10th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom), took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Defence been drawn to a statement in the press to the effect that faulty ammunition was issued to the riflemen engaged in the recent interstate rifle matches in New South Wales? A newspaperreport alleges that some of the ammunition was ten years old, and that the nickel plating came off the soft bullets and injured 21 out of 22 rifles to such an extent that they were rendered useless. Will the Minister have inquiries made into this matter to ascertain whether the press report is correct?
– I shall have inquiries made, and furnish the honorable member with the information desired.
– Is it a fact that the Bank of New South Wales has a special arrangement with the Commonwealth Bank for accommodation up to £300,000 or £400,000 at a special rate of interest, namely, 3 per cent.?
– I have no knowledge of the internal arrangements made between the banks operating within Australia.
– Will the Minister for Railways inform “ me whether it is a fact that the construction of the Grafton to South Brisbane standard-gauge railway is being delayed owing to the failure of the Commonwealth Government to provide sufficient funds? I have been given to understand that for this reason the work will not be completed within the contract time.
– I have no knowledge of the matter, but I do not believe that to be the case.
Sales in New South Wales.
– I have received the following lettergram from the executive council of the Primary Producers’ Association in Perth -
Executive council draw attention withdrawal of duties on oats and chaff entering Australia while coastal clauses Navigation Act remain intact. This operates against sale of Western Australia oats and chaff in New South Wales while allowing ‘ full benefit to New Zealand. Council urges suspension of coastal clauses of Navigation Act.
In order to allow the trade between one Australian State and another to flow freely and to prevent another dominion from benefiting by trade which should be done within Australia, is the Government prepared to consider the suspension of the coastal sections of the Navigation Act?
– That is a matter of Government policy about which I am unable to give the honorable member a reply. If I understand his question rightly he is, in effect, protesting against the suggested removal of certain duties.
– That was not my request.
– The duties on the commodities to which the honorable member has referred have not been altered since I assumed control of the Trade and Customs Department.
Price of Petrol - Proposed Transport Service
– In view of the high price of petrol in Canberra, is it the intention of the Government to make supplies of C.O.R. spirit available here?
– That matter rests entirely with the directors of the Colonial Oil Refineries Limited, but I shall bring the honorable member’s question under their notice. If it is possible to make arrangements to supply C.O.R. spirit to honorable members who are using their cars’ within the Territory, and wish to support Australian industry, I have no doubt that it will be done as early as possible.
– Is it a fact that the agreement for running a motor bus service in Canberra has not yet been signed, and that some hitch has occurred in the arrangements? Will the Minister for Home and Territories assure himself, before the agreement is signed, that the right which the residents of Queanbeyan at present enjoy of being set down or picked up anywhere within the Territory will be retained for them?
– The agreement has not yet been signed. The matter is still the subject of negotiations between the parties concerned. As soon as finality is reached, honorable members will be advised. The honorable member for EdenMonaro may rest assured that the privileges and benefits which the people of Queanbeyan at present enjoy will not be any less under the new arrangements.
– Some time ago the Prime Minister, in reply to a question that I asked him, stated that he would refer to the Defence Department the request that I had made that a quantity of coal which is at present dumped on an estate which the trustees desire to windup should he sold. The matter is hecoming urgent. Can the Minister representing the Minister for Defence inform me of the present position?
– I shall obtain the information for the honorable member.
Alleged Difference With Captain Percival
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Defence make at his earliest convenience, a statement regarding the differences which are alleged to have arisen between the Civil Aviation Branch and Captain Percival?
– I am not aware that any differences have occurred, but I shall make inquiry into the matter.
– Will the Treasurer inform me whether it is a fact that the Maternity Allowance Act was amended last year by substituting the word “ alien “ for the word “ Asiatic “ to provide that an Asiatic woman married to an Australian could claim the maternity allowance? Is he aware that it has been held by the authorities that under the amended provision an Australian woman who formerly received the maternity allowance is now debarred from receiving it on the ground that her husband was born in the United. States of America? The case has just been brought under my notice. Will he investigate the matter and, if necessary, bring down another amendment to the act to provide that Australian women who marry aliens who are not Asiatics shall be eligible to receive the benefits of the act?
– The intention of the amendment to which the honorable member has referred was to increase, not to decrease, the benefits of the measure. If certain anomalies have resulted from it, I shall see whether they can be rectified.
– Will the Treasurer make available to honorable members, while the debate upon the Commonwealth Bank Savings Bank Bill is in progress, the report presented by Sir Ernest Harvey?
– Sir Ernest Harvey did not present a report to either the Government or the directors of the Commonwealth Bank. He came to Australia at the invitation of the directors of the bank, and the whole of his discussions with them were of a personal and verbal nature.
– If Sir Ernest Harvey came to Australia at the invitation and expense of the Commonwealth Bank, why did he not present a report?
– His expenseswere borne by the Bank of England, not by the Commonwealth Bank.
– During the presence in Australia of Sir Ernest Harvey, was he consulted regarding the banking policy of the Commonwealth?
– The opportunity was taken by the Government, and the members of the Commonwealth Bank Board, of discussing with Sir Ernest Harvey the ordinary banking policy of the Commonwealth.
– I have before me an extract from to-day’s issue of the Sydney Morning Herald giving a report of yesterday’s stock and share market in Sydney. A considerable number of overseas companies are in the list, and from the activities there reflected I gather that there are substantial Australian investments in those companies. I do not propose to read- the list; it is enought to say that these companies are operating chiefly in Central Africa, the
Federated Malay States, and Siam, where cheap coolie labour is available. I understand that no income tax is chargeable upon the income derived from -such investments. I- ask the Attorney-General whether there is in his opinion any constitutional obstacle to the imposition of income tax upon income derived from those sources?
– It is not the practice of Parliament for the Attorney-General on the floor of the House to give legal opinions in reply to questions. This, however, is such an easy question that perhaps the House will forgive me for committing a breach of that rule. The Commonwealth Parliament has elected to impose as the condition of liability to income taxation, the derivation of the income within Australia. It would be constitutionally possible to alter that basis, and to make the test the receipt of income from any part of the world by persons within Australia. That is the” English system to a considerable extent, and one of the results is that tremendous inconvenience arises from double, and, in some cases, more than double taxation.
– As far back as 1916 the Public Works Committee recommended the acquisition of a site at Fairy Meadow for the purpose of manufacturing cement. I should like to know when operations are likely to commence on that site, so that tens of thousands of pounds may be saved on construction work at Canberra?
– Most honorable members are aware of the litigation which has taken place about the acquisition of that site. A considerable amount of money was therein expended, but a settlement was subsequently arrived at. The manufacture pf cement has been receiving the close attention of the Federal Capital Commission. It has had the report of experts respecting the materials available at Fairy Meadow for the manufacture of cement. I have not yet seen that report, but I shall make inquiries, and, if possible, lay it on the table of the House for the information of honorable members.
– It has been stated in the public press of at least three of the States that the Commonwealth Government by withholding certain funds has been responsible for delay in the construction of the Grafton to South Brisbane railway. If that report is correct, will the Minister for Works and Railways endeavour to induce the Treasurer to make the necessary funds available?
– As I have already said, I have not seen the press statements referred to, but I shall make inquiries, and if the work is being held up, I shall approach the Treasurer to have more money made available.
– I understand that a Customs regulation provides that imported softgoods must bear the name of the country of origin. In Sydney, and no doubt in the other capital cities of Australia, cotton articles, such as men’s underwear, bearing no statement of the country of origin, but, in my opinion, of Japanese origin, are being sold. I should like to know whether it is necessary under Customs regulations for articles, in addition to the .packet in which they are wrapped, to bear upon them the name of the country of origin?
– The marking of the country of origin on articles imported into Australia, is provided for in legislation which has been passed by this Parliament. If the honorable member will give notice of his question, I shall give him fuller particulars later.
– The report of the War Service Homes Commission for the year ending 30th June last was tabled in this House nearly a month ago. It is of importance, because of its connexion with the debate that has been proceeding in this Chamber during the last fortnight. I wish to know what is delaying the printing of that report, and why has it not been made available to honorable members?
– I tabled the report some time ago, and moved that it be printed. I do not know that there has been any delay in making copies available, but I promise the honorable member that I shall inquire into the matter.
Supply of Sheep Trucks
– I have received information that, because of a shortage of sheep trucks on the transcontinental railway, the carriage of sheep from South Australia to Western Australia is being delayed. Will the Minister do everything possible to overcome this difficulty?
– I discussed this matter with the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner yesterday, and he told me that an enormous number of sheep from drought-stricken areas is being carried on the transcontinental railway to Western Australian and other available pastures, and that, as the supply of sheep trucks is inadequate, cattle trucks are being used ; but there are at present no more trucks available for the 4 ft. 8£ in. gauge. All the rolling stock that we have is being pressed into the service, and we are doing our best to meet a situation such as has not arisen previously.
– On the 28th September I asked the Prime Minister whether he would make available to honorable members copies of the report of the International Economic Conference, held under the auspices of the League of Nations at Geneva, in May last. The right honorable gentleman stated that he would do so, but we have heard nothing further of the matter. I ask when we may expect to receive copies of the report?
– I have in my hand a copy of the report of the Conference, and to-day I shall move that it be printed.
– When this Parliament occupied the Victorian Parliament
House in Melbourne, the historic table at which Her Majesty Queen Victoria signed the Charter of this Parliament attracted great public interest. It is now located in our library, where the general public cannot easily see it. I should like to see it displayed in a more public position.
– At the last meeting of the Library Committee it was decided to adopt a proposal on lines similar to the suggestion of the honorable member. Not only the table, but other articles of historical interest, will be displayed on either side of the statue of His Majesty the King, and the Federal Capital Commission is now having suitable cabinets constructed to contain them.
Conference with Religious Missions.
