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Tuesday, 2 April 1968

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The Leader of the Opposition will address the Chair.

Mr WHITLAM - Yesterday afternoon I made a statement, portion of which I will repeat. I said:

For the past year the Labor Party has urged the Australian Government to use its influence to change the course and conduct of the war. The Government refused to use its influence. It denied it had any influence.

The United States has now substantially changed its foreign policy along the lines Labor advocated. Any change at all towards de-escalation was denounced right up to last week by the Australian Government as 'totally unacceptable' to the United States.

Another course which Labor had been urging was the proposal advanced by Ambassador Goldberg last September but sabotaged by the Australian Government in the United Nations. I will read further from the statement I made yesterday.

Mr Fairhall - Read what I said last Thursday.

Mr WHITLAM - It is as credible as the portion of your speech which I have quoted. Yesterday I said:

At any time in the last year Australia's influence would have been crucial in bringing about the changes which the United States has now decided to make independently of Australia. Had Australia used her influence then she would have acted as a truly good ally to the United States and a truly good friend to the President.

Many Vietnamese, American and Australian lives would have been saved, needless suffering would have been avoided. We would have helped the United States to retain the diplomatic initiative at a time when the general war situation would have guaranteed greater effectiveness for her diplomacy. We would have shown a genuine policy of our own. We would have acted and not just reacted.

The Government still is reluctant to acknowledge that there has been a change of American policy. It is still reluctant to urge a further development of American policy. Yesterday and again today the Prime Minister has ignored the real nature and purport of the speech made yesterday by the President of the . United States. The President has announced not only a peace overture to Hanoi but a substantial and, one trusts, permanent change in the conduct of the war. His announcement is not merely of a bombing pause to test the possibility of Hanoi coming to the conference table if the bombing stops, lt is that, but it is much more than that. It is, as the President said, the first step to de-escalating the war and to reducing the level of hostilities.

The American decision has a meaning and significance of its own quite apart from any response which may come from Hanoi. This is not just a bombing pause similar to the 37 days pause 2 years ago. This is a definite and profound change of strategy. It is not merely an incident in the war. It takes the war into an entirely new phase. The Prime Minister did not refer to the crowning part of the President's statement yesterday - that he would not again seek nomination by the Democratic Party; that he would not stand for the presidency of his country again. There have been some great abdications in history - Diocletian and Charles V - but never in such dramatic circumstances as this. This may well be a turning point in the history of the world, particularly in our region. But the future of our region will remain insecure unless one of the great developed countries in this area, one of the countries which can make the biggest contribution to this area, Australia, supports more actively the efforts for peace in this area. As the Pope said to the President just before Christmas: 'It takes courage to make war; it takes still more to make peace'. The President showed that courage; the Australian Government has not yet shown it.

The Australian people require more initiative here because every argument and every policy which this Government has advanced or supported has been shown to be ill-advised and short-sighted.

This Government is now surprised. It is disappointed that the Americans are changing the course of this war. I hope that people throughout the country will realise that neither the Liberal Party nor, of course, the Labor Party, can afford to attach its foreign policy to the policies of any party or any party leader in the United States. The American alliance is the framework within which both the great political parties in this country devise their foreign policy. To quote the Labor Party's platform on this matter:

The alliance with the United States is of crucial importance in the foreign policy of Australia and it should be an instrument for justice, peace, political, social and economic advancement.

We cannot just look at this change of policy - not cessation, not hesitation, but change of policy - by the United States solely in the perspective of the war in Vietnam. It is related to a very profound sentiment in both the great American political parties and in the American people about their whole future relationship with this region. The President's statement expresses the misgivings in the American parties. There is no American who has had a more active role in public life than the present President. There has never been an American President who has had a longer apprenticeship in public life before becoming President. He feels the ground swell in the United States as a whole, not just in the Republican and Democratic Parties.

So significant an announcement raises the whole question of American participation in the work of building the defences, the societies and the economies of the nations of this area - the most deprived and the most turbulent region in the world; as deprived as Latin America and Africa and much more turbulent and populous than Latin America and Africa. This is the region where the most developed of all nations of the world, the richest and most generous nation - the United States - must make a contribution and must be encouraged to make a contribution if there is to be a developing future in our region.

It is now a very serious question indeed for this Government to consider how it intends to keep America permanently and fruitfully involved in the tasks which have to be performed in our region. T applaud the Government for having contacted the Soviet Union as well as Great Britain which are co-chairmen of the Geneva Convention. This was not stated by the Prime Minister yesterday. It had not occurred to him at that stage. But the judgment of U Thant was backed up promptly and quite explicitly by France. France has some knowledge and some involvement in this area. Have we approached France? What other diplomatic initiative is the Government taking? The Prime Minister does not mention that we should be talking to the Government of South Vietnam. President Johnson has asked President Thieu to visit the United States and President Thieu has accepted the invitation. But this Prime Minister has never referred to any negotiations with or in South Vietnam.

The Australian Government should not just be a camp follower. It has a prime part to play in this part of the world. Our wealth, our gross national product, is as great as that of all the nations which lie between us and India and China and Japan. It is quite clear that Australia must take a lead in this area. On our own borders, on our own threshold, in Indonesia America this year has increased her aid; this in a year in which she is spending less on total overseas aid than in any year for 20 years past. The Australian Government is begrudging and sluggish in making a proportionate increase in its commitment to Indonesia. In our part of the world we are a relatively developed country. In our ocean there are the United States, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and portion of the Soviet Union. If Australia, the most developed country in this part of the world, the most technically advanced country in this part of the world, is not prepared to take a lead, militarily, economically, politically, diplomatically and socially, how can we expect the other great countries to make a contribution, to pitch in if we do not? We have the responsibility. Listening to the Prime Minister this afternoon, and reading what he had said last night, we realise the little Australianism of his attitude. How disappointing and inadequate in our region is Australia's role to be?

Mr Mackay - Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.

Mr SPEAKER -Does the honourable member for Evans claim to have been misrepresented?

Dr Mackay - I certainly do.

Mr SPEAKER -I call the honourable member for Evans.

Dr Mackay - The Leader of the, Opposition (Mr Whitlam) made a statement and in it, for the second time in this House, he implied that I am a person who seeks war and adopts, as my daily prayer, the words: Give us war in our time, O Lord'. I deny this categorically. I insist that my desire is for peace but peace with honour and security; not peace by avoiding responsibility or by repudiating our pledged word; not peace at the expense of the lives that we have promised to support.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member cannot debate his personal explanation. He will conclude it.

Debate (on motion by Mr Freeth) adjourned.

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