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Wednesday, 29 September 1971
Page: 1617

Mr HAMER (ISAACS, VICTORIA) - My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Is it a fact that the withdrawal of troops from an active combat zone is an operation of considerable danger? ls it a fact that a debate on the security of the Vietnam task force could not be effectively conducted without revealing troop movements and contingency plans, thus greatly increasing the danger to our troops? Will the Prime Minister consult the Leader of the Opposition to ascertain whether, in the interests of the safety of the troops involved, he is prepared to defer any debate on this subject until the troops have returned to Australia?

Mr McMAHON (LOWE, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Prime Minister) - lt is the maximum objective of the task force commander in South Vietnam to ensure that the safety of the Australian troops is protected and, as well, that the safety of the troops who are in close association with ours in South Vietnam is also looked after. I believe that the operations relating to withdrawal are probably as difficult, in military terms, as any other operation can be. The greatest effort must be made to ensure security not only as to the movements but also as to the timing and the size of the movements. 1 believe, and I am so informed by the highest military technical experts advising the ; Government, that any kind of a debate : which could be likely to disclose the method of withdrawal or the timing or other facts associated with the withdrawal could be only of harm to the security of the Australian forces. I can assure honourable members that even though the matter is to be debated no Government member will in any way prejudice the interests of the Australian forces and consequently will not give any information. As to the Opposition, the Leader of the Opposition has heard the question. He is capable of answering on behalf of the Opposition if he wishes to do so. Frankly, I advise him to give an answer if he will.

Mr Whitlam - I rise to order, Mr Speaker. A couple of weeks ago when the Prime Minister himself put questions to me and I sought to reply to them you would not permit me to do so. When leave was sought it was refused. So 1 submit that in cases like this, Mr Speaker, you ought to ensure that purely rhetorical questions are not volunteered in this way.

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