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Tuesday, 22 May 1973
Page: 2434


Mr PEACOCK (Kooyong) - These Bills are most important pieces of legislation. Without any false modesty may I say that, as with so many recent matters relating to Papua New Guinea's movement to self-government, these Bill formalise in the main decisions reached during my period as Minister for External Territories. It could hardly be expected therefore that the Opposition would oppose the legislation. Indeed, so far as the former Government was concerned, both Liberal and Country parties in Cabinet accepted the matters contained in these Bills with the exception of the border agreement between Indonesia and Australia. But there the guidelines had been set; in fact, we had been hopeful of bringing that matter to fruition but we were unable to do so.

What is a more important reason for our support is that there was acknowledgment by the Australian Government of the importance of the need for Papua New Guinea to have the transfer of this responsibility made as soon as possible. During 1972 the then Australian Government and the Papua New Guinea Government decided jointly to transfer responsibility. Inter alia, the decisions on the matters before us covered, firstly, the transfer of the responsibility for the Papua New Guinea Public Service and the Public Service aspects of statutory authorities from the Minister for External Territories to local executive authority by August 1973; secondly, the implementation of the recommendations by Mr Moxon Simpson on arrangements appropriate for the employment security of overseas officers in the Papua New Guinea Public Service; and, thirdly, the transfer of the AuditorGeneral's function in respect of Papua New Guinea to a Papua New Guinea AuditorGeneral.

In the short time to which I have agreed to confine my remarks I want to speak particularly about the Simpson report. The problem of employment security for overseas officers was long drawn out, to say the least. At some stages it appeared to be impossible to resolve. Last year, when Cabinet endorsed my suggestion that Mr Simpson should be appointed to conduct a full scale, independent inquiry into both the employment security of overseas officers and the provision of future staff by Australia, I suspect - indeed, I was told - that few people other than the officers in the Department of External Territories and myself believed that Mr Simpson would be successful in recommending acceptable and appropriate solutions. However, Mr Simpson handled the matter thoroughly, expeditiously and perceptively. His report was endorsed by all concerned and speaks volumes for the outstanding service that he rendered to both governments. I commend to honourable members the reading of the copies of the report which the Minister for External Territories (Mr Morrison) has made available. They will see in the earlier part of the report the matters with which Mr Simpson had to wrestle and the essential criteria that he adopted.

In clause 31 of his report at page 20 he says:

In my recommendations I have tried to balance equitably the following needs:

(a)   for Papua New Guinea to be able to retain a solid core of experienced overseas permanent and contract officers until independence, and thereafter;

(b)   for Papua New Guinea to be able to dispense on just terms with the services of overseas officers when they are no longer needed because of localisation, constitutional development or other reasons;

(c)   to provide overeas officers with just compensation for any loss of career or premature termination of services as a result of Papua New Guinea's rapid progress towards selfgovernment and independence;

(d)   to provide overseas officers, both permanent and contract, with clear information on which to plan their future and, in particular, to assure them by appropriate Commonwealth legislation that the financial inducements to them to continue to serve in Papua New Guinea will in fact be met; and

(e)   to consider the ability of Papua New Guinea to meet the financial liabilities under the employment security arrangements which I consider should be made as a result of my inquiry.

In the whole process of the transfer of legislation and administrative functions to Papua New Guinea, probably no single matter occupied quite as much time as this. Its importance has not been lost on the present Govern ment, which has accepted the decisions we reached last year.

In endeavouring to alleviate the difficulties and uncertainties faced by the expatriate officers in Papua New Guinea, it was necessary for Mr Simpson to balance a number of needs, which I have just quoted. He did this admirably. The principal change that he proposed is the separation of the permanent and overseas contract officers from the Papua New Guinea Public Service, deeming them to be employees of the Australian Government for as long as their services are required in Papua New Guinea. Thus their terms and conditions of service, superannuation and retirement benefits and employment security arrangements will be covered by Australian legislation. Many of Mr Simpson's proposals flowed from that basic change and are included in the legislation that has been presented to the House. Naturally, the cost of these proposals is high, but it must be borne in mind that much of the expense is involved in contingent liabilities which the Australian Government would have had to meet in any case - that is, for the previously existing retirement benefits, fares and removal expenses and payments for pro rata leave. As I recall, Mr Simpson's own words in this connection were: "The whole exercise amounts to paying out the present value of an already existing future liability'. Fortunately, Cabinet accepted the advice that Mr Simpson gave in that regard.

I have indicated how valuable Mr Moxom Simpson's report was to me as Minister. I also wish to record the dedicated and seemingly endless work so tirelessly carried out on a project of this enormity by the officers of the Department of External Territories. With selfgovernment formally occurring on 1 December 1973, or at least as soon as possible thereafter, and with the undertaking to transfer the Public Service in August, it is essential that this legislation, so thoroughly reviewed before today, be passed without delay. If Mr Simpson's report had not been supported by the previous Government and endorsed by the present Government, I am certain that Papua New Guinea would have been totally unable to deal with emergency situations such as last year's famine or with the extensive program for selfgovernment and independence. I know that at the time we received the report both the Chief Minister and the Administrator shared this view with me.

The legislation dealing with overseas officers represents a more than fair response to an independent inquiry and a report which was both comprehensive and sound. It has gone a long way towards restoring confidence and morale among overseas officers. Whilst the Papua New Guinea Government's policy is and must be to localise these officers as rapidly as possible, the legislation allows and encourages such officers to continue serving for as long as their services are needed by Papua New Guinea. Australia, as well as Papua New Guinea, owes these officers a great debt. This legislation provides for them to continue in the full knowledge that their conditions and benefits are assured. It is the very least that we could do. As I said, it is a fair response to the very real difficulties faced by expatriate officers.

In regard to the transfer of audit functions to the Papua New Guinea Auditor-General to be appointed, I have nothing further to say other than that the previous Government had agreed to this transfer. Also, the border agreement commenced some years ago with the markers being laid. I think the Minister said that it was in 1966-67. It is symptomatic of the friendly ties between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea which brought about a successful agreement earlier this year. Finally, I want to refer to the movement in Papua New Guinea to self-government and independence. I have spoken frequently yet briefly on the sensitivity of this movement. Honourable members know the feeling I have about the transitional stage which Papua New Guinea has been reaching. I recognise, as I have said in this Parliament before, that there will be strains and stresses, but I hope that they will be kept to a minimum.

I have also mentioned in the House before the matter of the Papua New Guinea national airline agreement. Having criticised the Government for the manner in which this matter was handled, I am glad to say that the Government reassessed the situation and reappraised its own duty and the fact that it had not executed that duty properly. I commend the Ministers for the agreement that was reached at the weekend on the future airline for Papua New Guinea. Communications are an important element in the development of Papua New Guinea. Quite apart from that, the development of an airline is important to any emerging country and we should have met the requests of Papua New Guinea earlier than we did and adopted a different manner in our approach to negotiations. At any event, a change in attitude occurred last weekend on the part of the Minister for Transport and Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Charles Jones). I commend the Minister and particularly the Minister for External Territories on reaching a successful conclusion to that agreement. We support the Bills.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bills together read a second time.







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