19th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Admission to Galleries
– Before calling for questions, I desire to refer to a matter that has been raised in regard to the accommodation of strangers in the chamber last night. I should like to explain to the House the position existing in that regard. In the new enlarged House there are 36 seats in the Speaker’s gallery on the main floor, excluding those in the Senate gallery and the diplomatic gallery. There are 146 seats upstairs. The Standing Orders provide -
The Speaker only shall have the privilege of admitting strangers into the portion of the Chamber below the Bar. Senators shall have the privilege of admission there without orders. The Speaker may admit distinguished strangers to a seat on the floor of the House.
That means, inter alia, that senators shall have the privilege of admission to their reserved gallery without orders. The following standing order reads -
Every Member may each day, by written orders, admit two strangers to the gallery.
As there are 146 seats in the public gallery, and 123 members, if each member exercises his right it is obvious that there will not be enough seats to go round. On certain important occasions there are more senators in the chamber than there are seats to accommodate then in their own gallery. I must ask senators to confine their attendance in this chamber, on those occasions, to their own gallery because tickets will have been issued for seats elsewhere to other people who are entitled to use them. Diplomats are in the same position. If they all attend, not enough seats are available for them in the reserved section of the chamber.
In regard to requests for seats yesterday, some honorable members asked for as many as ten seats. The other extreme was that five honorable members put in requests for a ticket for the same person. Those circumstances all add to the complications which have to be dealt with by the staff who have to allot the tickets. It has come to my notice that in many cases where tickets have been taken out they have not been used. In one case at least I think tickets were taken out for a practical joke, because as soon as I ‘ saw the list of names and realized the significance of the names on it I was quite sure that the person who had taken those tickets out thought that he was having a joke on Mr. Speaker. I am not prepared to give names at present, although I do not mind informing party leaders of them in confidence. The staff cannot be blamed. It is quite clear that in some cases honorable members or the persons to whom tickets have been issued have transferred those tickets to other people. I have one definite instance clearly in my mind in which a ticket was refused by me to a certain person, but that person was in attendance with a ticket which had been issued to somebody else. Honorable members should realize that these tickets are not transferable. On many occasions, and this happened last night, persons to whom tickets have been issued have expressed their dissatisfaction with the seats allotted to them in the Speaker’s gallery. If a person to whom I have issued a ticket is not satisfied with the seat allotted to him, he is not obliged to take it because other people are quite willing to do so. There havebeen instances - and this occurred last night - of persons to whom tickets have been issued demanding to know from the attendants for whom certain seats in the Speaker’s gallery have been reserved. Under the Standing Orders that is my business, and it is no business of people to whom tickets have been allotted to inquire for whom seats have been reserved in the Speaker’s gallery. Visitors have seats allotted to them, and they can take those seats or leave them. If the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, or the Leader of the Australian Country party or any of their deputies have any distinguished visitors in Canberra or any one in whom they are particularly interested I shall always do my best to accommodate them. To be quite frank with the House, in allotting tickets on occasions like last night I try to keep four or five in reserve for contingencies-
– That is, in case the Governor-General turns up?
– Or in case Mr. Garden turns up. I trust that from now on honorable members will co-operate with the staff in this matter of allocating seats. If they will make their requests known either to my private secretary or to the Serjeant-at-Arms fairly early, we shall endeavour to do the best that we can. I assure the House that yesterday there were many more applications for seats than we had any chance of filling, in fact there were over 100 per cent, more applications than there are seats in the galleries.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Works and Housing concerning the importation of prefabricated houses. Because of the shortage of labour to erect homes, a number of tradesmen are prepared, with the assistance of others, to erect homes if they can get the material. Can the Minister say whether the Government is itself importing prefabricated houses? If it is not doing so, will the Government do so in order to make them available to private individuals who would erect them and thereby assist in overcoming the shortage of houses?
– Every government in Australia is importing prefabricated houses, and I believe that they will continue to do so for the next two or three years. The Australian Government is importing houses for the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, and State governments are importing houses for use in their own States.
It is perfectly proper for any private individual, any group of individuals, or any company to import prefabricated houses, and they would receive the same privilege as governmental bodies of bringing in the houses free of duty and all the privileges normally associated with the importation of prefabricated houses.
– The Government cannot do it for them?
– I do not think that any government would import houses for private individuals, but the individuals are perfectly at liberty to do it themselves. There are plenty of agencies in the capital cities for overseas firms that manufacture prefabricated houses. If there is any further information that I can give to the honorable member I shall be glad to confer with him outside the chamber.
– I direct a question to the acting deputy Prime Minister.
– Order ! There is no necessity to use that title.
– I must do so, because my question affects the activities of a Minister in another place. I cannot address any one else representing the Minister concerned.
– The honorable gentleman could use the expression “ the Minister in charge of the House “.
– In humility, the leader of the House at the moment has asked me to address him as “ the Minister in charge of the House “.
– The pretender.
– I should not call him the “ Young Pretender “. Will the Minister ask the law officers of the Commonwealth to investigate the possibility, under the defence power of the Commonwealth, of the war service homes authorities, or some other body to be set up by statute, being empowered to build houses and to become the constructing authority generally, in order that all people entitled to war service homes, who number about 900,000, may be given a better chance of obtaining homes than under the present arrangement? To-day, I might say parenthetically, we leave the building of houses to the States, and the progress of home-building has been too slow. J ask the Minister to say whether the Commonwealth defence power, can now be used to establish a Commonwealth authority that probably will be able to function better and more satisfactorily than do the State authorities at present engaged in home building?
– I remind the honorable member that he and his colleagues were in charge of the affairs of this country for eight years, during which period this matter might quite usefully have been examined. However, we have every sympathy as honorable members, and a3 a government, with the claims of persons who are qualified to be placed in residence in war service homes. Both the AttorneyGeneral, who would be concerned with the legal aspects of the matter, and the Minister in charge of war service homes, are in another place and I shall place before them the matters raised by the honorable member and ask them to examine them.
– Can the Minister for Labour and National Service say whether it is a fact that the Australian Government is greatly concerned over the proper housing of the people? Is it also a fact that the primary responsibility for housing lies with the States? If these are fact9, will the Minister bring to the notice of the Premier of New South Wales the pitiable conditions that obtain in Sydney, that were so eloquently indicated by the honorable member for East Sydney last night? Will he convey to the proper quarter, with due promptitude and courtesy, this blistering criticism of the failure of the McGirr Government to deal with the housing situation ?
– The Government is very much concerned with the general problem of housing and my colleague, the Minister for Works and Housing, has been extremely active in measures to improve the situation. As the honorable member has pointed out, the primary responsibility in the matter rests with the State governments, but the Australian Government can do a great deal by creating conditions in which private enterprise can accept its share of responsibility, and discharge that responsibility more effectively. During the period from 1920 to 1927, when there was economic stability and a favorable political atmosphere in this country, the housing programme went ahead by leaps and bounds. We hope that, as the housing policy of this Government takes effect, a similar stimulus will be given to the construction of homes in Australia. I listened with interest to the comment of the honorable member for East Sydney last night, although it was not the first time that we have heard the same kind of speech from the honorable gentleman. It occurred to me, also, as I listened to him, that the speech constituted a remarkable criticism of a government made up from the party to which the honorable member himself belongs. I think that the best course of action would be for the honorable member for East Sydney to co-operate with the honorable member for New England and send to the Premier of New South Wales a copy of his speech when it comes to hand.
– Will the Minister for External Affairs inform the House of the arrangements that have been made for the meeting in Australia of the Consultative Committee on the problems of .South-East Asia which was proposed at the Colombo conference?
– The committee will commence its deliberations on the 15th May in Sydney. Through the courtesy of the Governor-General the conference will bo held in a room provided in Admiralty House. Office and hotel accommodation has been arranged for the delegations. The reason why the agenda has not yet been completed is that discussions are still proceeding among some of the governments concerning the inclusion of items. Work is also being done in the Department of External Affairs on the preparation of papers. Certain technical advisers will arrive here some time before the 15th May for the purpose of discussing the preliminary work, but the committee will commence its deliberations on that date.
– I desire to address a question to the Minister for External Affairs with a view to giving him an opportunity to correct a very misleading newspaper report. I have here an extract from a newspaper called the Express which, I understand, is an ex-servicemen’s journal published in New South Wales. I shall not read the whole of the article, but-
– Order ! I remind the honorable member that he may not base a question on a statement that is published in a newspaper. I gave that ruling yesterday.
