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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 2219


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: 22/04/1970

Release Type: Statement in Parliament

Transcript ID: 2219

The Rt Hon. J. G. GORTON, M. P.
( Mfiisterial Statement)
( From the ' Parliamentary Debates', 22 April 1970]
Mr GORTON ( Higgins-Prime Minister)
-by leave-Since 1965, Australian ground
formations have been engaged with our
allies in resisting armed attack on the Government
of South Vietnam. Since that time,
the question of whether Australian forces
should have helped resist that attack has
been debated in Australia. This Government,
as previous governments, has
approached this question in the spirit which
was crystallised in one sentence by the right
honourable member for Melbourne ( Mr
Gaiwell) when he was Leader of the Opposition.
That sentence is:
The overriding issue which this Parliament has
to deal with at all times must be
judged by this one crucial test: What best pro.
motes our national security, what best guarantees
our national survival.
The Government believes that judged on
this standard, our engagement in Vietnam
is right and that it does best promote our
national security, and we believe that for
these reasons: It is surely incontrovertible
that in Vietnam aggression is taking place
and is being resisted. It is surely incontrovertible
that the war there is only being
sustained because large numbers of troops
from North Vietnam are constantly dispatched
to invade and subjugate the South,
15004/ 70 and that if that troop flow stopped the war
would stop. Resistance to such aggression
does best promote our national security,
because we must strive to ensure that history
is not repeated and that invasion and
aggression is not allowed to be successful.
For if it is successful, then the short span
of history through which many of us in this
chamber have lived shows that once
successful, it is repeated and repeated until
it becomes insufferable and has to be
stopped-but stopped at a cost in blood
and treasure infinitely greater than would
have been the case had it been stopped at
its initiation.
Surely something of what happened in
the last generation can be taken as experience
by the present one. We saw Fascist
and Nazi aggression raging unchecked and
subjecting one small country after another
to conquest until it had to be stopped-at
the cost of a world war-which need not
have happened had the aggression been
stopped at its beginning. I thought that these
lessons, which, let us never forget are of
more import to small nations than to large,
had been learned. Because for some years
after the close of the Second World War,
resolute action was taken to resist and
defeat subversion in Malaya as it then was.

This took some 12 long years or moreyears
when civilians were murdered by
terrorists-when bands of guerillas with
grenades and Sten guns sought to overthrow
by force a government the people
in Malaya wanted. Australians were there,
with British and local forces, resisting that
aggression. We were told then-and the
words are strikingly familiar today: ' Australians
should not be in Malaya. The war
will go on forever. It cannot be won'. But
it was won. That aggression was not successful
and Australia's national security was best
promoted because of that lack of success.
Then we saw aggression in Korea. We
saw the people of the North sweep across
the frontiers of the South in armed formations.
Because the prevention of aggression,
then, was the basic concept of the United
Nations, we saw United Nations forces
moving to defeat that aggression. Australians
were there. And the aggression was
defeated. And Australian national security
was best promoted because it was defeated.
We saw, and the principle is the same,
Malaysia threatened during the confrontation
and armed incursions into Malaysian
territory. Australia helped to repel this
aggression. And our national interest was
best served by this. And then we saw the
pattern repeated in Vietnam. It is Communist
aggression there as it was in Korea
and Malaya, but the source of the aggression-
significant though it may be-is not
as significant as the fact that it was
aggression. For the Government believes
that if small nations are to survive and
prosper, then aggression from whatever
source-whether it is inspired by Communism,
Fascism or old fashioned
nationalism-must not be allowed to
succeed. The one consistent thread of principlethat
small nations are best rendered secure
if other small nations are not allowed to be
overrun-has distinguished our policv
through the post-war years. That is why
we are in Vietnam, and that we should be
there is a proposition supported by three
of the significant political parties in Australia
and opposed by one-the Labor
Party. I put it to the House that Australian
security is bound up with seeing that
aggression does not succeed. I put it to the
House that it is immoral to launch
aggression but not immoral to resist it. This is a proposition which has been twisted
and turned inside out by those who cry
that this is an immoral war. So it is-but
the immorality is in those who began it,
who continue to invade, who will not
negotiate for peace, who are bent on conquest
and nothing but conquest.
We have said that successful invasion of
South Vietnam by the North would lead to
further attempts at conquest in Laos, in
Cambodia, and on the frontiers of Thailand.
This was scouted and denied by those in
the ranks of the Opposition who support the
case of the invaders. But the history of
recent days shows, I submit, how dangerously
wrong they were. Sir, I have thought
it necessary to speak of this background
in discussing the latest decisions on our
participation in Vietnam. It was and is right
for us to help to stem aggression. It was and
is in our national interest-and that of all
small nations-for aggression to be
defeated. It is in our interest to help to
secure by negotiation peace with selfdetermination
for the people of South Vietnam.
And in the meanwhile, while the
invader will not negotiate, it is right to help
resist him. Against this background, I speak
to the House of the Government's decision.
Following a review of the situation in
Vietnam which led to the earlier
United States decisions to reduce the level
of its forces by 115,000 by the middle of
this month, President Nixon yesterday
announced his decision to introduce a new
and long range programme of United States
troop reductions involving the withdrawal
of 150,000 men over the next 12 months.
On 16th December last I announced the
Government's decision that when the
military situation in Vietnam permitted a
further substantial withdrawal of allied
troops, then somne Australian units would
be included in the numbers scheduled for
withdrawal. Since then we have, with South
Vietnam and the other allies, continued to
keep developments and prospects in Vietnam
under close study. The Communist
side maintains its intransigence and continues
to set its face against a negotiated
settlement. There is no progress to report
as regards peace talks.
As the President has stated, there has
been some overall decline in enemy force
levels in South Vietnam in the last few
months, though their actions in Laos and

