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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 2441


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: 03/07/1971

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 2441

interviewers Mr. John~ Hudson
Mir. Syd. Donovan
Q. Mr. Prime Minister, do you and the Government intend this rugby tour,
and then the cricket tour to go on, despite the protests of demonstrators?
PM So far I've only looked at the problem of the rugby tour, and it will go on,
and it will complete the number of matches that it said it would go into. We are
not going to be intimidated and blackmailed by certain sections of the Trade
Union Movement, and for reasons that I've made abundantly clear both on radio
and to the media.
Q. In other words you believe that the police will be able to maintain sufficient
control regardless, to keep this tour flowing?
PM Yes, I do. And not only do I think the police will be able to maintain
control, but I'm certain that the vast majority of the Australian people want the
tour to go on and to be successful. We're a great sporting country, and we're
not going to let the few intimidate the rest of us.
Qr For those people Prime Minister, who are anxious about Australia's
attitude to apartheid, who have done their best to show the world that Australia's
against it. What do you say to them tonight?,
PM I believe that the attitude to apartheid is one of individual conscience. Now
we as a Government dislike the system, we think it is a bad one. But we think that
so far as Australians are concerned, and their consciences are involved, then it
must be a matter of individual judgment what they do within the law. In other words,
providing that they make up their minds they don't like it, if they like to persuade
their friends too, that their friends should not like it then let them stay away from
the matches, but don't let others, whose motives perhaps are not yet fully disclosed
to the Australian people, don't let those other people exploit the position, and try and
intimidate people not to go. In other words, conscience is a matter of very deep
personal concern, and that personal conscience shouldn't be affected by the
judgments and the influence of others.
Q. The bigger attitude that's arisen out of this, of course, is the people who
wonder why the Government was so quiet in the early days of the proposed tour
according to the ACTU, and then the much broader issue of whether such power
policies in Australia will be effective is the Government is the crude way of
putting it.
PM Well you used the words " according to the ACTU". The point is that
from the very earliest days when I became the Prime Minister, I made it clear ./ 2

that we would place no impediment whatsoever in the way of the tour proceeding and
being successful. From then on it generated, I believe, into a struggle for power
by certain elements within the Trade Union movement, and blatantly and obviously
they showed that they were prepared to force a kind of tyranny on this country.
And from that moment on, the question of apartheid degenerated into a squabble
between these members of the AGTU, some of them, and the people of Australia
as a whole. And I'm abundantly certain of this that the people resent the fact
that this small group of people want to force their opinions upon others. Now we
are the Government. But we hear very little from the Opposition today. In other
words instead of the Opposition being able to express a view they've abdicated
their position to Mr. Hawke, and a few people like him. And if ever an Opposition
has given way to a small minority, we see it in existence in Australia today. But
we are the legitimate Government, elected by the people, and we will do what we
think is right in their interests, rather than the interests of that small minority
who obviously are hell-bent on tyranny.
You seem to be saying that there's an important principle at stake here,
one of the most important principles that we've ever been confronted with perhaps.
It's not just a matter anymore of wihether a few football matches should go on or
not. It's degenerated now into three principles -four perhaps if I can put it that
way. The first one is the right of Australians themselves to choose, providing
they obey the law and act within the law. And why shouldn't they? They were born
free, and they want to remain free. Why should someone else deprive them of the
opportunity of free choice, and the opportunity to do what they want to do to watch
a football match, it doesn't matter whether it happened to be the Dynamos from the
Soviet, or whether it happened to be a football team from South Africa. The
second one is far more important who does govern . this country? Is it to be a
very small minority of people, or is it to be the duly elected people of this country
representatives of this country. I believe in a liberal democracy here, and
consequently when it comes to the question of Government, I believe it is the
representatives of the people themselves who are to govern, and we're not to be
coerced by a small section of the Trade Union movement. And there is another
question involved too. I don't like people to prostitute their political position by
saying there's some moral issue involved. I think sport ought to be divorced from
politics and I believe that's the view of the Australian people, too. If people like to
mix the two up together, driven purely by a political motive, and in the attempt
to use this as a way in which they can enforce their views on the Australian people,
then we have to resist it, and we've done so. And the last one, and I know I'm
taking a long t ime in this, and consequently you have to forgive me. Frankly this
is not the way to go about ensuring that the South African people themselves come to
grips with apartheid, solve the problem to the benefit of all people in South Africa.
I think the way we're going about it is bad. It strengthens the very conservative
elements in South Africa and doesn't give the young people and the liberal elements
an opportunity to express themselves quickly.
Of course, Mr. Hawke answers that and it is convincing to many people,
when he says that the rest of the world has cut itself off from South Africa over this
question of apartheid, and then he enumerates all the sports who have done this,
names a number of other bodies and lets it go at that. And that sounds very
convincing, because in fact this has happened, but what is your answer to that? / A

