19th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3.15 p.m., and read prayers.
– by leave - I move -
That further leave of absence for one month be granted to Senator Tangney on account of ill health.
Honorable senators will regret to hear that Senator Tangney^ recuperation is somewhat protracted. However, it is confidently expected that she. will he able to take her place in this chamber at the expiry of this further period of leave.
– by leave - I support the motion, and on behalf of the Government, I express the deep regret of honorable senators on this side of the chamber at Senator Tangney’? illness. Wo join with the Opposition in wishing her a speedy recovery.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– Can theMinister for Social Services say whether the Government proposes to provide any financial assistance to Mr. and Mrs. Ogle, of Victoria, to whom quadruplets were born a few days ago?
– I have pleasure in advising the Senate that to-day I am writing to Mrs. Ogle offering on behalf of the Commonwealth Government to pay her an allowance of £4 a week for at least five years to assist in obtaining domestic help in her home.
– –un “Wednesday last I addressed a question to the Minister for Repatriation regarding a graph which had been circularized to honorable senators by the federal executive of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia showing how ex-servicemen pensioners are at a disadvantage compared with the recipientof agc pensions, and other persons in receipt of the basic wage. In reply the Minister stated that he had received a copy of the graph only that morning and had not had sufficient time to examine it thoroughly. Has he yet examined it and if so, has he anything to add to the answer which he gave me last week?
– During the weekend I took the opportunity thoroughly to examine the graph to which the honorable senator has referred. I am rather astonished that such a graph should have been issued by the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. Recently I attended the thirtyfifth annual federal conference of the league which was held at Hobart. I met all the delegates who were present at the conference and it appeared to me that all of them were well pleased with the increases of war pensions and allowances that are contemplated by the Government. The graph takes into account the basic rate of pensions and ignores special rate pensions. The basic rate pension is paid to an ex-serviceman who is considered to bc. capable of continuing in employment. The Government intends to increase the basic rate pension by 30s. a fortnight regardless of the earnings of the pensioner. The graph does not take into account the pension payable to a totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman which at present is £10 12s. a fortnight. The Government proposes v increase it to £14 a fortnight. The Government has had regard first to the needs of those whose incapacity prevents! them from working and, secondly, to the wives and children of deceased members. Practically all of those whose pensions are assessed at the general rate referred to by the league as the basic rate pension are in employment. If and when (he amending legislation is passed the family income of a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman with a wife and two children will be -
In addition, child endowment amounting to £1 10s. a fortnight will be paid, and. if the children are thirteen and fifteen years of age respectively, they will be entitled to an education allowance of £2 2s. a fortnight. Thus, the total family income of such a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman, with a wife, and with two children aged thirteen and fifteen would be £22 19s. a fortnight, or £11 9s. 6d. a week, which is well in excess of the basic wage, and the income of such a family would be completely free of income tax. The member is also entitled to full medical and hospital benefits for h im-elf. As I have previously indicated, the Government has made a sympathetic approach to this matter, and I am sure that honorable senators will be well satisfied with the amending repatriation legislation when it is introduced into this chamber.
– On the 19th October, I directed a question to the Minister for Repatriation concerning complaints that I had received from exservicemen about the time that had elapsed between the rejection of applications for pensions and the hearing of appeals against those decisions. Is the Minister in a position to state the reasons for the delays?
– I caused an examination to be made of the matter to which the honorable senator directed my attention. I have .been informed that delays are comparatively few when the large number of cases dealt with by a branch office of the Repatriation Department is taken into consideration. Investigations show that where delays have occurred in the determination of appeals, they have been caused by factors outside the control of the department. In many cases, members have not lodged appeals for a. considerable time after the rejection of their applications for pensions. In other cases, members have had two appeals to be dealt with, one by the Hepatization Commission and the other by a tribunal. With regard to country appellants, arrangements have to be made with a local medical officer for them to be examined. Delays have occurred because appellants have failed to report for medical examination or have neglected to keep appointments, necessitating further appointments being made.
I have ascertained that delays in the hearing of appeals to a tribunal from adverse decisions of the Repatriation Commission or a repatriation board occur mostly in the less densely populated States. Those States have been visited by the tribunals only periodically, but that defect has been remedied by the introduction of amended itineraries, which will operate in future. It is expected that this change will result in a considerable shortening of the period of time that elapses between the lodgment of an appeal and a determination of the case by a tribunal. In New South Wales and Victoria, a tribunal sits almost continuously; consequently appeals in those States are heard much more quickly than they are in the less densely populated States. It is the policy of the Commission that, where necessary, every applicant or appellant should have the best medical and specialist examination. It is not always possible for X-ray, pathological or other tests to be made immediately, but I assure the honorable senator that delay in this connexion is reduced to a minimum. The commission has been actively engaged in measures that will ensure that there will be the least possible delay in the determination of applications and the hearing of appeals. I am pleased to say that in regard to those matters the position has improved considerably.
– On the 26th October last Senator Arnold asked a question concerning the quantity of coal imported into Australia during the past ten months, and also the landed cost. I now inform the honorable senator that the total quantity of coal which has been imported into Australia from overseas for the period 1st January, 1950, to 31st October, 1950, was 491,000 tons. As freight rates and unloading charges may vary on each vessel, the landed cost of overseas coal is not constant. However, the approximate landed cost of overseas coal imported during the period referred to was £6 a ton.
– In view of the fact that at the port of Fremantle last Sunday night there were eighteen ships awaiting berths, will the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport consider the possibility to using outlying ports of Western Australia to their fullest extent in order to avoid a recurrence of that delay? Will the Minister also see that adequate labour is made available at the port of Fremantle?
– My department received reports yesterday that there was considerable congestion in the ports of Fremantle and Adelaide, and that a number of ships at Melbourne also had difficulty in obtaining berths. I have to-day discussed this matter with the Minister for Labour and National Service, and steps are being taken to see what can be done to improve the position. The question of ships making regular visits to the outports in order to relieve the congestion in the main ports is still under active consideration by the manager of the Australian Shipping Board, and it is hoped that an announcement will shortly be made in that connexion.
– Is the Minister for Social Services aware that in order to meet the convenience of his department and also the Postal Department, the payment of social services pensions is staggered, and fiat widows’ pensions payable from the 7th November actually cover an earlier period? Is the Minister also aware that payment of age and invalid pensions on the 2nd November was made in advance, and will he take- action to see that those persons receiving pensions will not lose any moneys due to them because of that staggering of payments?
– I was aware that age pensions are paid in advance and that widows’ pensions are paid in arrears. The announcement that I made that the pensions would be paid retrospectively, very clearly stated that it would apply to the first pension day payment in November, so that the age pensioners will get their increase as from the 2nd November, and widows as from the 7th November.
– I desire to ask whether you, Mr, President, will have inquiries made as to the temperature of this chamber? Are you aware, sir, that I and several other honorable senators who occupy this section of the chamber, were indisposed during the week-end because of a severe attack of influenza which was apparently due to a terrific draught that seems to come directly on to this section. I should be pleased to know, Mr. President, if you could have inquiries made with a view to action being taken to relieve the discomfort at present suffered by several honorable senators ?
– Far be it from me to do anything that would cause honorable senators on either side of the chamber to become sick. I should like to see them remain strong and healthy for many years. The question of the atmospheric conditions in this chamber has been receiving our attention for a long time, and recently we attempted to expedite the work that remains to be done upon the new air-conditioning plant. One difficulty is that certain necessary materials are very hard to get. The new plant is not yet in full and complete operation. One Commonwealth department is waiting upon another department, and when that department has done its work the contractors will be able to finish the job. We have done everything possible to expedite the installation of the plant. I shall give the matter further consideration and ascer tain whether it is possible to hasten the conclusion of the work, which is so necessary.
– I direct to the Minister for Trade and Customs, in the absence of the Attorney-General, a question relating to the railway strike in Victoria and South Australia. I preface it by saying that honorable senators on this side of the chamber are not very conversant with the cause of the trouble, but we know that it is reaching grave proportions and interfering with the economy of this country. Some newspapers have stated that the railways commissioners have caused the trouble, and others have blamed the railway employees. Whichever party be responsible, I believe that the Australian Government should intervene in the dispute. Has the Minister for Trade and Customs or the Attorney-General taken any steps to bring about an amicable settlement of the dispute?
– I am sure that all honorable senators, irrespective of party affiliations, view with great alarm the turmoil in the railways services in Victoria and South Australia that remains unsolved. According to the press, an application made to the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration in Melbourne will be heard to-morrow morning. Nothing that I could say would be likely to add to the possibility of a speedy settlement of the trouble, and in the circumstances I am sure that honorable senators will agree that no good purpose would be served by my canvassing the merits or demerits of the dispute. It will be settled, I trust, on the basis of arbitration.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
In view of the acute shortage of coal, will the Government consider, as an aid to industry, reducing the existing primage duties on oil fuel imported into Australia?
– This matter is at present under consideration.
Formal Motion fob Adjournment.
– I have received from Senator O’Flaherty an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the Senate for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely -
The behaviour of Ministers in the Senate in dealing with questions asked by honorable senators, and in particular their failure to answer such questions, their evasiveness in supply ing answers, and their undue delay in furnishing answers to questions sp asked.”
– I move-
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow, at 3.15 p.m.
– Is the motion supported?
Four honorable senators having risen in support of the motion,
– It is a matter of urgent and vital public importance that Ministers should furnish prompt answers to questions asked by honorable senators in this chamber, in the interests, not only of honorable senators themselves, but also of their electors. I refer to the behaviour of Ministers when dealing with questions asked by honorable senators, with particular reference to their failure upon occasions to answer at all, their evasiveness, and the undue delay in furnishing answers. It seems to me that there is a conspiracy among Ministers to treat with contempt* questions asked by honorable senators, especially when those questions tend to be politically awkward. Such treatment places honorable senators at a disadvantage. All of us at various times are asked by associations of people for information relevant to their particular affairs, and, in order to get accurate and official information, we direct questions to Ministers. Sometimes, as I have said, Ministers refrain from answering. I know that a Minister may refuse to answer a question, but I believe that it would be much better for him to say outright that he refused to do so, rather than to delay answering, or to give an evasive answer. When a Minister gives an evasive answer to a question, he creates the feeling that he has something to hide. There seems to be no frankness on the part of Ministers in answering questions, and in supplying information to which, every honorable senator is entitled. I am not complaining of the political slant which Ministers may give to their answers, but the answers should be truthful. It often happens that a Minister answers in such a way as to convey his political opinion on a subject, while failing to answer the actual query. Ministers in the Senate who represent Ministers in the House of Representatives often make no attempt to obtain from their principals information that would enable them to answer questions. Honorable senators who ask the questions are ignored, and the Senate is treated with contempt; yet the Senate is a part of the legislature. The treatment of honorable senators by Ministers is most insulting, and we are entitled to be indignant. It is not suggested that Ministers should reveal government policy when answering questions, but the furnishing of accurate and speedy replies would play an important part in the enlightenment of the people, whose representatives we are. If Ministers wish to give their answers a political slant, they may place the political matter before or after the factual answer, or even in the course of stating the facts. I do not complain of that, but honorable senators are entitled to receive accurate information in answer to their questions, and to receive it as quickly as possible.
Another cause for complaint is the undue delay that occurs in supplying answers. When an honorable senator asks a question, he can be almost sure that no reply will be given to him before the Minister makes a press statement on the subject, and that statement is published. Sometimes I am inclined to wonder whether we are really the elected representatives of the people, and whether there is any necessity for us to be here at all, except, of course, to give a lead to Ministers to make statements outside this chamber. As an example of this treatment, about a fortnight ago I asked a simple question of the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and
Agriculture. That question is now number 19 on our notice-paper. It was a simple question. I asked the Minister whether agreement had been reached between the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and American representatives to acquire Australian wool for America and so prevent such wool from competing in the open auction sales. I have still not received a reply to that question although it has been on the notice-paper since the 25th October, but, strangely enough, a statement on this subject by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser on the 26th October. In that statement the Minister told wool-growers many things about the method of marketing that was to take the place of the present scheme. The report stated -
Mr. McEwen said the British mission would arrive here on Saturday to resume negotiations on the plan which would include New Zealand and South Africa.
A United States delegation would arrive by November 15 to discuss with Australian, British, New Zealand and South African representatives the American proposal to secure wool for a war emergency reserve.
Mr. McEwen said that at the London conference the Americans had dropped their request for international allocations and their idea of international action to limit prices.
The Minister then went on to stress the difficulty of reserving wool for America. The report continued -
The United States and Britain favoured a system of taking out before auction the quantities America needed for her military emergency reserve.
It was suggested that the three exporting Dominions should provide 100,000,000 lb.
At the end of the report appeared the following statement : - “The Government is by no ‘means committed yet to any single course,” Mr. McEwen said.
That, of course, was the answer to my question, but no answer has been given in the Senate. In fact, the Senate has been given no information whatever in spite of the fact that this matter is of burning importance to the wool-growers of Australia. I asked the question at the request of associations of wool-growers. I did not put any political slant on the question but I should not have objected if the Minister had given his answer a political slant so long as he had provided me with the information that I sought. The Sydney Daily Telegraph yesterday published a report of a broadcast made within the last few days by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. In addition to restating the matters to which I have already referred, he summarized the results of his overseas mission in the following points: -
There should bc no international allocation of wool.
The auction system should continue.
There should be no attempt to interfere with the high prices realized at auctions.
The United States should meet its civilian and military needs by normal bidding at auctions.
The report continued -
Mr. McEwen added : “ lt has been suggested that we could maintain the auction system without allowing American demands to force prices up further. “ One proposal - and at present it is no more than a proposal - is that from each grower’s offering of the types required the Government should set aside, say, one bale in five. “ The remaining bales would be offered at auction in the normal manner for competition by every buyer except the United States emergency reserve.
There again is the answer to my question - broadcast to the public instead of being first given in this chamber. The Senate has been absolutely ignored and insulted. This is a deplorable state of affairs. We are elected to this chamber to “ conduct the business of the Parliament, and it is our right to expect answers to our questions. Instead of that, we are being regarded by Ministers merely as prompters for statements to be made outside the Parliament. An answer to my question would not have involved a statement of policy. I merely asked whether agreement had been reached between the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and American representatives. Either the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in this chamber has made no effort to obtain the information that I sought, or he too is being ignored or overridden. He might as well be at home in his garden for all the use that he is as the representative of the Minister for Commerce and
Agriculture in this chamber. My question is still on the notice-paper. Apparently it is being treated with contempt. To the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, the Opposition in this chamber is non-existent and his representative in this chamber apparently is doing nothing about it.
Recently Senator Morrow asked the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) a series of questions in relation to the dismissal of Dr. P. R. James from the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital. They were perfectly legitimate questions which were asked by an honorable senator, who at present is himself ill in hospital in Canberra, in an endeavour to obtain the official viewpoint of the circumstances relating to the dismissal of Dr. James. Senator Morrow believed that an injustice had been done and that as a result Dr. James’s valuable medical services were being denied to sick ex-service men and women. Like a petulant, frustrated school girl the Minister, in an evasive reply, left us with the impression that he knew that a very great wrong had been done and then stated that he would not answer any further questions on the subject. No question of government policy was involved in that matter. If the questions had touched on a matter of government policy the Minister would have replied to the effect that it is not customary to reply to questions of that kind. In such circumstances his refusal to answer the questions would have been accepted. Instead, in a petulant way the Minister evaded the issues raised and stated that he would not answer any further questions on the subject. He would have been much more manly and would have displayed much greater strength of character had he admitted outright that a mistake had been made and indicated that he would do what he could to rectify it. I do not need to remind him that a strong and powerful man invariably recognizes his weaknesses. The more powerful a man is the greater is his readiness to rectify a mistake.