Cambodia must give us all cause for concern.
The development that gives
encouragement is the progress in what has
been called ' Vietnamisation'-the movement
towards South Vietnamese selfreliance.
We see one result of this in the
progressive reduction of allied forces. But
it must be understood that ' Vietnamisation'
means much more than the assumption by
South Vietnamese forces of a greater share
of the combat burden. Behind it lies a
massive programme of expanding and
modernising those forces. And behind that
again is the progressive assumption by
South Vietnam of the responsibility for all
aspects of the war-a war fought across
the widest fronts, embracing a complexity
of military, political, psychological, social
and economic factors. In all these areas
much still remains to be done by South
Vietnam, assisted by its allies across a wide
civil and military spectrum. Yet progress
has been such that important qualitative
changes are being made, and will continue
to be made, in regard to the assistance
required by and given to the Government
of South Vietnam in pursuit of the objective
shared over the years by that Government
and its allies.
I reiterate that that objective is to
establish the circumstances in which South
Vietnam can determine its own future without
fear. There can be no thought of
abandoning that objective by a precipitate
withdrawal of allied forces. But in continuing
to give assistance to South Vietnam,
our intention will be to take account of
their own growing strength and to strike the
most appropriate balance between an Australian
military contribution and other
forms of Australian assistance to Vietnam:
We are mindful particularly that the process
of ' Vietnamisation' obtains no less in
Phuoc Tuy Province than in other parts of
Vietnam and that it is both desirable and
feasible for Australia to undertake, as the
circumstances permit, qualitative changes in
the shape of our overall contribution
towards the goal we seek.
Accordingly, I now announce to the
House that after consultation in recent
weeks with the governments of Vietnam and
the United States, who understand and
accept our approach, the Government has
decided that one Australian infantry
battalion and some supporting personnel will be withdrawn from South Vietnam.
This reduction to our force in Vietnam will
be effected by withdrawing, without replacement,
the 8th Battalion, Royal Australian
Regiment, which at present is scheduled to
complete its tour of duty in November next.
This will require a modification of the role
at present played by our forces--a modification
made feasible by the forces of Vietnamisation
and national acceptance of
responsibility by the Vietnamese themselves
in Phuoc Tuy.
But let no-one say that because there is
a modification of the role we play therefore
we should play no role at all. Reducing our
forces because the Vietnamese are able to
assume more responsibility is one thing.
Totally removing our forces before the
Vietnamese are able to accept full responsibility
for replacing them is quite another.
The timing of the battalion's departure
from Vietnam remains to be determined. It
will be governed by general circumstances
within the area in which Australian forces
are operating and by the progress of Australian
projects to assist the growth of
greater capability in the South Vietnamese
forces, and I shall touch on those later.
Whether or not the battalion's departure
may be brought forward from the November
date will depend on developments in
these fields.
After the initial withdrawal, should the
progress of pacification and Vietnamisation
succeed as the President hopes and believes
that it will, then at some stage during the
12-month period, we will consider phasing
additional troops into the planned withdrawal.
But the future situation is so uncertain
and the future strategical situation
so unpredictable that it is impossible to be
any more definite than this. In co-operation
with the Government of South Vietnam, in
pursuit of our basic objectives, we are
actively examining further ways in which
we can contribute to the growth in South
Vietnamese self-reliance.
Following consultations with the Vietnamese
Government, we have decided to
provide a number of small mobile Army
teams, totalling some 130 men, to work
with the regional and popular forces in
Phuoc Tuy province. The teams will have
a liaison and training function and will
operate on a pattern similar to that
developed by some members of our existing

Army Advisory Training Group, which will
continue its work. We are also developing
a further proposal that Australia provide
instructors and other assistance to a South
Vietnamese training centre for junior leaders
-leaders of the popular forces and regional
forces-planned for establishment on the
site which will be vacated by the Australian
battalion to be withdrawn from Vietnam.
It is envisaged that courses at this centre,
which would accommodate 400 to 500
students at a time, would give particular
attention to instruction in methods of jungle
warfare which have been developed by
Australian forces. studies now being made of other forms of
assistance which might be offered to Vietnam.
Sir, I am glad to be able to tell the
House and the people of Australia that the
situation has been reached when withdrawal
of some Australian forces can be made.
I would be yet happier when all Australian
forces could be withdrawn, provided that
our object is in no way endangered. And
I believe that history will show that Australia
in Vietnam was right, as she was
right in the other instances of which I have
spoken, not to stand idly by and refuse to
lift a finger to help a small country attacked
from without. For whenever one small
In addition, Cabinet will give urgent country loses its freedom let us not ask for
attention to the results of comprehensive whom the bell tolls; it tolls for all.
W. 0. MuRRAY, Government Printer, Canberra

Transcript 2219