– My question is not based on a newspaper article, and is designed to give the Minister an opportunity to correct what is obviously a misleading statement.
– It is the same thing.
– I do not consider that it is the same thing. However, it is for Mr. Speaker to determine the matter.
– It is very difficult to distinguish the difference. The honorable member for East Sydney may raise the matter on the motion for the adjournment of the House, and I shall be happy to hear him then.
– Does the honorable member vouch for the accuracy of the newspaper statement to which he has referred ?
– I cannot vouch for its accuracy. I understand that it is grossly inaccurate, and that is why I want to give the Minister for External Affairs an opportunity to correct it.
-Order ! I think that the honorable member should reserve his remarks until the motion for the adjournment has been moved.
– During the regime of the Chifley Government, honorable members opposite were most vociferous about the swollen state of the Public Service. They alleged that bureaucrats were too numerous, and that, generally, the Australian taxpayers were being imposed upon. I now ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether he has seen the latest figures issued by .the Commonwealth Statistician, which show that, since this Government took office, 800 employees have been added to the Public Service?
– It is true that members of the present Government, while in
Opposition, frequently criticised what we regarded as an unjustifiable extension of governmental activity and the increase of the number of persons engaged in the Commonwealth Service on activities and matters which we considered as merely implementing the socialist programme of the government of the day. This Government has been in office for only five months, and although that may seem a long time to some honorable members, it is not a great length of time when one has to deal with a variety of administrative problems. However, the Government has sought to examine the situation in each of the departments of the Public Service. A sub-committee of Cabinet has been constituted for the purpose, and a special departmental committee, consisting of senior officers of the Public Service, has also been active in examining various departments. I know that in the Department of Labour and National Service, which I administer, that review has been proceeding, and it will result in a substantial retrenchment in one or two directions, notably in the Commonwealth Employment Service.
– But 800 persons have been added to the Public Service since this Government took office.
– Those figures are somewhat misleading, as I shall show. When the coal strike occurred, a number of migrants who, normally, would have gone out into industry, could not be absorbed at the usual rate because of the obstruction to production at that time, and some thousands of them were engaged in the various services on work around the camps, and on other work to which they were directed at that time by the various services. Rightly or wrongly, the Commonwealth Statistician in calculating the total number of persons employed in the Public Service, treated those persons as being employed by the Commonwealth. That was hardly a realistic view of the position. They are now being absorbed gradually in the general employment field. The Government is concerned at the proportion of the available man-power in this country that is employed upon governmental activities. We are taking active steps to review the whole position.
– In view of the statements that have been made in recent years that the Public Service is impregnated with Communists, will the Minister for Labour and National Service inform the House how many Communists have been dismissed from government departments since the present Government came to office? If he cannot answer for other departments, can he say how many Communists have been dismissed from the all-important Department of Labour and National Service that he controls?
– I do not think that anybody, including the honorable member for Dalley, has any doubt that some members of the Communist party are to be found in departments of the Commonwealth, as indeed in departments of the State governments. The Communists, who have been so skilful in placing the ablest members of their party in other responsible positions in Australia, certainly have not overlooked some of the key departments and key positions in our own service. Individual Ministers have had reports brought to them from time to time from our security service about suspicions that exist in relation to particular members of their departments. So .far as my own department is concerned, I have not taken action to dismiss any member, nor, so far as I am aware, has action been taken inside the department to dismiss any such persons. However, on behalf of the Government, I think that I can promise the honorable member for Dalley that if he and his colleagues will co-operate with the Government to secure a speedy passage of the legislation that is now before the House, prompt action to implement that legislation will “be taken.
– Has the Minister for Labour and National Service read a press report that the head of the Lincoln Electric Company of the United States of America, upon arrival in this country, stated that the fact that the Australian branch of that organization had not had a strike or dismissed an employee for nine years was due to the system of profit-sharing that it had intro duced? Has the Government any plan for encouraging the introduction of both incentive payments and profit-sharing schemes.
– I have not seen the press report to which the honorable member has referred. The name and work of Mr. Lincoln are widely known.. I have read of the success that his company has achieved by the application of an incentive system. The Australian Government has no constitutional power to legislate in respect of incentive systems or profitsharing schemes, but, as has been frequently stated, we are in favour of such schemes if they work to the mutual satisfaction of managements and employees. We believe in the preservation of proper standards of wages and conditions of employment. We also believe that, once these have been assured, it is in the best interests of managements and employees, and indeed of the country asa whole, to provide for suitable rewards for additional effort and skill. To the degree that the Government can encourage and support acceptable schemes of incentive payments and profit-sharing, it will do so.
– I direct a question to the Leader of the Opposition. I do so under the provisions of Standing Order 143, which differs in a material respect from the corresponding order in the old Standing Orders of the House. I ask the Leader of the Opposition whether he is aware-
– I rise to order. The standing order to which: the honorable member for Mackellar has referred provides that questions may be put to a member who is not a Minister if that member is in charge of a bill or motion connected with an item of business on the notice-paper. The important fact is that it must relate to an item of business appearing on the notice-paper. I submit that a question cannot be asked of any member of the House who is not a Minister unless on a substantive motion before the Chair.
– Standing Order 143 “ reads as follows: -
Questions may be put to a Member, not being a Minister, relating to any Bill, Motion, or other public matter connected with the business of the House, of which the Member has charge.
Unless the Leader of the Opposition is in charge of a hill, motion or other matter, questions may not he addressed to him.
– .Speaking to the point of order-
– The honorable member may not speak to the point of order. I have given my decision.
– In view of the implication by the honorable member for East Sydney when he was speaking on the motion for the adjournment of the House last night, that due to the housing position immigration to Australia should be stopped or slowed down, would the Minister for Immigration assure the House first, that our immigration policy is vital to the future security of the nation; and, secondly, that the Government will continue to implement that policy fully? Will the Minister also indicate to what extent migrant labour is being used in industries directly assisting to overcome the housing problem ?
– I do not think that the proposition that our immigration policy is vital to our future security as a nation requires very much argument in this place. Any one who has a knowledge of developments in Asia in recent years and of the need for Australia to develop its own territory, will agree that immigration on a large scale is absolutely vital to the welfare and security of this country. We cannot hope to resist the pressures from other parts of the world, particularly the Asiatic world, unless we are able to convince the peoples of those countries that we are ourselves making a determined effort to populate and develop our own vacant territories. Regarding the honorable member’s second question on whether the Government will give an assurance that it proposes to implement the immigration policy fully, I can give that assurance and I do so with the more confidence because I know that the programme put into operation in the first instance by the previous Government and adopted and expanded by the present
Government, has the support of almost every member of this Parliament. The notable exception is the honorable member for East Sydney. The honorable member for Darling Downs also asks to what extent migrants are assisting in the home-construction programme. In the first place, the accommodation designed for the housing of migrants has been an adaptation, so far as we have been able to do it, of service establishments, wool stores and the like, in order to avoid as far as possible using accommodation which otherwise might be available for our fellow Australians. In the second place, a very substantial proportion of migrant labour has been placed in the timber industry and other industries directly connected with the home-building programme, such as the brick, tile and cement industries, and in the iron and steel and associated industries, which have a bearing on the home-construction programme. We hope that in the future an even greater proportion of the migrants selected overseas to be brought into this country will be persons who will be able by their own efforts to add considerably to the home-construction programme of this country.
– Many intending British migrants who are now living in temporary accommodation in Great Britain would prefer to migrate immediately and live in temporary caravan accommodation in this country, instead of whiling away months and, perhaps, years, waiting to embark until permanent accommodation can be made ready for them upon their arrival in Australia. That is borne out by the fact that some British migrants are bringing caravans with them, even though they are obliged to pay import duty at the rate of 27^ per cent, on the caravans. In view of the fact that many local government authorities will not permit the establishment of caravan parks in their areas, will the Minister for Immigration consider establishing caravan parks for migrants on Commonwealth property in the States? Will he also make representations to the Minister for Trade and Customs to waive the present duty of 27£ per cent, on caravans which are to be used for the personal accommodation of migrants?