PM My answer to that is that I've just given the answer. We make up our minds
what we think is right and what is the proper way to go about settling a problem of
the kind that I have just mentioned.
Q. Even if it does happen to conflict with what the United Nations or anyone
else has decided?
PM Yes, even though it might conflict with others. Because we're an
independent country, independently minded and we do what we think is right. But
I can only say this, we've adopted exactly the same attitude to the Chinese coming
here. We've adopted the same attitude to the Soviet coming here, we let their
ballet companies and their football teams come. Now their system is abhorrent
to us too, they're tyrannical and dictatorial but we haven't mixed up the two. And
we hope, we can hope in time, and all of us must hope in time, we'll be able to
solve the problems in a way that gives fereedom of choice to the individual, lets
them exercise their own individual consciences, permits them to go about their
lawful business, in a way that is most pleasing and satisfactory to them. And we
don't believe, and I want to emphasise this, in interfering in the business of other
countries. Because whenever others at United Nations, or anywhere else, start
to interfere in ours, we tell them where to get off and we've been remarkably
Q. There's the element Prime Minister, which is frightening to a lot of people.
The element is blackmail as called by some. We've reason to believe that the same
principles which have been drawn out the power, fight, protesting could be used
in Australia, after August, to force the Government, or persuade the Government,
to do something more for the aborigines. I think you're aware of this.
PM Yes, L am.
Q. Again from the ACTU of course. Now the country doesn't want that to happen.
So drawing out a stage further, have you promises to offer to our own coloured
PM This would take me quite a long time to answer. But can I go back a little
over the history of this problem? Immediately after I became the Prime Minister,
Mr. W. C. Wentworth, the Minister for Social Services, and then in charge of
Aboriginal Affairs, came to me. And he said, the native councils, the aboriginal
councils have asked me if I can get you to agree to 11 reforms, and to take them
up with the Queensland Government, and to get our own Department of the Interior
responsible for the Northern Territory to carry out some reforms too. Within
a matter of days I was able to go up to Queensland, and 9 of the 11 reforms asked
for by Mr. Wentworth, that had been promoted by all of the Aboriginal Councils
in Queensland were agreed to immediately. Two others were not, and I believe
that the changes were made in the interests of the aboriginals themselves. The
two changes that were not immediately adopted were one regarding alcohol
the -free supply of alcohol on the Reserves. And there it was suggested to me, and
agreed to, that the local Aboriginal Councils should have the right of local option.
The second one was relating to those aboriginals who were given control of their own
property by the Queensland Administration, and here vwe agreed that they would
have a form of protection. If found they had been exploited and people had taken
their money away from them, or otherwise exploited them, we would, that's the
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Queensland Government, would administratively ensure that justice was done. So
on each one of the I I cases put to us, we did what we were asked to do, and
recently Mr. Neville Bonner,. who I believe will be a very distinguished member
of the Senate, or he is now a distinguished member of the Senate, he has said
that. their claims have been fulfilled and their requests have been agreed to. So too
in the Northern Territory we've set aside land for them, we've set aside funds.
I wish time was available to me to explain to you what was done but. 1-think most
thinking Australians would agree that we're acting responsibly and fairly, and
when I go home I'll ensure Mr. Ralph Hunt, my Minister for the Interior, makes
another statement to indicate clearly what we've done and the Australian people will
be pretty procud, because they're the ones who are paying through taxation.
Q. We haven't mentioned the name Bob Hawke, or Mr. Hawke at all, but if the
reply to his letter, or the ACTU letter about land rights and so on is not satisfactory
this was the point I was trying to make he gave reason to believe that protests
would be organised again, and black bans and disruption of industry.
PM I think you can take it that there has been a course of action by Mr. Hawke
and those who go along with him. Since I've been the Prime Minister this course of
action has always been in terms of threats and intimidation, and the kind of action
that he's. tried to drum up over the South African sporting tour. Always force to
be used always coercion. But I'd be prepared to make this statement to you, that
Mr. Hawke hasn't a glimmer of knowledg( ElWhat happened in Queensland or in
the Northern Territory. He's concentrated on the Yirr'kala case, and he's been
critical of the judgment of Mr. justice Blackburn. Now Mr. justice Blackburn was
acting as a lawyer. And I believe it is a brilliant judgment and ought to be read
by every thinking citizen. We should not be criticising him, what we should be
doing is looking for worthwhile ways of reform, and when we get sensible suggestions
we will adopt them. I'll see that Mr. Hunt, Minister for the Interior issues another
statement, and I'll be certain that the Australian people will say " Well done. You're
acting as our representatives, but they ' re native Australians, just the same/' Ryone
else, they're entitled to a fair go, and they're entitled to justice and we'll ensure
that they'll get it.
Q. In a moment, Mr. Prime Minister, I'd like to switch topics, but firstly,
just one final apartheid question Have you or other mem bers of the Cabinet perhaps,
had any discussions with top Ministers in the South African Nationalist Government
over the question of apartheid, and particularly over the question of these tours?
PM Not that I'm aware of, but I have written to the South African Prime
Minister, and I've informed him of the views of the Australian people, because
I said they were bitterly disappointed when the ban was imposed upon native South
Africans that's coloured South Africans taking part in the tour. But we haven't
had any personal discussions with them, face to face. : They know our views anyhow,
they know our dislike of apartheid, and they know that we'd like a much more liberal
system introduced, and equality introduced there as soon as it was practicable.
Q. All this then has thrown into highlight a whole range of Australia's life.
And here's a good opportunity for pensioners who are watching, and farmers and
others who feel out of it a bit in this country, give some good words for them. 0