– When will the Minister be in a position to lay upon the table of the House the records and minutes of the conference convened by the Administrator of the Mandated Territory with the various religious missions? Since I asked my previous question on the 28th September two mails have arrived from New Guinea, and no report is yet available.
– The second mail arrived in Sydney only yesterday, and I have not yet seen the Administrator’s report. As soon as it is available I shall place it at the disposal of honorable members.
– Is it a fact that for 1926-1927 the imports into Australia exceeded exports by some £20,000,000, and that, if bullion were included, the figure would be £31,000,000? In view of the seriousness of the position so indicated, can the Minister inform the House what he intends to do to protect certain Australian industries which are capable of producing goods of the kind whose importation now goes to increase extraordinarily the excess of imports over exports ?
– That is a matter of Government policy, with which I cannot deal in answer to a question.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister inform the House what has become of the proposal for secret ballots to suppress agitators, and give unions control of their members, thereby ensuring peace and good order in the country. Has the honorable gentleman noticed the statement of the secretary of a trade union at a conference in Melbourne to the effect that there have been 100 holds-up during the past twelve months, owing to the misconduct of some of the members of his organization ? Does the Government intend to do anything to help men like Mr. O’Neil, who desire to secure peaceful transport conditions along the Australian coast, and to suppress the unruly element in their unions?
– The House will be informed of the Government’s industrial policy, when the subject is brought before the House for discussion.
Location in Canberra.
– Is it intended to establish the head office of the Copyright and Patents Office at Canberra? If so, why was a seven year’s lease taken of the present head office in Melbourne?
– It is not, at present, proposed to remove the head office of this sub-department to Canberra.
– During this session the Prime Minister has endeavouredto acquaint honorable members with the business proposed to be brought before the House. I should like to know - and I think other honorable members share my desire - when it is the intention of the Attorney-General to introduce a measure to amend the Industrial Arbitration Act?
– Such questions should be directed to the Prime Minister, who doubtless will, in due course, make an announcement as to the intention of the Government.
– Is it the intention of the Attorney-General to consult the trade unions of Australia when drafting amendments of the bill?
– I have already fully consulted the trade unions.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The reply to the honorable member’s questions is as follows : - 1 and 2. The position in regard to the taxation of interest on loans, as definedbythe Taxation of Loans Act 1923, will not be affected by the adoption of the financial agreement.
Number of Employees - Population - Housing
Mr.ROLAND GEEEN (through Mr. Prowse) asked the Minister for Homes and Territories, upon notice -
What is the number of employees of the Federal Capital Commission, as follows: -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: - 1. (a) 35; (b) 349; (c) 2,140.
asked the Minister for Homes and Territories, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– A report is being obtained, and an answer will be furnished as early as possible.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What proportion of the imports to the Commonwealth for the year 1920-27 was admitted duty free?
– The information is being obtained.
Purchases for Lighthouse Service
– On the 21st October the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr Corser) asked the following question: -
I am now able to supply the honorable member with the following information : -
– On Thursday, 6th October, the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) asked the following questions : -
I am now in a position to make the following reply: -
the aggregate of the amounts of tax by which assessments have been reduced the period, over
The reduction in the amount assessed is chiefly due to the application of the principles of valuation recommended by the royal commission on Crown leases. The work of re-valuation has not yet been completed, and may involve further reductions in assessments show outstanding.
The reduction, during this period, in the tax outstanding, £811,590 (£1,085,705 reduced to £874,115), thus represents -
– On 20th Octo ber, 1927, the honorable member for Cook (Mr. C.Riley) asked the following questions : -
The Prime Minister is now in a position to furnish the information -
– On the 21st instant, the honorable member forReid (Mr. Coleman) asked me the following question, without notice: -
Is it a fact that returned soldier applicants for assistance under the War Service HomesAct, and resident in the Federal Capital Territory, are required to lodge deposits of 10 percent. If so, why is there this discrimination against them?
I now desire to state that some time ago I approved a recommendation of the War Service Homes Commissioner that in view of the special conditions obtaining in the” Federal Capital Territory, assistance in each case should be made available as a loan on mortgage where the minimum deposit required is 10 per cent. It is necessary to mention that the maximum advance under the War Service Homes Act is £800, and in special cases £950. The smallest home shown in the bookletpublished by the Federal Capital Commission, which comprises three rooms and offices, and having a total floor space, including verandah, of 781 square feet, is quoted at a price of £900. If an applicant desired to purchase this home the maximum advance which could be made available would be £800, and he would be required to lodge the excess of £100. This sum of £100 would be regarded as a deposit, and as it is greater than 10 per cent. of the maximum advance of £800, the assistance would be made available on mortgage. There is no discrimination in such a case, and according to the costs published it is impossible for an applicant to obtain a small home under £900. If it is possible for an applicant to obtain a home under £880, i.e., the maximum advance, plus 10 per cent. excess, then the commission will willingly consider making assistance available on the rent-purchase system. The minimum deposit charged by the War Service Homes Commission is £10, and this increases according to the risk involved in the particular proposal. Assuming the risk were reasonable in the case of a home at Canberra, assistance could not he made available on a £10 deposit, as the balance of £790 would not provide a moderately-sized home.
– On the 20th October, the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) referred to a telegram he had received stating that sleeper-getters connected with the railway construction work in North Australia were employing a large number of aboriginals in getting sleepers. The honorable member asked whether immediate action would be taken with a view to preventing the exploitation of aboriginal labour on. Government contracts in the Northern Territory. From inquiries I have made it appears that in connexion with the railway construction work in North Australia contracts have been let for the supply of sleepers, and that the contractors are employing a certain number of aboriginals to assist in securing the sleepers. The employment of aboriginals is controlled by the Aboriginals’ Ordinance, which provides that no person shall employ an aboriginal unless he has been granted a licence to do so by the Protector of Aboriginals of the district in which he is residing. The aboriginal is a free agent who may leave his employment if dissatisfied. The railway construction camp is under the supervision of a Protector of Aboriginals, whose duty it is to see that the aborigines are not exploited. With regard to the general question of employing aborigines in connexion with the work of supplying sleepers, it is considered desirable that they should be given remunerative employment so long as they are not defrauded or exploited. In view of the conditions under which aborigines may he employed in North Australia, and of the fact that the railway construction camp is under the supervision of a Protector of Aboriginals, I cannot see how the aborigines employed on the work of getting sleepers can be exploited.
– I lay on the table the “Report of the Australian Delegation to the International Economic Conference held in Geneva in May, 1927,” and move -
That the paper be printed.
. -Earlier in the day I asked the Treasurer whether he would make available to honorable members the official report issued by the International Economic Conference - it is a very lengthy and important document - and I should like to know whether the paper which has just been laid on the table incorporates that official report or is merely the report of the Australian delegation ?
– It was arranged that the report of the Australian delegation should include the official report of the conference, and the other documents the honorable member desired to obtain.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Ordered to be printed.
The following papers were presented : -
International Economic Conference, held at Geneva, May, 1927 -Report of Australian Delegation.
National Debt Sinking Fund Act - National Debt Commission - Fourth Annual Report, for year ended 30th June, 1927.
Ordered to be printed -
Air Navigation Act - Investigation of Accidents Regulations - Statutory . Rules, 1927, No. 118.
Defence Act- Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules, 1927, Nos. 112, 114, 119.
Naval Defence Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1927, No. 111.
New Guinea Act - Ordinances of 1927 -
No. 27 - Dangerous Drugs.
No. 28 - Coroners.
No. 29 - District Courts.
No. 30- Supply (No. 2) 1927-28.
No. 31 - Expropriation.
No. 32 - Commissions of Inquiry.
Public Service Act - Appointment of F. G. Burton, Postmaster-General’s Department.
