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Contemporary Relevance of Curtin's Policies

In the tumultuous political life of John Curtin, there are many themes of contemporary relevance which could be developed in a commemorative lecture of this sort.

I intend to concentrate on issues of defence and external policy which preoccupied Curtin during much of his 40 years of active public life.

It is with regret, however, that I put to one side the wealth of political, social and economic insights revealed in even a quick look at Curtin's life and his wartime speeches and announcements.

A fascinating exercise in social history could be based on one unchronicled aspect of Curtin's wartime administration-his relations with the racing and sporting clubs. This may seem a trivial part of Australia's war effort; it is extremely revealing about facets of Curtin's style and character not always evident in much more important speeches and negotiations.

Throughout the war Curtin harried the racing clubs, forcing them to cut their meetings, to limit their betting activities and divert their staff and resources to the war effort.

These dealings with the clubs are recorded in considerable detail in the official digest of the Curtin Government's speeches and announcements.

The most notable outburst of Curtin's anger recorded in the digest came after he got the race clubs to agree to one raceless Saturday a month. On the first day this policy operated an enterprising promoter staged a series of boxing bouts.

This destroyed Curtin's intention of diverting the sporting fraternity for at least one Saturday in the month to work for the war effort. Curtin's subsequent denunciation must be the most remarkable rebuke ever handed out by a head of Government to a sporting figure.

The wheel of social evolution has gone full circle; today Mr Gorton sends telegrams to Sir Frank Packer on the success of his yacht in the America's Cup.

Curtin's dealings with the sporting clubs bring out in full measure his capacity for wrath and moral indignation. He had no qualms at branding a man who put five £100 notes on a horse at a wartime meeting as the "thoughtless enemy of his country."

However, it reveals also Curtin's gentler qualities, most notably his ironical humour and his magnanimity. He often peppered his war loan exhortations with advice to Back Australia and not the horses of indifferent calibre to be found on local tracks in wartime.

He could also make generous concessions to the racing clubs which cooperated with him and observed the rules he laid down. This side of Curtin's administration reveals something of the ambivalence of his attitude to wartime Australia.

It shows something, also, of his efforts to reconcile contradictory responses within himself.

He could say with pride and without misgivings that the degree of regimentation achieved in Australia during the war was the greatest in the world.

Curtin also felt considerable personal grief that the main brunt of the war effort had fallen on those Australians who had suffered most during the Depression.

These are consistent themes in his wartime speeches.

Even surpassing these expressions is Curtin's response to physical suffering in European countries where the main burdens of the war had fallen.

He refers repeatedly to the destruction of Coventry and Rotterdam; above all he emphasizes the suffering and the heroism of the Russian people. The example of Stalingrad is close to his mind in all his speeches to wartime Australia, whether in praise or blame.

The effort to resolve these contradictory responses must have produced strong emotional tensions in Curtin. This resolution and its practical expression was one of the reasons for his stature as a leader in war.

Curtin directed Australia's war effort for just under four years. He lead the fight against the Japanese from 8 December 1941 until his death on 5 July 1945--a total of 43 months. It is a matter for sombre reflection that this titanic effort which seems so protracted in retrospect has been exceeded in duration by another war-a war directed by Curtin's successors and his puny inferiors, Menzies, Holt and Gorton.

The Vietnam War

Australia has had a major ground force in Vietnam now for five years. Since the initial training teams were committed there has been an Australian commitment in Vietnam for seven years.

Vietnam has been the most enduring and intractable military venture in Australia's history; these are facts which are easily overlooked.

The presence of Australian troops in Malaysia-Singapore has lasted longer, but this has been as much a garrison commitment as a fighting commitment.

Vietnam has exceeded World War I, World War II and the Korean War in the length of Australia's commitment.

It took John Curtin 43 months to achieve a decisive end to the greatest war in Australia's history.

It has taken Menzies, Holt and Gorton seven years to get no positive result other than hundreds of casualties from the most despised and wretched war in Australia's history. This is one way of assessing the Vietnam war in the perspective of Curtin's achievement.

Another way would be to look at the suffering of the Vietnamese people and see if it can be gauged in terms Curtin understood, in the terms of Rotterdam and Stalingrad.

A few weeks ago in the Federal Parliament, the Minister for Defence, Mr Malcolm Fraser, revealed that 37 civilians had been killed in road accidents by Australian armed forces in Vietnam. Most of these would have been in Phuoc Thuy province where the Australian Task Force has been stationed for four years.

