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Wednesday, 15 May 1957

Mr TOWNLEY (Denison) (Minister for Immigration) . - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

This bill is designed to amend the existing act in its relation to the appointment of officers in the High Commissioner Service; to provide for matters previously not covered in the act - the engagement of temporary officers; furlough for permanent officers; and the appointment of an Acting High Commissioner - and to provide that the remuneration and allowances of the High Commissioner shall be determined by the Governor-General. I propose to deal with each of these items in the order in which they appear in the bill.

The act at present provides that the High Commissioner shall be paid a salary of £3,500 per annum and expenses not exceeding £2,000 per annum of an official residence. It has been apparent for some time that the salary of the High Commissioner should be raised. No overseas post is of greater importance to Australia than the London post, whether in terms of diplomatic relations or trade or migration, or many other matters. The position of the High Commissioner in London is therefore of the highest order of responsibility. All honorable members are perfectly well aware of this, and therefore a salary which recognizes his responsibility is called for. Under present-day conditions, the existing figure of £3,500 is an inadequate salary for the post. The salary which the Government now has in mind is £5,000. Nothing less should be considered. For one thing, the Deputy High Commissioner, who is a First Division officer of the Commonwealth Public Service, receives a salary of £4,500 per annum. The latter's salary was raised to this figure when the salaries of permanent heads of the Commonwealth Public Service were raised in 1955. It is anomalous that the High Commissioner should receive a salary less than that of the Deputy High Commissioner. No change is contemplated in the £2,000 per annum allowance for the upkeep of an official residence.

Honorable members will appreciate that there is a question whether to continue the present provision for making salary increases by amendment to the act. This matter has been carefully looked at and it has been decided that the act should be amended so that salary and allowances shall be determined by the Governor-General. There are various reasons for this. Firstly, it is an everyday procedure for salaries for offices of this sort to be fixed or amended by the Executive. Secondly, as the salary and allowances of the High Commissioner are considered at the time of the Appropriation Bill it is unnecessary, from Parliament's own point of view, to have to consider a bill to amend an act because a change in salary has become necessary. Thirdly, the heads of diplomatic missions - for example the High Commissioner for Australia in other countries - already have their salaries fixed by the Executive and it is consistent for the salary of the High Commissioners in the United Kingdom to be determined by the Executive. His salary was fixed by Act of Parliament in days when Australia had only one High Commissioner, and that situation has persisted down the years. Fourthly, the trend of legislation is to provide that remuneration shall be determined by the Governor-General. A perusal of the statute-book will establish this beyond doubt - the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority, the Atomic Energy Commission, the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Australian National Airlines Commission - to mention a few.

The amendments proposed by clause 4 of the bill provide for the appointment of permanent officers and the engagement of temporary employees and allow regulations to be made for this purpose and for the fixing of terms and conditions of employment. Section 9 of the present act contains a provision for the High Commissioner to make appointments in accordance with instructions from the Minister. It is preferable that the various formalities connected with the appointment of officers should be provided by regulations rather than by special instructions from the Minister. This conforms with the practice followed in the Commonwealth Public Service. The existing section will therefore be repealed and replaced by a new section 9 containing subsections (1.) and (2.). The control at present exercised by the Minister will still be exercised by him, but by means of regulations which are at present under consideration.

Clause 4 also inserts a new provision in the new section 9 for the preservation of the rights of Commonwealth officers who transfer to the High Commissioner Service. It is normal practice for an officer of the Public Service who is employed under another Commonwealth act to have his Public Service rights preserved. Provision is also made in clause 4 for a new subsection relating to furlough for permanent officers in the High Commissioner Service. Furlough privileges for permanent officers under the High Commissioner Act have been provided in the High Commissioner Regulations based on Commonwealth Public Service conditions of furlough. When the Commonwealth Employees' Furlough Act was introduced in 1944 officers of the Commonwealth Public Service were excepted from its provisions. A similar exception was not made in the case of officers under the High Commissioner Act. The High Commissioner Regulations providing for furlough are consequently no longer operative and have had no force since the enactment of the Commonwealth Employees' Furlough Act in 1944. If furlough privileges under the High Commissioner Regulations were still valid they would be somewhat better than those under the Commonwealth Employees' Furlough Act. It is due to the officers that these privileges should be preserved. This will be achieved by providing in the High Commissioner Act power to make regulations relating to furlough, notwithstanding the Commonwealth Employees' Furlough Act.

Clause 5 inserts new section 9b in the act providing for the appointment of an Acting High Commissioner. The present act makes no such provision, and therefore a person acting as High Commissioner cannot under the act and regulations exercise powers which have been conferred upon the High Commissioner. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Ward) adjourned.

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