Quarantine Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1927, No. 117.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Following upon the last general elections, a joint select committee was appointed, on the motion of the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson), to inquire into electoral law and procedure in relation to - (a) enrolment on the Commonwealth electoral rolls (b) postal voting at Commonwealth elections; (c) signed articles; (d) polling facilities; (e) donations or gifts by members or candidates ; and to report on any additional safeguards necessary to prevent personation and duplicate voting. At the request of the joint committee, the scope of the inquiry was afterwards extended to include - (/) informal voting; (#) absent voting; (h) joint rolls ; and (i) administration of the compulsory sections of the Electoral Act. The discussions incidental to the appointment of the committee showed that it was felt that the time had arrived for a comprehensive review of our electoral law and procedure, more particularly in the light of the compulsory voting features of the law, which operated for. the first time in connexion with the then recent general elections. The committee’s inquiries extended over several months, and covered every State in the Commonwealth. The thoroughness of its work is shown in the 338 pages of the minutes of proceedings of the committee and minutes of evidence laid on the table of the House in March last. The report of the committee is a most informative document, which deals in an illuminating manner with many aspects of the electoral machinery, and affords honorable members much information not hitherto readily available to them. It concludes with a summary of the committee’s recommendations, and these form the groundwork of the bill now before honorable members. It will be observed that the Government has adopted, either wholly or in part, many of the principal recommendations of the committee, and has also taken this opportunity of endeavouring to perfect the electoral law in directions which official experience has shown to be necessary or desirable. In addition to the investigation made by the joint select committee, a conference of divisional returning officers was held in each State. A number of suggestions emanating from those conferences have been embodied in the proposals now before the House. Clause 4 extends postal voting facilities to all electors who will on polling day be upwards of 5 miles from a polling place in their own State, instead of the present ; limitation to 10 miles, and provides for the witnessing of the postal vote application by an elector instead of limiting this function to an authorized witness. The marking of the vote on the ballot-paper must, however, be done in the presence of an authorized witness, and the postal vote certificate must be witnessed by the authorized witness as at present. Clause 8 provides for a liberal extension of the list of authorized witnesses, more particularly to meet the convenience of electors living in the more remote country districts. This list, which is very comprehensive, should remove all difficulties consistent witha proper regard for the security of this system of voting. Clauses; 9 to 12 give a blind postal voter the option of having his vote marked by a person appointed by the elector instead of having it marked by an authorized witness. This provision has been made to meet the strong representations of blind returned soldiers and other blind voters. Provision is also made for postal ballotpapers which would not reach the divisional returning officer for the division in respect of which the elector claims to vote before the close of the poll being received by any divisional returning officer throughout the Commonwealth. This will eliminate the disallowance of many postal votes at the scrutiny without impairingthe principle that all votes shall be in the possession of the electoral officials before the commencement of the scrutiny, and isfree from the danger of any improper or fraudulent practice. Clause 15, which is designed to simplify the questions to be put to a voter, has been suggested by divisional returning officers. Underthe existing law it is extremely difficult for either the officials or the voters to, understand the meaning of some of thecontingent questions. This frequently leads to faulty interpretation or wrongful action, and leaves the returning officer no alternative but to disallow the vote aT the scrutiny. The amendment reduces the questions to simpler language without substantially altering the grounds upon which an elector can claim to vote. It will also eliminate a “section” vote, which experience has proved to be valueless and has been mischievous in the hands of well-meaning, but comparatively untrained, officers in remote districts. Clause 16 gives to blind and otherwise physically incapacitated voters the right to nominate any person to mark their ballot-papers at the polling booth, instead of their votes being marked by the presiding officer in- the presence of the scrutineers as at present. This provision, however, does not extend to illiterate voters, whose votes will be marked as hitherto by the presiding officer in the presence of the scrutineers or a poll clerk. Clause 17 meets the case of an elector whose name, although on the certified roll, cannot be found by the presiding officer and the elector votes under section 121 on the ground that his name has been wrongfully omitted from the roll. Where the error of the presiding officer is, later, detected by the returning officer, ;the amendment empowers the returning officer to allow the vote at the scrutiny. Clause 21 extends to the Chief Electoral Officer the right to approve of the completion of the counting at the scrutiny without awaiting the receipt from remote polling places of ballot-papers, which cannot affect the result of the election. This provision will enable the result of the election to be finalized in certain cases without incurring any risk of affecting the result of the election. At present this right is restricted to the ballotpapers of absent voters. Clause 24 is designed to remove the danger of voters whose names are on the roll being informed to the contrary by canvassers or others. Experience has proved that many intending voters are, through this cause, deprived of their votes, either intentionally or through inadvertence. It is most undesirable that canvassers or others should usurp the proper function of the polling officials in this . respect, and, perhaps, a voter of his right to vote. In some cases it has even been found that out-of-date rolls have been used by canvassers. The penalty provided should remove this objectionable practice. Clause 25 makes unnecessary the signing of newspaper leading articles, and articles which consist solely of a report of a meeting. It is felt that no good purpose is achieved by the signing of leading articles or reports of meetings, and it is, moreover, embarrassing to many proprietors and journalists. The signing of reports, letters, or other matter commenting upon a candidate or party, or the issues being submitted to the electors, is retained as a wholesome restraint upon the press. Several of the recommendations of the select committee which do not require legislative action, will be dealt with by regulation or administrative action. For instance, the new form of application for enrolment recommended by the committee, will’ be adopted as soon as practicable after the measure now before the House has been disposed of. The qualifications set out on the enrolment claim depend, in part, upon the amending provisions of this bill. After careful consideration, the recommendation of the committee that three months, instead of one month, be the qualifying period of residence for enrolment, and a similar period be the ground for removal of a name from the roll by objection, has not been accepted, principally for the reasons that the period of one month is common to all the States, and that the change would be prejudicial to the maintenance of up-to-date and efficient rolls, and probably would prevent the use of joint rolls by all the States. At present, only in Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania are joint rolls in use.
– And with complete satisfaction.
– Yes. I have recently entered into negotiations with the’ Bavin Government in New South Wales in this connexion, and hope that before long the joint roll will be in use in that State also.
– Why not in Queensland as well?
– So far, the Queensland Government has opposed any coordination of the electoral laws and the use of joint rolls. I take this opportunity of expressing appreciation of the valuable services rendered by the select committee, not only in respect of its recommendations, but also in clearing up any -doubt which may have existed as to the ability of our electoral law and administration to meet adequately the electoral requirements of a progressive and rapidly expanding Commonwealth. The bill is essentially one for consideration in committee. I confidently appeal to honorable members to pass the second reading without delay.
– Will the Minister say what is the Government’s intention in connexion with the clause dealing with subscriptions to various organizations which failed to meet with the approval of another place?
– The Senate’s amendment can be discussed in committee on the bill. Ministers have no feeling in regard to the matter, and will leave it to the decision of the committee.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Charlton) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Theodore), by leave, agreed to -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended to enable him to move, without notice, on the order of the day for the further consideration in committee of the Commonwealth Bunk Savings Bank Bill being read - that the bill be referred to a select committee.
.- I move -
That the order for the day be discharged and the bill referred to a select committee for the purpose of ascertaining the views of the authorities of the Commonwealth Bank on the proposals contained in the bill.
If the motion be carried a subsequent motion will be needed, naming the members of the select committee, and that can be done in consultation with the Minister in charge of the measure. I consider that my action is justified by what has arisen in connexion with the earlier consideration of this bill. There is good ground for the assumption that when the board of directors of the Commonwealth Bank had the Government’s housing scheme under consideration, and carried a resolution favoring the severance of the savings department from the other departments of the bank, they were considering something quite different from “the scheme which has been put before Parliament. I do not know what the views of the bank authorities are, not having consulted them or any one closely in touch with them; my opinion is based on the text of their resolution, which the Treasurer was good enough to read to the House the other night. That resolution is as follows: -
This board feels that to accept the responsibility of the administration of the Federal Government Housing Scheme as part of the functions of the savings bank department would be overweighting the work falling upon the institution; and further that such functions are in no way related to the genera] banking business or to that of a note issue bank or a reserve bank, and the board is, therefore, of the opinion that, under the circumstances, it would be wiser to accept the proposal of the Government to separate the savings bank department from the bank for the purpose of enabling the carrying out of the housing scheme. It is better, in the interests of the bank as a whole, that the Government should take the necessary steps to bring about the separation proposed, andthe board will be glad to assist and advise the Government to the best of its ability as to the method of effecting the changes necessary to carry this out.
I do not question the authenticity of that document; but from its wording one is justified in the conclusion that what the board had under consideration was a proposal different from that which has been put before this House. It is stated -
That the board feels that to accept the responsibility of administering the Federal Government’s housing scheme, as part of the functions of the savings bank department, would be overweighting the work falling upon the institution.
I assume that the Treasurer, unwittingly, misled the House into believing that the scheme proposed to this House was that submitted to the board of directors last year. It will be noticed how reluctant the board of directors was to give any opinion on it. They say -
It would be wiser to accept the proposal of the Government to separate the savings bank department from the bank.
Wiser than what? What was the alternative? Was it the setting up ofan elaborate housing scheme under which the bank would build homes and deal directly with borrowers? That is the construction I place upon it. It seems to me that the board was much perturbed by something the Government had placed before it, which was, I think, a proposal that the bank should undertake house building itself, establishing the necessary organization, and appointing the various officials, such as architects, draughtsmen, valuers, quantity surveyors, foremen, conveyancers, inspectors, landresumption officers, and the numerous other specially trained officers required to carry out a real housing scheme. Therefore, I assume they said that it would he wiser to divide the Commonwealth Bank- into two parts rather than embark on such a scheme. There is reason to suppose that neither the board of directors nor the governor of the bank, nor the deputy governor would assent to the separation of the savings bank department from the other departments of the Commonwealth Bank merely . to carry out the proposal that is embodied in the Housing Bill The speeches of the Treasurer, when moving the second reading of the bill and replying to the debate, lacked conviction. I read the first and listened to the second. The reasons which he advanced for the passage of the bill did not appear to be based upon solid ground. It would not be competent for me to traverse the whole of his arguments on this motion. A select committee ought to endeavour to ascertain the views of the Board of Directors and the Governor and Deputy Governor of the bank, who are charged with the responsibility of its executive control. If grounds exist which justify a severance of the saving bank branch from the Commonwealth Bank, and they have not yet been disclosed, the Treasurer should take the House fully into his confidence. It is abundantly clear that the Government does not require the passage of this bill to give effect to its housing scheme. The full purport of that scheme is embodied in a bill that has already been before this chamber and has- proceeded beyond the committee stage. The funds necessary to finance the scheme could be made available, through either the Commonwealth Bank or the Commonwealth Treasury, with just as great a facility as under the machinery provided by this bill, thus obviating the necessity to set up a separate Savings Bank Commission. I am convinced that it would be detrimental to the Commonwealth Bank and probably contrary to the mature judgment of the Governor, the Deputy Governor, and even the Board of Directors of that institution, to proceed with the Savings Bank Bill. If I am right in that assumption the House surely would be warranted in postponing its further consideration until a select committee had reported upon the matter. The passage of this bill would not be unduly delayed and there need be no interference with the housing scheme.
– This is not a party question.
– I hope that it will not be made a party question. The Commonwealth Bank ought to be removed entirely from the realm of party politics, and if possible rendered immune from interference by any party or Minister.. If the effective administration of the housing scheme involves merely the making of advances in a lump sum to the authorities specified in the Housing Bill, it would be absurd to contend that it could not be administered by the Commonwealth Bank without such a drastic change as is proposed.
– Order. The honorable member is discussing questions that were raised on the second reading of a previous measure.
