From the Archives, 1966: Australia triples Vietnam forces

Australian troops make their way back to Bien Hoa Airbase in Vietnam.Credit:Stuart MacGladrie

Cheers, jeers for PM

Mr. Holt said the two infantry units — the 5th and 6th Battalions — which will replace the 1st Battalion, which is to return to Australia in June, after a year in Vietnam.

Mr. Holt said the 5th and 6th Battalions and all other army units deployed overseas in future would contain a proportion of National Servicemen.

The normal tour of duty in Vietnam for members of the taskforce would be 12 months.

To maintain the increased commitment in Vietnam, the Government had decided to continue the National Service intake at 8400 a year.

Government members cheered and Labor MPs jeered when Mr. Holt announced the decision to send more servicemen to Vietnam.

Mr. Pollard (Lab., Vic.) shouted repeatedly “Will they be conscripts ?”

When Mr. Holt said he was sure that members of Parliament would appreciate the necessity for the Government’s decisions, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Colwell) interjected, “We don’t.”

Labor members continued to protest as Mr. Holt said: “Australia cannot stand aside from the struggle to resist the aggressive thrust of Communism in Asia and to ensure conditions in which stability can be achieved. Our own national security demands this course.”

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Departing from the text of his prepared statement, the Prime Minister leaned across the table of the House and demanded: “Do honourable gentlemen opposite deny that ?”

When Opposition members shouted “Yes,” Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes (Lib., Vic.) retorted: “Peking puppets.”

Mr. Holt said that Australia could not be isolationist or neutralist. “We cannot leave it solely to our allies—and their National Servicemen —to defend in this region the rights of countries to their independence and the peaceful pursuit of their national way of life,” said Mr. Holt.

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