– So far as British migrants are concerned, the difficulty is the provision, not of accommodation, but of transport, owing to the limited shipping that is available. The plans that the Government has already announced provide for attracting to Australia this year approximately 100,000 British migrants, and adequate accommodation will be provided for that number .before they are due to arrive in this country. We shall be able to provide that accommodation partly because the displaced persons immigration scheme will have tapered off and certain accommodation now being used by displaced persons will become available for British migrants. I should not like British migrants, possibly because of misunderstanding of the honorable member’s question, to be led to believe that the Government will not make available adequate accommodation in this country for them as part of its immigration programme. I repeat that so far as British migrants are concerned our main limitation relates to shipping and not to accommodation. We know that many thousands of persons who desire to come to Australia, have not been able to secure nomination under the nomination scheme, and we plan to bring out approximately 30,000 of such migrants. However, there is some point in the honorable member’s question. Some migrants who may desire to live in the country, or may not wish to be tied down to any particular occupation, may desire to bring out caravans. I shall consult with the Minister for Trade and Customs on the possibility of waiving the import duty on caravans in such cases.
– Will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inform the House when it is expected that the next report of the Joint Dairying Industry Advisory Committee will be received by him? When does the Minister expect to be able to advise the House of the price reward that dairy-farmers in the butter and processed milk producing industries will receive as from the 1st July, 1950?
– I expect to receive the next report of the Joint Dairying Industry Advisory Committee about the end of May. I have asked the committee to furnish it by then if possible. The position is that the guarantee of the cost of production return to dairy-farmers which the Government accepts has been effected for the present financial year to the end of June. I assure the honorable member and the dairy-farmers of this country that as soon as I receive the findings of the Joint Dairying Industry Advisory Committee I shall study it and then bring it before the Cabinet. The Government should be in a position to announce its decision in respect of the findings of the committee by the end of June, or very soon afterwards.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service, who is in charge of the House, to inform honorable members whether” the Prime Minister is absent from the chamber this morning because he is working on hi3 plan to put value back into the £1, or, whether he is helping the Minister for Health with the latter’s health plan ? Although it is reported that members of the Communist delegation retreated from Canberra after sunset last evening, can the Minister advise the House of the Prime Minister’s well-being?
– The Prime Minister did not inform me of the reason why he would be absent from the chamber this morning. I know nothing about the matter except that he is engaged on official business which he deems to be of sufficient importance to prevent him from taking his place in the House. However, the honorable member can rest assured that wherever the Prime Minister may be he is doing work of great value to the country
– Has the Minister for National Development seen the latest statistics relating to the production of building materials issued by the State Department of Building Materials in Sydney? Those statistics indicate that brick production during the coming year is estimated to total 346,000,000 bricks, whilst the minimum requirement is estimated to be 496,000,000 bricks. If those figures are correct, as I believe they are, because there is a lag of orders for bricks of up to two years, will the right honorable gentleman confer with the Minister for Labour and National Service in an endeavour to arrange ways and means of making up the deficiency of production in Sydney brickyards, which, I believe, is the key to the position? This problem calls for urgent attention.
– Although I do not know the precise figures, I know that the production of bricks in New South Wales is far behind the demand. That result flows from many causes, only one of which is a shortage of labour in the brickmaking industry. There is a darg in that industry in New South Wales which is a substantial factor in limiting production. There is also in various places a problem associated with raw materials. In some instances equipment for the production of bricks is not as modern as it should be. Thus, production is affected by the labour supply, the darg and equipment. My department is working on the problem in all States, but particularly in New South Wales, and we hope to be able to affect the situation beneficially within the next twelve months.
– I ask the Minister representing the Postmaster-General whether it is true that when there is disorganization and crossing of lines in the telephone system, many subscribers are given wrong numbers which are registered as calls for accounting purposes? Is it true that many telephone accounts are disputed? Will the department consider the installation in the offices and homes of subscribers of meters to register each call satisfactorily?
– In the absence of the Postmaster-General, I assure the honorable member that his inquiry will be conveyed to the Postmaster-General’s Department, and a suitable answer supplied to him.
– In the absence of the Prime Minister, I ask the Minister in charge of the House whether his attention has been directed to an article in to-day’s press in which it is stated that a new record price level has been reached in capital cities for fruit, meat and vegetables? Has he noted the fact that ?1 13s. 3?d. is the estimated cost of providing a small family with these commodities during an average week-end? In view of those facts, will the Government take immediate action to increase the present rate of invalid and age pensions so that a most deserving section of the community may not be reduced to a position of semi-starvation?
– I have not seen the report to which the honorable member has referred but I am sure he will agree that it will require the combined efforts of management, labour and governments to arrest the present inflationary trend. The remedy is very largely in the hands of the people of this country. The situation is not attributable to conditions in other countries which directly affect Australia. It is a problem which can only be overcome by the joint and co-operative efforts of everybody in this country. The question of increasing invalid and age pensions involves a matter of Government policy. As both the Treasurer and the Prime Minister have stated previously in this House, it is a matter which the Government will have under consideration and when an announcement can be made to the House on the subject it will be made. mr. a. m. McDonald, m.p.
– I have been misreported in the press, Mr. Speaker, and wish to make a personal explanation. In to-day’s issue of the Sydney Morning Herald under the heading of “ Member’s Vote in Divisions on Hotel Sale “, appears the following report: -
Mr. McDonald said that in the Herald’s report the following paragraph appeared: - “ When the vote on the closure was being taken Mr. A. M. McDonald (Lib. Vic), walked out of the House and did not take part. He did not return to vote on the second division on the formal motion to adjourn the House.”
Mr. McDonald continued : “ This statement is as fantastic as it is false. I voted for the closure as the records of proceedings in the House on April 21st will show.”
Further on, the report states -
Official records of the House show that . Mr. McDonald voted with the Government to apply the closure but in the second division which followed did not vote with his party against Mr. Eraser’s motion. Mr. McDonald omits to explain that he did in fact leave the House and did not vote with his party on the substantive motion.
I left the chamber on the second division at the request of the Government “Whip, the honorable member for Henty, who had paired me with the honorable member for Wilmot, knowing that I had booked a seat on the 12.55 o’clock plane. The record of that fact appears in the pair-book. Serious omissions were made by the Sydney Morning Herald in its report. It omitted from to-day’s issue that portion of the statement which I made yesterday in which I said that the paragraph disclosed profound ignorance, complete inaccuracy and unpardonable discourtesy. Its second omission was even more serious. The Sydney Morning Herald, in keeping with its high ethical standards, failed to express in. to-day’s issue one word of regret for its false and misleading statement. I make no complaint about this because the newspaper has pursued the course which I expected it to pursue in that regard.
– I could not have done better.
– The honorable member could not have done as well. I respectfully suggest that in future it would be wise for representatives of thu newspaper to examine the records of the House before and not after they had been compelled to admit their gross carelessness and stupid mistakes.
– In the absence of the Prime Minister, I ask the Minister in charge of the House whether he can inform honorable members of how it was that the Tribune, the Communist paper, which was printed last Thursday night, could announce to the world that a deputation was to meet the Prime Minister in connexion with his second-reading speech on the Friday before any public announcement was made that the Prime Minister would deliver his second-reading speech on Thursday night? Can the Minister further state whether this is an indication that there are Communists or “ fellow travellers “ in the Cabinet ?
– To reply to the last part of the honorable member’s question first, I can give a complete assurance that the loyalty to Australia of members of the Cabinet is unchallenged and unchallengable.
Honorable members interjecting,
-Order 1 The Minister is attempting to answer questions, but he is being interrupted by a continual barrage of Opposition interjections, particularly from the front benches. I ask honorable members to curb their exuberance. The House will be sitting for less than a couple of hours.
– The information given by the Communist party in its journal could be an indication of the efficiency of the intelligence service of the Communist party. I did not see the report to which the honorable member has referred, but I am quite certain that if any sinister influence is involved it will not be overlooked by the proper authority.
In committee: Consideration resumed from the 27th April (vide page 2019).
Clause 8 (Profits and Reserve Fund).
