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Friday, 26 September 1902

Mr DEAKIN - The provision for the appointment of a Secretary for the Executive Council was withdrawn from the proposal recently submitted with regard to the establishment of the Governor-General, because it was urged that it was a matter that did not specifically relate to His Excellency's office in the same manner as did the costs and charges attached. Although at that time I thought that this was a very important feature of the proposed new arrangement I withdrew it in deference to the wishes of honorable members, in order that we might consider the merits of the case in connexion with the Estimates. The title of the office is that of " Secretary to the Executive -Council " instead of " Clerk to the Executive Council."

Mr PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Are the Government going to pay the official £450 per annum to console him for the alteration of the title 1

Mr DEAKIN - No. The Clerk of the' Executive Council has hitherto received £150 per annum, in addition to his income from other sources, apart from the Commonwealth, for attending the meetings of the Executive Council, and for dealing with the papers relating to its proceedings. Even for those duties the remuneration is entirely inadequate, having regard to the extreme importance of the business dealt with, and the continuously confidential position which the clerk occupies towards Ministers, on the one side, and the representative of the Crown on the other.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is it not a fact that the Minister proposes that £600 shall be paid to an officer who will be practically a private secretary to His Excellency the Governor-General 1

Mr DEAKIN - No; I will explain what foundation there is for that statement. There is some, but the whole error has arisen through the introduction of the word "private." The officer whose appointment is contemplated will be a public officer, and his duties will be of a public character. Although the readjustment of the relations, so far as expenditure is concerned between the Governor-General and the Commonwealth called attention to this matter, and pointed to the necessity of making some change, I was personally only too happy to seize the opportunity of carrying out what I had long believed to be a proper alteration. In New South Wales and Victoria, if not in other States, it has been customary to pay the officer who is merely Clerk to the Executive Council a larger sum than is here provided for.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But he has not an additional clerk at £325 per annum.

Mr DEAKIN - Yes. I am informed that in New South Wales and in Victoria the Clerk of the Executive Council has clerical assistance afforded to him.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then it is departmental assistance.

Mr DEAKIN - It is provided for on the departmental estimates. It has been the practice to provide at the expense of the department a clerk to assist in performing the work connected with the Executive Council. The officer whose appointment is here provided for is to be the Secretary to the Executive Council. That is to say, he is to be the Governor-General's secretary in all matters relating to the public business discharged by His Excellency on behalf of the Commonwealth and having charge of all communications which pass between the Commonwealth .and the Imperial Government or the State Governments, or through the Imperial Government with other powers. His time will be as fully occupied when in the discharge of his public duties as that of most other officers in the public service. The duties are now discharged by Captain Wallington, who receives an allowance for acting as Clerk to the Executive Council. Eoiyears we had a special officer in Vittoria at a salary of £700 or £800 a year, and clerical assistance was provided for him from the Chief Secretary's office.

Mr McCay - That was some time ago. Has not Mr. Brisbane been discharging the work for some time past for £150 a year ?

Mr DEAKIN - At the time I speak of Mr. Brisbane performed the greater part of the duties of the Clerk to the Executive Council, but, in addition to that, the Clerk to the Council was receiving the salary I have mentioned, not because of the bulk of the work he was called upon to do, but because of its importance. I hope honorable members will grasp that what we propose involves a real -change. We intend to take this officer under our complete control, so that all public and official communications of the Governor-General with the Imperial

Government, and with the Governments of the States, or through the Imperial Government with foreign Powers, may beintrustedto an officer responsible to us, who shall be maintained continuously in office, and shall have that knowledge of all matters dealt with from time to time which is really invaluable. Some of the issues with which the Executive Council has to deal relate to negotiations of long standing concerning our relations with the Imperial Government and foreign Powers. Among the communications which pass are some of the most confidential character, many of them containing information supplied to the Government of the Commonwealth and other responsible Governments by the Imperial Government affecting foreign Powers or our interests here or ; abroad. Occasionally, though perhaps not often, matters of this kind are of the utmost importance, and their revelation would involve most serious consequences. It is absolutely necessary, therefore, that the officer intrusted with these communications should possess the confidence of the Government and of the GovernorGeneral, through whom he eventually enjoys the confidence of the Imperial Government. The proposal is to take out of the hands of the Governor-General's staff all the public duties connected with the office of Secretary to the Executive Council. The Governor-General will continue to pay his own staff for his own private purposes, in view of the social functions which attach to his position. With that we have nothing to do. The Secretary to the Executive Council will have no such social obligations to fulfil. I have already told honorable members that I should strongly recommend the appointment as Secretary to the Executive Council of Captain Wallington, who is now acting as Clerk. He is a man who possesses an unexampled knowledge of the affairs of every State in the Commonwealth.

Mr McDonald - Was not this office created for him ?


Mr McDonald - That is the general impression.

Mr DEAKIN - That impression is entirely erroneous. I have long had in my mind the desirability of making a change of this kind. I have been altogether opposed to permitting public business of the greatest importance to be dealt with by any young adjunct of His Excellency's staff whom he may select to transact it. I told honorable members recently of one instance that occurred in which serious loss - the loss of thousands of pounds - was occasioned by a mistake on the part of a member of a Governor's staff in decoding an important official proposal which passed between Australia and another part of the Empire. The mistake was made by an officer over whom we had no control, because he was paid by the GovernorGeneral.