– I have no desire to transgress in that direction. I am advancing arguments in favour of postponing the further consideration of the bill pending an inquiry by a select committee. I contend that I am on firm ground, on the assumption that the Commonwealth Bank could finance the housing scheme in the manner intended by the Government, but without any severance of the savings bank branch. It would be absurd to assume that the authorities of the bank would deny the possession of thi; power, or that they would assert a probable overweighting of the work of the bank. I believe I am correct in assuming that the details which they had before they passed a resolution in the terms of that which has been put before us were wholly different from those of the present housing scheme. If such is the case the House has been misled to a certain extent - unwittingly, I hope. I therefore urge upon the Treasurer the desirability of allowing the measure to be inquired into by a select committee. If he so desired, he could confine the reference to the select committee in a more particular way than I have done. If the report of the committee was opposed to the severance of the savings bank branch from the Commonwealth bank it would be necessary to make a further amendment to the Housing Bill. The arguments in favour of a further investigation are overwhelming, and I appeal to’ the Treasurer to agree to the appointment of a select committee.
– I urge the House to reject the motion of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore). It is quite evident that this is merely an afterthought, and the only effect of pass ing the motion would be to prevent the Government from bringing the housing scheme into operation at the earliest possible moment. That scheme has been adopted by this House, the bill giving effect to it having passed all stages last week. No fresh ground has been broken by the honorable member for Dalley which would warrant the House in changing its attitude from that which it so decisively adopted last week, when by a majority of two to one the motion for the second reading of the Commonwealth Bank Savings Bank Bill was agreed to. The one principle which the bill contains is the separation of the savings bank branch from the Commonwealth Bank. I agree that the proper course for an Opposition to take is to oppose and delay the passage of Government measures. At the same time the object of the Government should be to have its legislation passed as quickly as possible, and put into operation, so that the people may immediately derive the benefits that are likely to accrue from it. It is admitted that this is a subsidiary measure which deals with only one part of the Commonwealth Bank; yet it is suggested that it would be proper to submit it to a select committee! A search reveals that in the 27 years of the Commonwealth Parliament’s existence such a procedure has been followed on only one occasion. In the session of 1901-2 a bill which provided for the granting of a bounty to manufacturers was brought down, and subsequently referred to a select committee for investigation and report. The original measure which proposed to establish the Commonwealth Bank embodied a principle that had no precedent in this country, and very few precedents throughout the world. The right honorable Alfred Deakin and those who sup ported him suggested that it should be referred to a select committee for investigation and report. The Leader of the Labour party and his colleagues scorned the suggestion. They said “ This is a matter of Government policy!” The statement then made by Mr. Andrew Fisher, makes interesting reading. At the time of which I am speaking, there was more justification for the appointment of a select committee than at present, when every State has its own savings bank. Mr. Fisher said -
Although I am not surprised that an amendment has been moved, I am surprised at its nature. Of course, the Government cannot accept it. It is not proposed to delay the discussion on this bill, and while we invite the Opposition criticism quite freely, I think that tills amendment would defeat the very purpose that we have in view. It is not for the Government to supply the Opposition with information. The discussion of the bill so far has not, in my opinion, been a criticism against the bill. If the Opposition choose not to discuss it, it is no part of the Government’s business to insist upon their doing so. The Government intend to proceed with the measure.
I have given the House definite information regarding the actual position. I have quoted the resolution adopted at a meeting of the board of directors of the Commonwealth Bank, and ‘ have also given the board’s opinion of the operations of the general bank and the savings bank department during the past year. The board also discussed this proposal with Sir Ernest Harvey. I again direct the attention of honorable members to the resolution passed by the board, which reads -
This board feels that to accept the responsibility of the administration of the Federal Government housing scheme as part of the functions of the savings bank department would be overweighting the work falling upon the institution; and further, that such functions are in no way related to the general banking business or to that of a note-issue bank or a reserve bank, and the board is, therefore, of the opinion that, under the circumstances, it would be wiser to accept the proposal of the Government to separate the savings bank department from the bank for the purpose of enabling the carrying out of the housing scheme.
The board makes the point very clear. In another statement which I have already quoted, the board points out that the general bank would not lose any of its prestige, and that its international business would not be restricted, if the savings bank branch were conducted as a separate institution. Sir Ernest Harvey, as a representative of the Bank of England, desires the Commonwealth Bank to extend its operations, not only in Australia, but in Great Britain and other countries, and said that if the hank is to function properly its savings hank business should be separated from its general banking business. Honorable members opposite seem to think that if the Government’s proposal of a commission is adopted the prestige of the Commonwealth Bank will be injured; but that is ““t the case. The savings bank branch of the Commonwealth Bank has at present £46,000,000 under its control; but the State Savings Bank of New South Wales is handling funds amounting to £74,000,000.
– The Treasurer must confine his remarks to the appointment of a select committee. That is the question now before the Chair.
– The point I wish to make, in conclusion, is that this House, and not a select committee, must decide the policy underlying this proposal.
– Will the Treasurer answer the question raised by the honorable member for Dalley, who asked what housing scheme was suggested to the board of directors of the Commonwealth Bank?
– It was practically the same as that which the House recently discussed. The scheme has been modified in a minor way as the result of discussions with the savings bank commissioners in the States ; but in principle it remains the same.
.- In moving an amendment for the appointment of a select committee the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) has rendered a service to the House, as honorable members are now afforded a further opportunity of considering the Government’s proposals. The Minister has not yet given the House sufficient information, and it is doubtful iii the position can be clarified until a thorough investigation has been made by a select committee. If such a committee were appointed, and the Commonwealth
Bank were allowed to function as at present, I assure the Treasurer on behalf of the Opposition that the passage of the bill would not be unduly delayed. If such a course were adopted our objection to the measure would be removed. There is still room for doubt as to whether the board of directors were fully aware of the provisions to be embodied in the Housing Bill when it advised the Treasurer to establish a separate savings bank department. It would be interesting to know if the details of the housing scheme were available in July, 1926, when the Treasurer said he discussed this proposal with the board. If they were not, how could the Treasurer have placed the scheme before the board? Honorable members on this side of the chamber believe that the proposed changes are being made in consequence of the recommendations of Sir Ernest Harvey, who, the Treasurer says, favours the scheme. That gentleman said -
That the savings bank business did not come within the ambit of the functions of a bank of central reserve, and, therefore, the severance of the Commonwealth Savings Bank from the Commonwealth Bank would in no way affect the stability or usefulness of the bank in its operation as a central reserve bank, but would bring it into line with accepted practice in central reserve banking.
If the Government found it inconvenient to deal with that aspect of the question by legislation, the central banking requirements would be satisfied if the accounts of the savings bank department were kept distinct and separate from those of the other departments of the bank’s activities.
That strong suggestion by Sir Ernest Harvey that the savings bank should be separated from the main bank on the ground that savings banks are not attached to reserve banks probably influenced the Government. But in any case there is every justification for our desire to have the matter cleared up beyond doubt. The directors of the Commonwealth Bank are considered to be competent business men, and they must have had a proposal of some kind put to them to justify them carrying the motion which the Treasurer read. Let me repeat the words of their resolution -
This board feels that to accept the responsibility of the administration of the Federal Government housing scheme as part of the functions of the savings bank department would be overweighting the work falling upon the institution.
I could understand the directors using the word “overweighting” had they been asked to carry out every detail of the scheme; but so far as we know they were asked only to advance money tq the State authorities. If they were asked to take complete control of the scheme we should be informed of it. A select committee could inquire into such a queston as that and report upon it. I cannot understand any competent bankers feeling that the lending of money would be likely to burden their business.
– And they would be lending the money in large amounts.
– That is so. Honorable members should not agree to set up another Commonwealth department for the purpose of carrying out the housing scheme if the work could be done quite as well in some other way. The establishment of new departments always means the incurring of additional expense. But there is another reason why a select committee should be appointed. The resolution, part of which I have already read, also states -
The board is, therefore, of the opinion that under the circumstances it would be wiser to accept the proposal of the Government.
What was the proposal of the Government? In reply to an interjection just now the Treasurer stated that the board had a scheme before it which has been modified. It is quite apparent, therefore, that he is not taking honorable members into his confidence. He should have given us the fullest possible information, hut he has left us in doubt as to the nature of the negotiations he carried on with the board. A definite proposal must have been made, for the resolution reads -
It would be wiser to accept the proposal of the Government.
Seeing that the Government made the proposal, it has access to all the information, and it should not shelter itself behind a bald statement that the directors were not prepared to proceed under the present arrangements. The resolution also states -
It is better, in the interests of the bank as a whole, that the Government should take the necessary steps to bring about the sepa-ration proposed, and the board will be glad to assist and advise the Government to the best of its ability as to the method of effecting the changes necessary to carry this out.
Without doubt the feeling of the general public on this whole matter “is that the directors of the bank, and not the Government, suggested that the savings bank branch should be separated from th, other branches of the bank ; but it is quite clear now that the suggestion came from the Government.
– The Government has virtually taken control.
– Exactly. Seeing that the Treasurer is quite prepared to allow the directors of the bank to manage the rural credits branch of the institution, on the ground that it means only a few hook-keeping entries, I can see no reason why he should not also allow them to handle this business, for it involves very little other than book-keeping. If the directors are competent to make advances direct to applicants under the rural credits scheme, they should be competent to make advances to State and local governing authorities to carry out the housing scheme.
– There would be less work under the housing scheme than there is under the rural credits scheme.
– That may be so. It is quite apparent that there is no justification for the statement that the Treasurer made last week that the work of advancing money to give effect to the housing scheme could not be placed upon the shoulders of the directors of the bank, because it would make their duties too arduous.