– One of the extraordinary things about this bill is that although it contains a number of clauses, especially from this stage onwards, which appear to merit some explanation by the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden), who is in charge of the bill but the Treasurer seems to have treated the committee with complete discourtesy. His absence is due, I believe, not because of illness or official business, but purely because of electioneering. For a bill of this importance to be pushed aside by him in this way is a gross discourtesy to honorable members. I would not expect the Minister to be in the chamber all the time, but when there are questions that require some technical explanation the Minister in charge of the bill should not find it more important to be away electioneering than to be present in the committee to explain issues that are raised. Certain features of this clause, which seeks to incorporate a new section 15 in the act, could be dealt with at some length, but here is only one point to which I wish to refer and that is the proposed new sub-section (3.). Perhaps some other Minister may be able to provide me with an explanation ; it may be a very simple one. The sub-section provides for an arrangement for the distribution of certain percentages of the annual net profits of the bank to its General Banking Division and the various departments. Considerable argument could revolve about the percentages that are specified, but I assume that the Treasurer consulted the Governor and the Deputy Governor of the bank before he decided upon the proportions that are stated in the proposed new section. Wot having had the benefit of discussions with the authorities on this subject, I do not propose to say whether the percentages are reasonable or not. Sub-section (3.) of the proposed new section enumerates the proportions in which the profits shall be distributed subject to the qualifying words, “unless the Treasurer otherwise approves “. In the absence of the Treasurer, will the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Spender), who is in charge of the committee for the time being, inform me whether that means that the bank authorities may make a recommendation to the Treasurer for a distribution of the profits in proportions other than those specified in the proposed section? If so, will the Treasurer’s approval be required before any such alteration can be made ? I assume that that will be so, but I should like any doubt on the subject to be removed by means of a simple explanation. If my interpretation of the provision is correct, the Treasurer will finally have the power to decide whether recommendations made by the bank board for any variation of the method of allocation shall be adopted. Sub-section (1.) of the proposed new section states - (1.) The net profits of the Bank in each year arising from business carried on under this Part shall be dealt with as follows: -
one-half shall be paid into the National Debt Sinking Fund ; and
That provision is not of great importance because, after all, payments made to the National Debt Sinking Fund go towards the reduction of the national debt. One feature of the operations of the Commonwealth Bank that is frequently overlooked is the great contribution that it makes to the general financial security of the nation. Sub-section (5.) of the proposed new section deals with the distribution of the Commonwealth Bank Reserve Fund. It states - (5.) The Bank may, from time to time, transfer from the Commonwealth Bank Reserve Fund to the capital of the Bank for the purposes of this Fart such sums as the Board determines.
From that I assume that the proposed board, or the Governor under the present constitution of the bank, will have power to make that determination, but I also assume that it will be made only after consultation with the Treasurer. The Opposition does not propose to oppose the general provisions of the clause, but I consider that they should be more fully explained. I did not expect the Treasurer to deal with all these details in his secondreading speech, but adequate explanations should be given to us during committee discussions. I should like to have an assurance that the Treasurer has consulted the Governor and the Deputy Governor of the bank about the provisions of this clause. I take it that the bank authorities were not ignored when consideration was given to the allocations specified in sub-section (3.) I am not sufficiently informed to say now whether the allocations are correct or not. We do not intend to oppose this clause, but I should like some explanation of the matters to which I have referred.
.- This clause was drafted in consultation with the Governor of the bank. I can assure the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) that that was so, because I was a member of the Cabinst sub-committee that discussed this matter with the Governor of the bank. The allocations are regarded by the Governor as sufficient. The Governor made it clear to us that he thought there was insufficient capital for the various banking divisions, and after discussion, it was agreed that new allocations should he made. The Governor was satisfied that they would be adequate for the expanding business of the bank. As the Leader of the Opposition knows, in the Commonwealth Bank Act, this matter is dealt with by arbitrary determination. In other words, the capital required by each branch of the bank such as the Mortgage Bank Department is fixed. No doubt that was done after consultation with the Governor of the bank. The same practice has been followed on this occasion, except that the means employed to obtain the additional capital have been somewhat changed. Therefore, the answer to the questions of the Leader of the Opposition is that the proposed new section is in accordance with the views of the present Governor of the bank. Whatever objection the Opposition may have to any other portion of the bill, none can be taken to this provision.
– I take it that the allocations can be changed upon the recommendation of the Governor and with the approval of the Treasurer.
– Under sub-section (3.), the payment of the amount referred to in sub-section (2.) shall be applied in certain ways, unless the Treasurer otherwise approves. It follows, therefore, that, if a recommendation was made, as has been done in this instance, that there was insufficient capital to meet the needs of the various departments of the bank, the matter would be considered just as it was under the old legislation. The Leader of the Opposition will agree that, under the current legislation, the only way in which the capital of the various branches could be increased was for the bank itself, through its officers, to make representations to the Treasurer. The same practice will prevail under this legislation. The provisions now under consideration make that clear.
.- Superficially, the explanation given by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Spender) appears to be satisfactory, but I draw the attention of the committee to the fact that the bank is not relying entirely upon the capital provided as such to carry on the lending activities of its various departments. If the
Minister is correct in saying that the Governor has made this recommendation which has been accepted, my point falls somewhat short. However, I fail to see. why that recommendation should have been made. Banks do not generally lend their capital. They lend the amounts deposited with them, or they lend on the basis of cash held by them. They do not lend their subscribed capital. That is quite clear from the fact that at one stage the banks had a paid-up capital of only about £37,000,000.
– Exactly the reverse is the position.
– The banks at one stage had a paid-up capital of only some £37,000,000. That was stated in the royal commission’s report. That money is largely invested inland and buildings and other fixed capital assets. Therefore, it is clear that banks lend on the basis of cash held by them or against liquid assets within their control. Their lending activities are solely governed by the ratio of their cash and liquid assets to their deposit liabilities from time to time. The honorable member for Lowe (Mr. McMahon), I am sure, will not dispute that. My point is that in the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945, the Labour Government provided for the additional capital that may be required. The relevant section has not been amended by the bill now before the chamber. The provision that I direct attention to is in the part of the act that deals with mortgage banking, but there is a similar provision in the parts that deal with the specialized branches of the Commonwealth Bank that were set up and expanded by the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945. Section 79 (1.) of that act reads -
The Treasurer may make advances to the Bank, for the purposes of the Mortgage Bank Department, of such amounts, and subject to such terms and conditions, as are agreed upon between the Treasurer and the Bank.
Section 79 (2.) reads-
The Treasurer may from time to time, under the provisions of the Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act 1911-1913, borrow money for the purpose of making advances to the Mortgage Bank Department under this Section.
Under those two sub-sections the most practical banking machinery is provided for making available additional lending capital.
– Such money would he quite insufficient for practical purposes.
– I am astonished to hear that.
– That is only another reason why a hank board should be established.
– A Commonwealth Bank Board such as it is proposed shall be set up cannot be, in its nature, as specialized as the present Governor of the bank. I should like to know the nature of the recommendation that was made by the Governor to the Government and why it was accepted. In the matter of the provision of loan money to clients, adequate machinery exists by which that money can be made available. I should like to know whether there was any time when the bank was unable to accommodate any person because of lack of capital or money to lend.
– The Governor said that there was insufficient money.
– The Minister has stated that the Governor said there waa not sufficient capital to carry on the bank’s lending business in its several departments. My point is that the Government, under the powers conferred upon it by the Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act, could raise whatever money it required for any department of the Commonwealth Bank, so that if the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank at any time found that it was short of funds, liquid or other, all he had to do was to ask the Treasurer to raise a loan on behalf of the bank. That practice might very well have been continued. We all know the nature of the response to the Commonwealth Loans, every one of which wa3 over-subscribed. We do not know what the Government has in mind. Substantial funds may be required by the community for an expansion of building or for the acquisition of sites and other developmental purposes, and for that reason the Opposition wants to be informed exactly of what the Government had in mind when it drafted this provision. If the proposed new section means that the Government contemplates issuing a direction to the Governor of the bank under the 1945 act, to make advances for the erection of new buildings wherever possible and to go out into public competition with the trading banks - I am thinking now particularly of the Mortgage Bank Department of the Commonwealth Bank - then the clause will have our full support. However, if the Government doe3 not propose to do that but intends that the Commonwealth Bank shall not expand without additional capital being given to it we say that that is pure deception. We want an explanation of the Government’s intentions in this matter. Frankly, I consider that the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Spender), who is now. in charge of the committee, would have made a better Treasurer than the present occupant of that office. However, the plain fact is that not he but the right honorable member for McPherson (Mr. Fadden) is Treasurer. That right honorable gentleman is not present to give us an explanation because he is at present engaged in an election campaign, and in his absence a junior member of the Ministry has endeavoured to explain to the committee a measure that has not been properly explained to him. We demand an explanation and we demand that it be given by the Treasurer, who is properly qualified and authorized to give it. If the explanation that we seek proves satisfactory we shall accept the clause, but I repeat that we insist that the explanation shall come from the Treasurer himself, who should be present in the Parliament and not gallivanting round the country.