Phuoc Thuy is a relatively quiet sector of the war which has been spared the major military operations of the north and central provinces and the Mekong delta. Yet 37 people have been killed in road accidents over four years; there must have been at least as many again killed in other war-caused accidents.

Add the deaths in battle, make an upward adjustment for the relative tranquillity of Phuoc Thuy as a war zone. Multiply by 40, the total number of provinces in South Vietnam. Add the deaths from the bombing of North Vietnam which eclipsed in sheer volume of metal and fuel rained from the air all the bombing of World War II. In this way you can build a crude sort of equation for the suffering inflicted on the civilian population of Vietnam.

There can be no doubt that the Vietnamese people measure up in full to John Curtin's standards of epic resistance and heroic endurance.

With a Senate election on 21 November it is timely to make some assessment of the present state of the Gorton Government's approach the war.

It is also possible from such an analysis to make some predictions about what the Gorton Government will do in Vietnam in the years before the next House of Representatives election. I would then like to indicate what I think the responses of the Labor Party should be within the context of existing policy.

ALP Policy on Vietnam

The best way of beginning is to look at the policy record of the ALP since the Vietnam commitment was made and relate it to the present political situation.

When the Australian training team was sent to Vietnam in the early 1960s, there was no specific policy on Vietnam in the ALP platform. There was a general policy declaration on the stationing overseas of Australian troops.

This said that Australian troops should not be committed overseas except subject to clear and public treaties. The presence of Australian Regular Army men in Vietnam at this time attracted little attention among the policy-making bodies of the Labor Party, although there was some strong criticism in the Federal Parliament, particularly in 1964.

In 1964 the Australian commitment was increased by an RAAF Caribou flight.

The Federal Executive of the ALP in October that year restated the Federal Conference policy on the presence of Australian troops overseas.

It drafted a resolution deploring the lack of a formal agreement covering the presence of the Australian contingent in Vietnam.

In May 1965, Sir Robert Menzies announced that a battalion of Australian troops would be sent to Vietnam. A week later, Mr Arthur Calwell, then leader of the ALP, spoke in the Federal Parliament on the commitment. His speech was the basis of ALP policy on Vietnam for the next two years.

Mr Calwell analysed the Vietnam War in terms of its historical development.

He condemned Australia's part in the war and urged the intervention of the United Nations to resolve the war and the setting up of a peace-keeping force with possible Australian participation. In a speech which was remarkably prophetic, Mr Calwell pointed out the complete dependence of the Government on America in making the commitment.

This speech contained many other insights which have proved correct; it was a most accurate and perceptive interpretation of the trend of history in Indo China.

In August 1965 the first meeting of the ALP Federal Conference was held since the Vietnam commitment was made. Strangely enough, Vietnam did not attract significant attention at the conference. A resolution was adopted endorsing Mr Calwell's Parliamentary statement as Labor policy and urging United Nations intervention and the setting up of a broadly-based Government in Vietnam.

It seems remarkable in retrospect that American intervention in the Dominican Republic was a much more controversial issue at this conference, producing a much more sharply-worded resolution than anything on Vietnam.

This policy declaration by the Conference was the last official pronouncement on Vietnam before the Federal elections of November 1966.

In March 1966 the expansion of the commitment into an Australian Task Force with national servicemen was announced by Mr Holt.

Mr Calwell said then that the next Federal Election would be fought on Vietnam, and it was. Mr Calwell fought the election on the basis of immediate withdrawal from Vietnam; this policy was electorally unpopular and the ALP was severely defeated.

The next Federal Conference in July 1967 adopted a more flexible and pragmatic response to Vietnam.

The policy adopted was still vehemently critical of the war and Australia's commitment to it. But it sought to use the Australian commitment in a positive way to divert the course of the war towards a negotiated political settlement.

It made the Australian presence in Vietnam dependent on three conditions:

The declaration concluded and I quote: "Should our allies fail to take this action, the Australian Government would then consider that it had no alternative other than to withdraw our armed forces."

This declaration was criticised at the time as imposing impossible conditions on the Americans. Yet in the space of two years all of these alleged impossible conditions had been accepted by America. The bombing of North Vietnam ceased, the NLF joined the Conference table in Paris, America scaled down its participation in the war to a stage where it began troop preparations.

This completely vindicated the Labor Party's efforts to channel the war into courses of sanity and humanity.

Because of the fulfilment of the previous policy resolution and the start of American withdrawal, the 1969 ALP Conference adopted a much tougher policy with an eye to the House of Representatives elections in October.

The key policy statement was contained in the last paragraph that on the Labor Party becoming the Government it would take immediate action to notify the US Government that all Australian Armed Forces would be withdrawn from Vietnam.

