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Wednesday, 7 September 1960


Mr PETERS (Scullin) .- In 1957, I was one of the Australian representatives at the United Nations. Our representatives on that occasion included also the former Minister for External Affairs, now Lord

Casey, and the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock). They were the only other parliamentarians in Australia's delegation. But the meeting of the United Nations was attended by a vast number of Australian representatives. There were representatives who belonged to the permanent mission to the United Nations who had their offices in New York and remained there throughout the year. Australia's representatives in the Netherlands, India, the Philippines and Canada also were present at that meeting. They were flown to the United Nations to take part in the discussions. In addition, a number of public servants were flown to the United Nations from Australia. They included the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, an assistant secretary and two clerks. They were present at all meetings and took part in the discussions. I do not object to the number of people who represented Australia at the United Nations on that occasion but I do not suggest that we should spend any more than we are spending at the present time on representation at the United Nations.

I do believe, however, that on the occasion about which I am speaking more representatives of this Parliament should have been present and fewer representatives of the Department of External Affairs. After all, Australia's representative at The Hague was flown to the United Nations, leaving Australia without representation at The Hague. Australia's representative in India was present at the United Nations meeting and probably during his absence Australia was represented in India by a junior clerk. The same thing applies to our representation in the Philippines and Canada during that meeting of the United Nations. I contend that the knowledge and information gained by a member of Parliament who visits the United Nations are of greater subsequent value to Australia than knowledge or information that may be gained by a public servant. After all, members of Parliament have access to information that often is not available to members of a department.

While I was away at the United Nations with the honorable member for Lyne I travelled throughout the United States representing the United Nations. On United Nations Day the honorable member for Lyne visited a number of schools and addressed the pupils. In the evenings and at other times he addressed people from other sections of the community. I performed! similar functions but the public servants who were present at the United Nations did not. Some of them may have addressed bodies and organizations had they been invited but apparently they were not invited. I assume that my friend and I were invited because we held representative positions on the Australian delegation to the United Nations. An honorable member opposite is muttering in his beard and is probably disagreeing with me. He is entitled to disagree if he wishes.

When the meeting of the United Nations concluded the Government of the United States arranged for the honorable member for Lyne and me to travel throughout America and meet representatives of the trade union movement there. We met, among others, the secretary of the motor workers' organization - Mr. Reuther - and a union official named Mr. Lovelace. We also visited a number of industrial undertakings. I feel that such visits can be very useful to a member of Parliament. I do not expect to be sent to the United Nations again, but I am firmly of the opinion that members of this Parliament can do much to promote the work of the United Nations by being present at its meetings. I suggest that at no added expense we could send more parliamentary representatives than we send at present.


Mr Ward - Let them all go.


Mr PETERS - The honorable member for East Sydney suggests that all of us should go. I do not know that the honorable member would do much to promote the interests of peace at the United Nations. He has not done much for the peace of this Parliament in the last few days. Apart from the honorable member for East Sydney, I think it would be a good idea if most honorable members were able to visit the United Nations and see it in operation. I know that South American republics have greater parliamentary representation at the United Nations than Australia, possibly because they are situated closer to New York than we are. When I was at the United Nations most of the 87 member nations, many with populations smaller than that of Australia, had larger delegations than we. The United

Kingdom was represented by quite a number of members of Parliament from both sides. Eire was represented by members of Parliament, as were South Africa, Malaya and other countries in South-East Asia. Those countries may have had large delegations of officials at the United Nations also.

Australia's representation was a little out of balance. There were twenty or more public servants but only three members of Parliament. The Minister for External Affairs was there for only three weeks. He took part in the important discussions in the General Assembly and then flew back to Australia. The parliamentary representatives remained there for the entire session and took part in the discussions at the committee level. The committees are composed of a representative from every member nation of the United Nations. Those committees meet every day in the week. I was a member of the economic committee and the honorable member for Lyne was on some other committee. Australia was represented on other committees not by members of Parliament but by officers of the Department of External Affairs. I do not object to officers of the Department of External Affairs going to the United Nations, but I think that Australia would be much better represented by members of Parliament than by public servants. As I said, the secretary of the Department of External Affairs was present for a period, and the assistant secretary of the department was there for the whole time. This assistant secretary has been present at every session of the United Nations, with the exception of one, since the inauguration of that organization.


Mr Mackinnon - He should know the form.


Mr PETERS - Of course, he should. He should have known so much that it would have been advisable for him to stay at home and let somebody else go, even somebody from his own department, to learn something about it also. I should imagine there would have been very little left for him to learn about the organization.


Mr Mackinnon - But it is handy to have a bit of knowledge, occasionally, is it not?


Mr PETERS - I have not the slightest doubt that he is now either on his way or packing his bag ready to fly to New York for about the thirteenth or fourteenth time in so many years, and that he will spend three months there. The expense involved in sending a public servant, whether junior or senior, would be as great as that necessary to send any member of this Parliament.


Mr Barnes - But the public servant would know more about it.


Mr PETERS - I suggest that the average public servant would know more about the United Nations or any other subject than a member of the Australian Country Party would, even if he had no close or lengthy contact with the subject. But I think that other members of the Parliament would acquire, after a similar association with the organization, as much knowledge of it as would a public servant. Far be it from me to under-rate public servants. I myself was one for 30 years. That is why, looking around this chamber, I suggest that there are some people here who would do as good a job as a public servant would, and who would be better fitted than the general public servant to transmit to their fellow Australians the benefits that they acquired from their visit to the United Nations.

I therefore suggest that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) should consider having a wider representation of parliamentarians at future sessions of the United Nations. I do not suggest a larger overall representation or a more costly one, but I do suggest there should be more parliamentarians, who would be of greater use in that sphere than public servants. I know that the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock), perhaps because of his peculiar temperament, was a most effective ambassador when he visited the United Nations, and was well received by representatives of other nations. I would go into the lounge at the United Nations and find him surrounded by a bevy of South American beauties, discussing international problems and peddling the Australian line.


The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN -

Order! The honorable member's time has expired.







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