Australia's Involvement in the Vietnam War, the Political Dimension Part 1 © Brian Ross, 1995
This is the second post promised analysing why Australia entered the Vietnam War. American readers should be warned that because it looks primarily at the domestic political scene in Australia at the time, it does as a consequence refer to characters and events which most of you will not be aware of. However, I have included a short preface, attempting to identify most of the major players and the themes which ran behind the scenes in Australian society.
There were, during the 1950's and 1960's three main political parties in Australia. They were: The Australian Labor Party (ALP). A mildly left-of-centre, socialist party, the ALP was conceived, like its British and New Zealand counterparts to represent the rights of the workers against those of the employers. It held power during the years 1941-1949, being defeated after a series of disastrous Communist led coal strikes which had crippled the economy and because of fears within the electorate that its plan to nationalise the banks in 1949 meant that it was moving too far to the left. The Liberal Party. A mildly, right-of-centre, conservative party, the Liberals (a misnaming if ever there was one in my opinion), were created out of the remains of the United Australia Party, which had dissolved as a consequence of losing government in 1941 as the result of a no-confidence motion in the then Prime Minister, R.G. Menzies. Menzies had then been re-elected in 1949 after skillfully making use of the electorate's fears of Communism. This "kicking the Communist can" as it became known was an electoral tactic which the Liberals used time and time again successfully as a means of keeping the ALP in Opposition. The Country Party. A party which was and still is basically a mix of elements of both left and right and designed to represent the interests of the country dwellers and farmers of Australia. It held government in coalition with the Liberals during the period under examination and for a short period (second shortest on record) its leader, John McEwin was the PM after the accidental death by drowning of the Liberal PM in 1967.
Australia has long suffered from a sense of unease about its position as the only European settled country in Asia. Australian society has long (and still does, unfortunately amongst some sections) harboured a fear of the "yellow hordes" waiting to "descend upon Australia" and steal it away from the privileged few white colonialists living here. While this fear could perhaps be best described as being a form of cultural paranoia (well, considering that until the end of WWII and the start of Government sponsored migration the population had stabilised at around the 7 million mark you can understand why most Australians feared the possible invasion by potential "hordes"). This fear had resulted in the formulation of one of the most restrictive immigration policies the world has seen entitled "The White Australia Policy" which was designed to prevent Asian migration and only allow in whites which were deemed by the government of the day as being suitable (thankfully that has been consigned to the dustbin of history). This fear seemed to have been proven well founded when the Japanese advanced to within comparative spitting distance of the continent in 1942. Because of its large size and small population Australia had long relied upon what have become known as, and in some circles derided as, "great and powerful friends" to provide for its defence. First Great Britian and then America, successive Australian governments have seen the ability of the country to integrate itself into an alliance system where defence is collectively shared and Australian defence spending kept under tight control allowing the civilian population to share unrivalled prosperity (Australia before WWI had the highest standard of living per...
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