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Thursday, 22 November 1973
Page: 2064

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - This is a Bill to which the Opposition offers no objection. The Opposition acknowledges that the Bill is a necessary consequence of procedural steps which were consummated during the lifetime of the previous Government. Those steps, of course, had long been a matter of suggestion and contemplation and they came into force at the end of last year. They were that the High Commissioner's Office in Great Britain should cease to be attached to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet- thereby maintaining the somewhat anomalous relationship which had survived since the time the High Commissioner was appointed- and instead become part of the general representation of Australia overseas under the guidance and control of the Department of Foreign Affairs. I have spoken to the former Prime Minister, who assures me that the arrangements which he made last year would have necessitated the carrying of some legislation of this character this year. He stated that there were particular arrangements which were able to be made and which provided that the High Commissioner would have access possibly of a more favoured or more privileged kind than might apply to Australian ambassadors in other countries in respect of the relationship which they have with heads of government of the countries to which they are accredited. I have not any doubt that those arrangements will prove useful in the working out of our relationship with the United Kingdom.

Having indicated that the Opposition agrees with the Bill- it is a very short Bill which repeals the various High Commissioner Acts which are still on the statute book and preserves certain rights of officers who may be attached to the High Commission in London- let me say that the Bill marks the end of a quite historic era because, as the second reading speech indicates, the High Commission was the first of Australia's overseas representations. Now we have an extensive overseas representation and the High Commission becomes part of that general pattern. I do not think the occasion should go without these matters being mentioned. I have looked through the report of the debate in the Parliament on the occasion when the High Commissioner Bill was first passed in 1 909. 1 am quite sure that the debate on the Bill that is now before us will occupy nowhere near the amount of space Hansard that the debate on the Bill in 1909 occupied. The report of that debate runs for many pages. It is interesting to note that the real issue under discussion at that time was whether the High Commissioner could possibly incorporate into his role the functions of the various State AgentsGeneral. The hope was expressed that that ultimately might be achieved. But it has not been achieved and today we still have the various State Agents-General existing in London together with the High Commissioner representing the Australian Government. I have no doubt that the problems which were then expressed are problems which today would have expression given to them and which would continue the dichotomy we currently see.

It is also interesting to note that the High Commissioner's Office, according to the 1 972-73 Estimates, cost the Australian taxpayer approximately $7m. Possibly Senator Willesee will permit me the generosity of expression to say that, having regard to the way expenses have gone up this year, the cost is probably running close to $ 10m for the current year. Anyhow, it is in the region of $7m and upwards. It is interesting to contrast this with the position as it was in 1 909. Mr Groom, during his second reading speech in 1909, was asked what the High Commissioner's Office in London was, and he said:

At the present time, the staff consists of Captain Collins, a chief clerk, a supply officer, a paying officer, a clerk of records, a registration officer, one clerk, 3 typists, a messenger, and a storeman.

Then there was the following interjection:

Are the clerks English or Australian?

Mr Groomreplied:

Several are Australians, but the typists, who get about 60 pounds a year, are English. The salaries paid amount to 2,200 pounds, rent and contingencies to 2,550 pounds, and there is an allowance of 150 pounds to the secretary, making the total annual cost of the office 4,900 pounds.

The cost of running the High Commission in London in 1909 at 4,900 pounds- excluding the salary which the Act provided for the High Commissioner of, I think, 3,000 pounds plus a 2,000 pounds allowance- is a far cry from a cost in excess of $7m in 1973. As I said, it marks the end of a stage in Australia's development that we are repealing the Acts which are known as the High Commissioner Acts and bringing the High Commissioner in the United Kingdom within the scope of our general overseas representation. The Opposition supports the measure.

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