Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 28 March 1968


Mr FAIRHALL (Paterson) (Minister for Defence) - I am sure the House will be grateful to my colleague the Minister for External Affairs (Mr Hasluck), for his helpful statement to the House earlier in the week when he referred to three important matters. They were: the nonproliferation treaty, the Vietnamese war and the potential changes that could occur in the military situation in Malaysia and Singapore. I would leave the latter matter and will seek leave of the House later on in the session to deal with the issues when the tremendous amount of work at Service and official level preparing the grounds for Government decision, will have been further advanced.

The emergence from the eighteen nation Disarmament Committee of the draft treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is a matter of considerable import to a troubled world. Inevitably, there are matters upon which the prospective signatories will call for clarification, or even amendment, but the draft must nevertheless be regarded as a great diplomatic achievement. But my colleague does well to attract attention to some matters within the draft which will need the most careful study. It is proposed that the treaty should last for 25 years, subject to renewal thereafter. It is proposed that, within that time, any atomic activity, beginning with the recovery of raw materials and its processing, or its application for peaceful uses, will be under the scrutiny of international authority. Peaceful research is permitted, but in the atomic field, where so much that needs to be done in the peaceful application of atomic energy parallels activities and technologies essential for the production of nuclear weapons, there must be no lack of definition, no risk that we would sign away any of our essential rights. After all, 25 years, in terms of the present day speed of technological development is a very long time. None of us may say with any certainty what may come out of the developments in the atomic field in that time. I say no more about these matters, other than to indicate the closest possible Government study of the limitations and safeguards and our determination that our legitimate national interests will be preserved.

Yesterday and today, throughout the nation, editorial opinion supports this eminently sensible and responsible approach. It is only the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) who takes leave to quarrel with the Government's attitude. Indeed he accepts that the treaty is a most complex one, but is insistent that 'Australia should sign it'. He goes further, and suggests: *If it is impossible to get a better treaty, then the treaty should be signed as it is.' The most impecunious lawyer would hardly give that kind of advice to his client, and for the Leader of the Opposition - a potential Prime Minister at some distant date - to give this advice to the nation is no less than irresponsible. It is questionable whether the Opposition has given thought to the implications of the draft treaty. The Opposition's disposition to sign any kind of treaty presents an attitude which would soon transform itself into opposition within the United Nations to any amendment, no matter how essential. Acceptance of the treaty, on a scale sufficiently wide to make it effective, might thereby be jeopardised. If this is a measure of the sense of responsibility and the skill in negotiations which the Leader of the Opposition would bring to the affairs of government, in a matter so vitally important, then the people of this country ought to commit the incident to memory against the next election.

The Leader of the Opposition then went on to expose his well known views on the war in Vietnam. He quoted with relish a 2 year old statement of the Minister for External Affairs, deploring the effects of the war but pointing out that 'the critics have no solution of their own which can be accepted with honour and with prudence.' Two years after that, the Opposition have still not put forward a solution which can be accepted with honour and with prudence. As time offers, I will say something about the propriety and prudence of their proposals. The honourable gentleman has never ceased to demand that Australia should have a policy of its own. These are his words. He refuses to accept that Australia's policy can be compatible with that of the United States of America, which it is. His demand is, therefore, that we should have an entirely different policy to our allies. But at the first sign of even a minor difference with the United States, even where he alleges it untruthfully himself, he howls 'sabotage' of the peace effort. What, precisely, does he want?

Towards the end of last year in the Senate election campaign and again on Tuesday night, the Leader of the Opposition claimed that, in August last, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr Arthur Goldberg, sought support for an American proposal to recognise the National Liberation Front as a party to any negotiations. The Leader of the Opposition charges that 'Australia refused her support for this American proposal'. Let us analyse this. The facts are that, in the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 2nd November last, Ambassador Goldberg made public, for the first time, the terms of a draft resolution which he had discussed with other members of the Security Council in September. The matters before interested governments at that time were whether Vietnam would be discussed in the Security Council of the United Nations at all and whether the terms of the United States draft resolution was generally acceptable to friendly delegations. Australia did not oppose discussion in the United Nations, nor did it have any difficulty with the terms of the draft resolution. The draft resolution included no reference to the National Liberation Front's participation in the discussions of the Security Council.

What Ambassador Goldberg did say to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was that under rule 39 of the Security Council the United States would not stand in the way of groups, including the National Liberation Front, being invited. But this referred to being invited to a meeting of the Security Council, and certainly it had nothing to do with the participation of the National Liberation Front in negotiations. Rule 39 of the Security Council allows that Council to invite groups of individuals whom it considers competent for the purpose to supply it with information or to give it assistance in examining matters within its competence. Ambassador Goldberg also said that the question of National Liberation Front participation in a Geneva-type conference, and the form it might take, would be matters for the members of the conference, and that the United States would accept the judgment of the members of any such conference.

It is quite clear that, in the event, the Security Council was unwilling to take up the Vietnam item, the question of inviting the National Liberation Front to participate in Security Council discussions under rule 39 did not arise, and Australia's influence therefore was not used against the views put forward by Ambassador Goldberg, nor was Australia even called upon to form a judgment on the issue.

Those, Sir, are the facts. The Leader of the Opposition then went on to catalogue the political decisions which severely limit military activity - limitations designed to limit destruction and loss of life. The Leader of the Opposition complains that we have not added yet another limitation in the form of a cessation of bombing, which is the only thing that prevents the whole of North Vietnam from being added to the demilitarised zone, Laos and Cambodia as complete sanctuaries for North Vietnamese aggressors. The Leader of the Opposition insists that we no longer believe that we can bomb Hanoi to the conference table, or that we can break the morale of the North Vietnamese people, or raise the morale of the people of South Vietnam. In fact, none of these things was ever claimed for the bombing. Indeed, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) corrects his Leader when he quotes Robert McNamara, who set out the aims of bombing as being to bolster the morale of South Vietnam, to slow and impede infiltration from North Vietnam and to emphasise to North Vietnam the big and continuing price to be paid for continued aggression. These were the aims when bombing was instituted; these are the aims now.

