184 Pyman to Burton
Note CANBERRA, 1 June 1948
SOUTH PACIFIC COMMISSION FIRST MEETING
This Note is not intended to be a summary of the main achievements of the first meeting of the Commission but is an endeavour to focus attention on matters of substantial importance which will require early consideration by the Department, possibly the Minister.
1 . The Secretary-Generalship The decision not to appoint the Secretary-General at this meeting was one which under all the circumstances was to be expected. Our inability to take an initiative subsequent to the preparatory meeting in Sydney last November on the question of terms and conditions of appointment of the Secretary-General made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, at this meeting to secure a final decision in favour of any particular candidate. Two candidates were in fact mentioned, namely Nicoll  and Conlon.
 The Australian delegation adhered to your understanding that the procedure should be for the Commission to settle terms of appointment at the present meeting, delegating authority to make the actual appointment to the Working Committee. The appointment must be made at the end of two months with the approval of the Senior Commissioners.
The ability of the delegation to advance Conlon's candidature effectively was prejudiced in the early stages of the conference by disagreements amongst the Commissioners. Conlon's name was, however, subsequently put forward by the delegation and particulars of his qualifications distributed. The reaction to his name was difficult to judge most delegations being disinclined to show their hand in view of their lack of real knowledge of Conlon's ability which they were not prepared to judge solely on paper. It is understood that the New Zealand delegation (reflecting probably the views of the Prime Minister and Wellington authorities) was unenthusiastic about Conlon and would have voted for Nicoll if a vote had been forced (a procedure which the United Kingdom Commissioner attempted to promote). There was little hope incidentally, if a vote had been taken that Conlon would have received even a two-thirds majority. If his nomination is to be accepted, a certain amount of 'elucidation' of his qualifications will undoubtedly be required. The United States delegation seemed fairly satisfied about him and it seemed possible that the Netherlands delegation could be won over. The French delegation was entirely enigmatic and was obviously looking at the situation in the light of the site question. A lot may depend upon the reaction in London. Conlon's intimates claim that certain sections of Colonial Office opinion were much impressed with his wartime activities.
2. Acting Secretary-General In view of the inability to select a Secretary-General at this meeting a difficult situation arose in regard to the supervision of the important initial activities of the Commission. The New Zealand and United States delegations in particular, in addition to our own, were particularly anxious about this position. It was obvious that the other delegations expected a lead from Australia and/or New Zealand in this matter. It was equally obvious that neither Watt  nor Vaskess  were regarded as suitable acting appointments. McKay  of New Zealand indicated at an early stage that he was definitely not available. In the light of these circumstances I approached Kerr  myself and asked him to reconsider his decision not to accept the Acting Secretary- Generalship if matters developed in such a way that the position should be offered to him. He was extremely reluctant to accept the position in view of his commitments at the Bar. To test out the feeling of the other delegations informal conversations in the first place were held with the Americans and New Zealanders.
Kerr's situation was frankly explained to them but in spite of Kerr's position they expressed great enthusiasm for the suggestion and made no secret of their relief that a person of his standing might be prepared to carry on for two months or a little more. It was left to them to suggest terms of appointment. They had little hesitation in suggesting A.100 a month taking into account the fact that (a) he would be taxed (b) he would lose a certain amount of goodwill as a barrister through the announcement of the appointment and secondly from the assurance that he gave to devote half his working week to the Commission.
All other delegations appear to have been equally satisfied with the arrangement with the possible exception of the United Kingdom delegation which, however, it must be stated, raised no opposition whatsoever but simply lacked the warm enthusiasm of the other delegates. Failure to have secured the services of a person of Kerr's status would have undoubtedly reflected adversely on our prestige and cast doubts on our enthusiasm for the Commission. Any assistance which can be legitimately afforded to Kerr (remembering that he is now an international official and not a servant of the Australian and New Zealand Governments) would be thoroughly justified.
3. The appointment of Commissioners It is noteworthy that the only government to appoint a full-time Commissioner so far is the United Kingdom. The New Zealand Government is having some difficulty in finding a suitable nominee and in fact there is no certainty that they will be able to appoint a full time Commissioner. The French Commissioner, Lassalle-Sere, is apparently intended to spend a good deal of his time on Commission activities but such work it seems will form part of his duties as Inspector-General of Colonies in the South Pacific. The United States delegation made it quite clear that they did not regard a full time Commissioner as a necessary appointee from their own point of view. The Dutch have shown no sign of making anybody available full time.
If it is Australian Policy to lay much emphasis upon the necessity for appointment of such full time Commissioners (and this certainly was our policy at the South Seas Conference) then it is high time a decision was made on the question of who this person should be. Certain other considerations made any objective decision on this point prior to the Commission meeting impossible of fulfilment. If those considerations still hold (and in the light of conversations during the first meeting it seems possible that they do not still apply) then an early decision must be made on the question of the full time appointment, full regard being paid to the appropriate qualifications for such a person, namely a solid foundation of knowledge of the area, particularly of the Australian territories and a very real enthusiasm for the Commission together with some faith in its ultimate achievements.
The importance of choosing suitable Commissioners in time to permit them to give some thought to the problems facing the Commission became very evident at the first meeting of the Commission. The Australian delegation, in spite of the undoubted attainments of each separate Commissioner, failed to give the lead to the other delegations which was consonant with the Australian Government's position as the main initiator of and financial contributor to the Commission. The activities of all the other delegations reflected the fact that they worked together as a team and had given careful and continuous thought to the agenda items following their appointment as the representatives of their government well in advance of the meeting.
