18th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. J. S. Rosevear) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow, at 10.30 a.m.
– Has the Minister for Immigration seen the statement published in the Canberra Times to-day asserting that the delay in immigration to Australia has turned intending migrants hostile about their chances of getting here ; that “ Australia House has about as much say in obtaining berths for immigrants as a blackf ellow “ ; that “ of 1,695 berths booked to come out on the Asturias recently only 100 berths were allotted to Australia House “ ; that “ the vessel which was specially chartered by the Minister, supposedly left Southhampton unable to carry an extra passenger, but on arrival at Port Said picked up 200 foreigners ? “ In view of the vital necessity for bringing British migrants to Australia, what comment has the Minister to make on those statements?
– My attention has been drawn to a reported statement published to-day in the Canberra Times by Mr. John Fahey, an Australian who returned to Australia some months ago from London. According to the report, Mr. Fahey said that Asturias, which reached Fremantle on the 22nd September with 1,695 passengers, including 931 migrants, was specially chartered by myself to bring out migrants. This is incorrect. Asturias, which is owned by the British Government, was operated by the Royal Mail Shipping Line for that voyage. It was placed at the disposal of the immigration officials at Australia House and it was proposed to carry 1,460 passengers and 931 migrants,
Australian business men returning, repatriated Australian seamen , and fiancees of Australian servicemen. Just before the ship was due to sail, the British Ministry for Transport announced that it proposed to open up 207 troop deck berths for the carriage of a group of Australians, British persons, Maltese and Unrra permit holders who had been stranded in the Middle East. Australia House had not proposed to use these quarters, as they were considered unsuitable for the carriage of migrants. It was the British Ministry, which controlled the ship, that made the troop deck available to the stranded persons to be picked up at Port Said. Mr. Fahey’s statement that Australia House held only 100 berths for the trip is incorrect. Australia House handled 1,460 berths on the ship.
I am more inclined to believe that Mr. Fahey’s words have been wrongly reported by the Canberra Times, which puts into Mr. Fahey’s mouth the extraordinary statement that Asturias picked up 200 foreigners at Port Said - which is not a fact - andby picking up this 200 was obliged to leave 200,000 Britishers behind in England. Had Asturias been able to carry the 200,000 in addition to the other 1,460 passengers it would have established an all-time record for passenger carrying. Further indication that Mr. Fahey’s remarks have been distorted is the fact that Mr. Fahey, who travelled on Asturias on the trip in question, wrote to me on arrival in Australia in glowing terms about his voyage. He said “ Asturias was a model of everything a migrant ship should be. I did not hear a complaint worth repeating and I wish you could have been at Fremantle to hear what every one had to say about the splendid arrangements”. Asturias, about which Mr. Fahey spoke so highly, is now bringing to Australia the greatest number of migrants ever tobe carried in one ship in the history of Australian immigration. I wish the honorable member had given me notice of the question.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture state which wheat pools have not yet been finalized? What is their present stage, and when is it expected that they will be finalized?
– All wheat pools up to No. 10, the pool which included the 1946-47 crop, have been finalized. I recently announced an additional payment of ls. a bushel for wheat in the No. 10 . pool, and the Australian. Wheat Board is now paying that dividend. So far, the No. 10 pool has returned to the growers a. payment of 6s. 7d. a bushel bulk and 6s. lOd. a bushel bagged, and further payments will be made as soon as the necessary financial calculations have been completed.
– It is important that poultry-farmers, pig producers and other primary producers who use wheat as stock feed should know in advance the intention of the Government regarding concessional wheat prices in order that they may be able to plan ahead. I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture what the Government’s intentions are regarding concessional wheat in the coming year for pig producers, poultry-farmers and stock feeders generally. At what price will the wheat be supplied? Does the Government intend to carry the burden of the concession, or are the wheatgrowers to be expected to carry it?
– The Government has already announced that the homeconsumption price for wheat in Australia is 5s. a bushel bulk. That price will continue until a further review is made.
SALE to the United Kingdom.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether it is true, as reported from London, that a. long-term agreement will shortly be signed between Great Britain and Australia under which Australia will sell oils and fats to Great Britain? Arc British authorities on the way to Australia for the purpose of completing the agreement? If the report is not correct, can the Minister state whether this is only a matter of conjecture or whether a deputation is in fact travelling to Australia for the purpose of discussing such a proposal?
– I know of no longterm agreement with the United Kingdom Government for the purchase of oils and fats from Australia. I believe that representatives of the United Kingdom Government will arrive in Australia soon to explore the possibilities of increasing production of commodities of which the United Kingdom is a very substantial potential purchaser.
Age - Wak Widows
– The law now requires that a person must be resident in Australia for twenty years before qualifying for an age pension. Can the Minister foi- Social Services say whether the Government has negotiated with the Government of the United Kingdom with a view to reducing this qualifying period to ten years at the outside?
– Up to the present, nothing has been done to alter the act which fixes a residential period, of twenty years as a necessary qualification for an age pension. However, negotiations are going on with the Government of the United Kingdom with a view to working out a suitable reciprocal arrangement.
– I desire to ask a. question of the Minister for Expatriation on the subject of war widows’ pensions. The question is prompted by a number of letters and inquiries which I have received, and which I cannot answer without receiving the necessary information from the Minister. Can he say what period elapses between the receipt of an application for a war widow’s pension, and the payment of that pension if the application is granted? If a war widow is found to be entitled to a pension, and consideration of her claim is delayed, is the pension made retrospective to the date on which the claim was lodged? Are there any claims in the department more than six months old that have so far not been finally dealt with?
– Decisions in respect of applications for pensions, including widows’ pensions, are often delayed because of investigations which must be carried out. Sometimes, these investigations extend to remote districts. However, no undue delays occur in finalizing these matters. Payment of pensions is made retrospective to the date of application, going back in some instances for as long a period as twelve months. I shall be pleased to discuss with the honorable member any case which she has in mind and in respect of which she can furnish particulars.
Pension Scheme fob Members.
– Will the Prime Minister say whether it is true, as reported, that the Government is likely to consider favorably a suggestion for the introduction of a pension scheme for members of this Parliament? If so, in view of recent occurrences in Victoria, is the matter regarded as one of great urgency?
– Consideration was given some time ago to the provision of some kind of superannuation scheme for members of this Parliament. I have always favoured such a scheme on condition that members themselves made a substantial contribution to the fund. I know that a great deal has been said about politicians, but the fact is that many men who enter politics retire from positions which they could otherwise have held all their lives, and which would have given them economic security. They exchange such positions for the vicissitudes and uncertainties of public life and, after all, somebody must serve the people, either well, or not so well. The suggestion has been made in the Labour party that the position should be examined with a view to introducing a pension scheme, and I was hopeful that at a later stage members of the Opposition could be taken into consultation. I do not know how far the discussions have progressed. Neither do I know of any great urgency at the moment, but I shall inquire further, and advise the honorable member later.
– I am informed that many garages in Victoria have had their petrol quota for the current year cut by 50 per cent., and I am also reliably informed that some have had their quota cut by 80 per cent. As it is obvious that, in these circumstances, motorists who have been issued with petrol coupons will not be able to secure the full ration in respect of coupons granted to them by the Government, I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Supply and Shipping what steps does the Government propose to take to ensure an adequate distribution of petrol to meet its overall distribution programme, and to ensure “that motorists will not be permanently deprived of the petrol ration allotted to them on the basis of coupons held by them which, in the circumstances I have outlined, cannot be provided by garages?
Mi-. POLLARD.- The honorable mem- ° her will recollect that a considerable time ago the Government decided to lift restrictions as far as possible, and in accordance with that policy the distribution of petrol was handed over to the petrol companies. It would appear that owing to factors over which the Government has no control, the distribution of patrol at present is not entirely satisfactory. In view of the question asked yesterday by the honorable member for Corangamite and the question now addressed to me by the honorable member for Indi, it would appear to be necessary, in order to improve the situation, to make a. close investigation of this matter without restoring Government control to which honorable members opposite, in particular, are averse. I shall take up the matter with the Minister for Supply and Shipping, and let the honorable member know what can be done to rectify what appears to be an unsatisfactory state of affairs.
– Physicians in Western Australia are prescribing in tabloid form the drug ertron for the cure of rheumatoid arthritis, but inquiries indicate that practically no supplies of the drug are available in Australia. I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Health whether it would be possible for the Government under its health power to arrange for the importation of supplies of this drug to meet the needs of public hospitals and other institutions?
– I gather that the Minister for Health is already taking an interest in this matter. I do not see any difficulty in carrying out the honorable member’s suggestion. I shall consult with the Minister for Health on the subject later to-day.
– Last week I asked the Prime Minister the following question : - ‘
Has the Prime Minister placed his views in writing on the nationalization of insurance companies, coal mines and transport? Have those views been submitted to the Federal Executive of the Australian Labour party?
In replying the Prime Minister said -
Except as an act of extreme courtesy I should not even have bothered to answer the honorable member’s question.
He then went on to say -
No doubt, correspondence has passed between me and the Federal Executive of the Australian Labour party since its last meeting here, but I cannot remember writing any letters on the subject mentioned by the honorable member.
The right honorable gentleman continued in some further detail, and concluded by saying-
I know that the Federal Executive of the Australian Labour party will meet in Canberra next week. I do not know what it intends to discuss with me, and when I do find out I do not propose to tell the honorable member for Balaclava.
Yesterday the press, instead of the Prime Minister, stated that a letter from the Prime Minister was read to the Federal Executive of the Australian Labour party and that an undertaking was given by the right honorable gentleman to “consider” nationalizing insurance. I now ask the Prime Minister whether that is the letter he did not remember previously, and whether he can now inform the Parliament of the actual position regarding further socialization, particularly of insurance, especially since the Minister for Repatriation has already made predictions in that regard?
– I have written a number of letters to people telling them that the Government will consider certain things. That is not unusual. So that the honorable member may not be uneasy in his mind, I inform him that I saw the statement in the press yesterday that some promise had .been made by me to the Federal Executive of the
Australian Labour party regarding insurance, but that subject has never been discussed by me personally with the Federal Executive of the Australian Labour party, the Australian Labour party or the Cabinet since a bill was presented in this House by the Minister for Information principally to deal with the industrial insurance racket practised by some insurance companies. I do not refer to the reputable insurance companies. The Government was anxious to clean up that racket and to protect the rights of policy holders in certain insurance companies which it knew were not in a sound financial position. Since then, no consideration has been given, by either the Cabinet, the Australian Labour party or myself, to the subject of insurance. In most instances insurance companies are conducted on a mutual basis and in that respect are somewhat different from other concerns. I give this assurance to the honorable member so that he might sleep easy in his bed at night.
Australians in Japan.
– Is it a fact that the families of the occupation forces in Japan who are to leave Sydney on Westralia will not reach Japan until after Christmas Day, or probably New Year’s Day. Could arrangements be made to ensure that the ship arrives in Japan prior to Christmas Day?
– The vessel Westralia is due to leave Australia for Japan in December, but is at present undergoing repairs. When I learned that it was to leave Australia on the 15th December and to arrive in Kure on the 29th December, I immediately communicated with the Minister for the Navy and inquired whether completion of repairs to the vessel could be expedited so as to make possible the re-union of exservicemen in Japan with their wives and families during the Christmas period. As the result of my representations, I can now assure the honorable member for Cook that there is every possibility of the vessel leaving Australia on the 8th December and arriving in Kure on the 23rd or 24th December, and that every effort will be made to facilitate the reunion of ex-servicemen with their wives and families during the Christmas season.
– In view of the increasing difficulty, loss and anxiety endured by country residents who have applied for telephones for business and domestic use, will the Minister representing the Postmaster-General ask his colleague to expedite the release of the thousands of telephone installations still held by the armed services and war-time undertakings, and to exert new efforts to procure material for the supply of additional telephone equipment? “Will the Government review the present regulations, which require that country residents who apply for telephones must pay for the cost of erecting lines where the outlay exceeds £100, more especially since rents and fees have to be paid later by the applicants? Is the Government prepared to grant preference to country applicants who require telephones for business use and for communication purDoses where women and children are living in isolation?
– The honorable gentleman has asked three questions. The first question deals with the availability of supplies of telephones from war-time establishments. As far as I am aware all surplus telephone equipment in war-time establishments has been, or is being, recalled, and. placed in stock in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, whence it is being re-issued to applicants. In consequence of their unparalleled prosperity the country people, who, in other days, would not have wanted telephones arid who would not have been able to afford them, are now pressing for their immediate installation. However, telephones are no longer a luxury and have become a necessity. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department is endeavouring to install them as fast as material can be obtained and exchanges erected. As an example of the progress that has been made, I believe that I mentioned on a previous occasion that in the months of July and August last, 17,000 telephones were installed throughout Australia, and many more have been installed since. In regard to the second question asked by the honorable member regarding the requirement of the Postmaster-General’s Department that persons in country areas who desire to have telephones connected to remote places have to pay the cost of such installations where it exceeds a certain sum, notwithstanding that they are required to pay rental when the telephones are installed, I point out to him that the present policy is exactly the same as that pursued since telephones have been installed in country areas. I remind the honorable gentleman that he supported governments which could have altered that policy had they wished to do so. Although previous governments which the honorable member supported failed to accomplish the objectives which he advocates, I shall certainly bring the matter to the notice of the Postmaster-General with a view to affording the present Government an opportunity of achieving them if it is at all possible. The third part of the honorable member’s question dealt with the necessity for giving preference in cases where women “ and children are concerned. I inform him that there is an order of priorities for the installation of telephones. Doctors and other persons, who require the instruments for professional purposes and for other reasons, are granted a preference above other persons. I shall ask the Postmaster-General to ascertain whether some preference can be given in cases involving wives and children, whose menfolk have to be away from home at work, or for other reasons, for periods, so that they may not feel the sense of isolation that they feel to-day. In all these matters, the honorable gentleman will find that this Government is as reasonable as he has always found it.
– Statements have been made that quantities of wire netting are mounting up on wharfs in New South Wales because of shipping difficulties. I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether the acute shortage of wire netting in New South Wales could be alleviated by releasing certain quantities of these accumulated supplies, and, later, when shipping is available, deducting a. similar quantity from the New South Wales quota in order to meet the requirements of other States?
– The Australian Government, by mutual arrangement with the manufacturers of wire netting, provides for specific quantities of the total manufacture to be distributed to the States in accordance with their requirements. The internal distribution within a State is a matter entirely for the respective State governments to control and direct. However, I shall be glad to .bring the honorable member’s question to the notice of the State authorities, and ask them to ascertain whether available stocks can be distributed more rapidly.
Newspaper Criticism - Hia re Court. Mr. ARCHIE CAMERON. - I desire to direct a question to you, Mr. Speaker, but before doing so, I shall read extracts from a leading article in last Saturday’s issue. of the Melbourne Sun NewsPictorial, because it concerns you personally, and perhaps you have not seen it.
– If it will save the honorable member any trouble, I inform him that, a.t his request yesterday, T did read the article.
– You did ! I ami perfectly sure that you agree with the article if you read it; but, at any rate, the article has the following heading : “ Mr. Rosevear should not be Speaker “, and contains this statement: -
Because of his irresponsible, baseless and reprehensible criticism of the High Court judges, Mr. ‘Rosevear is not fitted to be Speaker of the House of .Representatives.
The article describes his statement as unjustified, untrue and unworthy and proceeds -
But nothing any one can say will remove the affront to our parliamentary institution over this incident as long as Mr. Rosevear is allowed to go on occupying the Speaker’s i,h ,11 r
The incident to which the leading article refers is one of which probably you have no knowledge because it involved the honorable member for Dalley, and occurred in committee, and, of course, you know nothing whatever of those circumstances. I should like to ask you, sir, whether, in view of the attitude which you took on a certain matter involving the Sydney Daily Telegraph recently, you are prepared to deal with the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial i In the event of your failing to deal with that newspaper, are we to take it that your failure to take action is a tacit admission of the truth of every statement made in that article? If you have any doubts as to the accuracy of the article, I am quite sure that every member of the Opposition will fortify it in writing.
– Yesterday, the honorable member was good enough to indicate that he intended to place this question on the notice-paper. I attributed that to his lack of knowledge of the Standing Orders, because an honorable member may not place on the noticepaper a question addressed to Mr. Speaker. The difference between my attitude towards the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial, and the Sydney Daily Telegraph, is based on the fact that the leading article in the Melbourne Sun NewsPictorial was an expression of opinion regarding my capabilities and otherwise as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. I, like every other public man, am subject to criticism, and ought not to worry about opinions which are expressed. The Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial expressed an opinion about myself, a public man who is subject to criticism. The position in regard to thu Dully Telegraph va3 that there was a complete misrepresentation of the actions of a parliamentary committee, and, in defence of the Parliament, not of myself, I took action against that newspaper. On the next occasion that it offends there will be no 24 hours’ notice. My only criticism of the article referred to by the honorable member if that the writer of it disclosed an absolute ignorance of parliamentary practice and procedure and of the history of the Speakership in this House - a subject on which I may enlarge at some other time. It is a great pity that some persons who write newspaper leading articles to guide public opinion are not better informed on the topics about which they write. As to impartiality, I can only say that the day that the writer of that article becomes impartial ou political questions will be the day on which he will get the “ sack “.
Ansett Airways PROPRIETARY Limit icd.
– Has the Minister for Information noticed in Monday’s Sydney Daily Telegraph the gross misrepresentation of the Minister for Civil Aviation in connexion with a dispute with Ansett Airways Proprietary Limited? By cartoon, leading article and a special article, the Minister is represented as a dictator. The dispute arose over au ann ou neon lent by Ansett Airways Proprietary Limited that it would not abide by the unanimous decision of a conference of airline operators, at which it was represented, to increase airline fares hy 20 per cent. Does the Minister know that early last evening the Minister for Civil Aviation released to the press a statement that he had instructed the Director-General of Civil Aviation to reassemble the conference of airline operators to discuss with Ansett Airways Proprietary Limited and departmental officials the desire of that company to maintain a privileged position by charging lower fares than its competitors on inter-capital routes? Is the Minister aware that the Sydney Daily Telegraph contains no reference to that decision? fu view of that newspaper’s biased presentation of the ease for Ansett Airways Proprietary Limited, can anything be done to ensure that both sides of the case shall be placed before the public?
– There is no power under any act of this Parliament to compel newspapers to report ministerial statements, or the statement of any person who is the subject of criticism in leading articles, or otherwise in their columns. I believe that the Minister for Civil Aviation did issue a statement last night in connexion with the latest developments in the. dispute between Ansett Airways Proprietary Limited and the Civil Aviation Department. I am informed that representatives of the newspapers received copies of the statement about 8.30 o’clock last evening. T have perused the country editions of several newspapers published today, and I did not see in the Daily Tele graph any reference to the statement supplied by the Minister for Civil Aviation. In that statement the Minister said that, in view of the attitude adopted by Ansett Airways Proprietary Limited, he had instructed the Director-General of Civil Aviation to. re-assemble the conference on air fares and freight rates. The Minister said that a conference of operators had been called by the Director-General of Civil Aviation recently, when the impact of increased costs of labour and supplies and other charge? was discussed. The statement indicated that as it had been reported to the Minister that the operators and the Department of Civil Aviation had unanimously agreed that the increased costs warranted the raising of fares by 20 per cent., and that such increased rates should operate as from the 20th October, he had accordingly approved the increase. Ansett Airways Proprietary Limited has since represented that at that conference it had indicated that it had made some reservations in regard to certain secondary services, and that it now wished to be placed in the privileged position of being permitted to charge lower fares than its competitors for inter-capital journeys. The Minister said that, as he believed it was only right that he should learn the views of the other operators, the conference was being re-assembled. Ho hoped that the meeting would be held on the 29th November. I am being pressed from time to time to place before the Cabinet a recommendation that there should be a royal commission on the press in Australia similar to that which is taking evidence in Great Britain. I have not yet decided whether I should wait and see what the recommendations of the British royal commission are before making a recommendation to the Cabinet; but the present position in regard to certain sections of the Australian press is entirely unsatisfactory when ministerial statements can be suppressed.
– In the absence of the Minister for Civil Aviation, I ask the Prime Minister whether the report is correct that the Department of Civil Aviation, by direction of the Minister, has investigated the possibility of closing airports to aircraft operated by Ansett Airways Proprietary Limited because of the refusal of the company to increase its fares on certain routes? If so, what decision has been reached? If the report is not correct, is the Minister investigating other methods of forcing the company to increase fares? If so, what methods are contemplated? Has the company been asked to raise its fares only on routes on which it is in competition with Trans-Australia Airlines?
– This matter was the subject of a reply to a question by the Minister for Information a few minutes ago. As the Minister for Civil Aviation indicated in a statement which he made to the press yesterday, there has been what was understood by him to be an agreement between all air-line companies regarding the fares to be charged. It appears now that Ansett Airways Proprietary Limited claims that it made some reservations. If that is so, apparently the fact was not conveyed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. The Minister now considers that, in the circumstances, it is desirable to call all the parties together again, which he proposes to do, I understand, next Thursday. I discussed this matter at some length last night with the DirectorGeneral of Civil Aviation and the Minister acting for the Attorney-General on behalf of the Minister for Civil Aviation. I do not think that anything is to be gained by making any further statement on the matter until the conference has been held. Therefore, I do not propose to reply in detail now to the honorable member’s question.
Morgan Stanley and Company
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House of the amount of the fees paid to Morgan Stanley and Company in connexion with the recent conversion loan floated on behalf of the Australian Government? As Morgan Stanley and Company is under indictment by the United States AttorneyGeneral for monopoly banking practices, does the Australian Government intend to retain the .company as its agent? Is the firm of Morgan Stanley and Company identical with the firm of J. Pierpont Morgan and Company, against which similar charges were made in 1932?
– I will see what information I can obtain as to fees paid to underwriters or agents on behalf of the Australian Government and, as a matter of fact, the State governments, in respect of the conversion of loans that were due for repayment. The Government has no official information about the indictment of Morgan Stanley and Company by the United States AttorneyGeneral. I do not know anything more about the matter than what the honorable gentleman himself has read in the press. Regarding the link between Morgan Stanley and Company and J. Pierpont Morgan and Company, I have the impression that there is a close alliance between all the large financial institutions in the United States of America. Many of them, I think, are offshoots of the original J. Pierpont Morgan’s financial investment companies. In addition to obtaining information about the fees paid to the company, I will try to obtain information that may be of interest to him on the other parts of the honorable gentleman’s question.
Building Materials - -QUEENSLANd Quotas.
– In a report to the Queensland Parliament, the Queensland Housing Commissioner, Mr. W. J. Young, said that the building trade would be in a much more favorable position if Queensland’s full quota of materials produced in other States could be transported to it regularly. Will the Prime Minister investigate his allegation that Queensland’s quota is not coming forward? As the housing position in Queensland is becoming desperate, will he also initiate a full-scale departmental inquiry, appoint a sub-committee of the Cabinet, or make a personal examination to determine the causes of the breakdown with the object of rectifying it with the least possible delay? Will he take action immediately, as the position is very serious ?
– I gathered from the honorable gentleman’s remarks that he considers that delay is occurring in the despatch of available materials to Queensland.
– The Housing Commissioner says there is, and I agree.
– Well, the honorable gentleman had no need to ask the question.
– I want to know what action will be taken.
– Order ! The honorable member has the right to ask a question, but not to answer it himself. That is the point.
– My question was misunderstood.
– Whenever delays in the transport of materials from one State to another come to my notice, I always take up the matter immediately and personally with the Director of Shipping and the Minister for Supply and Shipping. I think that that can be said, too, of the Minister for Works and Housing. I prefer to do that instead of appointing committees. If materials are available at Port Kembla, Newcastle or anywhere else that are required in other States for building or other purposes, I always ask the Minister for Supply and Shipping what can be done to facilitate transportation. I will discuss the matter raised by the honorable gentleman personally with the Minister, and ask whether there is any delay in the transportation of building material to Queensland and what can be done to remedy the position having regard to shipping problems.
Representation in the House of Representatives.
– Pursuant to section 7 of the Representation Act 1905-1938, I lay on the table the following papers: -
Determination made by the Chief Electoral Officer of the Representation of the States in the House of Representatives, dated 17th November, 1947.
Certificate of the Chief Electoral Officer of the Number of the People of the Commonwealth and of the several States as at 30th June, 1947.
– I understand that for some time oat-growers have been guaranteed 3s. 3d. a bushel at sidings. In some instances, the Government has sold for 7s. and 8s. a bushel oats bought at the guaranteed price. Will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say what is being done with the difference between the guaranteed price and the realization price?
– Last season’s oats were taken by the Australian Barley Board from growers who desired to deliver their oats to it at 3s. a bushel at growers’ sidings. There was no pool and the Government was not obliged to distribute to the growers profits on the re-sale of the oats, but it was obliged to carry any loss that may have occurred. The Government was able to make a tidy profit on the deal. With the interests of the primary producers at heart, instead of paying the profit into Consolidated Revenue, the Government recently announced in the press that it would distribute to growers who consigned their oats to the Australian Barley Board the actual profit made by it on the transactions. A dividend of1s. a bushel has been announced already and other dividends will be paid in due course.
Motion (by Mr. Holloway) agreed to-
That leavebe given to bring in a bill for an act to alter the Constitution by empowering the Parliament to make laws with respect to rents and prices (including charges).
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
– I move -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act relating to banking and for other purposes.
The purpose of the appropriation is to provide for the salaries and pensions of judges of the Federal Court of Claims as appropriated by clause 31 of the bill. The appropriation contemplated by the message has no other purpose.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported and - by leave - adopted.
In committee : Consideration resumed from the 18th November (vide page 2223).
Clauses 47 to 55 - by leave - considered together.
– The portion of the bill with which we are now dealing i3 Part VITI., which consists of a very important series of provisions alleged to deal with the protection of rights of persons employed hy private banks. In other words, this is the portion of the bill which concerns itself with what is to happen to 20,000 employees of the trading banks of Australia. In one sense, it is very easy to answer that question. Twenty thousand people who until now have been employed by trading banks of one kind or another are to be taken against their will out of their present employment and transferred to other employment. To put it in another way, this i9 the most specific example of industrial conscription that Australia has yet witnessed. This is not a mere phrase; it is actually a fate for every man and woman included in the 20.000 of those who are employed by the trading banks. They are to be taken out of a position of security in their chosen careers and they are to be given, not security, but an extremely precarious tenure in the employment of a hank which they at no time selected and in the service of which they at no time indicated their desire to live or move or have their being. I propose to have a look at the provisions of the bill on this matter, hecause it is essential, if justice is to be done - well, that is the wrong expression - if some small fraction of justice is to be done to those transferred employees, that they should be given some security.
Under clause 49 of the bill - I am now covering ground which was very admirably dealt with a few nights ago by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) - persons employed in Australia by private banks are to be employed by the Commonwealth Bank. Then, under clause 50, the Commonwealth Bank is to be under an obligation to create positions in its service which it considers to be appropriate, and appoint the transferred employees to those positions. So far that seems to be all right. A position is to be created in the Commonwealth Bank service for the trans ferred employee. But then, clause 50 goes on to say that after that person is appointed to a position in the Commonwealth Bank service, the provisions of Part XIII. of the Commonwealth Bank Act of 1945 shall apply to and in relation to him. So that, once appointed to the Commonwealth Bank service, all the provisions of the Commonwealth Bank Act will apply to him. It is proper, 1 think, that those provisions should be a great deal better known than they are, because they form part of the legislation of J 945. I am looking now at the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945, at section 168, which is part of the provision to be made applicable to the involuntarily transferred employees. In that section there is provision about a retiring age, and that, of course, covers the instance of a man or woman reaching the retiring age and going out. In section 169 there is a provision that if at any time the bank finds that a greater number of officers is employed than is necessary for efficient working - that is to say, putting it in my own language, if at any time the bank finds that it agrees with the estimate made by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) -hat there are 5,000 or 6,000 surplus officers, then certain things may occur. Any officer who the bank finds is in excess may be transferred to such other position of equal classification as the officer is competent to fill, and if no such position is available the officer may be transferred to a position of lower classification, and, if no such position is available for the officer, the bank may retire him on one month’s notice. That is the security which is being offered to officers who, for many years in some instances, have been employed in a service in which they felt they had security, and in which they have superannuation schemes and prospects of advancement. The Government proposes to take them rudely out of that service against their will, and put them into the employment of the Commonwealth Bank, where they will be subject to section 169 of the act. Under that section, they may be transferred to another classification, or to a reduced classification, or put out of the service altogether.
Honorable members opposite have been somewhat ambiguous in their approach to this question, I know. Some of them. notably the Prime Minister, have said that the officers of the private banks will all be employed. All will have assured futures in the service of the Commonwealth Bank. In effect, they have said that the trading banks have been so efficiently run that, on an amalgamation of all of thom under the Commonwealth: not one employee will be dispensed with. That is a very high compliment to the efficiency of these competing institutions, but, of course, there is another view held by some Government supporters. There is the view of the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, aided and abetted by his genial friend, the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron), which is that 5,000 or 6.000 bank officers may be expected to be dispensed with because the amalgamation of the private banks with the Commonwealth Bank will produce efficiency and economies to warrant such a reduction of staff.