As interpreted by Mr Whitlam, the election policy of the party was to withdraw the task force from Vietnam by not replacing the individual battalions as their term of service expired. This would fulfil the terms of withdrawal as defined by the Federal Conference. Furthermore, it would allow the battalions to be taken out quickly but safely. It would also allow a reasonable transition period for substitute forces to take over.

A deadline for the withdrawal of all military forces was set at 30 June this year.

This sensible solution to a difficult problem was distorted and misinterpreted by our opponents on the grounds that it would endanger the task force, that it had to be a case of one out, all out. Once the elections were over, and with the Government just back in power, it promptly scrapped the one out, all out line and adopted the phasing out policy of the Labor Party.

It moved to a policy of withdrawal by non-replacement, announcing that the eighth battalion would be pulled out in November and not replaced.

This raises the question of what policies the Government and the ALP will put forward at the Senate elections.

The Labor policy put forward at the 1969 elections has been substantially pre-empted by the Government. In any case it could not be put to the people in a Senate election which won't change the Government.

There will be another Federal Conference of the Labor Party at Easter next year. This will restate the Vietnam policy in terms of development in Vietnam over the next few months.

What the Labor Party can do at these Senate elections is to hammer its objections to the war and say that any remaining troops will be withdrawn from Vietnam as swiftly as possible after Labor wins office.

It is impossible to guess how many troops would be involved when this happens.

On the other side the Gorton Government has adopted the Labor tactic of pulling out a battalion and not replacing it. This means it will have the eighth battalion back in Australia and marching through the streets of capital cities before the Senate elections.

It would be a remarkable political exercise for a Government that won elections on a commitment to Vietnam to exploit the beginning of the end of the commitment for political purposes. However, no form of political manipulation is beyond Mr Gorton and his cronies. The important point is what happens after the Senate election.

Will the Government go and implement the whole of the phase out policy, and not replace the battalions as their term expires?

This is the crucial point of future Vietnam policy.

Alternatively, will it make replacements and leave two battalions in Vietnam indefinitely?

This last course would be the logical one if the Government genuinely adhered to the process of Vietnamization the latest cycle into which the Vietnam War has passed. The basis of this policy is claimed to be the disengagement from Vietnam by America and its allies as the burden of the war is progressively transferred to the Saigon regime. It assumes that the South Vietnamese Government and Army will become increasingly capable of containing and countering North Vietnam and the Vietcong.


Vietnamization has been seized on enthusiastically as a cure-all by the Australian Government. Theoretically as Vietnamization progresses it will be possible to bring home more and more Australian troops.

Even on the Government's peculiar logic, it is difficult to justify this concept in relation to the Government's plans for withdrawal. Mr Gorton has said the eighth battalion is to come out for two reasons, the progress of Vietnamization, and the progress of American troop withdrawals.

It was said earlier in the year that if the capability of South Vietnamese troops progressed in a satisfactory way, the eighth battalion could be withdrawn before its year of duty expired. This did not happen; the battalion will serve out its 12 months in Vietnam to the day.

There is little evidence in the casualty figures of any substantial progress in Vietnamization; this year has been a particularly bloody one for the Australian Task Force with several mine disasters and accidental deaths.

Even on the Government's terms there must be very grave doubts about the success of Vietnamization in the Task Force area. This raises many implications about what the battalions remaining in Vietnam can be expected to achieve balanced against the potential hazards.

As l said earlier, the Government could carry through a complete phased withdrawal following the withdrawal of the eighth battalion in November and following the Senate elections in November.

This would mean that the two remaining battalions due to go home in the first four months of 1971 would be withdrawn and not replaced. If this happened the logistics support for the task force at Vung Tau would be swiftly dismantled and sent home. This would leave only some specialist troops from the Army; of course there would still be air force units and a guided missile destroyer operating off the coast.

How plausible is this course of action?

There is no doubt the Government is giving it serious consideration at the moment; on present indications it seems likely it will do this. In effect, there is a strong possibility that the Government will use Labor's phase-out policy deferred by exactly one year to get out of Vietnam.

There are convincing reasons for the Government to make this abrupt change in policy. It would remove the embarrassment of having National Servicemen in Vietnam at a time when more and more conscientious objectors-were going to jail.

Further, it would allow the Government to slide around Vietnam as an issue at the Senate elections; it could mouth the same old formulas while playing down the issue so an abrupt change of policy did not jar too much when it came.

It would also have the advantage for the Government of getting the bulk of Australian troops out some 18 months before the next House of Representatives election in 1972.

