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Tuesday, 20 October 1970

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) - I want to direct the attention of the Committee on these estimates for the Prime Minister's Department to a relic of colonial days - perhaps the most expensive relic of them all - namely, Australia House in London. This magnificent morgue will cost us $5.6m this year. Salaries alone will cost $2.7m. It costs us more than most of the rest of our overseas missions put together. The proposed expenditure of $5. 6m compares with the $700,000 for our representation in our nearest neighbour, Indonesia. It compares with the $2.4m provided for the Embassy in Washington - the acknowledged power base of the Western world.

Perhaps it would not be a matter of complaint if we were getting value for money expended on this post in London. But Australia House has a reputation for pompous play acting which has reached a new pinnacle of puerility under the present High Commissioner. Not only does it fail to promote better understanding of our problems, hopes and aspirations in London, but its antique styles and attitudes are a positive hindrance. Its antique colonialism is indeed an embarrassment to Britain which has moved ahead of such postures.

The fundamental error built into this relic of the colonial past is the attachment of this overseas post to the Prime Minister's Department. It is the only overseas diplomatic post that I can find which is not under the control of the Department of

External Affairs. It is probably the worst post we have in its effectiveness. So surely it is time that we ended this situation and recognised that this overseas mission needs reform. It should be a part of the Department of External Affairs. It should be the subject of a special inquiry to establish why it should cost 30 times more than the average overseas mission. I point out that in the nation next door, Indonesia, we have only a single Embassy building in Djakarta. We have no regional offices. We do not even have an office in West Irian, which is on our very border. Surely the expenditure of $5.6m on Australia House is a ritualistic hangover from the imperial past.

Part of this hangover is the continued use of the title of High Commissioner instead of Ambassador, which is widely understood. It is a title which causes confusion and serves no good purpose. It could just as well be a reference to the boy scouts or to the fire brigade. Both those organisations have commissioners. As an indication of the confusion, I should like to mention that in an Indonesian school textbook I saw on one occasion it listed the basic structure of the Australian Government as comprising firstly, the British High Commissioner, secondly the Governor-General and thirdly the Prime Minister. This was the trinity of authority as understood by the compiler of that textbook. I can understand what is given to me as an excuse for its retention, that the letter of credential cannot in theory be presented by the monarch to herself; but this is hardly sound when we understand the monarch in theory is a separate and distinct Head of State for each independent nation. So let us away with the meaningless form of title, an antique complex, and inquire into the value we are not getting for money.

I thought if the House was in doubt as to the flood of complaints about the inadequacy of this antique establishment I might mention one which is typical of the continuing complaints about the face Australia presents in Britain. It is an incident in which a distinguished British scientist who had secured an Australian appointment called at Australia House to find out something about the town and the area in which he would be working in Australia. He wanted to know not only because of his own interests but that of his family and his school-age children. Did the place have schools? To what level did they go? What was the climate like? Who would settle there? All kinds of natural questions came to his mind as he called at Australia House. Bear in mind, he had secured an appointment and was therefore in theory an officer of an Australian Government agency. The town he happened to inquire about was Griffith, the area was the Mumimbidgee Irrigation Area, probably the most intensive area of irrigation in the nation.

Mr Cope - Whose electorate is it in?

Mr GRASSBY - Modesty forbids me to to say. But whoever was on duty confessed to never having heard of the irrigation area, and asked could the officer call back. The officer did so the next day and the efforts of 24 hours produced a venerable copy of the 'Women's Weekly' which had a reference to Griffith. The mountain had laboured and brought forth a mouse. It would seem surely there is a need for a reorganisation of the place to ensure that the face of Australia does not seem to be dark, dingy and singularly uninformed. A mission costing more than nearly all the other missions put together should be the shining example. And a shining example it is not. So I would suggest that the structure of government could well be updated by removing this relic of our colonial past from where it resides in a corner of the spreading Prime Minister's Department and put it where it belongs, with all the other missions, so that at least we will have some touch of professionalism in its administration and in its handling. I commend the thought not only to the Parliament but also to the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) who, I would hope, would call occasionally at this dingy corner of past empire and sweep it up.

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