.- The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Spender) has already explained that subsection (3.) of proposed new section 15 was inserted in the measure by the Government after full consultation with the Governor and the Deputy Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, and, in fact, I think that the right honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Chifley) is aware that the draftsman for the Commonwealth Bank himself approved of this particular provision. I did not like the wording of sub-section (2.) of the proposed new section, and I discussed the matter with the draftsman of the Commonwealth Bank, so that I know exactly what the bank feels about this provision. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) said that deposits were advances. He has completely misapprehended the position. Deposits are not advances; what happens is that the banks make advances, which then become deposits, so that the theory advanced by the honorable member is exactly contrary to the true position. His argument was based on the cash deposit ratio. He has obviously read a text-book, but has had no practical experience of the operation of modern banking practice. We do not think in terms of either cash - deposit ratios or cash - advance ratios. The simple fact is that banking mechanism in Australia has changed so substantially that nobody now cares very much about ratios. Under the British system the underlying principle is that if a bank gets a certain amount of cash it can lend out ten times the whole’ amount of that cash, and its advance policy was governed exclusively by the amount of cash that it held. In other words, it would extend its advances to ten times the amount of cash held. If the Bank of England increased the amount of cash it would be found that the commercial banks could also extend their activities to ten times the amount of money that had been put into the banking system by the central bank. But that does not apply in Australia, where the banking system is conducted on totally different lines. I think that the honorable member should be aware of that fact. The speech by the then Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) on the Banking Bill 1945 contains a fairly satisfactory description of the differences between the Australian banking mechanism, and the mechanism in highly developed money economies, or what are called mature money markets. Much of the case that has been adduced by the honorable member for Perth falls to the ground when it is recognized that this contention is an academic argument which is based on text-books and does not apply to Australian conditions.
The honorable member then proceeded to deal with the contentious sub-section (3.) of proposed new section 15, and I should like to point out to him a subtle difference. The government of the day may borrow from the Commonwealth
Bank any sums of money that it considers fit on some form of security, usually a treasury-bill issue. That does not apply in ordinary trading bank activities, under which loans are granted to individuals. If we are to control inflationary tendencies, and surely that is desirable, we must impose some quantitative restriction on the amount that the trading bank section of the Commonwealth Bank may make available. This is an attempt, of which the Governor of the bank has approved, to provide certain sections of the bank with free money and to impose a limitation, to some degree, on the making of advances. One of the two greatest monetary influences on inflation which, more than anything else, have taken the value out of the £1, has been the policy of the Commonwealth Bank in extending advances during a period of inflation. The activities of the trading banks have been restricted, yet the Commonwealth Bank itself has, during the last few years, increased advances by approximately £24,000,000. In other words, under the Labour Government, value was taken out of the £1, but we hope to prevent a further decrease of its purchasing power. This proposed section places a sensible limitation on advances by the Commonwealth Bank, and the Governor of that institution has approved it.
I should now like to point out an ambiguity in proposed new section 1.5 (3.), which provides that the payment of an amount under sub-section (2.) shall, unless the Treasurer otherwise approves, be made in accordance with the proportions mentioned in paragraphs (a), (6), (c) and (d). I direct attention to the words “unless the Treasurer otherwise approves “. If the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank considers that a better allocation should be made, he may seek the approval of the Treasurer of his proposal. In other words, he may say, “ Will you please vary the proportions that are set out in sub-section (3.) and approve a different allocation?” I suggest to the Minister for External Affairs, who is in charge of the committee, that the Government should consider the advisability of amending sub-section (2.) in order to resolve an ambiguity therein. That sub-section reads -
The Bank may pay to the Division and Departments specified in the next succeeding sub-section, in accordance with that subsection, out of that portion of the net profits of a year (being a year to which this subsection applies) which is otherwise required to be placed to the credit of the Commonwealth Bank Reserve Fund, such amount, not exceeding five hundred thousand pounds, as the Board, having regard to the amount standing to the credit of that Fund, determines.
I suggest that after the words, “ five hundred thousand pounds “ the words, “ in any one year “ be inserted, because T consider that the sub-section is ambiguous in its present’ form. It may be construed to mean that the total amount that may be made available over the period of five years shall be £500,000, or that an amount of £500,000 may be allocated in any one year. It would clarify the matter if the words “in any one year” were inserted after “five hundred thousand pounds “.
– 1 support the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) regarding the discourtesy of the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) in not being present to pilot the bill through the committee and, in particular, to give explanations of points raised by members of the Opposition.
– That is very unfair.
– I do not think it is. C could understand the absence of the right honorable gentleman if he were engaged upon other public duties, but I object to his chasing votes in the Queensland State election instead of assisting the committee.
– The honorable member for Melbourne must deal with the question before the Chair. There has been far too much repetition.
– About the absence of the Treasurer?
– The proposed new section 15 has been discussed by two honorable gentlemen who claim to be experts upon banking. Each of them has put forward his point of view. The clause that we are discussing proposes to repeal section 15 of the principal act. That section provides, among other things, that one-half of the net profits of the
Commonwealth Bank in each year shall he paid into the National Debt Sinking Fund. The proposed new section leaves that provision untouched. Section 15 of the 1945 legislation also provides that one-quarter of the net profits of the bank in each year shall be placed to the credit of the Commonwealth Bank Reserve Fund, and that one-quarter shall be paid to the Mortgage Bank Department. The proposed new section provides that the whole of that one-half of the profits of the bank shall be placed to the credit of the Commonwealth Bank Reserve Fund. It is proposed to abolish the provision that obliged the Governor of the bank to pay one quarter of the annual net profits of the bank to the Mortgage Bank Department, but no real explanation has been given of the reason for depriving the Mortgage Bank Department of onequarter of the profits of the bank. Provision is made in the proposed new section for the payment to the Mortgage Bank Department ‘ of two-sevenths of the sum of £500,000 which is to be paid to the credit of the Commonwealth Bank Reserve Fund. Two-sevenths of one-half is quite a small proportion compared with one-quarter of the whole. We have not heard a satisfactory explanation of why the Mortgage Bank Department requires less capital. Section 76 of the 1945 act provides that the Mortgage Bank Department shall be authorized to raise a sum of £4,000,000 for its activities. ‘Section 14 of the act, dealing with central hanking, provides that the Commonwealth Bank shall be authorized to raise a sum of £4,000,000 as capital for central banking.
Having regard to the last report of the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, it cannot be said that any branch of the activities of the bank is a failure. The profit made by the whole bank in the year ended the 30th June last was £6,000,000. Central banking business accounted for £975,000 of that sura. The Note Issue Department made a profit of £4,600,000, the General Banking Division £418,000, the Rural Credits Department £38,000, the Mortgage Bank Department £36,000 and the Industrial Finance Department £165,000. The Commonwealth Bank is a wonderfully successful socialistic enterprise. Those profits were allocated in the manner prescribed by the 1945 act. I make the point that whilst the profits derived from central banking business were divided between the National Debt Sinking Fund, the Commonwealth Bank Reserve Fund and the Mortgage Bank Department capital account, the profits of the Mortgage Bank Department were transferred to the Mortgage Bank Department Reserve Fund. Perhaps it is argued that there is too much money in the Mortgage Bank Department but the report seems to indicate increasing activity in that department as well as in every other department. The report states that for the year with which it deals -
An aggregate amount of £731,130 was lent to 379 new borrowers. In the previous year 327 new loans for a total of £595,070 were approved.
It will be seen, therefore, that the business of the Mortgage Bank Department is increasing very greatly. The Industrial Finance Department was the most successful of all the new departments. The report states that in that department during the year -
A perusal of the report is very interesting, informative and educative. I cannot see why there was any need to alter any of the provisions of the 1945 act. If this bill had not been brought down for the purpose merely of establishing a Commonwealth Bank Board I doubt whether the Government would have introduced a special measure to deal with the matters covered by the proposed section 15. It would not have been, and it is not, necessary to do so. I should like to know from the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Spender), who has charge of the bill for the moment, how much of the decision of the Governor of the bank was the result of a policy decision of a sub-committee of the Parliament. Did the Treasurer, as a matter of Government policy, say that it desired to make certain alterations to the capital structures of the branches of the bank and as a consequence of that did the Governor make the recommendation that is to be implemented by this legislation? Or did the Governor approach the Treasurer and say, “ The 1945 act is defective in certain respects. I want a new capital structure for the various departments of the bank and this is what I recommend “. Until the Minister tells us something about that-
– The Minister may know nothing about it.