– But was not that principle affirmed when the motion for the second reading of the bill was carried ? ‘
– Honorable members on this side of the chamber are of the opinion that it was affirmed on insufficient information. The honorable member for Fawkner should not forget that the speech of the Treasurer from which I have been quoting was made in reply to the general debate, and honorable members had not had time to consider it when they were required to vote. Had the Treasurer given us the information when he moved tlie motion for the second reading of the bill, I feel sure that honorable members opposite would not have been so ready to vote as they did. We have now had time to consider the full import of the speech, and we can see that the separation of the savings bank branch from the other branches of the Commonwealth Bank was suggested, not by the directors of the bank, but by Sir Ernest Harvey.
– Surely the Leader of the Opposition realizes that the motion which he has quoted was passed by the board in July of last year, more than six months before Sir Ernest Harvey visited Australia.
– I am not forget ting that; but I say that we should be placed in possession of the full details of the scheme that was placed before the directors. The appointment of a select committee to inquire into the matter need not seriously delay the passage of the bill. The committee could make its inquiries and present its report within a fortnight. The air would then be quite clear, for we should have full information upon that subject. We should make an appalling error were we to agree to the passage of the bill. and discover, at a later date, that we had done so under a misapprehension. It would be very difficult for us then to correct our error. Now is the time to assure ourselves of the true position. It is hardly satisfactory for the Treasurer to tell us that he discussed this matter with the directors of the bank as far back as July, 1926. Even if a scheme had been submitted to the board at that time, it must surely have been changed somewhat since No doubt the Cabinet has altered it quite :recently. We are expected by the general public to carry on the functions of govern ment as inexpensively as we can, and we should not be justified in setting up a new department to administer a scheme of this “kind if it can be done quite effectively through an existing agency. Almost every “time we meet we are asked to agree to the appointment of a board or a commission of some kind. For my own part, I should not oppose such appointments if it were :shown that they were being made in the best interests of the people.
– A select- committee might take months to present its report.
– There need be t..j delay, for the information desired is easily obtainable. It should be necessary to examine only the board of directors of the bank, the Treasurer, and perhaps a few other persons. The inquiries should not occupy any longer than two weeks.
– If the committee presented a report within that time, it would be the most expeditious ever appointed by this Parliament.
– I can see no reason why its inquiries should be protracted. Generally speaking, I am not favorable to select committees or royal commissions meeting simultaneously with the House, but this is a special case. It may be said that the Government is not proposing to set up another department; but it certainly is proposing that another department of the Commonwealth Bank should be established. That must necessarily mean additional expense, and therefore a reduction in the aggregate profits of the bank, and on this ground alone honorable members would be justified in exercising every care not to make a mistake. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) has rendered good service in moving his motion, and the matter cannot be dismissed, as the honorable member for Fawkner wishes to dismiss it, by- the mere statement that the principle of separating the savings bank department from the other branches of the bank has been affirmed. It is true that this unusual course has been taken on only one previous occasion, but the circumstances justify us in taking it. If a mistake has been made, it should be rectified and by approving of the appoint^ ment of a select committee, honorable members may assure themselves that the right thing will be done.
.- The silence of honorable members on the Government side of the House is in keeping with the anxiety of the Treasurer to prevent an investigation into the facts of this case. It has been truly said that the motion for the second reading of this bill was carried by a large majority ;. but one of the strongest reasons which caused honorable members to vote for the motion was that the Treasurer had stated that the directors of the Commonwealth Bank had recommended that this course should be taken. That is the only statement that we are challenging.
– The honorable member doubts the Treasurer’s statement?
– I want the statement of the Treasurer examined by a select committee. That is the meaning of the motion. We are not going behind the bush in stating our purpose. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) and the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) have given substantial reasons for doubting that the Commonwealth Bank board, when it made its recommendations, had before it the present housing scheme of the Government. The Treasurer has given only one reason whythe accuracy of his statement should not be investigated. He has said that an inquiry would cause delay. The Leader of the Opposition rightly pointed out that the directors could be examined by a select committee in two days at the outside. The whole inquiry could be completed within a week, and the report presented to the House next week. It is ridiculous for this Government totalk about delay, when it has already delayed its housing scheme for two years. The Treasurer quoted precedent. He said that when the original bank bill was before the House a motion was moved for the appointment of a select committee, and he gave the reply of the then Prime Minister (Mr. Fisher). I submit that there is no analogy between the two instances. The object of the Opposition then was to have an inquiry respecting the policy of establishing the bank. The policy had been enunciated by the Government, put to the country, and adopted by the people. The Opposition was not prepared at that stage to commit itself to a straightout objection to the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank, and it urged that a committees be appointed to inquire whether the policy was warranted. That is not the object of this motion. Its object is to determine the facts. The Treasurer was asked, “What scheme was placed before the bank board fifteen months ago?” He replied, “ Practically the same scheme as that embodied in this bill.” He subsequently admitted that the Government’s present scheme was really a modification. I wish to know what is the difference between the housing scheme as presented to this House and that put before the board of directors. What are the. modifications ? The House should have the documents and the correspondence between the Commonwealth Bank Board and the Government. Surely there is on record some minutes of the conversations that took place. The severance of the savings bank department from the general bank is the most drastic step that has been taken since the board was appointed, and yet we are led to believe that there is not on record one line of correspondence or minutes that can be placed before this House. I challenge the accuracy of the’ Treasurer’s statement that there is nothing on record. The facts should be placed before us; and, failing that, this House should appoint a select committee to examine the directors of the bank respecting the scheme submitted to them when they carried the important resolution that has been referred to in this House. The Treasurer this afternoon quoted from that resolution. He said that the directors considered that the housing scheme was in no way related to the general banking business. The directors of the bank are men of intelligence, and they understand hanking business, and, therefore, they must have referred to a housing schema totally different from that before this House. If the present scheme is not related to banking, then it is related to nothing. It is certainly related to the raising and lending of money, and that is essentially the business of banking. Yet we are calmly told by the Treasurer that the Commonwealth Bank Board said that the scheme was not related to banking. He also said that this function ought not to be carried on by the trading branch of the general banking department, that it comes within the administration of the savings bank, and, therefore, should be separated; in fact, the savings bank department was already separated from the general banking business. I submit that, in that case, there is surely no need for the bill. The Treasurer said that the bank board considered that this function would be over-weighting the work falling upon the institution. What work, in the name of fortune, would the bank have to perform under this so-called housing scheme of the Government ? It would have to deal with the flotation of a few loans, and the lending of the money in bulk to halfa dozen States. The board is doing that work tenfold to-day. When the Commonwealth Bank was controlled by a governor and a deputy governor, it was able, during the Avar, to float and handle loans of up to nearly £300,000,000. Yet we are told to-day that to float £20,000,000, and to lend it to the States in bulk sums, would be over-weighting the administration of the Commonwealth Bank. The Treasurer stated in his second-reading speech that the Commonwealth Bank Board had been asked if it could handle the scheme, and had replied that the situation presented certain difficulties. We are asking what was the scheme put before the board that presented banking difficulties, and what are the modifications under the present scheme? We claim that this House has been misled, wittingly or otherwise, and we wish to know to what extent. . It is of no use saying that the second reading of this bill has been carried by a large majority. That is the very thing that we are challenging. Surely if honorable members behind the Government voted under a misapprehension, they are entitled to know the facts. I am certain that they were influenced largely by the resolution of the bank board, as quoted by the Treasurer. We claim that that resolution referred to a scheme entirely different from that submitted to this House. If that is not so, then the Treasurer should not object to an inquiry. He said the other day that the board felt that the housing scheme would present a set. of problems entirely different from ordinary financial questions. I ask any honorable member to show one clause inthe housing bill that presents a set of problems entirely different from ordinary financial questions. Surely the raising and lending of money is an ordinary financial matter. That statement alone is evidence that the Commonwealth Bank Board had in its mind something entirely different from borrow ing and lending money. It no doubt had before it, as the honorable member for D alley has said, the inauguration of a housing scheme, and the engagement of officials, including architects, valuers and other experts. The statement could have applied only to a housing scheme, in all its ramifications, and certainly not to the present scheme. If the Treasurer’s contention is correct, the Commonwealth Bank Board has shown itself to be incompetent to manage any financial institution.For a banking man to say that the borrowing and lending of money is something entirely different from the ordinary problems of finance, is to write himself down as a fool, and I do not think that the members of the Commonwealth Bank Board are fools. The Treasurer also said that the board advised that its operations would probably be overburdened if it were loaded with a housing scheme. There is no housing scheme under the bill passed by this House. When an intelligent body of men consider that this additional function would overburden its operations, it surely would have a real housing scheme in mind. The Leader of the Opposition has rightly contended that the proposal to separate the savings bank department from the Commonwealth Bank was suggested not by the bank board, but by the Government itself, and that the scheme was accepted by the board as being the less of two evils. The Treasurer said that the board considered that it could not give its attention to this proposed new phase of Government activity. What activity? Merely to borrow and lend money, which is being done by the board clay after day; that is called a new activity. We are asked to believe that the Commonwealth Bank Board supported a proposal to bring about a drastic change in its administration which, if given effect, would not only limit its powers, but also damage its prestige. No one has shown more effectively than did the Treasurer himself what would be the result of the severance of the savings bank branch from the general bank. He claimed that, under the regime of a Nationalist government, the moneys of the Queensland Savings Bank were placed under the control of the Commonwealth Bank. That was due entirely to the negotiations between the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, and the Labour Government of Queensland. The honorable gentleman admitted the importance of that act of consolidation, and consequently also admit the seriousness of the proposal to dismember the Commonwealth Bank. That action will make it difficult to restore to the bank tho power and prestige which it previously enjoyed. Its foundation was built upon the savings of the people, which enabled it to be established without one penny of subscribed capital, yet to-day it is proposed to tear away that foundation ! I support the motion moved by the honorable member for Dalley. This Parliament should control its own business, and it should be familiar with all the facts of the case before proposing to introduce such a cataclysmic measure as that now before the House.
