19th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– “Will the Minister ‘ for Trade and Customs say whether it is true that the Government is restricting; the export of manganese ore? If so, is the Minister aware that mining companies in Western Australia could double the production of manganese if they were permitted to export the ore, and that the present restriction on production is one of the factors responsible for the high cost of this: important metal ?
– Although some restrictions have been placed- on the export of certain metals, I am not familiar with the exact nature of the restrictions or the categories of metals on which they are imposed. If the honorable senator will place his question, on the notice-paper, I: shall refer it to- my colleague, the Minister for Commerce, and Agriculture, and obtain a reply for ; him.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior aware that the two elevators in the Commonwealth Bank Building in Perth, Western Australia, in which the Commonwealth offices in that State are situated, have been out of action on numerous occasions in recent weeks? Will he inquire whether new elevators can be installed’, or, failing that, whether those at present installed can be completely overhauled so that proper access to the Commonwealth offices may be restored?
– I shall be pleased to .refer this matter to the Minister acting for the Minister for .the Interior and obtain a reply for the honorable senator.
– In view of the difficulty that is being experienced by pensioners in obtaining the names and addresses of doctors who are willing to operate under the free medicine scheme, will the Minister representing the Minister for Health consider having lists of such doctors compiled and displayed at post offices and other places where pensions are payable?
– I shall be very pleased to bring the honorable senator’s suggestion to the notice of the Minister for Health.
– Following hia recent inspection of the harbour works at Devonport, Tasmania, has the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport any information to convey to the Senate in connexion with representations that have been made by the Marine Board at Devonport for assistance to establish a dry dock at that port?
– So far I have not received any communication from the Tasmanian Government in connexion with this matter. The Commonwealth has made it quite clear that requested by port authorities for loans or assistance must be placed before the State governments concerned. I understand that the port authorities at Devonport have made representations to the Tasmanian Government, but so far the Commonwealth has not received a request from that Government.
– Will the Minister for Repatriation inform the Senate what progress has been made with the building of suitable institutions for ex-service men and women .suffering from war neurosis? Will he assure honorable senators that, at no great distant date, all such cases that can be safely removed from civilian mental hospitals will be so removed? Is a report yet available from the medical officer who is in charge of this matter ?
– A considerable amount of work remains to be carried out for the Repatriation Department. Provision for a certain amount of this work was made in the Estimates for the current financial year. Although provisional plans have been prepared, unfortunately, because of the heavy call on materials for defence purposes, it has not been possible to proceed with these works as quickly as was expected. Doctor Stoller, who is the senior officer in charge of the psychiatric treatment in the Repatriation Department, returned recently from a trip abroad. He has informed me that he exchanged ideas with leading physicians and psychiatrists abroad, and that the discussions that he had with them were of great value to him, and, ultimately will be of considerable value to neurosis sufferers in this country. Furthermore, Dr. Stoller was able to give to psychiatrists in other countries considerable advice in connexion with the advanced treatment of neurosis, as a result of his experience in Australia. Dr. Stolle.’1’“ trip abroad was very successful both from the point of view of the extra knowledge that he gained in connexion with the treatment of neurosis, and from the point of view that he was able to furnish overseas psychiatrists with the benefit of his experience in Australia.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Trade and Customs been drawn to a report, which appeared in the Sydney Baily Mirror of the 12th March, of a statement made by General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Atlantic Pact Defence Forces, to the Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees of the United States Senate, to the effect that although there is a possibility of a sudden explosion starting another world war, he did not think that this would come for some time at least, indicating his belief that the danger period will be over by the end of 1952? General Eisenhower is also reported to have stated that the United States of America would then be in a position to turn its efforts in other directions. As General Eisenhower recently surveyed the European situation in relation to the prospects of war and the preparations for war, and as he is reported to have been addressing the Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees of the United States Senate, which is as well informed on the prospects of war as is any other body in the world, how does this Government reconcile with General Eisenhower’s statement the statement made by the Prime Minister that we have only three years in which to prepare for war? Can the Minister also say whether the Government has been responsible for censoring from other newspapers portions of the statement to which I have referred ?
– I shall first answer the last part of the honorable senator’s question. The Government, as the honorable senator knows, has not been responsible for any censorship. The first part of his question is indicative of what must be considered as the very irresponsible attitude of the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. The honorable senator reads a report in a newspaper ; he has no idea whether it is correct, whether it is merely part of a full account, or whether it puts in true and correct perspective the whole picture.
– I know that it is difficult for the Minister to answer the question.
– It is not at all difficult to answer. I am sure that there is nothing inconsistent between any statement made by General Eisenhower and any statement made by the Prime Minister. I assure the honorable senator that the Prime Minister’s conclusions have not been arrived at merely upon a perusal of cables quoted in newspapers. The right honorable gentleman has recently had an opportunity to confer in England with all of the Chiefs of Staff. He has had an opportunity to confer not only with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom but also with all other Dominion Prime Ministers. I have no doubt that the very best information was made available to him and that it was upon that information that he based the statement that he made on returning to Australia. I think that the people of Australia, and also the Parliament, can rest assured that statements made by the Prime Minister will not be based on newspaper reports but upon the best available information from those most competent to give it.
– Members of the Opposition are very perturbed about the answer given by the Minister for Trade and Customs to the Leader of the Opposition. Incidentally, I point out that we have to rely for information concerning such matters on press statements, because the Government does not make such information available to the Senate. The Prime Minister has stated that, at most, we have only three years in which to prepare our defences. However, the statement attributed to General Eisenhower is to the effect that the period of emergency will be over by the end of 1952.
– Order ! What is the honorable senator’s question?
– In the course of his reply to the question the Minister said that the information contained in statements made by the Prime Minister on these matters was not’ founded on press reports, and that the right honorable gentleman had had the opportunity of conferring with the great generals of the Allied Forces, including, presumably, General Eisenhower, in London. I now point out to the Minister that if the information that appeared in the Daily Mirror report is incorrect it is doing more harm to the defence of this country than have all the misleading press statements that have so far appeared. I therefore ask the Minister whether he will take action to see that misleading statements of this kind do not appear in the press?
– It is beyond the power or the function of the Government to prevent men of the temperament of Senator Hendrickson from becoming hysterical about statements that appear in the press. If the honorable senator cannot “ take “ what he reads in the newspapers, I suggest that he should concentrate on the comic strips.
– Does the Minister for Trade and Customs recall a statement made in Adelaide by the Prime Minister to the effect that if any organization could be shown to be exploiting the public, or acting against the welfare of the people, he would not hesitate to nationalize it? Has the Minister seen a reported statement of the Coal Industry Tribunal, Mr. Gallagher, to the effect that the coal owners were acting against the welfare of the people? In view of these two statements, will the Minister confer with the Prime Minister to introduce legislation for a referendum to nationalize the coal mines and- so bring peace to the industry?
– The honorable senator’s question is indicative of the fact that members of the Opposition apparently obtain all their information from newspapers. I was not in Adelaide when the statement attributed to the Prime Minister was made, and I am not prepared to accept as the final word on conditions in the coal-mining industry what I read in newspaper ‘reports. Without knowing exactly what the Prime Minister did say in Adelaide, I am quite sure that he and the Government would not tolerate exploitation of the people by any industry. As for the nationalization of industries, particularly of the coalmining industry, I suggest to the honorable senator that, instead of confining his reading to newspaper reports, he study the results of nationalization of the coal mines in the United Kingdom. After he has done that, I shall be very happy to discuss the matter further with him.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for National Development been drawn to a statement that was made last week by Mr. Gair, the Treasurer of Queensland, to the effect that his Government had spent approximately £580,000 on the construction of a road connecting the Callide coal-field with Gladstone, and that the State was committed to the expenditure of an additional £223,000 for permanent work and maintenance on the road, making a total of approximately £803,000. In view of the big contracts that have been placed by the Victorian Government for Callide coal, and in view of the ever-increasing demands for coal, will the Minister say whether it would not be desirable to make the first cost the least cost by co-operating with the Government of Queensland in the construction of a railway ? I point out that such action would eliminate wear and tear on the road and the deterioration of motor trucks, which does not make for economy in the transport of coal.
– This matter has been very carefully considered by the technical officers of the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments. Due to the extreme shortage of man-power and material, particularly steel, it was considered that it would not be practicable to construct this railway line within two years. Consequently, it was decided that the present road should be remade and widened by 8 feet. The Commonwealth has offered to topdress with bitumen a strip of that road 8 feet wide in order that large quantities of coal may be transported over it with greater efficiency than at present.
– The Minister stated that £800,000 had been provided by the Joint Coal Board for the provision of amenities on the coal-fields. Is it a fact that those amenities are now being restricted, at the direction of the Government?
– The only restrictions that the Government is likely to impose in connexion with these amenities are those necessitated by the shortage of man-power and materials. Instructions have been given to the Joint Coal Board to concentrate on the provision of amenities for the coal-miners from local resources, and not be dependent on items that have to be obtained elsewhere.
– by leave - Last week Senator Arnold asked a question about the Government’s plans for coal production. I have obtained the following information for the Senate: -
Production. - In spite of strikes, absenteeism and the retention of the “ darg “, last year’s production of black coal in New South Wales was a record. The following production figures for the year ended the 30th December, 1950, are interesting : -
New Open Cuts. - The Joint Coal Board has increased its open-cut mines from eight to eighteen, and it expects to open a further ten this year, making a total of 28 open cuts. The location of the proposed new open cuts in New South Wales is as follows: - Northern fields: Durham, Neath, Pike’s Gully, Newraven No. 3, Foybrook; “Western fields: Ben Bullen Extended, Commonwealth Extended No. 3, Western Main No. 7, Coronation,Red Springs No. 3. The present plans prepared are to step up open-cut production to 5,000,000 tons a year. It cannot be said with any degree of certainty when this target will be reached, but every effort is being made to push on as quickly as possible. Contracts have been let to two overseas companies, and the board hopes to sign a contract with another English firm this week. Negotiations are also proceeding with an American firm. These firms could produce considerable quantities of open-cut coal and bring with them a portion of the plant required for that purpose. One of the main problems facing the board is transport. The New South Wales Minister for Transport has promised to do all that can be done to increase rolling-stock, and has indicated that orders have been placed for many millions of pounds worth in Australia, the United Kingdom and America. The coal-owners havebeen urged to modernize their mines and step up production as quickly as possible, and I am pleased to report that expenditure of many millions of pounds has been authorized with this end in view. One firm in particular - J. & A. Brown - has planned to spend £2,000,000 in opening up a new mine at Stockrington, mainly to supply coking coal which is urgently required by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. The mine will be highly mechanized and will include a modern coal-washing plant.
Equipment. - The value of plant and equipment ordered by the Joint Coal Board from its inception in March, 1947; to the 31st December, 1950, is as fallows : -
Amenities. - up to date the Joint Goal Board has spent £800,000 on amenities, and the Governmenthas announced that it is prepared to give No. 1 priority for temporary and permanent accommodation for employees in the coal industry, where there are vacancies at present, both underground and in the open cuts, for at least, 2.000 experienced and inexperienced men.
Wages and Conditions. - Wages and conditions in the industry have improved considerably. The minimum wage for an adult worker to-day is £10 12s. 6d. a week, and for youths of sixteen years of age, £4 16s. a week. Dragline drivers are receiving £14 5s. 6d. a week. In addition, three weeks’ holiday at Christmas and long-service leave amounting to thirteen weeks on full pay after ten years’ service are granted. The pension for a single man is £3 7s. 6d. a week, and for a man with a’ wife and child £6 10s. a week. The contribution made by the employee is 4s. 6d. a week and by the owner 14s. a week. The Gallagher award also provides for an extra £2 a fortnight as a ten-day attendance bonus.
Pillar Extraction. - Pillar extraction is still under consideration by the coal-owners. There are more than 20,000,000 tons of coal in pillars in our mines. It is estimated that about 170,000,000 tons of that coal can safely be extracted by machines before it deteriorates. This coal is easily accessible, and could add considerably to the daily output of the miners who would work it. The owners obtained permission to install machinery in two mines, but the miners refused to work the machines on grounds of safety. On the 14th April, 1950, the Coal Industry Tribunal, Mr. Gallagher, exercising his federal powers, over-ruled the State Minister and decided, after considering a report by three British experts, that the mechanical extraction of pillar coal would be in the best interests of the community, the colliery employers, and the employees, because *it has been proved that use of machines had reduced accident rates in the United States of America; had kept miners further away from falls of coal; had made possible better dust control ; and was less fatiguing than hand mining. At the same time the Coal Industry Tribunal recommended that the pillars should be extracted as soon as possible, especially in the Maitland district, to prevent both deterioration and spontaneous combustion. On the day after the tribunal’s decision, the miners’ federation declared that under no circumstances would its members work machines for pillar extraction. They did not present their case at the hearing, but withdrew altogether saying that the tribunal had no jurisdiction to deal with the matter.
Callide Coal. - The Victorian Government has placed an order for 600,000 tons of Callide coal to be delivered at the rate of 200,000 tons a year. If that amount can be stepped up and shipping provided, it is hoped that the production figure will be increased in 1952. A subsidy on the same basis as imported coal will be paid on this order by the Commonwealth Government.
Imports. - Victoria and South Australia have been authorized to negotiate contracts for a further 1,200,000 tons. The amount of coal on order from Africa and India, undelivered under the old contract, is approximately 800,000 tons. Delivery has been delayed owing to the difficulty of obtaining ships. It is regrettable that such large sums of money have to go overseas for coal that should he produced in New South Wales.
Strikes, “ the Darg “ and Absenteeism. - From a study of reports, it is’ quite obvious that the three outstanding impediments to full production are strikes, the “ darg “, and absenteeism. The following information extracted from a report, shows how the darg operates and affects production. In 1938, machines were used to cut 28 per cent, of the coal mined, and the output was 3.51 tons a man-shift. That output has steadily decreased to 2.91 tons in 1949, notwithstanding that much more was cut in that year by- machines. In addition, in 1949 more than 30 per cent, was mechanically loaded on to skips as against 6.5 per cent, in 1938, and even then output dwindled. The setting of “ targets “ has emphasized the miners’ policy of restricted output.
A closer look at production from mines as distinct from that from open cuts shows clearly the policy of deliberate restriction. In a working section of Hebburn No. 2, when all coal was loaded into skips by hand, the output was 5.95 tons a manshift. To-day, in the same section, with machine loading, the output is 3.81 tons.
At Elrington, 1,268 tons a day were produced when the first machines were installed. Now that the mine is 60 per cent, mechanized, the output ha3 fallen to 735 tons a day. At the same mine, .when the machines were first installed, each machine loaded an average of 192 tons a day. To-day it is 135 tons. At Hebburn No. 2 for many years the lodge fixed sixteen skips as the number to be filled (the darg). To-day, with power boring, the darg remains at sixteen. At Burwood, there was a darg of 26 skips in the handfilled machine cut section. This darg was progressively reduced to 22 skips with the result that the output per manshift at the coal face fell from 15.73 tons to 12.34 tons.
Avoidable Losses. - In the last three years the coal output, and the losses that might have been avoided, expressed in terms of the financial year and not the calendar vear, were as follows: -
I feel quite certain that until those who are responsible for the three impediments - strikes, “the darg” and absenteeism - are removed from the industry, and the ‘Coal Industry Tribunal has power to enforce awards, Australia will not get the production of coal so vitally necessary.
I lay on the table the following paper : -
Coal - Ministerial statement.
Ordered to be printed.
– The statement that has just been read by the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport is not complete because it does not contain details of the additional man-power that was available to the industry during the period of the highest production of coal in the States. In order to make a fair comparison of the production of coal with the man-power available at different periods it is necessary that that information should be available. I therefore ask the Minister whether he is prepared to include that additional information in the statement before it is printed?
– I shall be pleased to obtain the information required by the” honorable senator and make it available to the Senate.
– Has the Minister seen an article that appeared in the Melbourne Sun-Pictorial recently, in the course of which the following statement was made : -
BRITAIN’S COAL MINES EARN £9Jm. PROFIT.
During 1049, Britain’s coal industry, in its third year of public ownership, increased its output and exports compared with 1948, cut the costs of production, and made an overall profit of about £9,500,000 sterling.
The production of Australian coal is 3.8 tons per man per shift, which compares very f avorably with production in English mines, which is only 23 cwt. per man per day. “Will the Minister therefore add to his statement the necessary figures to show a comparison between’ the production ner man per shift in English mines and in Australian mines? The Minister mentioned three factors that he alleged were solely responsible for the present insufficient production of coal in this country. Will he also undertake to eliminate the coal owners, who have been an endless cause of discontent and disruption in the industry?
– I shall be pleased to obtain the information desired by the honorable senator. I am not aware of the profits that are made by mine-owners in the United Kingdom, but an examination of the share register of Australian coalmining companies shows that the profits made by Australian companies are considerably lower than those made by the manufacturers and retailers of many luxury goods.
– The mine-owners are all of the same mind.
– There is no need for us to become heated.
– Then why make such foolish and sarcastic statements?
– My association with the mine-owners has been quite cordial. I appreciate the fact that they are prepared to do their part to extend their present mines, to open up new mines, and, generally, to increase production. I am pleased about that, and I am also pleased that up to date the mine-owners have abided by the awards of the Coal Industry Tribunal.
– I thank the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport for his promptitude in making a statement in reply to the question that I asked last week concerning coal. However, in the course of that statement the Minister attributed the low coal production to three causes, one of them being the application of the darg. I do not know whether the Minister understands what that term means and I therefore ask him to ascertain whether or not it is a fact that the darg placed on the production of coal represents the maximum number of skips that may be taken out of a mine in a day. I assure the Minister that the term has no relation to a desire to keep down coal production. The darg ensures that all miners working in a pit shall receive a fair share of the number of skips that can be taken from that pit during a day’s work. I ask the Minister whether it is not reasonable to believe that when a mine has been worked for a long period the number of skips that may be taken out of it will become fewer as the mine is driven further into the earth? If the Minister is not aware of the truth of the statements that I have made, will he acquaint himself with the true position?
