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Monday, 26 November 1973
Page: 3837

Mr SINCLAIR (New England) - On behalf of the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) and the 2 Opposition Parties, I indicate that the Opposition supports in its entirety the Bill which the Government has presented tonight. However, there are some aspects of the Bill to which I should like to draw the attention of honourable members. Firstly, I think there is no greater fallacy than that which has been perpetrated by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), namely, that the initiative of a new sense of independence in foreign policy, a new sense of Australian identity, is seen to be Labor in origin and motivated largely during the term of his own occupancy of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Indeed, the acknowledgement in the course of the second reading speech which he has just made, that the initiatives for the rationalising of the position of the London mission were begun during the days of the preceding administration, indicates how far the trend away from the old identity of Australia, particularly that in its foreign affairs policy it was subservient to other countries, had been developed.

Certainly there are areas where, as a result of changes in the balance of diplomatic and international status, Australia perhaps has moved more rapidly than it has in its relationships with the United Kingdom. But the United Kingdom has served and still serves traditionally as the base from which so many of our actions in the international arena began. This Bill more than any other sets the seal on the transfer from our old complete dependence on the United Kingdom to a stance of independent action, independent initiative and greater Australian identity. As I say, it is a move which began not with the Whitlam regime but in fact at the time when the former Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) was Foreign Minister. As to the actual changes being implemented, there are several things upon which I think the House might dwell for a few moments. The first is that the office of the Australian High Commissioner is one of those posts abroad which has been traditionally filled by men who are so-called political appointees. Whether the Government in office is of a Liberal-Country Party persuasion or of Australian Labor Party persuasion, it is necessary to recognise that there are certain posts around the world where there is a distinct advantage in having responsible for the command of that post a man who has some understanding of politics and government in Australia.

However, equally it is true that whoever that man might be, he needs to depend significantly on the advice given to him by the full time officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs whose expertise is beyond parallel and whose ability to give him the diplomatic and international overtones which are necessary in the exercise of his functions is of vital importance if he is to undertake his job properly. Those who have occupied the position of High Commissioner in the United Kingdom have served this country well. For all that they have been political appointees, I believe that no full time professional officer could have exercised those responsibilities better. Let me make the point that I think there will continue to be a role in Australia's foreign service for those who have had a background in government and are able for that reason to exercise a slightly different measure of emphasis in a country's foreign relations than can be exercised, for all their expertise, by those who are full time members of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The second matter is one of concern, that is, the degree to which an office such as that in the United Kingdom seems to have applied the laws of Parkinson and developed to such a large degree an administrative base which we are told today will be extended so that all the officers currently engaged will continue in employment. In a review of the Australian High Commission in London issued by the then Assistant to the Prime Minister and the present

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) in Canberra on 20 February last, there were some references to the number of personnel employed in the United Kingdom. According to that statement, current staff is about 1,100 persons, of whom about 900 are locally engaged and about 350 are engaged in immigration matters. It concerns me that in the 1972-73 Estimates some $7m of taxpayers' funds were spent on the maintenance of staff in the Australian High Commission. One is aware that in the last few years there has been some run down in the number of personnel who have been selected as migrants from the United Kingdom to come to Australia. One is aware also of the industrial trouble caused by so many of those who have become shop stewards and agitators on the industrial front in Australia, and who unfortunately have had a base in the trade union movement in the United Kingdom and seem to have brought to Australia prejudices which are not part of the Australian tradition. Accordingly I question the need for maintenance of the 350 persons engaged in immigration matters. I also query the degree to which it is necessary for that full complement of personnel to be maintained in the United Kingdom, given the different orientation of the United Kingdom within an enlarged Europe and given the different relationship which Australia has to the United Kingdom in this day and age.

I believe that as a result of that Press statement by Senator Willesee, Mr Collings of the Australian Public Service Board is undertaking a comprehensive review of the staff of the Australian High Commission. Having full respect for members of the Public Service Board, I still wonder whether it might not be more inclined to meet the ends of efficiency and organisation if some managerial agency were employed to assist Mr Collings. One wonders whether, given the different relationship, the different posture and the different commitment between Australia and the United Kingdom, perhaps we could have employed a firm of management consultants and could have halved the number of personnel who are today employed by the Australian High Commission. Certainly now that they are working under the Department of Foreign Affairs there would seem to be every reason for this type of review to take place.

I believe that, not only in the United Kingdom but in every Australian civil service post, whether in Australia or outside, there is a need for a constant reassessment of the role and function of the people involved. There is probably no instance in which this can be identified to a greater degree than in the High Commission in London. One recognises the tremendous contribution that those who have served there in the past have made to this country's relations with the United Kingdom and to Australia's relations with the rest of the world, but I doubt whether at this stage there is any need to maintain such a large staff. One hopes that from this legislation will come a fairly comprehensive review not only of the staffing itself but also of the role of the staff, to ensure that the terms and conditions of employment more nearly relate to the circumstances of Australia and the United Kingdom in 1973 and the years to come.

Finally, the Prime Minister referred in his second reading speech to the role of the Agents-General of the several Australian States. Probably in the United Kingdom more than anywhere else, the States feel that they need to preserve the separate identity that the Agents-General represent. One hopes that, in the United Kingdom or anywhere else in, the world, these State Agents-General will recognise the degree to which, by co-ordination and co-operation with those officers who represent the Australian Government in the diplomatic or commercial areas, so much more can be achieved. If the States seek to assert their independent role I believe that they will prejudice the efficiency of those who represent the Australian nation as a whole. I concur completely in the general emphasis that the Prime Minister has put on this aspect of change which was foreseen so early in the introduction of Australian representation in the United Kingdom. I believe it is necessary in other posts certainly that the Australian States accept the degree to which any Australian representative abroad is appointed not to service only one State or any individual commercial or other Australian interest. Such representatives are there to represent the nation as a whole. As such, I believe that they can more effectively represent a country which, after all, as long ago as 1901 was prepared as a nation to accord to the Federal Government the power to represent this country in the international arena. For that reason one hopes that the States will give serious thought to the general trend of the Prime Minister's emphasis in his second reading speech. The Opposition supports this Bill.

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