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184 Pyman to Burton

Note CANBERRA, 1 June 1948



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

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 [1] and Conlon.

[2] 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 [3] nor Vaskess [4] were regarded as suitable acting
appointments. McKay [5] of New Zealand indicated at an early stage
that he was definitely not available. In the light of these
circumstances I approached Kerr [6] 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

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

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
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 [7] and
Colonel Murray [8]) 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 [9]) 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.

1 J.F. Nicoll, Colonial Secretary, Fiji.

2 A.A. Conlon, Deputy Chairman, Council of Australian School of
Pacific Administration.

3 R.G. Watt, Executive Assistant, South Pacific Commision Interim
Organisation. 4 H.H. Vaskess, UK Commissioner to the South Pacific

5 C.G.R. McKay, NZ Senior Commissioner to the South Pacific

6 J.R. Kerr, Organising Secretary, South Pacific Commission.

7 Rev. J.W. Burton, President-General, Methodist Church of

8 J.K. Murray, Administrator of Papua - New Guinea.

9 J.R. Halligan, Secretary, Department of External Territories;

Senior Commissioner to the South Pacific Commission.

[AA:A1838, 348/2/4]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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