– I am pleased that the honorable senator has drawn attention to that technical point, but for some time I have had opportunities to confer with coal-miners and union secretaries, and also to read the reports of judges, particularly of Mr. Justice Davidson who has devoted many years to the study of such problems. From my observations and reading, it appears that the Welsh term “ darg “ is referred to as the day’s output. That darg, in many instances, has been fixed by unions who have influence or control over the men working in coal mines. I am sorry to report that from statements that I have received from time to time it is apparent that where men are under contract they are able to complete their darg between 8.30 a.m. and 12 o’clock noon and are then free to draw their wages. Unfortunately, because of union rules, they are not permitted to continue to work and thus earn more money and produce more coal. It is well known that the darg principle also applies to bricklayers and many other industrial workers.
– It also applies to primary producers.
– It is not a matter that can be treated lightly, and we should not become personal about it. I consider that it is perhaps the most pernicious doctrine that can be advocated and given effect in any country.
– Has the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport obtained any recent information about the erection of a new pick-up shed urgently required at the Port of Burnie, in Tasmania, about which representations were made to him recently by a deputation of waterside workers?
– I know that the chairman of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board has sent the plans and specifications of the shed to the people concerned at Burnie for their inspection and approval. When that is obtained a start will he made with the building.
– I preface a question to the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport by pointing out that a shelter shed and a change room are being constructed for the use of the waterside workers at Fremantle. There has been a parsimonious approach to the matter of provision of amenities in those structures. Will the Minister ensure that heating appliances, showers, and other washing facilities shall be provided in those buildings?
– The matter raised by the honorable senator comes within the jurisdiction of the Minister for Labour and National Service, who controls the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board. I shall be very pleased to bring this matter to his notice, in order that he can place the honorable senator’s suggestions before the responsible organization. During my recent inspection of Australian ports it was evident to me that in most instances waterside workers are provided with adequate and good facilities. I shall be pleased to support any move for the provision of better facilities in Western Australia, where the waterside workers work perhaps a little better than in some other States.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration say whether it is a fact that retrenchments have been made in the’ Commonwealth education staff working for the Immigration Department at Cowra and other immigration camps? Is it also a fact that well-trained, nativeborn Australians are being dismissed, despite the fact that they have university and other qualifications, whilst foreignborn persons are being retained, even though their knowledge of English and the Australian way of life is inferior to that of the teachers who have been dismissed ?
– I am not familiar with the matters to which the honorable senator’s question relates, but I shall refer the question to the Minister for Immigration, and ask him to furnish a reply as soon as possible.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
– The Minister for Immigration has supplied the following information : - 1 and 2. As in the case of males, applications by female European aliens who wish to settle in Australia are decided on their individual merits. Normally an age limit of 35 years applies in the case of single women, but selection officers may authorize the admission of single women above that age if they are skilled in a trade or profession or are fitted to engage in an undermanned occupation, such as hospital worker.
– Is the Minister aware that Fairflight Limited, owners of the Tudor airliner in which 80 people v-ere killed at Llandow. Glamorgan, in Wales last March, were fined £50, plus £150 costs, for “wrongly loading” the airliner? I’ add that it was stated on behalf of the Minister for Civil Aviation in England that the centre of gravity was between 7 inches and 13 inches too far aft. Having regard to air crashes last year in this country, are the Civil Aviation authorities sufficiently aware of the dangers which can arise from wrongly loading “ a plane as in the case of the Tudor, and as distinct from “ overloading “ ? Can the Minister give an assurance that airline operators in Australia exercise the greatest possible care in this respect?
– I shall refer the honorable senator’s question to the Minister for Civil Aviation, and obtain an answer as soon as possible.
– During the last sessional period the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport stated that he would advise me as soon as possible of the result of the conference between Commonwealth and State Ministers in connexion with the introduction of uniform traffic laws throughout Australia. 1 should be pleased if the Minister would inform me what progress was made by the conference.
– I am sorry that I have overlooked advising the honorable senator of the outcome of the conference. A further conference between Commonwealth and State Ministers was held in Hobart on the 27th and 28th February, when suggestions by the respective technical officers were adopted unanimously. A great deal of attention was given to the matter of level crossing accidents and the large number of accidents that are caused by large tourist buses and road haulers. It was decided that the technical officers should examine these matters immediately and report to their respective Ministers within a month. I hope that another conference will be held soon, and that some progress will be made in connexion with these matters.
– Will the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport inform the Senate whether it is a fact that the Australian Steamship Owners’ Association decided recently not to divert the passenger ship Westralia to Hobart during its voyages on the Australian coast, and that Hobart is now the only capital city not served by the Australian coastal passenger service ? In view of the shortage of suitable passenger ships on the Australian coast, will the Government consider building a special passengercargo ship to augment the present service ?
– It is regrettable that the previous Sydney-Hobart service was discontinued. As honorable senators know, I recently investigated the running of Taroona and Aorangi. The cold facts are that, with slow turn-arounds and high rates of wages, those vessels cannot be run at a profit. The present cost of building ships is staggering. This is a very important matter from Tasmania’s point of view, because that State depends so largely :on shipping services. In order that the matter may be investigated fully I ask the honorable senator to place his question on the notice-paper.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport the following questions, .upon notice -
– There are many factors which cause the slow turn-round of ships and congestion in ports, not the least of these being failure of waterside workers and other workers to realize that they are being used by the Communists for their own ends. As the honorable senator may be aware, I arranged early last year for committees to be established in all main Australian ports, including Fremantle, to examine the causes of congestion, and where possible to eliminate such causes. The committees in several ports have recognized the trouble which could be caused at intermediate ports by the overstowing of cargo consigned to terminal ports, although it was realized that there were many occasions when this could not be avoided. Nevertheless, representations to reduce such overstowing as far as possible have been made by Australian representatives of overseas companies to their principals in the United Kingdom. The response to this appeal was immediate, and a marked reduction has been noticeable in the amount of cargo so handled. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to avoid this form of stowage, as some kinds of cargo, such as motor cars and machinery, must needs be stowed on deck or in some position where it must be unloaded at intermediate ports and reloaded before the vessel proceeds.
Although this does occur on some occasions, the response by the London shipowners to the representations from Australia was such that the conditions referred to by the honorable senator cannot now be regarded as a major cause affecting the rate of turn-round of ships or causing congestion in wharf sheds. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the rate at which waterside workers discharge cargo, or about the Communistinspired hold-ups and delays to which the shipping and stevedoring industries are constantly subjected.
– I understand that the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport has an answer to a question that was asked recently by Senator Wright, in connexion with the shipment of apples from Hobart.
– Since Senator Wright asked the question, I have obtained from Hobart and Melbourne the latest information on this important problem which is of special interest to Tasmanian senators. The following report has been received from Mr. Vertigan, the special representative of the Australian Shipping Board, who is in Tasmania helping to organize shipments of fruit interstate and overseas: -
The present export programme from Hobart of apples for overseas and interstate has been made very difficult by the watersiders’ ban on overtime. This has had the effect of delaying vessels at mainland ports with their consequent late arrival at Hobart. The present position is as follows: -
Hinakura departed Hobart on 3rd March, after loading 80,000 cases for London. This vessel was to call at Beauty Point where an additional 25,000 cases were to be loaded.
Port Pirie commenced loading on 7th March, 40,000 cases for London, and 44,000 cases for Scandinavian ports.
Port Jackson commenced loading- yesterday, 150,000 cases of - apples and 25,000 cases of pears for London.
Clan Macauley was due for February loading, but owing to delays at mainland ports, is running behind schedule. It is at present in port discharging 3,000 tons of general cargo, and will commence loading 100,000 cases for the United Kingdom early next week.
Tasmanian Star was due in Hobart on 12th March to load 170,000 cases for the United
Kingdom, and Royal Star was due on 21st March to load 05,000 cases for Liverpool, but owing to congestion at mainland ports, these vessels will be delayed for a week or so.
The export programme for Hobart calls for 2,000,000 cases to be shipped overseas between now and the end of June or early July. Included in the figure of 2,000,000 is 230,000 cases for Germany which must be shipped by the end of April or the first week in May. With the vessels listed above, growers will receive 50 per cent, of their March requirements of shipping space. If the Glan Macauley completes loading, the March position will be improved to 05 per cent, of requirements. It will probably not be possible to list other vessels for March loadings as the vessels at present in port will take up all the remainder of this month to complete loadings. Fixtures for April loadings have not yet been decided.
In regard to interstate shipments, forward figures of loadings are not available as interstate shipments are determined by the progress of overseas shipments which take preference. The position at present is as follows: -
Talune departed 23rd February with 5,200 cases for Sydney.
Kakapo was expected to depart on 13th March with 4,000 cases for Sydney.
Adelong departed on 10th March with 8,000 cases for Sydney.
Denman is expected to depart about the end nf March with 8,000 cases for Brisbane.
The Oversea Shipping Representatives’ Association states that difficulty is being experienced, because all vessels are falling back in their programme, due to the watersiders’ overtime ban, and that no free tonnage is available that can he placed on the berth to pick up vacant dates. However, the Association is keeping the position under daily review, and is giving top priority to vessels allotted for subsequent fruit loadings.
– Is the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport in a position to state whether the Government is continuing efforts to secure the agreement of States, other than South Australia which has already agreed, to the Commonwealth scheme for the standardization of railway gauges?
– Negotiations are at present taking place with the Government of New South Wales, and discussions have already been held with the Government of Western Australia, but it is obvious that because of the shortage of man-power and of rails and other materials, very little can be done during the next two or three years.
– As chairman, I present the report of the Public Works Committee on the following subject : -
Report relating to the proposed erection of an Automatic Telephone Exchange and Carrier Building at Bathurst, New South Wales.
Ordered to be printed.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer the following question, upon notice -
Since fountain pens, in the main, can be considered tools of trade, will the Treasurer review the taxation imposed thereon with a view to removing such taxation entirely, or considerably reducing itf
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answer to the honorable senator’s question : -
The rate of sales tax applicable to fountain pens will be reviewed when amendments of the sales tax law are next under consideration. It is not possible, at this stage, to indicate what conclusion will be reached - that will depend largely upon the financial commitments of the Government and the particular state of the economy at the time of the review.
asked the Minister representing the Acting Minister for the Interior the following questions, upon notice : -
– The Acting Minister for the Interior has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions: -
Debate resumed from the 13th March (vide page 327), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– When this debate was adjourned last night, I was explaining that the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner), who introduced this bill, had said that it was a very important measure, and the Opposition agreed with him. However, the Minister did not repeat the assurance given by the leader of his party during the last election campaign, lt was then stated that a small board was to be appointed to control the Commonwealth Bank, and one might have assumed that it was intended to add one or two members to the existing advisory council, although it was not specifically stated that the advisory council would be retained. We now learn that the Government proposes to appoint a board of ten members, including the members of the present advisory council. The main part of the bill is that which provides for the appointment of a Commonwealth Bank board. The report of the Commonwealth Bank and the Commonwealth Savings Bank for the year ended the 30th June, 1950, shows that these great national institutions have operated very successfully and that the volume of business transacted by them has greatly expanded. No complaints have been made about the efficiency and wise management of the existing adminis tration. I invite the Minister in charge of the bill to answer these questions : Is there anything in the management of the Commonwealth Bank since the passage of the banking legislation in 1945 that can be cavilled at by the Government? Has any action taken by the two Governors of the bank who have held office since 1945 been contrary to the national interest? Has anything been done by the bank since 1945 that has not been for the good of the community and in the best interests of the sound management of the bank? The answers to each of those questions must be an unqualified “ No “. The Minister was asked similar questions when he introduced the measure into this chamber last year. It is obvious that the Government has no complaint to make about the present administration of the bank and that it can offer no valid reason why control by a board should be reverted to, thus needlessly enlarging the directorate of the bank. Apparently this move represents part of the political pay-off to the private banks for their support of the Government parties during the general election campaign. The members of the advisory council of the Commonwealth Bank may be regarded as a financial and economic brains trust. They would not stoop to political influence; all of them are men whose honour and integrity cannot be impugned. If that is so, and if, as has been proved by the financial returns of the bank, this great national institution has been operated most successfully under its present adminstrative control, why should the Government be eager to revert to board control? Obviously the move has been instigated by the private banks which were very much concerned at the threat to their security on the part of the Chifley Government. So concerned were they lest bank nationalization be achieved at some future time that they threw the whole of the weight of their organization behind the Liberal party and the Australian Country party during the general election campaign in 1949 in an endeavour, unfortunately successful, to oust the Chifley Government. This proposal is merely a part repayment for those services. We all know the history of the private hanks when the Commonwealth Bank was controlled by Sir Denison Miller and how, immediately after his death in 1922 they forced the Bruce-Page Government to abolish control of the Commonwealth Bank by a single Governor and to replace it by control by a board. All of us know the unfortunate results that flowed from that change.
One has only to examine the names of those who were appointed to the first board to see that such a body of men could, not act in the best interests of the people of Australia. During the financial and economic depression the board retarded the progress of the bank and the effects of its mal-administration in those years are still apparent. Even to-day, many outback areas are still without the services of a branch of the bank as the result of the restrictive policy of the board in those years. The members of the original board and their political representatives fought very hard to defeat the bill which was introduced by the Fisher Labour Government in 1911 to establish the Commonwealth Bank. They said quite plainly that they did not want a government instrumentality to compete with the private banks. In spite of their opposition, however, the measure was passed and the Commonwealth Bank was established. Sir Denison Miller resigned his position as manager of the Bank of New South Wales to accept the governorship of the Commonwealth Bank and though he frequently came into conflict with the private banks, he did an excellent job’. He was imbued with a desire to establish a bank which in the true sense of the word would be a people’s bank. Under his guidance the bank saved this country many millions of pounds during World War I. arid it also saved many primary producers from becoming bankrupt during periods of adversity. The Commonwealth Bank also financed the sale overseas of most of our primary products including wheat, meat, and wool. But for the Commonwealth Bank, many Australian farmers would have been ruined. I shall not name the members of the Commonwealth Bank Board that was set up after the death of Sir Denison Miller. That matter was dealt with fully last night by Senator Armstrong. It is interesting to note, however, that the board elected its own chairman who had both a deliberate and a casting vote. The Governor was merely the executive officer of the board. He did not have a vote. Thus the representatives of the private financial institutions were able to keep the Governor well and truly out of the business of the bank. Apart from the representatives of the political parties, and the Secretary to the Treasury, the board consisted of representatives of the. private banks and insurance companies, the tobacco monopolies, the wool and produce rings, the wealthy pastoralists, and so on. Whether the interests of those individuals were also the interests of the average Australian citizen I leave to the people to judge. To-day the Government is seeking to appoint a similar board to control the Commonwealth Bank. The Government has not been straight in its dealings. We were told originally that the board would include the members of the present Advisory Council, but the Government has consistently refused to give any indication of who the five still unnamed members of the new board will be. That is what makes the Opposition suspicious. The bank has been administered successfully by a Governor and an Advisory Council since 1945, but now the Government wants to hand control over to private individuals. I commend to honorable senators opposite the report and balance-sheets of the Commonwealth Bank and the Commonwealth Savings Bank at the 30th June, 1950. Even a superficial examination of those documents is sufficient to show that the bank is prosperous and that its activities are expanding rapidly. What then is the Government’s motive in seeking to interfere with the bank by placing its affairs under the control of outside individuals? On page 9 of the report appears the following enlightening information: -
General Banking Division:
Demands on the facilities provided by the General Banking Division continue to grow with a resulting growth in deposit and loan accounts. A substantial proportion of the recent increase of advance business reflects the assistance extended to home builders and to building societies. Over .the year, the Bank has been called upon to provide finance for home building purposes to an increasing extent because other lenders have withdrawn from this field or curtailed their operations. When allowance is made for even restricted activity in meeting the needs of industry and commerce the demands for housing finance exceed the resources of the General Banking Division.
Credit Foncier Housing Loans:
From the inception of the Bank’s credit foncier housing loans in January, 194(5, up to 30th June, 1050, 13,000 loans for a total of £14,500,000 have been approved and £11,700,000 has been drawn. During the past year, 3,500 new loans totalling £4,500.000 were approved compared with 3,100 loans for £3,000,000 in the previous year.
Co-operative Building Societies:
Further accommodation amounting to £s.!) 10,000 was also approved for co-operative building societies during the year. This brings the- total for the last ‘six years ‘to appoximately £29;000;000.
Rural Credits Department:
The principal function of this Department is the provision of advances to Government marketing boards and co-operative societies. Turnover of these accounts during the year reached the record figure of £252,000.000.
Dealing with the Industrial Finance Department - a department that was established under Labour legislation only a few years - the report states -
Industrial Finance Department:
There is continued demand for the facilities of the Industrial Finance Department and on 30th June, 1950, balances outstanding in hor rowers’ accounts in respect of current loans totalled. £21.970.070.
Dealing with the Commonwealth Savings Bank the report states that, during the financial year under review, depositors’ balances bad increased by £31,299,658, and- were the highest on record. In addition, the number of active accounts has increased by 167,394. Clearly, all the activities of the bank are flourishing. “Why then is there any need to alter the method of control? Why does the Government want to interfere with the Commonwealth Bank? The reason is that it wants to look after its friends in the big private financial institutions which desire to regain full control of the Commonwealth Bank. We do not want a repetition of the happenings from 1924 to 1945. No sound case has been placed before the Senate to prove that the Commonwealth Bank is. not functioning successfully under its present control. In the course of the second -read ing speech delivered by the Minister for Social Services in this chamber some time ago he stated -
In respect of central banking operations and otherwise, the Commonwealth Bank and the other banks have achieved a considerable measure of harmony and co-operation and the Government is satisfied that the broad purposes of monetary and banking policy are being achieved.
In another part of his speech the Minister said -
However, in 1945 the Commonwealth Bank Board was abolished under the legislation of that year and the management of the bank was vested solely in the Governor, who was assisted in the determination of monetary and banking policy by an advisory council.
In the determination of monetary, and banking policy, there is ‘a great advantage “in maintaining continuity.
If the Government really wants continuity of monetary and banking policy, why does it propose to interfere with the management of the bank? Labour is opposed to the re-establishment of a board because of the bitter experience that we had of the operations of a former board. The Australian- Labour party will not tolerate a repetition of the happenings that discredited the former board of the Commonwealth Bank.