By leaving only Air, Navy and some specialist Army units the Government could hope to damp down Vietnam as an issue after squeezing the last drop of political capital from it.

The potentially disastrous electoral consequences of high casualty rates and national service in Vietnam would be removed.

Another argument which I think will influence the Government is that its abrupt policy switch this year has antagonised much of its traditional support.

Like Mr Gorton, many traditional Liberal voters were enthusiastic supporters of the Vietnam war; like him they believed that if Australian troops were to be withdrawn, it had to be a case of one out, all out.

Unlike Mr Gorton, they could not adjust to an overnight change of policy which amounted to a phased withdrawal from Vietnam. These Liberal Party supporters see real dangers to Australian troops in this policy; they recognise also that it is a variation of Labor Party policy.

For this reason large numbers have become disenchanted with the Government's shift on Vietnam.

The swift liquidation of the task force commitment could appease these voters and stop them drifting from the Government.

Alternative Vietnam Policy

What is the alternative to this swift withdrawal of the Task Force leaving only token commitment in Vietnam?

It would be to replace the two battalions at Nui Dat early next year and perhaps withdraw another battalion next November. This would leave one battalion in Vietnam until 1972, the next election year.

If this is done, the obvious question is what would be the role of a two-battalion task force and ultimately a one-battalion force?

The Government's stock claim has been that only a three battalion task force is viable, with one resting in the base camp and the other two either on active operations or training South Vietnamese units and performing civil aid work.

How can a two-battalion task force perform all these functions without excessive strain?

How could a one battalion force do any of them?

On the Government's own arguments the job would be too much for two battalions.

What then would be the role of a two battalion task force?

The Minister for Defence has said that a Jungle Training School would be established in the base camp area, probably in the lines vacated by the eighth battalion. Would the remnant of the task force be maintained to protect this training school? Would it be confined to a defensive role at the Nui Dat base? Would it be turned over completely to civic action work? Would it continue an aggressive role and what effective South Vietnamese units would be available to support it in such a role?

I ask these questions in an attempt to test the hypotheses deriving from the Government's revised policies in Vietnam.

The only conclusion is that the Government is working to get the Task Force out of Vietnam as quickly as possible-that to leave two battalions or one battalion there is impossible.

Every other possibility is illogical on the basis of previous Government statements.

The whole trend of Government action seems to me to be moving swiftly towards an end to the Task Force commitment, probably by the end of June next year.

It would leave in Vietnam a number of training teams to serve with South Vietnamese units, a cadre to man a Jungle Training School, and some specialist units-perhaps 300 members of the Regular Army in all.

Labor Party Response to Government Policy

What should the Labor Party do to adjust to this likely course of Government policy?

It could not repeat last year's phase-out policy because it has been largely overtaken by events. Further, it would be pointless in a Senate election.

All the Labor Party has to do is restate the policy declaration that on being elected it would immediately notify the US Government that all Australian troops would be withdrawn from Vietnam.

At last year's election the problem was to get the Task force out as quickly and as safely as possible. It is unlikely that this will be a problem at the next Federal election, it should then be possible to work out a program for swift withdrawal of the remaining units.

Some State conferences of the Labor Party have already moved a declaration maintaining the phrase immediate withdrawal. Quite probably, this will be incorporated into the policy declaration adopted by the next Federal Conference.

I see nothing wrong with the adoption of immediate withdrawal as long as it is made clear that it is conducted without risk to Australian troops. It would not have been possible to arrange immediate withdrawal of the Task Force from the middle of an active war zone, such a course would have been foolhardy.

This is why the phased withdrawal of the Task Force was devised; any attempt by any government to carry out an immediate withdrawal in such a situation would have had connotations of a Dunkirk or Crete.

But it should be possible to get small units out pretty quickly; there is even less problem with air units and a destroyer.

With only token forces in Vietnam at the time of the next Federal elections a Labor Government should be able to end the commitment swiftly and decisively, even though its effect in real terms would be largely symbolic with the Task Force already home in Australia.

Conscientious Objection

I said earlier that the National Service Act and the principle of conscientious objection to the Act would be important issues at the Senate elections. This seems inevitable because there are at least 50 cases pending of young men who have sustained their objection to the utmost by refusal to comply with the Act.

It may fairly be assumed that most of these cases are genuine conscientious objectors who have not been able to satisfy the Courts of the nature of their objection.

The Government has refrained from pushing prosecutions in these cases, obviously because it fears political consequences. In 1968 the Act was amended to transfer these objectors from military confinement to civil jails.