The behaviour of Ministers in this chamber in dealing with questions is, to say the least of it, most unsatisfactory. Honorable senators’ who have been elected by the people of the six States are treated as if they are not members of an important branch of the legislature. They are ignored and insulted by Ministers, who at the same time, ask for their cooperation. How can the Government hope to obtain our co-operation if we are refused information which we need in order to enable us to carry out our duties? By their attitude to honorable senators on this side of the chamber, Ministers have made a travesty of the bicameral system of Parliament.
I could furnish other instances of evasiveness, prevariation and procrastination on the part of Ministers in answering questions asked by Opposition senators. Frequently information obtained on the basis of questions asked by honorable senators is made available in the first instance either to the press or to the members of the House of Representatives. I have already instanced the manner in which information obtained in reply to questions asked in the Senate about the wool industry was published in the first instance in the press. A similar practice is followed in relation to questions concerning the Government’s health and medical scheme. Questions asked by Opposition senators are frequently evaded and we are astounded to observe that in many instances the information we had asked for has been published in the press. It is high time that Ministers took stock of the position and acknowledged their duty to uphold the dignity of this chamber. The fullest information should be furnished in answer to questions asked by honorable senators so that it can be passed on to their electors. I leave the matter there. I have raised this protest because I believe that attention should be directed to this unsatisfactory feature of the administration of this Government. Every step should be taken to- ensure that in future answers to questions in this Senate shall be furnished in the Senate as quickly as it is humanly possible for Ministers to obtain the desired information.
Senator AMOUR (New South Wales; [4.3]. - I support the protest made by Senator O’Flaherty relative to the evasive and unsatisfactory replies that have been given by Ministers in answers to- questions asked by Opposition senators in this chamber. Ministers frequently insinuate that there is Communist influence behind our questions. On the 11th October last I directed the following questions to the Minister representing the Treasurer relating to motor tyres: -
How many motor tyres were manufactured in Australia between June, 1949 and September, 1950.
On the 28th October I received a written reply in an envelope, not from the Minister representing the Treasurer, but from the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale). The reply was evasive. No information was furnished in relation to the supply of tyres to the departments that I had mentioned. The Minister merely stated that 12,352 tyres had been supplied to the departments concerned and that if I wished to ascertain the number of tyres manufactured by each of the manufacturing companies, I would have to examine their price lists. He sent me copies of the price lists of the companies concerned. T did not ask for that information; I asked a series of plain and straightforward questions. When I approached the Minister for Supply in regard to the matter, he said, “ You had better see my secretary and find out whether we can get the information you want,”. I had asked the question and I thought that the responsible Minister in the Senate would have attended to it. I object to a Minister denying this chamber information. Every honorable senator is entitled to an answer to a question, because that answer- provides information for all honorable senators. Most questions deal with matters of public interest, and the public is entitled to know the answers given to those questions. If answers to questions are to be circulated through the post, pigeon-holed, or dealt with in such a way that it is necessary for honorable senators to seek their own information by looking through the price-lists of such things as the various rubber companies of Australia, it is a complete departure and something that has never been done in the history of this Parliament. A week later, I asked a simple question concerning the quantity of steel which had been exported from Australia by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited or by any other exporter, the calibre of the steel exported, and the countries to which it had been exported. A month has elapsed and I have not yet received a reply. I do not know whether I am expected to peruse the price-lists of all the steel companies in Australia in order to ascertain the information I desire.
I now wish to mention the subject of Dr. P. R. James, who was working in the Repatriation Department. He was a man who had a public service to render, and I assume that in the middle of the night, or at any other time, he would attend to the needs of the sick in urgent cases such as those connected with childbirth. He was working temporarily for that department, and his services were suddenly terminated. An honorable senator asked a question concerning his dismissal, and his question has been on the notice-paper for many weeks. Dr. James has been harshly treated, yet the responsible Minister denies this chamber an explanation showing why he was dismissed. There must he some good reason for a man’s dismissal, and it is apparent that the department is on very shaky ground when the Minister deliberately insults this chamber by stating he has nothing to add in reply to further questions. It is time honorable senators on this side of the chamber demanded that a committee be appointed to inquire into the reasons for Dr. James’s dismissal. I do not know the gentleman, nor do I know whether he is a Communist or a fascist; but I am entitled to know why he was dismissed from that department.
– I also wish to voice a protest against the lack of information in response to questions. It has been apparent for some considerable time that Ministers in this chamber are not prepared seriously to ‘ consider making worthwhile information available to honorable senators on the Opposition benches. I am not aware whether Dr. James’s dismissal was merited, whether there were circumstances which rendered it prudent for the Government to dispense with his services, whether he was a disruptive influence in the department, or whether he was dishonest. Although several questions have been asked in this chamber in an endeavour to ascertain the reason for his dismissal, honorable senators have not yet been able to receive reasonable replies.
During the last year, I have been interested in the progress made by the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) with certain schemes designed for the improvement of health in Australia, and almost weekly I have asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health to supply me with information. I know that the responsible Minister in this chamber has the goodwill and the respect of most honorable senators on this side of the chamber, and I consider that honorable senators have always received great courtesy from him. However, either he has been denied the information by the Minister whom he represents, or has not been able to obtain it because of some other reason. Week after week statements are made in the newspapers of Australia to the effect that all kinds of medical benefits are to be conferred, and that the Minister has certain plans, and it is distressing subsequently to find that the plans have been withdrawn and that the Minister proposes to substitute something else. Complete confusion arises from the welter of public statements that are made. In order that those matters might be clarified, honorable senators on this side of the chamber adopt the only course open to ‘them, which is to address questions to the responsible Minister. I have done that so frequently that I now feel almost ashamed to ask a question concerning health. The Minister representing ‘the Minister for Health repeatedly is obliged to’ tell me that he will draw the attention of his colleague to the matter, and that a reply will be made in due course. That has been going on for so long that I consider I am justified in adding my voice to the protests that have been made by honorable sena tors of the Opposition. To-day, of 26 questions on the notice-paper, only one has been answered. Despite the fact that all of those questions have been on the notice-paper at least since last Friday, only one question can be answered, to-day. I appreciate that the Ministers are working at top pressure, and that they have not a great deal of time to spare, but I suggest that they have staffs associated with their departments, and that in order that honorable senators of the Opposition might be kept as well informed as possible, the time of some members of those staffs should be devoted to the supplying of information. In. the course of debate, it is difficult to elicit from Ministers information about the Government’s intentions and when questions are directed to them asking for information we are frequently told that the questions relate to matters of Government policy, which cannot be disclosed in answers to questions. We are forced to accept answers of that kind. I point out that many of the questions by -members of the Opposition do not in fact relate to matters of Government policy and that very little work would be entailed in supplying full replies to them. I agree with Senator O’Flaherty that this practice has gone on for long enough and that it is necessary now to protest againt it.
It is true to say that at least 95 per cent, of the questions asked in this chamber are designed not to gain political advantage but to elicit information. That being so, Ministers should devote more of their time and the time of their staffs to furnishing replies to questions asked by honorable senators, and the replies should be sufficiently detailed to enable honorable senators to inform their constituents fully upon the matters which constituents refer to them from time to time.
– I am very interested in the development of the tin industry in Tasmania. Recently 1 read that the price of tin on the world market was over £1,000 a ton and, knowing that good tin deposits in the northeast of Tasmania were not being developed, on two occasions I asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development whether the development of those deposits caine within the scope of the activities of his colleague. 1 have not yet received a reply to ray questions. It seems futile to ask questions when either evasive answers or no answers to them are given, but all honorable senators have a duty to advance suggestions in the interests of the welfare of the States that they represent and to ask for information upon matters affecting those States. It is important that honorable senators should be encouraged to ask questions upon matters affecting their .States and that the questions should be answered and, therefore, the continual frustration from which we suffer now is very disheartening. Recently, I asked a question relating to a recruiting drive and the possibility of making aircraft avail-
Able for an exhibition. The reply to the question was sent not to me, but to the local member of parliament, who caused it to be published in the press.
– That was not a question asked in the Senate.
– Approximately four months ago, I asked a question relating to the provision of financial assistance to gliding clubs. On the following day, a question on the same subject was asked in the House of Representatives and the responsible Minister gave a comprehensive reply to it, lasting for over seven minutes, but it was almost three weeks before I was furnished with a reply to the question that I had asked.
I believe that the Opposition had every right to propose this motion in order to express its disappointment at tl-.p attitude that has been adopted by Ministers in this chamber in connexion with the provision of information in answer to questions. It is the right of honorable senators to receive the information for which they ask, not only promptly but also in full. Unless questions are answered promptly and fully, the purpose of question time will be frustrated. I am pleased that this matter has been raised, because I have been offended by the attitude adopted by some Ministers.
– I commend Senator O’Flaherty for having proposed this motion, which I believe to be timely. I hope that, as a result of it, Ministers will adopt a different method of answering question?.
The Standing Orders of the Senate provide that questions seeking- information may be put to Ministers of the Crown relating to public affairs, and that in putting any such question no argument or opinion shall be offered, nor inference nor imputation made, nor any facts stated, and that in answering such a question an honorable senator shall not debate the matter to which it refers. Since this Government assumed office, some Ministers have not complied with the terms of the Standing Orders relating to questions, and I do not deny that some honorable senators also have not complied with them. We should endeavour to observe the Standing Orders. Ministers should endeavour to give definite replies to questions. If they are unable to do so, they should inform the Senate accordingly and promise to obtain the information asked for later. I do not think it can be disputed that since this Government was elected some Ministers - I do not say all - have given evasive replies to questions. Some of the replies given can be regarded only as frivolous. I agree with Senator O’flaherty that honorable senators on this side of the chamber have been treated with discourtesy, and that that should be discouraged. We expect a higher standard in relation to this matter than has been attained so far.
One of the most outstanding features of question time during the life of this Parliament has been the almost automatic reply given by one Minister to all questions directed to him. It is to ask the questioner to place the question upon the notice-paper. That is a very unsatisfactory way of replying to a question. If a Minister is unable to reply to a question at once, he should state what he believes to be the position and then ask that the question be placed on the noticepaper. Even when questions are placed upon the notice-paper, they remain unanswered for weeks. On the 4th October, I was requested to place a question on the notice-paper, and I did so. It remained there for nearly three weeks. Then I had the temerity to ask the Minister when I could expect a reply to it. He said that he would endeavour to obtain the information for which I had asked. A few days later, I was told that the matter to which my question related was sub judice and, therefore, that it was not possible to answer it at that stage. J. do not dispute the accuracy of the reply that .1 received ultimately, but I do not understand why I was made to wait for nearly a month to be told that the matter that I had raised in the question was sub judice. I consider that honorable senators on this side of the chamber are entitled to more consideration in these matters. It has been very noticeable that in many instances when questions have been asked by members of the Opposition, Ministers have implied in their answers either that the Opposition was (inked with the Communist party, or that individual members of the Opposition belonged to terrible socialistic crowds. Such replies were not answers to the questions asked. Whether or not they were abusive would depend on the outlook of the Minister who made the particular observation. At the very least the replies were discourteous. It is quite evident that some Ministers are either afraid to answer questions, or are unable to do so. If a Minister is not in a position to furnish a complete answer ex tempore, I should prefer him to indicate his willingness to make inquiries and furnish a full answer as soon as possible. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber do not ask frivolous questions, although admittedly some questions that they have asked in relation to public affairs have had a political slant which is permissible under the Standing Orders. I stall now draw the attention of honorable senators to questions that I have asked during the current sessional period, and the answers that were furnished. On the 23rd February, in answer to a question that I asked about the cost of living the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) said-
– The honorable senator should be fair. He should read the question also.
– I did not want to waste time doing so.
– The honorable senator may as well waste time in that way as in any other way.
– The question that I asked was -
I preface my question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister by pointing out that the Western Australian Government Statistician has reported that the retail prices of food increased by more than 10 per cent, in the five main towns of that State last year. Compared with the prices obtaining in September, 1939, prices to-day are from 45.5 per cent, to 62.78 per cent, higher. As increased prices in Western Australia are indicative of the position obtaining generally throughout Australia, will the Minister inform the Senate what action the Government proposes to take to remedy this state of affairs?
That was a reasonable question.
– What an amazing opinion !
– The question dealt with public affairs, in connexion with which I wanted information. The Minister replied -
It is sadly true that during the regime of the previous Government the cost of living rose very considerably in this country. I trust, however, that during the term of the present Government conditions will be ameliorated considerably, and that the cost of living will be reduced.
I consider that I asked an intelligent question. The first sentence of the Minister’s reply had a definite political slant. He endeavoured to shed the blame for the Government’s failure to restore value to the £1, in accordance with its pre-election promise, by referring to the alleged shortcomings of the previous Government. I do not consider that the Minister answered the question. His reply was either facetious or impudent. On the 16th May, Senator Hendrickson asked a question in relation to currency. Arising out of the manner in which the question was answered, I asked the Minister for Trade and Customs the following question on the 17th May -
As the Minister for Trade and Customs has just informed the Senate that the Government’s economic and financial policy is excellent, will he also inform us whether the purchasing power of the £1 has increased as a result of that policy since the Government took office last December?
That was a fair question, which the Minister answered as follows : -
I have not recently read the statistics prepared by our economists, but I shall examine the matter and supply the honorable senator with the information that the latest statistics reveal if the honorable senator is not prepared to look up the statistics himself.
I consider that the Minister’s reply was evasive. On the 10th May I asked the Minister for Trade and Customs the following question: -
As the basic wage in Western Australia is now £7 a week, an increase of 4s.1d. since the declaration of October last, and as the cost of living is still increasing, will the Minister for Trade and Customs indicate what real efforts have been made by the Government to replace value in the £1 as promised during the election campaign? When replying, will the Minister please supply specific information and not merely state that progress has been made in restoring purchasing value because of greater industrial peace and better relationship between employer and employee?
The Minister replied -
Much as I would like to do so, it would not be fair of me to take the time of the Senate for the whole afternoon to explain what this Government has done to carry out its pledge to restore purchasing power to the £1 but what the Government has been doing can be accelerated and improved on with the cooperationof the Opposition. I trust that the Government will get it.
How can supporters of the Government expect the Opposition to co-operate with the Government when Ministers decline to answer reasonable questions intelligently? I think that all honorable senatorswill agree that pensions constitute the life blood of thousands of members of the community. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Ministers would answer questions about pensions adequately. However, that has not been so. On the 17th May I asked the Minister for Trade and Customs the following question : -
Does the Minister for Trade and Customs agree that, in opening the Nineteenth Parliament, His Excellency, the Governor-General, said that the Government realized that the increasing cost of living accentuated the difficulties of age and widow pensioners? As the Governor-General’s Speech also indicated that the Government was closely investigating the matter, and believed that its economic and financial policy would result in an improvement of the purchasing power of the currency, thereby benefiting pensioners and other fixed income groups, will the Minister inform the Senate of the Government’s financial and economic policy? I should like to know also whether the application of that policy has improved the purchasing power of the currency since the 10th December last?
SenatorO’Sullivan. - Thatwas a completely improper question.
– I do not know on what ground the Minister for Trade and
Customs declares it to be improper, except that an answer to it would involve a statement of Government policy. If that were the reason, I accept the rebuke, but the Minister should have said so at the time. This is the answer he gave -
I am rather astonished that any one of the honorable senator’s experience in this chamber should ask for a statement of policy in reply to a question. However, I should take him into my confidence and assure him that the Government’s policy is excellent, and, I am sure, will satisfy the people.
