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Thursday, 20 April 1972
Page: 1900

Mr BRYANT (Wills) - Appropriately enough, the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Nixon) petered out. He had 2 or 3 minutes remaining to him. This is a red letter day in a debate of this sort in this House. We have had 3 Cabinet Ministers participate. One would have thought that from all that power and heavyweight material we would have received some really effective announcements on what Australia's foreign and defence policy in this context ought to be.

It is significant that the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairbairn) opened the debate. The significance is that the Government is trying to turn the debate into an argument about the defence of Australia. We on this side of the House disagree with the view that the war in Vietnam has anything to do with the defence of Australia. We do not say that it has nothing to do with the morality of international affairs or with the concern for humanity or such matters as that; but we do say - we have said this for years and now it is obvious that the Government also says it - that the war in Vietnam is not significant to the defence of Australia because if it were significant to the defence of Australia the Government would be sending the troops hack there to hold the line.

I suppose the present outbreak of open warfare indicates the absolute and ruthless cynicism of Government supporters because in this instance, although the war in fact is an open war, they are silent about Australian's involvement or commitment there. From the very day the Government launched Australia's involvement, the Labor Party denied that that involvement was necessary. We opposed it bitterly both in the public arena and in the parliamentary arena. We opposed it in 1966 at great political cost. We oppose it now, and it is quite obvious from public opinion that the Australian public have finally moved to the same position as the Labor Party. I believe that it is quite inept to talk about the influence of communist aggression in this context.

What is the record on Vietnam? The sorry and unhappy record on Vietnam is a series of actions which have been consistent breaches of faith. At the conclusion of the Second World War in 1945 there was a possible solution to the problem. The

Vietminh could have taken over Vietnam. In fact, they did for a month or two. But finally the allies breached all that and, with the return of the French, the present continuing, sorry, sad and tragic war was implemented. Then, in 1954 there were the Agreements which we are always so fond of quoting. One must admit that in 18 years it is likely that 2 different forms of society have been created in the North and the South. They have 2 different forms of government. They are not 2 different countries, but they are 2 completely different government areas.

We on this side of the House believe that there is no solution in war. We also believe that we should be expending all our efforts to try to produce a diplomatic solution to the problem. We believe that Australia's commitment to Vietnam prejudiced our rights in this area as honest brokers in the international arena and that, having committed ourselves to one side or the other, we could no longer step into the discussions about Vietnam as a neutral and impartial country on the side of humanity and not supporting either side. Is there anybody in this House who would really want to live under either government? Neither government gets any cheers from me. The Government which I sit opposite, which I can study and the members of which I know closely, has my extreme distrust. I use the term in a political sense and not in a personal one. Generally speaking, the further away governments are, the less I am likely to like them.

There is further evidence of breaches of faith. The Gulf of Tonkin incident is one. Is it not true that it has now been admitted that the Americans embarked upon some of the assaults on North Vietnam in 1964 and 1965 upon the basis of a false analysis of a military operation and that the Gulf of Tonkin incident is one of the sorry episodes of history? Then there is our own involvement. I can recall the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, coming into this House and announcing that Australia was to commit troops to Vietnam. We on this side of the House opposed it from that moment. Then we began to ask the Prime Minister what was the basis upon which this commitment had been undertaken. We were told - honourable members can look this up in the records - that we had been asked. It took ages to find anybody who could find any document in which we had been asked to commit troops. Of course, at thai time, there was the unhappy coincidence between, on one hand, the visit of the then Treasurer, the late Harold Holt, to Washington, the Australian request to the United States for further financial assistance in the forms of loans and so on and Australia's need for American financial investment in this country and, on the other, the American need to have some token involvement in Vietnam by another country.

I believe that the Government, supported by honourable members most of whom are still sitting opposite, embarked upon that exercise with no understanding of what it really meant. They had no understanding that this would involve us in the death of 500 young Australians and the mutilation of a couple of thousand more and that it would divide the country. The Government thought, by some mysterious means, that it would be able to plant a battalion of Australians on foreign soil and just leave it there quietly as a token and an insurance premium but at no cost in lives, blood and division. The Government has constantly given us this misleading view. At that time, the Chinese were in the fray. One was given to understand that the Chinese were pouring down from the north, but nobody found the Chinese anywhere. We have been continually misled.

Now, we have come to 1972. What does the Government expect? What does it expect the North Vietnamese to do when they are attacked by aircraft and heavy artillery? What does it expect the South Vietnamese to do? What do the North Vietnamese expect the Americans to do? For heaven's sake, can we not see that when war comes in reason flies out; that there is no possibility of getting common sense out of either side of the commitment; and that when we have reached this stage in human affairs, whether it is in individual affairs between 2 people who have come to acts of violence or whether it is affairs between nations, somebody must come between them and entice people to stop killing one another? That is where we stand. I believe that we must try to extend into international affairs the ordinary morality of civil life, and this is what is going on now. Australia somehow must take an entirely new position.