.- Surely it is a little sinister that the Government should have given the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) an opportunity to propose this motion, and that it should then close down upon the discussion of it. Honorable members supporting the Government remain silent, and the Government, obstinately and silently, refuses to allow an inquiry of the nature suggested. I suggest to the Government that this is not doing justice to the authorities of the bank themselves. A. certain view has been placed before this chamber as representing the opinion of the directors of the Commonwealth Bank. As a consequence, the directors of the bank have been subjected to destructive criticism, upon a presentation of the case which might not be - and I venture to say is not - a full one. The directors of the bank are represented as not knowing their own business, and as being fearful of taking over responsibilities which the debate and the bill itself prove to be purely mythical. I should think that if any one was desirous of having the views of the directors of the bank in regard to this matter broadcast, it would he the Government; that it would he disposed to lean upon the considered opinions of those directors as a justification for its action. Although I admit that the main principle of the bill is the disintegration of the bank, and that that principle was endorsed by this chamber on a division on the second reading of the bill, I remind honorable members, and the Government in particular, that there are still seven pages of matter in this bill to be considered in committee, and suggest that it would be of very great value to them and to the country, before the consideration of the bill is advanced further, to know just what are the views of the directors of the bank, and of other competent authorities. “When expressing those views the directors would have before them the opinions of honorable members, as outlined during the debate. It is utterly incomprehensible to me that those gentlemen, who are not the appointees of the Labour party, and have taken on themselves responsibilities which, in the past, were shouldered by one man, should, write themselves down as being so inefficient as to be incapable of bearing the responsibilities that will be entailed by the lending of these additional moneys. They should be given a chance to be heard in their own defence. The silence of honorable members supporting the Government is open to the construction that it has behind it something sinister. It is very undesirable that we should root out the foundation of the Commonwealth Bank, without at least letting the people have the fullest information regarding the reasons which prompted the action of the Government.
The Treasurer has ransacked Hansard records to discover what a Labour Prime Minister said when he proposed to create the Commonwealth Bank. The honorable gentleman said that Mr. Fisher, the then Prime Minister, stated that it was a matter of Government policy, and he could not agree to a select committee. It was the Labour party had broadcast it as being a fundamental part of its policy and had, largely, won its overwhelming victory of 1910 upon that policy - the establishment of a Commonwealth Bank, one and indivisible. It was the policy of the Labour party to create a “ nation’s bank,” a bank typifying the unity of Australian finance, the confidence of one section in another, and of the people in themselves. -The present measure spells disunion, lack of confidence, a policy of disintegration. If that is the Government’s policy, why was it not broadcast when it solicited the support of the people prior to the last election? Why does it now sit silent and make no reply to the arguments advanced by honorable members on this side, in favour of a further inquiry into the matter? We do not ask the Government to approach the directors of the Commonwealth Bank as our friends, or creatures, because they are not. We were not favorable to the policy which led to their appointment. We saw the Commonwealth Bank, administered as it was by a single master mind, leap into prominence, and handle and solve problems of a kind that this directorate has never been called upon to negotiate. Now there is advanced this mean little policy of cutting the bank in two. When did it become a sound principle that division spelt strength, that you can with soundness alienate one section of a bank from another, set aside additional men to govern that second section, and then appoint a new commission to manage a third section? Why not appoint a commission to manage the rural credits section, and continue the idea ad infinitum? If there was one thing above any other that stood to the credit of the Labour Government as a legislative monument, it was the -creation of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
– The honorable member is exceeding the .terms of the motion.
– There is every justification for the holding of this inquiry, and convincing reasons have been advanced in favour of the acceptance of the motion. The Treasurer stated that there is but one principle in the bill, and that we affirmed the principle on its second reading. It is our argument that there is but one principle - the disintegration of the Commonwealth Bank. The attitude of the honorable gentleman has given birth to the suspicion that the Government is doing a grave injustice to the directors in having it placed on record that, upon the facts presented to this chamber, they have labelled themselves as being utterly incompetent to cope with their job.
– The honorable member for Batman (Mr. -Brennan) complained of the dearth of speakers to this motion from the Government side of the House. The reason is apparent. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) said everything that there was to be said in support of the motion, and the Treasurer replied fully and convincingly. Other honorable members of the Opposition have repeated, in varied form, the arguments already advanced by the honorable member for Dalley. It is, therefore, difficult to add anything to the reply which, shortly, was that there is only one principle in this bill, the separation, for purposes which have been fully explained to the chamber, of the savings bank from the general Commonwealth Bank, without interfering in any way with the efficient discharge of the functions of either branch. That principle was first deliberately accepted by this chamber when it passed the Commonwealth Housing Bill and, again, when the second reading of this bill was passed. It is now proposed, in spite of those considered actions by honorable members, to refer the whole bill to a select committee for the purpose of ascertaining the views of the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank upon a measure which embodies the Government policy. I do not know whether it is proposed to submit the officers as well as the Board of Direc-tors of the bank to cross-examination by a select committee ; but the honorable member for Dalley in reply to a helpful interjection from his own side of the House, said that it was important to place the bank beyond the possibility of meddling or interference by any Ministry. I agree entirely that it is important that there should be no such interference or meadling with the bank, and hitherto that has been a fundamental principle in the administration of the bank. But what would be the position of the Board of Directors and the officers of the bank, if whenever legislation dealing with the bank was introduced or whenever it became the duty of Parliament to determine general lines of policy as embodied in any particular bill, they were to be brought before a select committee to give their opinions upon the proposed legislation? Nothing could be more derogatory to the independence of the Board of Directors of the bank than to be made to feel that they were to be subjected to cross-examination and inquiry as to their views of policy or as to their particular discussions with Ministers or representatives of the Government.
– If the directors of the hank state that a proposition has been put up to them by the Government, would not that be interference with the bank ?
– It is quite proper for the Government to invite an expression of opinion from the directors of the bank, which they are at liberty to give or withhold as they think fit. But it is quite another thing to subject them, and also the officers of the bank, to an interrogation by members of Parliament sitting as a select committee, especially after this House has twice definitely affirmed the principle embodied in the legislation upon which they are being crossexamined. Although it is the intention of the motion that the directors, and also the officers, of the Commonwealth Bank should be crossexamined for the purpose of ascertain ing their views on the policy embodied in the bill now under consideration, there is no suggestion from the Opposition that its members would be bound “by the views expressed. Up to the present, we have not heard from honorable members opposite any enthusiasm for the acceptance of the views of the board of directors of the Commonwealth Bank. So far as I am able to understand honorable members opposite, they believe in one-man control of the bank. In fact, from time to time they have criticized :not only the setting up of a board of directors, but also the personnel of the board itself. Honorable members opposite are, of course, entitled to their views -on all those matters; but, holding such “views as they do, it is very difficult for them to suggest that, in order to guide the House in coming to a decision upon the hill now before us, a select committee should ascertain the opinions of the directors whom they criticize so freely. Further, we all know that there is not the slightest guarantee that the report of the select committee would be adopted by the House. The House would still maintain its freedom of action and its full responsibilities in relation to the bill. It seems to me that the Opposition having failed on a straight-out vote to defeat the two bills submitted by the Government, the only purpose they hope to achieve by the motion of the honorable member for Dalley is to delay further the passage of those measures.
.- When a bill to bring about a fundamental change in the banking policy of the Government is introduced, this House is entitled to the fullest information; yet in his speeches on the bill now before us, as also on the housing bill, the Treasurer has been remarkable for his absolute lack of candour. The honorable member for Dalley is seeking to switch on the light in the dark places, because we feel that there is something sinister, or some political conspiracy behind the proposal’ of the Government to separate the savings bank business from the general banking business of the Commonwealth Bank. The Treasurer’s refusal to indicate the nature of his references to the board of directors of the bank, and of his discussions with Sir Ernest Harvey, have led members of the Opposition to believe that there is some ulterior motive for the suggested’ change. I do not wish to repeat with wearisome reiteration what has already been said - that the actual lending of money for the Commonwealth housing scheme will involve very little additional work. A few years ago, when Sir Denison Miller controlled the Commonwealth Bank, .the bank with its own housing scheme, the administration of war loans and its general work, was doing a much greater business and was conducting more delicate and more complex functions than it is doing to-day. I challenge the Treasurer to deny that behind his proposal to separate the savings bank from the general banking work of the Commonwealth Bank there is an intention on the part of the Government to vacate the field of general banking and limit the activities of the Commonwealth Bank to those of a central reserve bank. During the week end I have discussed the Government’s proposals with a number of persons in banking circles, including ex-officers of the Commonwealth Bank, and they have indicated to me that they have every reason to believe that behind these proposals is the ultimate intention of the Government to get out of ordinary ‘ banking business. In this connexion it is interesting to recall the fact that in 1914 Mr. Justice Powers, in the case of Seiner v. Scott, expressed the following opinion : -
The bank is, in my opinion, constituted by the act a Commonwealth instrumentality to carry out savings bank business - a governmental function in Australia - and possibly other government business, but under section 7c of the act the power to receive deposits on current account in its tra’ding banking business is only given to it as a trading bank, and not to carry out any governmental functions.
Further on he said: -
It was not seriously contended that the Constitution gave the Commonwealth special power to establish an ordinary trading bank for profit.
Similar views were expressed by Sir Samuel Griffiths. My opinion is that the separation of the savings bank from the general banking business of the Commonwealth Bank will be followed later on by a challenge on the part of certain private banks of the constitutionality of the trading operations of the Commonwealth Bank.
– The honorable member is going beyond the scope of the motion.
– The motion does not go far enough. It should be extended to cover an investigation of these matters. The select committee should ascertain whether or not the change of policy proposed by the Government will be injurious to the bank, and whether the operations of the bank will be affected by any constitutional limitation. At present, while the bank has all its functions interwoven and inter-related, there is less possibility of a challenge being made as to its constitutional right to carry on general trading operations, but if by the passage of this bill its trading operations are separated from its savings bank functions, it is rumoured in certain banking circles, in Sydney at any rate, that action will be taken to challenge its constitutionality to carry on a general trading banking business.