Three young men have been jailed for two years under the amended provisions. One was released on compassionate grounds after a year's jail; a young Jehovah's witness was released after serving a substantial part of his sentence, ostensibly on the grounds that the Commonwealth did not want to appear to be persecuting his sect.

In another case where a young man refused to comply or cooperate in any way because of his objection to the Vietnam war, the regulations were changed so his objection could be determined without this compliance.

Although he did not apply for conscientious objection, the change in policy made it possible for a judge to deem him an objector and discharge him from jail.

Another man was jailed in Adelaide last week for two years for defying the Act.

Such sentences will become commonplace in the next few weeks as the backlog of cases deliberately built up by the Government is dealt with by the Courts.

Undoubtedly, the jailing of these men will have some political impact on the Government. This is why it has twisted and turned to find some way out, such as the abortive scheme for alternative service which was put forward and then abandoned after Mr Gorton's back bench tore it to pieces. Because there have been only three cases of this sort in the past two years the Government has been able to find some way of ending the jail sentences before public reaction boils over.

This will not be possible where there are 50 or more committals to prison under the Act.

The Government could use the new National Service Regulations to determine some of these cases on the grounds of conscientious objection. It is impossible to see how it could use the regulations to release all these men from prison without making even more of a mockery of its political motives.

The logical way out of this problem would be to make objection to the Vietnam war a basis for conscientious objection.

There is a basic inconsistency in the Act; it declares that conscientious objectors should be free from national service.

In a few rare cases magistrates have granted exemption on the basis of objection to the Vietnam war. However, a High Court decision has confirmed that the objection has to be to all forms of military service; magistrates hearing the cases have not the discretion to exempt on the basis of objection to a particular war.

The objection might be the most fervently-held possible; applied only to the Vietnam war it just won't wash in our courts ruled by the dictum, all wars or nothing.

The Government has quite purposely produced the situation that with the Vietnam war dragging to an end, the basis of conscientious objection remains as narrowly-based as ever.

Its usual answer to these legal anomalies is to put forward service in the Citizen Military Forces as an alternative to service in Vietnam. This is acceptable to only a few of these objectors; it is not acceptable to most whose consciences will not permit them to undertake military service in any form while the Vietnam war continues.

In these cases the only alternatives are to comply and suppress the demands of conscience, or to resist the Act to the fullest extent and go to jail for two years.

The Labor Party's attitude to the National Service Act is perfectly clear. We believe the Act is completely wrong; it is repugnant to every aspect of Labor philosophy. The legislation was introduced with the sole objective of sustaining a commitment to the Vietnam war. It will be one of the first measures of the next Labor Government to repeal this legislation.

Until this can be done it is the responsibility of the party to make what improvements it can in the Act. For this reason the party in the Federal Parliament will continue to press for a simple amendment which will allow objection to the Vietnam war as a ground for exemption.

Apart from the total repeal of the Act there is no way the Government can escape from the political consequences of these provisions. Not even the elimination of National Servicemen from Vietnam would solve its difficulties.

The basis for objection goes much deeper; there will be always objectors who will defy the law while any Australian support for the prosecution of the war exists.

Unless it moves swiftly to allow objection to Vietnam, the Government will be dogged by this problem for all of its remaining term of office.

This will not prevent the Gorton Government from attempting to squeeze short term electoral capital from defiance to the National Service Act.

Law and Order Campaign

It will be one of the components of the great law and order campaign which Mr Gorton, Mr Snedden and Mr Hughes have been trying to get off the ground for the Senate elections.

Their efforts so far have been a total failure; this will not stop them from peddling the law and order line against the Labor Party.

There has been one example of this in recent weeks in the blatant twisting of Mr Whitlam's sane and logical advice to conscientious objectors who seek his guidance.

More of this can be expected as Mr Gorton reduces law and order to its simplest and most primitive terms to make it what he sees as the key issue of the Senate election.

In the remaining weeks of the Federal Parliament, a so-called Public Order Bill will probably be introduced into the Federal Parliament. Its ostensible purpose will be to protect Commonwealth property and the homes of Members of Parliament, but there can be no doubt its real rationale has been determined by crude propaganda.

The great evil of this sort of use of law and order for electoral purposes is that it debases the essential stature of the law. It presumes that one government and one political party has a monopoly on law and order. It has the added defect of confining law and order--a term which should cover the whole body of our legal system--to the conduct of public dissent in the public domain and on the streets.

Certainly the rights and responsibilities of public protest are an important aspect of the law. But they are only one element of an immensely complex and subtle institution.

When we use the term law and order we are not thinking in simple terms of public conduct on the streets; we are referring to thousands of precepts which govern all aspects of international, commercial and domestic life.