– The Minister appeared to be a certainty for the position of Treasurer, and if I had been a betting man I should have put my money on him, but I should have lost it. He had the full support of the banking institutions but failed to secure the position. The honorable member for Lowe (Mr. McMahon) has said that nobody cares about the ratios between deposits and advances. The whole argument in the depression years was that the ratios had become dangerously excessive. I remember its having been said by banker after banker, and by Premier after Premier who had been intimidated by bankers on the Commonwealth Bank Board and on the directorates of private banks, that the amount of advances was, in some cases, almost 100 per cent, of the amount of deposits; that the whole economic structure of the country would collapse unless advances were reduced, unless a policy of deflation successfully applied and unless people were put out of work by the reduction of Government expenditure, not merely on salaries and wages, but also in respect of social services. Now the honorable member for Lowe says that a new banking technique has been evolved and ratios do not matter. In other words, the sky can be the limit. I must confess that although I am very radical in some respects, I am a little conservative in others. I am conservative in that I refuse to accept this new banking technique thai the honorable member for Lowe strangely enough talks about. I have read the 1945 act and I heard the bill for that act explained in this chamber. I cannot see that it hears the interpretation that the honorable member has placed upon it. I recently read the journal that is published by the Institute of Public Affairs. The Institute sends it to me regularly and I read it avidly, mark it, and take extracts from it. The last edition of that publication contained a critical examination of the theories of the late Lord Keynes about cheap money and expanding banking finance.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Adermann).Order ! The time of the honorable member for Melbourne has expired.
.- The time for discussion of the clause has almost expired also. Speaking, I presume, on behalf of the Opposition, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) asked specific questionswhich I have answered. The truth of the matter is-
– The Minister’s answers were not fair.
– The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) should refrain from interjecting.
Motion (by Mr. Ward) negatived -
That the Minister for External Affairs (Mr.
Spender) be not further heard.
– As there were more than two “ Ayes “, and as there appears to he a doubt about whether or not a division was called for, I ask that the question bere-stated.
– The committee has decided the matter and the Chair has railed accordingly.
– Does not the relevant standing order provide that an honorable member may move at any time that another honorable member be not further heard.
– As the committee negatived the motion and the Chair ruled accordingly, the decision was that the Minister be heard.
– That is a very great stretching of the rule. I raise a new point of order. The Minister rose following the decision of the committee and the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), in pursuance of the right conferred by the Standing Orders, again moved that the Minister be not further heard. I submit that the question should now be put.
– I have already ruled in accordance with the decision of the committee.
– I rise to order. When the Minister rose he stated that the time for discussion of the clause had expired.
– I said that it had almost expired.
– Is it in order for the Minister, having informed the committee that the time for discussion of the clause had expired, to continue to discuss it?
– No point of order is involved.
Motion (by Mr. Spender) put -
That the question he now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . 26
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 9 (Capital).
Mr. SPENDER (Warringah- Minister for External Affairs and Minister for
External Territories) [12.6]. - There is nothing of a controversial nature in this clause now that proposed section 15 has been agreed to. Section 19 of the original act established that the capital of the general banking division shall aggregate the amount of £4,000,000, and “such other sums as are transferred from the General Banking Division ReserveFund in pursuance of “ section 20. The clause provides that there shall be added to that section the following words : -
Such sums as are paid to the Division in pursuance of sections fifteen and forty-seven of this Act.
Those are the sections that deal with the disposal of profits arising from the note issue. Thus, the clause does not interfere with the existing capital structure of the division, except to the extent that the committee has agreed that it shall be altered by proposed section 15.
Clause agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Spender) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
. -I wish to raise two points regarding which the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) has been distinctly evasive, particularly in his capacity of acting leader of the House. It is common knowledge that throughout the whole life of the last Parliament we were led to believe that the Commonwealth Public Service was honeycombed by Communists. In fact, one could have believed that there was a Communist hiding behind every bush in Canberra.
– Order ! There is a bill on the notice-paper that deals with the dissolution of the Communist party, and anything in connexion with communism must be debated under it.
– I shall not question your ruling, Mr. Speaker, although I think it is a bad one.
– Order !
– May I remind you, on a point of order, that you permitted questions this morning on the subject of Communists in the Public Service? You permitted a question to be put and you permitted the answer to it to be given. I now propose to discuss-
– The honorable gentleman is now proposing to debate something. The motion is “ That the House do now adjourn “.
– May I not take a point of order without interruption from the Chair? It is rather extraordinary if an honorable member, when only half way through a point of order, can be interrupted-
– Order! That is a reflection on the Chair.
– The last thing in my mind, Mr. Speaker, is to reflect on the Chair.
– I am glad to hear it.
– I used to feel that way myself.
– And so did others.
– This morning, Mr. Speaker, you permitted a question to be asked on the subject of Communists in the Public Service. I do not propose to deal with the Communists as an organization. If I were proposing to do that I should entirely agree with your point of view because the bill before the House is designed to deal with an organization of Communists. I do not propose to deal with Communists as an organization or with anything that may be done under the proposed legislation. I intend to speak solely on the subject of Communists in the Public Service.
– That is precisely what the bill deals with.
– With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I suggest that if the interjector is correct, your ruling this morning was incorrect. I do not think that it was incorrect. This morning I asked a question concerning Communists in the Public Service. In order that you may be quite clear on the point before you give a ruling which I hope will be favorable to me I repeat my assurance that I intend to deal only with the employment of Communists in the Public
Service and shall not canvass in any way the contents of the proposed legislation.
– The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) takes the point that he would not be in order in discussing the provisions of the legislation which deals with the Communist party as an organization but would be in order in discussing the subject of members of the Public Service who may Le Communists. An important part of ths legislation before the House makes specific provision to deal with Communists who may be members of the Commonwealth Public Service. It gives the Governor-General the power to declare such persons in order that they may be disqualified from holding office under, Olof being employed by, the Commonwealth. [ submit that, if your ruling is correct insofar as it applies to the Communist party as an organization, it must apply equally to discussion of action to be taken with regard to members of the Commonwealth Public Service.
– I give my assurance that I have no intention of dealing with any aspect of the bill relating to Communists in office or in unions. All that I intended to deal with was the question that I was permitted to ask at question time.
– The honorable member’s question at question time was directed to a Minister and asked him how many Communists had been dismissed from the Pubic Service. That question was perfectly in order and the answer to it also was in order. If the honorable member confines himself strictly to the subject-matter of the question that he asked this morning which was, whether the Minister had dismissed Communists from the Public Service up to the introduction of the bill last night, he will be in order, but he would not be in order in discussing the general employment of Communists in the Public Service because that subject-matter is covered by the bill before the House. The honorable member is limited strictly to the question of dismissals in relation to the matter that he raised this morning and to the position as it existed up to yesterday.
– That is all that I had any intention of dealing with, Mr. Speaker, and it is because of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply given by the Minister that I raise the matter now. The honorable member is Minister for Labour and National Service. He has at. his command the whole of the services of the Commonwealth that distribute employees throughout industry. Therefore his department could be a very useful instrument in spreading Communists throughout industry in the guise of providing or finding employment for them. What I wanted to know from the Minister was something that he should know because he has been a Minister for some months, but I did not get a satisfactory reply. After all the talk during the general election campaign and since regarding Communists in the Public Service, I wanted to know how many Communists the Minister had dismissed from his ‘ department, from which they had been able to direct sympathizers to given points throughout industry where labour was required. The Communists have the opportunity to spread themselves in that way to the best advantage of the Communist party. My next question also dealt with the Communists, and again in my opinion, an evasive answer was given by the Minister. It related to Thornton and Elliott, two wellknown Communists who hold passports for the purpose of leaving Australia and presumably to return to this country. In an evasive answer, the Minister threw on previous governments the responsibility for passports having been given to Thornton and Elliott. This Government is doing precisely the same thing. It is not an answer to the question to say that these passports existed for two, three, four or five years, because section 8 of the Passports Act definitely states -
An Australian passport may be cancelled by the Minister, or by an officer authorized in that behalf bv the Minister, and the passport shall thereupon become void . . .
It is of no use to blame existing passports that may be held by the Communists whom I have named, and to say that they are valid over a number of years. By a stroke of the pen, as it were, the Minister can cancel those passports, but he has failed to do so. He has evaded questions by trying to throw the responsibility upon the former Minister for Immigration (Mr. Calwell). What I want to know from the Minister, who is acting on behalf of the Prime Minister to-day, is why the Government has not exercised its power to cancel those passports and why he has endeavoured, by means of evasive answers to questions, to blame previous governments when it is well known that the act provides for the cancellation of passports at a minute’s notice.
-Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I consider that the speech that we have just heard showed a considerable degree of hypocrisy.
– Mr. Speaker, I object to that term being applied to what I have said. All honorable members have the right to express their views, and, though others may disagree, I assume that they have no right to describe a speech as hypocrisy. I ask that the word be withdrawn.
– The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) has asked that the word “ hypocrisy “ be withdrawn. The honorable member for Mackellar will please withdraw it.
– I withdraw the word “hypocrisy” and shall merely state something concerning an action of the honorable member for Dalley in the past. The honorable member has expresed great concern about this matter of passports. Let me remind him that it was he who some time ago introduced to a responsible Minister a deputation consisting mainly of Communists, who demanded that the order issued by the government of the day for the purpose of excluding from Australia Egon Kisch, a Communist disrupter, should he rescinded.,
– That is completely untrue.
– He now says, in effect, “ I am anxious to keep Communists out of the country “. Yet he was the man who introduced to a Minister that deputation which demanded that the government of the day should admit to this country that filthy Communist fifthcolumnist, Egon Kisch!
– I wish to make a personal explanation. At this, the earliest possible moment, I give a complete denial to the statement that has been made by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). He may have made it as a joke or for the purpose of disconcerting me, but such statements are distinctly damaging to a man’s character outside of politics, and I want to make it very clear that I never met Egon Kisch, and in fact, was opposed to his entry into this country. Everybody knows that I severed my connexion with my own political party at one time as a non-Communist because of the strong views that I held about Communists. Let me say that the Communists will never get me in their net. The honorable member’s statement was completely untrue and I resent it. I ask that the imputation be withdrawn, because there is not an atom of truth in it. I repeat, Mr. Speaker, my request that the statement be withdrawn.
– The honorable member has asked for a withdrawal of the statement.
– One must, I think, accept the word of the honorable member if he says that the statement is untrue. Acting on his word, therefore, it must be withdrawn if he so requires. I can only say that there is certain documentary evidence that seems to suggest that the statement is true. The documents may be untrue. As to that, I shall examine them. In the meantime, I can only accept the word of the honorable member and withdraw the statement.
– Mr. Speaker, that is not a withdrawal. The honorable member says that there is documentary evidence in support of his statement. I undertake now that, if he produces documentary evidence to show that I was connected in the remotest way with Egon Kisch or any protest against the treatment of him, I shall resign from this House. That is a challenge.
– That is a very fair offer, Mr. Speaker.
– The honorable member is just a clown.
.- 1 rise to give the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Spender) an opportunity to correct what is obviously an inaccurate newspaper report. I have been supplied with a copy of a newspaper called the Express. I have been informed that it is an ex-servicemen’s journal and, as far as I have been able to ascertain, it is published in New South Wales. I do not want to read the whole of the article to which I refer, but I direct attention to a part of it that I consider to be grossly misleading. The article is headed with a photograph bearing the caption “ Percy Spender “. I cannot recognize any resemblance to the honorable gentleman-
– It was probably taken about 25 years ago.
– No doubt that is why it is as inaccurate as is the article. Dealing with the Minister’s record, the article states that he started his working life as a railway clerk. Then it says -
That was interrupted by World War I. - he enlisted early as an infantry private and rose to a captain in France.
I do not suggest that the Minister himself furnished that information to the 1 newspaper, or that he has had his attention directed to the matter previously, but now that I have brought the report to his notice, I consider that, in the interests of truth and honesty, he should take the earliest opportunity to correct it. The Parliamentary Handbook: states that the Minister enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in September, 1918, and that his appointment was terminated in November, 1918, before embarkation. Clearly, therefore, the newspaper report to which I have referred is incorrect. I merely direct the Minister’s attention to it so that he may communicate with the newspaper and seek the publication of a correction.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) to make a statement at an early date indicating the number of Commonwealth employees who have been dismissed since this Government took office. I seek that information particularly because, although dismissals have been effected, and in spite of the Government’s policy of retrench ment, the number of public servants to-day is about 800 more than it was on the 10th December last. A question was asked about this matter to-day, and, in reply, the Minister has said that employees would be dismissed shortly from the social services section of his department. I assume that a number of people who were employed in the administration of petrol rationing are no longer on the Commonwealth pay-roll. The abolition of the Capital Issues Advisory Committee must also have resulted in dismissals. If that is so, it is most extraordinary that the number of Commonwealth public servants should have increased by approximately 800 since the 10th December. Somebody suggested by intersjection that SOO inspectors had been appointed to examine the Public Service. I know that there is an inspectorial staff, but I should not think that it would number more than 50 or 60. The Minister will concede that the House is entitled to know how many employees are on the Commonwealth payroll to-day compared with the number of Commonwealth public servants at the 10th December last; what changes of employment have been made in the various departments consequent upon the implementation of the Government’s policy, and other relevant facts that would enable interested people, particularly the Taxpayers Association, in whose cause I am somewhat remotely interested at times, to appraise the worth of the Government’s promise to reduce governmental expenditure. This information would enable interested bodies to express the criticism which, no doubt, they will have to offer if there is any truth in the statement that Commonwealth employees to-day number 800 more than they did on the 10th December, 1949. I shall await that criticism with interest and, if it is worthwhile, I shall use it for the discomfiture of the Government in due course.
.- Replying to a question earlier to-day, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) said that the Commonwealth Employment Service would be retrenched. I do not argue, nor would any member of the Labour party argue that redundant public servants should be retained. I do say, however, that the Commonwealth Employment Service has established an enviable reputation. In a comparatively short space of time, it has grown into a most valuable organization. It is not only valuable to the working people of Australia but is also rendering a signal service to employers generally. It is in line with the modern practice of advanced industrial countries throughout the world. Such countries have established government personnel branches, and most big industrial organizations have the same type of service. This service provides a specialized personnel service of which all employers may take advantage. The Government might honour the virtual promise that it gave during the recent general election and in the preceding years that it would slash the Commonwealth Emplyoment Service if its employees were not filling a worth-while need. Whilst all honorable members will endorse the action of the Minister in dismissing redundant staff, it must be realized that even in a time of full employment there is a need for a specialized personnel organization such as the Commonwealth Employment Service.
A second matter that I wish to refer to concerns the Department of Immigration. That department is conducting a number of hostels throughout Australia for the accommodation of displaced persons and others. That does not seem to be a proper function of the Department of Immigration.
– The Department of Labour and National Service conducts those hostels.
– But that department does not conduct the transit camps. It is not a function of a specialized department such as the Department of Immigration to conduct such camps. Its business should end when the immigrant has been brought to this country and the formalities associated with his landing have been completed. Then the employment section of the Minister’s department should take over and administer the transit camps and associated organizations which are at present controlled by the Department of Immigration. Because of the nature of that department I do not think it can exercise proper super vision at that stage. T have had a number of complaints from disgruntled employees about the actions of this department, but I have always been satisfied that they were virtually groundless because the Minister’s deputy in Perth has done an excellent job and has shown consideration to all employees and migrants. However, he has not been given a proper organization or adequate power to handle transit camps and associated activities. The Minister might retain any surplus staff that he has and use them for the proper organization of transit and other camps. I suggest that before the Minister slashes heavily the employees of the Commonwealth Employment Service he should consider that it is playing a vital part in the Australian economic organization and that it will develop into a useful part of governmental activity in this country.
– Several matters have been raised by honorable members in respect of my department, and I regret that I shall not have time to deal with them as fully as I should like. I shall deal first with the matters raised by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) and the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke). The former gentleman referred to the fact that there has been an increase of 800 in the number of persons employed by the Commonwealth. It may be deceptive and misleading to regard that as an increase of the Commonwealth Public Service, because it is quite possible that a temporary labour force used for work round service camps, for example, which has already been treated- statistically by the Commonwealth Statistician, has been added to the number of employees engaged by the Commonwealth in other directions. Moreover, I imagine that there has been a substantial increase of the number of persons employed in connexion with the Snowy Mountains project. Quite possibly their numbers have been added to those of the persons who are described as being in Commonwealth employment. I think that the proper course for me to adopt would be to request the Chairman of the Public Service Board to prepare a statement showing the movement of employment in the Public Service since the 10th December. We shall then see whether that statement throws any light on the matter. The point raised by the honorable member for Perth relates to a matter that has been the subject of previous statements on behalf of the Government. Each Minister is reviewing the department that he administers so as to ascertain whether some economy in the use of labour can be effected. The Commonwealth Employment Service which is under my administration, has come under review, as I have mentioned previously to honorable members, when I said that some retrenchment was contemplated. However, I do not think that -the honorable member need have any fears in regard to the use of the term “ retrenchment “. I hasten to assure him that no drastic retrenchment is contemplated. It is hoped that greater efficiency may be rendered by that service and that it will continue to give the satisfaction that has been the subject of favorable comment by so many honorable members during recent years. For that reason, I express my appreciation of the commendation of the honorable member of the work carried out by the Commonwealth Employment Service. I have felt for some time that much of the criticism of the Commonwealth Employment Service has been based on a lack of appreciation of the nature and extent of its services. Because of the enormously increased flow of migrants its work has become increasingly important, and although, happily, we have full employment to-day, that does not mean that there is no problem of Labour placement. Honorable members would probably be astonished if they were told of the thousands of people who apply to the Commonwealth Employment Service for engagement in various vocations. I believe that earlier in the session I said that I should take an opportunity as soon as possible to give a general review of the work of the service, and I hope to do so during the present session. At this stage I merely assure the honorable member that any review of the department that takes place will not be likely to have the effect of reducing the efficiency, or the general range, of the functions performed by the Commonwealth Employment Service.
