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Transcript 2433

'THIS DAY TONIGHT' - TELEVISION INTERVIEW ON ABC NETWORK GIVEN BY THE PRIME MINISTER, MR W MCMAHON - INTERVIEWER: RICHARD CARLETON - 18 JUNE 1971

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: 18/06/1971

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 2433

EMBARGOED UNTIL 7.30 PM
' THIS DAY TONIGHT"
TELEV! SION INTERVIEW ON ABC NETWORK GIVEN BY
THE PRIME MINISTER, MR W. McMAHON
Interviewer: Richard Carleton 18 JUNE 1971
Q4 ' Mr McMahon, rather than ask you what you have achieved
in your f-Irst 100 days, let me ask you instead What have you
failed to ch3eve in that time?
PM: i. s very little that I've set out to achieve that
hasn't beer_ Jone, Very little. That must be judged against the
backgrour,., d tof. problems as I saw them at the date I took over
the Primer ?' Asi : crship. Most of those prob . ems have been either
removed or to a considerable extent the tensions have been taken
away.
Q. You are a fit and healthy man, Sir, at the age of 63. But
has the office been a strain on you physically?
PM: No, no physical strain no. It's been a lot of work yes.
But I couldn't concede that it's been a physical strain, dnd in fact
I think I feel a little better today than I was wheA I started. So
that while you keep going ccntinuously, the word " sttfain" doesn't quite
fit in. You do, of ourse, on occasions, get a little bit disturbed
because of the rush you haven't got enough time to think of the
problems and give the right answers. But it hasn't been to an
extent that I would regard it as doing any harm to myself personally.
Q. Mr McMahon, your term as Prime Minister 100 days
has been active and possibly Volatile. Many major economic and
political issues have arisen. And some of them remain to be
resolved. Can I go through with you now some of those issues and
ask you to comment on Australia's changing positions?
PM: Yes, of cotrse you can.
Q. Well, let me start with China. In the past three months,
Austrglia's dttitude to China has done an almost volte face. On
the 27 May you said that you've taken steps to open up a dialogue
with China. How far has that gone?
PM: May I first remind you that a little over eighteen months
ago I became the Foreign Minister of this country. A. nd that gave me
a deeper insight into -oreign affairs than I had previously had.
And I felt then that we ought to have a look at our relationships between
the Mainland of China, Japan and the Soviet, in order to see if we
couldn't come to a more pleasant accommodation with them. The
whole three were interlocked. Particularly, we wanted better / 2

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relationships and better trade with Japan because this was of
enormous material importance to us and our economic success.
But I also felt there was one great country of over 700 million
people and that is Mainland China, that ought to be brought into
the comity of nations and we should try and find out what China
was up to and what it intended to do in the future, knowing that it
has been a source of great embarrassment to many of the countries
immediately to the North of us, because obviously they have inspired
insurrection and insurgency in those countries or many of those
countries. So I knew that I had to embark on new policies,
initiated from Australia, for the benefit of Australia. And we've '! one
all that. So I did announce that we wanted to open up a dialogue
to have better bilateral relationships and we have been making
whatever soundings we could in international embassies throughout
the world to see the wisest courses we could follow. Admittedly,
I can't go too far and tell you explicitly what we have done because
I think if I did it would undo all the good that has been achieved
already.
Q. But just let me ask specifically one point on that. In
the last three months, as a result of that time, are we now closer
towa) ds recogrising Mainland China?
PM: I don't think so. We've taken all the initiatives. We
haven ot as yet received any favourable replies from the Peking
Government.
Q. Before we leave China, Mr McMahon, could I put one question
to you Mr Whitlam is to go into China two weeks from today.
Still Australia has no wheat order from China for this year. Do
you still expect one?
PM:-No. I don't expect one, but I'm not in a position where
I'd be a good judge. And other people who are much better judges
than I am think that there is a prospect of getting an order. But
might I put this into perspective, because I'm sure you don't want
to get a false impression. It doesn't matter to us this season
whether we have substantial sales of wheat to China or not.
Q. It would be preferable though.
PM: It A ould be preferable, yes. But we're selling very large
quantities in other parts of the world, and I think we've got better
sales this year, in this crop year, than we've ever had previously
in our history. So we're doing very well. And only in the last
twenty-four hours, we've been able to announce sales of flour, to
South Korea and to Taiwan. Our carry-over will be much smaller
than in the last few years, so we're not very worried about whether
or not we have substantial sales of wheat to China. But I've gone through
all of this before, but I don't think it's really a question of great
political importance in Australia today. / 3