It is a gross reflection on the great legal systems which have directed the course of hundreds of years of history to debase and distort law and order in this way.

The great legal systems which have governed the mainstream of our history are what we should have in our minds when we talk of law and order-not some grubby little list of rules and penalties devised by some transient Premier or Federal Attorney-General to achieve an unworthy political objective.

Our present rulers and framers of public policy seem to have found evidence that toughness against public protest is electorally popular, that in a time of political desperation when every other issue has turned sour this is the only lifeline that can save a discredited regime.

There may be some examples of electoral success flowing from so-called law and order issues.

It seems to me to be a dangerously two-edged weapon.

It should never be forgotten that public protest in the United States destroyed a very powerful American President with the formidable machinery of law enforcement at his command.

I don't think that either President Johnson or Vice-President Humphrey would ever claim that so-called law and order issues were an electoral asset to them. There is also a line of thought that attributes the defeat of Mr Harold Wilson's Government to exploitation of law and order by his opponents.

This would seem difficult to sustain in view of Mr Wilson's decision to postpone a tour by South African cricketers against the bellows of his Tory opponents.

There seems to be very little international evidence to support the view that excesses in dissent and public protest can have a major political backlash.

Furthermore, Australia has not the economic and social background to violence and conflict characteristic of the United States and Ireland.

The agonising social background contained in American reports such as the Kerner Report on racial disorders and the Walker Report on the Chicago clashes during the 1968 Democratic convention are absent from Australian life.

It is erroneous to transfer issues intact from overseas countries with a completely different economic and social background to Australia.

The Kerner Report on racial disorder in the US concluded with the rather despairing words: "We have uncovered no startling truths, no unique insights, no simple solutions".

This cannot be said of Mr Gorton, Mr Tom Hughes and Sir Henry Bolt. They have uncovered the startling truth that public protest is a danger to every government and every citizen. They have made the unique insight that public order issues are popular with the electorate. They have reached the simple solution of the baton, a whiff of tear gas, and savage fines and jail sentences.

This is the sort of caveman logic that is disfiguring the political process and the administration of the law in Australia today. The plain truth is that the expression of dissent in this country has never exceeded tolerable limits. There have been excesses and provocations on both sides but the main dissent has been expressed in a proper way through proper channels.

The Resurgence of Dissent

The resurgence of dissent in this country flowed from two deliberate decisions of the Federal Government-to introduce conscription and to fight in Vietnam.

When the Vietnam commitment ends, one objective of the dissent movement will have been achieved through the proper processes with dignity and restraint.

Conscription will remain as a divisive influence and a legitimate target for dissent.

Until Vietnam and conscription were made into divisive issues by deliberate choice of public policy, large scale expressions of dissent had virtually disappeared in Australia.

An excellent book on Freedom in Australia published six years ago referred to the disappearance of the public procession of protest in this country.

Today processions of protest have been revived as the most important transmitters of dissent.

If public protest in this form has become an embarrassment to the Government it must accept responsibility because of the deliberate policy choices it made.

On specific laws governing public order there is certainly need for clarification and revision. This is what the Commonwealth and State Governments should be doing-looking at the great mass of laws governing public order and putting them into coherent and consistent form.

Public protest is subject to a mass of Commonwealth and State laws as a host of municipal by-laws. There are Police Offences Acts, Traffic Regulations, Local Government Regulations and many other confusing laws and obscure offences. There are dragnet offences which can be used to cover a multitude of behaviour during a public protest.

They give immense latitude to police officers in laying charges which are dealt with summarily by magistrates. It is a complex and difficult exercise to prove a common law charge of rout or unlawful assembly.

It is a very simple matter to obtain a verdict of guilty on a charge of offensive behaviour, often on the word of a single officer.

A precisely defined code of offences against public order common to all States and Territories is urgently needed. It should not be beyond the wit of the Committee of Attorneys-General at its regular meetings to initiate the drafting of a Public Order Code which could be introduced in all States and Territories.

Certainly, Mr Hughes would be better employed in putting his legal skills to an exercise of this kind than complicating public order further by new Commonwealth legislation.

I have sought to have some account of how the Gorton Government is acting under stress in important areas of public policy.

From the standpoint of numbers in the Federal Parliament the Government should have little to worry about. It has a comfortable majority of seven in the House of Representatives. With the aid of its vassal, the Democratic Labour Party, it effectively controls the Senate.

It has the whip hand on the States with a majority of five Liberal and Country Party Premiers to one Labor Premier. In the public service it has all the accumulated power of more than 20 years in office.