The Government proposes that there shall be ten members on the proposed board, including the present Governor of the bank and the four gentlemen who now comprise the advisory council of the bank. The proposal means that five individuals will be appointed from outside the Commonwealth Bank mind the Public Service to control the bank. The Governor of the bank, who will be the chairman of the proposed board, will not have a casting vote, as well as <a deliberative vote, as was the case with the previous board, so that it is clear that the five “ mystery men “ that the Government proposes to appoint to the board will be given full control of the bank. The Opposition objects to that proposal, and it is one of the matters that we suggest should be investigated by a select committee. It is significant that the Government will not give us the slightest indication of the identity of the five individuals whom it proposes to appoint to the board. That is a very sinister feature of the Government’s pro pos,als. I conclude by repeating that the Opposition will not be >a party to placing the control of the Commonwealth Bank in the hands pf five individuals, who might prove to be of similar calibre to the members of the former bank board.
– I am sure, Mr. President, that you must have noticed the extraordinary development that has taken place in this chamber within the last two days. When the Government introduced this measure to the Senate it assured us that the legislation was most important. Because of that assurance members of ‘the Opposition were prepared to discuss it, and, generally, to discharge their functions as members of a deliberative assembly. Whilst I do not agree that the subject-matter of the bill is important, I think that the declaration that has been made to honorable senators by the Government is most important. That declaration is to the effect that if we do not pass this measure the Government will seek a double dissolution of the Parliament and plunge the country into a general election, notwithstanding -that we are in a period of emergency and danger. In pursuance of that declaration, members of the Government and their supporters are refraining from taking further part in this debate. This is the first occasion in my long experience of the Parliament that I have witnessed a “ sit-down “ strike. If the Opposition is expected to discuss this matter intelligently, why should members of the Government and their supporters enter into a conspiracy to remain silent ? Do honorable senators opposite imagine that the people of Australia view their conduct with favour? I emphasize this matter because honorable senators opposite frequently taunt us with the allegation that members of the Labour party in the Parliament are not free to exercise their parliamentary rights. I ask honorable senators opposite whether they claim that they are free agents.
– We make our cwn decisions, which is more than members of the Labour party do.
– I should like to introduce Senator Hannaford to a friend of mine who is a member of the House of Representatives. I refer to Mr. Charles Russell, who is the honorable member for Maranoa. Because that honorable gentleman has had the courage of his convictions he has been expelled by the Australian Country party.
– That political party did not expel him.
– The honorable member for Maranoa is a respected member of an old pioneering family and nothing can be said against him. He did not enter the Parliament for what hecould get out of it. He is a conscientious representative of the people and holds certain definite views. I repeat that because of those views he had to leave that party. Notwithstanding such occurrences, we have to listen to all this cant, humbug and hypocrisy from honorable senators opposite. I regret that responsible Ministers should adopt the view that they are entitled to throw this country into the turmoil of a general election merely because of disagreement with the Opposition about a, measure in the fate of which they are not really concerned. No honorable senator opposite believes that this measure is of any real importance to Australia or that its passage will solve any of our economic problems. Nevertheless, honorable senators opposite threaten us that if we do not pass this measure they will go to the people. Of course, that might be the best way out of the difficulty. That course may bring to an end the futility of the last fifteen months. During that time we have had nothing but words. During the last general election certain promises were made by the anti-Labour parties. Those promises were false, because the Government has not made the slightest attempt to carry them out. Of course I know that some honorable senators opposite are disgusted with the Government that they support. I know that many of them have not had a fair opportunity to justify their election to this chamber. I am not greatly concerned about my own prospects at a general election because I know that I shall probably be returned to the Senate. However, there must be some honorable senators opposite who know that they will not be returned and who feel that they are being sacrificed by their colleagues. What is the -real reason for the attitude adopted by the Government in this matter? Surely some honorable senator opposite should indicate what the Government intends to do in order to bring to an end this hypocritical nonsense.
In the course of the speech delivered by the Governor-General at the beginning of the present parliamentary session, His Excellency said that the Government would amend and strengthen the law of this country in order to prevent industrial disruption. “What has the Government done to carry out that promise? Of course, we all know that the anti-Labour parties succeeded at the last election because of the evils of communism, which, incidentally, the Labour party is combating more effectively than is the Government. Supporters of the Government complain that the Labour party has delayed the Government’s programme. I remind them that after they were elected on those promises it took them four and a half months to decide that they would have to do something about the Communist party, which they were elected to destroy. But what have they done? I remind honorable senators that antiLabour governments appointed most of the justices of the High Court. Although for a long period Labour had the power and the opportunity to make appointments to the High Court, it made only one such appointment. I refer to the appointment of the Chief Justice of Queensland, Mr. Justice Webb to the High Court Bench.
– That does not make any difference.
– Does Senator Kendall accuse the High Court - as he has accused the Labour party - of running with the “Comms.?”
– Accusations have been constantly hurled across this chamber that we are in sympathy with the Communists. After fifteen months in office, this Government now finds that it is prevented by the High Court and the Constitution Act from doing certain things that it had hoped to do. But did the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) announce any remedy last night ? Did he say, “ We will go to the people and seek an amendment of the Constitution to enable the Government to do something about these problems ? “ Did the right honorable gentleman support Labour when it sought more power for the National Parliament ? No ! He opposed us all along the line. Now the chickens are coming home to roost. There are many lawyers among the Government’s supporters; surely they knew where they were going. Yet the Prime Minister stated that it was unfortunate that the Government did not have the constitutional power to do what it wanted to do in connexion with these things. Why does not the Prime Minister say to the people, “ Communism is a menace and is preventing the nation from preparing for any eventuality. We want power to deal with the Communists “. The reason is that he has to consult the Australian Country party and big interests in this country that will not stand for that sort of thing. They have constantly opposed any move to give the Parliament power to deal with these problems. It is sheer hypocrisy for the right honorable gentleman to speak as he did last night. If he had said to the people, “ We propose to come to you to ask you for greater power to deal with this thing” he would have had the support of the people and of the Labour party. I have a great respect for a number of senators on the opposite side, but I know that big business interests behind the scenes of government to-day- will not allow the present Government to seek additional powers for the Parliament to enable it to deal with this problem.
The Government has not made one gesture in connexion with Labour’s proposal again to control prices. The excessive prices that are being imposed on the people day by day are a scandal and a shame. The people of this country were saved hundreds of millions of pounds by the control of prices during the regime of the previous Labour Government. The then Commissioner of Prices, probably the most capable public servant in Australia, is now chairman of the Tariff Board. When the Opposition suggested that the Commonwealth should seek power from the States to control prices honorable senators opposite stated that the States could control prices better than the Commonwealth could. Do they still contend that power to control prices should not reside in the Commonwealth? Do they think that we can continue to control wages, hut not prices? Does any honorable senator opposite seriously consider that high prices should be inflicted on the people^ without restriction, but that judges should continue to determine wages? Could we not appoint somebody to determine prices? It is obvious that the people are being exposed to rackets. Whenever the press announces a probable shortage of certain commodities people become alarmed and indulge in panic buying. This results in price rises and greater profits. At a time when this nation needs a better deal from all sections of the community, many large firms are making greater profits than ever before. I shall not pull my punches in connexion with the workers. Every worker in this country at present is expected to pull his weight. It is unfair for honorable senators opposite to suggest, that Labour favours a system of loafing. The Government has made no attempt to tackle the real problems confronting this country. What could honorable’ senators opposite hope to get out of a double dissolution?
– We would hope to got Labour out.
– I am sure that if I went out, Senator Gorton would be waiting for me.
– I did not mean the honorable senator personally.
– My greatest concern is for the welfare of the men and women of this country, and I am distressed about the continued drift of the country’s affairs. I recollect that Australia was placed in great peril in 1940, in similar circumstances, when the right honorable member for Kooyong was previously Prime Minister.’ Although he is an eminent lawyer, he was a failure then as a statesman because he could not make up’ his mind on various problems. He . and the then Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) were see-sawing about important issues whilst our boys were fighting almost up to their necks in the tropical jungles. A change was inevitable; and during the following eight years this country was .governed in a manner that earned the commendation not only of all sections of the Australian people but also of other countries. The present Government now has the ball at its.: feet. -Honorable senators opposite have repeatedly stated that we are com pelled to do certain things. I am not compelled to carry out Labour’s policy. If I did not believe in the policy of the Australian Labour party I should get out,, as Senator McCallum did. But while I believe in that policy it is no hardship for’ me to support it. The great’ Labour movement comprises thousands of men and women in this country, and we whoare privileged to represent them in this chamber have a positive duty to them. I admit that I have not talked much about the bill. There is nothing in it, really,, except that we are in dispute about the proposed bank board.
– Therefore there isno justification for referring it to a select committee.
– There is nojustification, either, for throwing this country into turmoil on a matter qf noconcern and no consequence. The most eminent men in the Liberal and Country parties have paid the highest” tributes to the management of the Commonwealth Bank under a governor. Businessmen, industrialists, and men in every important section of the community have had nothing but praise for the manner in which the Commonwealth Bank has functioned. Yet this Government, in order to cover up its misdeeds and to bring about a. crisis in the country, proposes to do something that it knows that the Labour party is pledged to oppose. The Government knows that the Labour party will throw this measure out. It has known that all along. We have said repeatedly “ Hands off the Commonwealth Bank”.’ If this country is faced with as much danger as the Prime Minister has told us, fancy the Government going to the country on the matter of the re-institution of the Commonwealth Bank Board! It is absurd. Honorable senators opposite should not delude themselves by thinking that they will be able to apply the same psychology as they did during the last general election
Campaign, when bank officers’ did- all that they possibly could to bring about the defeat of the Australian Labour party. Even our beloved leader, the right honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Chifley) , who is one of the greatest Christians in this country, was described as’ .’an rungodly and un-Christian man. T warn the Government that it is treading on thin ice. It has had every, opportunity to introduce bills satisfactory to the Labour movement, and had it done so Labour would have co-operated fully. We are quite prepared to co-operate to give the Government more power.
– That is a deathbed repentance.
– There is no justification for this measure.
– Honorable senators opposite are serving their masters.
– The Senate has been ignored and insulted in the House of Representatives. Although there has been criticism of the Senate’s treatment of that House, I consider that we have received very shabby treatment from it, particularly in connexion with a bill to authorize a referendum on prices which was passed by this chamber and transmitted to the House of Representatives. Does any honorable senator suggest that our economy would not benefit by the control of prices at present ? Does not the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) consider that the control of prices would be beneficial to the country? What is the Government doing about it?
– The Government is handling the problem in a common-sense manner.,
-The States unanimously recognized this evil and admitted that they were unable to control prices satisfactorily. There are many reasons why the States cannot deal with the problem.
– That is very unworthy of the honorable senator.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Nicholls). - Order !
– I sympathize with the Minister for Social Services because I realize that under the stress and strain -be .must make interjections occasionally, but I point out to him that the Premiers .of the States asked the Prime Minister to appoint a’ Federal Minister to.- deal with -prices because it was considered that the Australian Government could deal more effectively with prices control. I am sure that the Go vernment would have no difficulty in finding a suitable Minister. Inflation is growing so rapidly that the young men and women in the lower income groups are unable to obtain homes. This Government has made no attempt to meet the difficulties with which our economy is faced. The Prime Minister stated that lie would lend to the States a competent public servant who would assist to administer prices control. I ask the Government of what use is that? It must appoint someone in authority and it should not hamstring or handicap any one who is appointed to deal with such matters. When I was a Minister one business concern was fined a large sum for making excess profits through charging unfair prices to the people. If we require the people to work for a certain wage, is it not fair that we should control’ the prices of the commodities that that wage will purchase? We shall co-operate with the Government in enacting price-fixing legislation, but why does the Government constantly fling at the Opposition legislation that it knows will not be accepted ?
The Australian Labour party will not tolerate the appointment to .’the Commonwealth Bank Board of persons representing private interests. I am. broadminded about the matter, but. I realize that the Government has power, under the 1945 banking legislation, tq control any board so appointed. The Commonwealth Bank is sacred to the people of Australia and has been so for. many years. It .has been a wonderful institution from the point of view of our national economy, and its operations are appreciated by the people. Why does the Government wish to do something which can be of no assistance in meeting the problems that the country faces’? The people of this country are very worried to-day because of our economic difficulties and they are anxious that something should be done to improve’ the position. Thousands of men and women who ‘ are working constantly and without interruption desire that this nation should progress and’ that it should overcome its difficulties. But the Government’ is going headlong towards destruction. Having, completed Almost half of its term of office it cannot point ^”anything ‘that it has done for ‘the benefit of the nation. I am concerned* that it should take some action, because whatever action it takes must be of great importance in the present state of affairs.
– During the debate on this measure practically the whole field of objection has been concerned with the proposed re-institution of the Commonwealth Bank Board, and those objections have been fairly well canvassed. I desire to congratulate Senator Armstrong on the excellent speech that he made in this chamber last night. It was unfortunate that the proceedings were not being broadcast at the time that he spoke, because he presented some interesting facts. Those facts may have provided food for thought for many listeners even though honorable senators opposite did not take note of them. I trust that members of the public will make it their business to read the copy of Hansard in which that speech appears.-
Reference has been made during this debate to the close association between the policy of the Commonwealth Bank and the interests of the people of this country. Senator Armstrong stated that not only in Australia but practically throughout the whole of the western world there is a vested interest in poverty. Wherever vested interests exploit poverty it will be found that those interests have control of the financial institutions of the country. One thing goes with the other.- If there is a selective control of the economic system it is usually found that those who control the economy of a country hold its destiny in their hands. That is a great truism.
This bill proposes to effect a number of vital changes in the constitution of the Commonwealth Bank. To my mind, the worst feature of the bill is the clause which proposes to re-institute the Commonwealth Bank Board. It is of great interest to refer hack to the speeches that were made by honorable senators opposite and by honorable members of the House of Representatives on the 1945 banking legislation and to read the nature of their attacks on that legislation. It is also of interest to see them turning a complete somersault and now supporting most of that previous legislation. Unfortunately they do not support it in toto, because they are prepared to change one of its most vital aspects and to seek to re-institute the Commonwealth Bank Board. The present Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) stated, during the course of a speech that he made in 1945, that that legislation was socialism through the back door. He spoke very forcefully of the terrible people who were then leading this country into socialism. I could reply to the right honorable gentleman by saying that this attempt to re-institute the Commonwealth Bank Board is also an attempt to take us back to what are known as “ the good old days “ in order that the Government might get its hands on the economic power of the country. I suggest that the Government’s motto is: “Give us control of the Commonwealth Bank, through our stooges on the board, and we shall make democracy safe for capitalism”. During the last 100 years governments have been pressed by sections of the people to embark on expensive undertakings, and no thought has been given to the fact that the taxpayers must pay for those undertakings. If private enterprise could assist in running a system that was for the benefit of all the people we should perhaps not find the world in the shocking state in which it is to-day. It is my opinion that the crisis which our civilization faces has been brought about by the failure of private enterprise and the capitalist system.
This Government has introduced, with sickening regularity, pieces of legislation designed not to better the lot of the Australian people, to honour its promises to restore value to the £1, or to halt the galloping inflation that it refuses to recognize, but to deprive the people of their fundamental liberties. The Government wishes to tell the people what to do, but it wants to do nothing itself. As long as it is able to get some one else to carry its burdens it will do so. Recent legislation has followed a pattern. Members of the Government have spoken of a Communist conspiracy in this country. I am sure that the capitalist conspiracy is just as odious and obnoxious, and capable of doing harm to this country, as is communism. The Opposition is always vigilant, and when it sees attempts to introduce retrograde legislation it is zealous to oppose it with all the vigour at its command.
The need for a select committee has’ been mentioned during this debate. Select committees are becoming a menace to capitalism, because the members of those committees are able to elicit information and to examine witnesses. They may interview people, collect information and bring it back to the Parliament. The authority to do so is conferred by the Parliament. Because this Government is afraid of such committees, it has recently made efforts to deprive the Parliament of their services. The fact that there is only one committee operating at the present time in this Parliament is positive proof that the Government does not wish to have such committees. A committee is a part of the Parliament itself, and any reduction of the number of parliamentary committees is a blow at the principle of democratic government. “We can only conclude that the Government does not wish to have parliamentary committees, and that its purpose is to make democracy safe for capitalism. A parliamentary select committee could examine the workings of the economic system, but the Government does not want that. ‘ Is it afraid that such a committee might prove conclusively that this legislation, if passed, would be against the best interests of the people? Members of the Opposition have repeatedly tried to persuade members of the Government that certain legislation was not in the national interest, but they refused to listen. They are convinced that they are right, and that every one else is wrong. Nevertheless, some of them plead for co-operation. Members of the Labour party know thai the only way to defeat communism is to give the people something to hope for. Honorable senators opposite wish only to maintain the status quo. Some of them, indeed, would like to revert to what they regard as the good old days. They do not say what days they want to recall, but I have a fair idea. I should not be surprised if they had in mind the period of the war. Those were good days for some people. A little while ago, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) declared that war was inevitable within three years, but I prefer to believe General Eisenhower who said that if we could stave off war until 1952 there was a good chance of avoiding it altogether. The
Prime Minister should have been at the first world war learning something of military matters, but he was not there. That being so, I prefer the military judgment of a man who has had experience of war. Honorable senators opposite are apparently interested in a war. Of course, war would solve many of their problems. Not long ago, there were 6,000,000 persons unemployed in the United States of America, but now there is practically no unemployment because people are working in what have been described as the defence industries. Preparation for war provides employment.
This Government has introduced legislation the effect of which would be to take away the liberty of the subject, and interfere with the right of the worker to barter his labour. The employer has the right to hire a man and, when he has finished with him, to sack him. In the same way, the employee has the right to say that he will not go on working for an employer any longer. He has the right to say to his colleagues, who have ideas similar to his own, that they should withdraw their labour collectively. However, certain legislation that has been recently introduced represents a vicious attempt to deprive the workers of that fundamental right. Of course, the Government is not in the race. As some one has said, it is not even on the racecourse. The supporters of the Government would like to restrain the terrible socialists, the people who are not afraid to face the future, and who are prepared to tackle national problems with vigour.