-3
Q. Well, I won't persist with the wheat industry, but may
I ask another question about the rural industry the wool industry
in particular. In many people's eyes, the wool industry is in
queer street. Is your Government going to spend millions of
dollars now rescuing the farmers that are in hopeless straits?
PM: I've got to put this in three different ways to you if I
can. The first one is, of course we are worried about wool, and
we are worried about ot her rural industries as well. I've
appointed an inter-Departmental Committee of the top, efficient
people to look into it and to give recommendations to us as to what
we can do to help. Secondly, I have had, within the last few days,
discussions with Sir William Gunn, the Chairman of the Wool
Board, aud with Mr Vines of the Commission that is, the
Wool Commission. I have had their advice. I will shortly be having
Cabinet together to be able to consider what I know and the papers
that are presented by the various Departments, and then we'll make
up our minds what we're to do.
Q. As a basic principle, would you reject the idea of spending,
say, $ 200 million to rescue the wool industry?
PM: I will not make up my mind, or announce it until I've got
the recommendations of the various Departments. I'm not one of
those who believes in going off half-cocked or making instant coffee
decisions. When I get the reports, when I discuss them with my
colleagues, and we come to a common conclusion, I can assure you
I'll make an announcement to the Australian people. But I want you
to understand we know their problems, I think. We know them, we
are anxious to help, and we've already shown by the fact that we've
appropriated $ 100 million for reconstruction schemes, of our
anxiety and willingness to help when we know we're on the right track.
Q. Sir, let me turn to a major, and continuing issue. The
South African sporting teams tours. They are due here next
week. Now let me paraphrase something you said on 15 April.
You said " If I have to take some action, it's best to leave it until
the last moment." Well, it's almost the last moment. What are you
going to do about it?
PM: I don't think it is the last moment, and I'm not prepared
to say what we as a Government are likely to do. But I will repeat
what I said before, because I believe in it today just as much as
I did then. We don't believe that the ACTU should be poking its nose
in what is political business, or the business of the Australian
community, outside their industrial functions. / 4

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Q. But given that they are doing that....
PM: Given that they are. Yes, and we'll do all that we
can when we decide that it is wise for us to act to do what we
as a Government regard as sensible to let the Australian
people themselves have the opportunity to make up their minds
whether they want to go to the sporting functions or not.
Not to be prevented by the ACTU, but to let the Australians
decide whether they want to go. And if they want to go why
shouldn't they, why should they be intimidated into not going?
So I repeat what I said before, with emphasis, that I don't
believe that these movements should get into the politics of
Australian life. I don't think politics should ecome involved
in sporting enterprises, and I see no reason why these people
should be punished because of the actions of the South African
Government. And I believe that if you look at the Gallup Polls,
the true Gallup Polls, most Australians share that view too.
Q. Sir, let me turn to what might be called your favourite
area now the economy. For six months now, the Government
has been warning of inflation. The Treasurer threatens a tough
Budget. The Government cnlls for restraint and even possibly
austerity. Let me ask, just what's wrong with our economy?
We're supposed to be a booming nation, and overseas our own
publicity says we're a land of milk and honey.
PM: We are a great country, and we are developing well.
If it had not been for the unbelievably high wage increases that
have occurred in Australia in the last year, we would have had very
few problems. In fact, we would have been under real booming
conditions, with everyone joining in the advantages of the boom
conditions. But what is happening now is because of the National
Wage Case, and because of the over-award payments that are
occurring outside the ArlVitration Commissbn, costs are going up
too rapidly, prices are increasing too rapidly, and instead of
getting the real benefit of growth and progress, too much is being
dissipated in higher prices.
Q. Mr McMahon, you seem to put all the blame on the
Arbitration Commicsion. But the Arbitration Commission is a
properly constituted body. If this is not going to happen, must
you now change the Arbitration Commission?
PM: I didn't put all the blame on the Arbitration Commission.
I said it had to take a fair measure of responsibility for giving
a 6 per cent increase in the National Wage Case. That I believe
was economically foolish. I go further than that though, and say
that there has been a 40 per cent wage drift. In other words, e.