The two matters raised by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) call for some comment. He asked earlier what number of Communists employed in the Public Service had already been dismissed. I do not know what the position is throughout the Public Service, but to the best of my knowledge no employee of either of the departments that I administer has been dismissed foi- the specific reason that he was suspected of being an active member of the Communist party. However, we have made certain inquiries in order to ascertain whether any one in the employment of those departments might be regarded as undesirable, and those inquiries will be carried further if the powers sought under the legislation introduced by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) last night are conferred by the Parliament.
– But the Government can do that under the present legislation.
– I am not so sure that it could. I do not know whether it would be competent for a Minister to require the dismissal of a member of the Public Service merely on the ground that he was a member of the Communist party’s organization.
– Then why did the honorable gentleman and his colleagues blame the previous Labour Administration for not having dismissed such people ?
– We criticized the previous Administration because it did not take the necessary power to do so. We are now seeking the power to enable us to do so, and I give the honorable member every assurance that, if we obtain them, the appropriate action will be taken.
The honorable gentleman, in referring to passports issued to Communists, has raised a very important matter that has exercised my own mind considerably in recent times. I have in my hand a submission on the subject that has been prepared by the Department of Immigration, but I had not had an opportunity to study it up to the time the honorable member raised the matter in the House.
It is dated the 27th April, and owing to other matters that have been before us during the week, I have not had a chance to examine it. However, the submission has been prepared at my request, so that I may be informed exactly of the powers that reside in me in relation to passports issued to known members of the Communist party. From the brief glance that I have been able to give to the submission to-day, it is clear that very real doubts exist about the capacity of the Minister for Immigration to refuse or to cancel a passport-
– I have a copy of the act.
– For the information of the honorable gentleman., I shall read one or two passages from the submission. I assure him that I have not handpicked them. The document reads as follows : -
The Passports Act 1938-48 provides that subject to the Regulations, an officer authorized in that behalf by the Minister may issue Australian passports to Australian citizens and to British subjects who are not Australian citizens “. The Act also provides that the Minister or an authorized officer may cancel a passport and the passport shall thereupon become void and on demand by an officer shall be delivered to him.
– That is section 8 of the act.
– That is so. The submission continues -
The Regulations provide that the exercise of any power or function of an authorized officer shall in all cases be subject to any direction of the Minister.
But this is the important point -
The existing Act has no provision requiring a person to be in possession of a passport or other travel document in order to leave Australia. There is, therefore, no intention on the part of the Act to interfere with the movement of any person wishing to leave Australia, and a passport is not a licence to leave the country. Lord Alverstone C.J. referred to the nature of a British passport in the following terms: - “ It is a document issued in the name of the Sovereign on the responsibility of a Minister of the Crown, to a named individual, intended to be presented to the governments of foreign nations, and to be used for that individual’s protection as a British subject in foreign countries “.
The Act of 1920 contained the requirement that a person should hold a passport on departure from Australia. That provision was repealed by the existing act. The submission continues -
In an opinion given by the Solicitor-General in 1934, as to the Minister’s discretion to refuse a passport under the 1920 Act he said that the discretion to issue or withhold the issue of a passport “does not entitle the Minister to’ refuse to issue a passport except in cases where there are in fact grounds for declining to ask the assistance of another government in connexion with the journey contemplated.
I have not yet had an opportunity to study, in full, the submission or all the implications of it, but it seems clear that there are some limitations upon the exercise of that discretionary power.
– People do leave Australia without passports.
– That is so, and a document may be issued in certain cases when, in the opinion of the Minister, it is unnecessary or undesirable to issue Australian passports to the persons concerned.
– Order ! The Minister’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.45 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
e asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
s. - On the 8th March the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) asked the following questions, upon notice -
At that time I gave the honorable member an interim reply to the effect that I would furnish him with whatever information was available in connexion with questions 1 and 2 the remainder being matters of policy, vide Hansard, pages 537-538. I have had the first two questions examined and now desire to inform the honorable member that the value of imports from the dollar area between the 19th September, 1949, and the end of January, 1960, as recorded for customs purposes on an f.o.b. basis, was approximately £23,600,000. The corresponding: dollar values were, for these purposes, converted at the rate of exchange applicable at the date of shipment. If the dollar value of the goods shipped afterthe 19th September had been converted at the old rate of exchange the total recorded value of imports between the 19th September, 1949, and the 31st January, 1950, would have been not £23,600,000 but £18,100,000. It is not possible to ascertain precisely what amount in Australian currency was actually” paid out by importers, as purchase of the required dollar exchange and payment for the goods in question may have been made before or after the actual dates of shipment. At this stage, it is impossible to estimate what effect the added cost of imports from the dollar area has had upon the cost of living in Australia.
e. - In reply to a question asked on the 27th April, I now inform the honorable member forWest Sydney (Mr. Minogue) that an amount of £1,286 14s. 5d. was paid for the renewal of the licence in respect of the Hotel Ainslie.
y asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Attorney-General the wisdom of consulting with the representatives of employers and employees on the need for a joint request to the court to grant an interim increase at once, rather than ask employees to wait for the final decision!
– The answers to the right honorable gentleman’s questions are as’ follows : -
On behalf of the Australian Council of Trades Unions, application was made to the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration on Monday, the 20th March, 1950, for an interim increase of £2 per week in the basic wage, pending the completion of the present hearing of the basic wage case. The court unanimously rejected this application on the ground that the present stage of the case prevented any interim increase from being granted. The application on behalf of the Australian Council of Trades Unions was opposed by representatives of the employers and of the State governments which had intervened. Commonwealth counsel, Mr. Gowans, did not declare any position on the application, but stated, “ It . would be consistent with the Commonwealth course of attitude in this inquiry, and particularly with the attitude adopted on the previous occasion when this matter was mentioned, to leave the matter in the hands of the court. I propose to follow that course “. A similar application for an increase was made by the Australian Council of Trades Unions in May of last year, when the hearing of the basic wage case first began. This application was also refused unanimously by the bench on the 20th May, 1949. On that occasion, the employers also opposed the application, whilst Commonwealth counsel maintained a neutral position. It is assumed that the Tight honorable member for Melbourne Forts is referring to the 7s. interim increase which was granted at the end of 1946, and not 1048. That increase was granted during the course of the 40-hour-week case. - The court felt that it was desirable to settle the level, for the time being, of the basic wage before proceeding with the hearing, of the case for the 40-hour week. The court felt that if it was compelled to deal with the 40-hour week case first, as requested by the unions,- it might be put in the position of having to grant the application for the 40-hour week, which would be all that the economy could stand in the way of increased benefits to workers, although it was known that the unions also desired to secure increases in wage rates through a basic wage case. The court, therefore, suggested that the 40-hour week case should be interrupted for a short hearing at the end of which the court would be in a position to make a pronouncement on the basic wage for that time, and after that event proceed with the 40-hour week case. In order to facilitate this, Commonwealth counsel made the formal application for the restoration to the court’s lists of the application with regard to the basic- .wage, which had been outstanding since 1940. Naturally, the employers did not oppose this procedure, which was really dow at the court’s behest. It is considered that the circumstances in 1946 were entirely different, from those operating at the present time and, in view of the court’s decision, no good purpose could be served by following the suggestion, put forward by the right honorable gentleman.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 April 1950, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1950/19500428_reps_19_207/>.