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Transcript 1798


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: 14/03/1968

Release Type: Statement in Parliament

Transcript ID: 1798

Rt Hon. J G. GORTON, M. P.
Ministerial Statement
[ From the ' Parliamentary Debates', 14 March 19681
Mr GORTON ( Higgins-Prime Minister)
[ 8.35]-Mr Speaker, at the conclusion of
the speech which he has just made the
Leader of the Opposition ( Mr Whitlam)
quoted some words which he attributed to
me, and I think attributed rightly, to the
effect that it was proper that information
should not be suppressed and that facts
should not be withheld from the public. of
Australia. I suggest, Mr'Speaker, that the
statement which has been made by the
4inister for the Army ( Mr Lynch) tonight
eIars out completely that the Government
believes in that and is acting in accordance
with that because the facts of this incident
have been presented by the Minister for the
Army to this chamber.
r Clyde Cameron-What about
._ son's report. Let us have a look at that.
Mr SPEAKER--Order! I have already
warned the honourable member for
Hindmarsh earlier in the debate. If he
persists in interjecting I will have to deal
with him.
Mr GORTON-The honourable member
for Hindmarsh is quite eager, Mr Speaker,
no doubt. But what is it that the Minister
for the Army's statement has presented to
this House as to what has happened? Let
me recapitulate the situation that has been
presented by the Minister for the Armya
situation which has not been, denigrated
or attacked at all by the Leader of the
Opposition. That situation was that Australian
troops in Vietnam, having just been
engaged in one of the greatest engagements
13968168 fought by Australian troops in that area,
were being harassed. Their -patrols were
being reported upon. They were being
endangered by an enemy agent with a radio
set who was reporting on their movements
and reporting on what was happening in
their base camp. Is it not clear that this
would endanger the lives of Australian
soldiers? Is that not perfectly evident? That
was disclosed and so far has not been
rebutted. Then, Mr Speaker, what
happened? What happened was that the
agent so engaged was captured along with
the transceiver and the radio. set which she
was using as an enemy agent to endanger
Australian troops. Then she was taken to
an interrogation tent and,' Mr Speaker, at
this stage I must say that it is perfectly true
that having been taken to an interrogation
tent the. spirit of the Geneva Agreement,
which probably did not apply to this civilian
anyway-Opposition members-Oh!
Mr GORTON-AiI . right.. The Opposition'wants
to apply it. Apply it. I am speaking
in my own way..
Mr SPEAKER--Order! The honourable
member ' for Stirling will cease interjecting.
I have already arned him already in the
debate. Mr Webb-Oh!
Mr SPEAKER-If I have not warned
him* then I am Warning him now. I suggest
h should not continue to interrupt.