The Leader of the Opposition would substitute a holding war, but he has never yet been able to explain precisely what he means by that term. He demands peaceful development for the people of South Vietnam, while all around he sees the evidence that what has been done for the people of South Vietnam has been ruthlessly destroyed by the Vietcong and the regular invading troops of North Vietnam. The Leader of the Opposition insists that continuation of the bombing encourages Russia to maintain her support for Hanoi and that Russia is the only country now in a position to put pressure on Hanoi to negotiate. Hanoi would have been obliged to negotiate long since but for the tremendous material assistance given by Russia to support Communist expansion, by aggression, in South Bast Asia.

The Leader of the Opposition acknowledges that if the war goes on it will be because Russia does not put pressure on Hanoi to negotiate. Yet we hear no word from him of condemnation of Russia for her supply and encouragement, no acknowledgment from him of the obvious fact that

Russia and China, despite their alleged differences, are happy to see the war continue in what is, in fact, a Communist versus free world confrontation. Russia's only stake is to preserve the right of North Vietnam to take over South Vietnam by terrorism, subversion and guerrilla warfare, backed by the force that apparently only Russia can supply. The Labor Party cannot deny that it supports this situation.

It is timely to recall the words of Professor Arndt of the Australian National University who, in a thoughtful article 2 years ago, said:

The point I now want to stress is that it is primarily, if not wholly, because on balance they want Communism to win in Vietnam that all the Government's most active critics, and in particular the leaders of the ALP Left, like Calwell and Cairns, oppose the present policy.

With minor modifications for the change in management of the Labor Party, that statement is still valid.

The Leader of the Opposition makes great play of the fact that the Catholic bishops of South Vietnam have called for negotiations. I have no quarrel with that, but why does he not equally accept the policies of the democratically elected government of South Vietnam, which will have no truck with the National Liberation Front? The Labor Party wants negotiations which must inevitably result in a coalition government which would include the National Liberation Front. The first fruits of this kind of settlement would be the end of democratically elected government in South Vietnam. It would leave the Communist infra-structure in South Vietnam intact and the Vietcong still armed but unrecognised. Short of a military victory, this is the ideal solution for the Communists of North Vietnam, who would immediately begin the business of dismantling what was left of democratic government in the South. This is a well trodden path to Communist political power.

The Opposition claims that the Tet offensive proves that allied policies are wrong. The claim is unproven, but there is something to be learned from the Tet offensive, something that we will do well to keep in mind for the future. The circumstances are too easily forgotten. Tet is a sacred festival in Vietnam. It was the North Vietnamese who offered the truce, well knowing that would encourage some dispersal of Soufi Vietnamese military forces. While the North was offering the security of a truce, trie Government of the North was actively deploying the forces to break it. But these are the people with whom we are now invited to negotiate. What confidence could we have in the integrity of any arrangements made with people whose pledged word means nothing at all? The war would never be so dangerous as it would be if we went to negotiations without being able to negotiate from a position of military strength.

It is quite clear that the Communist Tet offensive was designed to destroy the Government of South Vietnam. It singularly failed. The Communists expected a popular uprising of the people in their support. There was no uprising. The Communists expected the Army of the Republic of Vietnam to lay down their arms. They did not. Indeed the record is that they fought magnificently, despite the difficulties and disorganisation imposed upon them by the broken pledge of the Government of North Vietnam. Communist troops who did such damage in Saigon and elsewhere had no plans for withdrawal. They expected they would be able to stay. In fact they were driven off with heavy casualties.

No-one will deny the psychological victory of the Communists, or the shattered security that they left behind, or the destruction and setback of the revolutionary development programme in South Vietnam, but this was but a stage in a long push to victory. The Leader of the Opposition himself acknowledges that the United States cannot be dislodged by any military effort which either the Vietcong or the Government of North Vietnam is capable of mounting. Yet because there is a reverse the Labor Party wants to give up and get out. Where would we be now if Britain had given up when her cities were obliterated, her communications smashed and her factories out of action, and her forces reeling back in disarray from the Continent? That was a battle against aggression in which we thought it worth while to go on. The conflict in Vietnam is no less a battle against aggression, and it is equally worth while going on.

Finally, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition accuses senior members of this Government of having formed their concepts of foreign policy at the time of Stalin and the cold war in Europe. He charges that we have made no attempt to change these stale ideas. Does the honourable gentleman forget that it was the cold war, fought not militarily but politically, by subversion and trickery, which laid half the people of Europe under the domination of Communism, from which they are still struggling to escape? Does he forget that Russian Communism continues aggressively to expand its authority and influence in the Middle East and elsewhere, or that it is the Communist veto in the United Nations which so often paralyses the good intentions of that institution? And does he overlook that what he is pleased to call the 'disintegration of the monolithic Communist world' has thrown up a new aggressive power in Asia; a power which today backs, morally and physically, the' aggression by North Vietnam; a power which has stated in the clearest possible terms that its aim is worldwide aggression, political if possible but military if necessary; and a power which continues to extend its subversive influences extensively throughout the underdeveloped nations of the world.

We have been debating today a statement on external affairs. The subject is vital to Australia's future. The House is entitled to wonder when the Labor Party may be persuaded to give up its day to day politics and devote itself to long term concern for the future security and growth of this nation.







Suggest corrections