little more without sacrificing something that is vital to the continued progress of the nation. So we are obliged to see that we get the maximum result from what we spend on defence. This means that we have to spread it pretty thinly over a wide area. To augment it we need, in our own interests apart from the interests of our neighbours, to see established a number of regional mutual security pacts.

Finally, what we can do to maintain our confidence and resolution in Australia is to continue to play a part in helping to bring about closer relations between the two super powers in the world - the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America - in joint security arrangements. The arrangements that have been made up to date are fragmentary. They have been achieved as a result of tedious and painful negotiations but they have been achieved and we are now in the process of achieving one further step. In the past few years we have had the nuclear test ban treaty and the treaty dealing with outer space. Now we are considering the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. It is to be hoped that the trend for the super powers to get together and arrange agreements for mutual security and the establishment of a rule of law for world peace will continue and accelerate. Perhaps we can play a useful part in this trend. I hope we will endeavour to do so because nothing is more certain than that if the two super powers could get together and frame an effective policy for the achievement of security for all nations, we would be able to set about solving some of the desperate problems caused by over-population and would be able to divert a large proportion of our resources away from wasteful defence spending. I believe this can be done. The trend has been established. We have certain agreements operating. Anything we can do to speed up this process will be beneficial. This is the highest and most useful task we can tackle at present. We in Australia need to maintain our resolution and our courage during what will be a troubled year. This year will be a hard one because it will be the first year in which we have had to stand alone without the British presence. It is a year of decision in the United States and a year of military decision in Vietnam. I trust that the Government will act with a full sense of responsibility and will devise policies which are positive and will lead Australia towards the role that it is destined to play in the future, namely as a leading nation, guiding and sustaining its neighbours in the South East Asian area.

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