Mr GORTON-To repeat what I was
saying, whether members of the Opposition
like it or not-and perhaps they do notthe
Geneva Agreement, as I understand it,
applies to prisoners of war, not to civilian
franc tireurs, but -the Australian Government
applies, and seeks to apply, the spirit of
the Geneva Agreement even to these civilian
agents and franc tireurs. But it is nevertheless
true no matter what brouhaha comes
from the other side of the House -that the
Geneva Agreement itself in these circumstances
is most unlikely -to apply. But the
agent was taken and the spirit of the Geneva
Agreement, I am bound to say, was exceeded.
To what extent? It was exceeded
to the extent that the interrogating officer
raised his voice and this is not allowed
under the Geneva Agreement. Honourable
members opposite should read it if they do
not believe this. Prisoners may only be
asked questions as to -their name, their rank
and their number. The interrogator is not
even allowed to ask for that information
in a loud voice. But this interrogating officer
did. He raised his voice. He shouted. Do
you know what he did, Mr Speaker? He
even banged on the table when he was talking
to -this spy who was engaged in activities
endangering Australian forces. He even
smashed his fist on the table. This is not
allowed by the Geneva Agreement, but this
is what he did. He went further. He sought
by threats and by intimidation, which are
not allowed by the Geneva Agreement, to
discover information. I do not know what
that information was, ' but could it not have
been-and if it were would it not have been
important-What were the last messages
you sent out as to where Australian patrols
were and where they were going?', s o that
ambushes could be -laid for them? I do not
know. But he banged his fist on the table
when he was seeking this information. He
raised his voice. He went further. He
threatened and he intimidated. This is all in
the report of the Minister for the Army. He
went further than that. He went much
further than that because he not only
threatened that he would use the water
treatment-or water torture as the Opposition
would call it-but he began to pour
water down the throat of this woman.
Mr Daly-What a scandalous thing.
Mr GORTON-Yes, a shocking thing.
But let me say this in response to something
the Leader of ' the Opposition said. He said that we would have ' little chance
-to complain if Australian soldiers were captured
by the Vietcong or the North Vietnamese.
If the worst that happened to Australian
soldiers was that somebody banged
on the table, raised his voice and poured
one cup of water down -their throats then
we would not have very much to complain
of. There are people in this House and
there are people in this country who know
what a water treatment or a water torture
really is. There are people in this House
hwahdo thhea vree abl eewna tperr istoonretursre , o fn owt arth isa nmd awtteho
applied to them. Those in this House anujthose
throughout this country know this-
Nobody walks away from that; no
walks out of a tent under his own pow,-Is'
photographed, poses and is driven away.
What has been disclosed on this? Let u
be clear that the spirit of the Geneva Agreement
-has been transgressed but it has not
been transgressed -to the extent to which it
is sought to be presented that it has been
transgressed. It has not been transgressed
to the point that any real torture has been
applied. Even so, in compliance with the
approach of the Australian Military Forces,
in compliance with the instructions issued to
the Australian Military Forces, because this
went beyond the bounds that were laid
down, therefore in spite of what I have sale~
the interrogator was removed from in th. I
future interrogating any other prisoners.
That I suggest clearly indicates the approach
of the Australian Military Forces in this
matter. It clearly indicates -that even in this
kind of circumstance the Australians
operating not only in an honourable
but in a way which in effect is dangerous
to them-far more dangerous to them than
what the Leader of the Opposition has suggested
that something which could come
out of this incident could be dangerous to
, them. Let me ask all members of the House
a question. We are--perhaps the Opposition
is not but -the rest of us are and the majority
of the people of, this country are-responsible
for believing that we should be serving
in Vietnam and for sending troops to serve
in Vietnam. Having done that, even members
of the Opposition, . I would have
thought, would want to see that the safety
of those troops was safeguarded.
Mr Bryant-Turn it up.

Mr G40RTON-AUI right. Let me ask
them -this and see what -answer I get to this
question: If they were in charge of a military
camp in Vietnam and they discovered,
any one of them-
Mr Hayden-What about Archbishop
Strong's attitude?
Mr GORTON-You, if you like. You are
a policeman. If you discovered-
Mft Hayden-What are Archbishop
Strong's views?
C -Mr SPEAKER-Order! The honourable
-member for Oxley is continually interjecting.
I ask him to restrain himself.
Ar GORTON-What I was asking the
honourable member for Oxley before he
ceased to restrain himself was whether if
K. he were in charge of a military camp in
Vietnam -and he discovered in that camp
a civilian who he knew had set booby traps
throughout that camp, he would regard it as
such a terrible thing to raise his voice when
he asked that person where those booby
traps were, or to bash his fist on the table
when he said: ' Did you put them in these
tents or those tents?' Or would he-perhaps
he would-say: ' Well, this is just too bad.
We will let the Australian troops find out
where the booby traps are by falling over
C. Mrt SPEAKER-Order! I warn the
honourable member for Mitchell, who is
interjecting. Mir GORTON-Would he only say to
Qthiisr civilian: ' VWhat is your name? What is
rank? What is your number?' and let
-L. ings go. It is not to be assumed for one
minute from what I am saying that the
Australian Army does not apply the Geneva
conventions because it does. It is not to be
assumed for one minute-and the actions
of the Army authorities underline thisthat
they believe even the departure which
this interrogator made should be condoned.
But we do need, I think, as a House of
Parliament and as a nation, to realise this:
We are engaged in armed combat. There is
talk of bringing people out-flying them
out. After all, people spoke about what was
attributed to me and it was not attributed
to me in my name and I can do the same.
This talk, which I have no doubt is well
based, of flying out this enemy agent to
put her in a box somewhere in Australia, under safe conduct, to be examined by a
Judge, to say anything she liked, to make
any kind of propaganda she liked, to make
any kind of lying story she liked, is an
impossible approach to a situation in which
we in Australia find ourselves today. Let us
draw the lines perfectly clearly here. We are
not going to be put into a situation where
the morale of our armed forces is going to
be attacked by this kind of imputation. We
are not going to be put into a situation
where our intelligence techniques are laid
open to an enemy by some open inquiry
such as is suggested by the Opposition. We
will not do it. If they want to do it, let
them say so. We say we will not. Let us
fight it out on that line, if it takes all
summer. That having been said, I now go on to
this, Mr. Speaker: There has been some
attack upon the Minister for the Army,
some suggestion that he has been improper
in what he has done. He has not been
improper in any way at all and the statement
which he presented to this House
makes this abundantly clear. He was under
the impression and given the information
that there had been an investigation in
Vietnam which had said there had been no
ill-treatment. Because he felt that needed
further investigation he said that he would
set up a court of inquiry. Subsequently,
because he then discovered-not having
been told before-that there had been an
investigation in Vietnam which -in fact had
discovered this degree of ill-treatment, it
became perfectly abundantly clear, surely,
that there was no point in setting up a court
of inquiry to discover whether the facts
about an incident should be investigated
when in fact the facts about that incident
had already, by the first investigation, been
made clear and been presented to this
House. In relation to this incident there
can be no requirement -for any further
action. The facts have been presented.
There has been some ill-treatment of a
degree which the Australian people in their
own commonsense and their own judgment
will judge. It has gone beyond the strict
letter of the Geneva Convention. It has
gone beyond it in circumstances of not calm
legal discussion-not an atmosphere of
courts of law-but beyond it in a situation
oA' fighting and of strife and of violence
and of life and of death. I would like to
say, Mr Speaker, that this kind of thing