I think there were more answers of the same kind, but I have quoted all those that I have had time to look up.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Nicholls). - Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– I believe that this motion is justified, although I admit that, on a number of occasions, Ministers have deigned to give information in answer to questions. However, on most matters of real importance they have either given evasive answers, or have kept the questions on the notice-paper until after a press propaganda statement has been published on the subject. That is wrong. Soon after this session of ‘the Parliament opened I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture to obtain information about unemployment among workers in flour mills. The question remained on the noticepaper until quite recently, when a written answer was supplied to me. The situation was very unsatisfactory, because manyworkers had been unemployed for a considerable period. Ministerial statements on the subject were published in the newspapers, but no reply was ever given to me in the Senate.
Honorable senators will recall the unseemly conduct of Ministers on Thursday last when I asked a question of the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) onthe subject of the railway strike. It was a fair question, clearly stated, and the Attorney-General could have answered it without committing any breach of custom or practice. After I had been speaking for one minute, and had spoken not more than 100 words, the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) to whom the question was not addressed. jumped up and suggested that I be given an extension of time. I am a life member of a railway union in Western Australia, and I know what the railway men have been able to achieve industrially in that State. I wished to give the AttorneyGeneral an opportunity to state the attitude of the Government towards the dispute. My question was fair and respectfully couched, but from the time the Minister for Social Services intervened there was heckling, laughing and giggling by Ministers and Government supporters. The points to which I referred in my question are covered by an industrial award in Western Australia under which the railway men have been working contentedly for some time. It provides for better rostering, and actually saves time for the department. The trains are still running in Western Australia, because sound industrial practice has been applied in that State. My question was stated in 210 words. Then the Attorney-General rose, and began his answer in this fashion- -
I slia.Il now endeavour to answer in detail the long question-
He did not answer the question in detail. His reply consisted of 30 words mora than my question, but it had nothing to do with the subject matter of the question. He used 240 words to tell the Senate that he would, tell me nothing. Such behaviour demonstrates the hypocrisy of the Government in asking the Opposition to co-operate with it. The joint executive of the railway unions in Western Australia asked me to obtain, if possibly, a statement of the attitude of the Government towards the dispute. Apparently, the policy of the Government is to allow the unions in some of the States to remain on strike, although the conditions which they are seeking are already operating satisfactorily in Western Australia.
On another occasion, I asked the Minister for Social Services when increases of pensions would be paid. He replied that the payments would not be retrospective, but would be payable from a date in November. He was corrected by the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden), and later stated in the Senate that the date would be the first pension period in November. I asked him whether he was aware that, because of an arrangement made to suit the Treasury and the Postmaster-General’s Department, widows would not receive their payments on the same date as age pensioners, and would, in fact, be cheated out of one payment. The Minister disregarded my question, and went on to say that he had told me quite clearly that the pensions would be paid on the first pay day in November. That was true, but that was not an answer to ray question. Senator Wedgwood and Senator Robertson should be concerned over the fact that widows are to be placed at a disadvantage compared with other pensioners. The Minister, instead of discussing that anomaly, tried to show off by making it appear that I did not understand the answer he had given to my previous question. Ministers squeal for co-operation, but their behaviour does not encourage us to co-operate with them
– I gave the honorable senator a fair answer to a political question. He tried to gain some political advantage out of the widows and orphans, and when I gave him a fair answer he whined.
– It was not a political question. I asked whether widows would be paid in such a way as not to be placed at a disadvantage compared with other pensioners. Employees would have a right to complain if an employer, merely to suit his own convenience, arranged the payment of wages in such a fashion that some were placed at a monetary disadvantage compared with others. My question concerned a matter of equity, and should have been answered fairly by the Minister. The Opposition can claim that the Government is not being fair, and that it has rejected our co-operation. Ministers seem to derive some pleasure out of refilling to give fair answers to questions about the railway strike. I assure the Government that a strike is no picnic for the workers. Strikes cost them a lot in wages, and cause suffering to them and their families. If Ministers would indicate the Government’s attitude towards current industrial problems, members of the Opposition would know whether they were justified in co-operating with the Government. the unseemly and discourteous behaviour of Ministers is deterring the Opposition from giving to the Government the co-operation that it geeks.
– Senator O’Flaherty’s motion is based not only on delay in answering questions in this chamber, but also on the practice adopted by some Ministers of replying to honorable senators over the air, in the press, or in the House of Representatives instead of in this chamber. No great political advantage is to be gained by asking questions. A Minister can always decline to answer a question on the ground that it involves government policy or, if he so desires, he may ask that a question be placed on the notice-paper in order that he may make a considered reply to it. Of the 26 questions appearing on the Senate notice-paper to-day, sixteen stand in the names of Opposition senators, and ten in the names of Government senators. The Government cannot rightly claim, therefore, that all questions are asked for political purposes. Ten of the questions on the notice-paper are matters for the Prime Minister’s Department. I appreciate that departments that have not been in existence for very long may encounter some difficulty in providing honorable senators with information that they seek, but no such excuse can be afforded for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, or the Prime Minister’s Department, both of which have the machinery necessary to provide speedy answers to questions. When I was Postmaster-General, a question asked in the Parliament in the afternoon was forwarded to Melbourne immediately by teleprinter, and frequently an answer was obtained on the same evening or by the next morning at the latest. Apart from questions relating to say, New Guinea, or some other territory, the Prime Minister’s Department, too, should have no difficulty in providing immediate answers to questions.
I wish to complain particularly about the treatment that I received when I asked a question in this chamber on the 18th October about the use of duplex telephone lines. That question was answered incorrectly at first by the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, who insisted on arguing the point with me about it. My question was -
Will the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral inform the Senate whether it is true that, for some months past, applicants for telephones have been informed by the Postal Department that, in the event of their applications being successful - which is very seldom - the telephone line to their premises may be duplicated in order to provide a telephone service to other applicants nearby as well? If so, will the Minister consider issuing a regulation to compel people who have telephones installed in their private homes to share the Facility with other persons in the vicinity? Alternatively, will he take steps to introduce legislation to compel telephone subscribers who do not use their telephones extensively to share them with other people who have been unable to obtain telephones?
My point was that a new applicant for a telephone service should not be at any disadvantage compared with a subscriber of twelve months or even twelve years standing. I do not think that it would be asking too much of a telephone subscriber who uses his telephone perhaps’ only once a day, to share his line with someone else who so far has been unable to get a telephone at .all. In reply, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) who represents the PostmasterGeneral in this chamber, said -
I gather from the honorable senator’s question that he desires legislation to be introduced to compel persons who have telephones installed in their homes to share that facility with other persons. 1 have been assured by the Postmaster-General that his department has no intention to interfere with the privacy of telephone services already installed. However, if a subscriber consents, the Postal Department is prepared to convert his line into a party line, in order to provide a service to another person as well.
Apparently, the honorable senator thought he was back in the bush. As honorable senators from rural districts are aware, an applicant for a telephone connexion to a party line must first secure the approval of existing subscribers to that line. A party line is entirely different from a duplex line. A subscriber to a party line can hear everything that is said on that line by other subscribers. That is not so on a duplex line. Conversations are entirely private. The only disadvantage is that only one subscriber may use the line at a time. The Minister continued -
Although 1 do not think that the PostmasterGeneral would favour the introduction of arbitrary legislation to compel persons to share their telephones with other persons, I shall convey the honorable senator’s remarks to the Postmaster-General for consideration. 1’ then said -
The Minister has apparently misunderstood the question. T endeavoured to point out that, for some months past, applicants for telephones have been informed by the Postal Department that if their applications are successful they must be prepared to share the telephone service with other people, if the department considers that that is necessary.
The Minister replied - 1 think that the honorable senator has been wrongly informed.
Later however, the honorable senator gave me an application form which showed that the acceptance of a duplex line was a necessary condition to- the installation of n telephone service.
– Is the honorable senator complaining about the information that T obtained for him?
– Not the final information.
– The Opposition’s complaint is that Ministers are discourteous and do not bother to get information for them.
– The Minister continued in his reply -
Many thousands of people throughout Australia are now being provided with telephones.
The implication there is that this Government is doing a better job than the Chifley Government did in installing telephones.
– That is quite true.
-It is not true. I think that all senators will agree that tha Postmaster-General’s Department serves all governments impartially. The Minister continued -
Although new telephone subscribers are not compelled to share the service with other persons . . .
That shows that the Minister did not know the position. I do not blame him for that. I should not expect him to be familiar with all the work of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. That is not his department. He merely represents the Postmaster-General in this chamber. The questions that I have quoted were asked on the 18th October. On the 24th October, the honorable mem ber for St. George (Mr. Graham) in the House of Representatives asked the PostmasterGeneral, the following question -
Has the Postmaster-General given any consideration to alleviating the long delays in the installation of telephones in the metropolitan automatic exchange areas by making the duplex system more generally applicable? Can he say what progress is being made with such duplex connexions, and indicate what objection there is, if any, to applying such a system to existing exclusive service lines?
The Postmaster-General’s reply which, I contend, was an answer to the questions that I had asked six days earlier, was -
Considerable progress has been made with the installation of duplex system telephones. When 1 took over the portfolio of Postmaster - General there were about 9G of these duplex systems installed in the Sydney area There are now about 1.500 of them in that area and w-e intend to encourage their installation very substantially.
There is no politics in that at all ! It is not an attempt to show that the Postmaster-General’s Department is doing more for this Government than it did for the Chifley Government! The PostmasterGeneral continued -
I recently had the figures taken out for one particular exchange district in Sydney. I refer to the area of Maroubra which lies within the electorate of the honorable member for Watson. I shall mention those figures as an indication of the need for installing duplex systems. There- are 1,938 subscribers connected to the Maroubra exchange. The same figure also applies substantially to Northcote exchange in my own electorate, figures regarding which I also obtained. In the Maroubra area, there are 1,214 outstanding- applicants who have very little prospect of being connected to the exclusive service system in the immediate future. Of the 1,938 subscribers in that area, no less than 1.187 do not average more than one or two calls a day. I consider, therefore, that it is perfectly reasonable that in such instances such subscribers should not be permitted to retain a monopoly of services that are so desperately needed by other people-
That is the information that I had sought a week earlier when, as I have shown, I suggested that duplex telephone services should not be confined- to new applicants, but should be extended to people, other than business subscribers, whose telephones were not in constant use, and whose service, therefore, would not be seriously impaired by the installation of a duplex line. I see no reason why existing subscribers should be exempt from the necessity to accept duplex lines should circumstances warrant the installation of such lines. Clearly, the PostmasterGeneral merely for political advantage, replied in the House of Representatives to a question that I had asked in this chamber.In the House of Representatives a Government supporter posed a “ Dorothy Dix “ question so that the Government could obtain a political advantage from the information which I had sought. The Minister’s statement that the Postal Department could not, within six days, obtain the information I had sought, is absolutely incorrect. Questions asked in this Parliament concerning the activities of the Postal Department are immediately teleprinted to the branch concerned and the information sought is invariably furnished on the following day. In order to gain a political advantage the Government did not hesitate to use information which it obtained in relation to the suggestion which I had made regarding the installation of duplex telephone lines. The complaint made by Senator O’Flaherty deserves the serious consideration of the Government.
.- I regret that the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) is not present because the matter with which I propose to deal concerns the administration of his department. It will be remembered that recently I asked the Attorney-General a series of questions concerning the method of fixing wages. I regarded them as of great importance not only to me but also to the great bulk of the wage-earners of Australia. The questions were as follows : -
Will the Attorney-General agree to amend the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904-1949, to provide for the creation of an Australian economic council, to comprise the Commonwealth Statistician and an economist from each of the six States, for the purpose of devising methods for the collection and compilation of information which will permit of the basic wage being adjusted automatically according to the prosperity of the industries of Australia which are (a) below average prosperity; (b) of average prosperity ; and (c) above average prosperity?
The Attorney-General replied -
The questions asked by the honorable senator involve matters not only of law but also of Government policy, with which it is not customary to deal in answering questions. It may be useful, however, to draw attention to the fact that the power of the Parliament is not to determine or prescribe industrial matters, but to establish authorities for dealing with them by the two methods of conciliation and arbitration. In part at least the proposals of the honorable senator would appear to be altogether beyond this power. I shall, however, bring his suggestions under the notice of my colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service.
The crux of the Minister’s reply was that “the power of the Parliament is not to determine or prescribe industrial matters “. The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act which established the Commonwealth Arbitration Court for the purpose of dealing with industrial matters, wages and working conditions, defines “ Industrial matters “ as follows : - “ Industrial matters “ means all matters pertaining to the relations of employers and employees and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes -
The legislation in which that definition is embodied is the outcome of one provision in the Constitution. Most Australians know how valiantly Mr. Kingston fought for two or three years to have that very provision inserted in the Constitution. Fifty years ago the principle of conciliation and arbitration was worth fighting for. It behoves every parliamentarian to preserve it, and the only way in which we can do so is by keeping it up to date. In the first two questions which I addressed to the Attorney-General I merely asked whether he would agree so to amend the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act as to ensure that the basic wage should be assessed in accordance with the prosperity of Australian industries. The Attorney-General replied -
The power of the Parliament is not to determine or prescribe industrial matters.
The interpretation of “ industrial matters “ in the definition section of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act is, in my opinion, sufficiently wide to enable the Commonwealth Arbitration Court itself to deal with this matter, but even if that definition is not regarded by the Minister as providing him with sufficient authority to establish the means of ascertaining quickly what the basic wage of Australia should be during a period of industrial prosperity, authority to do so certainly exists in section 106 of the act, which reads as follows : - (1.) For the purposes of this Act there shall be an Office of Economic and Industrial Research. (2.) The function of the Office shall be -
My proposal could have been given effect under the existing provisions of the law. Had the Attorney-General answered “ No “ to each of the three questions which I asked, I certainly should have known where I stood. Indeed, I should not have been astonished hadhedoneso, clapping his hands together and saying, “ So much for that one “.
A good deal has been said in this chamber lately about the frustration tactics adopted by the Opposition, but when Opposition senators ask sensible questions on matters which concern the wage-earners of Australia they are brushed aside. That is frustration of another kind. It makes me wonder what frustration would be exercised by the Government if the position of the opposing parties in this chamber were reversed. The considered reply of the Attorney-General to my questions was pure bunkum and piffle.
– As one who was privileged to occupy the position of Minister for the Crown for eight years, I have been asked a considerable number of questions. Believing that I was under an obligation to answer them promptly and courteously, I invariably did so. Whenever questions were asked of me as the representative of a Minister in the House of Representatives, and some delay occurred in obtaining the information sought, I invariably approached the Minister concerned or his secretary and asked that the reply be expedited so that the honorable senator who raised the question in the Senate would not be kept waiting for the information. All my colleagues in the Ministry did likewise. All questions which were directed to us were answered courteously and fully. At no time did we attempt either directly or by implication to reflect on the motives of tho questioner. To-day if a question that happens to be contentious is asked the person who asks it is told that he is a Communist, or a socialist. I consider that that is an impertinent attitude and that it shows no respect for the members of the Opposition, who are entitled to receive the same respect as is given to the supporters of the Government. It also indicates to me that the members of the Government are inclined to be prejudiced and contemptuous. If it is carried too far, honorable senators on this side of the chamber are in a position to make matters more difficult for the members of the Government than they perhaps realize. I have in mind the case of a certain Captain T. P. Conway, who was wrongly penalized and reflected upon by the Department of the Army. He was caused a good deal of inconvenience and loss of prestige, and for many months he received no satisfaction from either the Senate or the House of Representatives. In 1939 Senator Brand moved that a select committee be appointed, and I was a -member of the committee that was eventually, appointed. The departmental files were examined, and it was discovered that Captain
Conway had been wrongly treated, and that, for all practical purposes, the files had been falsified. The recommendation of the select committee was that he be completely vindicated, and that he should receive an ex gratia payment of £100. Similar circumstances may well apply in the case of Dr. James.