So far, the Government has not attempted to introduce any worthwhile legislation. The energies of the Opposition have been absorbed in contesting legislation that is directed against the welfare of the people. I should like to see the Government introduce legislation designed to protect or raise the general living standard. Ear from doing that, the Government is allowing matters to drift. Prices are rising continuously. Shopkeepers are unable to replace their stocks with the money they get for the goods they sell. All the legislation introduced by this Government has- been negative in character, and the bill now before us is no exception. The attempt to reappoint a Commonwealth Bank Board is a retrograde step, but it is typical of the Government’s attitude to current affairs.
I am not old enough to remember the economic depression of the 1890’s, but I can remember well enough the depression of 1930. Each of those depressions was part of a cycle. The second depression was worse than the first, and each depression was followed after some years by a war, the second of which was more terrible than the first. “We are now witnessing the final phase of the decline of the capitalistic system, and the frantic efforts of the temporary custodians of the Treasury bench will not avail to prevent the destruction of that system. To-day, there is a feeling of insecurity abroad. People no longer feel that they can plan for a year or ten years ahead. Indeed, in these days, he is a hold man who plans for as much as a month ahead. The people are bewildered. Our Prime Minister has told them that war is inevitable within three years, but General Eisenhower has said if war can be avoided until after 1952, the danger of war may well pass altogether.
The appointment of a Commonwealth Bank Board may delay the inevitable destruction of the capitalist system which has proved so fruitless. The appointment of a board would give private business interests direct association with the management of the bank. We may be sure that the Government would appoint to the hoard a majority of persons representing outside business interests. The representatives of vested interests are very keen to have a say in the control of the Commonwealth Bank. Whether or not they achieve their purpose the result will have an important bearing upon how long the capitalist system can be maintained. During the election campaign in 1949, the present Prime Minister said that a government led by him would restore parliamentary control over the note issue. The restoration of that control is one if the objects of this bill. The negative approach of the Government to economic affairs is well illustrated by its belief that, by controlling the note issue, it can control inflation. A permanent expansion of the note issue is- a symptom, not the cause of, inflation. Those’- who- helped this Government into power in the hope and belief that there would be a pay-off are disappointed that the Government has not made a stronger effort to enable private interests to dominate the Commonwealth Bank and the national economy. Some of them have claimed that the Government has badly let them down The Government intends that the board shall act as a liaison between big business and the Commonwealth Bank, which is the most .important financial instrumentality in Australia. The representatives of big business are eager to make such a contact because of the fear in their minds of the results of full employment. In periods .of unemployment in the community they have used the threat of unemployment as a means of disciplining their employees. Some of them believe that only through the fear of unemployment will working men do a dray’s work for a day’s pay. They know the psychological effect on the worker of the unemployed uran waiting outside the factory gates eager to take his job. Accordingly, it is of the utmost importance that the representatives of big business should be able virtually to control the Commonwealth Bank through the members of the board. To-day, the claim that democracy is better than communism, and that it will succeed in the next phase of evolution from the system of capitalism, is being seriously challenged. Honorable senators on both sides of the chamber regard this challenge as being directed to each of them personally. They appreciate the fact that their values are likely to be pint aside and that their wisdom is at a discbunt. I have often asked myself how a person can support the Liberal party and still remain liberal. Many persons, having joined the Liberal party and having jumped on the band wagon, want to keep the wagon moving, though the wheels are creaking and the scraggy old horse that pulls it has to be flogged along. As long as the band wagon can be kept moving they will keep it on the move. Its springs have “sagged, its wheels are ricketty and its .shackles badly need greasing, but no matter how close it. may be to collapse, it is still kept going. ..-They remind me of some of our forefathers who, when the motor ear first-appeared, on our mads, said, “ These things will be no good; people will be poisoned by the gases from the exhaust pipes of these contraptions “. These are the kind of people who want instrumentalities such as the Commonwealth Bank to be controlled solely by or on behalf of big business. We contend that the Commonwealth Bank should be completely free of outside influence. It should be answerable to the Parliament or through the Parliament to the people. Those who advocate the change in the method of control proposed in this bill hope to hypnotize the people with their smooth and oily explanations. We say that the people should decide this matter. Except with the consent of the people, we shall have nothing to do with the Government’s proposal to vest control of the Commonwealth Bank in the hands of a board which is responsible neither to the Parliament nor to the people. Those who direct the operations of the bank must enjoy the good opinion of their fellow men and be capable of adapting themselves to changing needs and to changes of environment. We live in a world which is continually changing and evolving and consequently those who direct the operations of the Commonwealth Bank must be men of vision.
The system of board control of the bank has been tried and found, wanting in periods of national crisis. The evil influence exerted by the’ former board on governments of the day in periods of .crisis is undoubted. That influence was dictated by the private banks which were responsible for the negative policy pursued by the bank during the years of the financial- and economic depression. The board was not answerable to the people and consequently it had nothing to fear. Under the proposal now before us, in the event of a conflict between the proposed board and the Treasurer a report on the matters in respect of which there is disagreement must be tabled in the Parliament. That will be the only link between the board and the people. That is not good enough.
Government supporters in’ this chamber and in the House of Representatives seem to take the attitude that if a person shows vision in an attempt’ to formulate a constructive’ policy, he constitutes a threat to-the ‘old order and must, therefore, be viewed with suspicion. Supporters of the Government invariably ask for time in which to adjust themselves to changing circumstances. Although this Government has been in office for fifteen months it has not taken any constructive step to meet the needs of the people. The electors, who hoped for an improvement of their standard of living and that the gains resulting from modern scientific inventions would be made available to them have witnessed, week by week, the steady deterioration of their living conditions. No action has been taken to preserve their hard -won rights; no attempt has been made to secure to them the privileges won for them by brave men who, in the face of extreme danger, fought for their rights. Day after day they have seen (heir living conditions deteriorate and their rights stolen from them by the thief, inflation. A basic wage earner now receives a pocketful of money each week, but as the weeks go by he finds that it will buy less and less. .When the basic wage was only one-half of what it is to-day, the worker was not only in a more secure financial position but he was also able to buy in physical goods much, more than he is able to buy to-day. In other words, in spite of the promise of the Government to put value back into the £1, the worker daily -sees the value of the £1 diminishing. The Government tries to play safe and finally does nothing.
The purpose of this bill is to put the Commonwealth Bank back into the rut into which it was purposely placed by a former anti-Labour Government at the behest of the big business which sought to control that great national institution. It is a fundamental belief of the Australian Labour party that the Commonwealth Bank should, in a true sense of the term, be the people’s bank, and that it should be conducted solely in the interests of the people and be answerable to the people through their elected representative in this Parliament. When the bank was first established it was intended that it should be responsible to the Parliament which should act as a watchdog on behalf of the people. An obligation rests on every member of the Parliament tq ensure that control of the people’s bank shall not be altered by the backdoor methods proposed in this bill.
This Government has a wonderful opportunity to introduce constructive legislation which might stand it in good stead in the future. After all, historians will judge the Government on its actions; Do members of the Government think that its judges will favour them if they content themselves with introducing legislation such as this? I say emphatically that historians will not worry whether this Government succeeded or failed in placing this measure on the statute-book. The life that remains to this Government ia very brief.
– The honorable senator and his party are not game to go to the people and give them a chance to say whether or not the Government should continue in office.
– I am game to go to the country at any time. How can the Government go to the people and say “ This is what we have done “, when it has done nothing? It will be of no use for the Government to say to the people who are finding it difficult to obtain the necessaries of life, to buy houses in which to live, and to feed and clothe their families decently, “Look at what we have done for you. We have tried to establish a board to control the Commonwealth Bank “. The people will naturally ask why it was necessary to attempt to change the present system of control of the bank. They would not understand the need for a board any more than we do. Instead of taking proper steps to deal with inflation and the other ills that beset the community the Government is solely concerned about the pay-off to those who supported it during the general election campaign. It is afraid to undertake important reforms. It fears that a concession will mean a loss. It digs in its toes and follows slavishly its 1949 policy pronouncements. On that occasion, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), speaking on behalf of the present Government parties, said -
We shall restore the sound principle that great financial decisions shall not be secret, and that the elected representatives in Parliament shall be able to control them.
That is exactly what the Government is not doing. The elected representatives of the people will learn of a dispute between the Commonwealth Bank Board and the Treasurer only when the papers are tabled in the Parliament. This bill will not give to the Parliament any right to express its opinion on any disagreement that may occur between the Treasurer and the bank board.
– Perhaps we should refer the bill to a select committee!
– The Government could do worse than that. The mere tabling in each House of the Parliament of an Executive Council minute will not mean that the Parliament will have the right to discuss any decision that has been made. Nothing in this bill guarantees to the elected representatives of the people the right to express their opinion on any disagreement that may have arisen. By the time the Executive Council’s minute has been tabled, the incident will have been closed. The promise to vest control of the Commonwealth Bank’s policy in the Parliament, therefore, is not being fulfilled. It was made only to pull the wool over the eyes of the people.
The Prime Minister’s policy speech also claimed that the note issue powers would be used to check inflation. The right honorable gentleman said -
To provide some much-needed check to inflation of currency, we shall restore Parliamentary control over the Commonwealth note issue.
I have shown that the note issue is only an indicator of the degree of inflation. It is merely a measuring stick. The claim that .parliamentary control of the note issue could prevent inflation or restore economic equilibrium is so much hot air.
This bill proposes to repeal that 1947 bank nationalization legislation. Recently I heard from a certain right honorable gentleman who had pinned great hopes on a favorable High Court decision an outburst that could only have been made by a person who was in a fit of extreme pique. At least the Labour party was able to take its rebuffs from the High Court calmly. The provisions of this measure which repeal the Banking Act of 1947 have been heralded by Government supporters as a move to get rid of the influence of the socialists. While the Labour Administration was in office “No more power for Chifley” was one of the favorite catch-cries of the then Opposition. The High Court’s decision that the bank nationalization legislation was invalid was accepted ‘by theChifley Government. At least that decision was not reached by a majority of six to one as has been the case with the Communist Party Dissolution Bill: The Chifley Government was able to “ take it “.
– The Labour party “ took it “ to the Privy Council.
– Why does the present Government not have the courage to do likewise? Labour accepted the decision of the High Court and of the Privy Council as final. We did not try to make political capital out of the situation. We genuinely believed that there was power in the Constitution for the Commonwealth Parliament to nationalize the banking system. Had that been accomplished, the field of the Commonwealth Bank would have been extended, and all the profitsfrom banking business in this country would have been returned to the people instead of being used to pay dividends to shareholders. The Chifley Government’s proposal was that the shareholders of the private banks should be bought out, and that those institutions shouldbe incorporated into a national organization. That is inevitable, and I am convinced that, ‘when the people realize the importance of a complete national banking system, they will confer the necessary power upon the Commonwealth Parliament.
There is an urgent need for a complete revision of the Australian Constitution. Government of this country to-day is complicated, and our national Administration should not be fettered by the conceptions of federal government that were popular in 1900. Every one who has the interest of this nation at heart should be prepared to support a revision of our Constitution with a view to conferring wider powers upon the Commonwealth.
It is interesting to recall some of the amazing utterances of supporters of the present Government during the prices referendum campaign. As I have said, the slogan of the anti-Labour parties was “No more power forChifley”. Had the present Prime Minister been wise enough to concede that constitutional limitations greatly hamper Australian governments in these modern times, many of the difficulties that his Administration is now facing would never have arisen; but what happened? Every time the Labour Government sought to widen the scope of the Constitution so that Australia could be governed more efficiently, bitter and violent opposition was offered by the present Government parties. Now, their chickens are coming home to roost and they are big black ugly chickens hatched out of 1949 propaganda eggs.
The repeal of the 1947 banking act is of no significance. That legislation has been truly described as a dead horse. Honorable senators opposite must be dead . jockeys because they still want to ride it, but it has been so severely flogged that it no longer has a hair from the back of its ears to its tail. The crows are already on the carcass..
The people’s bank should be entirely independent of outside influences. The present Governor of the bank is, without doubt, a man of ability and integrity. He has proved his capacity for wise administration.
– It is obvious from which bank the honorable senator has obtained his overdraft.
– Yes, and there will be no need for me to worry so long as the ‘Commonwealth Bank is kept free from interference by a board. This measure has certain objectionable features which the Labour party will not tolerate. The restoration of board control is contrary to our beliefs, particularly in view of the fact that, so far, five members of the proposed board have not been named. The appointment of a Senate select . committee to consider this measure has already been forecast in this debate. Instead of ‘ introducing controversial measures such as this, the Government would be better advised to devote its energy and vigour to the preparation of legislation designed to save something from the mess that Australia is in at present. An honest endeavour should be made to stabilize our economy. The longer such action is delayed the worse will our problems become.
– This bill proposes to repeal the Banking Act 1947-1948 and to amend the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945-1948. I mention that fact because, in some quarters,, it is suggested that the bill is a measure for a double dissolution of the Parliament. I remind honorable senators, therefore, that the bill does not provide for a double dissolution of the Parliament or even for the dissolution of the Communist party. During the last few days this measure, which had been under the consideration of the Senate for some considerable time and was resting peacefully at the bottom of the notice-paper, was suddenly elevated to the top of the paper, and we are now engaged in its discussion. If the bill was of great importance and some major constitutional issue was depending upon its fate, one would have thought that the Government would at least nave placed some facts relating to its importance before the Senate. However, up to the moment, honorable senators opposite have been singularly quiet. The only voice that has been raised from the opposite side of the chamber during the last few days has been that of Senator Robertson, who submitted a motion for the closure of the debate. This great constitutional issue is of so little interest to the Government that only one voice has been raised on it by honorable senators opposite ! I should have thought that the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) would have had something to say about the matter, even if it were only to drag across the trail some red herrings similar to those that he placed before us last week when we were discussing an important matter. I refer to the report of a select committee of the Senate on certain matters, which included the issue of a directive by the Government to certain public servants not to attend the committee’s meetings. However, the AttorneyGeneral has remained silent in the debate on this matter, as have his colleagues and supporters. The Opposition is therefore proceeding to discuss this matter without the benefit of any assistance from supporters of the Government, notwithstanding that the Government has assured us that this measure is one. of the greatest importance. I believe that the promi nence that has been given to this measure by the press and by other agencies that support the Government is quite unwarranted and unjustified. An effort has been made to frighten the Opposition in this chamber. We have been told that unless this bill becomes law in the near future, it is a case of woe betide our political lives! Notwithstanding such threats the Opposition intends to debate this measure in the same way as it would debate any other bill, and we shall not be frightened by all the threats and innuendoes that emanate from the Government.
The Opposition believes that the bill should receive serious and critical consideration because, in our opinion, it is calculated to impair one of the greatest financial structures to be found in any part of the world. The Labour party is jealous of any attempt that may be made to interfere with the functions of the Commonwealth Bank, which is our national financial institution. Why should we not fear the appointment of a board, which will have the effect of removing the bank from its present control? It cannot be denied that the Commonwealth Bank is the creation of the Labour movement. Notwithstanding the opposition of the powerful trading banks and the great financial institutions, to say nothing of the reactionary political parties, when the proposal to establish the Commonwealth Bank was first made, Labour persisted with the project. Of course, we were assured by our critics that not only would the bank fail to function but also that its existence would imperil the national economy. All sorts of fanciful objections were raised. The Melbourne Argus described the establishment of the bank as being merely . a passing event of no permanent significance, and prophesied that in a very short period the bank would pass into the land of forgotten things, and the attempt to establish it would be a mere matter of history. That was in 1911. It is now 1951, and I remind those critics of the bank who have survived that the bank to-day is stronger and more virile than it has ever been. Over the years it has rendered a great service to the people of Australia. It is true, of course, that at one stage of its history its effectiveness was somewhat retarded by the decisions of a board of directors that had been established to take the control of the bank out of the hands of the Governor of the Bank. It is, therefore, no mere coincidence that this bill also proposes to take the bank away from the control of its Governor and to place it under the control of certain individuals.
Notwithstanding the magnificent service rendered to the nation by the Commonwealth Bank during World War I., which enabled us to finance our war effort during that protracted conflict, the BrucePage Government, decided in 1924 to place the bank under the control of a board of directors. For years the trading banks and private financial institutions had been manifesting hostility to the Commonwealth Bank, and they succeeded in prevailing upon their friends in the Bruce-Page Government to surrender the control of the bank to them. Until that time the bank had been under the sole control of a governor, whose duty was to ensure that it functioned purely in the interests of the people. After the board was appointed we drifted slowly but surely into a state of stagnation which culminated in the frightful depression of the ‘thirties. The bank board, which operated under the chairmanship of Sir Robert Gibson, refused to come to the aid of the people of this country when tens of thousands of them were literally starving, and men and women were losing everything they had. I pause here to remind honorable senators that at that time there was no clamour for houses. The unfortunate people who had been endeavouring to obtain homes lost their homes because they were denied the financial assistance that they needed, and many thousands of them were cast on to the streets. Groups of two and three families had to live together in one- dwelling. The Scullin Government, through its Treasurer, Mr. Theodore, appealed to the board of the Commonwealth Bank for credit to enable it to do something to alleviate the sufferings of the people. When the Treasurer approached Sir Robert Gibson on behalf of the Government for assistance he was told that if the Government would reduce age pensions and social services generally, lower wages and salaries, and lengthen the hours of labour the board of directors of the people’s bank would assist it. Was there ever such a commentary upon the rights of the. people? The individuals who had been appointed to the board, and who were supposed to be serving that great financial institution, took it upon themselves to be the actual governors of the country. They defied the will of the.elected representatives of the people. We hear a great deal nowadays from the representatives of the Government and their supporters in the House of Representatives about the rights of the representatives of the people. They claim, of course, that they have a mandate from the people to introduce certain legislation. Do they recall that when their political parties were in opposition during the period of office of the Scullin Government they did everything they could to thwart the will of the elected representatives of the people ? At that time the Scullin Labour Administration had to contend not only with a hostile Senate, in which there was a majority of anti-Labour senators, but also with ‘the individual who had been appointed to the chairmanship of the Commonwealth Bank. That individual placed himself above the elected representatives of the people of Australia. Instead of the people’s bank coming to the assistance of the people, it was used as an instrument of oppression to coerce their representatives into worsening their conditions and prolonging their sufferings.