4. The Working Committee The Australian delegation did succeed in resisting a move by the French, somewhat weakly supported by the Americans to delete all reference to the proposed Working Committee which it was planned would carry on the executive work in co-operation with the Secretary-General between the meetings of the Commission which are only held twice a year. The United States attitude appears to be based on the belief that the Secretary-General should be given the utmost freedom to carry on the activities of the Commission free from the continuous contact with the Commissioners. But it is very doubtful whether, in attempting to make a more tenuous link between the Secretary- General and the Commissioners, they will succeed in providing the Secretary-General with any real or worthwhile discretion. Our view has been that the Secretary-General will require fairly continuous guidance from the Commissioners through the Working Committee in regard to the implementation of the Commission's programme of activities. Experience may well show whether or not this understanding is correct. The Rules of Procedure as they now stand provide that the Commission may create a Working Committee. At this meeting the Commission resolved to appoint now a Working Committee subject to review at the third session as to the necessity for its continuance.
One Australian Commissioner, preferably of course the full time man if appointed, should devote close attention to the Working Committee and be in a position to estimate the necessity for its continuance after the third session of the Commission.
5. Voting Provisions A wide range of opinion was disclosed during the discussions at the first session on the interpretation of certain sub-paragraphs of Paragraph 14 of the South Pacific Commission Agreement, the matter eventually being left for each delegation to take up with its own government in the hope that a common view might be adopted not later than the next session. The paragraph of the Agreement referred to is not well drafted and it is not surprising that there are differing interpretations. You will recall that the Minister himself took a personal interest in the discussions regarding voting procedure and fought strenuously for acceptance of the two-thirds voting rule wherever possible. Clause 14(c) as it stands at present provides that 'decisions on budgetary or financial matters which may involve a financial contribution by the participating governments (other than a decision to adopt the administrative budget of the Commission) shall require the concurring votes of au the Senior Commissioners'. Clause 14(d) further provides that decisions on all other matters require the concurring votes of only two-thirds of the Senior Commissioners.
The United Kingdom delegation desired to give an interpretation to Clause 14(c) which would result in any matter involving a new item of expenditure requiring unanimous consent. The interpretation favoured by the New Zealand delegation, also the United States delegation and by the Australian Commissioners (Dr. Burton  and Colonel Murray ) would result in all matters which fell within normal administrative expenditure (whether new items or not) requiring only two-thirds approval whilst any matter involving extraordinary expenditure (for example, a special research project) outside normal administrative spending would need unanimous approval. The Chairman (Mr. Halligan ) read a statement communicated to him by the Secretary to the Treasury which favoured the interpretation given by the United Kingdom delegate. With assistance from the other Australian Commissioners the Chairman made it plain that Mr. Watt's opinion was not necessarily that of the Australian Government. The whole question is too important to be neglected and it is suggested that we should immediately take the matter up with the New Zealand Government with a view to an approach to London in an endeavour to persuade the United Kingdom authorities to accept our understanding of the position. The report of Committee 1 of the South Seas Conference tends to support our view in stating that 'on administrative budgets of the Commission a two-thirds vote only of the Commission would be required but that all other budgetary and financial decisions which involved a financial contribution of member governments should require the concurrence of all member governments of the Commission'.
6. Site of the Headquarters The French delegation made a most determined effort to secure an immediate verdict in favour of Noumea, supporting their case with attractive propositions based upon financial concessions by the local administration. The United Kingdom delegation however had also prepared attractive proposals and had returned a comprehensive answer well supported by carefully selected detailed points under each main heading. It is desirable that the Australian representatives on the Working Committee Visiting Mission to Suva and Noumea early in July should be familiar with tropical housing conditions and qualified to reach a sound conclusion on the qualities of building sites and advantages of any particular financial arrangements affecting the consideration of the headquarters as well as being able to judge quality and efficiency of local services which will affect the comfort of the Commission personnel. Possibly the Rev. Dr. Burton, if he is available, would be the most suitable representative from our point of view because of his knowledge of and experience with establishments in tropical areas.
7. Appointment of Staff The Commission will invite member governments in the near future to publicise the terms and conditions of appointment of the Secretary-General, the Deputy Secretary-General and Deputy Chairman of the Research Council. Each Senior Commissioner is also obliged under the terms of a resolution dealing with the Research Council to consult the appropriate organs of his government and such other qualified bodies regarding the names of suitable nominees to be considered for appointment as full time and part time members of the Research Council. In the case of the former group of appointees, namely the senior administrative officers, it will be desirable for the government to give the greatest possible publicity to the terms and conditions of appointment of the three officers mentioned above. They are being offered most attractive salaries and bearing in mind the policy followed by our delegation at the first meeting, it is essential that the field of possible candidates be fully covered. The insertion of a notice in the government gazette might be followed by the publication of a specially prepared note in the leading newspapers of Australia and such papers as the Pacific Islands Monthly. Such a note would also serve as an advertisement for the Commission itself and might be prepared with this objective in mind. Whilst making every endeavour to enlist the services of any highly qualified Australian, we should not blind ourselves to the fact that the Commission's main hope of real achievement will lie in the quality of its own officers. If the very best men available are not obtained the Commission may well prove at least a semi-failure. A tremendous amount will depend upon the enthusiasm and capacity of its officers, no matter how energetic the Commissioners of each government may be within their sphere of action.
8. Designated Agent of the Australian Government The Senior Commissioner has been requested by the Commission to nominate an agency as the authority designated by the Australian Government to receive copies of correspondence sent to the Senior Commissioner. With the concurrence of the Department of External Territories (already verbally given) it is proposed that the Senior Commissioner should designate the Department of External Affairs as the appropriate authority of the metropolitan government for the receipt of copies of correspondence. It was generally accepted at the meeting that such correspondence would be sent to the Department of External Affairs or the appropriate Foreign Offices and New Zealand has already designated its Department of External Affairs as the appropriate agency.
9. Financial Matters Separate submissions on the major financial matters arising from the first meeting are being submitted.