– The ex gratia payment was not made till after there was a change of government.
– Exactly, but it was paid. The government of the day honoured an obligation which the previous Government would not honour. I suggest that that case illustrates the extent to which files may be falsified and also the extent to which a man’s character may be besmirched.
– Captain Conway’s character was never besmirched.
– Yes, it was. In my opinion his character was attacked, and certain portions in the files were underlined with red ink. The files were deliberately falsified.
– I suggest that the honorable senator read the report of the select committee.
– The select committee, which consisted of members of the Government and of the Opposition, recommended accordingly, and subsequently the amount that I have mentioned was paid to Captain Conway.
I have made inquiries since Dr. -Tames was appointed as medical officer at a hospital in Queenstown, Tasmania, and he has been given an excellent character by the medical superintendent of that hospital. He is spoken of very highly by all persons with whom he comes in contact, including his patients. That indicates quite clearly that Dr. James has been victimized by this Government, and it is possible that an inquiry will be held in spite of the Minister’s refusal to answer questions as he should answer them. I should prefer that such a course of action be not adopted but that the Minister should provide answers to the questions asked of him. Honorable senators of the Opposition are entitled to know the facts and the Minister is not justified in withholding information that should be supplied to this chamber when it is requested.
If his attitude is persisted in, honorable senators on this side of the chamber may move for the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the case so that they will then have the facts.
I have not asked many questions in this chamber, although I have at times felt inclined to do so, because I have seen the way in which questions have been dealt with and I considered that it would be ft waste of time. I agree with Senator O’Flaherty and other honorable senators that it is grossly improper for Ministers to endeavour to make political capital out of questions and to delay answers to them. The delay is unpardonable, because any Minister who has had experience knows that it is generally quite an easy matter to obtain information within a reasonable time. The Department of Aircraft Production, with which I was connected during the war, experienced no difficulty in that connexion. If it can possibly be avoided my colleagues and I do not wish’ to go to the extreme I have already mentioned, because we understand that we should co-operate as far as - we possibly can, in the teamwork that is so necessary in this Parliament in order to supply the members of the public with information they desire. Provided that a question is worded courteously, is relevant, and that the information is available, there is no reason why it should not be answered. There is also no reason why honorable senators on this side of the chamber should not be treated as courteously as the members of the Government expect to be treated. Talk of “ commo friends “ and “ socialist friends ‘’, which is frequently indulged in by the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay), is political larrikinism and must end. The Minister should treat the members of the. Opposition with the same respect as he would expect to receive if the Australian Labour party was in office.
– This Government treats honorable senators better than that.
– There must be room for considerable improvement, otherwise this motion would not be necessary. Some time ago the Minister for
Fuel, Shipping and Transport refused to answer relevant question*, which were asked courteously, in connexion with the purchasing power of the £1. Whether his refusal was due to ignorance, intolerance, or to both, such an attitude is not becoming in a Minister of the Crown. Whenever a question is asked concerning the restoration of value to the £1, one would think,’ from the reply received, that such a matter was of no concern at all to the general public and that it would not matter whether prices rose or fell. Yet, prices are being increased to such an extent that the women of Melbourne and Sydney are determined to boycott the shops. By refusing to answer such questions, the members of the Government are repudiating the promises made by them before and after the elections.
In my opinion the motion submitted by Senator O’Flaherty is justified and timely. I trust that it will have the desired effect and that there will be reciprocity in these matters.
Senator O’SULLIVAN (QueenslandMinister for Trade and Customs)
To.25]. - In listening to the homilies of honorable senators opposite, and particularly to that of the honorable senator who introduced this motion, about the alleged discourtesy of members of the Government to members of the Opposition, I was reminded of Satan reproving sin. There are on the notice-paper to-day 26 questions. Of those, 23 are directed to Ministers who do not sit in this chamber and, as the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) has pointed out, of the 26 questions, sixteen are from members of the Opposition and ten from members of the Government parties. Of those 26 questions, one was asked on the 10th October, one on the 11th, four on the 19th. one on the 24th, four on the 25th, one on the 26th, five on the 31st, two on the 1st November, three on the 2nd November, and four appear on the noticepaper for the first time to-day; so that more than half of them have been on the notice-paper for only the last three sitting days, and the whole 26 have been there only within the last twelve sitting day of the Senate. I am sure that honorable senators opposite who have been
Ministers know that it is not always practicable to give an answer without a great deal of research. I am referring to those questions which, by their very nature, are entitled to receive serious and considered answers. It is well known that the majority of the questions asked by members of the Opposition are not directed for the purpose contemplated in the Standing Orders, which is the eliciting of information. Most questions are either facetious or offensive, or are loaded with propaganda. I remind honorable senators opposite that Ministers are not obliged to answer questions. It is traditional, of course, to do so, and it is the intention of this Government that the courtesy which has been extended to honorable senators over the years shall be continued, but for the members of the Opposition to say that they have been treated with discourtesy is completely at variance with the facts. The figures speak for themselves. After having listened to this rather sad wingeing, which is like the sound made by pigeons that have had their wings cut “ by the big twelve “, I remind honorable senators opposite that this motion has occupied considerable time and that the Government has important business with which it wishes to proceed. I suggest that time has been wasted on a matter that is of no substance whatever. In diplomatic language, on behalf of the Government, I must reject the protest made by members of the Opposition on the basis that it has no substance in fact. It might be worth while if honorable senators opposite were to acquaint themselves with the Standing Orders governing the asking of questions. What they do not find in the Standing Orders might be gleaned from thelast edition of May’s Parliamentary Practice, and particularly in the region of page 334. It may be worth while to read the rules for the guidance of honorable senators in asking questions which are set out on the back of the question form. They are as follows : -
Questions addressed to a Minister should relate to the public affairs with which he is officially connected, to proceedings pending in Parliament, or to any matter of administration for which the Minister is responsible.
Questions of that kind are answered with a minimum of delay. The majority of the questions to which Senator Nash referred are asked only for political propaganda purposes. They relate, not to matters which are the responsibility of the Minister to whom they are directed but to matters of general government policy. The rules continue -
The purpose of a question is to obtain and not to supply information; questions, therefore, should ask directly for the information sought.
Questions should not contain -
1 ) Statements of fact or names of persons unless they are strictly necessary to render the question intelligible and can be authenticated.
Such as “ fascists “, which we hear so frequently from honorable senators opposite -
Questions should not ask - ( 1. ) For an expression of opinion.
Those rules were affirmed in several decisions made by your predecessors, Mr. President. They are recorded in Rulings of the President of the Senate, volume 1, page 35, and volume 4, page 40.
– I rise to order. Is the Minister trying to say that you, Mr. President, do not know whether or not a question is in order? Is he implying that questions asked by honorable senators on this side of the chamber have been facetious and out of order?
– I do not know what the Minister is trying to imply, but I know what he has said.. He has expressed his opinion. It is competent for honorable senators on my left to express their opinions. The Opposition has complained that questions asked have not been answered, or have been answered in a manner not in accord with the spirit of this chamber. It has been suggested that answers to questions have been, for instance, evasive. The Minister, in replying to that attack, has made certain statements. Members of the Opposition may think that those statements were not true, but the Minister was in order in making them.
– I assure the members of the Opposition, and also honorable senators on this side of the chamber - because ten of the questions on the notice-paper stand in the names of members of the Government parties - that at no time has there been any discourtesy on the part of Ministers of this Government in connexion with the answering of questions. The delays that have occurred are understandable. Of the 26 questions now on the notice-paper, 23 relate to matters affecting government departments that are not represented directly by Ministers in this chamber. There is no doubt that honorable senators opposite have the right to ask questions, but Ministers have the right to decline to answer them if they consider them to be questions that should not be answered. The preparation of replies to the questions that now stand upon the notice-paper will entail a great deal of research and consideration. Members of the staffs of the appropriate departments are working busily upon that task.
I defy honorable senators opposite to cite one instance, inside or outside this chamber, of discourtesy by a Minister to any honorable senator who has come to him seeking information. If honorable senators, for good or bad reasons, wish to highlight themselves in Hansard or on the air hy asking questions that they believe to have a considerable propaganda value, that Ls their speculation, and they should not growl at the Government if they do nol receive dividends from the speculation. I defy any honorable senators opposite to cite one instance of a member of the Opposition who required information in a hurry and approached jj. Minister in his room to ask for information not being supplied with it forthwith, if it was available, or, if it was not immediately available, was not supplied with it with a minimum of delay. If this weak and wingeing attack can be regarded as a protest, then, speaking on behalf of the Government, I reject the protest.
Senator sandford (Victoria) [5.36]. - I support the motion. The speech of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) shows that the
Opposition is justified in making this protest. The Minister confined his remarks entirely to questions now appearing upon the notice-paper, but the Opposition’s protest relates not only to those questions but also to questions that previously appeared upon the notice-paper and to questions without notice. It will be recalled that at the beginning of this session a number of questions were directed to the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay), in an endeavour to elicit information about the increased dollar expenditure caused by the abolition of petrol rationing. On many occasions the Minister refused to answer the questions. It has been stated often, and it is a fact, that Ministers are not under a legal obligation to answer questions directed to them, but I maintain that they are under a moral obligation to do so.
The Minister for Trade and Customs, in a cavalier fashion, rejected the Opposition’s protest. He referred to honorable senators on this side of the chamber as “ pigeons “, but he reminds me of a goose, because neither he nor the goose sticks to its propaganda. He said that honorable senators on this side of the chamber could not cite one instance of acts of discourtesy to them by Ministers. That is to-day’s funny story. We have been complaining for some time, not only of the answers that we have received from the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport, but also of those that we have received from other Ministers. The Minister for Trade and Customs has said that the majority of the questions asked in this chamber by members of the Opposition have been facetious, offensive or designed for propaganda purposes, but the majority of the replies that he ha? given to questions directed to him have been designed more to gain political advantage than to supply the information requested. He has not really answered the questions. The motion proposed by Senator O’Flaherty is long overdue. For some time, honorable senators on this side of the chamber and, I am certain, some honorable senators opposite, have been perturbed about our inability to secure answers to questions relating to matters of vital public interest. Repeatedly we have directed questions to the Minister representing the Minister for Health about the health scheme which Sir “ Blank “ Page has said that he proposes te put into operation, but we have not yet been given the information for which we have asked. It will not be denied that a proposed national health scheme is a matter of importance and that we are entitled to ask for information about it.
Last week, many questions were directed to the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) in connexion with the possibility or probability of this Government doing something in an endeavour to achieve a speedy settlement of the railways strike in Victoria and South Australia. Honorable senators made earnest and genuine inquiries about what the Governmentcould do to expedite a settlement of thaidispute, but the Attorney-General gave them no indication of what the Government had done or intended to do. In replying to the questions, all that he did was to shelter under the limitations imposed upon the Government by the Constitution in relation to industrial disputes. I admit that the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) and the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) usually try to give reasonable replies to questions directed to them which relate to matters coming within their jurisdiction, but it i9 very disturbing to notice how many questions upon the notice-paper remain unanswered for a long time. Not long ago there was an all-time record of 36 unanswered questions on the notice-paper. To-day, there are two questions upon the notice-paper standing in my name to which I have not yet received a reply. One of them was asked approximately a fortnight ago. Both questions relate to matters of importance’. I do not, so to speak, pick these things out of the air. It is reasonable to suppose that when an honorable senator asks a question he does so because he believes that he is under an obligation to endeavour to secure the information for which he as-ks. Question No. 23 on the notice-paper, which stands in my name, relates to lighthouse employees who come within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth. It will be admitted that lighthouse employees perform an important public duty and undertake a very responsible task. It has been brought to my notice that they are required to work 56 hours in a week before they become eligible to be paid overtime. That is not fair treatment. That question has been upon the notice-paper for at least a fortnight. I do not suggest that lighthouse employees will cause industrial trouble owing to their grievance in relation to overtime, because they are too loyal to do so, but it is irritating them. If questions of that kind are asked, surely the Minister concerned is under an obligation to endeavour to expedite replies to them.
The other question on the notice-paper which stands in my name was asked some time ago and relates to a matter that is causing much perturbation among Australian trade unionists at the present time. If and when the Government puts its compulsory military training scheme into operation, there is a possibility that some of the new Australians who have come to this country from overseas will take the places in industry that are now occupied by lads who will be sent to military camps for periods of from three to six months to undergo military training. The fact that that question has not yet been answered indicates that Ministers of this Government treat questions asked by honorable senators on this side of the chamber in a cavalier fashion. It is apparent that Ministers endeavour to make as much political capital as possible out of questions asked them by honorable senators on this side of the chamber. There have been many instances of discourtesy by some Ministers when replying to questions. I submit that while there is no obligation on Ministers to answer questions, in the public interest they are in duty bound to do so. A moral obligation devolves upon them to furnish answers as expeditiously as possible. I contend that, whenever possible, in order to uphold the dignity of the Senate, Ministers should furnish information in reply to questions promptly and correctly.
– In view of the grave crisis that is confronting this country at the present time, the subject of the motion before the Senate is of vital concern to all honorable senators. Although Ministers have sought the co-operation of the Opposition to increase production and help to restore the economic stability of this country, they have been evasive in their replies to questions asked by honorable senators on this side of the chamber. I point out that many questions that I have asked have been inspired by representations that have been made to me by people, who, unfortunately, voted for the election of the present Government. If the Ministers were sincere, they would go to endless trouble and inconvenience in order to be able to furnish promptly adequqate answers to questions.
Although the Government has negotiated a dollar loan, Ministers have been reluctant to furnish particulars of it to the Senate. Only last week I again asked a Minister to inform honorable senators of the Government’s reason for obtaining this loan, because, for the life of me, I could not understand why it was necessary. Furthermore, many people have asked me in the street to inform them why it was necessary to obtain a dollar loan, in view of the fact that the previous Labour Government had not considered that course necessary. Although the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) wa3 acclaimed by the press for his successful negotiation of the loan, I am of the opinion that his predecessors in that office could have obtained a dollar loan it any time had they chosen to ask for it. I understand that portion of the proceeds of the loan will be applied to the purchase from the United States of America of railway carriages for use in the outback areas of Australia.
– What is wrong with the outback?
– Although the dollar rate of exchange is unfavorable to Australia, we are borrowing dollars in order to import railway carriages for use on the outback railways.
– People in the outback areas are entitled to good railway facilities.
– It is a pity that anti-Labour governments did so “little in that connexion years ago. However, one of the most essential needs of the community to-day is housing, and many people in this country consider that it would have been preferable for the Government to borrow essential building requisites, such as timber, rather than to borrow, dollars to purchase railway carriages. It was evident to me from the reply of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) to a question that I asked recently “about the dollar loan that he was not conversant with the reasons why the Government negotiated the loan. He was unable to tell me how the proceeds of the loan were to be expended.
I asked another Minister recently what was the reason for instructions being issued to the Postal Department to curtail its development. I point out that thousands of people have applied for telephones. Yet, when I drew the attention of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), who represents the Postmaster-General in this chamber, to the fact that development of the Postal Department was being restricted, he denied that that was so. I received a reply in the usual terms from the Minister for Repatriation, that the present Government would safeguard the interests of the Australian people. I remind the Minister that during the regime of a former anti-Labour government of the same ilk as the party that the Minister supports, but bearing an alias, although both labour and materials were available, the government of the day neglected to carry out essential maintenance work on Postal Department buildings.