It is provided in section 172 of the Commonwealth Bank Act that if an officer appears to the bank to be inefficient, incompetent, or unfitted to discharge the duties of this position, the bank may retire him. Under section 173, the bank may retire an officer for incapacity or misconduct, but if he is retired because he is inefficient or incompetent, or if he is dismissed for incapacity or misconduct, he has the right of appeal to the Disciplinary Appeal Board. However, if lie is neither incapable nor inefficient, and hil? not misconducted himself, but the hank comes to the conclusion that his services are no longer required, because of a re-arrangement of some kind, the bank may dismiss him with one month’s notice, and he has no appeal whatever. That, taken by itself, is an extraordinary state of affairs. ¥e had some debate about it in 1945, and the Government, as usual, was not willing to accept an amendment. T could never understand why there should be a right of appeal in the first two cases which I have mentioned, and no right of appeal in the third, although the result of losing his position, from the point of view of the employee, is equally fatal in all cases. I direct attention to the fact that when these transferred officers are conscripted into the service of the Commonwealth Bank they will have no more security than is given them under section 169 of the Commonwealth Bank Act. ,i., may be dismissed at a month : notice, and, if so, they will have no appeal, and no redress. That seems to me, and to other honorable members of this committee, a calamitous state of affairs. After all, it is the bank officers who have created the most valuable asset of the banks - their goodwill - a fact which can well be told over and over again. It is the bank officers who have created the reputation which is enjoyed by the trading banks.
No one suggests that of the eight or nine trading banks operating in Australia, one is more solvent than another. They are all perfectly sound, they are all perfectly solvent. Whether one gets the business or that business goes to a competitor, depends upon the personality, understanding and skill of the officers representing the banks in a particular community. We are now discussing a body of 20,000 bank officers who, by their labours, have created the goodwill of the institutions which- employ them, but who are now, without consultation, to be torn away from their employment willy-nilly, and transferred by a process of conscription to ari employment which they did not select. Their choice is to accept such treatment, or to go out of banking altogether, and throw away all the results of their training and experience. That seems to me to be such a scandalous thing that I propose to test the feeling of the committee by moving an amendment to clause 50, sub-clause 3 of which reads - (3.) After a person is appointed to a position in the Commonwealth Bank Service under sub-section (1.) of this section the provisions of Part XIII. of the Commonwealth Bank Act 1045 shall apply to and in relation to him.
I move -
That, in clause 50. sub-clause (‘A.), the following proviso lie added: -
Provided that a person appointed to a position in the Commonwealth Bank Service under sub-section (1.) of this section shall not be transferred to a position of lower classification under section one hundred and sixty-nine of the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945 nor retired under that section for a period of five years after his appointment to that position.
That is a very modest proposition. It might easily have been ten years, or fifteen years, but I fix the period at five years, because it is desired to test th Government’s approach to this matter. If the Government believes what its leader has said, namely, that the officers of the private banks are going to a place of secure employment, then a guarantee of five years will not come amiss. If the Government will not accept such an amendment, then it is clear that the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction and the Postmaster-General, and their supporters, are right when they say that some thousands of bank officers will be cast out of the service, having first been dragged into it. We shall then know just what the position is, and so will these 20,000 very deserving citizens of Australia.
– It is amusing to hear the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) discussing the redundancy provisions of the Commonwealth Bank Act; Those provisions are precisely the same as the redundancy provisions in the Public Service Act, which was administered by the right honorable gentleman himself at one time, but he did not seem to be much troubled by them then.
– I do not remember conscripting people into the Public Service.
– I shall deal with that point later. The provision referred to in the Commonwealth Bank Act was taken from the Public Service Act, and that act was not passed during the term of office of this Government, but has been in force for many years. That provision was allowed to remain when the right honorable gentleman was the Minister in charge of the Public Service. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) dealt with section 169 of the Commonwealth Bank Act. That act will need some amendment at a later stage; and I said in reply to the honorable member that when that was being done the Government would examine the points raised in this debate.
The Leader of the Opposition talks about industrial conscription. He should have a word with the Premier of South Australia, who is his colleague in the conservative political world, because not very long ago the Premier of South Australia conscripted all the employees associated with the Adelaide Electric Supply Company when that undertaking was taken over by the State Government. The employees of that undertaking were in precisely the same position as are employees of the private banks under this legislation. So, if this is regarded as industrial conscription the right honorable gentleman had better get out and defend his colleague in South Australia, who has been so vociferous in allying himself with the forces which the right honorable gentleman is leading at the moment. Of course, what I have said is true in a hundred cases in Australia when governments, not only Labour governments, have taken over public utilities, such as electricity supply undertakings, from private enterprise and placed them under their own control or that of local governing authorities. Is that to be called .industrial conscription ?
The Leader of the Opposition has wonderful solicitude for employees of the private banks. The Government will give justice to those employees regardless of their individual politics. We are. not thinking about people who might have voted Labour in the past, or who might vote Labour in the .future. We shall do justice to all sections of the community. The employees of the private (banks have played their part as workers in the economic life of the country, and they are entitled to justice as much as anybody else, irrespective of whether they oppose the Government politically or support it. The right honorable gentleman has wonderful solicitude for them, but no question of industrial conscription is involved. The employees of the private banks can elect to come over, or they can refuse; but we do not find that as employees of the private banks they are given the protection of any appeal board. The private banks, for disciplinary or other reasons, or because, perhaps, they do not like certain employees, just “ sack “ their employees ; and it goes a lot farther than that in some cases, because when a bank “ sacks “ a man it ensures that that man. shall not obtain employment with any other bank. That is a very old method. I myself have had the experience of that kind of thing. Employers often black-list people whom they “ sacked “ by sending out a round robin intimating to other employers who those people are. I can give a good few instances of that sort of thing. I emphasize that at present employees of private banks have no tribunal to which they can appeal for protection. They can be “sacked “ at any time, and they have no disciplinary board to appeal to.
There may be something in the point made by the honorable member for Warringah that the impression may have been given to employees of private banks that there may be some redundancy, and that after they are taken over the Commonwealth Bank, under section 169 of the Commonwealth Bank Act, may say, in effect, “ We have taken you over. We have carried out that part of the contract, but we find there is no place for you now, so you are discharged”. However, that can be done under the Public Service Act. Although that act lias been in operation for a long time, that provision has not been amended. Rut it goes further than that, and this is my main point : If this proposal is industrial conscription, the Premier of South Australia has given a very striking instance of it. The Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) is greatly perturbed about the Public Service, and I assume that he believes that a great number of public servants should be “ sacked “. While honorable members opposite have always argued in the past that the number of public servants should be reduced, they are now putting up the opposite argument. They should be consistent about these things. I do not propose to say much on this matter; but I wish to make it clear that we are anxious to see that employees of the private banks, no matter what they do politically - they can engage in as many protests and sign as many petitions as they like - are given justice. This legislation involves a change of circumstances so far as those employees are concerned. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, they have dedicated their lives to their present calling. They have their homes and future to protect. Their pensions are most important to each of them, and all of their rights must be protected. That is what the Government proposes to do. Indeed, it proposes not only that they shall retain all the rights to which they are legally entitled in their present employment, but also that they shall be given a legal right to any benefits which they now -receive from their present employers as an act of goodwill, or an act of grace.
The Government believes that the banking system of this country, and, perhaps, that of many other countries, has never adequately served the people. I do not apply that remark to private banks only. However, the Rural Bank of New South Wales has done very good work and has shown initiative. Perhaps, that can be said also of other State banks. The business of the banking system should be something more than the mere lending of money. After all, money changing is a pretty sordid business. Christ had something to say about the money changers in the Temple. In every human there is a strong spirit of materialism. Perhaps, there are some people who do not bother about that, but the great majority of people desire to acquire material advantages. They like to make money. That spirit is inherent, in human nature; and the business of lending money and making a profit out of it is not, after all, a very elevating one. The banking system of every country should give service not only to the clients who borrow money or deposit it with the banks, but also to the community as a whole; and I hope to see in this country a banking system which will not merely be bothered about whether Robertson, or Jones, wants a loan, but rather will be intent upon giving advice or help that will assist the individual on his farm, in his business, or in his other activities, whatever they may be.
– What has this to do with the employees of private banks?
– I am coming to that. I have no doubt that if all the people are given adequate banking facilities of the kind I have envisaged there will be no difficulty in absorbing a considerably greater number of people than are now employed under the present banking system. The services of every officer associated with the Commonwealth Bank and the private banks could be utilized to provide very much wider and fuller banking facilities to the people than are being provided to-day under the present system.
Some mention has been made of the statistical and economic advice rendered by the banks. The Commonwealth Bank has done something in that regard, as has also the Bank of New South Wales, particularly through its Economic Department. The Rural Bank of New South Wales has also provided some services of that kind. Generally, however, such services rendered by the banks have been too restricted. There is a very wide field for their development so that the ordinary man in the street - not the big business man - may obtain advice in connexion with his business or the accounting methods employed in its conduct. Apart altogether from any direct benefit to the bank, the establishment of such services would be profitable to the country. Even though honorable members opposite may not admit it, Australia is now enjoying a period of considerable economic expansion. I do not think anybody doubts that never before in this country has there been such great economic expansion. One might even say that, having regard to the tendency towards inflation in some directions, there might even be. too much expansion in connexion with the production of unessential things. This country is going ahead very rapidly and, accordingly, there is ample scope for the Commonwealth Bank to perform very much wider functions than in the past, apart altogether from the question of earning a profit on its transactions. The making of profits is the criterion of successful business. But there is a vast difference between the making of profits and the making of big profits, as has been the case with the private banks. Indeed, very substantial profits have also been made by the Commonwealth Bank.
The Government is unable to accept (lie amendment. The provisions of section 169 of the Commonwealth Bank Act are on similar lines to those included in the Commonwealth Public Service Act. It may be safe to assume that the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank will not be greatly impressed by the need for the retention of that section. He would most likely say, “ That section does not concern me at all; you may delete it from the Commonwealth Bank Act if you like “. We are not now dealing with the Commonwealth Bank Act. Next year, when that act is under review, I shall honour my promise to the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) to consider the position of excess officers with a view to providing for them some right of appeal. I point out, however, that the honorable member, when he was the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Bank service, showed no solicitude for excess officers in that service. The Commonwealth Bank, like all other business enterprises, has suffered from the shortage of suitable youths to supplement its staff. It has not been able to recruit a sufficient number of young men to meet the increased demands for the facilities which it now provides foa1 the people. There is no need to ask for guarantees of continuity of employment for the officers of the private bank; for five years. The Government contemplates that, subject to good conduct, the officers taken over from the private banks will remain in the service of the Commonwealth Bank until they reach the retiring age. If an officer bc guilty of embezzlement his services will, of course, be dispensed with. We give to the officers of the private banks a guarantee of permanent employment in the banking profession until they reach the retiring age, provided their services are satisfactory.
– It would be a good thing if the right honorable gentleman and his Ministers spoke with one voice on this’ matter. I compare that guarantee with the statement made by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction.
– The statement made by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) was based on the banking system as it is conducted to-day, and not as it will be conducted after this bill becomes law. When this measure is placed upon the statute-book we shall no longer think of banking conditions in terms of the present system. The Government envisages a banking system which will provide very much wider services than are now provided by the private banks, and which will not only meet more adequately the requirements of the average citizen of the Commonwealth but also cater for our vastly expanding economy. For that reason, we say that we are not concerned with guaranteeing employment for the officers taken over from the private banks for twelve months or five years. We visualize their employment in the Commonwealth Bank service throughout the- whole of their working years. Because of that the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank is not concerned about the section of the Commonwealth Bank Act relating to the retirement of excess officers. I give an undertaking, however, that that matter will be looked into when the Commonwealth Bank Act is under review next year.
– In reply to the very serious allegations made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), we have just heard from the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) the usual type of speech which the right honorable gentleman is accustomed to deliver in this chamber. He did not answer the questions raised by the Leader of the Opposition, but gave us a dissertation on banking, drawing all sorts of red herrings across the trail, and doing nothing to alleviate the grave doubts and fears of the officers of the private banks us to the arrangements made for their absorption into the Commonwealth Bank service. The Prime Minister has offered no assurances in regard to the possible effect of section 169 of the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945. The Leader of the Opposition has pointed out that the existence of that section deprives officers transferred from the trading banks to the Commonwealth Bank of security of tenure, and affords a means by which the Commonwealth Bank can get rid of them after they have joined its service. Two responsible Ministers, namely, the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman), and the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron), have made most disturbing pronouncements in regard to the future of officers of the trading banks. The former stated that when the trading banks were absorbed by the Commonwealth Bank there would be 5,000 surplus officers, whilst the latter said that he would turn the surplus officers into postmen. It is all very well for the Prime Minister to deny those statements, but he has not offered any reassurance to the officers concerned. Incidentally, neither of the statements made by the two Ministers I have indicated was received with acclamation by permanent officials of the Commonwealth Bank or the Postal Department, because they do not want an influx of 5,000 officers into their respective services. Now the Prime Minister suggests, by way of reassurance of the unfortunate officers concerned, that he would like to create 5,000 economists to teach the people of Australia the best way to develop their country. Undoubtedly, he has an extraordinary belief in the efficacy of economists. However, I point out that it is impossible to secure full agreement amongst economists, either in this country or abroad, on any matter at any time. In contrast with the vaunted efficiency of government planning, I point to the actual achievements of private enterprise in the mightiest industrial country in the world to-day. The phenomenal development of the United States of America frsm its beginnings in the foundation of the colonies in Virginia, the Puritan settlements in North America and the Dutch and Quaker colonies around New York, to its present might was not achieved by following a plan prepared by economists ; it was achieved by the enterprise of free individuals. Economists, who are taught in universities but are quite inexperienced in practical affairs, originate nothing; they merely develop their ideas from the writings of other men. The great developments which have occurred in the United States of America in every field of human endeavour would have been impossible of achievement if that country’s economic destiny had been left in the hands of “people who had graduated, not in the world of practical affairs, but in some theoretical world. 1 do not share the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for his proposal to string around the necks of Australians a deadly necklace of 5,000 economists, who would glitter like poisonous jewels.
The Prime Minister said that he was amazed to hear the Leader of the Opposition refer to redundancy in the Commonwealth Bank, and asserted that section 169 of the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945 was virtually taken out of the Public Service Act. However, there is this vast difference between the
Commonwealth Public Service and the Commonwealth Bank, that never at any time has the Public Service had to withstand an influx of 20,000 new officers. The biggest increase of staff in any Commonwealth department occurred on the introduction of uniform taxation when the personnel of State Departments of Taxation was taken over by the Common weallth If the treatment meted out then to the officers taken over from the States is an augury of what is to be given to officers of the trading banks when they are absorbed by the Commonwealth Bank, I say, “Heaven help the bank officers “. I need mention only one example of the injustice done to the officers of former State Departments of Taxation. Through the complaisance of the Commissioner of Taxation and the intervention of the Prime Minister, the Clerks Union, a Communist body under the control of Mr. Hughes, a well-known Communist in New South Wales, secured preferential treatment for its members over those who belonged to established Public Service associations, and bitterly resented the intrusion of the Clerks Union. Notwithstanding the appeals made to him to prevent the intrusion of this unwelcome body, the Prime Minister has nursed it as though it were a child whom he had adopted.
The Prime Minister referred to the action of the Premier of South Australia, Mr. Playford, in taking over the employees of the Adelaide Electric Supply Company Limited, and argued that the action which the Government now proposes to take is analogous to that of Mr. Playford. He even contended that Mr. Playford’s action had created a precedent. How false and specious is that line of reasoning ! One has only to think for a moment to realize that the emloyees of the electricity undertaking in Adelaide were not subjected in any way to industrial conscription, because there were scores of firms manufacturing, distributing and installing electricity and electrical equipment to which they could have gone for employment had they wished to do so. Contrast their position with that of the officers of the trading banks, who cannot remain in the banking profession unless they choose to join the Commonwealth
Bank. Their position is in no way different to that of the unfortunate peoples of Germany and Russia who were, and are being, driven into forced labour camps by the totalitarian regimes of those countries. Officers of the trading banks will have no alternative; they are to be hounded into the Commonwealth Bank. And what sort of treatment will they receive when they are taken into that bank’s service ? Does a new boy at school receive the same treatment as that given to boys who have attended that school for years ? Of course, he does not, and despite the specious arguments of the Prime Minister, it is perfectly obvious that the officers transferred compulsorily to the Commonwealth Bank will not receive the same treatment as the present officers of that institution. The Prime Minister sneered at the solicitude of the Leader of the Opposition for the employees of private banks, and asserted that the Government is anxious to do justice to all sections of the community.
– Hear, hear !
– The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller) applauds, but he did not listen to the argument advanced by the Leader of the Opposition, when he pointed out that neither the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945 nor the present bill give any guarantee whatever to the employees of the trading banks that their livelihood will be safeguarded. We have had the experience of the type of justice dealt out by the Government to other sections of the community which did not share its views, and we know that that is the kind of “ justice “ available in other countries. We have only to realize what is happening in Argentina, under the dictatorship of President Peron. That is the country for which the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) is so sympathetically concerned that he spread himself to secure its admission into the United Nations-
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Clark).Order ! The honorable member is not entitled to deal with Argentina during the present debate.
– I shall not pursue my remarks in regard to that country .any further. The Prime Minister criticized the conditions of service of officers of the trading banks and alleged that dismissed officers were “ black listed “. He also alleged that they enjoyed no guarantee of continuity of employment. However, he did not tell the committee of the “ grape vine “ system which operates in the trade unions, whereby any one who offends a union is prevented from obtaining employment in his trade, not only in Australia, but also in countries overseas. It ill becomes the right honorable gentleman, who is full of cant and insincerity, to contend that the officers of the trading banks have no security of tenure and to allege that they are “ black-listed “ if they are dismissed from the service of a private bank. He should read the story of industrial tyranny in this, and other countries, where the trade union “ grape vine “ operates. When the Prime Minister eventually reached the subject of banking, he said that the banking system in Australia had not adequately served the people. Then, in one of those extraordinarily specious addresses which he sometimes delivers, he spoke about Christ driving the money changers from the temple. If he read his Bible a little more than ‘he does, he would find there the parable of the ten talents. The servant who buried his talent in the ground was not made a commander over ten cities as was the man who, by his individual effort, increased the number of talents which had been entrusted to him. The first servant was rebuked for his lack of enterprise. When the Prime Minister introduces the name of Christ into this debate, and when the Minister for Labour ‘and National Service (Mr. Holloway) states that communism was founded on Christianity, I remind them that their leader, Lenin, to whose works they pay such great attention, said, “ Religion is the opium of the people “.
I return now to the Prime Minister’s complaint that the system of hanking in Australia has not been adequate. He said that more advice should be given, and more attention paid to assisting the people. He also advocated a wider study of economic conditions and statistics. Evidently, he believed that one can make a new Delphic oracle who will forecast, for months ahead, the economic events of the world. If he will read the writings of all the economists in Australia before the onset of the financial and economic depression of the early thirties, he will find that only one of them, to my knowledge, the late Professor Shann accurately forecast in his book, The Boom of ‘93 and Now, the approach of the depression. All the other gentlemen, infinitely wise after the event, did not forecast the onset of the depression. Did members of the Labour party forecast it in 1926-28 ? Not one of them did ! Did any economists, other than Professor Shann, forecast it? Of course not! In those days, we read that we lived in a golden age and an era of prosperity, which would last forever. Those statements may be read in the writings of economists at that time. Therefore, I am extremely doubtful whether an additional 5,000 economists, whom the Prime Minister hopes to place in the Commonwealth Bank, will give to farmers any better advice than the knowledge which they gained in the past through their practical work.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- As usual, the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) said so many amazing things, that time will not permit me to reply to all of them. His most amazing statement was that no one had predicted the economic disturbances which would follow World War I.
– I did not say that.
– The honorable member said that Professor Shann was the only economist who forecast the onset of the financial and economic depression of the early ‘thirties. The major contribution to economic thought and advancement throughout the world was made by the late Lord Keynes in his book, Economic Consequences of the Peace, and the whole array of works which he published from that time onwards. However, the honorable member’s complaint is that the economists do not speak with one voice on certain particular matters. Does he not know that even doctors disagree on certain medical matters, and, of course, it is accepted that economics is a far less exact science than medicine? The honorable gentleman proceeded to claim that private enterprise and, presumably, orthodox private capital had built up the greatness of the United States of America. I propose to read some extracts from Money Experiments, by Professor R. A. Lester, of the Princeton University, who examines financial experiments in early colonial days in the United States of America. This study was published under the auspices of the International Finance Section of the Department of Economics and Social Institutions in that university. Professor Lester wrote -
But our forefathers did not take a passive attitude towards depressions, ami simply wait with patience until the economy somehow righted itself. They did not, as old-guard economists advocate, leave their fate to “ na tural forces “. . . To them experience was “ the surest instructor “ and the experience of “ near half a, century in the middle colonies”, to use Franklin”? words, taught the colonists that properly regulated currency issues were of great benefit to agriculture, industry, construction and trade.
They did not wait for the blind forces on monetary matters and private banking to work themselves out, as the honorable member for New England suggested. Professor Lester, after reviewing all the experiments which made a great contribution to monetary thought even in those early days, wrote -
Above all. we need to-day some of that intelligent scepticism toward the financial dogma of the day that our colonial forefathers had. They did not hesitate to challenge the existing economic theology or to engage in intelligent experimentation. The spirit and attitude of our forefathers is in the American tradition.
Those statements regarding financial experiments early in the history of the United States of America, summarized in this splendid work, reveal that the colonists did not wait for blind forces to work out, but intelligently planned and made issues of currency for the purposes of countering the effects of financial and economic depressions. This Government also advocates that policy, and leading economic thought throughout the world accepts it. The effects of depressions and falling prices can be countered in every modern community.
The honorable member also read a. number of statements, apparently to contradict the assertion of the Prime Minister that, over the years, the banking system of Australia had not been completely satisfactory. He adopted a dif- ferent attitude when he was a member of the Royal Commission on Monetary and Banking Systems. Now he suggests that the banking system in Australia has been perfect. In this he contradict; himself. I propose to quote some statements by Mr. J. S. Teasdale. Members of the Australian Country party will not deny that he is a leading member of their organization. When he gave evidence before the royal commission, he did so in his capacity as President of the Primary Producers Association of Western Australia. I understand that he is now a member of the Australian Wheat Board, and I believe that no one is a greater authority than he is on the wheat industry, and the crises which periodically have affected it. Giving evidence before the royal commission, he said -
There can be no doubt whatever that the Agricultural Bank has been the greatest single factor in facilitating land settlement throughout the agricultural areas of Western Australia. Finance from this institution was originally intended to provide only for developmental purposes, but during the lust two decades has been widened to some extent to cover seasonal requirements. This has been brought about by necessity rather than the desire of the management.
In effect, the private banks were not able to assume responsibility for the early development of agricultural land in Western Australia and, by sheer necessity, the Agricultural Bank - a State government institution - was first forced to take up that burden. Mr. Teasdale also stated -
Another grave weakness in the system of financing by trading banks is that in boom time, when they have ample funds to invest, undue encouragement is given to farmers to accept loans which could have been done without. This undue encouragement has a tendency to keep interest rates at a high level.
He continued -
It cannot be doubted that the objects of the banks at such times is to secure profitable employment for their funds rather than the broad interest of agriculture and the country generally. In other words, industry is made to serve the purpose of finance rather than finance of industry.
The honorable member for New England, who was a member of the Royal Commission on Monetary and Banking Systems, asked Mr. Teasdale the following question : -
Did you have any experience in Western Australia of money being thrown at the people before the depression ?
Mr. Teasdale replied ;
Yea. In the years when wheat was high and land values were going up, I know scores of men who were encouraged to borrow money that they should never have borrowed.
To another question from Mr. Abbott, who asked -
Would that tend to drive land values up?
Mr. Teasdale replied ;
Yes. it did beyond the limits even of the prices we were getting for our commodities.
There is confirmation of the views expressed by the Prime Minister. I was greatly disappointed with the attitude of the honorable member for New England to the banking legislation of 1945. He said in his minority report, as a member of the royal commission, that there was too much borrowing short and lending long. Then he said, in effect, that money at short call had to be paid on demand and that overdrafts had to be called up. He added that that practice caused a shock to individuals which was felt throughout the whole community. Now he denies the principles which he i lion espoused.
– Tell the truth.
– The honorable member went on to say that the Prime Minister would appoint 5,000 economists to the expanded staff of the Commonwealth Bank. Was there ever a more malicious distortion of the Prime Minister’s statement that in an expanded Commonwealth Bank there is undoubtedly room for additional officers? Of course there is room on the staff of the Commonwealth Banks for additional officers as the banks have been carrying on with a skeleton staff during the war years. With the dawning of a. new era in banking and the prospect of industry expanding, banking institutions will have to lend more money, and there will be need to augment the staffs as the years pass. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) attempted to deceive the members of the staffs of the private banks when he told them that they would be conscripted and left without security. The right honorable gentleman conveniently overlooked what had been done by Liberal premiers in South Australia and Western Australia, where public .utilities of such importance as electrical undertakings have been placed under govern ment control. There is ample evidence that the trend towards public ownership of such utilities is spreading. Even Liberal premiers realize the necessity to move with the times. The workers in these undertakings hope that they will remain in those industries when they are taken over by government, if that is “ conscription “. The fact is that the staffs of the private banks will be given a measure of security under this legislation that they have not experienced hitherto. What has been the position of the employees of a bank which has been taken over by another bank? They have had no security, no assurance that their services would be continued, or that they would receive the same rates of pay if retained. They have never been free from the fear of dismissal. They have lived with the constant possibility of receiving a fortnight’s pay in lieu of leave prior to their services being dispensed with on their being declared redundant officers. This will assures them of continuity of employment under good conditions. On one occasion a member of the staff of a .bank which was absorbed by another banking institution said to me, “ The bank has sold not only its assets but also its staff. It has provided for its shareholders, ‘but it has not shown any concern for its employees “.
It may be, as the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) has said, that some of the provisions of this legislation will have to be amended. The Government has given an assurance that amendments will be made if found necessary. However, it can be said with truth that in the provision for the staffs of the private banks the Prime Minister has shown interest of a high order. It is the experience of banking history that little is learned except through turmoil, stress, hardship and suffering. Every new banking development has emerged from some situation involving a disturbance of the monetary and financial system. Unfortunately, on many occasions the lessons have been learned only after the situation has passed into history. The Prime Minister has said that in the banking sphere, as well as in the industrial sphere, there must be a new approach to problems and a willingness to adopt new processes. He has emphasized the slogan that finance must serve industry rather than be served by industry. I concludeby assuring the staffs of the private hanks that continuity of employment under better conditions will be their lot in the future.
– Notwithstanding what has been said by supporters of the Government who have professed concern for the employees of the trading banks, it is significant that only a period of three hours has been allotted to the discussion of matters which vitally affect 20,000 such employees of banks. A period of three hours is little enough in which to discuss one amendment aimed at ensuring justice for these officers. The provisions of the bill relating to the employees of the trading banks warrant the closest consideration by honorable members, and it is reasonable to suppose that a number of amendments, designed to protect their existing rights, would be moved if time permitted. The application of the “ guillotine “ to so important a measure shows how empty is the profession of concern by the Government for the employees of the trading banks.
I listened with interest to the attempt of the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) to answer the case presented by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies). Instead of indulging in a wordy dissertation on nothing in particular I had expected the right honorable gentleman to give definite assurances that the many anomalies which this bill will create would be rectified. In effect, all that he said was, “We have taken slabs out of the Commonwealth Public Service Act and put them into this bill “. He went on to say that what had been done in this legislation was to provide for officers of the private banks conditions of employment similar to those enjoyed by public servants. The fact is that officers of the trading banks chose to enter the service of the banks rather than the Public Service. Now, however, the Prime Minister says that the Government proposes lo conscript them for employment under conditions which did not appeal to them when they preferred to work in banks rather than as public servants. The Government says to the private bank clerks, “We may continue to employ a certain number of you in the. bank, but only under the terms and conditions that we lay down”. Those terms and conditions are the terms and conditions laid down in the Public Service Act, but they were designed for a limited number of public servants, and it is proposed to inflate the 9,000 employees of the Commonwealth Bank by the 20,000 now employed by the private banks, thus increasing the total to about 30,000, to whom the terms and conditions of the Public Service Act will be applied. Now, the Public Service Act contains provisions relating to redundant officers, and it is certain that when the Commonwealth Bank takes over the private banks many of the 20,000 employees of the private banks will be found to be redundant. The question that immediately arises in one’s mind in considering this bill is whether the Commonwealth Bank will be able to absorb all the employees of the private banks. The Prime Minister and other honorable gentlemen opposite are at variance. The Prime Minister says, “ Yes ; we can accommodate them “, and his words are echoed hy the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Burke).
– We all say it can.
Air. HARRISON.- But the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman j says that there will be at least 5,000 thrown onto the scrap heap.
– He denies haying said that.
Ma-. HARRISON.- The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) says that the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction denies having said that, but the PostmasterGeneral (Senator Cameron) believes that he said it, because he said that he could find employment for those 5,000 people in the Postal Department - doubtless as postmen and the like. But the bank clerks chose their vocation. They chose it in preference to any other job, in or out of the Public Service. The Minister for Repatriation, who claims that the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction denies having made such a statement, ought to examine that Minister’s record. It was he who rationalized the banking system during the war and closed down about 500 branches of banks in country towns on the ground that those towns were oversupplied with banks. His declaration that 5,000 private bank employees will be redundant in the banking service when the Commonwealth Bank takes over the private banks is in conformity with that policy, which resulted in the demotion of managers of the branches that were closed. Those employees have not regained the positions they held in towns where branches have not been reopened. Does the Minister for Repatriation propose that prior consideration shall be given to them to ensure that they shall be reinstated to the positions they formerly occupied? Of course, the Government has no intention of anything of the kind. The trend of thought of the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction is plain. The 5,000 private bank employees whom he regards as redundant to the banking system will be found jobs in the Public Service and will be forced into vocations that they never contemplated when they chose banking as their profession. This is the complete plan for industrial conscription. Men are to be taken from their chosen vocations and put in other jobs. Proof that the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction was truthfully reported as having made that statement is afforded by the fact that it runs parallel with his previous statements and actions. Under industrial conscription, the individual has no rights, and there is no such thing as a chosen vocation. That will be the fate of people in this country under this scheme.
