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Tuesday, 28 September 1971
Page: 1520

Mr WHITLAM (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I address my question to the Prime Minister. In informing the Parliament of his Government's intention to withdraw the Australian Task Force from Vietnam by December, on 18th August the right honourable gentleman said:

The security situation in Phuoc Tuy Province has markedly improved. The Vietnamese territorial forces have been steadily developing their capacity and in the last year have gradually expanded their own areas of operation.

I ask: What arrangements have been made with the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam' to protect the rear of the Task Force as it withdraws? Has the Government secured an undertaking from the Government of South Vietnam that the ARVN will effectively protect the Fourth Battalion when it remains as the last and unsupported remnant of our forces and as it undertakes the most hazardous of all military operations - evacuation in the face of an active and undefeated enemy?

Mr McMahon - The Minister for Defence will answer the question.

Mr FAIRBAIRN (FARRER, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Defence) - The statement that was made by the Prime Minister is, of course, perfectly true. There has been a considerable improvement in the security in most areas of South Vietnam. This, of course, also includes Phuoc Tuy Province where South Vietnamese territorial and other regional and popular forces have taken over a considerable proportion of this area. However, the Australian Task Force still maintains the security and operational requirements in some of the more remote areas. It was in one of these remote areas that it was recently engaged in action with elements of a North Vietnamese regiment which had moved in from another adjoining province. We do not know whether this was caused by American activity forcing it to move in or whether it was moving in because of the withdrawal of the Australians. In the very near future, the South Vietnamese will be taking over completely the security of Phuoc Tuy Province. Arrangements are in hand at the present moment. It is believed by the Leader of the Australian Task Force that there will not be any great threat to the remaining 4th Battalion. But naturally, every possible assistance will be sought and is being given in the evacuation by the South Vietnamese and by the United States Air Force.

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