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31 Memorandum from Burton to Bills

Canberra, 1 March 1950


Technical Assistance for Economic Development

Since my letter1 to you of December 12th and your reply2 of January 20th (reference 10/1/2) Cabinet has decided that, in the light of the recommendations of the meeting of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers at Colombo, the Government will–

(a) contribute to the technical assistance work of the United Nations and its specialised agencies, and support in these organisations as high a priority as possible for the needs of South and South East Asia;

(b) examine the possibility of making supplementary bilateral arrangements in appropriate cases for the provision of direct technical and other assistance.

2. In due course my Minister will submit concrete proposals, after consultation with his colleagues, for the implementation of these two decisions.

3. At this preparatory stage I should like your assistance in working out a plan for the expansion of a programme of training in Australia, and of an arrangement for acquiring the services of experts in Australia to proceed to other countries. These are the two aspects which I propose to deal with in this letter.

Training in Australia

4. I should be glad to have the opinion of your Office as to the physical limits on the numbers of trainees which could be handled in Australia in any one year.

5. I have prepared the attached tentative outline of a proposal under which a fund of �150,000 would be created for expenditure over four years on bilateral programmes; and perhaps �75,000 out of Australia's contribution to the expanded technical assistance programme of United Nations organisations would be spent by those organisations on training facilities in Australia.

6. There are a number of variables in these proposals. We have assumed that about �200,000 would be an equitable contribution to the technical assistance work of the international organisations. We have assumed that �150,000 for expenditure over four years is the minimum which it would be desirable to spend under a bilateral arrangement on selected trainees from South and South East Asia. On our calculations, about which we would like to have your opinion, we then reached the conclusion that this fund of �150,000 would accommodate an intake of about 50 trainees per year with a peak load of about 115 in training at any one time.

7. At this point we made a rough judgment that an annual intake of about 140 (with a peak load of about 240 from both methods of finance would be about the maximum that Australian institutions (and your administrative services) could accommodate in any one year. Therefore we arrived at the figure of �75,000 expenditure (involving an annual intake of 90 persons) as being the maximum which we could permit the international organisations. This would lead to the conclusion that, when making our contribution to the international organisations for the expanded technical assistance programme, we would have to specify a limit to what could be spent on training in Australia and ask that the remainder be spent either on the despatch of experts overseas or by transfer of the money to other soft currency countries for expenditure there.

8. It would be preferable if we could reach the conclusion that it would be possible for Australia to handle larger numbers of persons than those contemplated in these estimates, and it is upon this that I should like your opinion as soon as you are able to give it. If it were practicable to handle larger numbers I would be inclined to revise upward the figure for the bilateral programme, still maintaining, if necessary a limit on the proportion of the contribution to the international organisations which they might spend on training facilities in Australia.

9. It is difficult to offer any fixed opinion as to the type of person and the type of training involved in an expanded bilateral programme. I should be inclined to think that more emphasis should be placed on short courses, some of them not necessarily of high academic standard, addressed primarily to training persons in government service in administrative technique as well as the application of scientific techniques in the various arms of government.

10. It is my hope that we will take to Cabinet fairly soon comprehensive proposals for Australian policy in South and South East Asia, of which an expanded technical training programme will be one part. We hope to have a meeting in May of the Consultative Committee for South and South East Asia, the establishment of which was recommended by Foreign Ministers at Colombo, and it is desirable that the Government will have made decisions about Australia's share in the South and South East Asian programme before that date. For this reason I should like to have your response to this letter as soon as possible.

11. You will notice that we are thinking in terms of a fund instead of annual allocations. It may be that the Treasury will raise objections to a fund sufficient for a period as long as four years; this, however, is a matter of detail and the important requirements at the moment are to decide upon, first, the limits on Australia's physical capacity and, second, the financial implications in the light of the Government's total programme in this area.

12. It will presumably be desirable to submit also to Cabinet estimates of the increased cost (if any) involved in any expansion which you would feel necessary in your own establishment to provide the counselling, administrative and other facilities for the trainees which a greatly expanded programme would no doubt involve.

Despatch of Australian experts for service in other countries

13. I am also of the opinion that a fund should be created, somewhere in the vicinity of �50,000, to pay for the services of Australians who may be sent to countries like Indonesia to assist their reconstruction and development. At the same time, the United Nations organisations will wish to spend a proportion of the Australian contribution to them for the same purpose. This may involve expenditure of as much as �50,000.

14. It is doubtful whether sufficient Australians would be available to permit expenditure at these levels, and I am considering the kind of departmental organisation which would be necessary to enable experts to be found upon the request of either the countries of South and South East Asia or the international organisations. This was the subject of my letter of December 12th. I gather from your reply that the interests of your office might be largely confined to the provision of experts in the educational field and this, of course, would probably be a relatively small segment of the programme. It may be that the best course will be for this Department to act as the point from which enquiries about the availability of experts will be sent to a wide number of Commonwealth agencies, and instrumentalities, and through them to the State educational institutions in all fields of agriculture, medicine, public health, engineering, fisheries, and so forth. Some Commonwealth Departments do have special liaison with State instrumentalities. I would like to know, however, whether you feel that this course would be preferable to asking the Commonwealth Office of Education to act as a kind of recruiting agent for the purpose.

15. I may add that these enquiries are exploratory: I have not as yet discussed details with my Minister.

[NAA: A1838, 716/1/1 part 4]

1 Document 9.

2 Document 22.

Last Updated: 10 January 2017
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