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Wednesday, 29 September 1971
Page: 1639

Mr IRWIN (Mitchell) - I really cannot understand why the Opposition has gone to such pains in preparing an amendment to this very simple Bill, which seeks to reduce the period of service required of a national serviceman from 2 years to 18 months and to reduce the strength of the defence forces from 44,000 to 40,000. I really cannot understand the Opposition's attitude to national service. After all it was the Australian Labor Party that first brought in universal training or compulsory military training. I think it did so way back in 1910. Almost since the First World War the Labor Party has been endeavouring at all times to prevent the recruitment and existence of an army of the required strength to defend Australia. I do not know why the Labor Party has gone to such an enormous amount of trouble to assist 0.8 per cent of the young men who are called up for national service.

There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that there is no possible chance of a man who has genuine conscientious beliefs, be they religious or otherwise, being required to serve in the Army. I often wonder why the Labor Party has not applied to arbitration the stringent rules it applies in regard to national service insofar as conscientious objectors are concerned. As it is so painstaking in its assistance to conscientious objectors in regard to national service, one would think that the Labor Party would be equally adept and thorough in protecting a person who has a conscientious objection to belonging to a trade union. Furthermore, one would think that the Labor Party would endeavour to protect a man from having to subscribe to a political party of which he is diametrically opposed. The Labor Party does not apply these theories to arbitration, but it applies them to anything which relates to the defence of our country. 1 really cannot understand the attitude of the Opposition in tackling this problem in this way. Members of the Opposition have ranged over a very large area in this debate. As I said earlier, it is a very simple Bill which seeks to reduce the term of service of a national serviceman from 2 years to 18 months and to reduce the strength of the Regular Army to 40,000.

The Australian Labor Party is always wise after the event. It forgets that the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese were the aggressors in the conflict in Vietnam and that that was the whole basis for us being in Vietnam. We fought two World Wars and a war in Korea to prove that an aggressor would never be successful. If it was right for us to fight on those occasions then it was equally right for us to have gone into Vietnam. The only regret I have in regard to the conflict in Vietnam is that Australia and her allies did not fight with all the intensity with which we should have fought to dispose of the opposition as quickly as possible. Unfortunately the views of the doves in the United States of America and in Australia have prevailed, which interfered with the prosecution of the war. We now find ourselves in the unenviable position of having to withdraw.

There has been much controversy in regard to the bombing of North Vietnam. But when bombing of North Vietnam ceased we never heard honourable members opposite refer to the fact that 2 groups of Laotian people - I think 8,000 in one group and 9,000 in another group - were literally starved to death because armaments and food were being brought down the Ho Ghi Minh trail. These poor unfortunate people were left to starve to death and we never heard any reference to that by honourable members opposite.

As I said previously, the Opposition now is wise after the event, but we have to remember what happened in the early stages when we made our first commitment to Vietnam. At that time there was confrontation of Malaysia by Indonesia. Because of the efforts of Malaysia, aided by the United Kingdom forces, the confrontation was overcome. Then there was the attempted Communist coup in Indonesia on 30th September 1965. I ask the Opposition to reflect on this matter. What would be our present position in Australia had that attempted Communist coup been successful? It must be remembered that the attempted Communist coup of 30th September 1965 failed by only a matter of hours. What would have been our present position had confrontation by Indonesia of Malaysia been successful and had the attempted Communist coup of 30th September 1965 been successful? Our position in Australia would have been untenable. We would have been seeking the support of any friendly ally who would come to our assistance.

There is no doubt about what would have occurred. There are none so blind as those who will not endeavour to see. There is not the slightest doubt that had the attempted Communist coup of 30th September 1965 been successful. Chinese hordes would have attacked India through Tibet. According to the timetable, that was to take place some time in March 1966. So all these premises upon which the Opposition relies are not tenable and are not in accordance with facts. We had every right to be in Vietnam. The only thing that I regret is that because of the pressure of the doves in America and Australia the war was not fought with the intensity which our great American allies and ourselves would have liked. I think that posterity will judge a great number of these people to be traitors to their country and to the cause of freedom and democracy.

Another point is that since the First World War members of the Opposition have not shown that enthusiasm and pride for their country that one would have expected. Many great soldiers when they returned to Australia seemed to be submerged in the Australian Labor Party, which was not particularly concerned about defence or, for that matter, the terms and conditions of service under which men of the defence forces served. The Labor Party seemed to be apart from the Services altogether. It seemed to be oblivious to the fact that we required them. I remember that, in the early 1930s when

I was a serving officer, the defence allocation was the princely sum of £3m. I remember that the then Labor Prime Minister said that that was too much. Even if one multiplies £3m by 20 to bring it up to present day monetary values, one can see that it was only a very small allocation. I cannot understand the Opposition's attitude with regard to protecting Australia. (Quorum formed.)

We heard the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) make what might be described as 'a sanctimonious statement' regarding national service. Then he referred to the fact that there was no conscription in Canada or in the United Kingdom. Of course, it is not required because there is unemployment in both of those countries and, of course, when there is unemployment people are prepared to serve in the defence forces. Then we heard the honourable member for Forrest (Mr Kirwan) deplore the amount of expenditure on defence. Of course, we would all like to live in a world where defence was not required, but in this uncertain world it is necessary that we should be prepared. I suggest to the honourable member for Forrest that a better way for him to propound his theory would be for him to go to the countries in which the aggressors are situated. Nobody can say that Australia would ever be an aggressor. We do not have any fields which we want to conquer. 1 admire the honourable member for Forrest for his Christain beliefs but, after all, the good book gives the advice that we should not cast pearls before swine. There are other reasons why it is necessary for us to have a state of preparedness.

I find it peculiar that the Opposition is living in the past. It maintains that we can call up men and within 6 months train them to defend Australia. What a stupid statement. In these days of lightening strikes we would not have 6 months in which to prepare for war. We have to face the facts of life as they now exist. When we endeavoured to prevent the aggressor from succeeding in Vietnam, China did not then possess even the atomic bomb. Now it has a nuclear warhead, and before long it will have the means of propelling this warhead. We have to keep these things in mind. Any government responsible for the defence of Australia must be in a position of preparedness to meet any situation that may arise. As 1 said earlier, this is a very simple Bill which seeks to reduce the period of national service to 18 months and to reduce the permanent Army to a total strength of 40,000. But the subject of the Bill has been blown up out of all proportion. I support the Bill and oppose the proposed amendment.

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