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Wednesday, 29 September 1971
Page: 1647

Mr DALY (Grayndler) - In his second reading speech on the National Service Bill the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) said:

The Bill gives effect to the Government's decision to reduce the period of full-time national service from 2 years to 18 months, as announced by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) on 18th August.

He said later in his speech that conscription was introduced in 1964 and he then made this amazing statement:

Subsequent developments have fully vindicated the Government's judgment.

Nothing is further from the truth than that statement because the Government's judgment has never been vindicated but has been condemned by every section of responsible opinion in this country. The fact of the matter is that conscription was introduced to support the commitment this Government entered into when its arm was twisted by the American Government to enter the war in Vietnam - a war which has not yet been terminated, an undeclared war to which Australia should never have contributed in any way.

We are now told that the period of national service training is to be reduced from 2 years to 18 months. There were a few other alterations to the Act mentioned in the Minister's second reading speech but that is the major one. Far from being penitent over the loss of about 470 Australian lives and the wounding of 4,000 or more, Government supporters are saying that their sending of these young men to war has been vindicated. By conscripting Australians to fight in Vietnam and now by reducing the period of service to 18 months one would think that they had made a major contribution to the welfare of the nation. This legislation is the follow-on from the introduction of conscription in 1964 for the commitment to the war in Vietnam entered into by this country. It was because of the 'all the way with LBJ' policy enunciated by this Government that it was committed to conscription. As the Minister stated, at this stage 16,000 conscript national service trainees comprise a large proportion of the 44,000 men in the Army.

The real reason for the introduction of conscription in the first place, apart from our commitment to Vietnam, was not that it was ever necessary but that it was the easy way out for the Government and the easy way for the Army authorities to pick the best out of the young men of this nation. Australians should never forget that this Government, which said that our security and future independence was challenged by the menace from the north - and Vietnam was cited as an example - saw fit to call up only a section of the 20-year olds of this country and place on them the full responsibility for the defence of this nation. At a time when the Government said that this country was in real danger it thought so little about it that it said 'business as usual at home', yet 10 per cent of those of 20 years of age had their names drawn out of a barrel in a lottery which became known as the lottery of death.

This was opposed by the Labor Party - to its credit - right from its inception and when we become the government next year national service training will be abolished and we will raise a volunteer army to defend this country, an army with adequate pay and conditions and all that goes with it. As honourable members well know the Government at this stage does not seem to want volunteers in the Army. I think about 70 per cent of the young men called up are rejected because the Government looks for men with the physical condition of Olympic athletes. The 'Australian' of 20th August had something to say about conscripts and the war for which they were called up to fight. It stated:

With its withdrawal of Australian armed forces from Vietnam, with the exception apparently of some advisers, the Government is doing no more than putting right the wrong it did 6 years ago. In this time, successive prime ministers have used our commitment less for the South Vietnamese than for their own political advantage.

For their own political ends 470-odd Australians are dead, more than half of them conscripted national service trainees. Even though the Government says it is withdrawing the men from that area, unfortunately 5 died a few days ago and 25 were injured. The article continued:

A Prime Minister who seems to have so little to say about his own country's future is not likely to have given much thought to the future of IndoChina. Still, some of us expected him to disclose on Wednesday night the broad sweep at least of the future for which more than 470 young Australians have given their lives.

It goes on to say:

During this period -

That is the time of the war political life in America, Australia and New Zealand has been preoccupied with whether or not the commitment was morally justified or even militarily sensible. To hear Mr McMahon, though, there is no argument about it.

Another article in the 'Australian' of 20th August refers to the war in Vietnam and to the reduction of troops there. The article states:

No fewer than 419 Australians have been killed in action and a further 2,860 wounded. Another 70 are listed as non-battle deaths, with an addi tional 726 injured or ill. It cost us $2 15m to wage the war over the past 9 years. What the Government calls success, the other side, represented by the Deputy Opposition Leader, Mr Barnard, terms 'an unparalleled disaster'.

How true was the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in that statement. Why was Australia ever committed to this war? Why were national service trainees ever called up? Why were men conscripted to fight in the paddy fields of Vietnam and other places?

While all this was happening, the Country Party thought little of Australia selling its wheat and wool to and feeding and clothing those people who were termed our enemies. At the same time, with double standards, the Government conscripted the elite of Australian manhood to fight in Vietnam for a cause which the Government said endangered our future but which the whole world now knows was not the position at all. For instance, we have found that had it not been for this Government offering troops to the South Vietnamese Government, Australia would never have been involved in the war. All Australia did was to back up the American approach and policy. The policy of this Government became 'All the way with LBJ' and Australia found that it was committed because it was felt that in a time of crisis the United States of America might come to our aid. Today, the United States Government in every aspect of its policy is showing how much it thinks of Australia's support in Vietnam. Senator Fulbright visited Australia and said that he did not know we had men in Vietnam, although 8,000 of our men were faced with the prospect of death.