The Prime Minister, in endeavouring to show that security of employment in 1lie private banks is non-existent, referred at length to black-listing. He said that if a man was dismissed by one private bank he had no chance of obtaining a job with another, because he was blacklisted. I concede that if a private bank dismissed a. man for some defalcation or misdemeanour, his record would warrant that bank’s notifying the other banks; but the same system applies to the Public Service, because, if a public servant is dismissed from it he has no chance of getting another job in the Public Service, unless he is reinstated after a successful appeal against dismissal. The honorable member for New England referred to black-listing done by unions. The Prime Minister evaded that subject. Why, if one dares to insult a union man, as a girl at Gorman House allegedly insulted the cook, one is black-listed, and she was denied food because she would not apologize to him. So, the right honorable gentleman ought to avoid talk about black-lists. We can supply chapter and verse of black-listing by unions. 1 merely mention that as an indication of the superfluous arguments engaged in by the Prime Minister, who skated right round, but would not approach the core of the trouble - industrial conscription, which he is forcing on the people. I warn trade unionists that the conscription of the employees of private banks into other jobs will be but the first step, and that, after the banking system has been nationalized, there will be no such thin-: as chosen jobs. People will have to do whatever they are told to do. From thi; legislation it is but a short step to forced labour camps and concentration camps.
I warn the workers that this measure is the shape of things to come. In the little while I have left I do not propose to quote, as the Prime Minister did, the relevant sections of the 1945 legislation, but the Prime Minister agrees that the amendment is the only opportunity we have to test the bona fides of the Government in its declaration that it intends to safeguard the interests of the employees of the private banks. I could cite many injustices likely to be meted out to the employees of the private bank* when they become servants of the Government. Thousands of private bank officers receive certain emoluments that, in the strictly legal sense, are not a part of their salary. The bill contains no provision to safeguard them in respect of those emoluments. Another illustration of the need for more time in which to consider the clauses relating to the lives and livelihood of employees of the trading banks is the absence of provision to protect the interests of temporary employees of the private trading banks. The temporary employees have a right to justice. But where is the provision to protect their rights? Again, I cannot deliberate on this point because my time is limited. However, I direct the attention of the committee and of the country to these matters in order to show that this Government has given no consideration to the rights of individuals. It proposes to enforce industrial conscription and does not intend to preserve the ordinary democratic rights and privileges which the people now enjoy.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member’s time litis expired.
.- In the first place, in dealing with die subject under discussion, namely, the staffs of the private trading banks, I point out that I do not take exception to members of the Bank Officers Association or any other union in which bank employees may be banded together placing their case before the appropriate authorities if they consider that an injustice will be done to them. They can do so through the proper channels, and in doing so they will be exercising a right which we, on this side of the chamber, acknowledge to be possessed by every employee in industry. However, I do not share the fears of the employees of the banks, and of honorable members opposite, that an injustice will be done. On the contrary, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) has clearly shown, all members of the private hanks’ staffs w ill be fully protected in every way. The Government has even gone so far as to provide in the bill that former employees of the private banks who now receive pensions as an act of grace shall continue to receive them as a right. This group of clauses is most comprehensive in its provisions, and, as the Prime Minister has explained, the interests of the employees will be adequately preserved. These people have considerable support from honorable members on this side of the chamber because they represent a great section of the working community. We Iia ve ensured that their privileges and rights shall be safeguarded, and all of the talk of honorable members opposite about industrial conscription is absolutely without foundation. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison), the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) and a few other honorable gentlemen opposite have told a sorry story about what will happen to private bank employees if they become redundant in the Commonwealth Service. What did private industry do with redundant employees in the period from 1930 to 1939? Those people were not placed in any other form of employment .by option or otherwise. They were forced, by themost vicious form of economic conscription, to take their places in dole queuesand to suffer poverty and degradationYet the honorable member for Wentworth now complains because this Government has taken comprehensive measures to protect the rights of such people and ensure that they shall never again be subjected to such misery and indignity T
Under this legislation, the employees of the private banks will enjoy the same security as is now enjoyed by public servants: Section 169 of the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945, the provision under which the rights of employees will be safeguarded under this bill, is identical with section 20 of the Commonwealth Public Service Act. In other words, the employees of the private banks will be given the full measure of security that is now enjoyed by public servants, a degree of security which is not enjoyed by the great majority of workers in private industry. I have taken the trouble to check the number of public servants declared redundant during the last twenty years. Dismissals on that ground can be counted on the fingers of one hand. There were probably very sound reasons for those dismissals, but the persons concerned were paid compensation for any injustice which they might have considered that they, suffered and to tide them over the period in which they sought other employment. It is idle to say that this measure docs not provide full protection for the rights of employees of private banks.
In 1944, this Government expressly submitted to the people of Australia, by means of a referendum, a proposal to withdraw from private industry the right to hire and fire.
Sitting suspended from 12.^5 to 2.15 p.m.
– The employees of the private banks will, after nationalization, enjoy the same security and conditions of employment as are now enjoyed by the members of the Commonwealth Public Service, and when I was employed in private industry we always looked upon those conditions as very desirable. I am amazed at the criticism offered by honorable members opposite. I cannot refrain from comparing their attitude now with what it was when the Government sought to give every person, whether employed by the Government or by private enterprise, a measure of economic security similar to that enjoyed by everybody during the war, and by member’s of the Public Service at all times. In 1944, the Government submitted fourteen points to the people by way of’ referendum seeking increased powers for the Commonwealth Parliament. Speaking on the subject of employment in reference to that referendum, the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) said -
Security of employment [or the wage-earner will plainly bc one of thu central tasks of government in post-war years. This cannot be achieved without some modification of the arbitrary powers of engagement and dismissal which have characterized industry and commerce in the past.
At a later stage in his speech, the A Attorney-General said -
I am pleased to join issue on the question of whether - to use thu American phrase - the absolute right to hire and lire can lie tolerated in the post-war years.
If honorable members opposite were sincere, they would have unanimously supported the Government’s referendum proposals, so that every one in the community might enjoy economic security, and so that the unfettered right to “hire find fire “ might be taken from employers. However, a majority of the Opposition lined up against the Government’s proposals, and played a big part in bringing about the defeat of the referendum. I believe that it is right that the employees of the private .banks should hp given security of employment, but it is hypocritical for honorable members opposite to be so concerned over the future of the employees of the private banks, while at the same time telling us that thousands of public servants ought to be sacked - that they ought to be put into productive employment, to use their own expression. Members of the Opposition are merely using the officers of the private banks in order to bolster up a weak case. When two of the private banks amalgamated, honorable members opposite showed no concern for those hank officers who might, as the result, lose their jobs. Did any honorable members opposite protest when some of the bank officers of the amalgamated banks were declared redundant? So far as we know, many of them could have been dismissed without their having any say in the matter at all, and whether or not there were other jobs for them to go to.
According to the Opposition, the conditions of employment in the private banks are almost perfect, but I do not. agree. While the employees may be more or less satisfied with present conditions, the fact remains that the policy of the Commonwealth Bank has always been to provide better conditions for its employees than do the private banks. I have here the August copy of the official organ of the United Bank Officers Association of New South Wales. In this publication, there is set out the budget of a bank officer who, in the eighteenth year of the present salary scale, is receiving £520 a year, and it is shown that this man’s yearly expenditure amounted to £543 16s. 9d. Even after many years service, he could not live on the salary paid to him by the bank. The officer himself stated -
If my wife did not go out to business, where would I be? I could probably give up smoking. The family could be deprived of the picture?. My lunch could be cut at home. We could cut down on milk. . . .
And so on. That case was mentioned in the court when a new deal was being sought by bank officers. Commenting on this case, the journal says -
Published elsewhere in this issue is a statement furnished by a trading bank officer setting out his annual living expenses at £543 His. 9d. He is married with two children and in his thirty-third year of service with the bank. His wife is compelled to go to business.
That is a disgraceful state of affairs, but one that will not be allowed to continue under nationalization of banking. Honorable members opposite talk about the freedom of the individual, and pretend that the banks treat their employees as they do their depositors. They practically suggest that the private banks are, in effect, benevolent institutions. However, I have here a staff form which branch managers of the National Bank of Australasia are required to fill in and send to the head office. The form requires the manager to supply such particulars as where the officers in his bank reside, with whom, and if the quarters and environment are suitable. Information is required about the administrative and business capacity of the officer, and his character and disposition. Then, this freedom-loving institution, of which Sir Frank Clarke, the so-called great upholder of democracy is the champion, puts this instruction on the form -
General Report. - Include anything connected with his family or habits, or views regarding religion, politics and social questions which should be added to above. (Note. - It is the duty of the manager to report any special circumstances that may be detrimental to the efficiency or usefulness of the officer, or which add to his merits and usefulness.)
What chance would a man have of promotion in that bank if his politics differed from those of his superiors? What have his views on social questions or politics to do with his position as a bank officer? Why should the bank wish to inquire into his private life, and collect such particulars about him as might be required by a Gestapo ? This form is not seen by the employee, but is completed by the branch manager for the information of the head office. Evidently, the head office thinks that it has the right to tell a man what he shall do in his leisure time, and what political or social activity he may indulge in. This sort of thing should not be tolerated in any institution, whether privately-owned or governmentcontrolled. This is the sort of thing that is done by the National Bank of Australasia Limited, of which Sir Frank Clarke is vice-chairman and Viscount Bruce one of the London directors. Nevertheless, the private banks base their case on the freedom of the individual. We believe that the employees of a private bank should not have to submit to treatment of the kind which I have described. Under the reconstituted banking system, there will he opportunity for the freedom of association of employees that is denied to them at present.’ The Government proposes to give them a measure of economic security that they do not enjoy to-day, and whilst I recognize that they have a full right to press for the redress of any grievances that they may hold, under ‘ this legislation they will derive a. measure of economic security, arising from security of employment, that is denied to them under the present banking system.
.- This debate has covered the clauses which deal with the provisions for the protection of the rights of the staffs of the private trading banks. In particular, it has turned around an amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), which seeks to enable some security to be given to these employees by guaranteeing them at least five years’ employment with the Commonwealth Bank. The debate has arisen from discussions that took place on the second reading, when I drew attention to what the bill provided and to its failure to guarantee real security to present employees of the trading banks. Apart from what was said by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), in his reply to the second-reading debate, the only answer from the Government benches came from the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Fraser), who, in his assumed rather lofty and disinterested manner, said that obviously there was nothing in the point that I had raised. It turns out now, however, that there is something in that point that should have been obvious to any one who cared to read the bill thoroughly. The only reply that we have reecived to-day from the Prime Minister is that consideration will be given to an amendment of the Commonwealth Bank Act to meet the point that I have raised. With great respect to the right honorable gentleman, I am not satisfied with that undertaking. Consideration to be given is one thing, but action taken is another. Already, sufficient time has elapsed for the Government to make up its mind - if it has a mind - whether it proposes to amend this measure, or the Commonwealth Bank Act, to remove the employees of the private trading banks from the present danger of being dismissed at one month’s notice. It is not sufficient for the Prime Minister to say that the Government proposes to absorb all these individuals into the employment of the Commonwealth Bank, particularly as the Government never speaks with one voice. The Prime Minister says one thing, the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) says another thing, and the PostmasterGeneral (Senator Cameron) says something entirely different again. It is not sufficient, either, to point out that section 169 of the Commonwealth Bank Act repeats, in substance, what is contained in the Commonwealth Public Service Act, because the real crux of the matter is that in this particular instance we are dealing with an extraordinary situation. The Government says that the Commonwealth Bank will absorb the 20,000 employees of the trading banks, but there is also on record a statement made by a senior Minister of the Crown that there will be a surplus of 5,000 or 6,000 employees. That is why the position is entirely different from that which arises under the Commonwealth Public Service Act, and why, in this bill, or by an amendment of the Commonwealth Bank Act, there should be a clear protection for these people. The Prime Minister expressed his views, and proceeded to drift on to something with which we are now becoming quite accustomed, namely, all this talk about the “ light on the hill “ and “ the money changers in the temple “. It is something like the devil quoting scripture, and I should not have been any more convinced had his observations been made by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) . Therefore, my view is that something should be done here and now if the Government is sincere in its desire to protect these individuals. I do not intend to repeat what I said in my second-reading speech or what was said by the Leader of the Opposition; but I draw attention to what the Prime Minister has said with regard to the employees of private trading banks, the shares in which will be taken over under clause 13 of the bill. The right honorable gentleman will recall that I sought to divide the private bank employees into two categories. Today we have been discussing the employees of private hanks, the assets of which are to be taken over under clauses 22 and 24 of this bill. I said that it seemed to me that employees of the Australian banks, shares in which are to be acquired under clause 13, would have no protection at all after the assets and business of those banks had been transferred to the Commonwealth Bank. I shall quickly state the reasons for that view. Under clause 13, the Treasurer may, where he is satisfied that the majority in number of the shares in an Australian private bank are Australian shares, acquire the Australian shares in that bank. Then, under Division 3 of Part IV. of the bill, it is provided that the subsequent steps will be to retire the existing directors and appoint nominee directors of the Commonwealth. Under clause 19, the new directors will have power to dispose of the business, or any part of the business of the banks concerned, to the Commonwealth Bank. The Prime Minister himself said, on page 9 of his printed speech, that this process would be applied only to banks incorporated in Australia, namely, the eight banks specified in Part I. of the first schedule. That would be the initial step towards the eventual transfer of the business of the banks to the Commonwealth Bank. So it is quite clear that the machinery provides for the shares to be acquired, new directors to be appointed, and for the new directors eventually to sell the business to the Commonwealth Bank. In the meantime, of course, the banks would continue as legal entities. That process must be borne in mind when considering the provisions of clause 48. The banks that are concerned in this can be any one or more of the eight banks specified in Part I. of the first schedule to the bill. They are the Ballarat Banking Company Limited, the Bank of Adelaide, the Bank of New South Wales, the Brisbane Permanent Building and Banking Company Limited, the Commercial Bank of Australia Limited, the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney Limited, the National Bank of Australasia Limited, and the Queensland National Bank Limited. Clause 48 provides -
Upon and after the date upon which the Australian shares in an Australian private bank become vested in the Commonwealth Bank under sub-section (3.) of Section thirteen of this Act, the persons employed upon that date by that Australian private bank shall continue to be so employed upon the terms and conditions applicable at that date or as subsequently varied by competent authority.
I drew attention to this matter in my second-reading speech and the Prime Minister, in his reply, said that if I would take the trouble to look at clause 49 I would see that provision was made in that clause for the employees of the banks referred to as well as of the banks taken over by agreement under clause 22. These employees, be said, would be given full protection in the employment of the Common wealth Bank. Either there must be some apprehension about this matter, or some one is completely misreading the bill. There is time now for the Government’s legal advisers to reconsider these provisions to see whether or not I am correct. As I read the measure, there is no provision for these employees in clause 49. The directors may, under clause 1.9, dispose of the business of the private banks without any agreement under clauses 22 and 24. On the face of the bill it is not intended that such directors should make any agreement under the last mentioned clauses.
In other words, there is an indirect obligation on the directors of the private (banks to be taken over under clause .13 - the directors being the nominees of the Commonwealth or of the Commonwealth Bank - to keep in employment the present employees of the private trading hanks so affected whilst the banks carry mi as legal entities; but, as is indicated by the Prime Minister’s speech, immediately the business of the banks is transferred to the Commonwealth under clause 19, so far as I am able to observe, there is no protection from them whatsoever in this bill.
The Prime Minister has referred me to clause 49, sub-clause 1 of which slates - (I.) Each person employed in Australia- by a private bunk - la) to which the Treasurer lias iri veil a notice under sub-section fi.) of section twenty-two of this Act; or (f>* which has made an agreement with the. Commonwealth ‘ Bank under that section. shall, unless he elects otherwise not later than the date upon which the business in Australia of that private bank is to be taken over by the Commonwealth Bank be employed by the Commonwealth Bank as from that date”
That is clearly applicable to and is restricted to those cases in which the assets of a bank are taken over by compulsory acquisition or by voluntary agreement. Sub-clause 2 of clause 49 deals with cases of persons employed outside Australia, and accordingly does not bear upon the point I am making. Subclause 3 of that clause reads -
After a person becomes employed by the Commonwealth Bank under either of the last two preceding sub-sections and until he is appointed to a position in the Commonwealth Bank Service under the next succeeding section, tha terms and conditions of his employment shall be the terms and conditions applicable to him at the date referred to in sub-section (1.) of this section, with such variations (if any) us the Commonwealth Bank determines or as arc made by competent authority.
Clause 50 applies only to a person to whom clause 49 applies, and so if the bill is read clearly, as I think I have read it clearly - the legal advisers of the Government may cheek whether I have misrepresented the position - it gives no protection to employees of a private bank the assets of which are acquired under clause 13 once that bank goes into liquidation following the exercise of the powers contained in clause 19. I have tried to put this point as clearly as possible so that it may be examined by the legal officers advising the Government. I propose to move an amendment to this clause. Although I am not the draftsman for the Commonwealth I have endeavoured in my proposed amendment to cover the position in such a way as to protect these employees. The legal officers can say whether the point I am raising is or is not correct. One provision is made in respect of banks acquired under clause 22 and an entirely different provision is inserted to cover those acquired under clause 13. The amendment I desire to move seeks to amend clause 48 by adding at the end thereof the following subclause : -
If at any time the employment of any such person with such Australian private bank should terminate consequent on or as a result of the disposal of the business of such bank ov any part thereof to the Commonwealth Bank under the provisions of Division 3 of the Part TV. of the Act such person shall thereupon bc employed by the Commonwealth Bank as from the date of termination of his employment with such Australian private bank and thereupon the provisions of this Part applicable to the case of employees of private banks the business of which is acquired by the Commonwealth Bank under the provisions of Division 4 of Part IV. sha.ll mutatis mutandis apply to any such person.
Robbed of its legal jargon, the amendment is simply an endeavour to place all employees of all private banks on exactly the same footing. I do not raise a political issue; but I do raise an issue which 1 believe will affect the employees of private banks the shares of which are acquired under clause 13. I do not fear that, between now and the next elections there will be any dismissal of employees taken over from the private banks. On the contrary, the Government will fall backwards in its endeavours to get back to power by any means, and in endeavouring to do so, will retain the services of bank employees until that time. I am concerned about the provisions of this bill from the long-range view. I ask the Prime Minister to reply to the questions I raised in respect of these matters as far back as the 5th November during the secondreading debate, and I also ask him- to reply to the matter dealt with by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) this morning. If there be substance in the arguments raised by honorable members on this side of the chamber as to the hardships imposed by section 169 of the Commonwealth Bank Act, why is the amendment not made now? There is surely time enough to do it. The matter has been before this chamber for weeks and this particular point has been before the Government for two weeks. Either what we are contending for is right, or it is wrong. If it be wrong, the Government should say so. If it be right, here is the time to cure the injustice to which we have drawn attention.
– There is a prior amendment before the committee. The amendment proposed by the honorable member for “Warringah cannot be considered unless the prior amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition is disposed of or withdrawn.
– I rise to order. “With respect, my amendment to clause 48 is in no way dependent upon the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition. Whatever may be the result of the latter amendment, my amendment deals with a preceding clause and seeks to place the employees of banks acquired either compulsorily or by agreement on exactly the same footing. I submit that my amendment is in order.
– The time for the discussion of Part VIII. of the bill expires at 4 p.m. The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition is already before the committee and the Chair cannot accept further amendments until such time as that amendment has been disposed of. If it be not disposed of before 4 p.m. the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Warringah cannot be considered.
– Do I understand that, as the result of the application of the “ guillotine “ and the limitation of time for the debate on this part of the bill, at 4 p.m. the Chair will indicate that the time has expired and that only the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition can be dealt with?
– Unless the amendment before the Chair is disposed of before the time for the consideration of Part VIII. of the bill expires, it cannot be dealt with.
– The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) has placed before the committee a proposal which he regards as being necessary to protect the rights of certain employees of the private banks. He concluded his remarks by saying that the Government will fall over backwards in an endeavour to get back to power by any means and in endeavouring to do so will retain the services of the employees of the private banks. In other word’s, the honorable gentleman says that the Government will do anything in order to remain friendly with the employees of the private banks until after the next elections. He first puts to “the committee a proposition which he describes as having no political flavour. He asks us to accept it in good faith having regard to the lofty plane upon which his remarks were based; but he does not give the Government credit for good faith in its approach to this problem. This Government has displayed ample evidence of its honesty of purpose ever since it has occupied the Treasury bench, lt is not likely to depart from that policy in the future. Whatever is done for the staffs of the private banks will be fair and reasonable. The honorable member for Warringah has criticized clauses 49 and 50 in their application to certain other clauses of the bill. I have not a legally trained mind, but I have been in this place for quite a while.
– Too long!
– That may be the honorable member’s opinion but, fortunately, somebody else has a voice in that. The mind of the honorable member for Warringah is too agile for him to have overlooked the provisions of clause 47 of the bill which are designed to protect persons employed by trading banks. It is designed to give to employees of the private banks full protection in the event of any part of the transfer plan causing injustice to any one. The committee mentioned in clause 47 will be composed of a judge of the court, who shall be chairman, an officer of the Commonwealth Bank, who shall be appointed by the Commonwealth Bank, and a third person, “who shall be appointed as prescribed and shall represent the persons who are or have been employed by that private bank “. The employees of the private banks will be taken over according to a plan, but any employee who considers that he has suffered a miscarriage of justice will be able to appeal to the committee set up in respect of the private bank which previously employed him. Therefore, the argument of honorable members opposite, that protection will not be provided for those employees, is groundless. Honorable members opposite declare that the employees of private trading banks are afraid that they will not be given justice, that their rights and privileges will not be preserved; and that, in the past, the private banks have treated their employees so generously that they will suffer by reason of the transfer.
– That is what they think.
– They do not think anything of the kind. They may say that they think that, because they are afraid to express their real opinions. But let us examine the conditions of employment of employees of the private banks. Chief Judge Piper, announcing his award in respect of employees of private trading banks, in 1938, said -
The true basic wage in September, 1020 was £4 5s. per week, or £221 per year (on the figures for the quarter ended the 30th June, 1920), and the true basic wage in February, 1922, was £3 16s., plus the court’s 3s., equal to £3 19s. per week, or about £205 per year. On these figures, it appears that the agreement of 1920 was short of the true base wage by £21 per year to start with, and by about £36 per year on the following quarter’s figures.
Thus, the private banks, by sharp practices, deprived their employees of benefit at the rate of £21 a year in 1920, and, for the first three months of the following year, of benefit at the rate of £36 a year. So much for the agreement arrived at by those employees of the private banks who, honorable members opposite would have us believe, are treated most generously. The proceedings in that case became somewhat famous at that time. I recall that the late Mr. Ogilvie, who was later Premier of Tasmania, was an advocate for the employees. Some of the witnesses gave sensational evidence. Mr. Smith, the general secretary of the Bank Officers Association, said that, at a conference between representatives of the private banks and the association in November, 1.930, one view expressed on behalf of the banks was that- -
The present is not a period of depression., but a part of a well-ordered arrangement to firing us all back to pre-war levels.
Mr. Smith said that that statement was made by the chairman of the conference, Mr. McGillivray, who represented the National Bank of Australasia Limited. At a later stage in the court proceedings, Mr. Lewis, a representative of the banks, referred to falling prices, and said -
As business receded, men would get the sack. He said that it had gone forth to thousands of bank officers that if they were awarded what the court considered they were entitled to they would be dismissed.
In order to make it clear that Mr. Lewis did say this, I might mention that the judge, commenting upon Mr. Lewis’s statement, said -
I hope the officers will find some comfort when I say that I did not understand the words to be a threat.
Thus the private banks at that time threatened their employees. Mr. Ogilvie, the advocate for the bank officers, at one stage had difficulty in getting officers to give evidence before the court because of the threatening attitude adopted by the employers. The private banks so obstructed and hindered him in the presentation of his case, by intimidating witnesses, that he had to enlist the help of the court to compel the Bank of New South Wales to supply him with a list of its officers to enable him to obtain witnesses. These facts cannot be denied. They are recorded in official documents and in contemporary press reports. Therefore, the claim made by honorable members opposite that employees of the private banks at present regard their conditions of employment and wages as superior to anything they will enjoy in the employ of the Commonwealth Bank, falls to the ground. I repeat that when they are transferred to the employ of the Commonwealth Bank they will enjoy better wages and working conditions than they now enjoy. Further, every employee will become entitled to one month’s notice in respect of dimissal, and, in addition, may appeal against dismissal. To-day, employees of private banks have no right of appeal and no means of obtaining redress in the event of dismissal. What notice of dismissal is given by the banks to any employee to-day? None whatever. Any employee who is dismissed cannot obtain employment in any other trading bank. Honorable members opposite speak with their tongues in their cheeks when they say that employees of private banks enjoy better working conditions and receive higher wages than they will enjoy in the employ of the Commonwealth Bank. Honorable members opposite themselves know that that claim is false; and it is obvious that they are simply endeavouring to arouse fears in the minds of those employees. Was any injustice done to State employees who were taken over by the Commonwealth Taxation Department? Was any complaint made by any of those employees with respect to wages and working conditions after being transferred to the Commonwealth Public Service? I have not heard one complaint of that kind. The reason is that, in many instances, they are now enjoying higher wages and better working conditions than previously. Once the staffs of the private banks become employed by the Commonwealth Bank, they will realize the benefit of the working conditions under which they will then be employed, and will be completely satisfied with them. The point which the honorable member for Warringah made has no merit. In my opinion, he raised it purely for political purposes, and there was not much honesty in his approach.
.- Listening to the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) explain to the committee and to the employees of the private banks how much better their conditions will be when they are regimented under the Commonwealth Bank reminds me of a story. A Communist in the Sydney Domain was delivering a lecture on freedom. He told his listeners of all the benefits which would accrue to them when the day of freedom arrived. He concluded, “When the day of freedom arrives, you, my friends, will have a house in Bellevue Hill, and you will be able to eat strawberries and cream “. But an insignificant little fellow in the crowd said, “ I do not like strawberries and cream, and I do not want to live in Bellevue Hill. I. want to live in Surry Hills, where my mates are”. The Communist replied, “ See here, mug, when the day of freedom comes, you will live where you are put and you will eat what you are told “. That is an old story, hut nevertheless, it is true. It reminds me of the day of freedom for the staffs of the private banks. According to the Minister for Repatriation, those persons should hail the Labour Government as their saviour from the slavery of the private banks.
– That is what I think.
– Whenever I have presented to this House petitions’ containing thousands of signatures protesting against the nationalization of banking, the Minister was one of those who interjected that opposition to this legislation had been organized by the employees of the private banks. If those officials are so grateful for the prospects of the advancement of their material and spiritual conditions, why have they opposed this legislation ? I refer to “ spiritual conditions “, because the Prime Minister (Mr.
Chifley) has been at some pains to explain that nationalization of banking is a religion with the Labour party. According to the Minister for Repatriation, the staffs of the private banks should be eternally grateful to the Labour Government for having introduced this bill. Instead, they have organized protests against the legislation. If the Prime Minister and his supporters believe that they can bribe any section of the community by offering sectional advantages, such as increased rewards, and can persuade the people concerned to forego principles which they have held for a lifetime, they underestimate the spirit of the community, just as they underestimated the public feeling in Victoria against the nationalization of banking.
– We arc talking about justice.
– I ask : Who is to adjudicate on this matter of justice? It is not the people who are to have forced upon them the Prime Minister’s ideas of justice, his ideas of what their material welfare should he, and his ideas of what their career should be. Is that justice in a democratic community? It is the kind of justice about which we are accustomed to read in a totalitarian State, where a superior authority decides for persons of an inferior status just what is good for them, whether they should like it, and how grateful they should be. We are told that the staffs of the private banks, on becoming employees of the Common wealth Bank, will enjoy superior conditions compared with their present conditions of employment. A bank official has written to me as follows: -
This is curtain, whatever the outward show of immediate consideration, the prospect for promotion and salary increases by merit, the chances of self-realization-
Self-realization is an important factor. A man desires to determine what his own career shall be - in a government bank operated on Public Service lines with a total staff of something like 2.ri,000 to 30,000 will be infinitely small compared with the opportunities offering in the free establishments to-day. The present Commonwealth Bank staff is most unlikely to lie stood down in our favour.
What do the members of the staff of the Commonwealth Bank think of the Government’s proposals? Their ranks will be augmented by many thousands of employees of the private banks, who will have claims at least equal to their own, and, in some instances, because of their experience and knowledge, superior to their own. What members of the Commonwealth Bank staff will be prepared to stand down in order to make way for members of the staffs of the private banks? My correspondent continues -
T make no apology for adding this further thought. Under the system of remote control which we know exists in any large government institution with all the hide-bound red-tape regulations, regimentations, classifications, seniorities-
The Minister for Repatriation referred in glowing terms to these matters - departmental heads and whatnots that strangle the lines of communication between junior clerks and the top management, can there be any hoio of our enjoying under nationalization, if in any measure at all, those human decencies and personal considerations that have made the private bank a place worth working in over the years?
