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Tuesday, 29 November 1938

Mr WHITE (Balaclava) .- Mr. Chairman. [Quorum formed.]As Australia House has been mentioned, I rise to make one or two observations in respect of that item which, I hope, may be helpful. Australia House is not the credit, . or the asset, which it should be to Australia. There are immense possibilities for proper publicity at Australia House if it were really organized on a business-like basis, and due regard were given to the matter of trade. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) has mentioned the item " Alterations, Australia House, £4,000." Although I spent some time there when I was abroad recently as a member of the ministerial delegation, I do not know in what part of the building these alterations were made. If this money was expended on alterations to the secretary's office, it was wasted. It could very we'll he spent on renovating the basement, now occupied by a cafe which has no relation to Australia and advertises no Australian products, but, on the contrary, is suggestive of the East End. The building itself, with its marble slabs, resembles a morgue. No indication is given that at this centre Australia awaits, intending migrants. Officials have more or less to be dug out if one wants to find them. I do not criticize the High Commissioner in any sense whatever. His time is fully occupied with such matters as loan conversion operations and work associated with the League of Nations. Nevertheless, despite the criticism which has been voiced for years in this Parliament, Australia House never seems to function as effectively as it should. Despite the example set by other dominions, Australia House always seems to lag behind. I take this opportunity to make the following suggestion to the Government, and I hope that it will be seriously considered, namely, that the Agents-General of the States, whose offices are now dispersed about London like rival shopkeepers, should be induced to establish a common head-quarters at Australia House. At present Tasmania is the only one of the States which has followed this course and it has established a good exhibit there. Ceylon also has established its London head-quarters there. That may be useful from the rental point of view, but we should first of all induce all of the other States to establish their London agencies at Australia House where the Agents-General could act in closer co-operation in order to present a more effective picture, in keeping with the national outlook of this country. The question of rentals should not be an obstacle to the Commonwealth extending an invitation to the various Agents-General to co-operate in this way. Certainly, so small an item as rentals should not be stressed when, within a few minutes, we are obliged to deal with the expenditure of thousands of pounds. We could afford to accommodate them rent free.

Sir Frederick Stewart - Was it not because of the unfavorable location of Australia House that the States refused to establish their head-quarters there?

Mr WHITE - That may be so, but T point out that Tasmania has taken the plunge in this respect. The building is not ideally located, but if all the States established their head-quarters there the London public, and the many people interested in Australia, would know that that was Australia's headquarters, and existing disadvantages in this respect would disappear.

Mr Scholfield - A shipping com- . pany occupies the best window at Australia House.

Mr WHITE - That is so.

Sir Frederick Stewart - We should abolish the Agents-General altogether.

Mr WHITE - I would not go so far as to suggest that, as the AgentsGeneral have definite functions which could not perhaps be performed by the High Commissioner to the complete satisfaction of the various States. I suggest, however, that the AgentsGeneral should be invited to establish their head-quarters at Australia House. They are excellent and earnest men, who are trying to do their best for their respective States. I emphasize that in London we are known not as Victorians or New South Welshmen, but as Australians, and so long as the offices of the various Agents-General are scattered around London, Australia House generally will remain a white elephant. The building itself is a valuable property.

Mr Gregory - It is not much of a building to advertise Australia.

Mr WHITE - No; but it occupies a very important and costly site which could be sold at a great profit. We could, per- haps, establish our head-quarters elsewhere with advantage. I do not, however, suggest such a change, but while our head-quarters are at Australia House why not make it look as though it represented Australia ? We should induce the States to establish their head-quarters there. Let the whole building be made typical of Australia, and let us improve the service there by bringing more Australian public servants into the building. Some of the employees have been engaged at Australia House for as long as 25 years and have never seen Australia. We could with advantage give them a trip to this country with a view to re-organizing the service generally at Australia House, or better, send more of our public servants there for experience. The new secretary to the High Commissioner has only occupied his position for some six months, but since Australia House was established many men have filled that position. Yet our headquarters in London seem still to invite criticism from well-wishers of Australia. I do not refer merely to the criticism from people who seek information there preparatory to coming to Australia, or from Australians who on going overseas wish to feel that a rendezvous is available to them at Australia House. Major Fuhrraan, who has just returned here from Australia House, is one of the most efficient public servants this country has ever had, as any one who has visited London and has sought his assistance knows. He has now been transferred to Canberra, and, I suggest, the Government should take advantage of his presence here with a view to re-organizing the service at Australia House. It might also bear this point in mind when the High Commissioner returns here on leave in the near future. Thus it will have an excellent opportunity to enlist the advice of the High Commissioner and an officer of experience with a view to re-organizing the service there so that our head-quarters in London will not continue, as it has for years, to be a. blot onthe escutcheon of this country. Rather should we determine to make that service more attractive, and so enable Australia House to shed some lustre on Australia.

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