.- I cannot support the motion submitted by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore). On the second reading of this bill I spoke against the principle involved in it, and had I been in the chamber when the vote was taken - I was detained. by circumstances over which I had no control - I should have voted against the bill, because, in my opinion, the reasons advanced by the Treasurer why the measure should be passed were totally inadequate. But I have to recognize the fact that, after having fully discussed the measure, the House came to a deliberate decision upon the principle involved, which it is generally recognized is the severance of the savings bank business from the general business of the Commonwealth Bank. It is now suggested by honorable members of the Opposition that in coming to that decision the House was misled by the Treasurer. In my opinion it is for those who voted for the bill to say whether or not they were so misled. If they were misled they will undoubtedly vote for the motion of the honorable member for Dalley. If, on the other hand, they say that they were not misled and that they were fully informed by the Treasurer, the only effect of agreeing to that motion would be to challenge a decision deliberately come to by this House. I could be no party to that, and therefore, while I still think that the reasons advanced by the Treasurer for the acceptance of the bill were totally inadequate, I realize that, the House having decided that the bill should be accepted, I am bound, by that decision and must respect it.
, the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) said that the Treasurer had effectively replied to the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore), bit the honorable member has laboured extremely hard to bring forward some new idea to back up his colleague. Honorable members of the Opposition contend that the House has a right to know the facts upon which an opinion offered to the Government has been based. Who are the directors of the Commonwealth Bank? It is well to know their names. The board consists of - Sir Robert Gibson, chairman; Mr. R. B. W. McComas, vice-chairman; Mr. R. S. Drummond,
Mr. J. T. Heathershaw, Sir Samuel Hordern, Mr. J. Mackenzie Lees, Mr. C. H. Reading, Mr. E. C. Riddle, and Mr. H. P. Armitage. The reasons given by the Treasurer for their not wishing to engage in this housing scheme is that the additional duties would be overweighting them with responsibilities. Clause 8 reads -
Advances shall be made on such terms and conditions as to payment of interest and repayment of principal as are agreed upon between the commission and the authority.
According to clause 4, “ authority “ means a prescribed Commonwealth, territorial, State or municipal authority which administers a scheme for providing or assisting in providing dwelling houses. Does the Treasurer seriously contend that the additional duties which would de volve upon the directors if they controlled this scheme would bear upon them unduly? They would be only routine duties. The responsibility of providing the money would fall, not upon them, but upon the Loan Council. All that the board will have to do will be to open a money-lending establishment with the sign of the three balls hanging over it.
– Order ! The honorable member is not in order in discussing at this stage the general principles of the bill.
– I was replying tothe Treasurer’s contention that these additional duties would impose too great a responsibility on the board. We on this side contend that the members of the board should have the opportunity to appear before a select committee to say whether the Treasurer has correctly interpreted their views.
– One would have thought that, after the comprehensive speech of the Treasurer on the second reading of this bill, all opposition to it would have ended; or that, if that was not sufficient to convince honorable members opposite of the futility of opposing it, the overwhelming vote in favour of the second reading would have done so. It would appear that during the week-end there has been a conspiracy among honorable members opposite in connexion with the Government’s housing scheme. It is significant that the motion before the House was moved by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore), who not long ago was Premier of Queensland, in which State the Commonwealth Savings Bank has sole control of the savings bank business. I remind him that no select committee was appointed to inquire whether that business should be taken from the State Savings Bank and handed to the Commonwealth Savings Bank. Nor did any” select committee inquire into the reason why the Government of Queensland, before transferring that business, imposed the condition that it should have the right to a large proportion of the savings bank deposits at the low rate of 3 per cent. knowing that the depositors would be paid31/2 per cent. on their deposits.
– The honorable member has not given the facts.
– The facts have been given by the Treasurer. I repeat that the motion before the House is a week-end conspiracy to provide propaganda for the forthcoming election campaign.
– I rise to order. I am not super-sensitive in matters of this kind ; but I do not like to be charged with having entered into a conspiracy. As. he is strong so should the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Perkins) be merciful. He has said that honorable members on this side have entered into a week-end conspiracy; I do not know whether he refers to the quality of the conspiracy or to the time of its incubation. I ask you, sir, to call upon the honorable member to withdraw his remarks unconditionally. I feel them very keenly.
– If the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has listened to the whole debate, he will have heard an honorable member on his side of the chamber refer to this hill as the result of a political conspiracy. I took the remark of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro to mean that there had been a conference of members opposed to this measure to consider how they might further opposition to the hill. I did not regard the term as offensive. If, however, the honorable member for EdenMonaro intended to be offensive, I would ask him to withdraw it.
– You, Mr. Speaker, have correctly interpreted my meaning. With the approach of another election campaign, members of all parties are seeking arguments to be used as political propaganda.
– Then this bill is election propaganda?
– I can understand the desire of honorable members opposite to prevent this measure from becoming law. They would be only too happy to be able to tell their constituents that during its term of office the present Government had achieved little or nothing of a useful nature. There is no reason why the passage of this bill should be delayed. Already a select committee, composed of the members of the Ministry, has passed judgment upon it. It was only introduced after careful consideration by the Government and its financial advisers. Honorable members opposite must doubt the truth of the Treasurer’s statements; otherwise they would not support the motion before the House. If the attitude of the Commonwealth Bank Board towards this scheme has been wrongly placed before the House by the Treasurer, there is no reason for its members to keep silent. In the absence of any comment by them, we must accept the Treasurer’s statement.
– Seeing that the resolution of the Commonwealth Bank Board has been submitted to the House, the ground on which the resolution was based should also be made available.
– There is no necessity for this House to have before it every detail that is presented to Cabinet. In his policy speech delivered at Dandenong in October, 1925, the Prime Minister said that to give effect to the Government’s housing scheme an amendment of the Commonwealth Bank Act would be necessary. The Treasurer has informed us that, before introducing this measure, the Government sought the advice of its financial experts, as well as that of Sir Ernest Harvey, who was recently in Australia.
– What has that to do with the motion before the chamber?
Honorable members on this side were not permitted to get beyond the scope of the motion.
– Nearly all the speeches made by honorable members opposite in relation to this motion were second-reading speeches. I am only replying to the arguments they used.
– On a point of order, I take exception to the remark of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Perkins) that the speeches of honorable members of this side of the House were not in order. You, Mr. Speaker, confined the remarks of honorable members to the motion before the Chair.
– The honorable member for Eden-Monaro is not in order. During the debate on this motion I have frequently called upon honorable members on both sides to confine their remarks to the question before the Chair, and informed them that they must not debate the general principles of the bill, seeing that these were discussed in connexion with the second reading. In every instance honorable members submitted immediately to the Chair. The reason I did not call the honorable member for Eden-Monaro to order was that he was contending that what had been decided by the Government as a matter of policy was not a matter for reference to a select committee. Beyond that the honorable member is not entitled to go.
– I did not say that the speeches of honorable members opposite were out of order, but that they were of the nature of second-reading speeches. That honorable members were so frequently called to order is clear evidence that my contention was correct. The statements of those on the opposite side of the House in pleading for a select committee involve the inference that they doubt the word of the Treasurer, and they want a select committee to see that the matter is placed more fully before the House. We on this side of the House say that we believe the statement of the Treasurer when he said that he was advised regarding the proposals in this bill by the Commonwealth Bank directors. Therefore, a select committee is not necessary.
.- This motion has nothing to do with what the honorable member who has just sat down termed a conspiracy, nor is it an electioneering dodge. He said, further, that the motion was calculated to delay the’ housing proposals of the Government. The Government has been in power for two years in this Parliament, which has sat for three weeks during a period of eighteen months, yet the honorable member says that if we hold the bill up for a week we shall delay the Government’s housing scheme. My contention is that the whole housing scheme is an electioneering dodge. It will not interfere one iota with the housing scheme to hold up the bill for a further week. The honorable member said that the bank authorities were consulted. I want to know who was consulted. Was it the members of the board, or the responsible officers of the bank? Who were the authorities mentioned by the Treasurer in his second-reading speech? He was asked time and again to specify who the authorities were, but we could not get the information we desired. I can see no other way of getting to know these things than by the appointment of this committee. I want to . know how far the Government was_ influenced by the opinion of the Comptroller of the Bank of England, who was recently in Australia. If this motion is carried, it will afford an opportunity for those giving evidence to say how far Sir Ernest Harvey had a finger in the pie. He is the gentleman who said that he was prepared to do his utmost for the Commonwealth Bank, because it was functioning solely as the Bank of England was functioning, that is, as a central bank. This is one of the matters that this committee, if appointed, will unravel. I am convinced in f my own mind that a committee such as that proposed by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) would be able to place before this House information that has been withheld from it by the Government and the Treasurer up to the present moment. If this committee is created, I believe that such information will be elicited as will sound the death knell of this piece of legislation. This- House has not been given the information to which it is entitled. There is no indication that any of the important States of the Commonwealth want this legislation at all. As the honorable member who introduced this motion has stated, if the motion id carried, and this committee appointed, the States can be approached for their opinion within a week, and I am sure the majority of them will tell the committee that they do not want this measure. For that reason, this resolution should bd carried. Members should not be asked to cast their votes in the dark. If this committee is appointed, the supporters of the Government will not be able to explain away their attitude in reference to the housing scheme when challenged on the public platform. They will not be able to say that they did not know this or that, or say that if they had had full information they would have voted against, the measure. This motion is vital, and I hope honorable members will realize the necessity of obtaining the information we are seeking. I support it strongly, and I sincerely hope it will be carried by the House.