It is true, of course, that the bank was still under the nominal control of a hoard throughout World War II., when it again rendered such splendid service to Australia. However, it is only fair to point out that the anti-Labour governments, of which the present Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) was Treasurer, and subsequently Prime Minister, which were in office at the beginning of the war, possessed certain extraordinary powers that ;i government does not possess in peacetime. It was because of the existence of those powers that Mr. Fadden was able to demand, and to obtain, from the Commonwealth Bank Board compliance with his requests. However, it is equally true that later, when Labour had assumed office under Mr. Curtin, that Government found it necessary to arm itself with certain special powers to deal with financial matters. Because of Labour’s policy, the bank was able to come to the assistance of primary producers during the war. I hope that the primary producers of this country, :who are enjoying affluence now, will not forget the obligation that they owe to Labour for safeguarding their interests so carefully before, during and after the recent war. I remind them now that because of the disastrous fall of prices that occurred in other parts of the world during the depression, our primary producers were placed in similar desperate straits to those in which city dwellers found themselves. In every city and large town in Australia soup kitchens had to be opened. Our primary producers also suffered in those days. Although they produced an abundance of commodities to feed the people, they could not sell them. The dislocation of markets and of the distributing system that occurred during the recent war also threatened to ruin many primary producers. However, the Curtin Labour Government told the farmers to go ahead and grow all they could, because it would ensure that the Commonwealth Bank came to their assistance while they were waiting for their produce to be sold and shipped ito other countries. They had the assurance that, thanks to Labour ind the Commonwealth Bank, they would receive at least a living wage. They were guaranteed payable prices for their commodities, and instead of facing the position that they had faced in previous years under anti-Labour governments, they were able to make progress. Merely because they are able to-day to obtain high prices for their primary products I hope that they will not forget the conditions of those days. As surely as night follows day there will be a recurrence of those conditions, and when that time comes they will appreciate the value to them of an institution for which the government of the day must accept responsibility in order to meet the economic conditions then existing. The Commonwealth Bank Act that this legislation proposes to amend, was introduced in the light of experience. But did the opponents of Labour accept that measure in any better spirit than they accepted the 1911 legislation? Certainly not. Again there was opposi- tion from the financial institutions of this country, and again the people who to-day comprise the Government of this country rose in their places in the Opposition and condemned the legislation. Notwithstanding the lessons of the past, they now seek to return to the conditions that I have described. Is it any wonder that honorable senators on this side are prepared to vote against the re-introduction of a bank board that would possibly retard the effectiveness of the Commonwealth Bank?
There was a good deal of antagonism by other financial institutions to the establishment of the central bank, which in no way competes in ordinary banking business. It was established to be the bulwark of all of our financial institutions during periods of crisis, and a bank with which the trading banks could deposit their surplus funds. It was suggested in those days that that was nationalization or socialization. Our opponents could find no word bad enough to denounce the 1945 banking legislation. In 1911, when the Commonwealth Bank was established, cartoonists drew caricatures of Fisher and O’Malley standing behind trees, depicted as highwaymen, waiting to fall upon unwary travellers, and take their valuables from them. In 1945 the same sort of propaganda was used. Objection was taken to the proposal to establish a rural credits department to provide advances for the development of rural industries and to the interest rate on overdrafts being reduced from 6 per cent, to 4£ per cent. Prior to this national bank entering the competitive field, the private banking institutions were able to charge whatever interest rates they chose. This competitor made them behave themselves, so to speak, and provide financial accommodation on more liberal terms. The financial institutions were also opposed to the provision whereby the bank could lend to prospective borrowers for home-building. That provision was not very palatable to the people who had made vast fortunes by advancing money for that purpose at high rates of interest. What would be the position to-day with the demand for home-building and clamour for accommodation if there were no Commonwealth Bank? Would not the financial institutions be having a real picnic but for the operation of the 1945 banking legislation? It would be Christmas day every day for them. But this great institution stands as a champion in the path of these people, and demands that they do justice to prospective home-builders and others who desire their assistance. Of course financial accommodation is not the home-builders’ greatest difficulty to-day. That is not what is preventing them from obtaining homes.
No doubt, also, great antagonism was engendered in certain quarters against the Commonwealth Bank following the establishment of the Industrial Finance Department from which a person who desired to establish himself in industry could obtain financial accommodation, because there was no representative of other industries in the position of a director, and because the bank was controlled hy persons who were free and untrammelled by any financial or business institutions in this community. The Governor of the Commonwealth Bank must be free and unfettered. Likewise, the Deputy Governor, the representative of the Commonwealth Treasury, and others who were appointed as advisers must be free of any outside interest. If a small man desires to establish an industry and applies to a board of directors for an advance, the board realizes that he is likely to become a competitor against an established business. In many instances the interests of members of boards of directors are interwoven and intertwined in various industries. They may be interested in the manufacture of housing equipment or bricks or other building commodities, and they may view applicants for loans as possible competitors. Therefore, financial accommodation is frequently refused. They take the view that any new industry must be stifled at birth so that it will not become a competitor against them. The antagonism of these people has been engendered by the knowledge that if a small investor is refused financial accommodation by the private banking institutions he can obtain money from the national institution. .
This is a very specious bill. Neither the Minister for Social Services (Senator
Spooner), who introduced the bill in this chamber, nor the Treasurer ‘(Mr. Fadden) who introduced it in another place, implied during their .secondreading -speeches that the Government .intended to undo all of the work that was performed by the previous Labour Government in 1945. In view of the manner in which the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), who is now Minister for Air .and Minister for Civil Aviation, described certain provisions of the bill when he was sitting in Opposition, one would have thought that now that he is in office he would want the whole bill destroyed. But the Government is not game to abolish the Rural Credits Department and the Industrial Finance Department of the Commonwealth Bank. It knows that if those departments were abolished the people of Australia would realize /he Government’s true intention. Therefore, it intends to get somebody else to do .the dirty work. That is the real reason for the Government’s desire to establish a board of directors in place of a governor who governs in a free and untrammelled way. Under board control he would be subject to the majority decision of the board of directors. Who are likely tq be appointed to the board? Notwithstanding the urgent plea that has been made by the Opposition both in the Senate and in another place, and notwithstanding that the Commonwealth Bank will be called upon in the future, as in the past, to play an important part in the economy of this country, the Government has remained silent on ‘the identity of the men to whom will be entrusted the management of Australia’s greatest financial institution. If the Government expects us to withdraw our opposition to this amending bill, and thereby agree to the re-institution of the Commonwealth Bank Board, it has a bounden duty to inform the Senate and the people of Australia ,to whom the destinies of this institution will be in future entrusted. In view of the Government’s continued silence on this subject’, the Opposition is justified in assuming that the proposed directors would be appointed from the same strata of society as were the directors of the previous board. They will no doubt be pastoralists and businessmen on it who know nothing of banking and who will be appointed by this Government in order to see that the bank is run not in the interests of the whole of the people but in those of a section. The members of the Opposition consider that they have every justification for believing that statement to be true. Because of the present economic position, the Australian Labour party will refuse to permit the passage of the clause of this bill that provides for the re-institution of the Commonwealth Bank Board. The Opposition desires more information on the subject. I hope that the Government will pay both the Senate and the people of Australia the compliment of taking them into its confidence and telling them what it has in mind.
Clause 3 of the bill repeals the Banking Act 1947, which purported to nationalize the hanking institutions of this country. A great ,deal of opposition was expressed to the establishment of a national hank, which would function as such. Recently I was reminded that, slowly but surely, Australia is drifting into the position where there will be only one private bank operating. Over the years we have witnessed amalgamations of banking institutions and the absorption of banks by others. The shareholders are usually informed that the gradual absorption of those banks will strengthen the financial structure of Australia. Our banking institutions have dwindled from approximately nineteen or twenty in 1890 to six or seven to-day. If the strength of our economy has been increased during those years, surely it would be further strengthened by reducing the number to one. But even if there is only one private bank operating in Australia it will not be able to dictate financial terms to the people as long as the Commonwealth Bank remains free and unfettered. If directors who have interests in industries and in private banks, even though those interests may be under cover, are appointed to the Commonwealth Bank Board there is a danger that that bank and the remaining private trading banks will dictate terms to the people of this country. Those who were anxious to see the destruction of the Australian Labour party, because of its bank nationalization programme, must, by now, begin to appreciate the great mistake that they made when they deposed a government that was the protector of their interests. In the same way, that section of the community which believed that if the Australian Labour party were defeated at the last election, and that free competition and removal of controls would make everything in the garden lovely, has had its lesson and should appreciate the mistake that it made on that occasion.
The 1947 act to nationalize banking met with the same fate as did the Communist Party Dissolution Act. It went to the High Court of Australia which decided, notwithstanding that nationalization of banking has been a plank in the platform of the Australian Labour party for many years, that this Parliament had no legislative power to do so. Although that legislation was passed in accordance with a section of the Constitution which states that the Commonwealth Parliament shall have power to legislate in relation to banking, with the exception of State banking, the Government of the day found that the real rulers of the country were not in the Parliament but on the bench of the High Court. This Government, within the last two or three days, also has learned its lesson and has discovered that it cannot do everything that it proposes. Although there was much jubilation when the High Court rejected the nationalization of banking legislation, I remind honorable senators opposite that on that occasion the court at. least stated that there were certain parts of the legislation that were in conformity with the Constitution. The Communist Party Dissolution Act was rejected by the court lock, stock and barrel, as being in breach of the Constitution. Perhaps it was some solace to the Government of the day that the Chief Justice, Sir John Latham, was not wholly antagonistic to the nationalization of banking legislation. Certain portions of it did not incur unanimous rejection. The Government exhausted its constitutional rights by taking the case to the Privy Council, which upheld the decision of the High Court. Bank nationalization is as dead as the dodo, unless there should be an alteration of the Constitution, but the members of the present Government are endeavouring nevertheless to arouse a great deal of public apprehension by weans of statements in connexion with it.
At the commencement of my remarks I suggested to honorable senators that this bill can be neither the means of securing a double dissolution, of the Parliament nor oil resolving the Communist party. Members of the Government have told the people that because the High Court has rejected the Communist Party Dissolution Act there must be a double dissolution of the Parliament in order to deal effectively with the Communist party in this country. It is astonishing that nien who claim to be scholars, who hold responsible positions in the Government, and who include in their number four learned King’s Counsel and several other lawyers should make such an assertion. However, responsible newspapers have printed if. I remind honorable senators that it would not matter if the membership of this Senate consisted entirely of Government supporters or if, as on a previous occasion, there were 35 Government senators and a lone Opposition senator fighting for democracy. Even if the Opposition in the House of Representatives were but a miserable section of the Parliament, the Government could do nothing to dissolve the Communist party by means of a double dissolution or legislation such as the measure at present before the chamber. I suggest that the Government is again trying to delude the people. It is endeavouring to work up public enthusiasm and to obtain the support of the financial institutions. The people of Australia no doubt appreciate that the Government is composed of persons who are adept at producing red herrings at any time. They will remember that in the House of Representatives several Ministers recently threatened dire consequences for all and sundry, but nothing has been done.
Does this legislation mean that there will be a return to the financial conditions of the past? Does it also mean that the members of the Government have not the courage to grapple with the economic problems that confront the country? This Government has failed to honour its pre-election promises to restore value to the £1, to halt rising prices and to bring prosperity to the people. Because of the foresight of the Australian Labour party, the Commonwealth Bank is at the disposal of the Government to enable it to grapple with the financial problems that confront it. That institution could solve our problems if we had a government that would face facts. this Government slinks away from its responsibilities and wishes to set up a board behind which it can shelter from the consequences of its political cowardice. It deserves the greatest censure.
– The people should be allowed to decide that.
– The honorable senator apparently believes that the people will be led astray by the kind of propaganda to which I have referred. I suggest that the last thing that this Government desires is to let the people decide. The utterances of its members remind me of boys whistling in order to boost their flagging courage. While as-king for the Opposition to let it have this bill, it is praying, as it did when the Communist Party Dissolution Act was before the Senate, that .the Opposition will reject it. The same sort of thing is happening now. The Government challenges us to reject this bill, hoping all the time that we shall pass it, or put it out of harms way. Ministers do not want to get off the treasury bench. They can see that the tide of public opinion is rising against them. We know that in a little while that tide will engulf the Government, and sweep into power a Labour government that will face the problems of the nation as it did during the war, and deal with economic crises as they arise. A Labour government would be prepared to legislate for the mass of the people, and not merely for sectional interests which desire to see the Commonwealth Bank rendered ineffective. I oppose the bill, and hope that the Opposition will reject it.
– The Labour party has been subjected to a great deal of criticism by members of the Government and by the press because it has exercised its right to debate the bill now before the Senate. It would appear that the Government has become so arrogant that it expects the Opposition to accept meekly every bill placed’ before it. Because we have not been prepared .to do so, we have been criticized, both in this chamber and outside it. Indeed, most of the criticism has come from outside, because very few Government supporters have risen to speak in defence of their own Government’s bill.
– “We spoke on the first bill. This is the second time around.
– The Government, apparently, lacks faith in its own bill. The Labour party has been accused of delaying the measure, but let us review the facts of the situation. This legislation was first introduced several months ago.
– Ten months ago, to be exact.
– It was debated for some time, and then the Government put it at the bottom of the notice-paper. Day by day the Senate discussed other matters, and this bill remains at the bottom of the notice-paper. This week, a notice-paper was issued upon which the bill occupied its customa’ry place at the bottom. Then, the notice-paper was hurriedly withdrawn, and a fresh one was issued upon which the bill occupied first place. Perhaps the Government had become ashamed of its- treatment of the bill. Members of the Government have complained because the Labour party was returned with a majority in the Senate in 1946. That fact gives the Opposition every right to criticize the Government’s banking legislation, and to use its majority in the Senate to oppose that legislation. During the 1946 election campaign, the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945 was an issue. I well remember that the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) declared during that campaign that banking was clearly an issue in the election. As a result of that election the Labour party received a mandate to govern, and its policy on banking was endorsed by the people. In this legislation, it is proposed to appoint a board to control the Commonwealth Bank, and on the board will sit representatives of various outside interests. Responsibility for the control of the financial policy of the nation should rest with the Government. In 1945, the Labour Government took it upon itself to place the Commonwealth Bank under the control of a governor, and thus make plain to the people that it was prepared to accept responsibility for banking policy. The Government appointed a governor of the bank, and gave, him certain powers, but made it clear that he was subject to the control of the Treasurer. The present Government proposes to reconstitute the Commonwealth Bank Board. If this legislation were passed, no longer would the Government be responsible for banking policy. .If unpopular decisions were made the Government would be able to shelter behind the board and plead that the board, and not the Government, was responsible for policy, and that it was merely accepting the board’s decision.
In the 1930’s, there was in Australia a huge army of unemployed persons despite the fact that this is a country with tremendous undeveloped resources. When the government of the day asked the Commonwealth Bank to provide a mere £18,000,000 to relieve distress, the Commonwealth Bank Board told the Government that it could give no help. A Queensland colleague has been good enough to hand me an. historical document in the form of a poster which was displayed along the border between Queensland and New South Wales in 1931. This poster, which I now display for the benefit of honorable senators, reads as follows : -
People entering Queensland in search of work are hereby warned that at present there is a surplus of labour in every centre of the State and that they proceed into Queensland at their own risk.
The Government can only hold itself responsible for feeding Queensland’s own unemployed.
It is signed by Mr. Sizer, Minister for Labour, who was, I believe, a good Liberal or United Australia party supporter.
– There was in office an Australian Government which was in the same predicament as is the present Government iri that it had to contend with a Senate in which the Opposition had a majority. The United Australia .party, as it was then called, controlled the Senate, and refused to allow the Labour Government to do what was necessary to alleviate the distress of the people. The Labour Government of that day tried to get a double dissolution of the Parliament. The anti-Labour parties created a precedent by showing how a hostile majority in the Senate could thwart the Government in office. Now, because the Labour party is resolved to frustrate an attack upon the Commonwealth Bank, the Government cries out that we are holding out its legislation. It made the same complaint against u3 in respect of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill. We told the Government that that legislation was unconstitutional, and that the people would not stand for it. Ten months later, it was rejected by the High Court as unconstitutional. I am astonished that the Government has not attacked the judgment of the High Court, and that it has not condemned the court for delaying the Government’s legislative programme. Never again should a government be placed in the helpless position in which the Scullin Government was placed in the ‘thirties by the Commonwealth Bank Board. In the years prior to the advent of this Government, successive Labour governments had a great responsibility to the people and they measured up to their task very well. They were responsible not only for the waging of the war but also after the war had ceased, for getting the people back to work. They initiated a policy of full employment. Indeed, they placed their ideas of full employment before the United Nations and were able to persuade the peoples represented on that great body to accept the idea of full employment throughout the world. Plans for full employment made demands, not only on men and materials, but also on capital. Only a comparatively few miles from Canberra the Snowy Mountains scheme, a gigantic hydroelectric project was commenced by the Labour Government. I was about to say that that scheme had been conceived by that Government, but that may be too great a claim to make. At least it was commenced by the Chifley Government.
That scheme calls for the expenditure of hundreds of millions of pounds. The Chifley Government knew that the necessary materials were available and that we had a sufficiently large reservoir of skilled man-power to undertake the project. Its commencement, then, depended only on the provision of the requisite finance, and because the Government had control of the Commonwealth Bank it knew that sufficient finance could be obtained to undertake the work. If the present Government continues to remain in office it, too, will wish to maintain full employment, and accordingly it must control the financial policy of this country.
In this bill the Government is proposing to take a retrograde step. Those of us who know the history of the Commonwealth Bank remember the great progress which it made in the early year3 following its establishment. When the establishment of the bank was first mooted the press of Australia said that such a bank must fail. In 1911 the Melbourne Argus, referring to the proposal to establish the bank, had this to say -
The whole scheme is conceived in idiocy. It constitutes the malicious use of public funds. There is not the slightest justification for it, and its failure is so much a matter of certainty that the whole position will be abandoned after a few months of inglorious experiment.
