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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 2396


Photo of McMahon, William

McMahon, William

Period of Service: 10/03/1971 to 05/12/1972

More information about McMahon, William on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 30/03/1971

Release Type: Statement in Parliament

Transcript ID: 2396

The Rt Hon. W. McMAHON, M. P.
Ministerial Statement
[ Froin the ' Parliamentary Debates', 30 March 19711
Mr MeMAHON ( Lowe-Prime Minister)-
by leave-Mr Speaker, the Government
has been reviewing the position of
Australia's military forces in Vietnam in
order to determine what further withdrawal
options are open to it, having
regard to the security situation and the
intentions of the Government of the
Republic of Vietnam and of our other
major allies. This review follows from the
policy stated by the then Prime Minister,
now the Minister for Defence ( Mr Gorton),
in April 1970 when, in announcing
the withdrawal of one Army battalion, he
said that ' Should the progress of pacification
and Vietnramisation succeed as the
President ( of the United States) : hopes and
believes that it will, then at some stage
during the 12 months period we will consider
phasing additional troops into the
planned withdrawal'.
During his recent visit to Vietnam, the
Minister for Defence had valuable discussions
with Vietnamese leaders and with the
Commander of United States forces in
Vietnam. These consultations have
confirmed our assessment that steady
improvement is being achieved in the security
situation. Many factors have contributed
to this improvement. The policy of
Vietnamisation, that is, the development of
the capability and effectiveness of South
Vietnam's armed forces, has produced a
much stronger and more cohesive fighting
11941171 force. The pacification programme has also
achieved notable successes, and its contribution
towards improved security in the
rural areas has necessitated the enemy concentrating
his effort against that program-
ne. These developments, in combirvalion
with North Vietnam's manpower
problems, have seen a significant decline in
enemy-initiated activity over the last 2
years. An important consequence of these
achievements has been that the South Vietnamese
have been able to continue their
operations in Cambodia against North
Vietnamese regular forces. Additionally
they were able to initiate and conduct the
recent operations against the North Vietnamese
supply lines in southern Laos. The
effect of these operations so far has been
to -prevent the enemy mounting large-scale
actions inside South Vietnam and thus they
have given the South Vietnamese time for
the further development of their forces
and for strengthening the pacification programme.
In a number of key areas within
South Vietnam the North Vietnamese have
for the present lost the military initiative.
Tihe enemy forces are thus being forced to
a position of reacting to the South Vietnamese
rather than being able to fight at a
time and place of their own choosing.
Turning to the overall security of South
Vietnam, it is undeniable that there has
been satisfactory progress towards the

objective of establishing the circumstances
in which South Vietnam can determine its
own future. There remain, of course,
difficulties which should not be minimised.
The North Vietnamese at the Paris talks
have remained intransigent. Nothing constructive
has been offered by them towards
a negotiated settlement. In Vietnam itself
there has been some resurgence in Communist
terrorism, political agitation, and
attacks against lines of communication.
These tactics by the Communists, using
their remaining infrastructure in the
country, will doubtless be employed
against the Government and people for
some time to come.
In . its weighing up of the overall situation,
the Government has decided that further
reductions of the Australian forces in
Vietnam are feasible and desirable. With
the agreement of the Government of the
Republic of Vietnam, and following consultations
with United States military authorities
in Saigon, some forces will now be
withdrawn. These are:
Selected combat and supporting forces
of the Army task force, including the
tank squadron, totalling about 650
Royal Australian Navy personnel, a out
in number, serving with the United
-States Assault Helicopter Company;
The RAN Clearance Diving Team
( clearance of underwater explosives)
of 6 personnel;
No. 2 Canberra Bomber Squadron
involving 280 men;
Some aircraft of the Caribou transport
squadron and about 44 men.
The reductions are therefore to be
spread over the 3 Services and will have
the effect of reducing the total Australian
personnel by about 1,000 men. The Australian
forces then remaining in South
Vietnam will comprise 6,000 men compared
with a peak of 8,000 in 1968-70. All
these remaining forces, including the 2-battalion
Task Force in Phuoc Tuy, will
retain an effective operational capability.
The tasks of our forces will continue to
change as the Vietnamese territorial forces
accept increased operational responsibility.
The units and personnel involved in these reductions will be withdrawn gradually
over a period of 4 months to 6 months,
commencing in May. This timetable will
permit detailed adjustments to be made
between the Australian, South Vietnamese,
and United States military authorities in
relation to the security requirements of the
areas involved.
Events in South Vietnam, to which our
own fighting men made such a notable
contribution, have made these withdrawals
possible and they are entirely in accordance
with the policy of the Government
as announced in Parliament. It must be
acknowledged that enemy forces in Indo-
China still retain a consid. rable offensive
capability, and there remains in South
Vietnam a structure of Vietcong cadres
and guerillas which has been long established
and whose strength is very difficult
to assess. No doubt the Government and
forces of the Republic may from time to
time suffer military setbacks, and the continuance
of the war against aggression will
be a heavy burden upon them. But perhaps
more than ever before, the ( Government of
the Republic acknowledges that getting on
top of the internal threat to security and
the development of progressive government
in the provinces are tasks best performed
by themselves once a sufficient degree of
security from massive external attack has
been established. Greater confidence now
exists. The Vietnamese authorities have
developed a variety of programmes which
are becoming increasingly effective in
bringing better administration in the countryside.
The Australian Government will
continue to assist the Republic of Vietnam,
though the character of our assistance will
progressively change. For example, the
new Jungle Warfare Training Centre at
Nui Dat has just completed its first course.
Australian economic and military aid in a
variety of forms will continue. We will
continue to build houses for members of
the Territorial Forces and their families.
Other forms of civil aid and civic action
will be examined by the Government. As
to the future of our forces in Vietnam, the
Government will keep the matter under
constant review, bearing in mind the security
of our own forces and our obligations
to the Government of the Republic of
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Transcript 2396