Performance of the Gorton Government

With all of these great advantages the present Liberal-Country Party structure just isn't working. Things are falling apart at the centre where Mr Gorton is ducking and weaving desperately to find the winning combinations which will restore his dominance and his prestige.

There is no better measure of the Gorton Government's performance under economic and social stresses than the first Curtin Government.

Curtin said of this first term of office that his Government not only had to fight; it had a Parliament to fight. The Labor Government had to manage a Parliament which no previous Prime Minister had been capable of managing. Menzies and Fadden had failed to manage the Parliament with majorities in both Houses. Curtin had to find ways not only to fight the war but to get his legislation through. In Curtin's own words:

Any one of the regulations which this Government has formulated for the conduct of the war had to be formulated in the sure and certain knowledge that it not only had to be good in itself but had to withstand the possibility of being disallowed before it could be applied.

This is the context in which Curtin governed and governed successfully; in a hostile Parliament and under a grave external threat.

Could Mr Gorton and his colleagues, judged on the record of the past few months, have done this?

We now have a Government that with all the advantages of entrenched power is so maladroit that it cannot conduct even the ordinary day-to-day business of the nation without serious blunders.

It is a Government which is theoretically at war but which uses this war as a political weapon to divide the electorate and glean minor political gains.

Mr J B Chifley when Minister for Postwar Reconstruction during World War II once said that the main functions of reconstruction would be positive; to create conditions in which palliatives would become less and less necessary.

Under successive Liberal-Country Party Governments palliatives have become more and more necessary.

The existing structure of Government has become a patchwork of expediency, of tinkering with the system instead of transforming it, of propping up what is discredited or uneconomic or inefficient.

When the history of the postwar period in Australia is written I believe it will be possible to reduce its course to two basic determinants.

The first is the scheme for postwar reconstruction devised by Curtin and his close associates, principally Chifley and Dedman.

The second is the overthrow and negation of these guidelines by the long sequence of Liberal-Country Party Governments.

In so many areas of policy--defence, health, social welfare, regional development, farm policy--guidelines were set and initial groundwork laid.

Much of this work has been irretrievably spoilt by the inability of the Labor Party to regain office after the defeat of 1949.

It has vanished without trace under Menzies, Holt and Gorton.

Many examples could be given of this failure by Liberal-Country Party Governments whether from philosophical objections or administrative indifference, to capitalise on the initiatives of Curtin and his colleagues.

I refer briefly to one--regional development.

Regional Development

In May 1943 Mr Chifley, who was then Minister for Postwar Reconstruction as well as Treasurer, made an interesting appraisal on the future of regional development. He said the war had given an immense boost to the prospects of planned and sustained regional development of the country districts of Australia.

This was due to the policy of decentralisation of munitions production which had involved spending $422 million in 35 regional areas.

The setting up of munitions factories at strategic points had drawn in the necessary labour power from the local and surrounding towns. This meant that many regional areas were being sustained and, in some cases, even stimulated in time of war.

Mr Chifley went on to make the following pertinent comment:

If this can be achieved under the stress of war, a great deal more can be done by an orderly policy of decentralisation in the postwar period.

This in a nutshell was how the Curtin Government planned for the postwar years; to use the urgencies of war as a lever to assure better social planning in the years of peace ahead.

Curtin was fond of saying that the Labor Party's direction of the war was not dictated by Socialist textbooks; it was being fought on the basis of Australian problems.

This in turn is reflected in the pragmatic planning deriving from the war effort for postwar Australia.

I suppose these solutions were too original, too individual and too dependent on a high level of Commonwealth direction to be carried through by any other than a Labor Government.

In the case of regional development the failure to maintain the policies devised by the Curtin Government is apparent in the great problems of urbanisation which confront every level of Government. If more evidence is needed, there is the testimony of the great regional areas of Australia which are marking time or decaying.

Consensus on Trade Policy

I have cited regional development as a policy area where the initiatives of the Curtin and Chifley Governments were rejected.

There is one area in which a consistent policy thread can be traced through the years of the Labor Governments and the much more protracted sequence of Liberal-Country Party Coalition Governments.

This is trade policy where the patterns for the past 25 years were established in the immediate postwar years by J B Chifley, ,J J Dedman and R T Pollard.

On the whole, Australia's trade policy in the postwar period has been fairly successful.

There are areas of criticism-Liberal-Country Party Governments could be accused of concentrating too much on short-term trade movements. There has also been manipulation of the Department of Trade for narrow political objectives and an accumulation of excessive and often harmful influence on economic policy formulation by the Department.