– When was that?
– Order ! The Minister is not in order asking questions.
– - I was merely seeking information in a courteous manner.
– During the adminstration of the Lyons and Menzies governments, the maintenance of buildings and equipment belonging to the Postal Department was sadly neglected. In the past, in the capacity of estimating foreman, I have prepared thousands of estimates for extending telephone services to people of this country, but in many instances, those estimates were merely pigeon-holed. With the exception of the present Leader of the
Opposition (Senator Ashley) and Senator Cameron, both former PostmastersGeneral, the late Senator Gibson was the only Postmaster-General who assisted the people of this country in that connexion. I should be prepared to produce to anyhonorable senator proof of my assertion that Postal Department buildings were badly neglected in various parts of this country.
– Why did not the Labour Government attend to the matter when it was in office?
– Since the cessation of hostilities in 1945, the demand for extensions and maintenance has been accelerated. I give great credit to ex-Senator Gibson, who strove during his period in office to provide better facilities for the people of Australia. Had the Lyons and Menzies Administrations of the past taken steps to improve telephone facilities for the people, the present chaotic state of affairs would have been obviated.
– How many people applied for telephones during that period but could not get them ?
– During the administration of the non-Labour parties, the people could not afford to pay to be connected with telephone services. When the Chifley Government was in power-
– The honorable senator is merely a big bluff.
– During the Chifley Administration Ministers regarded as their foremost duty the furnishing of answers to questions directed to them. Whenever questions were asked about telephone services, ministerial staffs were directed to prepare answers immediately. I suggest that at no time during the regime of the Curtin and Chifley Labour governments were 26 questions allowed to remain on the notice-paper unanswered.
– There were only three honorable senators sitting in Opposition at that time.
– When Labour was in power, Ministers knew their departments intimately. As honorable senators are aware, the only Minister in this chamber now who knows anything about the department that he administers is the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner). At least, he is capable of supplying intelligent answers about matters administered by his department. As I have already pointed out in this chamber, there is grave unrest in all States about the probable outcome of the railways strike in Victoria and South Australia. I do not suggest that the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) could overcome the present unrest forthwith, but he could keep the Senate fully informed of developments so that honorable senators would be in possession of the latest available information to communicate to delegations of their constituents at week-ends.
Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.
– As I was saying before the suspension of the sitting, the question asked of the Attorney-General related to the railway strike in Victoria and South Australia. I really believe that the Attorney-General is sympathetic, and it would satisfy members of the Opposition if he would say that whilst, for the moment, he believed that the Federal Government should not intervene, he realized that there were merits on both sides of the dispute. We have been told through the press that the Railways Commissioners in Victoria are at fault. We have also been told that the railway men are at fault. If members of the Government were to give more information in answer to questions, and were to declare an attitude towards the dispute, they would be more likely to win the sympathetic cooperation of the workers. Opposition senators do not ask questions idly, but generally because some outside person or organization has approached them on the subject. In the main, those who are suffering as a result of the strike are tha people whom Opposition senators represent in this chamber, and they would like the Government to state its attitude towards this strike. When the Labour party was in office, it was always attacked for not doing something to put an end to strikes. Some strikes are intranstate, and are, therefore, the sole concern of the State governments concerned. The present railway strike is an interstate dispute, and is, therefore, properly the concern of the Commonwealth.
Senator O’Flaherty was justified in raising this matter because, never since the present Government has been in office, have we been able to rely upon getting satisfactory answers to questions. Members of the Opposition should not be treated like school children. It should be remembered that we represent a very large proportion of the electors. When Ministers are discourteous to members of the Opposition, they are discourteous also to those who voted to send us here, and even to some of their own supporters, who approach us from time to time for information. Members of the Opposition have not been actuated by spleen in raising this issue, and I hope that, as the result of this discussion, Ministers will in future bo more helpful. They should treat members of the Opposition as they themselves were treated when they were in opposition.
– I support Senator O’Flaherty’ s motion the discussion of which affords us an opportunity to air our grievances. Whether justifiably or not, members of the Opposition have felt that Ministers have not given proper consideration to the questions asked in this chamber. I should be the first to admitthat the behaviour of Ministers has been much better during the present sessional period than it was previously. However, during the first sessional period, they were most unhelpful when dealing with questions asked by members of the Opposition. Indeed, some Ministers were quite rude. Obviously, their rudeness was a cloak for ignorance. They did not know the answers to questions and, instead of admitting as much, they tried to score off the questioner, even when, there was no political implication in the question itself. Sometimes, members of the Opposition who asked questions were simply bashed down by Ministers. It is no disgrace for a Minister not to know the answer to a question. Ministers, particularly those who have only recently taken up their portfolios, cannot be expected to know all the administrative details associated with their departments. Admittedly, many questions asked by the Opposition members have a propaganda value, and that is true of a good many of the answers given by Ministers. However, the fact that a question is asked for propaganda purposes does not justify a Minister in answering it rudely.
Question time in the Senate and in the House of Representatives is a testing time for members of the Government. It is during question time that private members have an opportunity to learn how well Ministers know their departments. They are judged on the way they deal with questions asked without notice. I know of no other parliament in the world where question time assumes the same importance as it does in this Parliament. Although Ministers are not required by the Standing Orders to answer questions without notice, the tradition of the Parliament demands that they answer to the best of their ability. When prominent international visitors attend the sittings of either House of this Parliament, they are amazed at the barrage of questions fired at Ministers without notice. It is the duty of Ministers to uphold the tradition of the Parliament in regard to questions. We know that in the British House of Commons questions are never asked without notice. They are submitted in written form, and examined closely by departmental officers before a written answer is supplied. Even in the State parliaments of Australia little time is devoted to the asking of questions without notice. In this Parliament, the weaknesses of Ministers are exposed during question time, and that is all to the good. Certain qualifications are expected of Ministers, and if a Minister lacks those qualities, the sooner the’ fact becomes known the better. As I have said, a Minister cannot be expected to know all the answers, but if he cannot give an answer offhand, and asks that the question by put on the notice-paper, it is his duty to see that the answer is forthcoming as quickly as possible, so that the question may be taken off the noticepaper without undue delay. When a question remains for a long time on the notice-paper, it is evident that the Minister concerned is not doing his job properly. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) said that no question on the current notice-paper of the Senate had been there more than twelve sitting days, but twelve sitting days represents practically a month, which is too long for any question to be on the notice-paper unless the answering of it requires intensive and prolonged research. In general, no question should be on the notice-paper for more than two weeks.
Some time ago, I asked the Minister for Trade and Customs whether it was true that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) had been refused permission to enter Korea. The question related to a matter of public interest, because newspaper stories had been published to the effect that permission to make such a visit had been refused the Prime Minister. In my opinion, an official statement should have been made on the subject, seeing that our soldiers have been fighting in Korea. A plain “Yes” or “No” could have been given in answer to that question as no research was required. The question has now been on the notice-paper for three weeks. If the Minister thought that the question was offensive, or involved a matter of policy, he should have said so. Instead, he asked me to put the question on the notice-paper, and there it has been ever since. Sometimes, it is necessary for a Minister to keep his officers up to the mark in order to get information with which to answer questions. However, that could not possibly apply to my question about the Prime Minister. The answer could have been obtained by making a simple telephone call. Whether the question will be answered next week I do not know. Time alone will tell.
I should like Ministers to understand that this motion has not been idly submitted, but has the backing of all members of the Opposition. We have no wish, when asking questions, to go beyond what is allowed by the Standing Orders. Even if we sometimes make mistakes - and we are not all authorities on parliamentary procedure - it is still the duty of the Minister concerned to supply the information if he is able to do so. When the Labour Government was in office, the Opposition in this chamber numbered only three. Most of the questions, and some of the most difficult ones, came from the Government’s own supporters Labour Ministers recognized that whether questions were asked by their own supporters or by members of the Opposition,, answers should be furnished when possible, and should be given publicly in the Senate. Answers supplied privately in writing have not the same publicity value as those given on the floor of the chamber. As I have said, if Ministers do not know the answers to questions, there is no shame in saying that they do not know. The bigger the man, the more readily will he confess, if need be, that he does not know,, but it is then his duty to obtain the information as quickly as possible, and tomake it available without delay.
– I support Senator O’Flaherty’s motion. So far, only one Minister - in fact only one honorable senator on the Government side of the chamber - has spoken in this debate. In the course of what was a very brief reply, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) furnished some very strikingexamples of the behaviour to which the Opposition has been objecting all the afternoon. He referred to members of the Opposition as “ pigeons “. He then complained that members of the Opposition were “ wingeing “. I do not know quite how he associates “ pigeons “ with “ wingeing”, but both of the terms were, I suggest, quite improper ones for a Minister, let alone a Minister who is the Leader of the Government in this chamber, to apply to members of what is not only the largest party in the Senate, but also the largest party in the Commonwealth Parliament. The Minister sought to dismiss the Opposition’s objections with the broad and entirely incorrect statement that most questions asked by honorable senators on this, side of the chamber were facetious, offensive, or loaded with propaganda. My reply to that is that there is no need for any Minister to reply to a purely facetious question, and that the President certainly can be relied on to ensure that no offensive question will bt allowed. Finally, all honorable senators will agree that we have seen ample evidence of the President’3 determination to interrupt a speaker on either side of the -chamber if he seeks to introduce too large an element of propaganda into hig question, or to include in it too large an area of statement of fact. If the* Minister for Trade and Customs will quietly ponder what my colleagues have said, and what I have already said in the course of my remarks, he will realize that utterances of the kind that he made in the Senate this afternoon do not endear him to the Opposition, but rather detract from the respect to which he is entitled as the Leader of the Government.
I concede at once the difficulty of Ministers, particularly those who are new to their portfolios, in answering questions that are directed to Ministers in the House of Representatives whom they represent in this chamber. One cannot expect a Minister who is merely representing an other Minister to be completely .familiar with all the details of an administration that is not under his own immediate jurisdiction, but I- join with Senator Armstrong in saying that it is not enough for a Minister in this chamber to pass on a question that has been asked of him in the Senate to the responsible Minister in the House of Representatives. It is the plain duty of the Minister in this chamber to follow the matter up out of courtesy to the Senate and to the particular senator who has sought the information. Ministers in this chamber should insist upon being kept posted with the activities of the departments of Ministers whom they represent. In short, I put it to the Government that there is a personal responsibility on each of its Ministers to ensure that a prompt and comprehensive answer will be given to any question that is asked in the Senate, whether it comes under his own immediate purview or not.
Senator O’Flaherty’s motion deals with the discourtesy of Ministers to honorable senators who ask questions in this chamber. Senator O’Flaherty has particularized three heads of discourtesy - failure to answer, evasiveness, and undue delay. I propose to take each charge separately. Let us look first at the allegation that there has been failure to answer questions. The Opposition concedes immediately the right of a Minister to refuse to answer any question. There can b<? no argument about that; but if the King’s Ministers in this Parliament are to adopt the attitude that they will not answer questions directed to them by members of His Majesty’s Opposition, this legislature, and the parliamentary institution, will have reached a very low level. Fortunately, Ministers do not adopt that attitude. They are ready to answer questions and, as Senator Armstrong has said, it is a tradition of our parliamentary institution that they should do so. Therefore, they recognize the practice, and on occasions, Ministers have even answered questions relating to matters of policy when it has suited them to do so. So, there is a very broad field for questioning, as Ministers themselves have already acknowledged. I may say that the Opposition has no objection to smart answers being given when smart questions have been asked. That is quite fair; but, in the course of the numerous speeches that have been made from this side of the chamber to-day, the Opposition has been able to establish a powerful case in support of the charge that there has been failure to answer questions. I have only to refer to Senator O’Flaherty ‘s own experience. The honorable senator asked a question on the 24th October, and the answer was given by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) in the press on the 26th October. A further answer was broadcast on the 6th November, yet the honorable senator himself and this Senate, have still not been given the information directly.
– I asked a question on the 4th October and I still have .not had an answer.
– Many honorable senators are in the same position. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) asked a question relating to the installation of duplex telephone lines, and it was answered a few days later in the House of Representatives. Reference has been made by several speakers to the failure of the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) to provide information that has been sought in this chamber. I myself have asked questions that not only have been completely evaded, but also have produced no results whatever. Almost every honorable senator on this side of the chamber has, at some time, asked a question of the Minister representing the Minister for Health on the vastly important subject of national health. Although the sittings of the Parliament have extended over many weeks this year, it is completely correct to say that no statement on national health has been made to either House; yet one can pick up a newspaper almost any day and read that the Minister for Health has been making speeches all over the countryside on this subject. For instance, the British Commonwealth Medical Congress held in Brisbane on the 23rd May of this year heard a lengthy statement from the right honorable gentleman in which he described what he was pleased to term the national health proposals of his Government. That statement was never presented to the Parliament. Neither House of the Parliament has had an opportunity to discuss the Government’s health plans. As recently as the 1st November, the Canberra Times published a statement that the free medical treatment and free medicine scheme for pensioners which had been due to begin on that date had been postponed for some months. That information surely should have been communicated first to the Parliament, particularly in the light of the many questions that had been asked on the subject. The Opposition has no objection to statements being given to the press when the Parliament is not sitting or after the information has been given to the Parliament. The whole gravamen of the Opposition’s case against the Government is that there is a tendency - I might describe it as a strong characteristic rather than a tendency - on the part of Ministers, particularly those who Are only represented in this chamber, and who must themselves accept full responsibility, to make statements on the most important matters outside the halls of the Parliament and such statements are often the first intimation that members of the Parliament receive on those matters. That matter was not even mentioned by the Minister for Trade and Customs and I claim that the Opposition has driven its point home. We can only assume that there is no answer. Certainly the Minister for Trade and Cus- toms did not attempt to give an answer, and we must conclude that he and his colleagues accept culpability in this very important matter which involves grave discourtesy to this chamber and particularly to members of the Opposition. The Minister for Trade and Customs asked whether any honorable senator could point to instances of discourtesy. There could be no greater discourtesy to a member of this chamber than to publish answers to his questions in the press before they are given in the Senate.
I come now to the second head of criticism contained in the motion.
– The Chifley Government did not tell the Parliament of its intention to nationalize the banks.
– The Minister is giving one more example of the behaviour to which the Opposition is objecting. He is again displaying his readiness to interject when another honorable senator has the floor. I invite him to ponder that comment, together with my earlier remarks. The second point of Senator O’Flaherty’s indictment is that Ministers have evaded answering questions. I doubt whether any other member of this chamber asks as few questions as I do. I have my own reasons for that, but I am not prepared to go into them now. However, I recall putting a series of questions to the Minister for Health through his representative in this chamber, and if honorable senators opposite want a sample of evasiveness, just let me tell them what happened on that occasion. My first three questions related to a conference between the Minister for Health and representatives of the British Medical Association and other organizations, in Melbourne. The remainder of my questions were as follows: -
I invite responsible Ministers who are present in the Senate to-night to listen to the answer that I received and to say whether they can justify the obvious evasion. The whole answer to the seven questions was as follows : -
Conferences were held in Melbourne on the 17th and I8th January with representatives of the British Medical Association, the Pharmaceutical Guild and the Friendly Societies, and subsequent conferences have been held with representatives of these bodies. The Senate will be fully informed of the results of deliberations when finality has been reached.