That was the reception accorded by the press of Australia to the proposal for the establishment of the bank. What progress has the bank made since its inception? From 1911 to 1924, under the control of a single governor, the bank found its place in the community ; it was accepted as the peoples’ bank, and it gave much solidity to our financial structure. Although the bank had made splendid progress, and although, as to-day, there were no signs of an ill wind blowing on the bank and there was no reason why there should be a change in its administration, a Liberal government in 1924 decided that it should have the “ benefit “ of direction by a board.
– A betrayal!
– My friend, Senator Ward, gives, it a harsh name. My colleagues have referred to the personnel of the initial board. The names of the appointees are so well known that I shall not repeat them. They had won great fame in private enterprise, and were appointed to the board to give it the benefit of their great experience, but all of them were men who owed allegiance to private interests and still had their roots in private enterprise. What happened to the bank as a result of .that change? Did it progress and become stronger? Not at all, Very early in the life of the board it determined .that the bank should not actively compete with the private trading banks. Persons who sought to open accounts at the Commonwealth Bank were told that if they already had accounts with the private banks they were expected to retain them. They were discouraged from placing their business with the Commonwealth Bank.
– That was, of course, the most prosperous era in the history of the Commonwealth.
– To which period does the Minister refer?
– To the years 1924 and 1925.
– The Minister has said that that was the most prosperous era in the history of the Commonwealth. I remind him that if the bank had been allowed to continue to function under the control of. a single governor, and had it been permitted to continue to trade as it had traded in the past and not been impeded by the directions of the board, it would have enjoyed the most prosperous period in its history.
– That was the most prosperous period in its history.
– Since the bank ha 8 been permitted to operate in untrammelled competition with the private banks it has made tremendous progress. I am sure that the Minister will agree with me that never in the history of the bank has it made such rapid progress as it has achieved in the last few years. In spite of that progress the Government proposes to revert to the practice that was adopted by its predecessor in 1924 and to appoint a board to assist the Governor of the bank. It contends that this change will not bring the results that followed the appointment of a board in 1924 and that the new board will not restrict the bank but will help it to progress.
– No fear!
– Honorable senators opposite have assured me that that is the intention of the Government.
– The Government wants to wreck the bank
– When we voice suspicions against this proposal who on the Government side is game enough to stand up and defend it? Not one Government supporter is willing to do so. Last year when we were considering the first’ measure to give effect to the Gover>nment’s. intention to effect a change in the administration of the Commonwealth Bank, I asked the Minister in charge of the bill to inform the Senate of the names of the persons who would be appointed to the board, but he refused to do so. I a:gain ask him whether he is prepared to give us a panel of names from which the appointees to the board will be selected.
– Shall I put the honorable senator’s name on the panel ?
– I should probably do a good job if I were appointed to the board, but I have no ambitions in that direction. I challenge the Minister to state publicly who will be selected for appointment to the board. If we indicate that we are prepared to allow this bill to go through, will he give us some idea of whom the Government has in mind for appointment to these posts?
– The Minister has not yet been told the names by his own
– We remember the experiences of the past. We have asked the Minister for the names of those who will be selected by the Government to control the Commonwealth Bank, but he remains silent. Is there any wonder that we are suspicious? We know that during the last general election campaign, private banks spent large sums of money in assisting the Liberal party and the Australian Country party in their campaign against the Chifley Government. Bank officials whispered into the ears of the people in every district in Australia that the Ministers of the Labour Government were bad persons and that if they voted for Labour candidates, dire happenings would follow.
– And they would . have followed.
– I can only say to the people, and to Senator Robertson, that the people could not have done worse than they did in electing this Government to office. The Government tickled the ears of the people with its promise to put value back into the £1, which was a £1 once, yet to-day the workers are scared to open their pay envelopes, because they wonder whether the money will be sufficient to enable them to meet their commitments for the ensuing week. That is what is happening under the administration of a Government which told the people that dire happenings would follow the return to office of the Chifley Government.
– The people, at all events, put the Chifley Government out of office.
– And they have regretted their action in so doing. It is easy for honorable senators opposite to jeer at us, and ‘to throw out challenges about a double dissolution. That sort of thing has been done in the Parliament on many occasions. It is of no use for Government supporters to try to bolster their courage in that way. They have a responsibility to the people, and they must honour it. On the hustings, .they painted a glowing picture of the prosperity which would follow their return to office. They told the people that they would do many things, and the people are still waiting for them to be done. I say to them, as I did when we asked them to support our proposal for the holding of a referendum on prices control, that if they wait much longer before they act, they will bring calamity to this country. The silence of Government supporters during this debate is not to be wondered at, because the Government is doing many things that are not in the interests of the people.
I have outlined two reasons why we are suspicious of the Government proposals in this bill. Before I was interrupted by the interjections of honorable senators opposite, I was pointing out that the private banks came to the assistance of the
Liberal party and the Australian Country party, and sent their organizers throughout Australia in an attempt to ensure the election to office of their friends. When a bill of this description is introduced by a Government which received such support from the private banks, is it any wonder that we are suspicious of its intentions ?
– What awful things the honorable senator thinks!
– After having been a member of this Parliament for some years, any one might be pardoned for becoming suspicious, especially of those who, after promising the people many things, make no attempt to honour them, and, month after month, conveniently forget them.
The Commonwealth Bank has fulfilled its task of looking after the financial policy of this country. It has grown into a great public institution which cares for the people’s money. To-day, there is no sign that the bank has been weakened in any way under the existing administration. The Governor of the bank has not suggested that he needs the assistance of a. board to help him direct the operations of the institution. I do not think that any honorable senator opposite can claim that the Governor needs the assistance of a board. The bank is flourishing and if left undisturbed, it will continue to do so. Having regard to earlier experiences of control by a. board, we see no reason to change the existing method of control. When we ask that question we are met with a stony silence.
– We want to clip Coombs’s wings.
– Does the honorable senator mean that the present Governor of the bank is not doing his job satisfactorily ?
– I have no time for him.
– .Surely when the Government wishes to terminate the services of a man who is doing a good job, it should seek a better excuse than that it does not like him. Is the Government not prepared to accept the responsibility for the administration of the Commonwealth Bank? Does it want to shelter behind a board and. thus avoid any rebuffs that may be forthcoming? The only reason that: has been offered by the Government for the change proposed in this legislation is the bald statement that a board of directors will bring experience and ability to the administration of the Commonwealth Bank. That is quite easy to say, but what does it mean? Experience in what? What kind of ability? Is it suggested that members of the present Advisory Board lack experience and ability? Let us see how some of the directors of the private banks are appointed. Obviously it is not necessary for a person to be- able and experienced to secure appointment as a director of a private bank. He needs only enough money to buy a large number of shares, or enough friends who own shares to vote for him at a board election. Whether he has ability or experience does not matter.
– That is a rather bard criticism of Dr. Coombs.
– I am not speaking of Dr. Coombs. I am telling honorable senators how some of the directors of the private banks are appointed. Dr. Coombs was not elected by shareholders; he was selected by the Government of Australia to do an important job for this country. Some directors of the private banks are old and conservative. Many of them are narrow-minded, and others are completely lacking in ability. Probably bank directors are- no worse than any other section of the community, and like every other section of the community, they include good and bad, but the mere fact that they are bank directors does not necessarily mean that they are able or experienced. On the other hand, the present Governor, and his advisers, are men of outstanding ability. Mr. Richardson and Mr. Armstrong,, for instance, have spent a. lifetime in theservice of the Commonwealth Bank - the biggest bank in Australia. It is in their hands that the control of the bank lies to-day. Yet the Government seeks to place the bank under the administration of men of “’ ability “ and “ experience “. So far, we’ have been unable to find out the: names of five prospective members’ of” the board’. No qualifications have been specified. The bill does’ not provide that members of the board shall hold university degrees or shall have had twenty years’ experience in. ‘banking. -We are asked to> accept blindly whoever the Government likes to nominate..
– Why are the names being kept secret ?.
– The Labour party has. a perfect right to ask. that question. Why do honorable senators opposite consistently refuse to speak in. support of their own bill ?.
-. - We want to- have a double dissolution on it.
– The Government always has some excuse and1 we have learned to be sceptical of anything that honorable senators opposite say. As the Government is not prepared to defend its bill by answering questions asked by honorable senators on this side of the1 chamber, and as, so far, the Government has failed to show what advantages will accrue te1 the people of Australia if this measure becomes law, the Labour party cannot be expected to permit the bill to have an easy passage.
. The Opposition’s suspicion of this bill is amply justified by the f ailure of honorablesenators opposite to answer our criticism of it. While members of .the Opposition have discussed the bill during the last two days; Government supporters and even Ministers have, sat in silence. If thereis any justification for this measure, surely it is not too much to expect a government spokesman to fell us what it is. At present, the Commonwealth Bank is controlled1 by the governor and an advisory board. What is. wrong with the present management ? Not one word of complaint has been, uttered by the Government about the- operations of the bank since Labour legislation restored, it to* the people in 1945.. This matter, is of great concern to the people of Australia,, and it should be discussed dispassionately. The Government has a. duty to the people to explain the revolutionary change that is proposed in this measure. Members of the present advisory board are experts in banking, and they have rendered valuable service to the Commonwealth Bank; yet the Government proposes to do what was done by an administration of a similar political colour’ in 1924 when the Commonwealth
Bank was sold out to the private hanks. One can be forgiven for searching for a motive for this measure, and I am sure that the people of Australia will appreciate only too readily that the real motive is to repay the debt owing by the present Government to the private banks fer assistance, both financial and physical, rendered by those banks to the present Government parties in December, 1949.
Why has this measure been brought on so suddenly? The first Commonwealth Bank bill is still at the bottom of the notice-paper in the House of Representatives, but, because of - a judgment given by the High Court last week and the resulting feeling of frustration among Government supporters, this bill, the second Commonwealth Bank Bill, has been given priority over a measure which hitherto has been considered by the Government to be of prime importance. I refer to the National Service Bill. Proposed new section 23 provides that the Commonwealth Bank Board shall consist of the Governor, the Deputy Governor, the Secretary to the Department of the Treasury, and seven other members “ who shall be appointed by .the GovernorGeneral in accordance with the succeeding provisions of this section “. Then follows the important provision: -
Of the seven members appointed under paragraph (d) of the last preceding sub-section, at least five shall be persons who are not officers of the bank or of the Public Service of the Commonwealth.
Yet the Government has the effrontery to tell lis that it proposes to appoint five men who are not connected with the private banking institutions! Are the appointees to be grocers or dressmakers? Obviously the Government will make appointments from the private banks, or from men who have had a close association with those institutions. Admittedly there is a disqualification clause which provides that 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. That might delude a kindergarten class, but it is obvious to any intelligent person that a director of a private bank could resign his position to-day and thus become eligible for appointment to the Common wealth Bank Board to-morrow. The disqualification clause has been inserted merely to hoodwink the people. To obtain a proper assessment of the implications of this bill and of its dangers, it is pertinent for us to consider the work of the previous Commonwealth Bank Board. I realize, of course, that honorable senators opposite do not like to hear about that. They . say, “ But that happened many years ago. We are not living in the past “. I submit that we must be guided by experience. We have not forgotten the activities of the Commonwealth Bank Board between 1924 and 1945. During most of those years, the Commonwealth Bank Board was able to dictate the policy of the Commonwealth Government, and that will happen again if this legislation becomes law. The matters to which I am about to refer give some indication of the merciless and ruthless actions of the Commonwealth Bank Board at the behest of the private banks. The following remarkable historical account, quoted from the late Mr. Frank Anstey’s Facts and Theories in Finance, should be a warning to the people of Australia not to allow the anti-Labour parties in this Parliament to do again what they did in 1924 :-
The War governments gave the Associated Banks the “Eight to Draw” Commonwealth notes without any gold payment or any deposited security.
The mechanism of this scheme, and the way it operated, were set forth in detail on June 13, 1924, by the then Treasurer, Earle Page.
That right honorable gentleman is now more colloquially known as “ Sir Blank Page “. It continues -
For all notes drawn under the scheme, the banks had to pay interest at rates varying between 3 and 4 per cent. Under the Oth War Loan (191S), 3 per cent. Under Soldiers’ Gratuities Scheme, 4 per cent.
For instance, six millions of the War Gratuities had to be paid in cash. The Government arranged with the banks to pay out and charge to the Government on a 54 per cent, loan basis. For this the banks had “ Eight to Draw “ Commonwealth notes to an account paid to ex-soldiers. Thus the banks were out nothing, and scooped the difference between the 4 per cent, notes and the 5-J per cent “ Loan “.
But the hanks did not draw notes - they traded on their “ Bight to Draw “ as if the notes were actually in their own vaults. Thereby, they avoided interest payments to the Government, but upon these “ Rights “ they issued credits, and drew interest from the Government and general public.
In 1920, the note issues passed from the Treasury to the “ Note Issue Board “. The banks continued in exercise of their “ Eights “ and, on the basis of their “ Rights ‘’, increased their “ bank-manufactured cheque currency “.
On June 23, 1023, these “Bights to Draw” totalled £8,000,000. The Board made a demand that the banks should exercise their “ Bights “ - draw the notes, and pay interest thereon. The banks refused.
Early in 1924 the banks made a demand that these “ Rights “ should be extended by another £3,000,000. The Chairman of the Board, Mr. John Garvan, stated that these “Rights” were equivalent to an issue of notes to the hanks without interest. He described the proposition as “madness”. The Treasurer upheld the view, but the hanks’ demand was conceded.
Later in the year the banks made a demand for another £5,000,000. It was refused. Thereupon the banks pulled in overdrafts, restricted credits, imposed increased charges on exports, placed a banking boycott on industrial and commercial expansion, and caused a general economic slow-down; unemployment doubled.
In August, 1924, the Associated Banks notified the Wool Councils that sales would not be financed without additional notes or “Rights” to same. They promised released credits and reduced rates. The Note Issue Board capitulated. In September the “ Right ti’ Draw “ another £5,000,000 was conceded. Credits were not released - they were tightened. Bates wore not lowered - they were raised. The newspapers announced that, at the Adelaide sales, “ the price of wool dropped, because buyers could not obtain bank credits, no matter on what security “. The Sydney Telegraph described the situation as “ A Financial Hold-up “.
Those -are the people who assisted the present Government to power, and to whom it is prepared to sell-out the Commonwealth Bank to-day. The article continues -
Thu banks responded to the outcries by a demand for an additional £10,000,000, promising abundant credits and lower rates if conceded.
On October 10, 1924, the Bruce-Page Government “ proclaimed “ the Commonwealth Bank Act. Under this the bank and the note issue were combined, under the chairmanship of Mr. John Garvan.
Next day the Bank Board, the Bruce-Page Government and the Associated Banks went into secret session.
On October 14, the newspapers announced that the Associated Banks had delivered their “ ultimatum “ and “ won on every point ‘». They announced the terms imposed by the banks :
Associated Banks to have the “Right to Draw” another £10,000,000.
No interest to be paid for the “Right to Draw “. Four per cent, on notes actually drawn.
– From what is the honorable senator reading?
– From the Sydney Daily Telegraph of a certain date. The Attorney-General will admit that it is not a pro-Labour paper. Later I shall read from the Melbourne SunNews Pictorial and the Melbourne Herald. Of course, he knows that the Sun-News Pictorial is for people who cannot read, and the Herald is for those who cannot think. The article continues -
On this date (October 14, 1924), the Melbourne Herald stated that traders and others were “ unable to obtain credit, on the most adequate security, at any rate of interest “. The apologists for the Associated Banks announced that “ the Associated Banks will now release credit to the public at reduced rates “.
The day after securing the £10,000.000 concession the banks increased their rates by another 10s. per cent. This meant an additional levy upon Australian export of £750,000 per year. The Melbourne Sun on October 17 said : “ The demand ra te on London is now “7s. 6d. per £100. That is to say, a bank advances money here at the rate, and receives it in London in 30 days’” time. The charge, therefore, works out fit. 4(>i per vent, per annum ‘».
The Industrial Australian of November 20, 1924 - “ the primary producers for a long time past have been, and still are being, mercilessly exploited - and victimized on millions sterling “.
Those are very illuminating facts concerning the conduct of the Commonwealth Bank while it was under the control of a board. I do not propose to recapitulate the sorry happenings during the depression when the anti-Labour parties and the Commonwealth Bank Board combined to. defeat the efforts of the Scullin Government to relieve the distress of the people. We all know that an anti-Labour majority in this chamber, of which the present Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) was one, voted against the proposal to allow the Scullin Government £18,000,000 credit to relieve the national distress. Surely, the Minister should hang his head in shame even now because he recorded his vote against the proposal to provide £18,000,000 to feed starving people.
– It would be better for the honorable senator to continue with his reading!
– I know that the honorable senator who has interjected does not like to hear the truth. Last night the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made an allegedly outstanding statement, in the course of which he challenged the Labour party, in his inimitable dramatic fashion, to agree to a double dissolution of the Parliament so that there could be a general election. Then he expressed his opinion that the Labour party would not accept the challenge, and accused us of always running away. If any one can be accused of running away and if there is any one qualified to talk of running away, it is the right honorable gentleman himself! He ran away in 1914 when “World War I. broke out, again in 1938, when the national insurance proposal was under discussion, again in 1941 during the recent war, and later still he deserted the Advisory War Council. As a matter of fact, he has done so much running that I was astonished that he did not enter for the Bendigo Thousand footrace last week-end. Even now he is running away from his .1949 election promises, which he has repudiated again and again.
It is amazing that not one honorable senator opposite has attempted to speak in order to tell us why this measure is necessary. The Commonwealth Bank has done, and is continuing to do, an exceptionally fine job for Australia. However, I think it is clear that if this bill becomes law we shall revert to the financial dictatorship, of which we had such bitter experience between 1924 and 1945.
– So the honorable senator is prepared to vote against the bill, is he?