It is because of those human considerations and human decencies that the employees of the private banks are, in every centre in Australia, the spear-point - I admit that quite freely - of the protest that has been made throughout the Commonwealth against this bill. It is rank hypocrisy for the Prime Minister and ihe Government to declare that because the Commonwealth proposes to take over the private banks and implant the employees in the Public Service whether they like it or not, they should be thankful. They are expected to be appeased by a peal boards, promotions and the like. In their hearts, Ministers know that these promises cannot be realized because of the competition that will be offered by the present staff of the Commonwealth Bank. The Government knows that those promises cannot be realized. However, it tells the employees of the private banks that they should be grateful because they will be given employment in the Commonwealth Bank, they like it or not they should be thankful that they will have the advantages of higher salaries, appeal boards, and security of employment. The Minister for Repatriation declared that employees of private banks now have no security of employment. I ask him to name one employee who has been dismissed by a private bank on the ground that be was redundant? I exclude any person who. was dismissed for misbehaviour, which is a perfectly legitimate reason for dispensing with the services of an employee. If the Government means what it says, it will willingly protect the interests of the employees of the private banks. However, that guarantee should be contained in the bill, and the amendment provides it. The Prime Minister says, “ Trust us. Take our word. Look at our reputation for honouring our promises “. In reply, I ask : What did the Prime Minister tell the country prior to the last elections regarding his intentions to nationalize the banking system?
– What were those promises?
– Those promises were implied in the banking legislation of 1945. The implication was that the right honorable gentleman was satisfied with the powers that it conferred upon the Government. Those were the promises which, by implication, he placed before the people. He did not tell them that he intended to give effect to this revolutionary proposal which, at one stroke, will regiment every employee of the private banks, not to mention the regimentation of approximately 1,500,000 customers of those institutions. All that the amendment - and I am speaking strictly to the amendment - provides is that, instead of employees of the private banks being subject to dismissal by the Commonwealth Bank when they have been taken over by it, as they can be under section 169 of the Commonwealth Bank Act, they shall be guaranteed five years of employment unless, of course, they are guilty of improper conduct or something similar. The Government wants to retain the power because in its heart it knows that there must be a. number of present employees of the private banks whose position will be affected by this amalgamation or absorption. Consider the position of half a dozen managers, accountants or tellers in country towns. How are the occupants of each of those positions to be protected? The Government must either adopt the suggestion made by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) when the proposal was first announced that 5,000 fewer bank employees could do the same volume of work or the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), which would protect the interests of those employees. The first consideration of the Government should be the real protection of those employees. It is claimed, of course, that nothing will be done to disadvantage them. We know that for the next two years, until after the general elections, nothing will be done, because the Government will have a big enough fight on its hands without taking on 20,000 private bank employees, but after that, what? When the Commonwealth Bank starts its reorganization and reclassification of managers, accountants and senior officers, what will be the position? Will two or three men be allotted to one man’s work or will additional opportunities be provided for them? Who will get seniority when it is a question of the claims of present Commonwealth Bank employees and those regimented into being Commonwealth Bank employees? Those are considerations that the private bank employees have in their minds. They are impressing them upon me and other honorable members on this side, but probably not on many members on the Labour side who abuse them every time they make manifest their real intentions. It is said that the private bank employees are thankful and that they support the Government in this matter, but a public meeting held recently in the Sydney Domain, which was attended, according- to reports, by 5,000 employees of private banks and their relatives, protested against the proposals. The Prime Minister will prove the Government’s bona fides by accepting the amendment, which would ensure at least five years’ employment to the private hank employees after the absorption of the private banks by the Commonwealth Bank. If lie refuses to accept the amendment and insists on the right of the Commonwealth Bank to dismiss any of them at a moment’s notice and asks them to rely on the goodwill of the Government instead of a provision in the bill as their security, they will be taken over without any security at all.
– I do not propose to cover the ground I have already covered. It was surprising to come into the chamber and hear the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) talk about promises that I made during the last election campaign, for I made no promises. The honorable member expressed solicitude for the employees of the private banks. I wonder what interest he took in the welfare of employees of the banks that were amalgamated this year. I have never heard a word about them.
– The right honorable gentleman agreed to the amalgamation of those banks in his capacity as Treasurer.
– Of course I did, but r did not hear the honorable member for Richmond complain then that a lot of people - branch managers, accountants and tellers - would be affected. It is completely clear and I think it is freely admitted that clause 51 protects the salaries of officers of the private banks.
– Up to a certain point.
– Its provisions will be effective, notwithstanding the provisions of section 169 of the Commonwealth Bank Act. To that extent this legislation will override that section.
– It cannot.
– I listened to the honorable member in silence. Under clause 51, legal rights as to salaries and terms and conditions of employment will be bestowed on the employees of the private banks. They do not have those rights now. In reply to the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), 1 say that clause 48 provides for the continuation of the employment of employees of private banks, the shares of which are acquired by the Commonwealth Bank. Clause 49 1 6 covers them after they have been taken over.
– The honorable member for Warringah says “ No “, but the legal men who drafted the bill say that it does. The employees of private banks in England are covered by clause 49 1 a. So, in every instance, the private bank employees are protected. The employees of the private banks will be in a better position than employees of the Common wealth Bank when those employees are absorbed by the Commonwealth Bank. It is obvious that if anything requires re-examination and, perhaps, amendment, it is section 169 of the Commonwealth Bank Act. The amendment before the committee provides that employees of the private banks taken over ‘by the Commonwealth Bank shall be guaranteed employment for five years. Imagine a private bank employee of 40 years of age taken over by the Commonwealth Bank. Under that provision, he would have to stay in the same position for ‘five years.
– The Government proposes to empty him out straight away.
– We do not propose to do any emptying out.
– The Minister for Post-war ‘Reconstruction said that 5,000 bank employees would have to go out of banking.
– We have made perfectly clear what we propose to do. We do not make promises readily, but when we make them we keep them. We will not agree to the amendment. What a state of anxiety men would be in during the five years if they knew that their security was guaranteed for only those years. We say to the private bank employees, “You will be taken into the Commonwealth Public Service and your salaries will be protected under clause 51. You are given legal rights that you do not now possess in regard to pensions and other things like that.” We also say that we shall re-examine section 169 of the Commonwealth Bank Act. I rose mainly to reply to the honorable member for Warringah, because he implied that the protection given to private bank employees by the bill was in fact nonexistent. The protection is real in the opinion of the legal officers who drafted this bill. The bill was not drafted by a junior member of the legal profession.
– I know who prepared it.
– It was prepared by people who completely understand the job. They gave a great deal of thought to it, not .because of any political views, but in order to carry out the Government’s wishes.
.- If one-tenth of the charges which the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) and the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Daly) made regarding conditions under which employees of the trading banks worked were true, there would be, of course, no one found to work in those banks at all. However, despite the drawbacks of which we have heard so much, that bank officers were not allowed to marry, and that they were subject to all sorts of restrictions, the fact is that 20,000 persons who worked for the trading banks do not want to be transferred to work in the Commonwealth Bank. I realize that honorable members opposite are in an awkward position, because they are fond of setting themselves as the champions of the workers. Well, the workers are the employees of the trading banks, and they will not have a bar of their champions, so-called, who sit on the other side of the House. The curious thing about the charges which have been made this afternoon is that no honorable member opposite has been able to produce a single instance of injustice or of wrong done to an employee of a trading bank, and I have no doubt that a diligent search was made. It is also curious that despite the attractions which honorable members opposite hold out to the employees of the trading banks, those employees are so unanimous in their opposition to the nationalization proposals. Why is this? The answer is, of course, that the experience of employees of institutions which have been taken over by the Government has not been happy, nor such as to inspire great confidence in the bank office sv. Recently, the Australian Government greatly extended its control over the Repatriation Department. Previously, it had been a very happy department and, in many respects, a very efficient one. The first thing that the Government did when it got its hands on the department was to have a circular issued, at the direction of the Minister, instructing all officers that they must join a union.
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan) applauds ; but let me read to him what was written at the foot of the instruction by a senior officer of the department in Melbourne -
This instruction means that if you want to get on in the department, if you want any promotion, you must join the union, or get out.
– What union is that?
– The Clerks Union.
– That is not true.
– That is what happened in one case, and the bank officers believe that it might happen again. There is a big difference between working for a private organization and working for a government department of any kind. Without labouring the point, it is sufficient to say that there is far less delay and red tape in private employment for those who are prepared to work and get ahead. Employees have a much better opportunity in private employment than in a government department. The banks have shown no political discrimination against employees, and the only preference they have shown is a very real degree of preference to ex-servicemen. That is a point which I should like to elaborate. There was an extraordinarily high percentage of enlistments from among bank employees. They went abroad on service on the understanding with their employers that when they returned they would obtain the same conditions, and have approximately the same positions, as if they had not lost those years on war service. There is now a large number of such men. They look forward to steady progress in a career in which their war service will not have proved to be any disability. The government departments, on the other hand, have an extraordinarily bad record in the matter of enforcing preference to ex-servicemen. One can quote examples without much difficulty. Take the Department of External Affairs, for instance. Many men enlisted from that department, and were told by the Minister in charge that they would not suffer as a result of their war service. When they returned, however, they found that those officers who had not gone to the war, but who had ingratiated themselves with the Minister had, in almost all instances, reached a higher position in the department than those who had enlisted and gone to the war. That is another thing which the bank officers may fear. The Government has never enforced preference to exservicemen, and never had any intention to do so. All its preference is given to those who find themselves in political accord with the Government.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) denied that anything in the nature of conscription was being applied to the employees of the private banks who, he said, did not have to work for the Commonwealth Bank. That is quite true. They can work for the Commonwealth Bank, or he thrown on to the labour market after years of employment in one job. What would be the reaction of honorable members opposite if a coal mine owner had a disagreement with his men and sacked twenty of them, saying by way of argument that they did not have to work as coal-miners. They could go and work for somebody else, or they could come back and work for him at lower wages? That, in effect, is what this Government, the alleged champion of the workers, is saying to the officers of the private banks. Although they have been working in their present positions for years the Government says to them that they must abide by the conditions which it lays down or they need not work in a. bank at all. That; is an extraordinary attitude for a Labour Government to take up towards workers, and I do not suppose that any one will dispute that the bank officers are, in this sense, the workers.
Clause 51, which deals with salaries and conditions of employment, states -
And then the conditions are listed in sub-clause 3 of clause 47 as follows : -
The committee shall ascertain, in relation to each person who is or has been employed by the private bank in respect of which the committee was appointed and to whom the provisions of any of the next three succeeding sectionsare applicable, the terms and conditions of employment of that person as to -
leave on the ground of illness;
long service leave or compensation in lieu thereof (including compensation to the widow or dependants of that person on his death) : and
pension and other benefits payable to that person on resignation or retirement or to his widow or dependants on his death.
The matter of salary is also dealt with, but no mention is made of allowances. Honorable members know that those bank officers who rise to be managers and submanagers, the men with whom the public become familiar, and who render such fine service in country towns, rely for the maintenance of their standard of living upon certain allowances which the bank makes them and upon the living quarters provided for them by the bank. I should like to receive an assurance that those allowances will also be taken into consideration, in addition to the merely formal benefits set out in the clause.
Great play has been made by honorable members opposite on certain restrictions imposed by the banks on their employees. It was said, for instance, that, in the past, they have not allowed certain of their officers to marry. I point out, however, that there are government departments under the administration of Labour governments in which certain officers are not allowed to marry.
– Name one.
– The Department of the Army, and also the Police Department in Queensland. That fact is well known ; but, because the banks adopt a similar policy it is supposed to be a terrible crime.
– There is no basis of comparison there.
– The two cases are parallel. The honorable member for Griffith, who has interjected so unceasingly during this debate, realizes how insecure is his seat as the result of his advocacy of this bill. It has also been said thatthe banks, in a most undemocratic way, have compiled certain information about those who work in their employ. I am not here to defend the banks; I have no reason to do so; butI point out that government departments also build up files concerning those who work for them. I know that in the Department of the Army no detail is too persona] for this Government not to record it on the officer’s file. Let us have no more of this tongue-in-cheek criticism of a practice which honorable members know applies not only in the private banks but also in government departments and many big industries. ^ Mr. ROSEVEAR (Dalley) [8.28].- The committee is dealing with the clauses of a bill which provide for the taking over of the officers of private banks. For my part, I had thought that this was one of the most generous portions of the bill. The Government guarantees to take over, without disturbing their employment, the whole of the employees engaged in an industry which it proposes to nationalize in the interests of the people. Moreover, those officers will work in the Commonwealth Bank, under the same industrial conditions as apply to the employees of the Commonwealth Bank service. Everybody knows that when the Bank Officers Association approaches a court or meets the bankers in conference, with a view to bettering the working conditions of its members, it uses the wages and conditions of the officers of the Commonwealth Bank as a yardstick for measuring its claims, so infinitely better are they than those enjoyed by the employees of the private banks. From the viewpoint of recompense for their labour, the officers of the private banks will find themselves in a very much better position than they enjoy to-day. Furthermore, this bill undertakes to guarantee the pension rights of employees of the private banks, and, when no such pension rights are provided for by a private bank, the former employees of that bank will be granted the same pension rights as are applicable to the officers of the Commonwealth Bank. The Government has been even more generous and has provided that ex gratia payments by the private banks to retired officers having no other pension rights will continue to be made by the Commonwealth Bank. In addition, the transferred officers will be guaranteed security of employment, a matter about which there has been much discussion to-day. That security does not exist in private employment. They will also have the right to approach the Appeal Board established within the organization of the Commonwealth Bank foi- the purpose of dealing with disciplinary cases. No such appeal tribunal exists to protect the interests of employees of the private banks, who may feel that they have .been victimized either in the matter of promotion or dismissal. There is also established in the Commonwealth Bank a promotions board, which guarantees promotion upon ability and not by sheer favoritism, as is the case in the private banks to-day.
One of the most remarkable assertions in this debate was made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) and repeated by some of his supporters, namely, that this bill represented the greatest example of industrial conscription we have ever known in the history of Australia.’ This is the first time I have known the right honorable gentleman to be an anti-conscriptionist. I did not hear him raise his voice during the war, when men were conscripted for service in which their lives were at stake, nor did I hear any protests from him, or from honorable members opposite, when we conscripted labour for service with the Allied Works Council. Day after day, at question time, we hear from honorable members opposite a veritable barrage of questions relating to industrial disputes and asking why those involved in strikes or stoppages are not put in gaol because they refused to stay at their jobs. Now, because the bank officers are guaranteed employment, on infinitely better conditions and with much greater security than they enjoy at the present time, honorable members opposite describe this proposal as industrial conscription. Are they really sincere in voicing this criticism? Industrial conscription, if it means anything at all, means the withdrawal of the right of an employee to leave his or her employment. In this instance the Government proposes to take over the employees of the private banks and to absorb them in the Commonwealth Bank service. There is no provision in the bill which seeks to force them to work for the Commonwealth Bank. Honorable members opposite have complained that the bank officers are given no security of employment. If there be no security or permanency for them in the Commonwealth Bank service, their transfer to that service can by no means be described as conscription. If the mere taking, over of the staffs of the private banks is regarded by honorable members opposite- as industrial conscription, why does the Leader of the Opposition desire to prolong that conscription by moving an amendment designed to guarantee them five years’ service after the changeover has taken place? The attitude of honorable members opposite is entirely inconsistent. First, they protest about taking over these people; they describe it as industrial conscription. Then they propose to ensure that those taken over will be “ conscripted “ for at least five years. The Leader of the Opposition has complained that the staffs of the private banks will be removed from a position of security and placed in a position of insecurity. Can any honorable member opposite say that the employee of the private bank enjoys security of employment to-day? The employees of the private banks are liable to be sacked on the spot without even the month’s notice provided for in this bill. Moreover, those whose services arc dispensed with by the private banks may have their names placed on a black list in order to ensure that they do not secure employment with any other private bank. Where is the security in that? When the staffs of the private banks are taken over hy the Commonwealth Bank they will have a right to appeal against what they regard to be wrongful acts of dismissal or the overlooking of their promotion rights. This is a privilege which they do not now enjoy.
I come now to the general question of the position of the 20,000 employees of the private trading banks. These officers ave to be transferred to the Commonwealth Bank and become public servants. Members of the Opposition tell us that they fear that 5,000 of the officers will be redundant, and that only 15,000 will be transferred, and they desire the Government to give a guarantee that the whole 20,000 will he assured of their employment for five years. But what has been the cry of the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) in particular recently ? The right honorable gentleman has said time and time again that the Public Service is overmanned and should be pruned. He considers that some persons now employed in the Public Service should he removed from their present employment and placed in private employment, where there is a shortage of labour. The right honorable gentleman has been crying out for quite a long while about the overgrowth of the Public Service. Yet to-day he and also the Leader of the Opposition aTe contending that the Government should give a guarantee that 20,000 more individuals will be assured of employment as public servants for five years, although it is suggested that 5,000 of them would be redundant. What do honorable gentlemen opposite want? Do they desire that, in spite of their declarations that the Public Service is over-manned, an additional 20,000 officers shall be transferred to it, 5,000 of whom they claim may be redundant ? I do not agree that, as the result of the amalgamation, it will be necessary to dismiss 5,000 bank officers; but honorable gentlemen opposite- cannot have it both ways. Let me ask what private enterprise would do in a case such as the Opposition is submitting? If employees in private employment are found to be redundant, do private employers continue to employ them or do they treat them as redundant officers and dismiss them? I know of no private bank in which any officer would be kept in employment after he was found to be redundant. He would either be reclassified to a less favorable position or dismissed. Are the private banks benevolent institutions which may be relied upon to retain the services of redundant officers ? We know that that is not the case. We have heard a good deal of talk about the efficiency of the private banks. But would the private banks be efficient if they retained redundant officers in their employ? If the Commonwealth Bank retained redundant officers in its employ would it not he regarded as inefficiency? The Opposition is, in fact, arguing for an inefficient system. I ask again: What does private enterprise do in such circumstances? What did the Bank of England do when it was under private ownership? On one occasion it dismissed 1,200 employees at one time because they had become redundant. These officers were sacked because of the installation of mechanical adding machines and other labour-saving devices. With the progress of science, and the adoption of more up-to-date methods, the Bank of England found that it could do with 1,200 fewer officers, and it at once dismissed that number of its employees. Do honorable members of the Opposition desire that after the amalgamation of the banks 5,000 officers who may be found to be redundant - though I do not think that that is likely - shall be kept in employment at the public expense?
– Thanks for the assurance that the Government does not intend to do so.
– I have made it clear that I do not consider that there will be redundant officers. I have not the least doubt that, as the result of the re-organization of banking facilities, banking services will be provided in places where they do not exist to-day because the private ‘banks would not be able to make sufficient profit in such localities. I believe that there will be a more even spread of service as the result of the amalgamation, and that consequently there will be greater opportunities offering to bank employees.
The next point with which I desire to deal relates to the amazing combination of forces which we see to-day championing the private banks. There is a line-up of all the private banks, the press, the bank employees and the greatest union-haters in Australia - honorable gentlemen opposite. This is the first time in the history of this Parliament that I have known the interests of unionists to be of such concern to honorable gentlemen opposite. There is a reason for it, of course. Honorable gentlemen opposite have no genuine grievance in this connexion, but they are showing no hesitation whatever in asking that the Commonwealth Bank shall do something which they know the private banks would not do. Let us consider the attitude which the private banking companies adopted towards their employees in days gone by. In the early stages of the organization of the Bank Officers Association, when the work of organizing was highly important, the bank officers had to hold their meetings in secret places and those who attended very often did so in disguise.
– And heavily bearded !
– I have heard that that happened in Melbourne. The bank officers did this because they feared victimization by their employers. I have only to mention the Rawson case in this connexion. Mr. Rawson was victimized for some years by the private banks ; but ultimately the Arbitration Court directed that he be reinstated in his employment. I do not desire to spend more time at the moment in dealing with that case. A great deal has been said during this debate about the socialization of industry. We all know that for years the bank officers had to fight for the right to submit claims to the Arbitration Court. The banking companies fought their officers from one court to another, and in one appeal case after another, before the bank officers finally secured their right to submit a claim to the court. The ground of the legal opposition of the banking companies was that banking was not an industry. Yet to-day these same interests are talking about the nationalization of industry in relation to this bill. Ultimately, the trading banks were forced to recognize the Bank Officers Association and the employees of the private banks were able to organize themselves on a sound basis. For many years the bank employees lived in the fear of victimization, and the officers of their association were not bank employees at all. The scene has changed a good deal since then, as will be seen from the following paragraph in a circular letter issued in September by the president of the United Bank Officers Association of Queensland to bank officers in connexion with the nationalization of banking: -
Some may say that this declaration (supporting the private banks) is a little belated but I would point out that, together with the general secretary and treasurer, I have just returned from Melbourne where an agreement on salary increases has been reached which 1 feel will be satisfactory to all.
There is the source of the enthusiasm of the bank employees for their bosses! They did not agree to support the private banks until such time as they received an increase in. wages.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
. The whole tenor of the remarks of honorable gentlemen opposite, from the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) down, is that by the transference of the staffs of the trading banks to the Commonwealth Bank, the transferred officers, will receive salaries as good as or better than they are receiving to-day. That has been made clear by the Prime Minister and the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), who has tried to lead the committee and the country into believing that by the proposed transfer the prospects of the employees of the trading banks will be immeasurably enhanced. It is strange, therefore, that 20,000 of these employees - and that is no mean number - are still opposed to their proposed transfer to the Commonwealth Bank. I am able to say with every assurance that at least 9S per cent, of these employees do not desire the proposed transfer to take place. There must be some reasons for that.
One of the reasons advanced by honorable members opposite was that the conditions in the Commonwealth Bank are. in some instances, a little better than those in the private banks. Reference was made to the Bank Officers Association and its approach to the Arbitration Court. It is a well-known fact that the Commonwealth Bank did not desire any tight union in its midst, and discouraged its staff from approaching the Arbitration Court. Indeed, the approach to the Arbitration Court was made by the Bank Officers Association on behalf of the private banks. The Commonwealth Bank has, in certain instances at least, preserved the conditions of its employees at a slightly higher level than the conditions of employees of private banks. The present conditions in the Commonwealth Bank and the private banks are due, not to any action on the part of the senior officers of the Commonwealth Bank, but to organizations representing the employees of the private banks. In other words, the employees of the private banks have set the conditions for bank employment throughout Australia, whether in the private banks or the Commonwealth Bank. This competitive element will then vanish.
This matter must be carefully considered. Once the Government destroys the private banks, and the staff of the Commonwealth Bank is augmented by nearly 20,000 persons, what will be the position? What will be the role of the Commonwealth Bank? Can any guarantee be given to the employees of the Commonwealth Bank, which then will be a monopoly bank, that from time to time their conditions will be improved? I contend that no such guarantee exists. In other words, the level of conditions has been set almost completely by the employees of the private banks.
I desire to refer to a few matters which have not been satisfactorily dealt with, but which are pertinent to this debate. In doing so, I shall disprove arguments advanced by honorable members opposite that the transference will improve the position of the employees of the private banks. First, I shall deal with promotions. Throughout Australia, the private banks have many thousands of branches, and the trading department of the Commonwealth Bank, as distinct from the Commonwealth Savings Bank, has many hundreds of branches. In all those branches, there are many managers, tellers, and - accountants, who, all the time, are seeking promotion carrying not only better conditions, but also more responsibility and a higher salary. What will be the prospects of all of those employees, and their juniors, for promotion once the entire banking structure of Australia has been welded into one monopoly bank? This affects not only the employees of the private banks, but also every employee of the Commonwealth Bank. If the Government amalgamates all these trading branches under one management, it is only logical to assume that the chances of promotion of thousands of these employees, not only former employees of the private banks, but also the present employees of the Commonwealth Bank, will disappear. This is one of the gravest charges which can be made against this transference. Definitely, it is one of the factors which is seriously disturbing the minds of the employees of all banks in Australia. If the Government takes away prospects of promotion, it will deprive all these employees of improved pay and allowances, and destroy one of the greatest attractions of life, namely, the incentive that ever spurs a man onward to accept greater responsibility and authority. If the Government destroys that incentive, it will impair real efficiency in our ‘banking structure.
The definition of “ salary “, in clause 51 is in the narrowest possible sense, it deals only with salary. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) made a most valuable contribution to the debate when he referred to allowances which are paid, particularly to those employees holding executive positions in the private banks. These allowances include a housing allowance, or the provision of a home, and a special allowance to bank employees who are stationed jr. the tropics.
– Are not those allowances contained in the agreement?
– No, this clause treats remuneration in the narrowest possible sense. In nearly every country town, and in most suburbs, certain additional remuneration is paid to managers of bank branches. This can be classed as a house allowance, or a manager might be provided with a house, which represents a considerable addition to his income. In many instances, these allowances represent approximately 25 per cent, of his salary. To see this matter in its proper perspective, we must add 25 per cent, to the actual salary that the bank official is now receiving in order to obtain his actual remuneration. The bill does not contain any provision to ensure that these various allowances shall be included in the bank official’s salary. When employees of the private banks are transferred to the Commonwealth Bank they will lose this additional remuneration, which increases considerably their standard of living. 1 shall be interested to hear the Prime Minister attempt to refute my statements. If these fears which I expressed are justified, the right honorable gentleman should instruct the parliamentary draftsman to incorporate in the bill a. provision which will ensure that justice shall be done to these officials of the private banks when those institutions are taken over by the Commonwealth Bank - that is. if they are taken over by the Commonwealth Bank.
Under this bill, the Commonwealth Bank will take over the superannuation funds of the private banks. Again, the matter of allowances arises. Superannuation is based not only on the salary which the bank official receives, but also on the various allowances which 1 have mentioned. Therefore, it stands to reason thai if superannuation is based only on salary, and not on salary plus allowances, some officials will lose a considerable percentage of their superannuation rights. That will he most unfair. It is against, these possible injustices that officials of the private banks are protesting. Th’ Prime Minister declared that the amendment, which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) moved, would keep static the position of an employee of a private bank after he is transferred to the Commonwealth Bank. That is not the intention of the Leader of the Opposition. If the Prime Minister will read the amendment he will find that these transferred officials shall be taken over at a salary not lower than that which they received or be appointed to a position not lower than that which they occupied in the private banks. The Prime Minister did refer to a bank official, now aged 45 or 50 years, transferred to the Commonwealth Bank, who continues in employment until he retires without hope of promotion. Under present conditions, in the majority of the private banks, superannuation rights are granted on the basis of the salary which the employee was receiving at the time of his retirement. Suppose the level of the cost of living is represented by the base figure of 100 but rises by inflationary tendencies to .120. There is now evidence of inflationary tendencies in this country. We are faced with fantastic prices, low production and wasteful expenditure of money, all of which tend towards inflation. As the superannuation benefit which will be payable to the officers who will be transferred from the private banks will be based on their present salaries, the purchasing power of the superannuation benefit in a time of inflated prices will depreciate considerably. An officer, say, 45 or 50 years of age, will be taken over at his existing salary, but, because he will not be able, in the great majority of cases, to proceed to further promotion, his position in the service of the Commonwealth Bank will remain static and he will receive a superannuation based on the salary he is earning to-day. Thus the pension rights of many officers of the private hanks will be adversely affected to a very great degree.
No provision is made in the bill for the taking over of officers of the private banks, who are technically temporary employees, although they have long and loyal service to their credit. For example, messengers in private banks and other employees of the type for whose interests the Government should be most solicitous, receive comparatively moderate wages, but in recognition of their loyal and faithful service, the private banks make special provision for such employees who have no pension rights under any set scheme.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) implied that in some branches of the armed forces men are similarly situated to bank clerks in that they are prohibited from marrying for a certain period. I take this opportunity to clear up any incorrect impression which may have been conveyed by the honorable member in that respect. The only members of the armed forces who are not permitted to marry are the cadets at the Royal Military College at Duntroon. I believe that the honorable member will agree that those young men should not be permitted to marry while they are undergoing their course at the college.
– Why not?
– Because they live at the college. However, I do not think that the honorable member, when he made his statement, had those cadets in mind, but was thinking of other branches of the Army. The only other prohibition applying to members of the armed forces in this respect is that applying to members of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan, who are not permitted to marry Japanese. Does any honorable member opposite wish to alter that regulation? I repeat that the cadets at the Royal Military College are the only members of the military forces who are not permitted to marry, and that prohibition applies only while they are going through their course at the college. If the honorable member had the cadets at Duntroon in mind when he made his statement, I should not have taken the trouble to make this explanation.
Question put -
That the proviso proposed to be added to sub-clause (3.) of clause 50 (Mr. Menzies’s amendment) be so added.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. j. j. Clark.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Question put -
That clauses 47 to 55 be agreed to.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. J. J. Clark.)
Majority . . 11
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Remainder of bill - by leave - taken as a whole.
– Our consideration of this infamous measure is drawing to a close. I desire to make some comment on the three clauses in Part IX. - General. Clause 58, the citation of which is “Rights of customers of private banks “, sets out with cynical disregard for the rights of the people that -
Nothing in this Act shall require a State or person, being a customer of a private bank the business of which in Australia has been taken over by the Commonwealth Bank under this Act, to continue as a customer of the Commonwealth Bank.
