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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 1783


Photo of Gorton, John

Gorton, John

Period of Service: 10/01/1968 to 10/03/1971

More information about Gorton, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 18/02/1968

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 1783

This interview was recorded in Melbourne on February, 1968
Interviewer Mr Tony Charlton 18TH FEBRUARY, 1968
MR CHARLTON: Facing your electorate for the first time as Prime Minister,
-how do you really feel about it?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I hope I will win it.
Q. And you are conifident that you will?
PM: I hope I will,
Q. But has the enormity of the job you sought and won really had
time as yet to register with you.
PM: I think it has. Let us examine the question you asked me
Has the enormity of it had time to impress me? It did the very first moment at
the time I won it. It has been impressing me since I can answer that yes, but
if you say have I sufficiently studied it to know how to overcome all the
problems which make up this en ormity, the answer is No. I doubt if
any Prime Minister ever would reach that position.
Q. I had the feeling, of course, that you could have had no notion
that one day you would become Prime Minister before the Harold Holt
tragedy. Then the race was on, you were involved in it, and maybe only
now you are sitting back and thinking, " Good Heavens, what have I done?"
PM: Oh, I was a volunteer.
And happily so!
Your predecessor, Sir Robert Menzies was critical of the
spectacle of the power struggle that the Prime Ministership became.
How do you feel about it?
PM: Well, I think that is a little bit of a conservative view. Personally,
I think it was not bad that the public should have had the opportunity and
I speak now from a party point of view that it was not bad for the public
to have had the opportunity to see four people appearing before them all
of whom, I think, were good, without any personal attacks the one upon
the other. From my point of view, I can see nothing that was reprehensible
about that. Indeed, as I say, I think it could well have been a good thing.
Of course, ever since 1949 untilS ir Robert retired, he having formed the
Liberal Party, he was outstanding. I really, myself, see nothing to object
to in what happened.
Q. Do you see anything to object to in some of the goings-on with the
opening of your Higgins b y-election campaign? There were a number of
arrests. Does the conduct which brought about that acti'on register with
you as being part of the game, or deep down are you really disturbed by it? / 2

PM: Well, I have to rely on what I read in the papers this
morning because I didn't see any of the actual occurrences outside
the hall. Certainly there was nothing that I could see to complain
of inside the hall at all. I didn't see what happened outside the hail,
but I think I can answer your question perhaps this way. I think the
people have inalienable rights to co me to public meetings and to
interject and to ask questions. I don't think they have got. an i~ nalienable
right to come in force and make a constant barrage of noise so that the
man on the platform can't put his message to the Australian people
because that seems to me to be interfering with a proper method of
running a democratic country. Similarly outside the hall, or protest
meetings generally groups of people, as I said before, must have,* the
right to protest, but I believe their protests must not be allowed to be
carried to a point where they are in fact using force against people
with whom they disagree, such as trying to overturn cars, throwing
paint bombs, or even lying down in the streets to prevent other citizens
from using them. This is carrying the right to protest into an area
of licence rather xhan right.
Q. And even in the knockabout world of politics, what of the f'aunts
and barbs like " Liar" and " Murderer". Surely they would revile -any
decent man?
PM: Oh, I think you have got to take cogn isance of the quartet
from. which they come, and I am not particularly worried about the.
quarters that have lately been calling me either liar or murderer.
Q. As far as the hubbub your " enough is enough" statement on Viet Nam
has caused, do you feel on reflection that maybe this will be as prominent an
indisctftion as " All the Way with LBJ"?*
PMF' I don't think -the statement which Mr Holt made, and he made
it in a context which I think has been misrepresented, was an indiscretion,
although it has been so used that in the public mind it became to be an
indiscretion. I don't think that what I said was an indiscretion at all.
I believe, as I said last night, that we are making for our size and
considering all our other requirements, a very significan t contribution
in Viet Nam. I believe we are proving ourselves there to be an ally
in the real sense. I believe if we were to acdd 2, 000 or 3, 000 more troops
should we be asked to, or 4, 000 should we be asked to and we haven't
been asked to we would make a very minor additional contribution to
the military operations, but the expense of that, apart from other things,
could have a very major effect on things we would like to do in Australia
Q. Well, did you make that Canberra statement off the cuff, or as
one would thin k, after considerable thought?
PM: It wasn't a statement. It was in answer to a question at a press
conference. The answer provided was not provided just-sort of out of
the air but because I had thought about it beforehand.
Q. Nonetheless, it seemed to be modified a few days later in Sydney.
Now, was this as a result of indignation on the line from America? / 3