– It is about time that the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) got a new record. Every time he comes into the chamber he interjects to ask members of the Opposition whether they intend to vote against a particular bill. When Senator Benn was speaking in this debate, Senator Kendall interjected and said that the private banks at least used their own money. Is that true? Let me remind honorable senators of some of the tragedies that occurred during (lie hank failures of 1893-
– Let me tell honorable senators opposite that it is not so long since the last of those unfortunate persons who were robbed by the banks in 1893 passed away. As the result of the banks’ unscrupulous conduct many of them lived for many years in the greatest penury and were deprived of even the barest necessities. I shall read to the Senate Mr. Frank Anstey’s account of what happened during that period. It is as follows: -
The “ Commercial “ was the most notorious of the defaulting banks, lt declared a 12 per cent, dividend, and then closed its doors upon 30,000 depositors and millions of deposits. It then appropriated one-third of the deposits as “ preference “ capital, and gave receipts on the indefinite future for the two-thirds balance. Other banks followed the “ Commercial’s “ example, and thousands of depositors were left penniless, compelled to sell their deposit receipts and their compulsory shares for a fraction of their face value. The directors of these fiduciary institutions had cross-loaned to each other enormous sums of other people’s money, yet while they were pushing other’ people to the wall, they conspired with each other, met in secret, and wiped off their mutual obligations for a few pence or one farthing in the pound. They kept their assets, gave each other clean receipts, and got through the legislature of the State an Act of Parliament making it an offence for any person or newspaper to give publicity to their scandalous secret “ compositions “. They not only wiped off each other’s debts to the institutions they controlled, whose depositors’ money they had borrowed, upon whose remaining assets they had foreclosed, but from these foreclosed funds they again “ borrowed “ to purchase the script and deposit receipts of the thousands they had ruined. Thus these financiers, trusted custodians of other men’s money, emerged from the struggle more wealthy than ever.
Although some honorable senators opposite say nonchalantly, “ But that happened many years ago “, we have good reasons for our suspicion of the Government’s intention. The people of Australia are perfectly justified in asking the Government for a sound reason why this measure has been introduced. Labour is entitled to ask in what way the Commonwealth Bank, has failed to carry out its functions since 1945. We have become accustomed to not receiving answers to our questions. However, it appears to us that the proposal to reconstitute the Commonwealth Bank Board reveals an intention to sellout to the private banks, similar to the sell-out that occurred in 1924. It will be similar to the sell-out of the Australian Commonweath Line of Steamers after World War I. As I have mentioned before in this chamber that line of steamers was sold for a song and all that we got was a couple of lines of the chorus; we were never paid for them. We also remember the sell-out of the Commonwealth Woollen Mills after World War I. There is a long list of sell-outs bv anti-Labour governments. When the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) asked the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) recently whether the Government was negotiating to sell Commonwealth ships, the Minister declined to answer. Apparently he could not deny that that was so, and was not prepared to tell the truth about the matter. Although the Government has staged a sit-down strike in this chamber in connexion with this matter, practically the only reason that the Government has advanced in justification of the reconstitution of the Commonwealth Bank Board is that every big business is controlled by a board of directors. However, the position is not analogous. The Commonwealth Bank is functioning under a governor, who is answerable to the people, through the Parliament. In effect, the people are the sole controllers of the monetary policy of this country.
Supporters of the Government admit that they will have to obtain the services of five outside men, experienced in banking procedure, but not connected with banking. That statement has been made as a sop to the people, and is utterly ridiculous. It is obvious that the proposed appointees will receive their orders to resign directorships of private banks, and they will then be appointed to the board of the Commonwealth Bank for a term of five or seven years. It is interesting to note that the services of the governor, the deputy governor, and other public servants or employees of the bank can be terminated at a moment’s notice, whereas the five mysterious men that it is proposed to appoint from outside will have security of tenure. Surely that is sufficient reason for our suspicions. We are not blaming the five men, or the private trading banks that are trying again to gain control. Their business is to make as much profit as possible, so that large dividends can be paid to their shareholders. During the depression years the private banks were absolutely dictatorial. To show that this was so I cite the following excerpt from the 1932 report of the Bank of New South Wales : -
It is evident that no proposal for further borrowing will be approved unless it is accompanied by definite indications that the Governments are doing all things necessary to reduce their expenditures in keeping with the conditions of the times. This would involve a reduction in their establishments, with consequent additions to unemployment, but the pi obi em of resultant unemployment is secondary, and should not deter Governments from taking necessary action towards balancing their budgets.
It is obvious that, in framing its policy, the Bank of New South Wales realized that it would precipitate further unemployment. Could anything be more callous? I warn the people of Australia that this seemingly harmless and innocent bill contains inherent dangers. The people of this country remember only too well the conditions to which they were subjected by the previous Commonwealth Bank Board, which was merciless and ruthless. I emphasize that if this measure becomes law the anti-Labour parties now occupying the treasury bench - but not for very long, we hope - will again sell out the interests of the Commonwealth Bank to the financial oligarchy of Australia.
– It would be interesting to know the Government’s reason for the introduction of some of the legislation that has been brought before the Senate since December, 1949. I do not know of any misdeeds that the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank has committed since then to justify the Government regarding this bill as an urgent measure, particularly in view of some of the promises that were made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) on the hustings during the 1949 general election campaign. He promised the people continuance of coal supplies and peace in the coal-mining industry. He also promised that there would be a quicker turn-around of ships, and that if returned to power he would get rid of the “Comma”. The right honorable gentleman alao promised to remove controls, to reduce the prices of essential goods, and to restore the value of the £1. Although this Government has been in office for fifteen months, no useful legislation has been introduced. Of course, we realize that the Government is in a most invidious position. The whips of the private banks are cracking and the lashes are hurting. In effect, the private banking institutions have said to the Government, “ Although you have promised the people all these things we have given you financial backing so that you will take. certain action whereby we will be able again to take from the people of Australia their cherished Commonwealth Bank”. Their advice to the Government was to force this measure before the Senate, to forget the’ tragedies that would follow its implementation, and that even if it involved a double dissolution they would again finance an election campaign by the anti-Labour parties-, with the object of securing, ultimately, the destruction of the Commonwealth Bank.
Let us consider why the Commonwealth Bank was established. As has been mentioned in this chamber previously, as a result of the crash of - the private banks in the ‘90’s, the Australian Labour party realized that there should be established a financial institution that would function in the interests of the people of this country. In the bank crash the workers were robbed of their savings by the proprietors of institutions to whom the Government now wants to hand back the charge of the financial affairs of this country. The Commonwealth Bank was established on the first occasion possible by a Labour Government in 1911. During World War I. it functioned for the benefit not only of the people of Australia but also of members of the armed forces. No member of this chamber can point a finger of scorn at the management, or indicate any mistake that was made by the Commonwealth Bank during those years. It continued to function satisfactorily until the Bruce-Page Government was on the way out in 1924. Something; even something tragic, had to be done to keep that Government in office. Big business said, in effect, to that Go vernment, “ Sell the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, and alter the constitution of the Commonwealth Bank in order to give the associated banks control of it, and we will back you in the 1925 general election”. That was done, and the Bruce-Page Government subsequently altered the charter of the Commonwealth Bank. In 1924 the charter of the Commonwealth Bank was taken away from the people by thieves in the night representing the associated banks and big business. If the Government were sincere it would go to the people on a decent issue and would say frankly, “ We intend to abolish the Commonwealth Bank “. Why does it not tell the people that the ultimate reason for this legislation is to abolish the people’s bank ? I suggest that it is not prepared to do so. If it is not, will the ‘Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner), when he is replying, inform the ‘Senate and the electors what wrong has been done since 1945 because of the present constitution of the Commonwealth Bank? Will he also say why it is necessary once more to return the finances of this country to a group of people representing the associated banks? If he is prepared to do that he may be able to influence honorable senators on this side of the chamber to agree to the amendment of the legislation. The Opposition has been given no explanation as to why control of the bank is to be taken away from the people and handed back to those who failed this country in the past.
During the years 1911 to 1924, when the Commonwealth Bank functioned aa it was intended that it should, it financed some important schemes. From 1924 until 1945 the bank almost went out of existence. It was used merely as a savings bank. Honorable senators will remember that there was no other department of the bank than the Commonwealth Savings Bank. Prom the end of World War I. until 1924 Australia experienced prosperity, because there was money available to the people. Inflation and deflation serve an equal purpose as far as the interests of trading hanks are concerned. By 1924 the time had arrived, as the late Mr. Lyons and his wife, who is now the honorable member for Darwin (Dame Enid:
Lyons) stated, for the workers of A ustralia once more to pull in their belts and to eat shins of beef instead of steak. Ji. was decided that overdrafts should be called in, that industry should be tied, and that unemployment should be created. I have on many occasions in this chamber explained how money is made available during time of war arid when the assets of those people who rob the workers are at stake. I suggest that the time has arrived when the people who made money available with which to prosecute the second world war are desirous of having it returned. When the associated banks, through the directors of the Commonwealth Bank, assumed control of that institution after the first world war, the banks called in overdrafts on the homes of returned soldiers. I am not moved by the crocodile tears that are shed and the criticism that is made by Ministers of this Government because the workers have no homes in which to live. At the time to which I have just referred the Commonwealth Bank could have come to the assistance of the nation and made money available with which to build homes.
The inflationary period after World War II. will la3t longer than after World War I. because more money lias been made available. The people who control the finances of this country have no doubt said to the Government, “ We made your Government possible and you know why we did so. We provided the money for your insidious propaganda with which to put .the real people’s government out of existence in 1949 and now we want our repayment “. I have no doubt that they have instructed this Government not to tell the electors, that the Commonwealth Bank is to be abolished, but that instead a subterfuge should be used and that the people should be told that it is desired to reinstitute the Commonwealth Bank Board. Perhaps the Minister in charge of the bill can explain what wrongs were committed by the bank up till 1924 and what mistakes it has made since 1945. For my part, I shall explain to him the actions of the Commonwealth Bank Board from 1924 until the outbreak of World War II.
In the worst days of the man-made depression in this country, the govern- ment of the day approached the Commonwealth Bank in ‘order that money should be made available, not only to the workers, but also to the farmers in order to provide the wherewithal with which to build homes and plant crops. That Government was told that it could not have any money, although all that it wanted was £18,000,000. It required £12,000,000 for primary industry and £6,000,000 with which to build homes, mainly for returned soldiers from World War I. The refusal did not come from Sir Robert Gibson, who was merely a stooge in the payment of the associated banks and who was required to carry out their instructions, but from the. directors of the bank. The great industries of this country and the homes of the people returned to the control of big business until the advent of World War II.
To-day the bank is controlled by a governor and an advisory committee.. I should like the Government to point to any member of that advisory committee who is not pulling his weight or who has done anything to retard the progress of the people of this country or the policy of the Government. I should also like to be informed of anything that Dr. Coombs has done that he should not have done .in his capacity as Governor of the bank. The public servants who are members of that committee may perhaps have political views, but after 25 years’ experience of the Public Service I believe that any public servant who is worth his salt will give his best to the department for which he works, irrespective of the political colour of the Government. I feel most depressed when I hear Ministers in this chamber and in the House of Representatives condemning efficient public servants. I consider that there is no body of men more capable of carrying out the administration and the affairs of the Commonwealth Bank than those public servants who to-day are acting in an advisory capacity.
I warn the people of Australia that this legislation is a step in the wrong direction. If the people are prepared to allow this bank, which is their only bulwark against a depression, to return to the hands of the associated banks and private enterprise, the country will proceed headlong into another depression. The Australian Labour party will oppose to the best of its capacity any action on the part of the Government to amend the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945. I challenge the Government to go to the people on the real issue and to tell .the people that it intends to abolish the Commonwealth Bank. If it is prepared to do so, the Opposition will be prepared to face the people to-morrow.
– I wish to carry on from the point at which Senator Hendrickson concluded his speech ‘ and to challenge honorable senators opposite to indicate in what way any member of the Advisory Committee has not fulfilled his duty to the fullest extent. In addition to experiencing a change of government some fifteen months ago, Australia has also experienced a complete change in financial policy. That change is now beginning to take a very effective hold. The members of the Advisory Committee were members of that committee during the regime of the previous Government. Those officers are now carrying out the policy that this Government desires them to carry out. If honorable senators could see some of the instructions that have been issued by the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank to the managers of associated private banks they would be amazed. Can honorable senators imagine a man going along to a bank, with £12,000 worth of assets, asking for a small overdraft and being told that the bank was not allowed to let him have an advance? I quote that instance to show the complete change in banking policy that has taken place.
We do not know who will comprise the personnel of the proposed Commonwealth Bank Board. The Opposition does not quarrel with the appointment of the Governor, the Deputy Governor and the Secretary to the Department of the Treasury, but it desires to know who the other seven members will be. Will they have experience in economics and banking, and the relationship of banking to the economic position of the country? The Government has stated that it will have a board composed of representatives of various interests. Will the big grazier, who may be appointed to the board, represent the small farmers who are entitled to representation? As honorable senators are no doubt aware, the gulf between the . big grazier and the small producer is as wide as the Atlantic Ocean. How could there be a board that would represent all sections of the community? If the big grazier or the manufacturer on the hoard does not understand the fundamental principles of economics and banking, it will mean that his appointment has been made because he has contributed handsomely to party funds. I suggest that perhaps the main reason for the proposed re-institution of this board is to provide compensation to persons who have contributed generously to party funds.
The present advisory committee has carried out all the functions expected of it. I challenge the Government to show in what manner the Commonwealth Bank, under the direction of the Governor and the advisory committee, has committed any breach of banking practice in Australia since 1945. [ also challenge it to point to any occasion in the history of Australia when a bank officer has done a better job than has the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank since 1945. This Government has not found fault with the Governor, with his advisers or with the policy of the bank. Apparently the Government considers that if the financial policy of the country should bring about economic distress, such as there is in Russia and other parts of the world, it may bo able to hide behind the Commonwealth Bank Board and say that such financial policy was dictated by the board. The nature of the instructions that have already gone out, concerning the change of policy of the Commonwealth Bank since the present Government has been in office, will soon be known to the people of Australia. As time goes on, the effect of that change will be felt very severely. When the effects of that change of policy are felt, the Government -wall try to run to cover, amd will disclaim responsibility. On a previous occasion, when the Commonwealth Bank Board really was independent of government control, it refused ito allow the government of the day to put into effect its policy for relieving distress amongst the people. Even under this legislation the Treasurer will retain, for the time being, control over the policy of the bank, but that situation will probably be altered, either by subsequent amending legislation or by regulation. This legislation is the first step towards giving the board supreme power such as it exercised in the past. The Government is not game to go the whole way at once. Eventually, when the board is clothed with full powers, it will probably recommend that the Commonwealth Bank be sold out to the opposition as the Commonwealth Shipping Board recommended that the Commonwealth Line of Steamers be sold. Already, since the present Government came into office, interest rates have been increased, and that could only have been done under instructions from the top. The Treasurer has power to prevent any increase of interest rates, or to reduce them if he wishes.
In some of the totalitarian countries, a board of commissars has absolute control of economic affairs, ‘and may create a depression if they choose. This Government is trying to bring about a similar state of affairs in Australia by setting up what will be, in effect, a board of commissars to control the Commonwealth Bank. The real purpose of this legislation is to enable the Government to escape responsibility for bringing about a condition of affairs similar to that which obtains in countries behind the iron curtain. If this legislation is passed, how do we know that the Communists will not bet a toe-hold on the board, and eventually control it?
– The honorable senator may rest assured that the Communists will not get control of the board while the present Government is in power.
– We have heard that sort of talk before. The Government boasted that it was going to deal with the Communis’ts.
– And the Labour party prevented it from doing so.
– We gave- the Government the Communist Party Dissolution Bill, but the Government did nothing to check the Communist menace. The Communists can say and do just what they like. They are, in fact, saying and doing just what they like right under the Government’s nose.
– The honorable senator’s colleague, Senator Morrow, supported them.
– Senator Morrow has the same right as has any other honorable senator to express his views in this chamber. Let me make it clear that T dissociate myself from all pro-Russian and anti-British views that have been expressed in this chamber. The gulf between some of the views expressed by Senator Morrow and those held by me is as wide as the Atlantic Ocean. It is time the Government did something to meet the Communist menace. It is also time that the Government abandoned attempts to put through the Parliament legislation such as that now before us. If the wrong government were in power, as mow, this legislation could pave the way for Communist control of the Commonwealth Bank, and for the economic ruin of the country. Against that possibility we will fight so long as we have the power to do so.
. - in reply - This bill contains three main provisions. The first is to repeal the legislation under which it was proposed to nationalize banking; the second is to reconstruct the ‘ Commonwealth Bank Board to control the activities of the bank; and the third is to provide additional capital for the bank. I wish to make the point that two of those three provisions were specifically mentioned in the policy speech upon which this Government was elected. The speech contains these words -
If returned to office we will repeal the bank nationalisation act … we therefore propose to set up under control by Parliament a small board of directors of the Commonwealth Bank of which the Governor of the bank should be Chairman.
It is necessary to make the point that those provisions were mentioned in the policy speech because that is a sufficient reply to approximately 60 per cent, of the criticism by the Opposition during the course of this debate during the last two days. Over and over again, members of the Opposition have made the point that they have the greatest suspicion of the Government’s proposal to re-appoint the board. All I can say is that a higher tribunal than the Opposition had the matter put fairly and squarely before it, and returned this Government to office. When the people of Australia speak on an important matter, I say with respect that it ill becomes the Opposition to make scurillous attacks on the Government for putting into effect the policy upon which it waa elected.
The third point I want to make is that, at the conclusion of this part of the policy speech the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said -
We will continue the trading bank activities of the Commonwealth bank in fair competition with other banks.
There is proof positive that that policy will be applied in the proposal now before Parliament that the capital of the Commonwealth Bank should be increased by £5,000,000. Those who say that the Government proposes to destroy the Commonwealth Bank know when they say it that they are speaking falsely. There is no substance in the .statement which is made for political purposes, and if I am any judge of the people of Australia the foolish statement will rebound on those who made it.
