65 Evatt to Pollard, Courtice and McKenna

Letter CANBERRA, 18 December 1947

As you will be aware, Australia was elected to the Economic and Social Council by the United Nations General Assembly in October last. The Sixth Session of the Council, the first at which Australia will be represented, will commence in New York on 2nd February next.

At the San Francisco Conference, at which the Charter of the United Nations was adopted, the Australian delegation fought strongly for the establishment of an effective international organisation in the economic and social field. It was largely as a result of these Australian efforts that the Economic and Social Council emerged as a major United Nations body designed to promote to the fullest possible extent international economic and social collaboration. Since that time, every effort has been made by Australia to ensure that the Council and its subsidiary organs perform the functions for which they were designed and that they assist in the creation of an economic and social climate in which the maintenance of peace will be facilitated. Australia's election to the Economic and Social Council provides a unique opportunity to pursue this policy further. It is therefore suggested that a firm and positive Australian policy should be developed as soon as possible for the guidance of our delegates at the Sixth Session of the Council.

The Interdepartmental Committee on ITO [1], which is representative of all Departments interested in international economic relationships and which has developed an effective organisation in its consideration of ITO problems, appears to be an appropriate Committee for considering Sixth Session policy.

This Committee could be readily and rapidly called together and would enable us to deal speedily with the immediate problem of deciding what items, if any, should be added to the agenda for the Sixth Session.

The type of problem which arises is that of separation of the activities of the Economic and Social Council from the more obviously political matters with which the United Nations is required to concern itself. The broad objective of the Council should be to develop a comprehensive body of technical, as distinct from political, recommendations to member governments. It should aim at achieving a reputation for technical competence, without leaving itself open to a charge that it has a political complexion which can be described as either right or left. To take an example, it should recommend action to maintain full employment by means of fiscal policy, budgetary stimulus or retardation, credit policy, social services, labour direction, etc., and in doing so it should be possible for it to make recommendations which are technical and factual. Given the objective, certain measures within any political structure can be indicated as essential, without the Council embracing any particular political ideology. This would involve, formally, no new departure but would be merely a reaffirmation of the Council's functions. The Council can be most effective if it performs adequately the function of expert analysis and indicates the price of rigid adherence to certain political ideals as nearly as possible in terms of pounds, shillings and pence of economic and social distress. At the Sixth Session, therefore, the Council might be asked to consider the extent to which it should aim primarily at the achievement of technical competence.

If the Council is to achieve a high standard of technical competence, members of the Council and its subsidiary organs must be highly qualified in the fields in which they are appointed to work and must be able to devote all or a major part of their time to Council problems. It may be desirable for the Australian delegates to raise this at the Sixth Session and to insist that member governments make appointments to the Council and its subsidiary organs with these factors in mind.

The programme of meetings of the Council and its subsidiary organs is also involved. Rule 1 of the Rules and Procedure of the Council provides that it 'shall hold at least three Sessions a year'. The Commissions and Sub-Commissions, however, on which the Council will depend for detailed consideration of specific problems, will meet, except in one or two cases, only once a year. This means in effect that the 'working bodies' are spending less time in session than the body charged with the supervision of their work, and it is impossible for the Council to get the detailed guidance from the Commissions and Sub-Commissions which is expected. The tendency is for all the work to fall on the Secretariat, which in practice performs the functions of the Commissions and Sub- Commissions. Additional meetings will mean additional expense. The choice is, however, between substantial expenditure for no return and expenditure adequate to achieve the return expected when the Commissions and Sub-Commissions were set up. The Sixth Session should accordingly give consideration to the future programme of meetings of the Commissions and Sub-Commissions with a view to enabling them to carry out the purposes for which they were established.

The Fifth Session of the Council passed a resolution providing that member governments should report on steps taken by them to implement recommendations of the Council. This resolution helps to take the Council out of the debating sphere into the practical field of direct influence on governmental policies. Australian policy should, it is suggested, aim at having this resolution fully carried out. The first problem is, however, to draw resolutions from the Council which are worthy of governmental implementation.

Improved technical competence, more frequent meetings of subsidiary bodies and reports by member governments all place an additional burden on the Secretariat. Furthermore, it is required to produce factual surveys on world economic conditions and trends and it is hoped that preparations by the Secretariat for future meetings of the Council and subsidiary bodies will be generally more adequate than in the past. There is involved, therefore, the question of additional recruitment to the Secretariat and provision of funds for this recruitment. The Sixth Session should give detailed consideration to this question.

Article 63 of the United Nations Charter places on the Council the responsibility for co-ordination of the activities of the specialised economic agencies. This responsibility should be not merely the negative one of correcting any duplication of activities which may occur but should be regarded in a positive sense of giving direction to the activities of the various agencies. Policy direction should be distinguished from co- ordination of administrative affairs which has been placed in the care of a Coordinating Committee composed of officers of the Secretariat and the specialised agencies. While the latter should continue, policy direction should receive the greater emphasis.

The Regional Economic Commissions should be able to assist.

The above does not pretend to be an exhaustive analysis of the problems facing the Council, but rather a general guide to these problems. With your concurrence, I would suggest that the Department of External Affairs should call a meeting of the Interdepartmental Committee on ITO early in the New Year to discuss these problems. The Secretary of the Department of External Affairs should, I think, act as Chairman for this purpose.

I should be pleased to have your views on this matter. [2]


Acting Prime Minister

1 International Trade Organisation.

2 Subsequently Evatt decided that a small committee comprised of representatives of the departments of External Affairs, Treasury and Post-war Reconstruction should meet for informal consultations. Other departments would be called in as required.

See Shann's memoranda to McFarlane and Coombs, dated 28 January 1948.

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