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Friday, 30 July 1920

Mr McWILLIAMS (Franklin) . - I think the time has come when there should be a thorough overhaul of the position in connexion with the office of High Commissioner. Matters are unsatisfactory to-day, not only to the gentleman holding that office, but to the Government and to the people of Australia. We are getting virtually no return for the money laid out. There are continual complaints in Australia that the High Commissioner is doing practically nothing. I understand that Mr. Fisher's view is that, whenever there is anything important to be done, a Commonwealth Minister is sent to London to do it. I do not wish to utter a threat, but merely to intimate to the Government that, unless a complete statement is made before or on the introduction of the Budget, I will test the feeling of the House upon the question whether or not the High Commissionership is to be retained as at present. Australia is certainly getting no commensurate return for the money expended in London, and it can scarcely be a matter of the men who have been appointed to the High Commissionership, for both Sir George Reid and Mr. Fisher have been leaders of Australian public opinion, and have occupied with honour the highest office in the Commonwealth, namely, that of Prime Minister. If Mr. Hughes had gone Home as High Commissioner, and Mr. Fisher had remained here as Prime Minister, the latter, no doubt, would have journeyed to London to transact Australia's business, and Mr. Hughes would have been permitted to do nothing.

Mr Watkins - That is very unfair to Mr. Fisher.

Mr McWILLIAMS - It is, and I want it clearly understood that I am not raising the matter in any personal sense. If Mr. Fisher is not competent to carry out the duties of his office the fact should have been made known long ago, and a successor appointed. At any rate, the time is rotten ripe for a change.

Mr Fenton - It is about time we had one Australian representative in London instead of a High Commissioner and six Agents- General.

Mr McWILLIAMS - It is.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - The only answer necessary at the moment is that Australia sends very many less representatives to London than almost any other Dominion.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Then, all I can say is that the various Dominions must despatch a power of men to London.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Canadian Ministers are continually coming and going.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Canada is very foolish to allow such a state of affairs to continue.

Mr Richard Foster - And has Canada its various State Agents-General?


Mr McWILLIAMS - I am utterly dissatisfied with the manner in which the High Commissioner's office is conducted, and I emphasize that I am not making this a personal matter, for when Mr Fisher was in this Parliament I differed with him politically, but always respected him as a man. It is now for honorable members to say whether the High Commissionership shall be continued as at present or not. If the High Commissioner is to be retained in London, let him do the work for which he is highly paid, and let us put an end to this perambulation of Ministers back and forth between Melbourne and London.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I believe that Tasmania has sent as many Ministers to England as the Federation; and more, in fact.

Mr McWILLIAMS - That is certainly not the case.

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