I could not present a more damning indictment in support of the allegation of evasiveness than that answer itself presents. I could develop that theme at considerable length if time permitted. Senator O’Flaherty has alleged also tha* there has been undue delay in the answering of questions. My colleagues have already furnished many examples of such delay. Perhaps the most striking example was given by Senator Armstrong, who pointed out that he had asked in this chamber whether the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) had been refused entry into Korea. Over a period of weeks, there has been no vestige of an answer to that question, which requires only a direct “Yes” or “No”. As Opposition speakers have already shown, on many occasions answers to questions asked in the Senate have been made through the press, over the air, or to outside bodies, which shows plainly that the answers are available although they were not given in this chamber. There is complete proof of the third count in the motion proposed by Senator O’Flaherty. We feel very strongly on this matter and we invite the Government to take notice of the case that we have presented.
– Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– I have listened carefully to the speeches made by Opposition senators in this debate. The Government does not object to criticism. It concedes that it is the function of the Opposition to criticize, but it insists that criticism must be fair and that it would come better from those who themselves are blameless. Senator O’Flaherty has said that one of the reasons why he proposed this motion was to direct attention to what he described as unwarranted delay on the part of Ministers in answering questions and also to the number of questions of which notice is asked. The notice-paper for to-day contains 26 questions. This Senate now consists of 60 members. I have taken the trouble to examine the number of questions that appeared on the notice-paper in the period 1947-49 when the present Opposition was in office as the government and when the Senate consisted of only 36 members, of whom only three were members of the Opposition. Having regard to the difference between the numerical strength of the Senate then and now the number of questions then placed on the notice-paper was greater than it is to-day. At that time the Opposition was treated with scant courtesy. The notice-paper for the 21st November, 1947, contained thirteen questions. For the succeeding sitting days the numbers were 12, 15, 14, and 15 respectively. On one day, of the fifteen questions on the notice-paper, twelve were asked by the three members of the Opposition and the remaining three by supporters of the Government. Thus, it is nothing new for a large number of questions to appear on the notice-paper of the Senate.
I propose now to say a few words regarding the charge of the Opposition that Ministers have been guilty of delay in furnishing answers to questions asked by Opposition senators. On Wednesday, the 1 2th October, 1949, 1- placed on the noticepaper two simple questions which related to the late Sir Charles Kingsford Smith’s aeroplane, the Southern Cross. At the time I thought that the information which I sought could be obtained by the responsible Minister in a telephone conversation with one of H3 officers. The questions which I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Air were -
Has the Minister read a report in the Sydney Morning Herald of 6th October that the late Sir Charles Kingsford Smith’s famous plane, the Southern Cross, is at present housed in a back hangar at the Kingsford Smith Aerodrome, Mascot, and, according to the newspaper . report. “ is dust-covered and a home for rats”?
Was it the intention of the government to house the Southern Cross permanently at the National War Memorial, Canberra; if so will the Minister give instructions that the plane be kept free from deterioration until arrangements can be made for its permanent resting place*
The furnishing of the desired information should not have presented any great difficulty. The Minister might have answered the questions either in. the affirmative or in the negative, or he might have informed me what the Government proposed to do about the matter. The Parliament was adjourned on the 27th October, and as far as 1 am aware those questions have not been answered to this day. That is an example of what occurred when honorable senators opposite were in government. I can only conclude that this debate forms part and parcel of the Opposition’s intention to delay the passage of government business in this chamber. Apparently honorable senators opposite are prepared to go to any lengths to frustrate the Government and to delay the passage of its legislation. They have no desire to proceed with the most important measure relating to the Commonwealth Bank which is listed on the notice-paper. They have the numbers and they use the weight of their majority to frustrate the Government at every turn. In this instance delay is camouflaged under the guise of a grievance relative to the answering of questions. Honorable senators opposite know very well that there is no basis for their charge and that questions are invariably answered by Ministers with courtesy, precision and despatch. For three hours to-day, honorable senators opposite have been groaning, moaning, and wasting the time of the Senate.
SenatorO’FLAHERTY (South Australia) [8.38]. - in reply - In his attempt to answer the charges that have been made during this debate, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) has indicted his own Government. He has said that he placed a question on the notice-paper on the 12th October, 1949, to which a reply has never been furnished. As a new government came into office almost immediately after he had placed the question on the noticepaper any blame attachable to any one for having failed to answer his question must be laid at the door of the Government.
– The Parliament continued to sit for nine days after my question first appeared on the noticepaper, but the question remained unanswered.
– The Minister has condemned his own Government for its failure to answer the question. The Minister for Trade and Customs (SenatorO’Sullivan) made no attempt to reply to the charge which I made that information which I had sought in a question had been furnished to the press and published two days after. But no answer had been supplied to me.
– I rise to order. I ask you to rule, Mr. President, whether the time allowed for this debate under Standing Order 65 has not already expired.
– Order! When the time allowed for the debate has expired, honorable senators will be duly notified by the Chair.
– Like the Caesars of old, the Minister has waved our complaints aside and has said, in effect, “I have spoken. You cannot argue about what I have said “. He has dealt with only one phase of the matters I have raised, and it was a political phase at that. I remind him that many of the Caesars of old were destroyed by their own companions and I warn him that there is a possibility that history will repeat itself.
Question put -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow, at 3.15 p.m.
The Senate divided. (The President -Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Spicer, through Senator O’Sullivan) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to revise the statute law of the Com- monwealth.
Debate resumed from the 2nd November (vide page 1827), on motion by SenatorSpooner -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– In the earlier part of my speech I dealt with objections that had been raised by various bodies throughout Australia to the setting up of a Commonwealth Bank Board, and I mentioned the objection of the Australian Wheatgrowers’ Federation, voiced at a meeting in Perth. That body objected to any move to set up a Commonwealth Bank Board similar to that introduced by Sir Earle Page in 1924. I had also mentioned that the Liberal party of Australia was not really in favour of the bill, that the Australian Labour party opposed it, and that the man in the street, speaking by and large, was quite uninterested in whether there was a board of five, or fifty members or whether the bank remained under the guidance of a governor. I travelled to Western Australia during the week-end, and I learned that yet anotherbody had placed my name on its mailing list. I have here a copy of the Banker, which. in the issue of September, under the heading “ Re-constitution of the Commonwealth Bank Board sets out various objections. Whilst I do not necessarily agree with the article’ in all its aspects, I intend to quote rather fully from it because it sets out the views ofbank officers on this matter. The article states -
In the article appearing in the Hanker of May, 1950, five indisputable reasons were given in extenuation of the case for employee representation and it is not the intention to recapitulate such reasons here.
It must be noted that the resolution referred to above was passed by the Executive prior to the bill being debated in the committee stages in Parliament, and when the full amendments were unknown.
However, when the bill was tabledthere appeared therein a brief clause which vitally concerns every employee in the banking industry. The wording of this clause (Clause No. 26) is as follows: - “ A person who is a director or employee of a corporation (other than the Bank) the business of which is wholly or mainly that of banking shall not be capable of appointment, or of continuing to act, as a member of the Board “.
Here it must be remembered that the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, embracing as it docs the Central Reserve Bank, governs the destiny of every employee within the Blanking industry throughout the Commonwealth.
Clause 20 negatives representation upon the Commonwealth Bank Board of a selected banking employees representative, and denies the employees within the whole of the banking industry their inalienable right of having one of its number, versed in the practical working of the industry, to assist the board in formulation of policy and, at the same time, exercise that necessary duty ofsafe guarding the interests of the employeeswithin their industry.
The incorporation in a bill governing an industry of a clause denying employee representation upon aboard governing such industry is perhaps unique in the history of industrial legislation in the Commonwealth. It may be argued that the proposed board is quite divorced from an industrial board as is generally envisaged, but on the facts, this is not so.
The proposed board has the destiny of every employee in every Bank in its hands, as well as having the financial destiny of every citizen of the Commonwealth in its control . . . . . It is in the interest of the Commonwealth as a whole, as well as in the interests of employees in the banking industry (the vast majority of whom are members of a registered industrial union, employed in trading banks, various State banks, and State savings banks) that the Commonwealth Bank Board should have amongst its personnel representation from the employees in the Banking Industry.
Every bank employee is entreated to assist the Executive of the United Bank Officers’ Association in its efforts to have removed from the Bill this disqualification clause, which denies to employees in their industry a right enjoyed by employees of all other industries of having” employee representation upon any Hoard governing the constitution, policy and management of such industry.
The next page of the publication set« out correspondence which has passed between the general secretary of that body and the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). The final letter was a reply from the Prime Minister to the effect that he could not pass a personal opinion, because it was a matter for Cabinet.
While I do not necessarily agree with the views advanced by the Bank Officers Association, I think that article provides an added reason why all the discontent concerning the proposed bank board should be discussed in an effort to formulate an acceptable method of conducting the operations of the Commonwealth Bank. I believe that it is time for Australia to emulate some of the other countries of the world, where certain matters of public interest are lifted far above party politics. As I have already said, such matters as constitutional reform should invariably be approached on a non-political basis, because variations of the Constitution do not give to one political party any greater rights than to any other party. During the regimes of the Curtin and Chifley Governments certain referendums were put before the people, and they were rejected. They were bitterly fought by the Liberal and Australian Country parties. Had those proposed amendments been approved, in accordance with the wishes of the government of the day, those powers for good or evil would be in the hands of the Government to-day.
In dealing with this measure, I feel that some way should be found to settle the difficulty for all time, and to permit those bodies throughout Australia, which have shown sufficient interest to pass resolutions at their Australiawide conferences to present their views. I think it would be pure folly and pig-headedness on the part of the Government to attempt to push through a bill which has met with such universal disapproval. It would be the height of good sense and good statesmanship, even at this stage, and after all the heat that has been engendered, to examine on a nonparty basis the opinions’ that have been put forward. The Parliament has every justification for making an investigation, because the Commonwealth Bank has been in existence since 1911, and private trading banks have operated at a very efficient standard for many years. There are efficient State banks unobtrusively performing magnificent work for the various States. Before my election to this Parliament, I had occasion, when I acted as an industrial officer, to become acquainted with the officers of a State trading bank, and also of private banks, and thereafter to inquire into conditions pertaining in the Commonwealth Bank. There is available a great reservoir of opinion, access to which is being denied to the Parliament at this time. I have grave doubts about the correctness of the views stated in the article I have quoted, but it seems to me that those people who have shown such interest, and who have a knowledge of the background to this subject, should be given some opportunity to make their views known to a select committee which would report back to this chamber.
When the debate was adjourned last week, I was dealing with what I considered to be the reason why the Australian Labour party, and indeed why people such as the members of the Australian Wheatgrowers’ Federation, should pass resolutions condemning the setting up of a Commonwealth Bank Board. Many Australians throw up their hands in horror when they look back to the days of 1931, and I consider that the reason for the antagonism to this measure is to be found in the happenings of that period. The Commonwealth Bank was established in 1911, and a Commonwealth Bank Board was set up in 1924. I have quoted the remarks of Sir Earle Page, because he said at that time, that he felt that the bank was not carrying out the duties of a government bank, but was merely acting in competition with private trading banks. We know that such views have changed somewhat since then, because the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in his policy speech, stated that if the parties for which he was speaking were returned to power they would continue to allow the Commonwealth Bank to enter into fair competition with the private trading hanks. I consider that that change of opinion has been for the good. There is no disgrace in changing one’s mind. It simply means that one is so much wiser to-day than yesterday. I have no doubt that there would be complete agreement on both sides of this chamber with the statement that the Commonwealth Bank should compete with private trading banks in a fair manner. But in 1924, that was not the view of certain individuals who are now members of the Government. In the words of Sir Earle Page, a Commonwealth Bank Board was specifically established to prevent the bank from competing with private trading banks. It carried out that purpose very effectively. The bank board could not be blamed for doing so, because it was performing its duty and carrying out instructions. The test of individuals, as of organizations, is how they behave when subjected to pressure in a time of crisis. When pressure was applied to it. the Commonwealth Bank Board behaved in a way that was not to the liking of the great majority of the Australian people. The government of the day had decided, rightly or wrongly, that there should be a fiduciary note issue of £18,000,000. As much scare was associated with the word “ fiduciary “ at that time as accompanied the word “ socialization “ in 1949, but now a fiduciary note issue is normal financial practice. In 1931, the government decided that there should be a fiduciary note issue, with the very laudable objective of relieving the distress from which the Australian people were then suffering. There may have been in the Parliament at that time people who entertained grave doubts about the Government’s approach to the problem, and I have no quarrel with them about that. As I said on a previous occasion, a parliament is a place in which grievances should be aired and the representatives of the people should express their views clearly and fearlessly. But what the Australian people took exception to was the contumelious letter that was sent by the Commonwealth Bank
Board to the Australian Government, in which the board said, in effect, that, irrespective of what the Parliament decided, it would not make available the money necessary to enable the Government to do what it had decided to do. That was an intolerable position in Australia or any other democratic country. Undoubtedly, parliaments make mistakes, but, notwithstanding that, when a parliament has spoken, effect should he given to its will. The basis of our objections to the Government’s proposal to establish a Commonwealth Bank board is the following extract from the letter that the bank board sent to the Government at that time: -
Subject to adequate and equitable reductions in all wages, salaries and allowances, pensions, social benefits of all kinds, interest and other factors which affect the cost of living, the Commonwealth Bank Board will actively cooperate with the trading banks and the Government of Australia in sustaining industry and restoring employment.
The board said, in other words, that if the Government did not take what, with our present knowledge of economics we know was the fatal step of reducing the purchasing power of the people further, thus throwing more able-bodied persons on to the industrial scrap-heap, it would not co-operate with the trading banks and the Government or make available the finance that the Government, required. Is it any wonder that the words “ Commonwealth Bank Board “ cause people who lived in those dark days to entertain very bitter thoughts? That action is the basis of the objections that have been raised by honorable senators on this side of the chamber to the proposals in this measure relating to the re-establishment of the Commonwealth Bank Board.
By the quotations that I have made this evening and those that I made last week, I have shown that we are not alone in objecting to the proposed board. The clear and simple question is : What is wrong with the Commonwealth Bank today? Have any grave objections been raised to what it is doing at the present time? Has it been suggested that the rates of interest that it charges upon money lent for home-building purposes is too low and that in that respect it is competing unfairly with private financiers ? Is it suggested that some member* of the Advisory Council are not doing their jobs properly? Is the Governor of the bank not doing what the Government requires him to do? Are the activities of the bank not conducted as efficiently as the Government desires? It would be easy for the Government to say that it wants the hank to be more efficient, but probably any body could improve its efficiency. It is the duty of the Government to say something more specific than that, by this measure, it is trying only to improve the efficiency of the bank.
I ask honorable senators opposite, in all seriousness, whether they expect the members of the proposed board to work together harmoniously. Five of the members of the board have been referred to as the “ Phantom Five “, because we do not know who they will be. Presumably, it is not the intention of the Government that they shall all be drawn from one industry. The bill forbids the Government to appoint officials of private trading banks as members of the hoard, although it does not provide that if a person were to resign from a private trading bank to-day he could not be appointed to the board to-morrow. It is reasonable to assume that these five persons will be drawn from different walks of life. Would it be reasonable to ask a nian who had devoted the whole of his working life to the making of profits for the industry with which he was connected and to enhancing the prestige of that industry, to forget the whole of his past training and the things to which he had devoted so much of his industrial life and, as a member of the Commonwealth Bank Board, to make clear-cut decisions without permitting himself to be influenced by his past experiences? I do not think I am being unjust to anybody when I say that that would be too much to expect of any man. When I consider legislation that is before this chamber, I examine my own conscience. I do not know whether I should be ashamed to say bo, but, when I am considering legislation, my mind flies back to my past, to the people with whom I worked, to the days of the depression years when conditions were not good, to the people that I saw struggling beside me then, and to the people in the community that I know are not getting the fair deal that they should get in this fair land. My thoughts fly to those people because I have been associated with them and I know something of what they are going through. If I were a member of the Commonwealth Bank Board, my views upon every matter that came before the board would be coloured by my past experiences. I suggest that a captain of industry or a wealthy industrialist who was appointed to the board would also be influenced by his past experiences and previous industrial environment when considering any matter upon which the hoard was asked to decide.