PM Yes, I can. First of all as to the pensioners. I confess immediately, that
I felt that in the last Budget, we had not been -fair to them. And the first action I
took as the Prime Minister was to increase the pension for the married couple and
the single couple too. And I gave also certain assurances relating to the base rate
pensioner, and the changes we would introduce the kind of changes we would
introduce with the next Budget. Naturally I can't tell you exactly what can be done
because I think the Budget has to remain secret. But nonetheless this is one of the
problems we have to give careful attention to. As to both the woolgrower and other
sections of Primary Industry.
Q. Mr. McMahon may I interrupt you just for a moment....
PMV Yes, of course you can.
Q. Mr. Wentworth's statement then about the superannuation scheme is
a very much long-term plan.
PM Well, look I haven't read what Mr. Wentworth has said, and I understand
that on radio today, television anyhow, he has said that he'd been misunderstood.
I wouldn't like to make a comment about superannuation until I hear from him. But
what I can say is that there is no Bill before the Government, and we have no
proposals, at present before the Government, that I know of, relating to
superannuation. But nonetheless, I come back to what I said My funda mental
responsibility is to look after the more needy sections, and I regard that as the
paramount objective of Government.
Q. Farmers then?
PM On farmers what we have done and I took a leading role in this myself
was to ensure that the strongest interdepartmental committee we could get together
would look at the problems of the wool industry, and of rural industries in general
or those rural industries who want or who are in need of assistance. I understand
the papers are just about completed, and we will set aside a special Cabinet meeting
to consider them. This should be done within the course of the next two to three weeks.
Q! Might I mention Vietnam? It's not so long ago Mr. Prime Minister, that
moratorium marchers stirred the same sort of scenes that we're now seeing with
apartheid. But now people seem to be accepting them fairly peacefully. And in fact,
almost saying, Well perhaps we were wrong, perhaps we should get out of Vietnam
generally speaking, the allies, right now. And certainly Labor is making a lot
of capital out off this. What's your attitude?
PM My attitude is a clear one. I've stated before why we are in Vietnam. And
-if you'd like me to refer to the principles involved I'll mention them now. I believe
we're taking the correct attitude. -What we are doing is trying to ensure that the
people of South Vietnam have the right to determine their own future? We want to
determine our own future why shouldn't they have the right. And I believe we've
been remarkably successful Who would have thought two years ago that South
Vietnam would soon be able to stand on its own feet. To be able to protect itself.
To be able to give their citizens the right of choice in the same way as ours have
got the right of choice too. But Vietnamisation is being successful, and our own
role is steadily diminishing. We've already withdrawn one battalion. The Americans
are withdrawing their forces quickly too.

