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Wednesday, 24 May 1972
Page: 2962

Mr WHITTORN (BALACLAVA, VICTORIA) - I address a question to the Minister for Defence. In view of the consistent news media reports about the gains made by Hanoi in its military aggression against South Vietnam, can the Minister give the House and the people of Australia the truth about this aggression? Is it correct that the Army of the Republic of Vietnam ib packing up and retreating, as the news media indicates, or is it standing firm and in many places hitting back at the aggressors?

Mr FAIRBAIRN (FARRER, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Defence) - 1 am glad to be able to inform the honourable member for Bala*clava that the performance of the South Vietnamese has been extremely good since they were attacked towards the end of March. It is correct that in the early stages they suffered some reverses. That was because the North Vietnamese had some new and highly sophisticated Russian equipment which was being used for the first time in the area and which was superior to some of the equipment operated by the South Vietnamese. It is correct also that the South Vietnamese suffered a reverse because one of their divisions - the first one attacked at the west of the demilitarised zone - had been fairly newly formed and had not had the same experience in battle as others. Nevertheless, I believe that the South Vietnamese have performed extremely well and creditably. That is particularly so in the central highlands, at Kontum, where in spite of the fact that they have been heavily outnumbered they have been holding out; and also at An Loc, where they have been under siege for many weeks but have continued to hold out.

Of course, an aggressor can concentrate his forces at the point where he is going to attack whereas the defender has to wait and see where the attack is being made before he can make the necessary arrangements to move troops to meet the aggression. So the aggressor naturally has the initial advantage. But since those initial setbacks to the South Vietnamese the only area from which they have retreated has been Quang Tri, where there was some loss of command and control. As honourable members know, the general responsible has been replaced and there is now a considerably higher morale at Hue. This has been shown in the retaking of Fire Base Bastogne. Only a few moments ago I heard that units of the South Vietnamese marines had landed 9 miles north of Quang Tri to cut off or interfere with the logistical support for the attack on Hue. So one can say that there is no doubt whatsoever that the South Vietnamese have performed extremely well. They have inflicted very severe casualties on the North Vietnamese. These casualties are estimated as being in excess of 20,000 killed and perhaps the same number of wounded.

In addition, some 250 North Vietnamese tanks have been knocked out. The next few weeks in this area will undoubtedly be critical and crucial. It is possible and perhaps even probable that there will be some further North Vietnamese gains, but I believe that the South Vietnamese will be able to hold out. I have every optimism that they will continue to hold out and will send back the attackers - the aggressors - who are trying to take some of their country.

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