– No conscription!
– My honorable friend, the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Riordan), says, “No conscription!” That is rather amusing, because it is obvious that at least 95 per cent. of the customers of the private banks will have no choice but to become customers of the Commonwealth Bank. The position of the States is interesting. There are State banking instrumentalities in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia. The governments of those States may decide to concentrate their banking business in those State instrumentalities. Is it the intention of the Government to invite the governments of the States that have no government banks to set up State instrumentalities? Does it propose to make hanking business a political football with some States having their own banking institutions and others not? When State instrumentalities compete with Commonwealth instrumentalities in banking there must, of necessity, be confusion.
I pass now to clause 59, which is, in the vernacular, a “ real honey “. It deals with the examination of the records of private banks, sub-clause 1 paragraph a of which states -
A privatebank, and every director of and person employed by a private bank, shall, at any time after the commencement of this Act. permit an authorized person to inspect the property of the private bank and any property which is the subject of a security held by the private bank, and to examine and take extracts from the books, records, instruments of title and other documents of the private bank.
I particularly invite the attention of members of the committee to the words -
Some things are immediately obvious, and the first of them is that the “ authorized person “ referred to in the clause need not necessarily be an officer of the Commonwealth Bank. It is all very well for the Government to contend that the issue of authority to any person must proceed from the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, but no provision is included in the bill that the person to whom such authority is to be issued is to
I’« an officer of the Commonwealth Bank. An “ authorized person “, within the meaning of this clause, shall have th.a right to examine and investigate the documents recording the private transactions of 1,250,000 people in Australia. Furthermore, persons may be authorized to do this even before the Commonwealth Bank shall have acquired a. particular trading bank. In the absence of spc provision that the bank concerned shall have been acquired by the Commonwealth Bank before the issue of authority to any person to inspect documents, one assumes that authority may be issued for such inspection to be made even before the business of a bank has been acquired, by the Commonwealth Bank. The clause also includes provision for a penalty to be exacted in the event of any person connected with a trading bank refusing to permit an “ authorized person “ to inspect the documents of a bank. The penalty provided is punitive in the extreme. The relevant portion of the clause states -
Where the offence is committed by a private bank. Ten thousand pounds for each day on which the contravention occurs; in any other case, One thousand pounds for each day on which the contravention occurs.
Sub-clause 2 reads -
In this section, “authorized person” means a person authorized in writing by the Governor of the Commonwealth Hank to act. under this section.
That sub-clause makes it perfectly clear that the “ authorized person “ need not be an officer of the Commonwealth Bank; all that is required is that the person concerned should possess himself of a written order of the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. This raises a most important principle, because it means that the private and confidential records of 1,250,000 people are to be thrown open to inspection by some form of “ Gestapo “ which the Government may decide to institute in the. guise of “authorized persons “. If my contentions be incorrect, why does not the Government include in the bill a definite restriction that: “ Such authorized person shall be an officer of the Commonwealth Bank”? If that were done we would at least have some assurance that common banking practice, including the administration of an oath of secrecy to bank officers, would obtain. But the Government has been careful not to include any such provision, and the result is that the private affairs of customers are to be thrown open to the prying eyes of any one whom the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank may choose to authorize at the behest of the Government.
Clause 60 is a most important one, because it Ls the directive provision of the whole nefarious measure. This clause orders not only the directors, but all employees, of a private bank to cooperate in carrying out the transfer of their bank to the Commonwealth Bank ; and if they fail to do so, the clause contains provision whereby they are to be bludgeoned into doing so. The penalty provided is punitive in the extreme. Directors of, and persons employed by. a private bank are ordered to “ do or join in doing all acts or things “ necessary for the operation of any provision of the bill, and paragraph b. in particular, specifies acts in relation to - the acquisition by, or the transfer to, the Commonwealth bank by force of or under this Act of any shares in, or assets of, that private hank.
If those who are so directed prove recalcitrant and do not conform to the directive, a penalty of £10,000 is provided for each day on which a private bank contravenes the law, and a penalty of £1,000 for each day on which any person connected with a bank contravenes this provision. This clause also prohibits directors and members of the staffs of the banks from resigning their positions. In effect, the Government is saying to them : “ You must do this to enable the bank to be acquired for a specific purpose, and we shall not allow you to resign. However, if you do resign or take any other steps to prevent co-operation, we shall invoke the High Court “. Subclause 2 provides -
If a private bank or other person fails to do or join in doing any such act or thing, the High Court may, upon the application on motion of the Commonwealth Bank or of the Attorney-General, give such directions relating to the doing or the joining in doing of that act or thing as the Court thinks fit.
This is the very essence of conscription ; the Government is saying to the people concerned: “You do as you are told, or else . . .” It threatens them that if they do not carry out the Government’s wish it will invoke the punitive provision, which will certainly give them cause to think. The Government says, in effect, “ You must do this and remain ‘ put ‘ in your job; if you fail to do so we shall deal with you, and deal with you harshly “. But the import of the clause goes farther even than that. We constantly hear from supporters of the Government the contention that an employee’s right to strike is sacred. They have told us again and again that every worker has a right to strike; indeed, they contend that that is one of the Godgiven gifts of democracy. In this case, however, they deny to bank employees the right to strike or to “ walk out “ on their job. The Government’s determination might be expressed in this way: “ We shall not accord to you the right which we allow to every other employee in industry. Wc admit that they have the right to strike or not to do the work which their employer directs them to do, but we do not propose to extend the same right to you “. This provision constitutes a new high-water mark in the regimentation of the worker, because a right which is conceded to every other worker is to be withheld from employees of the trading banks. The Government is telling them : “ You have to commit suicide, or to sacrifice your job and throw yourselves upon our mercy. If you do not co-operate willingly in attempting to liquidate that which has supplied your livelihood up to now, if you do not help us to destroy the thing which you have assisted to create and develop, and which has given you security of tenure and other privileges, then we shall invoke oppressive penalties. Furthermore, we shall invoke the weight of the courts of the country to punish you for exercising a right which is exercised by other workers throughout the country, namely, the right to strike “. That is the totalitarian way of doing things. It is the same Communist flavour which permeates all the legislation introduced by this Government, which seeks to divide the people into sections. The white-collar workers in the banks must not be treated in the same way as the workers in industry. On the 3rd October, the Sydney Morning Herald reported very fully pro ceedings at the opening of the trades unions’ campaign in support of the nationalization of private banks, which opened at the Sydney Trades Hall on the evening of the 2nd October. Two banks officers addressed the meeting, and, in view of the publicity given to their utterances, it has been suggested that the matter should be investigated in order to learn whether they have Communist affiliation. One of them, Mr. Leslie Thomas Withers, is an officer of the Commonwealth Bank. He has had affiliations of sorts with the Earlwood branch of the Communist party, and is believed to be an “ undercover “ member of that party.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) reminded us that consideration of this bill by the House of Representatives is drawing to a close. He described the bill as an infamous and nefarious measure. Members of the Labour party are proud that we are just about to complete the discussion of one of the most remarkable pieces of legislation ever introduced into the Parliament for the purpose of giving effect to one of the planks of the Labour platform. The honorable member for Wentworth said that the clauses now being considered provided for the conscription of officers employed by the private hanks ; that we were proposing to compel people to do something which we ought not to compel them to do, and that it was proposed to act unjustly towards them. I remind the honorable member that the clauses now under consideration are merely machinery clauses designed to achieve the purposes of the bill. They provide for compelling the private banks and their employees to assist in the implementation of the measure. If these clauses had not been included in the bill, the banks could defy the Government. Now they will not be able to do so, because heavy penalties are provided for disobedience of lawful directions, and if those penalties are not sufficient, the Government, through the Attorney-General or the Commonwealth Bank, can approach the High Court, which can then order the banks, through their officers, to obey the law. If they refuse to do so, they will be guilty of contempt of court, and will render themselves liable to whatever penalty, including imprisonment, the court may impose. Much has been said by honorable members opposite in support of the High Court, and honorable members on this side of the House agree that the High Court will dispense justice. Therefore, what can be the objection of the honorable member for Wentworth to the proposal that the High Court should be invoked by the Government to assist in the implementation of this legislation ? The honorable member for Wentworth said that we were approaching the end of the consideration of the bill in this chamber and, fittingly enough, he made one of the most ridiculous speeches we have ever heard from him, and we have heard some stupid and ridiculous speeches from him before. It was certainly stupid of him to say that it is proposed to do some injustice to the private banks or to their employees. It is merely provided that they shall act in accordance with the law. He first of all said he did not know who an authorizing officer was, but on reading the clause he found that an authorizing officer was a person authorized in writing by the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank to act under this legislation. For the purpose of taking over the banks, their hooks will have to be inspected and their records examined. It will be necessary that Commonwealth Bank officials should discover the value of the assets of the private banks, and the extent of their affairs. Such information can be obtained only as the result of an examination by authorized persons.
.- We are approaching the final stages of the consideration of the bill in ibis chamber, and honorable members have been speaking under a sense of restraint ‘because they know that the “ guillotine “ will fall in 55 minutes. After that, no member of this chamber will have an opportunity to express an opinion on the subject. The Government has imposed this restraint. Discussion on every clause of the bill in committee has been limited, and it is during the committee stage of the bill that amendments may be made. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Williams) said that this is a remarkable plank of Labour’s platform. It is indeed remarkable. Tens of thousands of people thought that when they voted for Labour at the last elections they were voting for a party committed to a policy of moderation, but they have been disillusioned. I have not met a person who believed that Labour’s policy for the socialization of the means of production, distribution and exchange meant the introduction of a measure such as this. I should like to know where that policy ends. The honorable member for Robertson went on to say that the clauses now under consideration are purely machinery provisions. If so, they are steamroller machinery, because they invoke the use of a degree of force which is not invoked against law breakers. Why should the directors and employees of the trading banks be treated so severely? Clause 59 provides -
So far as is necessary tor the purpose of facilitating or assisting the operation of any of the provisions of this Act - (re) a private bank, and every director of and person employed by a ‘private bank, shall, at any time after the commencement of this Act, permit an authorized .person to inspect the property of the private bank and any property which is the subject of a security held toy the private bank, and to examine and take extracts from the books, records, instruments of title and other documents of the private bank.
And so it continues. Should a bank not permit an examination of the accounts of its customers, the clause further provides for a penalty of £10,000 for each day on which the contravention occurs. Each officer of a bank who endeavours to obstruct the authorized person shall be subject to a penalty of £1,000 a day. Such punitive provisions bring into question the type of person who will be appointed as an authorized person, with the right to inquire into the private business of every customer or depositor with a bank. No member of the Government has yet given the committee the slightest indication as to who will be appointed directors of the banks to be acquired. We do not know whether they will be union secretaries, as in the case of the conciliation commissioners recently appointed, or will be chosen from among the employees of the trading banks, or will be officials of the Commonwealth Bank. In this matter, as in others, we must take the Government on trust. There is nothing in the bill to indicate the kind of person who will have access to the most. confidential information concerning the business affairs of his fellow citizen.
Clause 61 provides -
The Governor-General may make regulations, not inconsistent with this Act, prescribing all matters which are by this Act required or permitted to be prescribed, or which are necessary or convenient to be prescribed, for carrying out or giving effect to this Act, and in particular for prescribing penalties not exceeding a fine of One thousand pounds for offences against the regulations.
Honorable members will do well to reflect that that power is to be given to the Governor-General, Mr. W. J. McKell. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) has pertinently inquired why penalties are to be imposed on banks and their officers when penalties are not imposed on coalminers, waterside workers and others “who hold up the industrial and economic life nf the community by engaging in strikes. Can the reason be that the Government does not regard “white collar” workers in banks as supporters of the Labour party ?
– The penalties could not be collected from some offenders.
– That is so. Perhaps the Government thinks that it will be eas,y to enf orce payment of penalties by the banks., but I do not know how it would fare if it tried to collect penalties from employees of banks. The hill shows clear evidence of partisanship. The law will be enforced in all severity against that section of the community which the Government thinks .does not support Labour’s ideology, whereas supporters of the Labour party will be treated leniently. Those who do not support Labour have their own reasons for not doing so. They have their own ideals. The “Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) spoke of a “light on the hill “ as if the only light in the world i.s the particular beacon which he has set up and lighted. That is the kind of statement generally attributed to a fanatic who would slaughter every one who does not accept his pet dogma. There has been evidence of such fanaticism in all ages. We on this side of the chamber also see a “ light on the hill “ ; and ,so do the employees of the private banks. Others besides members of the Labour party are striving to improve the conditions of humanity, and are just .as sincere in their aims as is the Prime Minister. The “ light on the hill “ which the Prime Minister sees must be a dim light indeed if it does not reveal to him the intolerance which he has exhibited during this debate. I suggest that he .should examine himself, in order to determine whether his actions are not dictated by a spirit of fanaticism and intolerance.
– It is time that the honorable member threw some light on the bill.
– As this will be my last speech on this bill, I conclude by saying that we on this side see another “ light on the hill “ ; we see the force of public opinion rising against this kind of legislation; we see a restoration of that liberty and freedom which the people of this country have inherited.
– The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) referred to clause 58 in uncomplimentary terms. I disagree with the honorable member, because I have been rather struck with the clause.
– It contains the biggest insult in the bill.
– Clause ‘58 reads-
Nothing in this Act shall require^ a State or person, being a customer of a private bank, the .business of which in Australia has been taken over by the Commonwealth Bank under this Act, to continue as a customer o.f the Commonwealth Bank.
No attempt has been made to compel any person to retain his account with the Commonwealth Bank.
– Where else may he bank?
– Order ! I insist that the Prime Minister be heard in silence.
– I was very much attracted by clause 58. I thought it gave expression to the very freedom about which honorable members opposite have had so much to say during this debate.
The honorable member for Wentworth said that the employees of the private banks were to be conscripted into the service of the Commonwealth Bank. There is no conscription in this proposal. If some employee of a private bank feels so strongly about this matter - and I doubt very much whether any of them would - he will not be compelled to work with the Commonwealth Bank. All we say is that if he elects to be taken over by the Commonwealth Bank he shall co-operate with the bank and carry out his duties in the bank in accordance with the law. The idea that bank officers are to be conscripted for work with the Commonwealth Bank is sheer nonsense.
Another point made by the honorable member for Wentworth was that some irresponsible individual may be authorized by the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank to make an examination of the affairs of a private bank preliminary to its acquisition. Can any one imagine the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank assigning to some irresponsible, unscrupulous or dishonest person a task of that kind? There are not so many private banks in Australia that it would be impossible to find a highly skilled officer in the service of the Commonwealth Bank competent to be entrusted with such a task. Under the existing banking legislation the Auditor-General has authority to review the operations of the private banks. Honorable members may rest assured that there are many highly qualified people available for the conduct, of such an investigation, not with the object of finding out whether, say, Miss Jones or Miss Robinson has an account with a particular bank, but for the purpose of compiling the requisite information upon which the transfer of the assets of the bank to the Commonwealth Bank may be effected. This talk of prying into the personal affairs of customers of the private banks is absolutely foolish. Is it seriously suggested that anybody would want to go around snooping among the millions of accounts merely for the purpose of compiling information about a certain individual? Of what interest would it be to me as Treasurer to acquire knowledge of the financial affairs of, say, the honorable member for Went- worth? I have not the slightest interest in the honorable member’s financial affairs, as I am sure that he has1 not the faintest interest in mine.
– Other Ministers do not hold that view.
– From my long experience of public life I do not believe that any Minister would want to learn the details of the private business of any person.
– Did not. the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) refer to a private matter relating to the honorable member for Wentworth, information of which caine to him in his official capacity as a Minister of the Crown?
– If so, I did not hear it.
– That happened only four days ago.
– The only person dealing with the bank will bo the Treasurer of the Commonwealth. In my long experience as Treasurer - and probably I have occupied that office for a longer period than has any other Labour Minister - I have had no occasion to suspect that any Treasurer was improperly interested in the private financial affairs of any person. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) was assistant Treasurer for a period. I cannot imagine that he wanted to probe the private financial affairs of any person. During more than six years that I have been Treasurer of the Commonwealth no Minister has ever sought information from me about the banking account of any individual. Such a Minister would certainly get short shrift from me. I should have no fear of the effect of this clause, irrespective of what government was in office. Generally Treasurers of the Commonwealth are not regarded as irresponsible people.
– The Department of the Army must have been given some information regarding the accounts of soldiers to have authorized certain deductions to which reference was recently made.
– Disclosure of that information was made under a special provision in the banking legislation.
That provision existed when the honorable member was himself a Minister. It existed throughout the duration .of World War I. If there was something obnoxiousin it his colleagues should then have done something about it. Although, perhaps, I may have had some doubts as to their methods of running the Commonwealth Bank, I have never had any occasion to question the honesty and integrity of any person holding office as Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. There appears to be too great a tendency on the part .if honorable members opposite to charge people with dishonesty and corruption. I agree that there are many people in the world against whom such charges could be preferred, but I cannot imagine one of them being appointed Treasurer of the Commonwealth or Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. Such a person would not remain in office very long. In the United Kingdom the very slightest suggestion of wrongdoing is sufficient to discredit a man who holds a responsible public position and to bring about bis resignation.
Mr. Ryan interjecting,
– The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan) has some very nasty things to say about me from time to time, but I do not suggest that, because of that he bears some personal animosity towards me and that, if he were in a position to do so, he would seek to probe my private financial affairs. All this talk of snooping in the private affairs of people is merely so much stupid propaganda.
The honorable member for Richmond also made some reference to the appointment of directors to control the private banks upon their acquisition. I point out that this measure has not yet been passed by the Parliament, and the selection of persons for that purpose has not been given consideration. That is a matter for discussion with the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. Much has been said in this debate about political direction. As Treasurer, I have administered the regulations under the Banking Act for the past six years. During the whole of that time I have never given a direction to the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. In most instances the Governor asks me to talk things over with him. It is not I who seek these discussions. The Governor of the Commonwealth Bank has a highly responsible job, and must be competent to carry it out.
– The bill provides that the directors shall be chosen by the Treasurer, in conjunction with the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank.
– I have not even thought of a name in that connexion.
– Honorable members on this side of the chamber can supply a few names if the right honorable gentleman wishes.
– I might be able to secure a couple of applicants from the Opposition side. I remind the honorable member that there are already in the employ of the Commonwealth Bank many competent officers who could be directed to undertake that work. The honorable member may rest assured that no names have yet been mentioned.
– The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) has said that Treasurers are not usually regarded as irresponsible people. I agree with him. However, his action in introducing this measure does not substantiate the truth of his statement. We are all well aware that, when other banking legislation was passed two years ago, the right honorable gentleman made clear to the Parliament that it represented the only step that he intended to take to secure control of banking. In fact, the right honorable gentleman gave that assurance to his own organization, the Australian Labour party. He made it plain that the legislation of 1945 represented Labour’3 final move to implement a policy that had been a part of its programme for many years. The right honorable gentleman’s assurances were dishonoured when he introduced this revolutionary measure. If that be an act of responsibility, I must find a new meaning for the word. When I heard him say, in reply to a question asked this morning, that he had no intention of nationalizing insurance companies, my mind returned to what he had said in 1945.
– The honorable member ought to stick precisely to what I did say.
– I have quoted previously the Prime Minister’s own words. I say definitely that he gave not one scintilla of evidence to the people of his intention to nationalize the trading banks completely. He waved aside all such suggestions just as to-day he waved aside, as of no moment, any suggestion that he would nationalize insurance or any other business activity. The plain fact that has emerged from the introduction of the bill now before the committee is that this Government is a completely socialist government and that its leader is a complete socialist who never had any intention of allowing the .public to learn the secret of his plans in relation to banking. He produced this measure without reference to the people. If this sort of so-called responsibility is to represent the acme of political perfection in Australia, then we have descended to a low level indeed. I do not believe that any pledges given to the public by this Prime Minister will ever again be regarded as substantial.
I have risen principally to speak about clause 58. I shall read it again to the committee because it is of special interest. It has its amusing aspect as well as one or two other aspects which I shall discuss. It states -
Nothing in this Act shall require a State or person, being a customer of a private bank the business of which in Australia has been taken over by the Commonwealth Bank under this Act, to continue as a customer of the Commonwealth Bank.
The amusing aspect of that provision, of course, is that the Prime Minister hopes that when the bill becomes law and is finally passed by the various courts of the land, and possibly by the Privy Council, there will be no other bank in Australia to which a customer may go. That statement applies particularly to certain States which have no State banks. We can sec right through the real object of this proposal, which is supposed to be designed for the purpose of giving a measure of freedom to the people. If the Prime Minister gets his way, there will be one politically controlled bank to which people must go or be denied all banking facilities. As the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has aptly said, the monopoly bank will, in fact, be Chifley’s bank. Should the Prime Minister disagree with the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, he will be able to dictate its policy. The clause also has other implications. I am led to consider the question, which has been frequently asked in the discussion, whether, to use the common phrase, we can “ unscramble the egg”. The Treasurer hopes that, when the bill has been passed, there will be only one hank in Australia which will be controlled by the politicians of the day. Such a system has all the elements o’f tyranny and all the elements of corruption as well. I can foresee the day when, should this bill become law, politicians will become agents between customers and the Commonwealth Bank. The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald) has already cited an instance of the way in which political action can be taken to influence the Commonwealth Bank. He went to the Prime Minister and obtained concessions for a client which had been refused by the bank.
The establishment of a Governmentcontrolled monopoly bank would open up possibilities of corruption to a degree never previously contemplated. This would do -more damage, not only to the banking institution, but also to our democratic institutions than one can immediately conceive. I believe, as do many supporters of the Government, that the Labour party is losing favour with the people and is “ on the way out “. The people will not tolerate Prime Ministers or Treasurers who do things behind their backs. They will not agree to embark on any system which will lead to tyranny. They are beginning to realize that socialism produces a certain state of society which gives positions of privilege and power to only a few citizens, who secure special benefits which are denied to the majority of the people. I have no doubt that, when the next appeal is made to the people of Australia, this Government will go out of office. Would it be possible for us, in that event, to “unscramble the egg”? I believe that it would. The success of banking institutions rests on the goodwill of the people, and I believe that, if an anti-Labour government referred the question of banking nationalization to the people, they would vote against it vociferously as they did recently in Victoria. They would favour the writing into the Constitution of a section prohibiting any government from continuing along the path of socialization miles-‘ it first appealed to them and secured their approval.
With such a section in the Constitution, I believe that trading hanks could be created again in Australia. The goodwill of the people would be with them. That is not merely a possibility; it is a probability. After all, the capital of any trading bank is infinitesimal in comparison with the funds which it employs. Those funds are provided by the people. The people would have much more confidence in a private bank than in a bank controlled by the dirty, and possibly corrupt, hands of politicians. That is why I believe that the egg can be unscrambled. Clause 58 refers to States. We have nonLabour - or rather non-socialist governments in three States of the Commonwealth to-day. Furthermore, I believe that, if an appeal were made to the people, we should have non-socialist governments in every State. In any case, the anti-socialist forces are in power in three States already and we know that the Constitution prevents any Australian government from interfering with State banking. Therefore, I foresee the time when the freedom allowed under clause 58 will be exercised through trading sections of State banks. Eventually, those banks will extend beyond the borders of their States and become national in character. The people, who make the success of a banking system possible, will support such banks. When they do so, because of the action that has been taken by this Government, they will lessen the ability of the Commonwealth Bank to lend money and will therefore have a wasting asset on their hands. It is all very well for honorable members opposite to say, at this juncture, that the Government will release bonds that the Commonwealth - Bank now holds, and simply buy over the shareholders of the private banks, and transfer bonds for script, which will ultimately be destroyed. This, they claim, will not involve, for the Australian people, a great financial transaction. That is the inference which we must draw from the Prime Minister’s explanation of what the Commonwealth Bank proposes to do. But the value of the assets that they take over in return for bonds or government securities ulti mately depends upon the goodwill of the public. If they support any trading system which might yet eventuate, or the trading sections of State government banks, this Government will find that it has taken over a wasting asset.
Clause 60 empowers the Government to instruct any director or person employed by a private bank to assist the Commonwealth Bank to take over its business. These persons shall also render every assistance to the Commonwealth Bank to acquire any shares in or assets of a private bank. Here, an extraordinary situation arises. The Labour Government is attempting to destroy the private banks in Australia. In doing so, it will destroy the hopes of promotion of many thousands of persons now employed, not only in those financial institutions, but also in the Commonwealth Bank. In addition, many of the employees of the private banks will be deprived of certain of their superannuation rights. For example, some messengers have loyally served the private banks for many years, and when, in the normal course they retired, they would receive from the private banks a pension. Under this bill, they will be thrown on to the scrap-heap. Yet the Government says to those people, “ You must help us, under dire penalty, to destroy the bank with which you are associated, your livelihood and all your hopes for advancement in the future “. I direct attention to the penalties for a breach of this provision -
Where the offence is committed by a private bank. Ten thousand pounds for each day on which the contravention occurs; in any other case, One thousand pounds for each day on which the contravention occurs.
I also direct attention to sub-clause 2 of clause 60, which reads -
If a private bank or other person fails to do or join in doing any such act or thing, thu High Court may, upon the application on motion of the Commonwealth Bank or of the Attorney-General, give such directions relating to the doing or the joining in doing of that act or thing as the Court thinks fit.
Sub-clause 3 provides -
If a private bank or other person fails to comply with any such direction which inapplicable to it or him. it or he shall be guilty of a contempt of the High Court and shall bt punishable accordingly. l.n assisting to destroy the institution which employs them, these persons must, under dire penalty, do everything which the Commonwealth Bank requires. This is industrial conscription. It forbids any persons associated with the private banks the right to strike. I should like to know whether the principle embodied in this clause will be observed in other directions. Will the Government apply it to the coal-miners or the waterside workers who, from time to time, disobey the established courts of the land and claim to possess the right to strike? If the right to strike has been removed, under dire penalty, from employees of the private banks, does the Government intend to adhere rigidly to this principle in future? Have the employees of the private banks been singled out for special treatment? I hope that the Prime Minister will reply to these questions. This bill, if it has achieved nothing else, has awakened the public to a realization of exactly what the Prime Minister believes, and the policy of the Australian Labour party.
– Order! The honorable member has exhausted his time.
.- The final clauses of this bill have a general application to the main purposes of this legislation. They naturally follow the proposals of the Government to place the Australian banking system under public ownership. Henceforth, the Commonwealth Bank will carry out all the functions of banking, and, as the Royal Commission on Monetary and Banking Systems stated in its final report, will utilize the physical resources of the country in order to ensure continuing and developing stability and a high rising standard of living. The royal commission considered that the monetary system of a country can do a great deal to utilize its resources in order to attain those objectives, and these clauses of the bill are designed to give effect to that under a system of public ownership.
As the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) said, this legislation will remove from the private banks the right to carry on the business of banking in Australia. These clauses provide the machinery for achieving that end. The honorable member and some of his colleagues, in their speeches on these provisions, merely repeated a statement that has been made for many years whenever monetary reform, even bf a minor nature, has been suggested. Similar complaints were made when the Bank of England was established in 1694. A historian of that time said that the foundation of that institution was opposed by the Tories and the goldsmiths - the Tories for political reasons and on behalf of their financial associates, and the goldsmiths because they considered that their long-enjoyed monopoly of banking was ended. According to the historian, they advanced the reason that this bank, which was conducted by private enterprise, and which had been instituted by the great commercial interests of the country, would become the instrument of an absolute king and render the Parliament unnecessary and useless. Honorable members opposite repeat those statements when they oppose the bill. They have learned little from the lessons which the development of banking has taught, or should have taught, and the line-up to-day, more than 250 years later, is that the private bankers are the modern counter part of the goldsmiths and the Tories.
The banking system is one of the most important elements in the community. On the proper operation of the monetary system of any nation depends, in normal times, the proper utilization of the resources of any land. In addition, it provides the only really effective counter against boom and slump conditions, the effects of which have been increasingly severe. I frankly believe that the only thing that can make what we loosely term the “ capitalist system “ of society work is a system in which banking is publicly owned. No other system can level off boom and slump conditions. The McMillan Committee on Banking drew attention to this fact in its valuable report. It pointed out that the tendency in the economic system is not towards stability but towards instability, and that instability must be counteracted by the deliberate action of a managed monetary system.
The final act of managing a monetary system, and the only management which can really be effective, occurs under public ownership, responsible to the elected representatives of the people. That is so for two reasons. The first is that no group of banks, each surveying a separate part of the economic field, can intelligently expand or contract credit. They simply do not know the complete and intimate details of the operations of their competitors, if such a term can be used in the banking system as we knowit. They do not know how the transactions of one bank will react on the cash situation of another - the vital thing that determines their advances and contractions of credit from time to time. The second is that, under a system in which a number of private banks operate, it is not possible to take effective counter measures during a. period of falling prices when depression conditions are worsening. The reason is obvious. If a bank’s cash position deteriorates, its first consideration is for its depositors and/or its shareholders. Having the interests of these individuals in mind, it must increase its cash or liquid position by all means possible, including the calling in of loans, the sale of securities, &c, thus reducing the effective spending power in the community. That, is a matter to which attention is rightly drawn by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) in the report of the Royal Commission on Monetary and Banking Systems. Under the unstable modern industrial economy, the higher the boom the more severe is the slump that follows.