not only have the Trade Unions taken advantage of the Arbitration
system, but outside the system, they have been enforcing big
increaises in wages by use of the strike methods and intimidation.
So I didn't put all the blame upon the Arbitration Commission. I have
gone further and I have said the time has come when we must have
a good look at the Arbit ration system and we are doing this now.
But this is a case where you cannot make judgments in a moment. It
requires the most detailed and croteful thought, and we will give it that
detailed and careful thought before we move any further.
Q. Sir, the front page story on every Australian newspaper
today is the McNamara papers on Vietnam. Have the revelations of
the New York Times cast doubt on the propriety of our original
commitment announced by Sir Robert on 29 April 1965?
PM: No, I don't think they have. I don't thin~ k they touch us other
tha n at the edges. And I want first of all, though, to put this in
perspctive. We had our reasons for putting troops into South
Vietnam, and I do know the history just as well as onyone, with the
possible exception of Sir Robert, because I believe I was at every
Cabinet discussion that dealt with this problem. So I know it well. I
know all the cables and I know the history and the background of it.
So first of all we were there we were there because we felt there
was a real danger at that time of the whole of South-East Asia falling
to Communism. South-East Asia has been saved. So let us remember
this. Secondly, we wanted to join with our very great friends and
allies, the United States a great liberal democracy with which we
have the ANZUS Treaty that v irtually guarantees our freedom.
And, thirdly, we want and this is a great principle with me and my
Government we want the smaller oountries of South-East Asia to
determine their own future. This is why we were there
Q. Sir.
PM: Wait a minute, because unless I put it in perspective, it
wont t be understood. So what happens then the McNamara papers
come out. Sir Robert made his statement yesterday, I have referred
the whole problem to the Defence Committee; the highest officials
we have got in Defence and Foreign Affairs will report to me,
and shortly I will be able to make a comment on it. But at this stage,
to my personal knowledge, everything that Sir Robert said was
correct. We received our first request through Mr Howson and with
our Ambassador up there Mr Anderson now in our Foreign Office
that the South Vietnamese Government wanted us to help them and give
military assistance.
Q. Well on this point, Sir, can I ask you, I think fairly, for a
' Yes" or " No" answer to the question: Is there a piece of paper in
the Government archives that has come out of Saigon signed by the
Saigonese Government, to Australia, saying: " Please give us one
battalion of troops" / 6

not only have the Trade Unions takenadvantage of the Arbitration
system, but outside the system, they have been enforcing big
increases in wages by use of the strike methods and intimidation.
So I didn't put all the blame upon the Arbitration Commission. I have
gone further and I have said the time has come when we must have
a good look at the Arbit ration system and we are doing this now.
But this is a case where you cannot make judgments in a moment. It
requires the most detailed and cateful thought, and we willI give it that
detailed and careful thought before we move any further.
Q. Sir, the front page story on every Australian newspaper
today is the McNamara papers on Vietnam. Have the revelations of
the New York Times cast doubt on the propriety of our original
commitment announced by Sir Robert on 29 April 1965?
PM: No, I don't think they have. I don't think they touch us other
tha n at the edges. And I want first of all, though, to put this in
perspective. We had our reasons for putting troops into South
Vietnam, and I do know the history just as well as enyone, with the
possible exception of Sir Robert, because I believe I was at every
Cabinet discussion that dealt with this problem. So I know it well. I
know all the cables and I know the history and the background of it.
So first of all we were there we were there because we felt there
was a real danger at that time of the whole of South-East Asia falling
to Communism. South-East Asia has been saved. So let us remember
this. Secondly, we wanted to join with our very great friends and
allies, the United States a great liberal democracy with which we
have the ANZUS Treaty that v irtually guarantees our freedom.
And, thirdly, we want and this is a great principle with me and my
Government we want the smaller wtuntries of South-East Asia to
determine their own future. This is why we were there
Q. Sir.
PM: Wait a minute, because unless I put it in perspective, it
won't be understood. So what happens then the McNamara papers
come out. Sir Robert made his statement yesterday, I have referred
the whole problem to the Defence Committee; the highest officials
we have got in Defence and Foreign Affairs will report to me,
and shortly I will be able to make a comment on it. But at this stage,
to my personal knowledge, everything that Sir Robert said was
correct. We received our first request through Mr Howson and with
our Amibassador up there Mr Anderson now in our Foreign Office
that the South Vietnamese Government wanted us to help them and give
military assistance.
Q. Well on this point, Sir, can I ask you, I think fairly, for a
" Yes" or " No" answer to the question: Is there a piece of paper in
the Government archives that has come out of Saigon signed by the
Saigonese Government, to Australia, saying: " Please give us one
battalion of troops" / 6