Let us assume that the Commonwealth Bank Board was considering the appreciation of the Australian £1. Let us assume also that one member of the board was a man who had devoted the whole of his working life to the newspaper trade. Some newspaper executives, doubtless because they consider it to be in the best interests of Australia and of their industry, have conducted a well organized and very determined campaign for the appreciation of the Australian £1 to parity with sterling. Let us assume that another member of the board was a man who had devoted the whole of his working life to the export trade - a primary producer or one of the much maligned wool-producers. It would be too much to expect both of those men to view the proposal without bias and without having regard to its effect upon the industries about which they knew so much, the pals with whom they worked and the good friends that they made during their industrial lives. It would be too much to expect them to consider the matter only from the point of view of what would be best in the interests of Australia. Owing to the inevitable clash between the interests of various industries, especially in days of fierce competition when goods may not be so easy to sell as they are now, it would be almost impossible for the members of the Commonwealth Bank Board to work together harmoniously.
Although the Commonwealth Bank Bill has .been before the Parliament for some time, the Government has not yet given an indication of the industries from which the “ Phantom Five “ will be drawn. The bank officers’ association has1 pointed out that, under the bill, its members are specifically excluded from membership of the board. It says, rightly or wrongly - I do not propose to argue its case because it is quite capable of doing that itself - that the destiny of every employee of every bank in Australia will be bound up with the decisions of the board. Senator McCallum said recently that a government would not appoint Mahomedans to a .board to deal with pigs or Hindus to a board to deal with cows. It would be equally wrong to appoint five persons who, very probably, hated everything that was governmentally controlled or was a socialistic enterprise, to deal with a government bank that is doing an efficient job now and has been doing an efficient job since 1911, with the exception of a brief period from 1924 onwards when it was subject to the control of a board.
One would have to be in a very naive frame of mind to accept sub-section (1.) of proposed new section 9a.. which reads as follows : -
The Bank shall, from time to time, inform the Government of the monetary anil hanking policy of the Bank.
The words “ from time to time “ are not suggestive of an efficient way of keeping the Government informed upon those matters. Having regard to the arrogant attitude that was adopted by the Commonwealth Bank Board in 1931, it is not improbable that the board would say that the words “ from time to time “ meant that it should submit triennial reports. The words do not suggest that reports should be submitted regularly. We do not know whether the board would submit interim monthly reports, followed by an annual report, or whether it would submit quarterly or triennial reports. It is possible that if a crisis occurred - one which would not necessarily be known to the public, because financial crises are often not known to the public until it is too late for the people to do very muck about them - the board would interpret the words “ from time to time “ in a manner favorable to itself. It could make its decisions and not inform the Government of them. Then, when everything was going smoothly, it could say, “ We shall now make our report “. The Government would be hamstrung. I suggest to the Government that it should give further consideration to this subsection with a view to seeing whether it cannot be framed in more definite language. When persons are appointed as servants of the Government, they should be obliged to submit reports of their activities regularly not merely from time to time.
Sub-section (2.) of proposed new section 9a reads as follows: -
In the event of a difference of opinion between the Government and the Bank as to whether the monetary and banking policy ot the Bank is directed to the greatest advantage of the people of Australia, the Treasurer and the Board shall endeavour to reach agreement.
That is a very vague provision. The question of whether the monetary and banking policy of the bank is directed to the greatest advantage of the people of Australia is a matter of interpretation. There could be wide differences of opinion about the policy that should be pursued. Under this provision; decisions that we believe should be made by the Parliament could be made by the board acting on its own.
Proposed new section 9a continues - (3.) If the Treasurer and the Board are unable io reach agreement, the Board shall forthwith furnish to the Treasurer a statement in relation to the matter in respect of which the difference of opinion has arisen. (4.) The Treasurer may then submit a recommendation to the Governor-General, nml the Governor-General, acting with the advice of the Federal Executive Council, may, by order, determine the policy to be adopted by the Bank. (5.) The Treasurer shall inform the Bank of the policy so determined and shall at the same time inform the Bank that the Government accepts responsibility for the adoption by the Bank of that policy and will take such action (if any) within its powers as the Government considers to be necessary by reason of the adoption of that policy. (6.) The Bank shall thereupon give effect to the policy determined by the order and shall, if the order so requires, continue to give effect to that policy while the order remains in operation. (7.) The Treasurer shall cause to be laid before each House of the Parliament, within fifteen sitting days of that House after the Treasurer has informed the Bank of the policy determined under sub-section (4.) of this section -
If, for argument’s sake, the right honorable member for McPherson (Mr. Fadden), who happens to hold the portfolio of Treasurer at present, appointed five people of his own choosing to the proposed Commonwealth Bank Board, it is reasonable to assume that they would be persons with whom he considered that he would be able to get along well. As the age of flying saucers and miracles has not yet passed, let us assume that a dispute subsequently arose between the right honorable gentleman and the Commonwealth Bank Board. The Treasurer could reverse a decision of the board, and point out that the matter was no longer the board’s responsibility and that the board would have to do as it was told. Fifteen days later a report would be placed before the Parliament. I suggest that that procedure would be vastly different from what was envisaged by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who stated in his policy speech that important financial decisions would rest with the Parliament. For instance, although important readjustments such as an appreciation or devaluation of the currency were effected, the Parliament would not be informed of what had taken place until after the expiration of fifteen days. What could the Parliament do then? Even if a majority of members could be mustered in order to reverse the decision of the bank board, a chaotic state of affairs would develop. After the matter had been reported to the Parliament, the ensuing debate would probably occupy from three to four weeks, because many members of the Parliament have very strong feelings on this matter. The Parliament itself could then reverse the policy that the Treasurer had decided upon. But goodness only knows what the S’ock Exchange and other bodies vitally interested in financial fluctuations would have done in the meantime. Such a procedu « would pave the way for the greates speculation in the history of this country. I consider that proposed new section 9a should be withdrawn and re-drafted. I repeat, first, that the Bank Board could make a decision which it need not neces- sarily report to the government of the day. Secondly, after receipt of the board’s report, or after having learnt of its decision by “ bush wireless “ or some other means, the Treasurer could, if unable to reach agreement with the board, direct a reversal of its policy. Fifteen days later the matter would be reported to the Parliament which, perhaps three or four months afterwards, would again reverse the policy. The proposition is fantastic.
I shall now deal with an aspect of the matter that has not, to my knowledge, been thrashed out during the several occasions that the Senate has had an opportunity to debate this legislation. I refer to the fundamental difference between this chamber and the House of Representatives. The Senate cannot, constitutionally, amend money bills.
– Yes it can.
– The Senate can request the House of Representatives to change its opinion in relation to a money bill.
– The Senate can return a money bill to the House of Representatives with a request.
– The Senate may amend a money bill provided that the burden on the public is not increased.
– It is encouraging to know that we have a self-styled economist in our midst. Under the Constitution it is clear that the Senate has not the power to amend money bills, it may return them to the House of Representatives with requests. I am merely drawing attention to a Constitutional doubt that has been written into the bill that we are considering. I recollect that during a previous debate on this measure the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) stated, by interjection, that the Opposition could move a motion of no confidence in the Government. I remind honorable senators that in another place the movement of such a motion is a frequent occurrence. Honorable senators are well aware what usually happens then. The gag is applied at the discretion of the Government. Judging by the amiable countenance of the Prime Minister, he would not be perturbed even if a motion of no confidence in his Government were moved in connexion with matters concerning the finances of .this country. It is therefore apparent that two aspects of this measure are fundamentally weak. The first is that the Government has claimed erroniously that the Parliament would have the last say, because, as I have pointed out, the hands of the Parliament could be so tied that it would have difficulty in acting at all. Secondly, the Bank Board need not necessarily report to the Treasurer within a reasonable time. Under the “ time to time “ provision to which I have referred the board need not report to the Treasurer until months later ; in effect, it could tie his hands. This crystallizes my objection to the provision. The Opposition agrees wholeheartedly with the Prime Minister’s contention that the Parliament of the day should have the controlling interest in big financial matters. The Minister in charge of a department inevitably accepts the prime responsibility for decisions affecting the administration of his department. If the Minister for Social Services were to make a decision affecting his department it would not be necessary for him to parade the matter immediately before the Parliament, although, ultimately, he would do so. As honorable senators know, members of the Opposition are frequently placed in the position of having to ask questions in order to ascertain what decisions have been made in various departments. So much criticism has been levelled at the provisions of this bill by reason of varying points of view that it is obvious that the Australian people have no heart for the measure in its present form. There has also been criticism of the intention of the Opposition to refer the matter to a select committee. However, I consider that that is the only way in which an honest decision on this measure can be reached.
– Why not let the people decide it?
– Senator Gorton is president of the “ No Dissolution “ party !
– I shall reserve my remarks about the possible reaction of the electors to a double dissolution until later. However, the honorable senator’s interjection shows clearly the cowardice that has characterized this Government’s actions since it was elected to office.
The fundamental weakness of this measure furnishes the Senate with an indication of the kind of bill that would be passed by this chamber if the present Government commanded a majority in the Senate. Contrary to a fallacy in certain quarters a double dissolution would result not in this bill being cleaned up, but in the passage of a worse measure, because honorable senators opposite are influenced by the banks which financed their last election campaign. I remind the Government that the Australian wheat-growers are not satisfied with this bill. The Liberal party is divided on its provisions, and ten years were taken from the life of the Minister for Social Services when he was “ put on the mat “ in connexion with it. Furthermore, the biggest political party in this country - I refer to the Australian Labour party - is not satisfied with the measure. Therefore it is time that something was done about this bill. I have dealt with the political implications of the measure and drawn attention to obvious fundamental weaknesses. As Senator Cooke pointed out the other evening, the proposal to refer the matter to a select committee is in line with a proposal that was adopted in connexion with another matter in 1931. As I have implied before, the members of the proposed select committee would bring to bear a vast experience of banking in this country, including the activities of the Central Reserve Bank and State banks. Every opportunity should be afforded for such a committee to consider the measure thoroughly in an objective manner.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired..
Motion (by Senator Ward) put -
That Senator Willesee be granted an extension of time for thirty minutes.
The Senate divided. (The Deputy President1 - Senator T. M. Nicholls.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
The Government is proposing to hand over to a board responsibility that it should bear itself. The Government should claim control of the Commonwealth Bank, and see that it is administered in the best interests of the people. The directors of a private trading bank, concerned only with making profits for shareholders, view the financial problems of the nation in a different light from that of men charged with the responsibility of administering a great national institution such as the Commonwealth Bank. The decision of the directors of private banks are directed towards the making of immediate profits. Those administering the Commonwealth Bank are required to make decisions which may involve an immediate loss, but which will be to the ultimate advantage of the Australian people. Public servants are a much maligned class. They are sometimes referred to disparagingly as bureaucrats, but there are some very able men in the Public Service. For the purpose of this discussion, I regard the officers of the Commonwealth Bank as public servants. Many of them have been trained from their youth in the service of the hank. They have no financial interests to serve except those of the bank that employs them. They look for no financial reward except their salaries. The directors of a private hank are responsible to shareholders who, in turn, are concerned only with dividends and, share values. It would be wrong to hand over the control of the Commonwealth Bank to men who have been executives in private banks, but there is nothing in the bill to prevent the Government from appointing to the Commonwealth Bank Board persons who, at some time in their careers, have held positions with private banks. If it is right to appoint to the board representatives of the gold-mining, grazing and iron and steel industries, then there is probably a case for appointing representatives of the private banks. I maintain, however, that no representative of a private bank should have anything to do with the management of the Commonwealth Bank, which is a purely government institution. Those who administer the Commonwealth Bank should not be influenced by sectional interests. Their only concern should be the national good.
This bill has political implications, and arises out of the dangerous practice of making silly promises at election time. During the heat of an election campaign, the leaders of political parties are apt to make statements designed to tickle the ears of the groundlings, and to win votes. That is a short-sighted policy, because the person who lacks the courage, even on the eve of an election, to say what he thinks is not likely to last long in politics. The people are becoming better educated, and are taking a keener interest in public affairs. The promises made by the anti-Labour parties during the last election campaign ranged from alpha to omega. The Government must now honour its promises or say, “ Circumstances have changed. It is not in the best interest of Australia that we should do what we promised to do “. The antiLabour parties created public hysteria over the Banking Act of 1945, and the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said that if he were returned to power he would have it repealed. Well, he has not the courage to do so, because that legislation has proved so effective. However, the Government believes that it must do something in the way of amendin banking legislation, although hardly anybody in Australia really wants it to do anything of the kind. The great bulk of the people do not want the present method of administering the Commonwealth Bank to be changed. They know that, since 1945, the bank has functioned as a people’s bank to a greater degree than ever before. It is now possible for the man who wants to buy a truck with which to start a carrying business or from which to help to sell rabbits to get a loan from the Commonwealth Bank.
Somebody said, by way of interjection, earlier in my speech, “ Let us have a double dissolution “. A peculiar position has arisen in this Parliament since the last elections. The Government has not even attempted to govern. Legislation for which there is an urgent need has been held back to give priority to the Communist Party Dissolution Bill, and the Commonwealth Bank Bill, each of which has been introduced with a double dissolution of the Parliament in mind. We were told that there would be no amendment of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill, but that stand was very soon abandoned. We are told that the
Commonwealth. Bank Bill involves a vital principle, but the only principle that I can see is the very wrong one of handing over the administration of the bank to an outside body. Now, honorable senators opposite say, “ Let us have a double dissolution on this bill”. The hostility between the two chambers of this legislature is quite unnecessary. Surely, as level-headed men and women, we can get together and resolve our differences. A double dissolution would achieve nothing. In three years’ time, the present position in the Parliament may be reversed. A continuance of the present discord between the Houses can only lead to the destruction of the parliamentary system, which is the very core of democracy. Time after time, Ministers in this chamber, instead of directing their remarks to the measures under discussion, have launched attacks upon the Opposition. On almost every day on which the proceedings of this chamber have been broadcast, the Minister for Trade and Customs has submitted motions that have given him an opportunity to broadcast purely political propaganda to the people of this country. One would almost think that we had reached the last fortnight of an election campaign. We are constantly hearing the stupid things that members of the present Government parties usually say at election time. Few honorable senators opposite have dealt with legislation on its merits. It is time they endeavoured to do so. On one occasion last week, the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner), when speaking in reply to the secondreading debate on a certain measure, said that he proposed to deal with all the points that had been raised by the Opposition. He then proceeded to deal with only two points out of which he could endeavour to make political capital. The tendency to use this chamber solely as a means of forcing a double dissolution is deplorable. The double dissolution provisions of the Constitution were not devised merely to permit some politician to get himself out of an awkward spot. Their purpose is to provide means of overcoming an honest difference of opinion between the Houses, but this Government is using the Senate, and also government funds, for propaganda purposes, with a view to an ultimate double dissolution. The people of this country are in no frame of mind to be making decisions on a bill such as this.
