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Tuesday, 23 October 1973
Page: 2562

Mr SINCLAIR (New England) - I wish to make a few comments on the estimates of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of External Territories. For the past 10 years there has been a marked expansion in our overseas posts. This has meant an increasing demand on the availability of accommodation abroad and has put real pressures on the Department of Foreign Affairs for personnel. The Department's estimates cover significant increases in the expenditure for both purposes and reflect the size of the demand. At a time when our overseas reserves are high, I believe that there is a necessity for us to acquire more satisfactory premises for those who are stationed outside Australia. I am appreciative of the measure of inflation in other countries as well as ours and the degree to which it is difficult to acquire adequate and suitable land. Yet one must be conscious of the fact that Australia's permanent interests abroad will best be served by having suitable accommodation and facilities in which to house those who serve this country outside its territorial limits.

It seems to me that a number of disabilities apply to personnel in the Department of Foreign Affairs. I have often felt that the parallel service provided by the Department of Overseas Trade, as it is now designated, provide for greater flexibility of employment and for greater opportunity of studying and keeping up to date with the trends in Australia. I see some validity in a thorough examination of the basis on which members of the Department of Foreign Affairs, particularly at the senior level, are employed. I believe that there is quite considerable merit in looking at the contractual basis on which our trade commissioners are employed. I believe that a number of persons could be employed advantageously to Australia in a similar way. I believe that if they were so employed we might be able to improve the general terms and conditions of some of those employees who are perhaps disadvantaged under the present structure of employment, as it is designated by the Public Service Board.

I think it should be said that there often seems to be a need for a re-examination of the functions and the roles of those who are employed in some posts. I know that in an examination of departmental estimates it is impossible to identify and to examine adequately or fairly individual posts. As one who has been involved in a number of missions overseas on behalf of past governments, I believe that there is a necessity for us to ensure that the range of services provided and the personnel employed are matched by the tasks with which they are charged. I believe that in some posts there is a complete understaffing in some areas in which the posts could advantageously be augmented. In other areas I believe that posts are overstaffed, perhaps because of the necessity to employ local staff or those who are Australian based.

In the employment of personnel in the Department of Foreign Affairs I believe that we need to get away from the present system which is tied exclusively to the Public Service Board and which, I suspect, places undue restraint on a department which has to exercise an increasingly important role in serving this country in future.

Obviously there is insufficient time to deal with all the items in the estimates. However, I wish to refer briefly to some. I believe that the expenditure of $100,000 prior to the engaging of legal counsel and the obtaining of scientific evidence to submit to the International Court of Justice in an effort to halt the French nuclear tests in the Pacific was excessive when compared with the results achieved. I believe that the survey undertaken by the Australian Academy of Science was unjustifiably avoided. It certainly does not appear to have been taken into account by the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) at the time he presented the Australian case at The Hague. I see the $100,000 as being excessive to the requirements of that submission. I welcome the increase which is to be provided for drug abuse control. I see this as an area in which international co-operation is absolutely essential. I believe it is unfortunate that we have not done more in that area in the past.

I believe that in the aid field generally there are a number of items which need to be discussed. Firstly, I have long felt that we have in general provided a range of aid which has perhaps not always been used as advantageously as it might have been and that the terms and conditions on which it was provided may not have been justified. I suspect that we need some basis by which our foreign aid program can be assessed, in terms of the economic worth of the aid, in terms of the benefits to society - the benefits to Australia - and perhaps alternative ways in which money can be spent. I believe that, in the past, in a number of areas the aid, although certainly provided at the request of the recipient country, has been provided without any valid basis of determining whether the ultimate benefit to the community has matched the amount allocated in the Budget.

While I will not now mention the individual schemes which are set out in the estimates, there are 3 areas which I believe we need to look at in particular. Firstly, I do not believe that our armed Services have been used or apparently will be used to the degree that they might to supplement our aid program. I understand that the Canadians, for example, use their Transport Command to ferry various items of aid to some recipient countries. I think that perhaps the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force could well be used for this purpose. I believe that in the Australian Army, particularly in some of the professional corps, such as the Army Engineers, the skills which are available for development projects of a civilian character in overseas countries - I am referring specifically to civilian aid - could be used at times when there is not a high defence risk in Australia. I suggest that there is merit in applying that reservoir of technological skill, professional ability and manpower in an area which could supplement our aid program.

The second area of assistance relates to the Colombo Plan. I believe that it is perhaps time now for us to re-assess the direction of

Colombo Plan aid. I know some of the difficulties that have ensued for students who have been educated in Australia under the Colombo Plan. I believe that in many ways this plan has been highly successful. But one, of course, cannot be unconscious of the dispute that arose between the Prime Minister of Singapore and Australia's Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) at the last meeting of Commonwealth Heads of State held in Ottawa. I believe in general that times have changed to such a degree that we need to consider to a greater degree the measures of financial aid for educational programs in the countries of receipt of aid rather than in Australia. I think that there is a need for us to maintain an educational program in Australia but I believe that there is a need for us to ascertain overseas whether we could augment the character of our educational training and perhaps do more than we have done in the past.

In the field of aid I believe that we could do far more by way of agricultural aid than we have done. Where agricultural aid has been provided, in many instances we have found that the nature of the Australian knowledge, skill and experience has been far more suitable in South East Asia in particular, but also in other areas of Asia, Africa and South America, than European skills which, of course, are not based on a climate similar to our own and where the nature of farming and pastoral conditions are so different.

I have not referred to the Department of External Territories. The one item to which I did want to refer briefly is the retirement benefits to be paid to expatriate officers. These benefits have been increases very significantly this year. I believe that this is a very vital area of expenditure. Unless this Parliament is prepared to look after those who have served this country and the development of Papua New Guinea, I believe that our responsibilities as parliamentarians will not have been met properly.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Martin) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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