The only way in which the capitalistic system, as we term it - a system in which free enterprise dominates - can function effectively is by having an orderly monetary system operated hy public ownership, designed to suppress boom tendencies or minimize their effect by directing money into desirable fields of investment and to counter the worst effects of a slump, thus alleviating the sharp hardships that it entails. The honorable member for Deakin used a number of phrases that have been bandied freely around this chamber, and the country generally. He referred to the unscrambling of eggs, and expressed the opinion that the trading hanks could be reconstituted. I agree that they could be reconstituted. Should any government wish to counter this legislation at some future date, it would he the simplest thing imaginable. The Commonwealth Bank, established by a Labour government, could have been sold to private enterprise. But no government has dared to sell the Commonwealth Bank to private enterprise, for the very same reason that no future government will seek to restore the private hanking system once the benefits of public ownership have been demonstrated. There is no bar to the free operation of private banking in this country that could not be removed should a future government desire to restore the private banks. The reference to the unscrambling of eggs is rather appropriate, as is the alternative reference to the unplucking of a. fowl that has already been plucked. Obviously no one would wish to unscramble an egg, and that is why it has never been tried. The egg is better in its scrambled form. The same may be said of the fowl that has been plucked, because, in that state, it is much more appropriate for its final use. Similarly, in regard to this legislation, the people of this country will refuse to allow any government to restore a situation in which the normal tendency to what is termed disequilibrium is accentuated by anarchist operation of financial institutions.
– The honorable member will get his answer in two years’ time.
- We shall face the next elections two years hence with far greater confidence than the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Hamilton) will feel on that occasion. A government must be progressive, and it may be that in regard to this measure the Government is a little ahead of public opinion; but should defeat come upon us we shall know that we have gone down in a cause that the people will hail in the years to come. Honorable members opposite will have no such solace in their defeats. High tributes will be paid to the work of the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), who, in my opinion, is one of the biggest figures in Australia’s political history. He towers over his contemporaries and stands high among the political giants of the past.
The honorable member for Deakin also referred to the depreciation of the assets of the private banks that are to be taken over linder this measure. He made the same vague approach to the provisions of this measure that -has characterized the speeches of all honorable members opposite. That, in itself, is a tribute to the justice of the Government’s proposals, because honorable members opposite, when they have reasonable grounds for argument, undoubtedly can present a good case. In this instance, however, they have had a hopeless case to argue, and their efforts, consequently, have been very poor indeed. The honorable member for Deakin said that the assets to be taken over by the Commonwealth Bank would depreciate, and that the banks would have paid far more than the real value of those assets. The honorable member’ does not seem to realize that the assets of the trading banks are physical assets. They are bricks and mortar. In any country that is developing as Australia is, under the guidance of a wise Labour Government, the value of such assets cannot fail to appreciate substantially over the years. Therefore, the argument used by the honorable member falls to the ground.
– “Where is this wise Labour government?
– The honorable member for Swan again “buys” into an argument by asking where there is a wise Labour government. Western Australia had a wise Labour government, but, in a fit of mental aberration, the people of that State changed it. Elver since the elections they have been regretting that action. The honorable member for “Swan obviously is whistling to keep up his courage, but he will have to whistle much louder before the next federal elections.
The clauses now under consideration are important but they are largely of a machinery nature. The statement that clause 58 is of no importance at all is quite incorrect. There are State banks throughout the Commonwealth to-day. Any State government has a perfect right to set np a bank of any kind. We have no objection to that. What we say is that the private banking system is vicious. outdated, and, in fact, should never have existed. Had the intention of the United Kingdom legislature been implemented, there would have been no private banks from the seventeenth century onwards. The Bank of England was a monopoly from the seventeenth century to. 1833, when joint stock banking was permitted. A law was passed in 1844 by Sir Robert Peel, the intention of which was to prevent joint stock companies from operating as banks, but the intention of the legislature was frustrated, because, as the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) said in 1910, even at that time the right to create and destroy notes was of little importance. It is of little importance in a modern community, but the right to create and destroy credit is vital and, like the coinage and currency, must be under the control of the State.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- In the four minutes left in this truncated debate I desire to draw attention to two or three important principles in the bill. I regard clause 61 as a most serious surrender of the authority of the Parliament. A most wide power is given to the Administration or officials to impose penalties of up to £1,000 for breaches of the law. That alone would afford grounds for a long debate, but all I can do, -with the “guillotine” about to fall, is direct the attention of the committee to a most serious surrender of the authority of the Parliament that should not occur. I refer to clause 61, which reads -
Ihe Governor-General may make .regulations, not inconsistent with this Act, prescribing all matters which are by this Act required or permitted to be prescribed, ot which are necessary or convenient to be prescribed, Tor carrying out or .giving effect to this Act, and in particular for prescribing penalties not exceeding a fine of One thousand .pounds for offences against the regulations.
I move -
That, in clause 01,’ the word “thousand” be left out with a view to insert .in lieu thereof the word “ hundred “.
Clause 60 is extraordinary. It provides -
A private bank, and every director of and person employed by a private bank, shall do or join in doing all acts or things which it is necessary or convenient to do for or in relation to the operation of any of the provisions of this Act . . .
How on earth could a person know that what he was doing was an infringement of the act? A cardinal principle of all criminal law is that offences shall be certain and limited. Offences under clause 60 will be uncertain and unlimited. It will not matter whether a person knows or does not know that he is doing -wrong if what he does falls under the wide definition of an offence under the clause, and he will be liable to all the penalties provided for by the clause. In other words, his intent will be of no importance. It is a shocking clause, because offences are given no clear definition and do not point out with certainty the duty imposed. Intention, in addition, will be disregarded as of no consequence.
Clause 56, in substance, provides that the contracts between a privatebank and some other person shall be taken over by the Commonwealth Bank, but excluded from the provision is, “ any contract or agreement between a private bank and a director of, or a person employed by, a private bank in his capacity as such a director or person “. In other words, there is no obligation, as far as I have been able to discover - and lack of time forbids any intelligent consideration of the matter - on the Commonwealth Bank to take over any contract under which a private bank is obligated to a director. Is that not class distinction with legislative authority?What is the reason for that provision? I have on other occasions warned honorable members of the way in which the authority of the Parliament is being withdrawn from it and vested in the Executive and Bureaucrats. If the present trend is allowed to continue we shall soon find ourselves bereft of authority.
– Order ! The time allotted for the consideration of the remainder of the bill has expired.
Question put -
That the word proposed to be left out (Mr. Spender’s amendment) stand part of the clause.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. J. J. Clark.)
Majority . . 11
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the remainder of the bill be agreed to and that the bill be reported without amendment.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. J. J. Clark.)
Majority . . 11
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
– I desire to take advantage of the very brief time that remains for the discussion of this measure to say something against the third reading of the bill. I also propose to move an amendment to the motion, the only amendment which, apparently, is permitted under the Standing Orders. I move -
That the word “ now “ be left out of and that the words “ this day six months “ be added to the question.
The debate on this hill has been of necessity a protracted one, even though at certain stages we were truncated by the application of the “guillotine”. But not one moment occupied in the discussion of this measure is occupied unnecessarily, because this bill, I venture to say, is the most revolutionary measure ever to be introduced in the Commonwealth Parliament. One of the purposes of my amendment is to make one last effort to secure to the people of Australia the right, themselves, to make public opinion felt. There has been, of course, a very great outpouring of public opinion. It has been brushed aside in a rather sickly manner in the last fortnight, I grant; but it has been brushed aside by those sitting on the ministerial bench. It is once more necessary to remind honorable members that public opinion - and all adjournments of third readings constitute an appeal to public opinion - is the real source of power in the democracy. No government can, indefinitely, ignore it. Certainly, no government can do what this Government is doing, treat it with open contempt. Very great play has been made at one, or two, stages during the earlier reading of this bill on some views expressed by myself, and in writing, upon pressure groups. All I desire to say is thatwe still hold those views. I will be the last person to subscribe to the activities of minority pressure groups endeavouring to frustrate the authority and mandate of the Parliament, but there is no comparison between what we call pressure groups and the outburst of a majority public opinion, because we know that is what it is, and all the defeated colleagues in Victoria of honorable members opposite know it, too. A majority public opinion rises in resistance against this bill, for which there is not only no mandate, but which actually runs contrary to the policy speech upon which this Government was elected. There is no comparison between the activity of pressure groups, and the rebellion of public opinion against what is, after all, an act of betrayal of one of the first principles of democracy. Honorable members opposite, seeing the stable door open, are now disposed to laugh. I do no begrudge them their laughter. They have had very little to laugh at during the last fortnight. I have even heard melancholy farewell speeches by those honorable members opposite who know that for them the axe will fall at the next election.
WL at I want to do in the course of these remarks is to make, through the Chair, some final observations upon this measure to Government members. They have always claimed that they represent ordinary men and women, and that we, by some mathematical prodigy, are elected, by the great financial institutions, which appear to have secured many hundreds of thousands of votes, I do not know how. I will assume, against myself, that honorable members opposite represent ordinary men and women, and that I, although I represent 80,000 people, 90 per cent, of whom are probably employees, represent abnormal men and women. What will the ordinary man in Australia get out of this legislation? Let honorable members opposite ponder over that question, and let ordinary men and women all over Australia ponder over it, too. What will the ordinary nien and women get out of it? The answer is not to be found in windy generalizations, even if they do have the salty, nautical flavour of the remarks of some members of the Government. Somebody will say that the people will get security, protection from a depression, and that the legislation will secure the rights of the people, though that, is a strange hypocrisy to be expressed in relation to a measure like this. But let us get away from such words. What does the ordinary man hope to get, and what will honorable members opposite expect him to get, out of this measure? I will discuss some of the answers that might be offered by those who profess to discuss this matter in a. practical way. Some might say, “Well, the ordinary man might hope to get a better banking service “. The figures do not support that claim. The figures prove that an overwhelming majority of those who -want to deal with a trading bank go to a private trading bank, and not to the trading bank division of the Commonwealth Bank. It is true that the Prime Minister tried to prove that the majority was not twelve to one but only seven to one.
– And with great success.
– And his faithful colleague, the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard), said that his effort was very successful. The accounts held by the Commonwealth Bank and the Commonwealth Savings Bank number 3,800,000. The report of the Commonwealth Bank, which fell on to our tables a. few days ago, indicates that there were 3,6S1,000 savings bank accounts, and if my arithmetic is correct, when we subtract 3,681,000 from 3,800,000 the answer is still .119,000, and not 250,000, as the Prime Minister said in his speech.
What else is it suggested that the ordinary man might gain from this legislation? Well, it might be said that he will get lower interest rates. Honorable members opposite have stumbled on that discovery during the course of this discussion. It is about time that honorable members opposite gave up moaning about what happened 20 or 30 years ago, and tried to recall what happened in 1945, They seem to have forgotten that this Parliament passed legislation in 1945 - the legislation which, among other things, the Government went to the people on at the last general elections. Section 39 of the Banking Act of 1945 provides in express terms that the Commonwealth Bank may, with the approval of the Treasurer, make regulations to provide for, and in relation to, the control of rates of interest payable to or by banks, and to or by other persons in the course of any banking business carried on by them. Therefore, without this bill, the Commonwealth Bank and the Treasurer, between them, have complete authority over the interest rates which can be charged by banks in Australia. Thus, the proposition that the ordinary man is going to get lower interest rates as the result of the nationalization of banking goes by the board. If he can be given lower interest rates, it can be done under the law as it stands.
But. perhaps there is a third advantage which it is thought the ordinary man will be ‘able to get. He will be able to get more liberal advances, we may be told, from the Government monopoly bank than from the trading banks. It is perfectly clear from everything that the Prime Minister has said on this subject, during the last twelve months or two years that his fear is not that the trading banks’ advances will be too little, but that they will be too much. The whole fear that he has expressed from time to time is that there might be what he calls secondary inflation, because the trading banks may provide too muck money for their customers. It is because of that fear that he had written into the legislation of 1945 the provisions about special accounts, provisions which had the effect of freezing nearly £300,000,000 of deposits entrusted to the trading banks by the ordinary men and women of Australia. Therefore, if there is a fear, it is that the trading banks will be too liberal. I do not imagine that honorable members opposite have been going to their electors saying, “ You ought to vote for the nationalization of banking. Yon ought to support the Government’s proposal because, unless the bill goes through, the trading banks will advance too much money to you. They will be too liberal in their terms with you, and we believe that this should be prevented, and that the only way to prevent it is to destroy the private banks altogether “. The argument has only to be stated, to demonstrate its falsity. There is, however, another answer to it. If honorable members will, even at this late stage, trespass upon their time to refer to section 27 of the Banking Act 1945 they will find that it states -
Where the Commonwealth Bank is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient to do so in the public interest, the Commonwealth Bank may determine the policy in relation to advances to be followed by banks, and each hank shall follow the policy so determined.
Penalty: One thousand pounds.
That is an express provision which enables the Commonwealth Bank, irrespective of the measure now before the House, rigidly to control the policy of every trading bank in regard to advances. Therefore, the suggestion that the ordinary man may expect more liberal advances or treatment, or that the Commonwealth Bank will pursue a wiser policy than that followed by the trading banks, goes by the board. The Government has complete control of banking policy already because it controls the Commonwealth Bank.
However, yet another suggestion might be made; it might be urged that the passage of the bill will result in the establishment of a wiser control of monetary policy. But every member of the House should realize - and the people of Australia should be made to realize - that all the elements which go to make up monetary policy are now controlled by the Government through the Commonwealth Bank, because of the banking legislation of 1945.
I have referred to those matters because I want to discuss the real position of the ordinary man. In not one of the respects I have mentioned will the ordinary man obtain one advantage from this legislation. Every “wholesale” element of credit policy is now rigidly controlled by the Government, so that the aim of the bill - and I trust that we shall all be clear in our minds about this - is to regulate the “ retail “ use of credit. That policy involves the selection of the particular customer, the amount of the advance to be made, and the degree of protection to be afforded to each client. This proposal goes far beyond matters of “ wholesale “ credit. It goes right to the individual, and it aims to establish control by the Government over the individual through the Commonwealth Bank, which will then be the Government’s monopoly bank. “We have been told that the present staffs of the trading banks are to he taken over, and presumably they are the men who will handle the affairs of clients and deal with clients. If the Treasurer’s real aim is to control only policy, will he, one day, tell us how that project is to be accomplished by the passage of this bill ? He is going to take
Over the staffs of the trading banks, although he has already complete power over banking policy, and it is clear that the aim of the Government is to exercise control over individual industries, great and small, through the power of the Commonwealth Bank to grant or withhold credit or accommodation in individual cases. It is very interesting to think-
– Mr. Speaker, will you please call the House to order? It is difficult to hear the right honorable gentleman.
– Honorable members can hear perfectly; it is the only time the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) has been quiet during the debate.
– It is interesting to note that the Government and its supporters, who profess to be supremely confident of their standing with the people in regard to this bill, have obviously during the last ten minutes endeavoured to prevent a speech being made by an opponent. All I say to them, although they may think that they are the last judges of this matter, is that their judges will deal with them.
Question put -
That the word proposed to be left out (Mr. Menzies’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. J. S. Rosevear.)
Majority . . . . 12
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the bill be now read a third time.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. J. S. Rosevear.)
Majority . . 12
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 6.10 to 8 p.m.
– by leave - I move -
That the following joint address be presented to His Majesty the King : - “ To The King’s Most Excellent Majesty : Most Gracious Sovereign:
We, the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia in Parliament assembled, tender to Your Majesty and to Her Majesty the Queen greetings on the occasion of the forthcoming marriage of your elder daughter and Heir Presumptive to the Throne. Her Royal High ness the Princess Elizabeth with Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten.
We desire to express the happiness felt by iiic people of Australia at this event and nsk Your Majesty to corney to Her Royal Highness and to Lieutenant Mountbatten our wishes for a happy future marked by good health and the absence of anxieties occasioned by war or by any other calamity which could fall upon the peoples of the Empire.
Wc take this opportunity of expressing our continued loyalty to the Throne and Person nl Your Majesty and to Her Majesty the Queen.”
The members of this Parliament would wish to be associated directly with the general rejoicing throughout the Empire on the occasion of the marriage of Her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. Although we have not yet had the pleasure of seeing Princess Elizabeth in this country, all Australians regard with deep affection this charming girl, whose natural dignity, intelligence and nobility of mind so well f-quip her to become the ruler of the British Commonwealth of Nations. The greatness of a nation is reflected in the family life of its people, and we know that, His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen, notwithstanding their many regal duties and responsibilities, have always found the greatest pleasure it. the simple family life in their home and with their children. Therefore, we rejoice in the knowledge that Princess Elizabeth is now to be married, and offer to Her Royal Highness and to Lieutenant Mountbatten our congratulations and best wishes for a happy future.
– I second the motion. It is a great privilege to associate the members of the Opposition with the proposed address. It is one of the particular glories of the British Monarchy t at, during a century in which thrones have fallen in many countries, the British throne should bc more than ever secure. This, however, is so because its real foundation is not in some special kind of legal authority, but exists in the hearts and minds of the British people, wherever they may be. I vividly recall the cele-bra tions which attended the jubilee of King George V., which were a spon taneous recognition of the fact that that fine King, by his personal qualities, had adjusted the Crown to its new constitutional position in the British Commonwealth. Our present King, therefore, inherited a great tradition and, in all the strain of war, he has sustained it nobly. It would be a conservative understatement to say that he and our most gifted and gracious Queen occupy an assured place in the respect and affection of all of us. In brief, the old days of an absolute monarchy have been succeeded by an era in which there is, in the finer sense, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) has pointed out, a friendly relation between the King and his people. It has been my own singular good fortune on several occasions to meet Princess Elizabeth, whose marriage is the occasion of this address, it is sufficient to say that she has been richly endowed by her parents with force of character, loftiness of outlook and personal charm. The whole of the people over whom she is destined - at some distant date we shall hope - to reign rejoice with her in a marriage which obviously represents the choice of her own heart and in which there will be associated with her in her public duties a man who has greatly recommended himself to us by his personality, his courage and his deep instinct for public service. With one voice we send them a message of love from Australia.
– On behalf of the Australian Country party, I desire to associate myself with the sentiments expressed by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr.. Menzies) on the occasion of the marriage of Her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth. Australians have a very warm affection for Princess Elizabeth, asthey have for every member of the royal family. They have followed with sustained interest the life of the Princess. It was said of Queen Victoria by the late Sir Wilfred Laurier that she was a wise and noble woman who had “ proved herself to be one of the greatest of statesmen simply by following the instincts of her heart “. If this be one of the attributes of a great sovereign, then our future Queen has to-day taken the first steps along the road followed by an illutrious predecessor on the throne. Australia would welcome a visit from Princess Elizabeth and, it is to be hoped that in due course it will be possible to arrange such a visit. We extend to Her Royal Highness and Lieutenant Mountbatten our warmest congratulations and best wishes.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to grant and apply out of the ConsolidatedRevenue Fund sums for the purposes of financial assistance to the States of South Australia. Western Australia and Tasmania.
Standing Orders suspended ; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Chifley and Mr.Pollard do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Chifley, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The object of this bill is to obtain the approval of the Parliament to the payment, during the current financial year, of special grants aggregating £5,042,000 to the States of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. The provision for the payment of these grants follows the recommendations of the Commonwealth Grants Commission in its fourteenth report which has been tabled for the information of honorable members. The commission recommended that special grants aggregating £6,050,000 be paid to the claimant States in 1947-48, but added that these recommendations were made on the assumption that the amount of tax reimbursement to the States, £40,000,000, and the shares of this amount allotted to the claimant States remain unchanged in 1947-48. The commission therefore stipulated that in the event of any claimant State receiving in 1947-48 more or less by way of tax reimbursement than it received in 1946-47, the commission’s recommendation should be adjusted by the amount of such increase or reduction. In this connexion a bill is at present before the House to authorize the payment of an additional tax reimbursement grant of £5,000,000 to the States in 1947-48 under the uniform tax plan. Of this amount, ‘South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania will receive £432000, £423,000 and £153,000 respectively. In accordance with the recommendation of the commission these amounts must be deducted in order to arrive at the special grants which the commission considers should be paid this year. On this basis, the special grants payable in 1947-48 compare with those actually paid last year as follows : -
In calculating the grants the commission has each year adopted the principle of financial needs as being the most suitable and practicable guide. This principle has been expressed by the commission in the following terms: -
Special grants are justified when a State through financial stress from any cause is unableefficiently to discharge its functions as a member of the federation and should be determined by the amount of help found necessary to make it possible for that State by reasonable effort to function at a standard not appreciably below that of other States.
In applying this principle the commission adopts certain standards which are derived largely from the financial position and practices of the non-claimant States. This year, as in the last six years, the commission has adopted a balanced budget standard for purposes of arriving at the first approximation to the grant to be recommended. Adjustments of the grant so calculated have then been made to take into account such factors as the relative severity of taxation in the claimant States and the relative liberality of their services as compared with those provided in the budgets of the States not receiving special grants from the Commonwealth. Because the audited results of the States’ budgets or which the commission bases its calculations are not available for some time after the close of the financial year, the grants calculated by the commission for 1947-48 are based in the first instance on the budget results of the States in 1945-46. The grants so calculated known as the assessed grants are calculated as being the amounts which would have been required to give the claimant States a balanced budget in 1945-46, provided their revenues and expenditures conformed to the standards adopted by the commission.
One unavoidable consequence of this procedure is that by the time an assessed grant is received it may, especially in a period of rapid change, be greater or less than the current indispensable needs of the State. To meet this position the commission works on the principle of def erring part of the assessed grant or adding an amount to the assessed grant. The commission considers that a deterioration has occurred in the finances of each of the claimant States in the current financial year, compared with 1945-46, andhas, therefore, recommended that an amount additional to the assessed grant be paid to each State. These additional amounts, which are regarded by the commission as advances upon the grants to be assessed in due course in respect of 1947-48, aggregate £1,404,000, and are included in the total of £5,042,000, which, as I have already mentioned, the Commonwealth Grants Commission recommends to be paid this year. The Government has carefully considered the fourteenth report of the commission, and has accepted its recommendations. I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Falkinder) adjourned.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s, message) :
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) proposed: -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue he made for the purposes of a bill for an act to amend the Ministers of State Act 1935-1946.
– I cannot allow this motion to pass unchallenged unless we have an undertaking from the Chair that approval of a motion of this kind in committee shall not. restrict our freedom of action when the bill founded upon this motion comes before the House. The Opposition has been caught once or twice before in the same way. On this occasion the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) has simply submitted a motion that it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a Ministers of State Bill, but he has not explained how much money is involved. The committee is asked to sign a blank cheque. I have vivid recollections of rulings from the Chair not long ago that, as we had agreed in. committee to a motion of this kind, we were not entitled to discuss it when the bill founded upon the resolution came before the House. Once and for all, we should have a clear ruling on this matter. If we are not to have complete freedom of action when the bill f ounded upon this resolution is presented to the House, we must have an allin debate on the subject at this stage.
– Order! The Chair is unable to advise the honorable member as to what will be the procedure in the House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended ; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Chifley and Mr. Lemmon do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Chifley, and read a first time.
– 1 move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to increase the salaries of Ministers of State. ‘ The Constitution made a temporary provision of £12,000 per annum for a maximum of seven Ministers, and left the way open for the Parliament to make increased provision, both as regards the number of Ministers and the appropriation. On five separate occasions increases have been made because of increased responsibility. The last occasion was in 1941, when the number of Ministers of State was increased from eleven to nineteen and the appropriation to £21,250. Prior to 1941, it was the practice to have assistant Ministers. I think that there were about five assistant Ministers at the time, and, thereafter, they were ranked as Ministers of State. That change was made at the instance of the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), who was then Prime Minister.
Whereas the provision made in the Constitution 47 years ago was an average of approximately £1,710 per Minister, under subsequent provisions from time to time the average has not only not increased in keeping with rising costs but has actually been less than, under the original provision. In 1941 the average was £1,120, and there has been no increase in the meantime; The whole of the appropriation for Ministers of State is not divided amongst the Ministers. A proportion is paid to the Cabinet fund, to meet the expenses of Cabinet, and these expenses have naturally increased. The increasing responsibilities of Ministers, the many additional calls on their financial resources, and the rising costs, justify, in the opinion of the Government, some addition to the salaries provision. The present measure proposes to increase the appropriation from £21,250 to £27,650. This increase of £6,400 a year is fully justified by present conditions. It is not large, and will only represent a partial adjustment of the decrease in the average remuneration which has been so apparent over many years.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Menzies) adjourned.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to amend the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act 1913-1930.
Standing Orders suspended ; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Chifley and Mr. Holloway do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Chifley, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this .bill is to grant an increase of the rate of travelling allowance payable to members of the Public Works Committee, and to permit the members of the committee to travel by air. Members of this committee, while travelling in the course of their duties, are granted by the present act an allowance of £1 a day for expenses. This rate was determined in 1913. The bill proposes to increase this amount to £1 5s. a day to meet present costs. This rate, however, will be reduced by 75 per cent, for the period of a journey during which the travel fare paid provides subsistence. When the original act was passed in 1913, provision was made for the payment of the cost of conveyance on land other than by rail, travel by rail being provided by each member’s gold pass. In view of the increasing volume of work being thrown upon the committee, it is now deemed desirable to permit at times travel by air. Accordingly, the limitation on the method of travel is being removed. The present act restricts the annual expenditure to £2,000. To meet the increase of the travelling allowance and the cost of travel by air, the amount appropriated is being increased to £3,500 per annum.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Harrison) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr. Holloway, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That thu bill be now read a second time.
To safeguard the Australian people from inflation and depression, and to keep in check the profiteer and the racketeer, are nation-wide problems. They can be solved only by nation-wide action. The object of the bill is to amend the Constitution so as to give to the National Parliament the necessary powers. The bill proposes to give it the power to make laws with respect to “rents and prices, including charges “. The powers will have to be exercised particularly throughout the present critical years of transition from war to peace. But the need for their exercise will not lapse when the transition is completed, however fa: ahead that .may be. They will be needed again from time to time, whenever economic conditions become unstable. The object of the bill is to give permanent, nation-wide protection to every tenant, every income-earner, every housewife, anxious about what her weekly budget will buy, to every user of services and, indeed, to every purchaser as well as to primary producers dependent on unsheltered markets.
If honorable members glance at the bill, they will see that the proposed new power is one to make laws first and foremost governing rents. In an economic sense, rents are only a particular group of prices. But there .must be no doubt as to whether they are included in the power. They are a vital element in the life of the people. In the first place, rent absorbs a large pro portion of the income of most families. Unless rents are kept at a reasonable figure, other forms of prices control will not be effective to maintain the living standards of the community. Moreover, the shortage of housing is, unfortunately, likely to last longer than other shortages, and rent control will therefore be essential for a long time. I shall have something further to say on the subject of rents, but, generally speaking, my remarks on the subject of prices will bc applicable also to rents.
A vital duty of a national government is to give its people that freedom from fear and want which was held out to them in the Atlantic Charter as one of the aims which made the sacrifices of the war worth while. I will show that the power to control rents and prices is a power without which the Australian Parliament will be severely handicapped in carrying out this duty in the economic sphere. The Australian Government is therefore convinced that the people should be given the opportunity to arm themselves, through their Parliament, with essential power.
In the past, the economic security of the common man has been .menaced by recurring economic depressions bringing in their train the miseries of unemployment and want. Those depressions have usually been preceded by periods o’f unhealthy expansion, leading to inflation and the crash from “ boom “ to “ slump “. The horrors of war have always been followed by this cycle - scarcely less terrible in its effects. In modern times, these economic troubles have not been confined to single countries, but have been worldwide. They are not, however, like droughts and earthquakes, something which man cannot influence. They are the result of man’s activities or neglect, and it is within his power to prevent them. The problem of recurring depressions must be tackled on a world-wide basis, and Australia is playing its full part in the work which is being done in this direction. But an important part of the problem must be tackled within our own economy. Moreover, we must be ready to act quickly whenever the necessity arises. It is of no use waiting till a depression hits us. The vital factor is to ensure that “ boom “ conditions of an unhealthy kind, which, as experience shows, lead to depression, shall not develop. Further, apart from the prospect of depressions, another evil that must be fought vigorously in “ boom “ times and in times when houses and goods are in short supply is the evil of exploitation by profiteers. When money is plentiful among some sections of the community and houses and goods are scarce, unscrupulous landlords or vendors can, if not controlled, exploit the rest of the community. Even in times when goods ft re plentiful, the creation of monopolies leads to the same evil. We all know the enormous profits which were made during and after the war of 1914-18. Thanks to the control of rents and prices, there was much less profiteering in Australia during the recent war, but the sudden removal of these controls at the present time would undoubtedly lead to profiteering. We have only to see what is happening in other countries, such as the United States of America, to realize this. In that country, prices rose so steeply within a few months of the removal of control, that an attempt is now being made to replace prices control. Only this week it was reported that the President has urged the Congress to renew controls over rents and foodstuffs. But with the flood-gates once opened, who can say whether they can he shut. again?
No intelligent person would be so foolish as to think that all fluctuations in rents and prices can he avoided. If costs, especially costs of imported goods and materials, are rising, prices must rise. But the people rely on their government to ensure that the rises shall be justified, that increases of wages intended to improve living standards shall do so and shall not be made the excuse for unreasonable increases of rents and prices.
– Is this “Bert” Evatt’s 1944 speech?
– Order! The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) must show respect for the Standing Orders. There is no “ Bert “ Evatt in this House. If the honorable member offends in that way again I will name him. That is according to May.
– Thank you, sir.