Q. Are you impressed by the latest Viet Gong offer?
PM I haven't read I've read it and I haven't been able to give it enough
consideration to be able to be precise about it, to be definitive. I can't do that just
Q. Seems to be impressing the American Government, if we can believe the
reports we're getting. They seem to be accepting the Viet Gong as being at last
realistic, and perhaps genuine, in saying that they will allow American troops to be
handed over, prisoners of war that is, providing American troops withdraw in
other words the whole thing simultaneously. Now this seems to be impressing
President Nixon...
PM Well I have to go this far. I didn't get that impression from the cables
that I've received. But I don't want to be precise because I only received the cable
rather late last night, and you know you can't read them,. and give an immediate
judgment about them. But if we could get to the stage when the North Vietnamese
will say " We will leave the South Vietnamese alone", and we could get assurances
that there would be freedom for both the North and for the South, well then of course
we'd want to get out as quickly as we could and we'd want to give aid and assistance
programmes to the South Vietnamese so that they could build up their standards
of living, so that they could give their own people the opportunity to have the kind
of life that we'd want for them.
Q. I wonder whether you've been in touch with the United States recently about
further withdrawals. That there's a chance that more of our troops will be
coming home soon?
PM I have had, since I've been the Prime Minister, under constant review the
problem of the withdrawal of Australian troops. And the Defence Committee keeps
it under constant review on behalf of the Government. We will, as soon as we've
made up our minds what we're to do, announce it to the Australian people, most
probably in Parliament, because Parliament will be sitting at the time when we'll
make our decision. I've been watching the problem carefully, I've been asking
myself the problem when can we get out of Phuoc Thuy Proviyice, when will the
South Vietnamese there be able to look after themselves?~ Based upon all the facts,
and the implications that are put to me, we'll make up our minds what we're to do.
I want to assure you that of course it's our objective to get out. The problem is
one of timing when we can do it, and above all when we car, give the South
Vietnamese the opportunity to live in peace and in freedom.
Q. Now Labor is saying " We told you so", Mr. Prime Minister, and making
-capital out of recent revelations from America published by American newspapers.
And to some this might be seen as a way of damaging your image at the ne-xt
Federal poll. Could it?
PM Well I don't believe that. Labor will of course jump on a bandwaggon and
say " I told you so". But Labor never thought that South Vietnam could be preserved
as an independent and free coury. They wanted to get out and to let them be
overrun by the North. In other words they were prepared to have a tyrannical
and dictatorial government in North Vietnam dominate the freedom of the people
of South Vietnam. We're not lik-e this. Australians traditionally have fought in