In addition to that, America in the field of aviation is waving the big stick over Qantas Airways Ltd and other companies. It has embargoes on certain of our products and even the members of the Australian Country Party are up in arms about this. America's gratitude has been extremely short lived. Australia was silly enough to be the only white nation in the world to go in and fight in support of America in the paddy fields of Vietnam. Is this not a tragic commentary on this Government? Is it not a shocking thing and a scandal that men are in gaol today as a result of this policy? Charles Martin in Adelaide, Gary Cook in Perth and Geoff Mullen in Sydney are serving 2 years hard labour for the simple reason that they objected to the war in Vietnam, a war which has been condemned in mass demonstrations here, as in practically every other country, because people know that Australia should never have been engaged in it. The Minister for Defence (Mr Fairbairn) has refused to agree to an amendment which would have released some of these men from gaol. The very least the Government can do is to release them immediately because if any man is prepared to serve 2 years in gaol, in my book he is a fair and sincere conscientious objector against this conflict and docs not deserve to have any penalty imposed on him. Yet these men rot in gaol while the Government boasts of how successful its war has been and how it is reducing the term of national service. This is nothing short of a national scandal and the Government deserves to be condemned for it. There has been no contrition from Government supporters. Every one of them has told us how it is necessary to defend the country, what the Government is doing as a government and what Labor would not do.

I do not like to stir the embers of the past but had the Government not been defeated in another political generation in 1941, Australia would have been under Japanese domination today. In 1941 the Government was thrown out of office by its own supporters because it COUld not prepare this country to defend itself in the time of threatened invasion. As I mentioned in this Parliament recently, the manner in which the Government is changing Ministers is rather like a hurdy-gurdy. Because this debate relates to defence, I repeat, as honourable members know, that in the last 4 years there have been 4 Ministers for Defence. In fact, in the last 6 months, there have been 3 Ministers for Defence. That is great stability for the armed forces. The average man serving in the armed forces would not have time to know who is his Minister before that Minister was replaced. Since March, there have been 3 Ministers for Defence and changes in policy. Ministers are changed almost as often as one changes one's shirt. The Navy is a real old whipping horse, as it were. There have been 2 Ministers for the Navy since the beginning of the year. The Navy portfolio is given to any member the Government may want to get rid of at any old time. An important service like the Navy is treated as though it does not matter at all. Yet the Government is boasting about what it is doing in regard to defence, is criticising the Labor Party and is changing its Ministers almost monthly.

Even during the last 4 years when the Government said it had a reasonable amount of stability, there have been 4 Ministers for Defence. The Government consistently tells us how much it is spending on defence, how much it has boosted up the amount allocated in the Budget for national service training and all these kind of things. However, what is important is not how much is spent on defence; but what is actually done with the money. It took the Government a long time to provide the adequate pay and conditions which have just been announced for certain sections of the Services. There would be no need for conscription at any time if adequate benefits were given to men in the Services, who are prepared to fight for the country and to be available in peace or war. Yet the Government took the cheap way out and today, to its eternal discredit and in the face of public opinion, it does not admit that it was wrong to commit troops to Vietnam. The whole world knows the Government deserves to be condemned for that action. I do not know of any section of society in this country which supports our continued commitment to Vietnam. This is also the case in Great Britain. In America there have been violent demonstrations against America's involvement in this conflict. We in this part of the world - the only nation which was prepared to support America - are now treated as though we had no men there at all. As an article in one paper recently said - about 400 deaths later, 4,000 wounded men later and some years after the first entry of Australian troops to Vietnam - it is realised that we should never have been there.

Is it not a scandalous state of affairs that, instead of Government supporters apologising to the Parliament as they should be doing, they are almost arrogant in respect of what has been done and they still stress the necessity of these actions? I should like the Minister to reveal to this Parliament what the future of the national service training scheme will be. Are the boys who have been called up under this out of the barrel proposal to be sent to any war anywhere in Asia or elsewhere? At least I do agree with the former Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton), when he stated in his article 'I Did It My Way' that he did not want Australia to be involved in every second rate war in Asia and elsewhere. This is to his credit and it is a sound policy. There is no mandate for this Government to commit Australian forces, particularly conscripted forces, to other parts of the world when Australia is not in danger. Therefore, I add my condemnation of the Government's policy on national service training and for its involvement in Vietnam.

Naturally, I record with a certain amount of pleasure that the period of national service has been reduced to 18 months. However, if honourable members opposite support the amendment which will be moved by the Opposition, national service will be terminated completely in the not too distant future. Honourable members opposite should do this. No Minister of this Government should sleep peacefully at night while men languish in gaol because they would not go to a war which has no support in this country or anywhere else in the world. No government deserves the support of the Australian people when it conscripts young men to fight in a war, not because it felt the nation wanted them there but because it was following blindly the foreign policies of another country. Whether Government supporters like it or not, the Prime Minister of Australia hedged at all questions about invitations to participate in the Vietnam war, but when the correspondence was revealed, it boiled down to that well known phrase 'They had their arm twisted'. When its arm was twisted, the Government agreed to accept the offer to go into Vietnam. Because of this, men have died in Vietnam. Men who have been conscripted have died in the paddy fields of Vietnam and today their families mourn them, no doubt with pride, because they gave their all. But the tragedy is that these men should never have been there at all. Other men have been wounded and maimed for life because of this conflict in which Australia should never have been engaged.

While the Government talks of reducing the period of national service and of withdrawing our troops from .Vietnam, men still languish in gaol. This is a shocking policy to be followed by any government. The Government deserves to be condemned and in the Committee stages the Opposition will confront the Government with important amendments to the National Service Act. This will give the Government an opportunity to make some recompense for what it has brought to this country because of the conflict in Vietnam. I was present in the House on the night when the Australian Labor Party opposed the conscription proposals of this Government to meet our involvement in Vietnam. I am proud of my Party and it is to its eternal credit that it has stood firm on this issue right through, despite bitter attacks from the Government. The Opposition has been justified by the results. The conflict is coming to an end so far as Australia is concerned. The Labor Party's opposition to Australia's commitment of forces to Vietnam has been vindicated in every way.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

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