– I will show later that an essential weapon in the two battles against depression and exploitation is the power to control rents and prices. I will also show that the States are not in a position to handle those weapons effectively. The people will rightly look to the National Parliament to grapple with these national problems. The Government is confident that they will freely grant the powers necessary to enable it to do so.
The introduction of the bill does not mean that the Government considers that it will be necessary to operate prices control indefinitely, or to operate it in the detailed and complete form to which we have become accustomed over recent years. Prices control in that form is necessary only in a period of general excess of demand over supply, a condition which is now being steadily removed. As shortages disappear, so can prices control disappear, until it will become essentially a reserve power, operating only when and where it is required for the health of the economy. Prices control will be required beyond the transition period in relation, for instance, to houses and rents, where shortages must be expected to continue for some time. Where production of certain commodities is under the control of monopolies, prices control may be necessary to ensure that, the industry concerned shall apply a policy of high output, low prices and moderate profits, rather than a policy of low output, high prices and excessive profits. Similarly, where industries have been granted tariff -protection to enable them to carry on against overseas competition, prices control will be essential to ensure that this tariff protection shall not be used to exploit local consumers.
Periods of expanding activity occur from time to time in any economy, as a result, for instance, of the development of new public and private investment, lt will be possible for prices control to check the increase of prices that would otherwise result from this pressure of demand on resources of production. It is the effect on costs of this increase of prices which has in the past led businessmen suddenly to change their minds about undertaking new forms of production, and which has led to financial crises followed by prolonged depressions. If prices control can prevent the development of this inflationary tendency, that alone will be the greatest single factor contributing to the avoidance of depressions. In the other direction, continual difficulty has been caused in the Australian economy by violent collapses of overseas prices for our exports. Prices control cannot prevent these falls, but, when drops occur, prices control can, by maintaining minimum local prices,” help to cushion their effects on primary producers’ incomes and on the Australian economy generally. I shall deal later with these long-term aspects of price control.
I turn now to a consideration of the immediate need for the control of rents and prices in Australia during the period of transition from war to peace, a period of difficulties which cannot be ended until production is again able to meet all the demands of fully employed people. I need not draw in great detail the picture of what would happen if the present rents control were removed. Although good progress is being made with housing, there must inevitably bo a shortage for a long time. The wartime lag in housing had gone too long and had grown too hig to be overtaken within any brief period. But while any shortage remains there must be protection for the home-seekers against extortionate charges for accommodation. After the last war, rents rose steadily throughout the ‘twenties, right up to the beginning of the depression in 1929, by which time they were 50 per cent, higher than in 1918. Even in normal times the “ rack-renter “ is always with us. At present, when for many people a house is about the hardest thing to obtain, it would be a Roman holiday for him were there no authority to say what is a fair charge for the dwellings he has let. I am not saying that all landlords are of that grasping, unscrupulous breed - far from it. But there are always some - and their number tends to grow with opportunity - who are willing to take the last Denny from people whenever there is either a general shortage or a local shortage such as occurs from time to time in particular places.
On prices generally, there can be no doubt that external and internal inflationary pressures will continue for some time. The prices of imported goods are now more than two and a half times their pre-war level and are still rising. These increased costs have been pressing throughout the war, and have, thanks to prices control, been absorbed by the economy with a minimum of disturbance. Internal pressures are equally strong. The incomes of primary producers, enjoying record production and record prices, will he at an all-time high level this year. Prices for our exported goods are also more than two and a half times their pre-war level. There have been substantial increases of the basic wage and of skill margins this year. Costs will be still further increased by the adoption of the 40-hour working week throughout Australia, on the 1st January next. There is in addition a large volume of liquid balances accumulated by the people as a result of war-time shortages, and still awaiting spending. Prices control has so far given owners of savings an assurance that the real value of these balances will be maintained. A threat to the continuance of stable prices, as a result of the cessation of prices control, may cause a wave of buying as a hedge against inflation and thus bring about the inflation that we fear. Against this high and increasing volume of spending power, there is a serious deficiency of goods. Despite our high export income, imports are held’ hack by dollar shortages and the production difficulties of easier currency areas, like the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia. We may not be able to import even enough goods to balance our exports, let alone to import surplus goods to meet excess spending pressure. In the domestic sphere, production is at a high and increasing level, but is still seriously short of the people’s needs. The postponement of capital replacement and expansion during the war requires an abnormally large proportion of current production to be devoted to the production of capital goods. In addition to this heavy and continuing drain on resources to meet capital requirements, shortages of labour and materials and the hangover of war-time disorganization of production are causing bottlenecks in several lines of essential production.
An important feature of the Australian economy at present is the substantial subsidies being paid by the Government to prevent cost increases from passing into the price structure. An abrupt removal of these subsidies, as would be required by the cessation of prices control, would cause an equally abrupt rise in prices. This represents an inflationary force which must be controlled until it can safely be released. With all these inflationary forces at work in Australia, it cannot be doubted that an immediate relaxation of prices control would lead inevitably to increased prices comparable with those that have occurred recently in the United States. There, within five months of the abandonment of prices control, retail prices generally rose by 14 per cent, and food prices rose by 29 per cent. After a temporary set-back these prices have resumed their upward trend. Those figures should be compared with the increase o’f prices in Australia, where in the whole two years since the end of the war, the rise has been only 6 per cent, for prices generally, and 7 per cent, for food alone.
The wai”-time history of prices control gives us firm ground for confidence that it brings real advantages to the community and that it is possible to administer prices control successfully. Control of rents during the war was amazingly successful. Rents on an average increased by less than 1 per cent. During World War L, retail prices rose by 32 per cent, and two years later they were 70 per cent, above the pre-war level. During World War II., they rose by 23 per cent., and two years later they are only 30 per cent, above the pre-war level. World War II. lasted, six years as against four years in the case of World War I. and involved a far greater strain on our resources. The post-war period has also been far more difficult, due to the greater dislocation in Australia and overseas. Apart from our own arrears of civilian production, the war-torn countries of Europe and Asia have not been able to make anything like their normal contribution to our needs. Instead, they have been a drain on our supplies. In spite of far greater shortages and disorganization of production, prices control has thus far saved Australia from the worst effects of a second post-war boom. If it is continued through the transition period, we may reasonably hope to avoid the worst effects of a slump such as occurred in 1921.
Although, with the full concurrence of the State governments, the Commonwealth assumed full power to control rents and prices at the outbreak of the war, it has exercised these powers only to the extent rendered strictly necessary by circumstances arising out of the war. During the first two and. a half years of the war, for instance, only a relatively few commodities- were made subject to control, because general shortages were not apparent until after the Pacific war broke out. When it is realized that the post-war boom lasted two years after World War I., which was so much milder in its economic effects than World War II., it can be understood why no great measure of de-control has been permitted up to the present stage, early in the third post-war year.
Nevertheless, the Government looks forward to the time when it will be able to lay down the hurden of assessing most prices increases, and to revert to the state of affairs before the war with Japan, when only a relatively small number of items was scarce and under control, and traders fixed prices under a formula, subject only to occasional check.
Recently, the Australian Government has returned to State and local governments control of goods and services handled by State, semi-governmental and local-governing bodies, including transport, gas and electricity undertakings, and also locally produced and consumed goods and services, such as milk and taxicab fares. A considerable extension of this process will take place, in consultation with the States.
I turn now to a more detailed consideration of the bill before the House. The amendment of the Constitution proposed would give to the Commonwealth Parliament power to legislate with respect to rents and prices, including charges. The power over rents would cover the fixing or “ pegging “ of rents, would include power to provide for the determination of fair rents and, as an incidental matter, to protect tenants against eviction. It would apply to rents of goods as well as rents of land and buildings. The power with respect to prices would enable the Parliament to control and regulate the prices at which property of any kind, including commodities, land and shares in companies, is sold.
Explicit power to control charges is included in the bill in order to remove any doubt about charges which are in the nature of prices or rents, but in relation to which the term “ prices “ or “ rents “ may not be ordinarily used; for example, charges for hairdressing or for board and lodging. The words would also include charges for the use of money, or, in other words, interest.
Since minimum prices, as well as maximum prices, could be fixed under the power, it could be used to ensure a homeconsumption price for primary products. Minimum prices could also be used to prevent disorder and losses to holders of stocks of imported goods which could follow a sudden collapse of raw material prices overseas.
Furthermore, the new power would make clear the right of the Commonwealth to pay subsidies for the purpose of maintaining reasonable prices to consumers as well as producers of essential goods, such as potatoes and dairy products.
Control over rents and prices by the Commonwealth is at present carried on by regulations in force under the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act. That act depends for its validity on the “ defence power “ of the Commonwealth. The High Court has held that the extension of the defence power to measures necessary to the economic stability of the country does not cease abruptly with the end of hostilities in a war. The power retains a wide scope during the period of transition from conditions of war to conditions of peace; but the scope of the power is constantly dwindling, and it affords a very uncertain basis for measures essential to Australia’s economic stability.
With this consideration in view, the Government sought the assistance of the State governments, all of which expressed willingness to support the continuance of prices control on a national basis during the post-war transition period. Whilst all States introduced legislation continu- ing the control of rents and prices for limited periods, in some States this legislation has expired and in others will shortly do so. Furthermore, there is little prospect of this legislation being extended in all or even a majority of States. This creates the position that, in some States at any rate, prices control now virtually rests upon the defence power, and will have legal validity only for as long as that power is held to support it.
Moreover, even if there were any certainty that the defence power is adequate to cover the winding-up of war-time controls and measures necessary during the period of transition to conditions of peace, the Commonwealth would still be without adequate power to deal with and guard against future economic disturbances. The permanent power to act effectively and promptly in economic crises is, in the opinion of the Government, an essential power of a national parliament quite apart from present circumstances). It is likely that there will be long periods during which these powers will not be exercised, or will be exercised only in limited fields, but they will be a vital weapon in the nation’s defences against inflationary booms, followed by economic depressions. It is these circumstances which have led the Government to recommend to the Parliament that the people be asked, by way of referendum., to give the Australian Parliament power to legislate for the control of rents and prices.
As rent is one of the main items in living costs for the average person, movements in rents have an important influence upon social and economic stability. Moreover, rents in various parts of the country ought, as far as possible, to be kept at even levels. Otherwise, all kinds of dislocations will occur. State Governments have power to control rents, but it is unlikely that they will all do so at the same time, and in the same way. We have seen earlier what happened to rents after the last war, when control could have been exercised only by State governments. If rents are allowed to rise in one State, but not in others, wages will rise in that State above the general level. With wages, many other costs and prices will rise as well. As a result the whole economy may be thrown out of balance. In practical terms, uniform control of rents can be secured only if it is applied by the Australian Government.
The State governments also have power to control prices. But .mainly because commodities can move freely between States, it is not practicable for State governments to control more than a limited range of commodities produced and sold locally. Where goods such as galvanized iron are produced in only one State it would be impracticable for the Government of any importing State to maintain an adequate control over consumers’ prices while prices charged by the manufacturers were beyond their control. Consequently, since the States have only a limited practical power to control prices, and the Commonwealth lias not, in normal peace-time, any legal power to do so, there is not any really effective power to control prices anywhere within the country. This, obviously, is a serious anomaly.
Stress has already been laid on the responsibility of the Commonwealth for the preservation of economic stability. This means, in plain terms, the prevention of booms and slumps, which, in the past, have brought so much loss, unemployment and misery. It means the maintenance of steady incomes for producers, in town and country alike. It means the preservation of a stable purchasing power for money, and the protection and improvement of living standards for the various classes within the community. This is of particular importance to pensioners, people with fixed incomes, and all who contribute to the savings of the community. Control of prices is wrapped up with all these things. Rises and falls of prices are part and parcel of booms and slumps. They determine also the value of money, and the distribution of the national output among the community.
Control of profiteering and monopolies again is closely bound up with prices, and this is a field in which, for the most part, only Commonwealth action can be effective. Since monopolies are often nation-wide in scope, State governments are virtually powerless to deal with them. Many of the special functions of the Commonwealth, moreover, are dependent upon a power to regulate prices. The Commonwealth, for example, is concerned with the overseas marketing of our exports. Primary producers are only too well aware that high prices are likely to be followed by low prices. All systems of guaranteed prices and homeconsumption prices designed to promote orderly marketing will be greatly strengthened if the Australian Parliament has power to legislate for minimum prices. Such a. power would overcome many of the difficulties created in the rural economy by section 92 of the Constitution.
Again, it is the Australian Parliament which fixes levels of tariff protection for local industries. It does so with a view to assisting such industries to establish themselves and expand. Unless, however, the prices charged by local industries for their products can be supervised and regulated, there is always a risk that tariff protection may be abused and the community exploited. Producers are likely to rely on tariff protection to maintain their high prices, instead of increasing their efficiency and moderating their profits in order to reduce their prices.
All these considerations add up to an overwhelming case for giving the Australian Parliament power to legislate on rents and prices. It is the only authority in Australia which can exercise such power effectively. It has had such a power during the war and the post-war period, and has used it with highly beneficial results. It will need such a power in the future if it is to preserve and advance the economic welfare of the nation through a time which threatens very great dangers and difficulties. There is no short-cut to this end, and we should be warned by the example of other countries that the quick and easy step of abandoning all controls can bring far worse troubles than those it was sought to avoid. Unless the power to control prices is written into the Constitution now, it will not be available to the Australian people when it is most needed.
The question is not a political one. It is a simple question, as every Australian should realize, of ensuring that nationwide protection can be given in times of difficulty to the tenant, the wageearner, and the housewife, to the primary producer, and, in fact, to every Australian who has to pay for land, or goods, or services of any kind - in other words, to every Australian.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Menzies) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr. Lemmon, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The amendments provided in this bill were considered by the Government prior to the introduction of the War Service Homes Bill, which became law on the 14th July, 1947; but at the time it was thought that it would be practicable to include all of these provisions with other provisions relating to rehabilitation in the Interim Forces Benefit Act. However, that caused some difficulty in drafting and a separate bill is now necessary. The first part of this hill is designed to take care of those ex-service personnel who continued to serve in the Forces after the cessation of hostilities, and who are still in the Forces. The second part of the bill limits the date up to which eligibility may be established by persons who enlisted after the cessation of hostilities on the 2nd September, 1945.
As the act is drafted at present, an ex-service man or woman is not eligible for assistance, irrespective of his or her service during the period of hostilities, until discharge from the services. It is considered that such a person should be given an opportunity to provide a home for his or her dependants while continuing in the services, just as he or she would he eligible if employed in a civilian capacity, and the amendment is designed to provide f or that. The second portion of the amendment limits the benefits of the act to those persons who enlisted not later than the 1st July, 1947, in order to conform to the policy already established in respect of other forms of rehabilitation.
Debate (on motion by Mr. White) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 8th October (vide page 519), on motion by Mr. Dedman -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The purpose of this bill is to extend the life of the interim council of the Australian National University, in which is vested power to establish and to govern the university pending the appointment of the permanent council. The Opposition does not intend to oppose the bill. In introducing the measure, the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) set out very clearly the intention of the Government in extending the life of the interim council. The Minister acting for the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction might help honorable members, however, if he gave some explanation of the progress made by the interim council in the performance of its task. Honorable members are greatly interested in the establishment of the Australian National University and in the general acts of the body initially responsible for its control. It is fitting that the information sought be supplied at this stage.
– I appreciate the attitude of honorable members opposite in regard to this measure. It is pleasing, to know that they are aware of the difficulties confronting the Government in connexion with the establishment and building of the Australian National University. The interim council is proceeding with its work of establishing the cultural, as distinct from the material, foundations of the university. It is arranging for the grant of research scholarships, which will enable intensive research to he undertaken by those fortunate enough to be awarded scholarships. Visits to Australia have also been arranged by distinguished professors in all the branches of learning that will be embraced by the activities of the university. As to the structure itself, plans and specifications are being prepared and the interim council is carrying out to the maximum extent of its physical resources, the preliminary work associated with the project. I am sure that the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) realizes the very great difficulties that confront the council in commencing building operations and in gathering together the requisite staffs to enable the university to .commence activities. I am satisfied that that work is proceeding satisfactorily. The interim council has the benefit of the advice and assistance of distinguished scholars and scientists, all of whom, I believe, are well known to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies).
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 23 rd October (vide page 1278), on motion by Mr. Chifley -
That the hill lie now read a second time.
.- The sales tax is nothing more nor less than a turn-over tax which was introduced for the first time in Australia during the financial and economic depression when the Premiers plan was adopted. The Treasurer who introduced it, Mr. Theodore, brought fom Canada an expert to advise the Parliament and the departmental officers as to how the legislation should be implemented. In introducing the tax, Mr. Theodore made it clear that he expected it to be levied only for the period required for this country to recover from the effects of the depression. That was a long while ago, but the sales tax still remains as a burden upon the people. Very substantial sums are being extorted from them by this tax and the forecast made by Mr. Theodore that it would be discontinued within what he hoped would be a comparatively short time has not been realized. As I proceed, I shall demonstrate that on every recent occasion when honorable members on this side of the House have endeavoured to bring about a reduction of sales tax the total collections of the tax, despite alleged reductions of rates, have reached even higher levels.
In his budget speech the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) indicated that sales tax concessions for the remainder of this financial year would amount to £2,800,000, and for a full financial year to £3,000,000. Sales tax is an indirect tax which many people do not realize they are paying, notwithstanding that in many instances the rates are as high as 25 per cent. I remind honorable members that, in his speech on the budget, the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) pointed out that despite many reductions in and remissions of the sales tax and other forms of tax, indirect taxes levied by the Commonwealth and the States were higher in 1947 than during the war period. Nobody can be satisfied while that state of affairs continues. As evidence of this trend, I point out that in 1944-45 indirect taxes yielded £120,000,000, but the estimate for 1947-48 is £168,000,000, an increase of £48,000,000 in a period of two years since the cessation of hostilities. No Treasurer and no Parliament can justify that.
What this country needs more than anything else is increased production, and that can never be achieved while crippling taxes are imposed upon the people. The sales tax impost plays an important part in keeping production down to the lower levels. If we are to prosper and make up the leeway in the production of goods urgently required by the people, these crippling taxes must be reduced. If we are to provide food for Britain and for the peoples of devastated Europe, production must be stimulated. Yet this Government continues to handicap industry and production by the maintenance of high rates of taxes. The concessions provided in this bill are hopelessly inadequate. I appeal to the Treasurer to reduce the rates of sales tax much more substantially than is proposed in this measure. During the last eight years the productive efforts of the nation were largely devoted to war purposes, and the immediate needs of the civil population after the cessation of hostilities. We have now had two years of peace, and one may properly look forward to a substantial stepping up of the production of consumption goods now in short supply. Every warehouse and shop in this country to-day is short of many things required by the community. It will not be possible to make up the leeway while direct and indirect taxes are maintained at their existing level.
The figures furnished by the Treasurer in the Estimates and budget papers disclose that the receipts from customs and excise for the four months ended the 31st October, 1946, amounted to £32,544,9S9. For the four months ended the 31st October, 1947, receipts from this source rose to £40,114,336, an increase of £7,569,347.
– There is no guarantee that this increase will continue in the future.
– I have no desire to repeat the figures which I used in my speech on the budget. I merely draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Treasurer’s estimates of receipts and expenditure have always erred in his favour by millions of pounds. I trust that before this sessional period ends the Prime Minister will review his estimates and grant substantial reductions of sales tax.
The revenue from the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is substantially increasing year after year. For the four months ended the 31st October, 1946, receipts from the Postal Department amounted to £9,82S,936. For a similar period this year they amounted to £1.0,522,192, an increase of £692,256. I remind the Treasurer that during the last five-year period for which figures are available the annual surplus arising out of the transactions of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department averaged approximately £5.000,000.
– How can the honorable gentleman say that there was an excess of revenue over expenditure last year in view of the budget deficit?
– I am speaking, at the moment, of the Postmaster-General’s Department. The five-year period to which I have referred takes us up to two years ago. No reports have been made available to us yet of the transactions of the Postmaster-General’s Department during the last two financial years. In spite of these surpluses only niggardly reductions have been made in sales tax.
– A government cannot govern on the excess of revenue over expenditure in one department.
– The trouble with this Government is that it is running on the rocks. Substantial reductions should be made in sales tax. The reductions so far made by the Government have been wholly inadequate to meet the needs of the situation. Everybody in this country requires more goods than can be purchased. There is no branch of production in. Australia in which the supply of goods is really meeting the individual needs of the community. Moreover, all manufactured goods are seriously burdened by direct or indirect tax imposts. Last year (he Treasurer estimated that he would receive £31,000,000 in sales tax ; in fact, he received £36,000,000. The previous year he estimated that his revenue from this source would be £28,000,000; in fact, it was £33,000,000. The right honorable gentleman’s forecast for this financial year, I am sure, will be just as inaccurate.
– The balance has been on the right side each time.
– No government should extract Id. more from the community than it needs to maintain services. The figures that I have quoted show that the honorable gentleman’s estimates have been hopelessly inaccurate. Sales tax on foodstuffs alone has involved the public in an expense of £2,000,000 a year.
– Will the honorable gentleman name any basic foodstuffs on which sales tax is imposed ?
– I shall do so; but first I wish to refer to the heavy rate of sales tax imposed on refrigerators which, as all honorable gentlemen are aware, are required for the home storage of foodstuffs.
– Never mind about the refrigerators. Let us hear about the basic foodstuffs.
– Refrigerators are essential for the storage of foodstuffs in a hot country like Queensland. In (hat State, in particular, sales tax on refrigerators should be reduced. With a 40-hour working week in operation, many people are required to buy on Fridays the whole of their foodstuffs for the week-end, and to keep their food in storage for two or three days. Unless refrigerators are available in private homes for this purpose, large quantities of food, in the aggregate, must become unfit for consumption. That is true of a hot country like Queensland.
– Hot? Queensland has the best climate in the world.
– For the first time in my life, probably, I find myself in agreement with the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan), but he knows how necessary refrigerators are in Queensland.
– Will the honorable, in ember for Moreton name the basic foodstuffs which he says are subject to sales tax?
– I shall dp so, but first I wish to direct the attention of the Prime Minister to a letter that I have received from an ex-serviceman who lives in Ipswich. He writes -
Towards the end of the war the Government made the following statement to the public generally and to servicemen in particular, “’ that they considered a refrigerator was no longer a luxury, hut was a necessity”. They also mentioned “ washing machines in every home “.
Those statements were made during the early period of demobilization. The letter continues - lt was mentioned that the Government would also see that ‘refrigerators would retail at a price that would enable every working man to possess one. Now, sir, you will know this item still attracts 12-j per cent sales tax.
The statements, which were equivalent to promises by the Government, were made by a Government spokesman, though, of course, we have not been able to identify the individual. I read many such statements at that time. The letter continues -
The press recently announced that, much to the Treasurer’s surprise, sales tax revenue was many millions of pounds more than budgeted for. In view of the above I would be very grateful if you would put the following question to the relevant authority: -
I do so now. On behalf of that serviceman, and of many others, I put this question from the letter to the Prime Minister- -
If the Government is sincere in its pronouncements as regards the abovementioned items, why does it not immediately eliminate the sales tax therefrom?
Will the Prime Minister answer that question ?
– Will the honorable gentleman tell, me the basic foodstuffs which he says are still subject to sales tax?
– I shall do so, though I have not at my fingertips a reference of the amount of sales tax collected. The right honorable gentleman should have this information available. The letter from which I have quoted continues -
One can appreciate the fact that most things are rather costly at the present time, and it is obvious that here is a case where the Government can assist the public - particularly those living in a tropical State such as ours. Your endeavour to spur the Government to eli m inn to this iniquitous tax will be greatly appreciated.
That request comes from an exserviceman to whom such promises were made at the time of their demobilization by a Government spokesman.
The Government has established certain zones in Australia in connexion with its income tax assessments. I consider that Queensland should be constituted a zone in respect of which sales tax on refrigerators and similar household necessities which are especially required in hot countries should be either eliminated or greatly reduced. Such a provision should apply to all tropical areas, for refrigerators are not a luxury but a necessity, particularly in country districts. I hope that the Prime Minister will introduce legislation to give effect to this request.
I now wish to refer to the sales tax on motor vehicles. A very heavy demand exists in Australia for motor cars and utility trucks and in view of the dollar situation it does not seem likely that the demand will be satisfied at an early date, for only limited numbers of motor vehicles are to be admitted into Australia from America. The very high prices of these vehicles are substantially increased by the imposition of sales tax on them. I urge that the Government should reconsider its policy in this regard, for the whole community, and primary producers in particular, need motor vehicles.
I appeal to the Prime Minister in all sincerity to introduce legislation to provide for an immediate reduction of sales tax on refrigerators and other similar household requirements, and also on motor Vehicles.
– I bring to the notice of the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) once more a subject which I, and other honorable members on both sides of the House, have called his attention to on other occasions. I refer to the sales tax on freight charges. People who reside in country districts are required to pay sales tax not only on the factory cost of goods, but also on the added cost involved in freight charges. Sales tax is calculated on the price of goods plus the cost of transport to country centres. Consequently the people in remote places have to pay more in sales tax than the people in the cities. This means that certain commodities are much more expensive in country districts than in the cities. The situation has been aggravated recently hy the increase of 40 per cent, in rail freights in New South Wales. I suppose that similar increases will be imposed in other States, if, indeed, they have not already been applied.
– I do not think that the increase is 40 per cent, on all lines.
– Freight charges have been increased in New South Wales again recently, and I am advised that the average increase is now about 40 per cent. Country people have to pay sales tax on this 40 per cent, increase in freight charges. This, in my opinion, is most unfair and an exemption in this respect should he granted. This imposition bears heavily on the country people. I do not desire to labour the matter at this stage. The facts are plain for every one to see. People who live within easy reach of the amenities of life in cities are in a far ‘better position than people who live in distant country localities. I do not consider that residents in country towns should be called upon to bear this additional imposition. The sales tax on the manufactured cost of the goods is heavy enough without an additional tax due to freight charges. Therefore, I ask the Prime Minister now, particularly as rail freights have risen so considerably in New South Wales, to give further consideration to this matter. From time to time, I have made representations to him by correspondence on this subject, and I realize that there are certain technical difficulties in- connexion with the Taxation Branch, but I am sure that if there is a desire and a will to overcome them, the problem can be solved. In any event, a serious injustice is being inflicted upon those people who live long distances from the centres of manufacture. The further they are away from those centres, the greater is the penalty which they have to pay. As the request is reasonable, I ask the Treasurer to give serious consideration to it.
– I do not desire to intrude in this debate,, because I am happy to know that certain sales tax concessions have already been granted; but I consider that the House should be informed of the dis.affections which arise and the difficulties which are encountered by those who seek to obtain a reduction in sales tax. I shall also indicate to the House anomalies that creep into a measure of this kind, and the difficulties which traders experience in having them rectified. I shall crave the indulgence of the House to read a letter which, I believe, will entertain honorable members, while indicating the anomalies to which I referred and the difficulties associated with obtaining redress. The letter is dated the 3rd November last, and is written by a resident of Newcastle. I shall not disclose his name to the House but if the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) so desires, I shall supply it to him. The matter affects a storekeeper in Newcastle. The letter reads -
There being no local Liberal party member, it seems the president of the local Liberal Branch is next in line and I have had a visit from a Mr. X, of New Lambton, who is very aggrieved with the treatment accorded to him by officialdom generally and asks if I could pass it on to a Liberal member from whom action can be confidently anticipated.
I pass the matter on to you well knowing that your time must be now heavily occupied with the banking legislation but in the hope that the case mentioned by your good self in the right quarter-
The story goes this way:
Mr. X normally pays 10 per cent, sales tax on fruit juices. It happened that a Prices Branch man was in his shop one day when juices were being delivered and he inquired as to whether X made this syrup into ice blocks. The answer was “ Yes “, whereupon the Prices gentleman further inquired whether X was paying the 25 per cent, tax on manufactured items, and, in fact, whether he had registered as a manufacturer under the sales tax legislation.
Mr. X, being just an average fellow trying to get along, had done neither of these things and was ordered to make returns going back some two years and pay the difference of 15 per cent, on his sales since that time. Mr. X, being honest, did so in detail and paid some £12 or £15, which, of course, is not recoverable from any source.
He is really upset because of all the small store-keepers in the Newcastle suburban area who make ice blocks for the school trade he is the only one, as far as he can ascertain, who is obliged to make returns and pay the sales tax, now happily reduced a little. This places him at a disadvantage and he made some representations to Mr. Rowley James, the precise nature of which I am not aware, but it was evidently towards bringing down the wrath of the Prices Commissioner on his contemporaries.
– The honorable member for Hunter made a speech about this matter.
– The letter continues -
There followed a beautiful pen-friendship between Mr. Rowley James and the Prime Minister, of all people, signing, of course in his capacity as Treasurer. It is lovely to think that even as the twilight of freedom settles on the land the complaints of one lone maker of ice cream blocks can be dealt with by the Most High.
As the correspondence started back in January and there has. as yet, been no alteration of the position, Mr. X closed the shop for a day and journeyed to Sydney, there to interview in person the Deputy Commissioner of Prices in person in a beautiful office with carpets” (the description is by Mr. X).
That august gentleman admitted that things were bad and really something ought to be done. Mr. X feels that he wasted the train fare. He then saw once more the Newcastle office of the Prices Branch, who assured him that this was a most glaring case and something really should be done. He seemed not to have any idea what could be done. Mr. X then saw Mr. Rowley James as late as last week, but has now given even Rowley away. What a pity we couldn’t get the electorate together to “ give him away “ in concert.