will never happen again, because we do not
believe it should. But it would be a wrong
and stupid thing for me to say that this
kind of thing could never happen again.
Men are engaged in war. Their lives are
forfeit. It is an astonishing thing to meperhaps
not so. astonishing considering some
of the experiences we have all had-that
in this kind of circumstances there have not
been allegations of real substance made
about mistreatment,-not of prisoners-of-war,
because that does not happen, but of
civilian spies-that there have not been real
allegations of substantive mistreatment, that
there have not been more instances of this.
I think it says a great deal for the Australian
Military Forces and for the instructions
which they are given and to which
they adhere, that in this kind of warfare,
that in the circumstances of espionage and
reporting to which they are exposed, there
has come out of this conflict merely this one
incident which we deplore, which we hope
will not be repeated but which, . when it is
all boiled down, relates to threats, to
intimidation, to a loud voice, to bluff about
water torture and to the beginning-and
this we do not condone-of such torture.
At the end of it-
Mr Uren-Does the Prime Minister
support thuggery?.
Mr GORTON-I cannot pick up a word
the honourable member is saying.
Mr Uren-I said-
. Mr SPEAKER-Order! The House will
come to order. Mr Uren-I said: Do you support
thuggery? Thuggery is a-
Mr GORTON-I can assure the honourable
member. that I do not support thuggery.
Indeed, I thought it was abolished in India
some 50 years ago by imperial decree. If
it has not been abolished then I would be
glad to help to abolish it. What I was saying
before I became intermittently interrupted
was that out of this incident has emerged
this: There was somebody endangering Australian
troops. That somebody was interrogated.
That interrogation did go beyond the
bounds of the Geneva Convention. At the
end-perhaps this'has something to do with
thuggery-of that interrogation the sub'r-t,
was able to walk out of the tent to
photographed, to pose for photographs.
Then Mr Cross--A bit wet perhaps.
Mr GORTON-Yes, a little vet, I agree.
Perhaps, Mr' Speaker, we could conclude
on that interjection. At the end of the interrogation
she was able to walk out. She was
able to be photographed. She was able to
be flown out in a United States aircraft.
But it must be admitted, she was a little
wet. Let me say this: This sort of interrogation
should not happen. But to put it in
perspective, how far did it go? Was there
real -torture of the kind that people in this
House know? In the stress and strain of
fighting this may happen again; but if it'
does it will be as it was on this occasion.
It will be because of an individual acting
aga'inst the instructions given . by the Army
arid against the instructions given by the
Government, and who, because he acted.;'
that way, was removed from the position
previously held.

Transcript 1798