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Tuesday, 18 April 1972
Page: 1697

Mr BARNARD (Bass) (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) - It is refreshing to see the Government initiating a second Vietnam debate in as many weeks. Obviously it thinks there is political capital for it in the massive resurgence of the Indo-China war. If it sticks to this tack it will prove to be as wrong and misguided about the war as it has been in respect of other elements in the Australian political structure. I want to start by looking briefly at the written platform of the Australian Labor Party on the Indo-China war. At the Launceston Conference of the Party held last year this policy was refined to a simple 3-paragraph declaration. The first paragraph pointed to previous policies on the war adopted by the Federal Conferences in 1965, 1967 and again in 1969. It emphasised that these policy declarations had been proved to be substantially correct, despite the fact that in 1967, as a result of the deliberations of the Party in Victoria at that time, it was determined that there should be a definite policy in relation to the Vietnam situation and we laid down 3 guiding principles.

The principles were, firstly, that there should, be a cessation of bombing in North Vietnam. Secondly, that the National Liberation Front should be recognised as a party to any negotiations for peace in that country. We were told by the then Prime Minister that this was treachery, that it would never be accepted by the United States of America and it would not be accepted by an Australian government. We were subsequently proved to be correct. The bombing did stop; the National Liberation Front was accepted as a party to the negotiations. Whenever this Government has made a statement in relation to Vietnam, it has been proved to be substantially incorrect.

At the last Conference of the ALP it went on to recapitulate an important element of the previous policies, namely, that international arrangements should be made for the economic and social recovery of Indo-China and the territorial integrity of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Finally the declaration stated that an Australian Labor government would stand ready to work with the Geneva participants or the United Nations or any other agency established for the purpose of re habilitating and neutralising Indo-China. This is the full extent of the Labor Party's official policy on Vietnam. Any declaration that goes beyond these principles is not Labor policy.

Much has been made of the resolution adopted at the meeting of the Victorian Australian Labor Party Council on Sunday which passed by a narrow majority a resolution on Vietnam. It cannot be stated too emphatically that this declaration was not Labor policy and in framing it this Council exceeded its constitutional authority.

One could go on for hours about how this decision was. reached and the chapter of accidents that led to its adoption. But this would be a pointless exercise; the fact is that it is not an expression of Labor policy and it was immediately repudiated by the Leader of the Opposition. It was again repudiated by him in this debate this afternoon. This repudiation was promptly echoed by the Federal President of the Labor Party who, as Chairman of the Party's Federal Conference, is in a position to know exactly what the Party's policy is. It is likely that there will be further repudiation of the declaration from the Victorian Branch. This puts the whole episode in its proper perspective as a foul-up in the internal machinery of the Labor Party.

To draw an analogy, the Government parties often find themselves in the same position. I have lost count of the number of times the Young Liberals Have passed motions and issued policy declarations in direct opposition to their seniors who run the Government. This causes momentary discomfiture and embarrassment but that is all. All parties accept that this sort of thing happens fairly frequently to each of them. If honourable members want another example there is the call by the Australian Country Party in Victoria last week by a margin of 600 to 3 that the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) should be replaced by the Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony). Who doubts that the Country Party will raise a matter of public importance in this Parliament in order to deal with this question. Undoubtedly, honourable members on this side of the House will support the proposal.

These incidents elicit partisan amusement when they happen, but they are accepted parts of the political process. Noone would seek to muzzle or stifle the operation of component parts of the political machines of the various parties because of isolated foul-ups of this sort. This is the perspective in which an incident of this sort should be placed. The Labor Party had been singularly free of this sort of incident in recent months and perhaps it had exceeded its reservoir of good luck.

Turning to the question before the House, I must express my disappointment at its content. To my mind it has precisely the same faults as the resolution passed by the Victorian Branch of the Labor Party. The question is partisan, it is narrow and it glorifies the Vietnam war and the continuation of the war until one side or the other prevails. The point is that the war in Vietnam cannot be looked at in the crude terms of black and white favoured by members of the Government Parties. According to this line only one side has transgressed the Geneva Conventions; only one side has committed acts of invasion, only one side is evil. This sort of primitive logic just does not wash with the facts.

I do not want to go through the whole course of events in Vietnam since the Geneva Conventions were signed. Both sides have repeatedly breached the provisions of the Conventions. Both sides have committed appalling acts of aggression. The Government claims that the North Vietnamese have invaded the south.

This ignores the fact that South Vietnam and North Vietnam are not legal entities. Their legality has never been established by any international body.

The Government accepts without any quibble an arrangement which cannot be justified by any principle of international law. This allows it to put the specious argument that there has been an invasion because military elements have moved from the north of the demilitarised zone to the south. According to this sort of logic, it is not an invasion, however, when United States and South Vietnamese units strike into the supposedly neutral country of Laos. I agree that North Vietnamese troops have also transgressed Laotian neutrality but let us get our terms correct. Nor is it on invasion under this line of argument if

American planes enter airspace of the demilitarised zone and bomb that part of Vietnam.

This whole question of double standards was put very lucidly in last week's urgency debate by the honourable member for Lalor (Dr J. F. Cairns). He made the point that gaping holes would be left in the South Vietnamese armies and administration if all the people from north of the demilitarised zone were repatriated to their homes. This shows the fallacy of dividing the country into 2 watertight compartments and labelling South Vietnam as a small and independent country. .

If we want to analyse the Indo-China war let us accept the fact that blatant breaches of borders and terrible wrongs against humanity have been committed by both sides. Going beyond this I want to stress again the illusions produced by the official policy of Vietnamisation. All that Vietnamisation has done is to pit two huge and powerful armies against each other on the ground. One side has the benefit of unlimited American air and naval power. The other has the benefit of very effective military equipment supplied by Russia. As this titanic conflict builds up, Australia can sit safely on the sideline and look on secure in the knowledge that it has done its bit for Vietnamisation, even if it has done nothing to end the war. '

Of course it was wrong for the communists to intensify the war at a time when negotiations were still possible. Even from a purely military sense it is difficult to understand the timing of these renewed military drives by the communists. But it would be wrong to leave our condemnation at the level indicated by. the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street). It is also true, as pointed out by the honourable member for Lalor last week, that the communist and nationalist cause in Vietnam has been provoked and persecuted in a manner unparallelled in history.

If we are to distribute blame and compassion let us do it justly to both parties. Above all, let us not glorify the supremacy of either side by victory in the field. It should be obvious that neither side can win a military victory without many years of ferocious warfare, many years of terrible slaughter, and the destruction of Vietnam. I am sure that the overwhelming majority of members of the Labor Party support the cause of compromise and humanity as outlined clearly in the official policy of the Australian Labor Party and supported this afternoon by the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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