I assured Mr. X that in a case such as this the official wheels grind slowly. Mr. X was somewhat terse in his reply and I thought it better not to press the point. However, I attach the correspondence which I should be glad to have returned at your convenience. Perhaps the case might be sufficient to havea piece of some one about.
Surely the time of parliamentarians, to say nothing of the Treasurer, should not be taken up in writing or signing letters on a paltry matter like this when an expensive organization to police prices is established within 6 miles of the scone of the crime whose task it should be to investigate the case on the information Mr. X has already given.
– Ultimately, the children have to bear the cost.
– Here we have an instance of bumbledom in excelsis. Officialdom comes down ruthlessly upon the storekeeper who dares to manufacture ice blocks for consumption, and no less a person than the Treasurer interests himself in the matter. I had a file nearly 3 inches thick containing letters which had passed backwards and forwards between the honorable member for Hunter and the Treasurer on this subject. The whole situation became a chaotic mess. I understand that in this bill the Treasurer has reduced the sales tax on ice blocks.
– Then what is all this fuss about?
– I am merely giving to the House an indication of the absurdity of the position, which, having been created, should be adjusted without difficulty. As the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) remarked, the unfortunate children ultimately pay an additional half penny or one penny for their ice blocks. The whole of the administrative resources of this department have been brought to hear upon the ice blocks made from fruit juices. I hesitate to estimate the actual cost of making the representations, but they amount to at least a score of pounds. High officials of the sales tax branch and the prices branch have bent their energies, mental processes and ability solving this problem. I raised this matter tor the purpose of showing how an absurd situation can be created by anomalies which might be avoided by the stroke of a pen. Sometimes revelations of bumbledom associated with government administration should be expend.
.- I support the remarks of the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis), although I dc not agree that a refrigerator can be classed as a basic food item. The further north one goes in my electorate the more one realizes the difficulty which householders there experience in purchasing ice. In some localities ice cannot be obtained at all, and there are no other means of keeping food fresh. The prices charged for refrigerators are too high for the average working man to own such a convenience. I realize that even if the sales tax on refrigerators were removed, these articles would still be costly, but its removal would afford some relief. I therefore support the plea of the honoarble member for Moreton that consideration be given to the introduction of a zoning system so that people living in tropical areas would gain some benefit.
.- The Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) can rest assured that all political parties are agreed that the sales tax on domestic refrigerators should be removed. The right honorable gentleman knows that people living in the northern and western districts of Queensland need some means of keeping food fresh from week to week. In some portions of the electorates of Kennedy and Maranoa, food deliveries are made only once a week, although the postal authorities are doing their best to provide bi-weekly services’ wherever possible. In outback districts a refrigerator is no longer a luxury but a dire necessity. Some time ago, commercial refrigerators were subject to a sales tax of 12 per cent., whereas domestic refrigerators bore a tax of 25 per cent. Since then there has been some reduction of the tax, and now I understand that both commercial and domestic refrigerators are subject to a sales tax of 10 per cent. The amount which the Treasury would lose by the removal of the sales tax on domestic refrigerators would not be great. This is a matter of vital importance to people living in outback districts, particularly the working men and their families. I hope that the Treasurer will give favourable consideration to the representations of members of all parties that the sales tax on refrigerators be removed.
The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) referred to the sales tax on foodstuffs. I do not know what the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) has in mind when he speaks of basic foodstuffs, but I can supply him with a. list of items of food that are taxed. The list includes junkets, jellies, desserts, puddings, seasonings, beverages of various kinds including cocoa, sandwich spreads, processed foods of various kinds, scones cakes, biscuits and a number of manufactured goods. Included in that list are some basic foods, at least for people living hundreds of miles from the capital cities. This tax is a tax on householders, and I ask the Treasurer to review the list that I have submitted. Not one of the items mentioned should be subject to sales tax. Biscuits are regarded as an essential food and. should be free of sales tax. 1 welcome the inclusion in the bill of an exemption from sales tax in respect of water tanks and water tank stands. 1 assume that the exemption covers water tanks, required for residences and I hontl,at the Treasurer will correct me if 1 am wrong in that assumption. Previously, there was an exemption in respect of water tanks used for agricultural purposes, but water tanks attached to residences were not exempt. I notice that hot-water systems are not exempt from the tax, and I suppose that we must accept that state of affairs, because it may still be argued that a hot-water service is something in the nature of a luxury.
I support the remarks of the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) that residents of country districts pay an added tax compared with that, paid by the city dweller because the former pays sales tax on freight charges from the city. As many business establishments in such places a Rockhampton or Townsville get supplies from Sydney or Melbourne, householders in those towns are penalized because the sales tax is based on the invoice price, which includes freight. Such a tax is unfair to country dwellers. Although I accept the welcome additions to the list of exempted goods, I make these suggestion in the hope that they will be given favourable consideration by the Government. Some encouragement should be given to people to remain in country districts.
– I take this opportunity of bringing to the attention of the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) the unfair way in which the sales tax has worked. I had a bitter complaint from one of my constituents recently. An inspector visited her shop two days after the sales tax had been removed from meat pies and pasties. She was asked if during the preceding three -years she had sold any great quantity of them and she frankly admitted that she had sold £273 worth but had not known that sales tax was payable on them. Although the tax had been lifted, she furnished a return and was charged £34 2s. 6d tax. Two other shopkeepers engaged in the same business in the same town were visited on the same day by the inspector. They also said that they had been selling meat pies but had not known that sales tax was imposed on them. They had not charged any extra amountto cover the sales tax. They were told that they had to furnish a return and pay sales tax on the meat pies that they had sold in the preceding three years. They did not pay and no further action was taken against them. The woman honest enough to furnish a return was taxed £34 2s. 6d., but no action was taken against the other two, possibly for the good reason that the tax had been lifted and could not be charged against them, f will supply the Treasurer with the particulars and the receipts. A lot of the irritation du the country in the matter of sales tax has some foundation. Steps ought to be taken to ensure the meting out of fair treatment. If it is right that one should pay tax the others should also have to pay, but, if the others oan escape payment, the person mentioned should have the amount paid refunded to her.
.- I bring to the notice of the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) the need to remove, at the earliest possible moment, wireless batteries and valves from the schedule of items subject to sales tax. Wireless is not a luxury. It is an absolute necessity to peoble, particularly those engaged in primary production, who depend on the broadcasts of market reports for news of fluctuations of the prices’ of their products. Sales tax on wireless batteries and valves is a hardship that ought not to be imposed on people who go out into the backblocks to develop the country and to produce the food so urgently needed here and overseas.
I also urge the removal of the sales tax on motor-drawn trailers and sheep crates used in primary production. In correspondence the Treasurer has told me that it is impossible to exempt them because of the impossibility of policing the exemption. When sales tax was first imposed in this country, primary producers were able, by signing -a. declaration that the items they bought, were not to be used except for primary production on their own properties and were not to be hired out to other people, were exempted from the tax. A trailer equipped with shafts for horse traction is exempt from sales tax, but trailers equipped with a draw-bar for motor traction are taxed. Primary producers can quite easily avoid sales tax by buying trailers equipped with shafts and altering them to enable them to be drawn by motor vehicles. I repeat my previous claim that the sales tax on motor-drawn, trailers forces honest men to become dishonest. If the Treasurer contends that the exemption of motor-drawn trailers used in primary production would be too difficult to police, the difficulty could be surmounted by the re-introduction of the system of sworn declarations that the trailers so exempt will not be used except for primary production and on the primary producer’s own properties and will not be hired to other people like cartage contractors.
I wholeheartedly support what was said by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis), the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann), and the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds), although he is on the opposite side, about the impose tion of sales tax on refrigerators, the absolute necessity for which is. greater than the necessity for wireless sets in country districts; where, in the absence of refrigerators, a considerable quantity of food is wasted every day, especially in the summer. ‘ Country people who buy “refrigerators are forced to pay sales tax not only on the refrigerators themselves, but also on the freight charged on their transportation from the cities. To impose sales tax on the freight is absolutely wrong. If it is absolutely necessary to charge sales tax on refrigerators, there should be no differentiation as ‘between city and country people because of the levying of an additional amount of tax on the cost of freight. I trust the Treasurer will consider what I have said with a view to granting exemption from sales tax in those directions.
– It is not my intention to delay the House, because I believe that at this juncture it is useless to say anything about reductions of sales tax, as we have before us a bill to amend the Sales Tax (Exemption and Classifications) Act 1935-1946, which details the items that are to be added to the list of exemptions or on which the tax is to be reduced. Before the problem of the sales tax can be tackled in a businesslike manner, a committee of honorable members or Government officials ought to be appointed to set before the Government claims for the exemption from sales, tax of many items on which the imposition of the tax is a burden on the people. I will not detail them now, but I will give two illustrations of the unfair operation of the tax. It could not operate more harshly on any section of the people than it does on the children who have to pay the tax on their sweets. The tax is imposed at the rate of 25 per cent, and the amount of the tax increases in ratio to the increase of the cost of the sweets as the distances between the places at which they are retailed and wherever they are manufactured increase. The honorable mem ber for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) mentioned the fact that ice. blocks cost l$d. each, although they consist only- of frozen water with a little coloring and flavouring matter. Formerly they cost only id. each. The. imposition of sales tax has caused the increase. These small amounts- for individual items may not mean much to adults, but they are important to young children who to-day do. not. enjoy the cheap pleasures that were available to the adults of to-day in their childhood. Very few people pause to think of what it would mean to children to be able to buy sweets for Id. each instead of for several pence each.
I refer now to bigger impositions. Many people in country districts are adversely affected by sales tax. I shall not mention all of the items used by them which are subject to high rates of sales tax, because it would be of no use to. do so at this stage. The Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) should have had an investigation made before the bill was drafted so that relief could have been given in respect of those items. I shall mention only one item which is in daily use on many rural properties. Country homesteads are not supplied with gas as are the houses of city dwellers, and farmers must have wood to provide their homes, with heat and light, and perhaps with power. But if one of them installs a saw-bench, he- is obliged to pay sales tax on it. According to the taxation authorities, such an article is a luxury! The Treasurer smiles. It may amuse him; hut this matter touches the personal feelings of myself and many of my constituents. These people have to spend a-, great deal of time swinging blunt axes in order to hack wood into sizes suitable for household fuel. Furthermore, the average country household consumes a great deal of wood. Every house-holder, is convinced that his family is the greatest burner of wood in the countryside-. He has to swing his axe in order to meet the demand, and he feels strongly about it. However, if he installs a saw-bench in order to save time on this task so that he may engage in more productive work on his property, he must pay sales tax on it. If we examined the list of sales tax items in detail, we should discover many other unfair and inequitable impositions. I realize that the treasurer will not agree to amend this measure in order to reduce those unjust charges, but I hope that the incidence of this, “foreign” tax will be reviewed in the near future. It was introduced to Australia from. Canada by Mr. Theodore as a temporary measure. However, like most so-called temporary measures, it has taken firm root in this country and now its yield to the Treasury has increased from about £2,000,000 a year to some fantastic level. The Treasurer should give country residents the opportunity to express their views on sales tax by appointing a committee of investigation. The right honorable gentleman ought to go to the back-blocks himself, rise early in the morning and cut wood for the household. If he had to do that, I am sure he would agree to a reduction of the tax on saw-benches at any rate. If he experienced the difficulties which are daily encountered by country residents, he would certainly grant considerable relief from sales tax charges.
– Two matters which have been mentioned in this discussion are of sufficient importance to warrant further reference. The first is the method of determining the amount of the sales tax on separate items. At present, sales tax is calculated on the basis of manufacturer’s cost plus freight charges. The result is that people living in country areas at a considerable distance from the point of manufacture of the article concerned must pay an amount of sales tax considerably in excess of that charged in centres near the point of production. People in areas remote from centres of greater population are already penalized by the extra freight costs and other charges which they must pay. The method of assessing sales tax therefore places an added unfair burden on them. Some time ago I submitted to the Treasurer a method of avoiding this penalty formulated by the Rockhampton Chamber of Commerce. The suggestion made was that sales tax should, be imposed at the point of manufacture of the article affected instead of at the point where it is last handled by a wholesaler. When I submitted that proposal, I supplied detailed figures to show how it would operate in certain cases. However, the Taxation Commissioner went to considerable trouble in his reply to prove that the proposal was not workable, lt seemed to me that his reason for doing so was that the scheme would entail a considerable variation of the present. system. That may be so, of course, but I suggest to the Treasurer that such an alteration would be worth while because it would remove from residents of outlying areas the hurden which I have mentioned. I believe that our taxation authorities lack a complete realization of the difficulties suffered in this way by country residents. I ask the right honorable gentleman to give further consideration to this matter with a view to eliminating the existing snow-balling process in the calculation of sales tax.
The second subject which I mention is that of domestic refrigerators. It has already been said - and I believe that everybody agrees with the statement: - that a domestic refrigerator is an essential unit in every home. Again, people in outlying areas find that, in addition to the present high costs, they must pay considerable sums in sales tax when they purchase refrigerators. This handicap would be easily overcome if the Treasurer would adopt the suggestion which I have already made regarding calculation of tax. Many householders have been waiting for domestic refrigerators for long periods, in some instances for years. These items are now coming on the market at high prices, and therefore the time is ripe for a reduction of sales tax so that as many people as possible may be -able to buy them. I commend this proposal to the Government, and I support the remarks of other honorable members who have spoken on the subject.
.- This bill has been discussed very fully, but I ask the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) to give careful consideration to the requests which have been made for the removal of sales tax on domestic refrigerators, which can no longer be classed as luxuries. When there is a refrigerator in a home, the housewife can buy enough meat and other perishable foodstuffs to last for a week, instead of having to buy every day, and this lessens work and makes for economy. If sales tax were removed from refrigerators, more of them could be installed in country homes, so that food could be kept fresh, and living conditions improved. All honorable members are agreed that we must encourage people to live in the country, but this can be achieved only if we make living conditions easier for country housewives.
– in reply - No matter what one does about sales tax, no gratitude is forthcoming from any one. Although the Government has from time to time substantially reduced sales tax and enlarged the list of exempt goods, I have never heard a word of thanks from any honorable member. Indeed, honorable members often seem to be in doubt as to what goods are taxable. I asked the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) to state some basic foodstuffs that were taxable. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) passed over a list of articles, which included sandwich spreads and beverages of various kinds. I do not know whether the beverages included beer or ginger beer. Also on the list were prepared and packaged goods. It is possible to get all kinds of fancy things done up in that way. When 1 asked for a list of basic foodstuffs, the honorable member for Moreton mentioned refrigerators. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Hamilton) was not sure whether some of the things of which he spoke were exempt from tax or not.
– I mentioned radio valves.
– That shows how much the honorable member knows about it. because radio valves are not taxable.
– Are amplifying valves also exempt?
– If the honorable member refers to the kind of valves used for amplifying election speeches, I be,lieve that the tax ought to be increased. Some honorable members mentioned the charging of sales tax on the freight paid on goods, but they did not -explain the position clearly. If, for instance, goods are sent from Brisbane to Rockhampton, no sales tax is charged on the freight.
– If the goods are sent from warehouse to warehouse, sales tax is charged on the freight.
– If somebody sends a package of goods from Brisbane to Rockhampton, no sales tax is payable on the freight unless the goods are sent to a wholesaler.
– That is exactly the point we have been trying to make.
– The person who buys from a country store pays sales tax on the freight which the storekeeper pays on the goods.
– Th e suggestion was that somebody had despatched a package of stockings by rail f.o.r. Brisbane, and that tax was imposed on the rail freight. That is not so. As the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Davidson) has said, quite a number of technical difficulties are associated with this problem. If goods are forwarded to the wholesaler, tax is paid on the freight, hut in the majority of cases, when goods are forwarded to a retailer by rail, no tax is charged in respect of the rail freight. I. hope that I have made the position clear.
– It is by no means clear yet.
– The honorable member for Capricornia has admitted that this is a highly technical matter. If the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) wants some light reading for the week-end, I shall be glad to let him have a copy of the instructions that have been issued in this respect.
The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann) referred to the tax on water tanks. I inform the honorable member that, water tanks are exempt from sales tax, as also are radio valves, to which reference has been made during this debate. The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) complained about the continuance of sales tax on children’s sweets. On almost every bill that comes before the House some honorable member speaks as though this country were full of widows and children. Surely, it is unnecessary to remind the honorable member that people other than children eat sweets. Doubtless, honorable members have had some experience of buying sweets for adults. It is significant that no honorable member opposite referred to the fact that sales tax on confectionery has been reduced from 25 per cent, to 10 per cent.
– I mentioned that during my second-reading speech.
– On this occasion, I have no criticism to offer in respect of the remarks of the. honorable member for Fawkner.
– I acknowledged the consessions which the right honorable gentleman made in that regard.
– And very generously, too ! On this occasion, the honorable member for Moreton stole the thunder from the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) in regard to vehicles capable of conversion from motor-drawn trailers to horse-drawn trailers. I thought that the honorable member for Wimmera held a monopoly of that field. The difficulty which arises in that connexion is in drawing a line of demarcation between trailers of various types. The removal of tax from one item will always lead to requests respecting other border-line items. If trailers capable of conversion to horse-drawn vehicles are exempted from tax, the question arises as to whether all trailers should not be so exempt.
– Why not exempt all trailers ?
– Every complaint made and every communication received in connexion with the administration of sales tax legislation is noted for examination when the sales tax is under review. Every representation is examined by the Commissioner of Taxation and myself. Of course, the concessions which the Government is prepared to grant are never sufficient to satisfy all honorable members.
The honorable member for Moreton rambled all over the place talking about general revenue - - -
– I gave facts and figures to support my contentions.
– The budget for last year did not show the ‘surplus to which the honorable member referred.
– It did.
– Only in respect of one item. What about the items of expenditure?
– Expenditure items, too, were below the estimate!
– It is impossible to forecast expenditure accurately. Only recently, I have received a request to provide £20,000,000 for education. Demands are made for money for all sorts of purposes. Last year, despite the revenue referred to by the honorable member for Moreton, there was a gap between receipts and expenditure which had to be met.
Complaints have been made about the rate of sales “tax levied upon refrigerators. I remind honorable members that the sales tax on refrigerators is lower in this country than in any other country where a purchase tax is imposed. I believe it to be from 50 per cent, to 75 per cent, lower.
– What about zoning the tax?
– I could not bring myself to believe that it would be possible to set up zones in which refrigerators would be free from sales tax. I assure honorable members that all the matters which they bring before the Government in connexion with the administration of sales tax are given careful and thorough consideration by the Government. That consideration is. manifest in the schedule contained in the bill.
The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) told us a moving story about a certain Mr. X, of Newcastle, and the correspondence which passed between the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) and myself about this gentleman. I should have thought that the fact that I had gone to so much trouble in the matter would have brought forth gratitude from the honorable member for Wentworth, because I am really busy most of the time. I am disappointed by his lack of appreciation.
In making an appeal on behalf of country people who wish to buy refrigerators, the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse) paid an indirect tribute to the Government by making it apparent that everybody is now in a position to buy a refrigerator. That is quite a new development. Only recently, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully) and I were talking about the change that has taken place regarding the amenities which people regard as being essential to their existence. We wondered how we lived in our little wattle-and-dab huts in the country without any of these amenities, and on unbalanced diets. By present-day standards, we should have been dead 40 years ago.
– Will the right honorable gentleman remove the tax from cross-cut saws?
– The honorable member for Wide Bay, like myself, would probably find that a little exercise with a cross-cut saw, or swinging an axe, would not do him much harm. I assure honorable members that all of their requests are given careful consideration. That applies to cross-cut saws and axes, about which the honorable member for Wide Bay has been very voluble.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
In committee :
.-! take advantage of the reference in clause 3 to the item, “Fish-paste and foods consisting principally of fish “, to make a brief statement about one or two matters which, I feel, were not covered so fully as they might have been by the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) in his reply. During the second-reading debate, several honorable members stated that items of foodstuffs were still subjected to substantial sales tax. It may be true, as the Treasurer has pointed out, that what he terms “ basic foodstuffs “ are not subject to the tax; but the determination of what is a basic food and what is not a basic food is, in practice, a rather academic matter. What may be a luxury in one part of the Commonwealth may very well be a necessity in another part. The Treasurer referred to prepared and packaged foodstuffs as being luxury and not basic items. Recently, T Stayed with a. family in north Queensland, and was greatly im pressed by the quantity of prepared foodstuffs in the house, which was situated a long way from the shops. These people found it necessary to keep large stocks of prepared foodstuffs in order to meet their daily needs. It is not everybody who can obtain basic foodstuffs as they require them. Even in the cities, many people employed for the greater part of the working day have to rely on prepared foods. I find it is difficult to appreciate the motives which have led the Government to continue the imposition of sales tax on some items. On foods derived from fish-paste or foods consisting generally of fish the tax is to be removed. I suggest to the Treasurer that the tax on many items with comparable claims for relief should be re-examined in the interests of not only the consumers but also the retailers. Throughout the Commonwealth, there must be nearly 40,000 little sweet shops, delicatessens and grocery stores which handle these items. For the proprietors, the administration of the sales tax has become a heavy burden. The administration and supervision of these items by officials must also constitute a heavy task.
In my second-reading speech, I directed the attention of the Treasurer to food items which contained sugar. 1 pointed out that the Government had now approved an increase of 12i per cent, in the retail price of sugar, and that this would have the effect of increasing the cost of items with a heavy sugar content. I suggested that this increase should be offset by a reduction of the sales tax on such items. It is clear that the right honorable gentleman does not propose to do anything in regard to that matter. I do not need to remind the committee that he has told us in the past that he sees dangers in accepting suggestions for tax reductions in the committee stage of the discussions of a bill of this character, fearing that their acceptance and the consequent reduction of sales tax may result in the opening up of another wide field of anomaly. I accept the assurance that they will be closely examined and I hope that early in the new year, the Treasurer will be able to introduce another measure extending the range of exemptions and, perhaps, reducing the rat.es in respect of some other items. Perhaps we have not been as gracious to the Treasurer as he might have desired in accepting these remissions, but, although I did make some appreciative references in my second-reading speech, I believe that since the Treasurer looks for gratitude, we should, in expressing our appreciation, remind him that although he has made remissions, the revenue collected by him from this source has increased year by year, and has substantially exceeded his budget estimates.
.- I assure the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) that in spite of our criticism, we are grateful for the somewhat exiguous concessions that this measure provides, The right honorable gentleman said that he looked forward to a great many more. There is every reason to do that with confidence, because the sales tax brings in an annual revenue of approximately £30,000,000.
My main reason for speaking at this stage is to say a word or two about the vexed question of concessions to primary producers. I refer specifically to trailers. The imposition of sales tax upon trailers cannot be of very great importance to the Treasurer because the amount of money involved is not great. The principle on which this exemption is refused, namely, that trailers can be used for purposes other than primary production is wrong. Otherwise, why is it not applied in other cases? Many items used by primary producers are used also by other individuals in the community. I could give quite a number of examples, but I shall cite only two, namely, tractors and rat poison. There -are just as many rats in the towns as in the country, yet the primary producer buys rat poison free of sales tax whereas the man in the town pays sales tax on this commodity. This problem might very well be resolved by granting the exemption we seek. If the only objection to this course is the principle involved, I submit that in this instance the objection should be withdrawn, because the principle cannot validly be applied. I ask the Treasurer to give some further thought to this matter.
I should like also to put an idea into the head of the Treasurer in regard to future sales tax concessions. At present, transport vehicles, including motor trucks and so on, are subject to a substantial sales tax. As the Treasurer is aware, one of the greatest production costs in this country is the cost of transport. It is a cumulative cost because every article that is produced at some time or other has added to its cost substantial transport charges, the greatest of which is the cost of motor transport. To-day, approximately one quarter of our national income is expended on transport, and between £300,000,000 and £400,000,000 of that total is represented by motor transport costs. That means that every single article that we eat, wear, or use carries these high charges to which a substantial contributing factor is the sales tax. In Great Britain, all motor transport used for commercial purposes and, above all, primary production, is free of sales tax and I think that course might well be adopted in this country. I hope that the Treasurer will give serious consideration to the matter with a view to substantially reducing the sales tax on commercial motor vehicles or exempting those vehicles entirely.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
The following papers were presented : -
International Labour Organization - Twentyninth Session, Montreal, September, 1946 - Reports of the Australian Government and Employers’ Delegates.
Ordered to be printed.
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointments - Department of Labour and National Service - A. C. Clarke, E. J. Moran.
House adjourned at 10.36 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Income Tax: American Ex-SERVICEMEN
y. - On the 28th October the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) asked a question regarding the taxability of the subsistence allowance paid by the United States Treasury to American ex-servicemen undergoing rehabilitation training courses at universities and technical colleges in Australia. I. have discussed the matter with the Commissioner of Taxation and now inform the honorable member as follows : -
At the outset it may be observed that by reason of the fact that the American exservicemen concerned evidently reside in Australia they are, for purposes of taxation, residents of Australia as defined by the Income Tax Assessment Act.
The commissioner informs me that under the provisions of that act, a resident of Australia is assessable on the gross income, other than exempt income, derived by him directly or indirectly from all sources whether in or out of Australia with the exception of such income, other than dividends, as is derived from exAustralian sources and in respect of which the commissioner is satisfied that the taxpayer has paid or will pay tax in the country where it is derived. lt is understood that under the United States taxation laws American ex-service personnel are not subject to tax in America in respect of tuition and subsistence provided by the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act.
It follows, then, that those payments are assessable income to thu American exservicemen resident in Australia, unless, in fact, the payments are not income or are specifically exempt from Australian tax under some provision of the Income Tax Assessment Act.
As to whether the payments are income to tile recipients, the commissioner advises me that it is considered that periodical payments by way of allowance or pension fall within the concept of income. It has been so held in the case of Australian ex-servicemen receiv ing subsistence allowances while attending universities in circumstances comparable wit 1 United States ex-servicemen.
There remains for consideration the question whether there is any specific provision ot the Income Tax Assessment Act under which these payments made to American exservicemen might be exempted from Australian tux.
Section 23 (k) exempts from tax certain pensions and allowances paid under the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act or under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act. The exemption is extended by that section to “wounds and disability” pensions of the kind specified in sub-section (2.) of section Ki of the United Kingdom Finance Act. While the section does not specifically mention the pensions received from the United States Government and granted to exservicemen on account of medical unfitness attributable to, or aggravated by, naval, military or air force service, those pensions are of a similar nature to payments exempt in the hands of Australian and United Kingdom exservicemen and, by liberal interpretation, the section is regarded as exempting from Australian income tax such disability pensions in the hands of United States ex-servicemen.
With regard to the ex-servicemen’s subsistence allowance, the commissioner explained the position is not the same. Similar allowances are taxed in the hands of Australian ex-servicemen and, in the absence of an exempting provision in the Income Tax Assessment Act, it is not possible to exempt from Australian tax the allowance in question payable to United States ex-servicemen.
It might be added that some little time ago the Government gave consideration to the question of providing exemption in respect of the allowances paid to Australian exservicemen while being vocationally trained. After an exhaustive examination of the subject, however, the conclusion was reached that such allowances were essentially in the nature of income from employment and that in these circumstances it was impracticable to provide exemption from taxation. In fact, where the allowances are paid to trainees who are actually being trained in workshops, it would be particularly difficult to exempt the allowances while fellow employees in the same workshop are liable to tax in respect of a similar amount received by them in the form of wages.
At the same time consideration was given to exempting other types of allowances payable under the Re-establishment and Employment Act to discharged servicemen during the period of unemployment. It was decided that in these cases exemption should be granted and the necessary provision was subsequently inserted in the Income Tax Assessment Act.
I have again considered the question of exempting vocational training allowances, but I do not feel that I could reasonably undertake to recommend to the Government that the law should be amended to provide the desired exemption in these cases.
n asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The answers to the right honorable gentleman’s questions are as follows: -
n asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
Mr.Pollard. - The answers to the right honorable gentleman’s questions are as follows: -
Re-establishment : Land Settlement ofex-servicemen, Single Unit farms ; Public Service,preference to ex-Service Men andWomen.
asked the Minister acting for the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, upon notice -
d. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 2. Information as to the number of applications which have been lodged by exservicemen with State authorities for singleunit farms and the decisions which have been made regarding them, is not available. Under the conditions of the war service land settlement agreements between the Commonwealth and the States, the Commonwealth has approved (to the 30th September, 1947) of the acquisition of 180 single-unit farms which have been submitted by the States. The numbers, by States, are:- New South Wales, 62 (these are all sheep grazing leases in the western division of the State) ; Victoria, 6; South Australia, 5; Western Australia, 108; total 180. Assistance has also been granted to ex-servicemen under the Re-establishment and Employment Act which provides for the granting of loans up to £1,000 and the payment of living allowances to approved applicants. Up to the 30th September, 1947, the number of ex-servicemen who have been assisted to settle on farms was1909, and, at that date, 1,050 were in occupation of their properties. By States, the numbers are - New South Wales, 546; Victoria, 413; Queensland, 259; South Australia, 114; Western Australia, 455; Tasmania, 122; total 1,909. Two
States (Victoria and Queensland) operate schemes of financial assistance to exservicemen who desire to settle on farms. These schemes are purely State concerns and the Commonwealth has no information regarding their operations.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
y. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
s asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice -
– The following information has been supplied by the UnderSecretary of the Queensland Treasury : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 November 1947, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1947/19471119_reps_18_195/>.