PM: No, we have heard nothing from America, and with great
respect, I don't think the English language could be so used as to say
the statement was modified. One statement was: We are not going
to increase the forces that we have in Viet Nam. The other statement
was: We are going to maintain the forces we have in Viet Nam for as
long as is necessary to attain our obj ective. Now it doesn't seem to
me that they are in any way-contradictory or that one modifies the
Q. Well, Mr Prime Minister, would it be reasonable to deduce
that what you said, in effect, means that being in Viet Nam is not the
vital be-all and end-all thing that your predecessor believed?
PM: I think that being in Viet Nam * is of immense significance to
us, but I believe that we have so much to do in other areas outside
Australia and inside Australia that we have to balance the overwhelming
importance of being in Viet Nam with more troops against the
overwhelming importance of building our country as quickly as we can in the
time we have.
Q. Can I put it to you this way? Did you mean that we can't do
more in Viet Nam or that we shouldn't do more?
PM: Oh, we could do more. We could do more in Viet Nam. We
could perhaps fill the place that Britain is leaving in Singapore anid
Malaysia, but if we did, we wouldn't be able to do anything else at all..
Q. The point about this line of questioning is: If the cause if
justified, why then stop at a commitment of 8, 000 men or, as you say,
a few hundred more?'*
PM: Because last October I think it was, only a few months ago
we examined the military requirements in Viet Nam from the point of
view of our troops, and considerably increased the forces that were
there. Nowit was worked out that to add another battalion to the two
that were there was not merely increasing its efficiency by one-third.
It was increasing it by a factor much more than that because instead of
having one battalion out and one battalion resting and in reserve, you
could have two battalions out and this could do far more than could be
done previously more than twice as much. This was the military
advice as to what we could do and this is what we did. Now, it would,
of course, be arguable that, all right, Viet Nam is so important let's
send another three battalions up there, but I am saying that I think the
other things we have to do, bearing in mind the significant task we are
fulfilling in Viet Nam, would make a judgment on my part that we are
doing all that can reasonably be expected from a country of our size.
Q. When you underlined your Viet Nam attitude the other night in
the Higgins by-election campaign opening, were you aware then that
America would throw a further 10, 000 troops into the Viet Nam conflict?
PM: No, I wasn't. No. / 4

Q. Isn't it extraordinary that the Australian Prime Minister
wouldn't be advisedjin advance of such a step by our ally?
PM: Why? I don't think so. I can'. t imagine that the United States
would need to inform a Prime Minister of another country that it was
inceasngfrces that were already there. It may well be thAt on
military iscussions this was made known but I can't see any necessity
for it to have been made known.
PM: Overall, do you see Viet Nam as being something of a finger
in the dyke in view. of the festering problems in Canmbodia, Laos and
Northern Thailand?
PM: I have always felt that if Viet Nam were to be overrun by the
North let met put it that way that it would be likely that what people
call the domino theory would come into practice instead of being theory
and we would see the same sort of thing going on in Laos; ( indeed we've
seen it in provinces of Thailand) and perhaps in Cambodia. I think the
people in that area of the world also have that feeling, though some of
our opponents in Australia regard it as nonsense.
Q. is there right for thinking harki~ g back to that Viet Nam
statement which; as I say, has caused so much comment that there is
a revision of our Asian policy in your mind?
PM: Because we are not increasing the number of. troops?
Q. No. just generally speaking. The Asian situation you are
wanting to impress on Australia a revised Asian outlook?
PM: I don't think so. In what way... Could you explain that a little
bit more?
Q. I feel there was a parellel in your comment on Viet Nam with
a comment you made during your dealings with Lee Kuan Yew yes,
we should be involved in Malaysia but not too involved. Yes, we
should maintain our involvement in Viet Nam but not become-overinvolved.
PM: Ah, well I don't think there is any revision of our policy to
Asia. Asia is an awfully big woidd, isn't it? We are really talking,
both of us in our minds, of the countries of Asia nearest to us Indonesia,
Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines, that
area of Asia. I don't think there is any revision there at all. We are,
as I said last night, not only in but of Asia, and we do need to give such
assistance as we can and-as we have been giving, and I think it is the
sort of assistance that ought to be so designed by imparting skills or
technological capacity or capital or factories which will not'just be
consumed as it is given but build up the country to which it is given.
This is the part that we have been playing and must continue to play.
In relation to the military involvement in Malaysia and Singapore which
was what we were talking about, I think, in my comments on Lee Kuan Yew,