For various reasons, the debate on this bill has assumed proportions of national importance. Before discussing the proposals in the bill itself, I wish briefly to trace the course of the debate, because it is of great significance at the present time. The bill was introduced in this chamber last October. On the 24th and the 31st October the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) moved that the bill be considered by the Senate, and the Opposition in the Senate refused to allow the Senate to deal with the bill. I make the further point that, during the course of this debate, 28 senators have spoken, ten of them from the Government side and eighteen from the Opposition side. Of the eighteen who spoke from the Opposition side, three took the full hour permitted by the Standing Orders, and then obtained an extension of time. When the first banking bill was before the Senate, eighteen Opposition and fourteen Government senators spoke. On that occasion, eight Opposition senators spoke for the full hour permitted under the Standing Orders, and then obtained an extension of time. Thus, eleven Opposition senators spoke for an hour, and then obtained an extension of time. We had to suffer that hour, and that extension ‘ of time. I do not say that in a bitter spirit. I can take it, but I make the point because at this critical stage the Opposition cannot be permitted to say that it has not had ample opportunity to make up its mind where it stands on the hill, or on what the bill is all about. In no conceivable circumstances could the Opposition require any further information on the bill, and there can be no excuse for irresolution or delay. Members of the Opposition must know now where they stand, and all the Government asks is that they declare where they stand and act accordingly.
I say that because it has been stated on behalf of the Opposition that it is proposed to refer the bill to a select committee. I make the charge that, in adopting that course, the Opposition is resorting to a subterfuge in the hope that it may avoid a general election. No useful purpose could be served by the appointment of a select committee. Only a few years ago a royal commission made a full inquiry into banking. Does any one suggest that a select committee could add anything to the information obtained by that royal commission? In no circumstances could a select committee serve any useful purpose so far as this legislation is concerned. I state formally now what everybody knows: There ia no possibility whatever that the Government will agree to the proposal for the appointment of a select committee, and no supporter of the Government will serve on such a committee. The Government has due regard to its rights and responsibilities, and, if I may say so, with respect, to the dignity of this Senate. It will not be associated with such a futile proceeding as the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the provisions of this bill. Such a committee could not raise any more points than have already been raised in the long and tedious debate that has ensued on this measure. If the Opposition were sincere, if it were not playing politics, and if it thought that any useful purpose could be served by the appointment of a select committee, surely it is only fair to say that such a committee should have been appointed when the first bill wasbefore the Senate.
– The Government did not give us a chance to complete the consideration of the first bill.
– At last, the Government has the Opposition in a corner, and it can no longer shilly-shally on this matter. The Opposition must face the facts. It must decide what it proposes to do in regard to this bill.
– I rise to order. I ask whether the Minister for Social Services is speaking in reply to the second-reading debate. If he is doing so, I ask that he be directed to confine his remarks to the matters that were raised during the second-reading debate, and not to introduce new matter.
– I should like to say something which, I think, must be self-evident to all honorable senators. The only reason why no Government supporter has spoken on this bill during the last two days is that the Government did not intend to give the Opposition any positive excuse for postponing or prolonging the debate so that its members could again walk away from their responsibilities.
Opposition senators interjecting,
– Order ! There is no need for honorable senators to become excited. Constant interjections are grossly disorderly. The Minister must be heard in silence.
– I thank you, Mr. President, for the protection that you have afforded to me. The Government has no intention to permit the Opposition to avoid this issue any longer. This is the only opportunity that the Government has had to make a stand on this matter since last October. It introduced the Commonwealth Bank Bill 1950 [No. 2] into the Senate, and attempted to get the Senate to deal with it, but the Opposition refused to do so. The Government had then to accept its responsibility for completing the legislation that gave effect to the budget proposals, and, accordingly, that legislation was disposed of. The Government has to continue to govern, no matter what the attitude of the Opposition may be. The Government must exhibit a sense of responsibility, even if the Opposition does not do so. The legislation to give effect to the budget proposals was introduced and passed in the closing weeks of the last sessional period. At the opening of the new sessional period, this bill was placed into the Opposition’s lap, and the Government has put the Opposition in the position of having to deal with it, or of taking the consequences.
Opposition senators interjecting,
– I know from the comments of honorable senators opposite that the Opposition does not relish this situation. I am well aware that the Opposition would like to continue to delay, argue and carry on like a body of old women, while delaying the proceedings of the Senate as long as possible. The Government will not countenance further delay. It has at last got the Opposition in a situation in which it must deal with this legislation, one way or the other, or take the consequences. That is all that we ask honorable senators opposite to do. That is what we have been asking them to do for a considerable time.
The Government will not appoint representatives to the fantastic select committee proposed by the Opposition to inquire into this bill. If Opposition senators want to continue the antics that they have adopted in appointing select committees in the past, that is their responsibility. There is only one basis on which a select committee can operate effectively, and that is with the goodwill and with the respect of both sides of the chamber. Nobody can say that those circumstances prevailed in the appointment of the other select committees recently appointed, or prevail in respect of the select committee which the Opposition proposes shall consider this bill. In other words, if the Opposition has no regard for the dignity and the standing of this chamber, the Government has, and is eager to uphold them. I put it to the Senate that since this Parliament met, the Opposition in this chamber has adopted a policy of frustration in an attempt to prevent the Government from carrying out the legislative programme upon which it was elected. Such, an attempt has marked the whole tenor of the tactics adopted by the Opposition in this chamber. Not one major matter of a controversial nature has been treated reasonably by members of the Opposition. The Opposition cannot be proud of its attitude to all legislation of major importance which has been introduced by this Government, including the bill to give effect to the proposal to pay endowment to the first child in the family, the bill to dissolve the Communist party and the bill to provide for the training of our youths for national service. The Opposition has no capacity for approaching important legislation in a national way. It has approached all of the legislation that has been introduced by the Government on purely party lines, hoping that it could in some way embarrass the Government, and bring it down. That stage has passed. We have been able to survive those tactics, and the Opposition now knows where it stands, and does not feel very happy about it.
– Order ! The Minister for Social Services would be well advised to deal with the points raised by Opposition speakers during the secondreading debate. I do not think he is in order in continuing his speech on the lines he has been following. I suggest that he should confine his remarks to replying to the arguments advanced by the Opposition during the second-reading debate.
– In deference to your wish, Mr. President, I shall now deal with the provisions of the bill. I am sure that in doing so I shall almost create a precedent in this debate. Let us consider the provision relating to the repeal of the legislation which was designed to bring about the nationalization of banking in Australia. The Opposition is obviously making the best it can of the situation in regard to that legislation. Opposition senators have indicated that they do not propose to oppose the repeal of that act. That is not good enough, because a vital principle is involved. Without a mandate of any kind from the people, a government supported by honorable senators opposite attempted to nationalize banking in Australia. When it failed to do so. it made no attempt to report its failure to the people, or to obtain authority to substitute other legislation. It permitted the. Banking Act to remain on the statute-hook after it had been declared invalid by the High Court, and it clung to office for as long as it could. It introduced a measure to alter the method by which the Senate is elected, the effect of which has been to prevent the Australian people from electing a majority of their own choice in this chamber. Finally, that government was thrown out of office. I should like to contrast its record with the record of the present Government. Having received a set-back from the High Court in respect of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill, we do not make an attempt to cling to office. We have taken the first opportunity to challenge the Opposition so that the people may be able to decide whether what we have done is right or wrong. The repeal of the Banking Act 1947 is a most important matter. It is essential that that legislation should be removed from the statute-book without delay. Thousands of employees in the private banks throughout this country will be pleased that the threat inherent in that legislation has been removed from them.
Opposition senators have repeatedly stated that the Government proposes to wreck or to sabotage the Commonwealth Bank. ‘ That statement is unfair and deliberately untrue. Those who made it do not in their hearts believe it to be true. The bill itself proves my point because it provides that the capital of the Commonwealth Bank shall be increased by £5,000,000 during the next five years. The provision of that additional capital will enable the bank to continue to offer a wide variety of services to the Australian people.
I turn now to a subject most ‘beloved of the Opposition, namely, the composition of the proposed board. I trust that T shall not be considered discourteous if I say-
– Be careful!
– Perhaps I had better leave it unsaid. The Government proposes that in future the bank shall be controlled by a board of ten persons. As far as I am aware, no other central bank in the world is controlled by a board of civil servants. If other countries have seen fit to appoint to direct the operations of their central banks men of wider experience than that usually possessed by civil servants we should be sufficiently progressive and adopt a similar policy. I have said in this chamber before, and I say again, that there are no circumstances in which I shall criticize amy public servant. Public servants are entitled to the support of honorable senators on both sides of the chamber so that they may carry out their responsible duties with impartiality, but there is not the slightest doubt that the Commonwealth Bank has lost prestige and standing since its board has been chosen from such a restricted circle. Despite figures that have been quoted, particularly by Senator Arnold, the fact is that the period of greatest progress and development in the history of the Commonwealth Bank was the period in which it was under the control of a board consisting of men of ability and experience who had the goodwill and support of the community. I have little more to say. The Opposition has ‘announced its intention to refer the bill to a select committee. It is not for me to say what the Government will do in reply to that action. That is for somebody more senior than I to announce, but I do not think that any one in this chamber has any doubt about what that action will be.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I move -
That the bill be referred, for consideration and report, to a select committee consisting of Senators Critchley, Katz, Amour, Cameron, Benn, Murray and Arnold.
That the committee report to the Senate on this day four weeks.
The Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) became rather heated in his reply to the second-reading debate on this measure. I remind the Senate and the people of Australia that for months this bill was allowed to -remain at the bottom of the notice-paper, and that, until this week, no attempt was made by the Government to restore it to a place of prominence. The Minister has threatened us with a double dissolution ; the Opposition has no fear of .the result of a doubledissolution. I was told last year that if the Government wanted a double dissolution it would seek it on its banking legislation so that it would be again in a position to command the support, both physical and financial, of the private banking institutions of this country. I was informed further that if the Commonwealth Bank Bill could not be used to secure a double dissolution, the Communist Party Dissolution Bill would be the means to that end. The Government failed to get a double dissolution on the Communist Party Dissolution Bill, and the stand taken by the Opposition against that measure has now been vindicated by the High Court of Australia. Therefore, the Government has been forced to fall back on the Commonwealth Bank Bill. The Minister claimed that the Opposition was in a corner. I say that if any one has been cornered, it is the Government. Its first Commonwealth Bank Bill is still on the notice-paper of the House of Representatives, while the second measure, is before this chamber. In that respect, the Government has displayed the same inefficiency as has characterized all its efforts to govern this country.
– I oppose the motion for reasons which I stated in my .reply to the second-reading debate. The Opposition’s proposal is futile ‘and without justification. In fact, it is laughable when one considers that the select committee to which the measure is to be referred is to be asked to report back to this chamber in four -weeks’ time. The only reason for specifying a period of four weeks is, of course, the Opposition’s hope that, during that period, the present crisis will pass, and the Opposition will be able to wiggle out of the difficult position in which it finds itself. It is almost twelve months since the Government introduced the first Commonwealth Bank Bill and during that twelve months that measure and its successor have been the cause of bitter recriminations between the Government and the Opposition. It is completely unreal, therefore, to ask a select committee to report back to the Senate om the bill in four weeks. “The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) claims that the Government had delayed this legislation. I made the point earlier, but I think it is worth repeating, that the second Commonwealth Bank Bill reached the Senate in October of last year. Several speeches were made on that measure. The Government endeavoured to have it dealt with expeditiously. On two occasions the Opposition refused to permit discussion of the bill. Therefore it ill-behoves the Leader of the Opposition to criticize the Government for any delay that has taken place. The Government has delayed consideration of other important legislation to have the Commonwealth Bank Bill dealt with finally by the Senate. That has been done because of the importance of having this measure decided one may or the other. I do not want to be harsh, but I think that it is fair to say that such an unreal proposal as that which the Senate is now considering has never before been submitted to the National Parliament.
– -, W hat about 1929 and 1930?
– I am not concerned with the ashes of the dead past. The facts are that the present Government parties fairly won the confidence of the people and were elected to power and that the Labour party, having lost the confidence of the people, has consistently failed, since the general election, to accept the umpire’s ruling. There is not one major matter upon which the Opposition has played fair with the Government. It would not have commanded a majority in this chamber had the Labour party played fair with the Australian public at the last general election. I know that the Opposition is numerically superior and that whatever it proposes will be done. All that I am trying to do is to register, in what I hope is a dignified way, the Government’s objection to the proposal. I believe that I can say truthfully that, in registering the views of the Government concerning the Opposition’s shameful treatment of this legislation, I am also registering the views of the Australian people.
– I support the motion. The Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) has added to the contempt of the Senate that he has already shown the further contempt that was implicit in his remarks which reflected upon select committees of the Senate. I say without hesitation that the work performed by select committees of this chamber in recent months has been of an outstanding character and has made a very useful contribution to matters of very great importance to the community. The comments of the Minister to-night were on a par with the insult that was levelled at the Senate by the Government in relation to the first Commonwealth Bank Bill 1950, which, after four or five months, still is listed at the end of the notice-paper in the House of Representatives. A message relating to that measure was sent to the House of Representatives many months ago by the Senate, which has equal power with the House of Representatives, but the House of Representatives has not even deigned to consider it. I contend that anybody who considers the situation must determine that he cannot say whether the House of Representatives will or will not agree to the Commonwealth Bank Bill 1950 [No. 1]. I suggest that, if anybody is in a corner over double dissolutions, it is the Government, which, offering an insult to the Senate, has failed to declare its attitude to that measure.
Another important point is that the Commonwealth Bank Bill 1950 [No. 2], which has been under consideration in this chamber to-day and which the Opposition now proposes to refer to a select committee, has been listed at the end of the Senate notice-paper at the instance of the Government for many months.
– Whose fault is that?
– It is the fault of the Government. The Government has complete control of the notice-paper but it made not the slightest effort to call on the debate on this bill until yesterday. The Opposition could easily have adjourned the debate had it wanted to do so. It had the necessary numbers at its command, but it allowed the debate to proceed without hesitation. The Government is now getting action which will lead to a determination.
– Order! In accordance 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 negative.
. - I emphasize the fact that the Commonwealth Bank Bill 1950 [No. 2] was relegated to the bottom of the notice-paper for many months. No effort was made by the Government to bring it forward during that period until yesterday. I again point out that the Opposition could have forced an adjournment of the debate at any time. Does any member of the Government deny that?
– The Opposition also could have defeated the bill.
– Yes, and that may well be the result in due course. In the meantime, the Opposition has a purpose to serve, as the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) has already indicated. Many members of the Opposition are eager to go behind the Government’s mind in the matter of the personnel and, above all, the type of personnel of the proposed Commonwealth Bank Board. The appointment of a committee with orders to report to the Senate four weeks hence may provide us with an opportunity to obtain answers to some of the questions that we consider to be vital.
After reviewing the actions of the Government during the past fifteen months, I have no hesitation in saying that one characteristic has pervaded all of its conduct. Effortlessly and naturally, it instinctively adopts a dictatorial method of approach to every problem that confronts it. That has been made apparent on more than one occasion. For instance, it was obvious in the case of the Communist Party Dissolution Act, to which the Minister for Social Services referred.
Instead of resorting to the ordinary processes of the law of the country, what did the Government try to do? It attempted to set aside the courts of the land, trample on the principles of natural justice, ignore the rule of law, and handle the situation in a totalitarian manner. The other instance that I have in mind is completely relevant to the subject of select committees. The Senate will recall that quite recently when a select committee on the subject pf defence was appointed by resolution of the Senate, the Government again demonstrated a completely totalitarian approach to these matters.
– I rise to order. Is Senator McKenna entitled to refer to a matter that is the subject of an unfinished debate in this chamber, namely, whether or not certain people improperly influenced witnesses not to go before a select committee?
– If Senator McKenna referred to that subject at length he would not be in order., but he is in order in making only passing reference to it.
– The Government did, in fact, reflect upon such committees. I think that in reply to the comment made by the Minister for Social Services I should be able to make some comment upon the activities of select committees. The totalitarian approach that has been so evident in everything that the Government does is also apparent in the attitude that it intends to adopt in certain legislation that will shortly be placed before us. I understand that the Government intends to introduce legislation concerning the Commonwealth Arbitration Court that will have the effect of permitting the court to impose unlimited fines and imprisonment on trade unions and their leaders.
– I rise to order. It is grossly improper and disorderly for Senator McKenna to anticipate the contents of legislation that has not yet been introduced to the Senate.
– Senator McKenna must not continue in that direction, because if he does so he will be out of order.
– I bow to your ruling. I deplore the fact that the Government, before hearing the arguments for the appointment of a select committee, and despite requests from the Opposition that the Government should be represented on that committee, has declined to cooperate with us.
– It is a farce because members of the Opposition are all pledged to vote against the bill.
– Order ! Senator Guy will have an opportunity to speak later.
-If the Government had any confidence in the case that it is presenting it would welcome the opportunity to advance its case in calm circumstances away from the acrimonous atmosphere that too often mars debate in this chamber. The Government has asked for co-operation. We have suggested the ‘ appointment of select committees to inquire into various matters, and we have offered the Government majority representation on those committees.
– Which committee?
– I am referring particularly to the Select Committee on National Service in the Defence Force. Had the Government indicated that it would co-operate with us in the appointment of a select committee to review that measure we should have offered it majority representation on that committee. However, the Minister for Social Services announced most emphatically that the Government would have no part in our proposal. The Government has rejected with contumely offers that would have given it a majority of members on committees. From the behaviour of the Government it is quite clear that it does not want the co-operation of the Opposition and the dictatorial quality that has marked all its acts and proceedings is apparent in its attitude in this matter. I support the motion submitted by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley).
Question put - .
That the motion (vide page 440) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Gordonbrown.)
Majority . . . . 6
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Social Services Consolidation Act - Ninth Report of the Director-General of Social Services, for year 1949-50.
Ordered to be printed.
Audit Act - Finance - Treasurer’s Statement of Receipts and Expenditure for year 1949-60, accompanied by the Report of the Auditor-General.
Broadcasting Act - Eighteenth “Annual Re port and Financial Statements of the . Australian Broadcasting Commission, for year 1949-50.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for
Immigration purposes at Mount Barker, South Australia.
Northern Territory (Administration) Act - Ordinances - 1 951 - No. 1 - Workmen’s Compensation.
Regulations - 1951 -
No. 1 - (Workmen’s Compensation Ordinance ) .
No. 2 - (Police and’ Police Offences Ordinance) .
Public Service Act - Twenty-sixth Report on the Commonwealth Public Service by the public Service Board, for year 1949-50.
Senate adjourned at 11.15 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 14 March 1951, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1951/19510314_senate_19_212/>.