Mr McCay - We are paying this officer.

Mr DEAKIN - Yes, for the purpose of making him responsible directly to us.

Mr McDonald - But he is being paid already.

Mr DEAKIN - He is now being paid as Clerk to the Executive Council, but we propose to appoint him Secretary, and to intrust to him the whole of the duties attached to that position.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Will not the effect be to relieve the Governor-General for the time being of the necessity of paying this particular salary ?

Mr DEAKIN - No, the effect of it will be to place the Secretary of the Executive Council in exactly the same position as that occupied by the same official in the Dominion of Canada, where, owing to experience similar to our own, it was found to be undesirable to leave it to the GovernorGeneral to allot his official correspondence to any member of his staff. The Governor-General chooses his staff very often for personal reasons. It may be comprised of members of his own family or of those who are closely associated with him, and the questions whether his officials possess the requisite knowledge or efficiency to enable them to competently discharge the highly responsible duties attached to his public functions is a matter between his conscience and himself, with which the Government have no right to interfere. We cannot offer advice to His Excellency as to or exercise control over the officers whom he chooses. We are now proposing to change that system by making the Secretary tothe Executive Council our own officer, directly responsible to the Commonwealth. We shall thus bring under control the whole of the public correspondence which passes between the Commonwealth and the Imperial Government and other States.

Mr McCay - Will he be a member of the public service 1

Mr DEAKIN - Yes.

Mr McCay - Under what section of the Act?

Mr DEAKIN - I cannot say at the moment, but he will be required to comply with the same conditions as all other public servants. I can assure honorable members that, as a matter of experience, the absence of the direct control of the public correspondence of the Commonwealth has, in more than one instance, led to serious embarrassment. At the present time, if a paper is wanted, Ministers make application for it to their Governor, but delay sometimes occurs through the misplacing of documents which have passed through the hands of more than one aidedecamp. I have known considerable delay in the production of a document wanted by a State Ministry to occur for some reason of that kind.

Mr McDonald - Things must have been carried on in a very slip-shod way in Victoria.

Mr DEAKIN - My knowledge is not confined to the practice of any one State. Under the present system we have not the control which we should have of the communications which pass between us and the Secretary of State for the Colonies, or the Governments of the States.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In what way will the position of this officer differ from that of the Clerk to the Executive Council of a State 1

Mr DEAKIN - The Clerk to an Executive Council attends the meetings of the Executive, records its papers, and registers them as well. This officer will have charge of the whole of the correspondence which is transmitted from the Commonwealth through the Governor-General to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, to foreign powers, arid to the Governments of the States. He will be responsible for the coding and decoding of secret despatches, be answerable for errors and proper checking, and take upon himself tasks which now may be distributed amongst several members of the Governor-General's household. The Commonwealth will pay his salary, and will have the same right to dispense with his services as we have to dispense with the services of other public officials. The present occupant of the office has been with six or eight Governors, and has served in practically every State in Australia. He has been behind the scenes in Australian politics for nearly twenty years past, and holds .the clues to transactions of a confidential nature which have occurred during that time.

Mr McCay - I think it must be agreed that, if the office is a necessary one, the gentleman to be appointed is quite capable of performing the duties attaching to it.

Mr Poynton - Is this not another way of increasing the Governor-General's salary by decreasing his expenditure 1

Mr DEAKIN - No. At present we pay this officer £150 a year, and we propose to increase his salary by £450 to make it £600.

Mr Poynton - The proposal is to take over and pay him for the performance of work for which he is now being paid by the Governor-General 1

Mr DEAKIN - The Governor-General allots the duties connected with the transmission, recording, and coding of correspondence among various members of his staff, and, while it is true that the creation of this office will decrease that work, the number of its members is practically determined by other considerations, so that the saving to the Governor-General will not be worth mentioning.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Will Captain Wallington communicate the contents of despatches to the Governor-General t

Mr DEAKIN - Despatches will pass from the Ministry to this officer, and he will hand them on to the Governor-General, and upon his authority transmit them to the Colonial office. In the same way, replies will be transmitted by the GovernorGeneral through him to us, and he will retain and record them for us, and will be responsible for them. He will be in that way an intermediary between the GovernorGeneral and the Ministry.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It i3 a wrong position in which to place an officer.

Mr DEAKIN - The experience of Canada shows such an officer to be the proper channel of communication between a GovernorGeneral and his advisers. I know of an instance in which a State Cabinet was kept waiting for papers for a fortnight because one aide-de-camp thought that they were in his possession, whereas they had been dealt with by another.

Mr McDonald - When that happened the Governor was not attending properly to the public business.

Mr DEAKIN - A Governor cannot always prevent such occurrences. He is absent in the country from time to time on public business, and while he is away official communications pass through the hands ' of the aide-de-camp whom he has left behind to attend to them. But, perhaps, the replies to those despatches are dealt with and sent away by another aide-de-camp during his term of duty. The Commonwealth Government should have control of its despatches, and be the master of every officer who is intrusted with the performance of important public business. We have nothing to do with the Governor-General's private communications and social invitations. He deals with them as he pleases, through whatever officers he chooses to appoint. Public documents and despatches, however, ought to be- within our control, and the officer who receives and records them should be a Commonwealth officer.

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