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Wednesday, 29 September 1971
Page: 1636

Mr JESS (La Trobe) - I do not know whether the distinguished honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) who has just spoken remembers that during the Second World War in most theatres a poster was displayed which depicted a gentleman with half a head, the nose hanging over a wall, 2 ears, and 2 hands. His name was Foo. Everybody was told that Foo was here and that Foo was listening. In other words, throughout the defence areas and in the home bases we had very strong warnings that at all times security had to be protected. We remember distinctly the theory that careless talk costs lives. The honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer) today at question time asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the impending withdrawal of the Task Force from Vietnam, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) might be prepared to delay such a debate as we are having now until the troops have reached home. But the Leader of the Opposition seemed to take a smart point. He seemed to do nothing and hence the debate has gone on. It was implicit in the question of the honourable member for Isaacs, that in view of the need for security, a careless remark in a debate such as this could well give information to the enemy which could affect not only the Task Force but also those of our allies who are still fighting there.

Whatever the Labor Party may think I contend that we still have some responsibility for those people with whom we have been fighting and it is not just a matter of picking up sticks, getting out and saying: To hell with the South Vietnamese'. This seems to have been the attitude of the Labor Party throughout this debate. The honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) - I give him credit - said he did not think it right that some honourable members should ask for information that had security classification. He said that these questions should not be answered and I give him credit for this. But he is a member of the Labor Party and his Deputy Leader, who led for the Opposition in this debate, put forward certain specific propositions. The honourable member for Brisbane reiterated them, as did the honourable member for St George (Mr Morrison). The first proposition was that this debate is intended to find out the present dispositions of the Australian Task Force in Vietnam. What does he mean by the present dispositions of the Australian Task Force in Vietnam? Anybody who has read a spy novel would know, and if some honourable members opposite had the courage to go to a war movie or a spy movie at some time they would learn, that the first requirement of any enemy is to find out the dispositions of your troops. In reply to my verbal friend, the honourable member for Stuart (Mr Foster), who is interjecting, I point out that if he had been out in the Desert and the Labor Party at home at that time had been asking for the dispositions of the Sixth or Seventh Divisions, I am sure he would have been elated as a member of the Labor Party to learn that such information was freely being given out!

What does the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) want? Does he want the Government to say that the First or Second Battalion in our Task Force - I am not referring to actual battalions there - is on a certain longitude and latitude on the map so that it can easily be identified, so that it can easily be bombarded with rockets and so that it can easily be attacked? Does he want it to be said that the defence perimeter around that area is of such-and-such depth? The Minister for Defence (Mr Fairbairn) has already referred to one question asked by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, not relating, as the honourable member for Brisbane seemingly took it, to a Vietcong minefield but to an Australian defence minefield surrounding our area. If honourable members analyse the question they will see that it asks: How long is the minefield? How wide is the minefield? How deep is the minefield? I can assure honourable members that anybody who wished to gain that information would spend hundreds of dollars in any area to get it. But, as the Minister said, we do not need a Soviet spy ring in Australia; the Australian Parliament will do because every time a debate of this kind comes on and every time some suggestion is made as to when a battalion will come out we are giving something of value to the enemy. We may laugh. The honourable member for Brisbane said we are too close to the war and, therefore, we cannot make an impartial assessment. I would suggest that we are too far from the war and that if we were a damned sight closer to it we would be more concerned than we are.

Let us analyse what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and other honourable members opposite have said. They want to know the disposition of our troops and also the disposition of the South Vietnamese troops. They may say: 'To hell wi.h the South Vietnamese', but I, and I think the majority of the Australian people, recognise that we undertook an obligation there. We are now withdrawing but this does not mean we should not have some care, concern and consideration for those who are left in the area and who may have some difficulty. I admit they may have some difficulty in taking over from the Australian Task Force. The American force is withdrawing and the Australian force is withdrawing. Is it not reasonable security information to an enemy for it to learn that, for instance, the 1 1 5th-

Mr Foster - I rise to order. Is i» right for the honourable member to address to House in the manner he is when already on the streets of Adelaide there is a newspaper saying the troops will be out in 2 weeks?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hallet)Order!There is no substance in the point of order.

Mr JESS - One must forgive the honourable member for Sturt who has been under strain for a considerable number of years. If it is known from this detail of dispositions that the- 115th ARVN division is to take over in the Phuoc Tuy Province, is it not reasonable to assume that its present location is already known by the enemy and that if the division is moved its present location then becomes an area of weakness? Is it not reasonable to assume that an attack may be mounted on this area? When one looks at the question asked by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition yesterday one just wonders if he was Minister for Defence what the devil would happen to the defence of this country and anyone with whom we are allied. He asked the question: On what date are we vacating such-and-such an area? On what date are we doing this? What does he expect the Minister for Defence to say in reply?

It is and has always been a principle in any warfare that withdrawal is the most difficult operation to undertake. It involves high security, even in an orderly withdrawal, not a retreat. And this is not a retreat. When a new force goes into the area it has to get to know the minefields and the situation in that area and if the enemy knows that our troops are getting out on such-and-such a date and that incoming troops will arrive on a certain date it would know that that is the time to hit them because they have not yet familiarised themselves with the situation. The Government has and should take every precaution for the safety of our troops. It also has a responsibility, morally and in every other way, to see that there is some consideration given to those we are leaving behind us. I am not, nor do I think the Australian public will be, particularly appreciative of the action taken by the Opposition not only in initiating this debate but also in asking questions of the standard and type that its members have asked in this House over the last weeks and years. The Australian public is under no doubt that the Opposition's attitude is to hell with the South Vietnamese'. The Labor policy is f.o.q., which means 'fall out quick. Let us get back to the defence area. Let us have no more patrolling. It does not matter what the enemy does; we have had it chaps. Let us scuttle'. And scuttle' is the word as far as the Australian Labor Party is concerned. I do not think the Australian public sees it from that viewpoint and I think the Government has acted honourably. I only wish to goodness that this debate had not taken place and that the Opposition had been responsible enough to accept a delay of the debate until the force came home.


Order! The time allotted for this discussion has concluded.

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