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Tuesday, 22 February 1977
Page: 258

Mr DRUMMOND (FORREST, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) -Has the Prime Minister's attention been drawn to Press comment concerning the appointment of the Honourable Gordon Freeth as Australia's High Commissioner to London? Does the Prime Minister draw a distinction between so-called political appointments to ambassadorial posts and the appointment of Division officers of the Public Service?

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (WANNON, VICTORIA) - The honourable gentleman makes a very real and proper distinction in the basis of his question. Firstly, let me say that the Honourable Gordon Freeth is singularly well chosen for this particular post. He has been not only a Minister of the Crown in a number of portfolios, including Minister for Foreign Affairs, but also he has served with great distinction in Japan as Ambassador. With that record behind him, he is certainly well equipped to handle the task of High Commissioner in London. I would no more object to the appointment of Lance Barnard as Ambassador to Sweden than should any honourable gentleman raise an objection to the appointment of the Honourable Gordon Freeth as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. It should be noted that there is a very real distinction between that kind of appointment and the appointment of a private secretary as permanent head of a department, especially a policy advising department. That is a position which carries with it, under the old rules, permanency in the Public Service. In those circumstances it was possible for somebody to appoint to the Public Service in the highest policy advising areas, people with a deep political and philosophical commitment which would destroy the apolitical nature of the Public Service. As honourable gentlemen would know, the Government has introduced legislation designed to make that impossible in order to preserve the apolitical nature of the Public Service, but at the same time to make it possible for someone outside the Public Service to be properly appointed to a position on a contract basis for a particular period. Under those circumstances a succeeding government would not be bound to continue that person in office. I believe that blends in a system which maintains the apolitical nature of the Public Service but at the same time makes it possible to attract outside expertise to the highest positions in the Public Service, if a particular government so wishes. I think there are some people who want to keep all jobs in the world for themselves. There is a staff association which indicates that there should be a closed shop arrangement in relation to ambassadors and high commissioners, a contention which I will not accept for one moment, especially in relation to the United Kingdom and the United States where there is particular advantage in having somebody with a political background and a close knowledge of the politics and politicians in his own country. The staff association not only wants these positions to be made closed shop arrangements; it apparently also wants secretarial positions to be a closed shop arrangement. I emphasise that this is a Public Service, departmental and Board decision in which I do not think any Minister has been involved.

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