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Thursday, 26 November 1936


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) [8.46]. - Several honorable senators having inquired as to what is being done in connexion with the reorganization of the Department of External Affairs, I may state that during the past financial year the status of the department has been altered. Though it has had a separate existence since 1921, it wa3 until November, 1935, attached to the Prime Minister's Department, the secretary of which also bore the title of Secretary of the Department of External Affairs. The officer directly in charge of External Affairs was an assistant secretary. During recent years the increased status of the dominions has had the effect of bringing Australia as a separate entity into direct relationship with many foreign countries. For the past three years Australia has, in addition, been a member of the Council of the League of Nations. It must, accordingly? ^ many matters which are of direct concern to it, act independently of Great Britain, and is at present a party to nearly 800 treaties with foreign countries and to 130 multi-lateral conventions. Australia is frequently called upon to negotiate and conclude agreements direct with foreign countries. The Commonwealth Government has constantly to make independent decisions in. the sphere of foreign affairs, and in the last two years the fact has become increasingly evident that, if Australia is to co-operate efficiently with other nations in the international sphere, and is to be enabled satisfactorily to safeguard its interests in, and relations with, foreign countries effective machinery must be in existence for the purpose. Australia, too, has developed so many direct and close contacts with foreign countries that it is highly desirable that these should not be lost, but rather maintained and strengthened. The first step forward with regard to external affairs was the separation of the department from the Prime Minister's Department, and the creation of the office of full secretary instead of assistant secretary. The reorganization of the department was then proceeded with. It was divided into two sections, a the Political Section, and b the International Co-operation Section.

The Political Section deals with questions of foreign policy, inter-Empire relations, the collection, collation, and dissemination of information concerning other countries, and prepares summaries for the information of Ministers and Parliament. This section is. also responsible for the compilation and issue of a fortnightly publication in which international matters of interest to Australia are discussed. This publication, known as Current Notes, was originally intended for the use of members of Parliament only, but so many requests have been received from schools, universities, newspapers, business houses, trades unions, and societies of various kinds, all over the Commonwealth, that its circulation, has risen rapidly since it started in April, and has now reached just under 900. At first it was wholly set up in the department, *but its increasing circulation made this impossible, and it is now issued by the Government Printer.

A branch of the Political Section is inLondon, where the Officer-in-Charge acts as a liaison between the department and the Foreign and Dominions Offices, and is in close co-operation with the High Commissioner.

The International Co-operation .Section deals with the League of Nations, the International Labour Office, the Permanent Court of International Justice, treaties and other international agreements, consular representation in Australia, constitutional questions relating to external affairs, and Australia's interest in the New Hebrides and the Antarctic.

A new activity which is absorbing the close attention of both sections is the compilation of a departmental annual report, which will appear for the first time early in the new year. In this publication it is proposed' to include a survey of international affairs in the year 1936 with particular reference to Australian activities, together with a full account of the part played by Australia in all branches of the work of the League of Nations. A brief review of the re-organization of the department will be included, together with a chapter from the London office, and a short report from the Commonwealth's officer in the New Hebrides. There will be a section contributed by the Department of Commerce on the Australian Trade Commissioner Service, and one written by the Department of Trade and Customs on the general principles underlying the policy of trade treaties. Lists of treaties and conventions during 1936, to which Australia is a party, a list of international conferences held during the year and Australia's representation at them, and a list of consuls in Australia will also be included.

It has also been necessary to make adequate provision for a system of registration, in view of the rapid increase of departmental records. With the extension of the Political Division the information index system, especially, has increased in volume and importance.

As an illustration of the increase of the work of the department, the following figures of the despatches from the London office on current foreign affairs may be cited : -

 

It should also be noted that the department is the channel of communication with the Australian Trade Commissioners abroad for all matters other than those concerning trade and commerce.

At present the only Australian representation abroad of a diplomatic character is in London, but the Government is considering the extension of this form of representation in those regions in which Australia is especially interested.

The Government feels that the utmost value to Australia would be obtained by the extension_ of the system of liaison officers of the External Affairs Depart - ment by attachment of such officers to British Embassies. The Australian system of liaison works extremely well, and the Commonwealth Government is thereby kept fully informed of the foreign despatches, view3, and ideas of the Foreign and Dominions Offices in the realms of international and Imperial affairs. In this respect, Australia is at least as well served as the other dominions are by their system of appointment of Ministers, and at far less cost.

The maintenance of the closest and most friendly relationships in the Pacific region must continue to be one of our basic policies, and in this respect Australia, during the last few years, has made material contributions.

It is felt that the appointment of officers to centres of particular importance to Australia would give continuity to this policy, facilitate the provision by the Commonwealth Government of trained and experienced officers in international affairs, and lay the foundation for any future representation of a higher status which the Government of the day may deem necessary. No definite decision on this subject, however, has yet been reached by the Government, but provision for the contingency has been made on the Estimates.







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