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Thursday, 15 November 1973
Page: 3465

Mr MATHEWS (Casey) - I want to draw the attention of the House to the confidence trick that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) is trying to perpetrate on the young people of Australia in the matter of conscription. I rise to expose the way in which the Leader of the Opposition seeks to disown the conscription policies to which every Liberal Minister for Defence and every Liberal and Country Party Minister for the Army have repeatedly committed the parties to which they belong; conscription policies on which successive Liberal Prime Ministers have campaigned at successive elections for the House of Representatives and for the Senate; conscription policies to which each and every honourable member opposite has repeatedly dedicated himself. I would like to put on notice for the honourable members for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser), Flinders (Mr Lynch), Corangamite (Mr Street), Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) and Kennedy (Mr Katter), none of whom are present in the House now or have been present in the House for the past several hours, whether they acquiesced in the repudiation of conscription which has been undertaken in their name by their Parliamentary Leader, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden). In his reply to the Leader of the Opposition in the debate on the censure motion of 23 October, the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) said:

Every young Australian should realise that if the Party the Leader of the Opposition leads should ever return all those things will return including conscription. Nobody denies that it would return.

Mr Peacock - In fairness to the honourable member for Corangamite, perhaps you meant the honourable member for Kooyong.

Mr MATHEWS - I did not. I meant the honourable member for Corangamite. The

Leader of the Opposition rejoined with the synthetic indignation to which the House has become accustomed and said:

The statement has been made that 'nobody denies*. I will deny it. What the honourable gentleman has said is a farrago of untruths. If it must be denied it will be denied.

I quote from the Hansard record, from Press statements and from newspaper reports so that honourable members can judge for themselves the sincerity of the Leader of the Opposition in this matter which is of such crucial importance to the young people of Australia. I quote from these unimpeachable sources so that honourable members opposite who take little pride in the parliamentary performance of their Leader can judge for themselves whether he is entitled even to reliance on his word.

The honourable member for Wannon, as Minister for Defence, told the Western Australian State Conference of his Party on 6 July 1970:

After Vietnam we will not be able to sustain the kind of forces that the Government believes Australia requires without national service.

The honourable member for Wannon went on:

Let me argue the reasons for this and why 1 believe there is no viable alternative to that which we have pursued.

If the honourable gentleman has changed his view on the matter, he has not taken this House into his confidence. Let him say in the near future, when he is present in the House, whether he repudiates the arguments to which he attached both, weight and universality only 3 years ago.

The honourable member for Flinders told the House on 9 September 1971, when he was Minister for Labour and National Service:

National service was not introduced because of Vietnam. It was introduced in November 1964 but national servicemen were not sent to Vietnam until 1966. National service has not been maintained for 7 years solely because of Vietnam. In fact of all national servicemen called up only one-third have served in Vietnam. National service cannot be discontinued because we are withdrawing from Vietnam. It is vital that it be maintained because the alternative would be a significantly reduced full-time military force unable to meet its defence obligations. This would be quite unthinkable for the Government.

If the honourable member for Flinders finds thinkable in Opposition those things which were unthinkable to the Government in which he was a Minister, he has studiously kept secret his change of heart. The honourable member for Flinders has denied the House details of a conversion which if it has occurred - and I doubt it - rivals the conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus.

The honourable member for Corangamite, who was Assistant Minister assisting the Minister for Labour and National Service, said on the same day and in the same debate:

National service was introduced before Vietnam and it will be continued after our withdrawal from Vietnam for the same reasons as it was introduced. . . . We on our side of the House make no apology for continuing this system of national service.

I wonder how the honourable member for Corangamite felt while his Leader was making on his behalf, the apology which he himself had refused to make. I wonder how he felt while his leader, was making a mockery of the stand to which he had previously committed himself. The honourable member for Farrer, again on the same day and in the same debate but as Minister for Defence, said:

The scheme as now adjusted is an important element in our defence preparedness. The fluid strategic situation in which we find ourselves demands flexibility in our strategic policies and the progressive development of self-reliant forces and an evident defence capability. The national service scheme is an important element in this capability and in the retention of a readiness for various situations which might require the involvement of our forces.

If the honourable member for Farrer has detected any change in 'the fluid strategic situation in which we find ourselves' his public utterances have given no sign of it - quite the reverse. I believe that the honourable member for Farrer is sincere in his statements. I believe the honourable member was as stunned as other honourable members opposite who heard their Leader repudiate the foundation stone on which Liberal defence policy is based.

Finally, Mr Speaker, there was the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter), then Minister for the Army. The honourable member for Kennedy said:

One of the great things about national service is that it produces fine men. National service brings all classes of people together. It breaks the class barrier that some people would solemnly wish to create, pitting Australian against Australian. The barriers come down and all people are equals when they go into the Army. If national service had nothing to do with defence but was purely a system of training it would pay handsomely.

He went on to say:

I support this Bill-

That is, the National Service Bill- most strongly. I again say that if this Government were to abandon one iota of the firm stand it has taken in regard to the defence of Australia it would deserve to go out of office.

If the honourable member saw any inconsistency between these strong statements and the repudiation of national service uttered by the Leader of the Opposition on 23 October, he chose to remain silent. The honourable member for Kennedy professed to believe that a government which abandoned national service should go out of office, but he is quite happy for office to be assumed by a party which, according to its leader, has abandoned national service.

It cannot be argued that the honourable members whose words I have quoted saw the light later in the term of office of the Government in which they were Ministers. The honourable member for Flinders was quoted in the Melbourne 'Herald' on 11 May 1972 as believing abolition of national service would be a totally irresponsible step for any government to take'. The honourable member for Kennedy was quoted in the Hobart 'Mercury' on 25 October 1972 as saying: 'In no circumstances would we cut out national service.' The honourable member for Farrer was quoted in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' on 23 November 1972 as saying that 'Without national service at this stage the regular Army's military capabilities would be crippled'. The Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) was quoted in the 'Australian' on 29 November - 3 days before last year's election - as saying: The abolition of national service would decimate our defence forces. National service is something we don't like but it is a premium we must pay to look after our interests'.

The inescapable fact is that there has been no change of heart over national service on the part of the Opposition. The inescapable fact is that if members opposite were to resume the government benches they would have Australians back in uniform and back in the jungles of South East Asia just as rapidly as they could rush legislation through this Parliament. The inescapable fact is that the Leader of the Opposition is well aware of these matters, and that, even so, he was willing to mislead this House and the hundreds of thousands of Australians who were listening to what he had to say over their radios. The Leader of the Opposition fools nobody with his statements on conscription, but those statements inflict great damage on his own credibility.

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