the cause of freedom World Wars I and 11 in the case of Malaysia, in the case
of South Korea and South Vietnam. And now that victory is there and we're giving
the South Vietnamese the opportunity of freedom, surely we just don't want to run
out now run out on them now, and ensure that the North Vietnamese have a better
chance than they should be, given. But this doesn't really matter. The point is
Vietnamisation has been successful, and as soon as we find that the South
Vietnamese can protect Phuoc Thy Province themselves, of course as soon as that
happens, and it won't be too far distant either, as soon as that happens of course
we'll go through our proposals for withdrawal of Australian troops and announce
them to the Australian people.
Q. I'm not sure Prime Minister, whether after having been involved with all
the finer detail of Government and Australia's policy in the whole range of life,
whether you step back every now and again and look at the general picture.
Certainly with regard to the democratic system, the international scene, who we're
going to be friendly with next, or with whom we can be friendly. First the
democratic principle in this country. Are we too cumbersome? Are elections as
we conduct them now, and elected Governments and so on, an anachronism in our
way of life? Isn't there something better we could have?
PM No I don't think so. I happen to be a liberal democrat and I have fought
for liberal democracy ever since I've been in Parliament. This is the greatest
goal one of the greatest goals we can fight for, apart from making certain that
none of our people go short of all the things that are necessary in order to survive,
and to give them the opportunities of a better life too. But I'm sure you'll achieve
your purposes far more easily and quickly under a democratic system of government
than by permitting some element of tyranny to creep in.
Q. But we can't exist as an island. And although we were in Asia a pretty good
example of a liberal democratic system, we know that we've got to deal with
other countries...
PM Yes.
Q. And it seems more and more there's an insistence that our political
system should be aligned with their political system. And if there's a growing
tendency to national socialism in the world, doesn't this put us in a precarious
PM I don't think it does, because I think we'll do ever so much better as a
liberal democracy than we would do with the kind of system that would be forced
on us if Mr. Hawke and people like him, dominate the Labor Party, and compel
us or try and compel us to introduce -the systems of socialism or even of communism.
Q. What's the best thing to fight it then? Is it education, or is it simply a
liberal democratic system ad nauseam almost? Which part of our society can
preserve what we've got now?
PM By keeping a liberal democratic government in power. And it is a
fundamental duty of a liberal democratic government to educate the Australian
people and keep them informed of what they are doing, and why they are doing it.
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And similarlytoo, and you obviously recognise this because of the questions you
asked at the beginning of this discussion you pointed out, or implicit in what you
said to me was the fact that today there is an element that waits tyranny to be
established here, and wants to enforce ft~ will against the wishes at the
Australian people. When you get television of the kind you had here a few days
ago with Mr. Hawke appearing on It,, then that alerts the Australian people of the
dagrsand it ts once they are alerted you can make abnatycertain that they
wor agree to it and they wcm't permit it to be the kind of Government that's
operative in this country.
Q. Are you saying that Mr. Hawke damaged himself from what you saw of
I that Interview we did with him last week, and the Labor cause in this country?
PM I am sure he did. But Ildon't want to comein very much against
Mr. Hawke I'e known him for a long, long time. I was Minister for Labour
for about eight years,, I you know haven't got a very great regard for him, but
I'd rather leave him out of it and draw attention to the Issues In sight and thp
political issues.....
Q. In terms of life and deathMr. Prime Minister,, perhaps of far greater
problems even than Vietnam I mean~ for examplej we see the enormous death
toll on our roads here which makeathe Vietam toll pae into almost Insiginficance.
Is there anything that you have in mind to perhaps do about that nationally?
PM * There are several things that we have done When I was the Treasurer
wihwasn't very long ago, we decided that we would give a very big increase in
the grants for roads to the State Governments to let them have a better road system
In this country. I think the phrase I then coined -an addtuioi~ dhalf
a billion it is a catchy phrase, but catchy phrases are rather good these days
we gave them half a billion In order, over a period of three to five years to be able
to better the roads system of this country and so to reduce the toll. For the rest
of it such as seat belts and control ot the roads and safety measures that can be
taken, these reside within the field of the State Governments.
Q. Would you personally like to see seat belts compulsory all over Australia?
PM I don't mind. I don't thinklIknow enough about itto be able tobe precise.
But If the safety authorities think it is desirable then I believe we should enact the
laws to make them necessary -and rd be one of the first to admit thatif they want
it done it ought to be done.
Q. Prime Minister, time goes by very very quickly. But again in order to
improve the country roads, Vietnam, labour relationships I was trying to fish
in the previous question towards education I was thinking that In our country most
of the-money ough to be spent perhaps on education. And more and more and
more for my children, for your children. Do you agree?
PM You can never spend enough on education. But I think you have to take
a balanced view as to where the money should be spent. Well first of all we must
remove pockets of poverty wherever we can. We must see that we've got a
first class and? an improving health system. We must have increasingly better
education because we've got a wonderful lot ot people with pretty high K~ s native
intelligence of the highest order. And I say this as a man who's travelled the
world and knows the capacity of the Australian in comparison with others.
Arnd of cwre We then-have to make our provtsion for defence. Bu~ t what we always
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have to remember, is that we are not a very big country, and we have to act
within the limitations of our natural and physical resources and our people. What
we want to do is to ensure thcat we get that happy blending that blending that
means that it's in the best interests of the Australian people as a whole. And we
will increasingly give a greater advance, a greater amount of money for education.
I think you know that only a few years ago we did give the States enormously
increased advances what they call general revenue grants. And out of that we
hope they'll be able to develop a better education system.
Q. If we had a federal election any time between now and the arrival say of
the Springbok cricket team.-do you believe that you could win on one simple
platform law and order who's running this country myself the Prime Minister
and his Government or the ACTU lead by Bob Hawke?
PM It' my own belief tha: if we had an election today we would win at least
two seats in Western Aust:--' Uia, and we would win seats in very nearly every other
State as wellwnnn at Least three in New South Wales. So it does show that
the Australian people are interested in the problem of public order, they are
interested in ensuring that a truly democratic system is protected and they want
the right of freedom of choic~ e within the law themselves. In other words we're a
pretty responsible and decent community and we don't want thelarrikin few the
demagogue or the brash we don't want them to be telling us what we're to do.
Q. And this suggests that you should have an election quick and lively.
Q. Why not today?
PM Well, you know you can't have elections in a matter of days. I once, if
I could now make a simple confession to you, did contemplate one shortly after
I became the Prime Minister. I felt, well, this was the day. But we weren't very
well organised, and there were other views, that felt it was too soon after
becoming the Prime Minister, too precipitate, and of course I thought about it, but
never got to the stage where a decision had to be made. But if I had I know what
the consequences would have been. It would have been a very, very unhappy day
for the Labor Party, and an extremely unhappy day for the socialist left, and for
those who Mr. Hawke told what he should do during the course of the last few
Q. Mr. Prime Minister, thank you.
PM Thank you too.

Transcript 2441