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Tuesday, 16 November 1976

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:

In which overseas Australian posts is the position of (a) Head of Mission and (b) First Secretary not filled.

Mr Peacock - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

Two Head of Mission positions are currently vacant. These are in Beirut and Phnom Penh, where the Australian missions have suspended operations.

The inquiry about First Secretary positions is not susceptible to a simple answer. Staffing practice varies between Consular and Administrative officers of my Department and diplomatic officers (Foreign Affairs officers). The former are posted to established positions at specific posts, but the latter are posted using a pool system which enables the Department to take changing workloads and priorities into account when deciding at what level to staff any particular post. Thus, while I can say accurately and precisely that no Clerk Class 8 or 9 (First Secretary) position overseas is vacant, it is somewhat misleading to say that there is or is not an unfilled Foreign Affairs Officer Class 3 (First Secretary) position at a particular post. However, Departmental records show that as at 10 September 1976 there were a total of seven such positions on my Department's overseas establishment no actually occupied by First Secretaries. These vacancies will be filled, some of them in the next month or two, when officers currently serving in Australia begin overseas postings.

A number of other Government Departments maintain officers overseas and some of these officers also ha ve the rank of First Secretary. My Department's records indicate that none of these positions is currently vacant.

Proficiency in Indigenous Languages of Heads of Mission (Question No. 1348)

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:

In which overseas Australian posts does the Head of Mission not speak the indigenous language?

Mr Peacock - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

1.   There are five internationally accepted levels of proficiency used by the Language Training Agency in my department to rate facility in speaking and reading a foreign language. These levels range from 'Elementary' or survival (S1/R1) to 'Native or Bilingual' (S5/R5) proficiency. For the purposes of this question, Heads of Mission who, according to my department's records, have a proficiency of less than S3/R3 (that is, able to speak the language with sufficient structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations on practical, social and professional topics, and able to read standard newspaper items addressed to the general reader or material in his special field, with moderate use of a dictionary) are counted as not speaking the indigenous language.

2.   Secondly, it is necessary to point out that in a number of countries English is used to varying degrees in official and commercial circles even though there is a major indigenous language; and in a number of others several indigenous languages occur but none predominates and English is the lingua franca. Countries in the latter category and those where English may be regarded as the 'indigenous' language, such as the United States or New Zealand, have been excluded from the survey. The question is therefore applicable to 6 1 posts. At 40 of these the Head of Mission does not speak the indigenous language with the degree of proficiency described above, even though a number of them have some proficiency in the relevant language.

3.   The 40 posts are:

Ankara, Athens, Baghdad, Bangkok, Belgrade, Bonn, Buenos Aires, Cairo, 'Colombo, Copenhagen, *Dacca, Dar Es Salaam, Hanoi, *Hong Kong, "Honiara, Islamabad, Jakarta, Jeddah, 'Kuala Lumpur, "Lae, Lisbon, Madrid, Malta, Manila, Moscow, "Nairobi, Nauru, *New Delhi, Nicosia, "Port Moresby, "Rangoon, Santiago, Seoul, "Singapore, Stockholm, "Suva, Tehran, "Tei Aviv, The Hague, Tokyo.

4.   At those posts marked with an asterisk, English is sufficiently widely used to permit a satisfactory level of communication without S3/R3 proficiency in the indigenous language.

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