What is my position? It is one of the great excitements of this House that, whenever we debate this subject, honourable members opposite quote some of my statements with approval. They would have only to take all my positions and approve them and adopt them for the country to be in much better shape. Where do I stand? I start on the assumption that no-one has the right to dispose of another's life. I stand for a party that opposes capital punishment, even for the most heinous crimes. Therefore, we have no right to kill for politic purposes; nor have the Americans the right to kill people in North Vietnam for a political solution; nor have the people of the North the right to kill the Khmer, the Lao or the Vietnamese of the North or the South in order to solve a political problem But as I said earlier, the facts are that when war enters reason flies and therefore others have to enter the fray.

I am one of .those who believe that national unity is not a case for killing people. I would not believe that it is worth one drop of blood to unite any nation. There has to be a political solution. What concerns me in this context is 'the total disregard for the victims of the war - the victims in the North and the victims in the South. The Melbourne 'Herald' the other day contained an article headed 'City of fear - Young and old ready to flee!'. It referred to Hanoi. I have in my hand a newspaper photograph which is described as:

Tran Huu, a 54-year-old North Vietnamese, holds a small child as he sits with other wounded.

Mr MacKellar - What about a picture of a South Vietnamese victim?

Mr BRYANT - I was coming to that. The honourable member is, of course, one of those people who supports selective humanity. This morning on a broadcast of World Round-up by the British Broadcasting Corporation' I heard these words:

Villagers stood around their shattered houses weeping. The bodies of a man, Ms wife and family lay where they had been burned to death. North Vietnamese infantry had attacked the town.

I am not on either side. I believe they are both wrong and I believe tht the criminal operation of this Government has been to ignore the fact of humanity and ignore Australia's duty to get into the international arena and force international forums to accept the responsibility to stop people killing one another. I am one of the first to admit that this is difficult. I am the first to admit that it will not be easy to stop them. The Minister for Defence who is sitting at the table has just laughed. He is a man with a distinguished war service. He knows what war is about. Some of the people who sit behind him and who are of military age do not know what it is about so I am not surprised at their" lack of understanding. That is where the Opposition stands and somehow Australia has to achieve that objective. The Government has made serious miscalculations and is continuing to make them.

I have been quoted in regard to what I have said about Cambodia. Of course it is true in regard to what I said in 1966 when I was in Cambodia but nobody took any notice when I came home and said that the North Vietnamese were committing aggression against Laos and that they will commit aggression against Cambodia if the exigencies of the war demand it because when a war gets going we accept the military emergencies and forget the niceties. That is the way it has always gone. I said then - this is recorded in Hansard - that we should be taking steps to guarantee the neutrality, integrity and soverighty of Cambodia but nobody did anything about it. Fighting a rearguard action from the back benches of the Opposition - that is what we were doing - you do not have much international initiative, but the people opposite have. Honourable members opposite are governing one of the world's wealthiest countries, one of the most powerful countries in this region, one that in the past has been able to influence international events and one which 25 years ago when it was much less significant internationally was able to get the independence of Indonesia guaranteed through United Nations action and also was able to launch Israel as an independent nation.

Mr Hurford - They do not believe in diplomacy.

Mr BRYANT - That is correct, and this is my accusation against them. That is why I ask with all the force at my disposal that we drop the political gimmickry and get down to the business of trying to shake the chanceries of the world to see whether we can get international response because it is one of the most sorry episodes in recent history to see people standing back and cheering one side or the other. It is true - I will put this briefly - that last Sunday in Victoria at a Labor Party conference a majority of 111 to 96 did give their imprimatur to the North Vietnamese. I opposed it. I can continue to oppose it. It is fortunate that we on this side have the kind of political structure in which one can do that and can continue to do it. On the other side of the House there is no political structure which can have any influence upon anybody. The resolution of the Victorian conference was adopted by a small portion of a part of the Australian Labor Party and it has nothing to do with our policy.

I believe that it is important and a matter of urgency for Australia to accept that at this stage diplomatic initiative is the only real contribution we can make and that we have to stop cheering either side. I for one do not want to see anybody win by military power. I believe that it is a bad thing at this stage of the world's history for people to achieve power by military means. We have to take diplomatic initiative. The Government's miserable gimmickry in this matter is, I believe, a disgrace to the nation. I have seen no tears shed by members on the other side in respect of anybody in the North or in the South. What Government supporters mean by Vietnamisation is the Vietnamisation of Australian politics for their political benefit. This Government is going to try to bring this into the political arena and continually identify us with people whom this Government thinks the citizens of Australia will reject. That is a very miserable performance and I think it is nearly time that we accepted the fact that in the world at large it will only be by persuasion that we will get a final result.

We will not be measured by our weight in battleships. We will be measured by where we stand on matters on international morality and we must realise that the world is still to be won by people who take that stand. Therefore I hope that the House will use whatever persuasive powers it has upon the Ministry to ensure that this occasion is not the last occasion on which we can have an open-ended debate about a subject such as this. Is it not possible for honourable members opposite somehow to exercise some influence upon that Micawber-like Ministery which is waiting for something to turn up politically instead of accepting its bounden duty to humanity in North Vietnam or in South Vietnam, it does not matter which?

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