PM ( Contd. they have both asked and wish for us to keep some military presence
there. It is a matter still under discussion as to what role that presence
would be, whether it would be expected to be bigger that at present; what
the countries themselves could do. But they do express this wish, and as I
said again last night, this wish must weigh quite heavily with us. I think the
late Harold Holt paid particular attention to Asia, made us known'in Asia
better. than we have been known before. I think * this was one great achievement
of his, particularly the personal contacts he made to do it. This is something
I would hope to W~ ild on rather than revise.
Q. As he was keen, so are you keen to develop our relationship with
PM: Yes.
Q. Now on this point, the F1Il was ordered at the time when the
situation with Indonesia., was anything but happy. Since then, of course,
Britain has cancelled its order. Do you feel it would be prudent for us now
to cancel ours with that as a background?
PM : I think it would be too late for us to cancel the order, leaving aside
the question of whether one should or whether one shouldn't. I think it would
be too late. I speak subject to correction, but I believe the first of these
aircraft is due to be delivered in July or very soon and that they are to follow
along later. I would think that apart from anything else cancellation at that
late stage, cancellation charges involved, would all leaving aside the
questio n of whether one should or shouldn't add up to the suggestion that it
is too late anyway.
Q. Personally, do you feel we should?
PM: Personally do I feel we should.. well, clearly we shouldn't
because it is far too late.
Q. Mr Prime Minister, a further note I had here concerning the home
front is: If there is poverty in Australia as indicated in your speech the
other night, is the Government going to investigate it? Will there be an
PM: I was speaking the other night on particular matters, paritularly
related to our health scheme.
Q. The health scheme and the need you hinted there for an overhaul
on the problem of the pensioners and the aged....
PM. Yes. I was trying to compartmentalise it a little, talking on the
health scheme. It is true, I think, that some of the charges for insurance
are getting a bit dear and people aren't therefore covering themselves with
insurance as much as they should. And, of course, there is this thing which
has always disturbed me and still disturbs me that long chronic illnesses
aren't covered, and that can cause immense hardship and economic distress.
Now, you asked Me if there was going to be an enquiry. We are still
compartmentalising. The Department of Heal th. has been examining how to
overcome this. There will need to be in some areas consultatbns, discussions / 6

PM ( Contd.) with State Ministers of Health. There is a kind of overlapping
field here. Their views would need to be obtained on perhaps the best way
of tackling the aged long-term -illness people should we seek as much as
possible to keep them in their own homes by providing nursing services,
should we provide more geriatric wards ' to our existing hospitals where
they might be brought back to'a situation where they could retuirn to their
own homes, or, should we just merely seek to build on to additional
hospitals. or nursing homes. Look, it's enormous I could make a speech
for an hour on it.
Q. I understand that, and I think these steps are desirable, but is
there a change in policy because at the time of the last Budget, Mr McMahon
made it known that as much as he would have liked to have helped pensioners
he couldn't., because of the size of the Defence Vote?
PM: I wouldn't put it as a change of policy. Budgets happen year by
year by year. You have asked me is there a change in policy. I would be
sure that we would be' doing something something and it may involve
some sort of enquiry as to the best way of going about it to see that what
we do is directed to ' the areas of real need without upsetting people and
stopping them saving and making them feel, " Well, I have saved for
myself and I am not being treated properly". This is not an easy problem,
to balance those two things. That would need to be investigat-ed not necessarily
by anybody but the Social Services Department, but examined by us. This
is the sort of thing we would need to look into, to do something in the coming
0 Budget. This need n ot necessarily be a change of policy. It is just that
something is going to happen in one Budget that didn't happen in the other.
Q. Do you feel on reflection that you were being a little over-optimistic
in saying that what happened in the Holt Government period could be. ruled off?
PM: Did I say that, that everything that happened in the Holt Government
could be ruled off?
Q. You are suggesting I have misinterpreted it?
P~ M: My recollection of that was t hat somebody asked me a particular
question bearing simply on Mr McMahon and Mr McEwen, and that my
answer to that particular question was that in the new Governent, I would
propose to rule off the book.
Q. A final question. How do you intend to go about correcting the
problems Within the Coalition if you are going to rule off the book and start
again with a new Ministry?
PM: Well, I believe that we will be able to work as a Coalition,
certainly as well as the Coalition has worked in the past. I would be most
surprised if that were not so. I admire and like Mr McEwen and I feel he
has a liking and respect for me and this is a good basis on which to start.
I have more than mere political associations with a number of his Ministers
as well. Now, in any Coalition there are bound to be differences of emphasis
from time to time, there are bound to be conflicts of ideas as to what should
be done in some particular field, but these can be settled, these can be
ironed out if the overall philosophy and the ultimate objective of the two parties
are the same. It is a disagreement on methods of obt-aining an overall

PM ( Contd.) objective, but if the overall objective is there and if confidence
is there, then those do not in my view break, or tend to break, a
working partnership

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Transcript 1783