Arthur Calwell, the ALP Leader of the Opposition, announced the ALP’s opposition to the commitment of troops to South Vietnam in a speech to the House of Representatives on May 4, 1965.
Don Watson, speech writer for prime minister Paul Keating, described Calwell’s speech in these words:
“Among Australian speeches, Arthur Calwell’s 1965 speech in which he declared Labor’s opposition to the war in Vietnam stands out. The speech, when I last read it, seemed to have something of the sinewy intelligence and courage that FDR’s speech had. It is not eloquent for the sake of eloquence, but in proportion to the argument and the conviction that underlies it. Graham Freudenberg built it on a proposition, not a political convenience; that is why it is free of both cliche and condescension and the phrases still ring long after we have ceased to care about the subject. Speeches like this are rarely written nowadays because the political climate does not allow of much intellectual effort or, in general, politicians of much character. Perhaps they should bear in mind that while Labor lost the election that year it did help them grow a spine and eventually they won because of it.”
Speech by Arthur Calwell, Leader of the Opposition, to the House of Representatives.
Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) (Leader of the Opposition) – The Government’s decision to send the First Battalion of the Australian Regular Army to Vietnam is, without question, one of the most significant events in the history of this Commonwealth. Why I believe this will be explained in the course of my speech. Therefore, it is a matter for regret that the Prime Minister’s announcement was made in the atmosphere that prevailed around the precincts of this Parliament last Thursday. When one recalls that even two hours before the Prime Minister rose to make his statement it was being said on his behalf that there was no certainty that any statement would be made at all, it can hardly be said that the Government’s handling of the matter was designed to inspire confidence or trust.