Other more important legislation awaits the attention of the Parliament. Apart from the Communist Party Dissolution Bill and the Commonwealth Bank Bill the only measures that the Parliament has been called upon to consider since this Government assumed office have been relatively minor bills that have been introduced solely because of necessity. I believe that there has been less legislation and less action by this Government than by any Commonwealth government since federation in spite of the fact that in the early years of the Commonwealth the pressure on the national legislature was not nearly so great as it is to-day. One can only deplore the Government’s motives in introducing this bill. I repeat that no Government is entitled to introduce legislation that is neither essential nor desirable; but honorable senators opposite hate any socialistic enterprise. They are not game to abolish the Commonwealth Bank, and they hope, by means of this measure, to be able to strangle it quietly. The Government has no right to attempt to foist a general election on the people of this country over a bill in which the electors have little or no interest. The Commonwealth Bank is operating efficiently, and should not be interfered with. Instead of endeavouring to make political capital out of this bill, the Government should be devoting its attention to more urgent legislation.
.- One cannot but reflect on certain accusations that have been made about the motive of the Opposition in moving to have this measure referred to a Senate select committee. The Senate is contemplated in the Commonwealth Constitution as a house of review. For that reason, its members hold office for six years, one-half of the total number of senators retiring every three years. By this method, the framers of the Constitution hoped that the Senate would act as a brake on the House of Representatives. That is why the Government finds itself with a hostile majority in this chamber to-day.
The banking institutions control the economy of any nation. The founders of the Commonwealth of Australia probably never visualized that there would one day be a Commonwealth Bank; yet they had the foresight to provide in the Constitution that the Commonwealth Parliament should have the right to legislate in respect of banking. The result was, that ten years after federation, this great banking institution, owned by the people of this country, came into existence. To-day, the Commonwealth Bank is the greatest institution of its kind in the world. I come now to the Opposition’s proposal to refer this bill to a select committee of the Senate. How many members of the Cabinet can claim to know any more about banking than I do? I am by no means an expert on banking. I am merely an ordinary citizen of the Commonwealth. The modern banker is a highly trained specialist. The average Cabinet Minister knows about as much about banking as he does about plumbing, and with the exception of my colleague, Senator Cameron, who was a Minister in the Chifley Government, I have yet to hear of any Minister who knows anything about plumbing. Consideration of our banking system should be above party politics. That is why the Opposition has suggested the appointment of a select committee representing all parties in the Parliament. I believe that such a committee could find some solution of the present dispute between the two branches of this legislature. There is no difference of opinion between the Opposition and the Government on the general principles of this measure, but both sides regard certain provisions as vital, and honorable senators supporting the Government threaten that, unless they have their way, there will be a double dissolution of this Parliament. A few weeks ago we were threatened with a double dissolution on the Communist Party Dissolution Bill. That threat passed, and I am sure that honorable senators opposite regretted deeply the Opposition’s failure to vote against the bill. Had they genuinely desired to implement that legislation, they would have been highly delighted with the Opposition’s concurrence in it. The Communist Party Dissolution Bill could have been made a vital party issue because, in our opinion, it threatens the liberty of the subject.
The economy of this country depends upon control of our banking system, and I contend that this bill should not be made a political football. I believe that the. Commonwealth Bank should control the nation’s credits, because in such control lies control of trade and commerce. Honorable senators opposite are now discussing the prospect of a double dissolution over this bill. They would not have thought of such a prospect had the Opposition not agreed to the passage of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill. Indeed they were relying on the issues involved in that measure to gain votes to enable them to continue in office. In canvassing the prospects of a double dissolution, however, members of the Liberal party have another objective in view. They know that if they went to the country on this matter the big financial institutions would support them. I should be sorry indeed if, as a result of such & tactical political move, we should lose the services of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) or of Senator George Rankin. Unquestionably it is one of the main objectives of the Liberal party to wipe out the Australian Country party as we know it. I observe that Senator Kendall is laughing. Let us consider the position that exists in Victoria where a Country Party government is supported by the Labour party. If a representative of the Liberal party were opposed by a representative of the Country party in that State, Liberal party funds would be poured out, not in pounds but in thousands of pounds, to secure the return of the Liberal candidate. Indeed the Liberal party of Victoria would fight a Country party candidate more bitterly than it would fight a Labour party candidate. That is one of the reasons why there has not been a great clamour for a double dissolution. The Liberal party hopes that in future only two political parties, the Liberal party and the Australian Labour party, will be represented in this Parliament.
– That is news to me.
– I am stating the position that exists in Victoria. For the
Minister’s sake I should not like to think that a similar position exists in Queensland. We are threatened with a double dissolution because of mere differences of opinion on certain clauses of this measure. That being so, is it not remarkable that the Minister for Repatriation should be left in charge of the Senate ?
– He is the only Minister present.
– Obviously the Government does not regard this measure to be as important as it would have us believe, and honorable senators opposite are no more eager for a double dissolution that I may be.
– Other senior Ministers are engaged elsewhere on government business.
– I do not suggest that they are not busily engaged, but I should think that if, in fact, this measure may lead to a double dissolution, they should be in their places in the Senate during this debate.
At present a railway strike is in progress in Victoria and although this Government has boasted that it can settle anything, it has taken no step to settle the dispute. When a Labour government was in office it was taken to task by honorable senators opposite for not having settled the general coal strike more expeditiously. In Victoria to-day transport is in a state of chaos. As the result of traffic jams in the City of Melbourne, countless thousands of hours of labour are being lost every day. What has this Government done to remedy that situation? It has done absolutely nothing. It prefers to concentrate its energies on the passage of this bill which it has described as essential for the preservation of the life-blood of the community. Why has it not taken steps to end the chaos that exists in Victoria ?
– The Victorian Government can handle that matter.
– I remind the Minister that the railway men are on strike against, not a State award, but an award of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The State Government is impotent in this matter. It could not interfere in the dis pute if it desired to do so. Indeed, if it sought to intervene in the dispute it would promptly be told to mind its own business because the employees concerned are working under a federal award.
– An award of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court.
– Yes, not a State award.
– Does the honorable senator suggest that the Government should interfere with a determination that has been made by a conciliation commissioner ?
– Order !
– The Minister has spoken about conciliation. I did not take part in the debate on the motion that was submitted by Senator 0’Flaherty earlier in the day, but I remind the Minister that when I asked the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) a question in regard to the determination of the conciliation commissioner which is now the subject of dispute he sat dumb and refused to reply to it. This Government could intervene in the dispute to-morrow morning if it so desired, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Attorney-General well know.
– They will intervene when it is necessary for them to do so.
– When will it be necessary for them to do so? Are they content to allow the transport facilities of Melbourne to remain in a state of chaos without raising a hand to remedy the position ? This Government has promised to put value back into the £1. Do Ministers know that in Victoria yesterday the price of meat was increased by 2d. per lb. because railway trucks are not available to carry stock to the market? What about putting value back into the £1 instead of worrying about the proposal contained in this bill?
– What about urging the strikers to return to work?
– When I speak in this strain I am, of course, speaking from the political party angle. A bill such as that now before us should be beyond party politics.
– So the honorable senator is coming back to the bill at last.
– I do not know what honorable senators opposite have to say in relation to it.
– This legislation in one form or another has been before the Parliament for a long- time. I took part in the earlier debates on it. My views are well known.
– Order ! I ask Senator Katz to disregard interjections and to discuss the bill.
– Senator Willesee has suggested that in the framing of a measure such as this the co-operation of the employees of the banking institutions of Australia should be sought. The Government has made no attempt to seek their co-operation nor has it provided for representation of the employees of the Commonwealth Bank on the proposed board.
Parliamentary control of banking is absolutely essential in time of war. The British Government took control of banking in the United Kingdom within 48 hours after the declaration of hostilities in World War II.
– Under board control.
– In Australia the Government controlled the exchange rate not to assist private banking institutions but to protect the interests of the citizens and business people of this country. If Australia became involved in another war. this Parliament would at once have to control all our economic resources. If such control is good enough in time of war, it should be good enough in time of peace.
– Under this legislation the Parliament has the final control of the Commonwealth Bank whether board control be established or not.
– The Government has all the legal brains in the Commonwealth at its disposal. It has its Crown Law officers, its Solicitor-General, and among its members almost a sufficient number of King’s Counsel to form a quorum, yetin an attempt to devise machinery for resolving differences .i opinion between the Government and the bank on questions of policy it has produced nothing better than proposed new section 9a, which reads as follows: - (1.) The Bank shall, from time to time, inform the Government of the monetary and banking policy of the Bank. (2.) In the event of a difference of opinion between the Government and the Bank as to whether the monetary and banking policy of the Bank is directed to the greatest advantage of the people of Australia, the Treasurer and the Board shall endeavour to reach agreement.
Those provisions were drafted by legal men. I am only an ordinary layman, but I can see at once that if the hoard determined on a certain line of action its decision would be given immediate effect.
– That is not so.
– I advise the honorable senator to read proposed new section 9a.
– I ask the honorable senator to read the whole of the proposed new section.
– I shall do so, for it proves the truth of every word that I have uttered. The proposed new section continues - (3.) If the Treasurer and the Board are unable to reach agreement, the Board shall forthwith furnish to the Treasurer a statement in relation to the matter in respect ot which the difference of opinion has arisen. (4.) The Treasurer may then submit a recommendation to the Governor-General, and the Governor-General, acting with the advice of the Federal Executive Council, may. by order determine the policy to be adopted by the Bank.
What do those provisions mean? It is obvious to any person who can read English that only after a policy has actually been put into operation by the board can a recommendation be made to the Governor-General. Decisions in relation to policy will begin to operate immediately after they have been made by the board. Proposed new section 9a continues - (5.) The Treasurer shall inform the Bank of the policy so determined and shall at the same time inform the Bank that the Government accepts responsibility for the adoption by the Bank of that policy and will take such action (if any) within its powers as the Government considers to be necessary by reason of the adoption of that policy.
It is obvious that only at that stage will the Government accept the responsibility of altering the policy of the bank. The proposed new section continues - (6.) The Bank shall thereupon give effect to the policy determined by the order and shall, if the order so requires, continue to give effect to that policy while the order remains in operation.
That is, the order relating to the altered policy - (7.) The Treasurer shall cause to be laid before each House of the Parliament, within fifteen sitting days of that House after the Treasurer has informed the Bank of the policy determined under sub-section (4.) of this section -
a copy of the order determining the policy;
a copy of the statement furnished to the Treasurer by the Board under sub-section (3.) of this section.
I should like to ask the legal representatives on the Government benches what happens during those fifteen days. I have quoted every provision which affords some form of protection to the Parliament, but what I am complaining about is that the board itself is permitted to alter the policy of the bank, and that that policy must be put into operation. In other words, the damage can be done from the moment the board issues its order.
– Does not the Governor control the bank’s policy now? It is operating in exactly the same way.
– I have read the first proposed sub-section, which states that the bank shall from time to time inform the Government of the monetary and banking policy of the bank. It is only subsequently, when the Governor-General comes into the picture, that the hoard’s decision may be altered; but my point is that the board is permitted to make the policy, which remains in operation until it is altered. I am drawing attention to that phase of the bill.
– I am drawing attention to the system that operates at the present time. There is no difference.
– That shows the urgent necessity for the appointment of a select committee. Is the Government afraid of losing its dignity-
– ‘“Why does not the Opposition appoint a select committee?
– Order ! The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) must remain silent.
– Perhaps it is the first time that the Minister has had this proposal interpreted for him. No doubt ho has had a one-eyed view presented to him inside Cabinet. I consider that this measure is of sufficient importance to warrant the appointment of a select committee.
– “Why does not the Opposition put it before a select committee ?
– The Opposition is endeavouring, to point out to the Government that the world to-day is faced with a great problem and that it is of no use to blink the fact. I remember as a lad listening to talks in relation to China and the future possibilities of that country. To-day China is threatening the world. That almost omnipotent power in the Far East has been given its birth by the banking institutions of China. Honorable senators opposite should now appreciate why I am so interested in the banking policy of this country, whether it is carried out by a Labour, Liberal or any other form of government. The banking policy of the Commonwealth should be a non-party policy, and should not change with changes of government. It should become an established fact and should be continuous. As it is, when a certain form of government secures control of the treasury bench, the whole policy of the bank is altered. A depression may result. Honorable senators no doubt can remember the depression when the government of the day could not operate even on a fiduciary note issue of a paltry £18,000,000, a sum that is spent in half a day at the present time, and with no thought of fiduciary issues. Those things are facts.
I have here a newspaper article, printed not in a Communist or Labour journal, but in the Melbourne Age of the 8th April, 1949. The newspaper’s
China .correspondent, in writing to the Melbourne office, deals with the murder of 21 civilians who were connected with Chinese banking institutions. The article states -
The wife of another victim poisoned her baby and herself. The father of a boy of 17 hanged himself on a tree in the city’s main street. Despite petitions from the people of Kunming to the Government at Clinton and in Nanking demanding the dismissal of the bunk manager, and an explanation by General Lu, nothing has been done.
That article deals with just one phase of the graft in the banking institutions in China. As a result of manipulation by those institutions, that nation of hundreds of millions of .people has been, to all intents and purposes, turned against the western nations of Europe. When one sees dangers such as those emanating from mismanagement of banking institutions, one must surely agree that the banking institutions of this country should be protected against manipulation. I believe that the present Government, irrespective of the policy it enunciated at the elections, would not deliberately manipulate financial relations between the various sections of the community.
What objection can the Government have to the appointment of a select committee which would be composed of members of both the Government and the Opposition parties? Why go to the country upon the banking question when honorable senators know that that subject would not be discussed? From what one can gather, and from events that have transspired, during the last two or three days, the other question on which the Government might go to the country will then be out of date. I suggest that it would not be wise for it to wait until 1951, because by then prices will have soared to such an extent that it will be more afraid of n double dissolution than ever.
One of the Commonwealth Bank’s functions is to make available money tn those who wish to build homes, but although more homes are being built in this country to-day than ever before, there are still thousands of people who cannot obtain homes.
– It is not because of lack of money, though.
– I did not say that it was, but I have been asked questions by young Australians as to why they cannot find homes when people from overseas are getting them. These people are asking questions and their representatives must have answers to their questions. I remind the Minister for Repatriation that the Commonwealth Bank will not in future advance as much as it formerly did to people wishing to build homes. That is to say, the percentage of the capital value is to be less than it was before.
– The board might alter that!
– If so, the board would merely be carrying out the policy of the Government. The Commonwealth Bank is also tightening up on advances for the purchase of motor cars, because it says that motor cars are a luxury.
– Does not the honorable senator agree with that statement?
– The .people will have motor cars just the same. I acknowledge that the Commonwealth Bank has done an excellent job for the .people of Australia in assisting them to purchase motor cars. For every American car purchased, 50 English cars are bought, so that it cannot be said that very many dollars are being sent out of the country. When the Commonwealth Bank advances money to a man for the purchase of a motor car, it charges him 4£ per cent, or 44 .per cent, interest, but if he purchases through the ordinary trading firms, he pays 8 per cent., 10 per cent., or even 20 per cent, on the balance owing. Is it any wonder that one such company in Melbourne recently paid a dividend of 175 per cent. ? In that way the Commonwealth Bank interferes, to a certain extent, with the profits of those companies.
– Order ! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers werepre- sented . -
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Health- R. H. Farrant.
Interior - B. J. Grant.
Defence ( Transitional Provisions) Act - National Security (Industrial Property)
Regulations - Orders - Inventions and designs ( 2 ) .
Papua and New Guinea Act 1950 - Ordinances -
No. 22 - Ratavul Lands.
No. 23 - Dog (Papua).
No. 24 - Fire Brigades.
Senate adjourned at 10.30 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 7 November 1950, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1950/19501107_senate_19_210/>.