6-
PM: L There are all the cables coming through diplomatic sources,
commencing in December 1964, requesting us to give military
assistance to the South Vietnamese.
Q. Is there a specific paper from the Government....
PM: I will as soon... * as I said to you, I don't move quickly.
I move when I know exactly what I am dcing and I am able to verify
evt~ rything, and I will, as soon as the Defence Committee has
reported to me, then I will make another statement about what has
hapr-ened. But I verify now, and this can come out from personal
evidence of two people, the Ambassador up there, Mr& A nderson, and
the Minister for Air, Mr Howson, and they can both testify that they
were requested by the then Premier of South Vietnam to supply
military assistance to South Vietnam
Q. Sir.
PM: No, look, wait a minute. Let me tell my story because I
don't want to be interrupted and get a hal-story across. And I w~ on't
permit it in fact. From then on we gave several. we had several
meetings of the Cabinet Sub-Committee, the Defence and Foreign
Affairs Committee on it. I was at each one and we decided that we
would be prepared to provide troops, providing only the Americans
thought it was wise and wl got an official request from the South
Vietnamese Goverment
Q. Can this be produced in writing? The official request.
PM: I've said to you that I have to wait until I get the report of the
Defence Committee. What I can say is that the best evidence that you
can bet in the land, particularly the kind of evidence that would be
accepted in a Court of Law, is the witness of those who get the request.
And we have the two witnesses.
Q. Sir, let me turn now to three quick straight political qte stions.
Mr Gorton is your Deputy Leader in the Liberal Party. What help
is he to you?
PM: He plays his part in Cabinet as the Minister for Defence and
does it well. He is there, elected by the members of the Party to be
the Deputy Leader. He wanted to be the Deputy Leader, he was entitled
to stand as the Deputy Leader and he has been appointed. And he comes
into Cabinet as the Deputy Leader and the Minister for Defence and
he plays his part there and does it as you would expect him to do it.
Q. Is he a help to you?
PM: Of course he's a help to me. He's a very efficient Minister for
Defence. e. ./ 7

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Q. Mr MoMahon, the day you became Prime Minister, half the
Liberal Party, 33 men, voted confidence in Mr Gorton. Of those
33 men, how many have you now swung round to your point of view?
Pn Look, I don't want to be going over the past like this and I'll
andwer this in an indirect way because I haven't counted heads and I've
no intention of doing it. What I do know is that the relationship between
the Country Party and the Liberal Party couldn't be better. tve Deen
mending whatever fences had to be mended between the Parliamentary
and the organisational. wings of the Party, and I believe it is in
remarkably good shape, and I think my own Party is in remarkably
good shape, too. IM other words, if I had had my way a few months
ago, I would have been having an election round about now, and I
would have guaranteed we would have won several seats.
Q, That's an interesting point, Sir....
PM! And that's what I feel. I feel the position
Q. You've never said before that you did hope to have an election
PM: Well, I left it vague, yes. I left it vague, that's true, because
I never believe in giving away your tactical advantage until you have
to do so.
Q. In hindsight now, with hindsight, was that a mistake not to
call an election now?
PM: No, I don ' t think so, because I think we are going from good
to better an I don't worry very much about 4t
Q. Sir, if it was not for Mr Malcolm Fraser's resignation, you
would almost certainly not be Prime Minister now. On the 10th of
March you said of Mr Fraser: He's an able, perhaps a very able
man. Is there no room for thTr man in your Cabinet?
PM: Of course there will be room for Mr Fraser in the Ministry
when the opportunity arises. He is an able man. I've expressed
my views about his ability but, at the moment, there isn't a position
that I could fit him into. I will constantly keep him in mind. 0 0/ 8

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Q. Sir, to conclude with, whether you acknowledge it publicly
or not, many people believe that you have now achieved your life-long
ambition to be Prime Minister. Now that you have sat in that
seat for 100 days, is it all that you expected it to be?
PM: I haven't looked at it in that way. This is a novel way of
putting this question to me. But it is not very much different from
what I expected it to be other than in the sense that previously I had
much more time to think. In other portfolios, you can call your
officials in and you can cross-examine them and then come to a
conclusion as to what you should do, But you have only one
portfolio to think of.: In this portfolio, that is the Prime Ministership,
you have every other Minister's portfolio and Cabinet business as
welt, So every day you have got half a dozen different kinds of
questions to which You have to give an immediate answer. In other
words, here it is long experience and the experience that I have
had in.. what is 13 or 14 portfolios, that has stood me in good
stead. So it is the rush and the need to make quick decisions that
are so important in the Prime Ministership, and I am making them
constantly and I hope I am making them fairly well.
Q. Mr McMahon, thank you.
PM: PGM. ood, thank youj too.

Transcript 2433