In the main it would have to be conceded that trade has been one of the few consensus areas in Australian politics in this period and that Australia's trade policy has been conducted with vigour and a degree of compassion towards developing nations.

By its nature trade policy should be pragmatic and independent in character; it should not be doctrinal nor should it be merely an extension of the internal political debate.

The trade policies of Mr McEwen have fitted these criteria to the letter; internal politics has not prevented his Government from selling hundreds of millions of dollars worth of goods to the Peoples' Republic of China in the past ten years. Nor has it drawn the line at sending items which are clearly strategic goods to China.

The official trade figures show that Australia in the last financial year exported 12,543 tons of iron and steel scrap and waste and 14,000 tons of refined zinc to China. Under American regulations this would be regarded as strategic exports; the Australian Government chooses to ignore this and conceal the status of these sales.

This volume of iron and scrap could provide sufficient material for about 300,000 recoilless rifles or alternatively for about 175,00 80-millimetre mortars of the type made in the Peoples' Republic of China and used by the Vietcong. Yet Mr Gorton and Mr McEwen have no pangs in squaring their consciences with this sale of strategic materials.

It is remarkable even allowing for the realities of trade that a Government can reconcile prosecution of a war against the Vietcong and North Vietnamese with the sale of strategic goods which could provide them with arms.

Nor is there any sign that the Gorton Government is conscious of just how dependent it has become on the Chinese trade. The potential value of this trade is even greater if a more realistic policy towards the Peoples' Republic of China can be adopted.

Another defect of Australian trade policy is that export promotion has been stressed to the almost total exclusion of import promotion. Goods have been imported from the United States and Europe which could have been obtained much more cheaply from South East Asia.

This is particularly relevant to the growing markets in North West Australia which are close to South East Asian suppliers.

It would be churlish to say that these countries are completely responsible for promoting their own trade. The Trade Commissioner Service should be extended to provide a service to importers by making them aware of potential suppliers in South East Asia. This would be one way of doing something to redress the serious imbalance of trade between Australia and these countries.

The Importance of the Pacific

The last point I want to make about Australian trade relates directly to the emphasis John Curtin put on the Pacific area in his external policy.

We would not agree now with Curtin's contention that Australia should build itself into a Pacific power and become the Policeman of the Pacific. This was made in a wartime context when many of the Island chains of the Pacific had been occupied by the Japanese to outflank and threaten Australia. But Curtin was perfectly correct in his assessment of the importance of the development of the Pacific to Australia. It was a concept which was put in material form by the initiative of the Chifley Government in setting up the South Pacific Commission.

Australia has been the main supplier of money and technical skills to the Commission in the subsequent 20 years.

While there is fairly general agreement that the future of Australian trade lies in the Pacific Basin area, little has been done to provide institutional backing for this change in direction.

A free trade area has been established at least on paper between Australia and New Zealand.

It has been suggested that this be extended to a Pacific Free Trade Area initially covering Australia, New Zealand and Japan, and possibly extending later to the United States and Canada. An effective organisation of this sort would mean many years of negotiation and preparation.

In the immediate future a more valid approach would be the formation of an inter-governmental organisation on the lines of the Organisation for European Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Such an organisation could include the five advanced Pacific countries with participation by the new island nations now emerging in the Pacific.

This would be a useful way of stimulating Pacific Ocean trade on the model the OECD provided for European cooperation and growth. An Organisation for Pacific Trade and Development could take over and extend much of the work now done by the South Pacific Commission. It would be a practical way of giving effect to John Curtin's repeated wartime prophecies on the importance of the Pacific to Australia's defence and economy.


In this lecture I have tried to indicate some of the themes from John Curtin's life and work which are relevant to the contemporary Labor movement. There are many difficulties in taking the mind back to the years of the last Labor Governments.

The intervening years have been filled with many disappointments and frustrations.

It is a tribute to the resilience of the Labor movement-the movement that John Curtin described as integral with the true welfare of the Australian people-that it is again on the brink of national Government.

I never met John Curtin although my father was his close colleague for many years and subsequently a Minister in the Chifley Government. I am honoured tonight to commemorate the memory of a man whose life's work was described by his deputy, Frank Forde, as lacking only the laurel wreath of victory and the benefaction of peace.

There have been many tributes paid to Curtin.

The most tersely accurate I have been able to find comes from a political opponent, Stanley Melbourne Bruce, who described him as an "extraordinarily receptive and perceptive man".

Perhaps Curtin summarised his own achievement better than any other could in a brief comment towards the end of his life.

He said that he had found the Australian war effort a blueprint and he had given it life.

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