.- Both the Treasurer and the AttorneyGeneral carefully evaded the main point raised by this motion, which, I contend, was that the Treasurer, wittingly or unwittingly, misled the House during the second-reading debate. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) thinks that because the House endorsed the principle of the bill by carrying the second reading, it therefore accepted the explanations of the Treasurer regarding it; but my reason for moving this afternoon was to impress it upon honorable members that they may have been mis led. It is hard to bring members to such a realization, especially when party discipline is involved. The Treasurer evaded the point that his main argument, when introducing the bill, was that the separation of the different departments of the Commonwealth Bank was desired by the bank authorities; but he did not convey to the House, until his reply to the secondreading debate, the terms of the resolution carried by the bank’s directors. That resolution obviously refers to some proposals placed before the directors, but the
Treasurer has not told us the nature of them. The resolution seems to me to convey the impression that the hoard was under some sort of duress when it passed the resolution. If that is so, or if there are fair grounds for that suspicion, the matter should he investigated. The Treasurer and the Attorney-General referred to the motion for a select committee moved by Mr. Deakin when the Commonwealth Bank was first mooted. That is not an analogous case. This is a motion referring to a matter which has recently arisen. If the Treasurer is on sound ground, if the resolution he received from the board of directors in July of last year was arrived at in a bona fide manner, and represented the views of the board on the proposal before the House, he would have nothing to lose by allowing the bill to go to a select committee, notwithstanding that a week’s delay must take place in ascertaining the opinions of the directors. Not even to-day has he given an adequate indication of the nature of the proposals submitted to the board of directors.
– There would be no need for the resolution if he had done that.
– The Treasurer said that nothing was submitted to the board in writing, yet surely he can give us from his own recollection the gist of the proposals placed before the directors. It would have been better otherwise not to have given the resolution to the House at all, as it places the directors in an entirely false position, because it conveys the impression that the directors favour the scheme as it now stands. If they do that, they write themselves down as a body who favour the advancing of money in large sums to the State and other authorities and yet consider that the conduct of such business would be beyond the capacity of the bank authorities. That would imply a serious limitation of their own capacity. I decline to make such an inference. I do not believe that the directors would say that the institution as at present constituted could not do the work involved in the proposals embodied in the Housing Bill. Therefore I do not believe that the resolution placed before the House last week conveys the present opinion of the directors of the bank.
Question - That the bill be referred to a select committee (Mr. Theodore’s motion) - put. The House divided.
Majority . . . . 15
Question so resolved in the negative.
In committee (Consideration resumed from 19th October, vide page 632).
Clause 1 - (1.) This act may be cited as the Commonwealth Bank (Savings Bank) Act, 1927. . .
.- The title that has been given is a misnomer. It is proposed to divorce the savings hank branch from the Commonwealth Bank and to establish it as a separate institution. The Treasurer must, therefore, see the necessity for a more appropriate title than that which has been given to the bill. “ The Commonwealth
Bank Destruction Bank,” or “ The Commonwealth Bank Disintegration Bank” would he more in harmony with its provisions. In future there are to he two institutions, one transacting general banking business and the other savings bank business. The public will have difficulty in deciding to which they should go. Fresh machinery will be needed to enable the new board to establish branches of the savings bank in different places. At the present time savings bank business is undertaken most inexpensively at post offices, which already have the machinery necessary to perform that work. This proposed departure from the existing customwill add considerably to cost, and the volume of business will be appreciably lessened. The title of the bill should he in keeping with its provisions, so that the people may not be misled.
.- I move -
That all the words after the word “ as “ he omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ an act to pulverize the Commonwealth Bank.”
– As the amendment is frivolous, the Chair cannot accept it.
– Then, perhaps, I shall be in order in showing that in the general banking world instead of banking operations being separated as the Government propose, amalgamations are taking place. On page 388 of theCommomvealth YearBook I find the following: -
Amalgamations which have been such a’ feature in British banking of late years, have also been effected in Australia, the number of competitive of joint stock banks being thereby reduced considerably. During the calender years, 1017 and 1918, the following were recorded: - a The Royal Bank of Queens land Limited with Bank of North Queensland Limited; 6, City Bank of Sydney with Australian Bank of Commerce Limited; c National Bank of Tasmania Limited with Commercial Bank of Australia Limited; and d National Bank of Australasia Limited with Colonial Bank of Australasia Limited. A further amalgamation took place in August, 1920, viz. : - The London Bank of Australia Limited and the English, Scottish, and Australian Bank Limited, and these banks absorbed the Commercial Bank of Tasmania in May, 1921. The National Bank of Australasia also absorbed the Bank of Queensland.
On Friday last the Treasurer said that the profits of the Commonwealth Bank had been greater since the bank had been under the control of a board than at any other period in its history.
– That is not correct.
– No. The Treasurer was probably trusting to his memory when he said that the profits of the general banking business last year were £580,987, and those of the rural credits branch £19,976. He did not, however, say if the latter amount was included in the former. According to the Commonwealth Year-Book of 1926, the profits of the bank from 1901 to 1925 were-
– I quoted the profits for the year 1926-27.
– The figures I shall quote, which should be placed on record, are not later than 1925. The profits in a series of years ending in 1925 were as follow : -
If a private banking institution had control of the note issue, and the resources of the Commonwealth as a security, its profits would be much greater than those of the Commonwealth Bank.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to8 p.m.
– The figures given in the Y ear-Book show that the aggregate profits of the general trading department of the Commonwealth Bank have been as follow : -
Corresponding figures for the savings bank branch, which are illuminating, are as follow : -
It will be seen that while the profits from the general trading branch of the bank have “decreased greatly, those of the savings bank branch have consistently increased. On these grounds I assert that the concluding remarks that the Treasurer made in his speech in reply to the secondreading debate, to the effect that the bank was progressing, were unfounded, and could have been made only for the purpose of bolstering up a weak case. The Y earBook also gives some interesting figures respecting the private banking companies. In the returns which set out banking dividends and- bonuses I find that six private companies have returned not less than £150,000 per half year to their shareholders. In the circumstances I feel that I was justified in; suggesting an alteration to the title of the bill. You, Mr. Chairman, considered that “pulverize “ was not the right word to use, but I feel sure that when the Government has finished with the Commonwealth Bank even you will admit that its use was apt.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 2 (Commencement).
.- I feel like moving an amendment to this clause with the object of postponing the commencement of the act until 1940, but from the numerous following of the Government, honorable members on this side of the committee receive very little encouragement to try to improve its measures. I am quite satisfied that it would be a blessing to the general community if the commencement of the act could be deferred until 1940. It may be said that my proposal is frivolous, but if I thought there was the slightest hope of winning even a few votes for it from honorable members opposite, I should certainly move it as an amendment. It appears to me that honorable members opposite take it for granted that every suggestion made from this side of the chamber must be opposed. I regret that the date of the commencement of this legislation is to be fixed by proclamation, for I feel that very shortly after the bill receives the approval of another place, it will be proclaimed.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 -
The principal act is amended as set out in the schedule to this act.
.It is most unusual to find a clause like this at the beginning of a bill. The schedule sets out a large number of amendments, and if any of the proposed new sub-sections which appear in subsequent clauses of the bill are altered, it may be necessary to alter the schedule. In the circumstances it would be wise to defer consideration of the clause until the remainder of the bill has been dealt with, for then we should be in a position to deal intelligently with it. There is no necessity for passing the clause at present.
– The Leader of the Opposition has overlooked the fact that the amendments set out in the schedule are purely consequential. No harm will come from passing the clause now. The controversial matters in the measure are set out fully in subsequent clauses.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 4 -
Section three of the principal act is amended by omitting the words and figures “ Part V. - Savings Bank Business,” and inserting in its stead the following words and figures : - “ Part V.- The Savings Bank.” . . .
.- This is a vital clause, and if we agree to it we should agree to everything of importance in the bill. Our approval of it will carry with it approval of the proposal to separate the savings bank department from the other departments of the Commonwealth Bank. I have no desire to reiterate the arguments that have already been used in our discussion of the measure, but I must protest again that there is no justification for this proposal. I am glad to see that, at last, even the Treasurer himself is ready to admit that there is something to be said in favour of the stand that we have taken, for he has given notice of a proposed amendment to provide that at least twice in each year “ a statement of the combined accounts of the bank and the savings bank shall be prepared for presentation to Parliament. That indicates that he desires, in some degree at least, to keep the accounts of the hank intact. If we agree to this clause, we shallundoubtedly place the savings bank business under the administration of an entirely separate authority which, in future, will control the £46,000,000 already deposited in the savings bank, and also the £20,000,000 which is to be provided for the purposes of the housing scheme. If we separate the branches of the bank in this way, the managementcannotbecarriedonas economically as hitherto. It may happen that the new savings bank authority will come to the conclusion that, in the interests of its business, it should establish separate banks in different parts of the country, and cease to use the agency of the post office. It will probably gather around it a big staff of additional officers, and so add greatly to its overhead expenses. I have argued quite frequently in this Parliament that the setting up of boards, commissions, and new public departments, means the creating of much larger staffs, and so increasing the cost of government. I remember submitting that point when the proposal to set up the Development and Migration Commission was under consideration, and I was told that no great additional expense would be incurred. But a glance at this year’s Estimates proves that my criticism was justified, for the amount to be provided for the purposes of that commission this year is considerably larger than that expended last year. If the cost of administering the savings bank increases, it must necessarily follow that the profits from the business will be diminished, and we may find the new authority reducing the rate of interest payable on deposits, and interfering in other undesirable ways with the good management of the institution from the point of view of the people. Under the bill we shall have a separate body administering the savings bank, and it is quite possible that two separate institutions will be established at many places at which post offices are acting as agents for the Commonwealth Bank. In this way a huge sum of money will be expended unnecessarily. If the two institutions were combined there would be one staff and less expense. Many honorable members opposite supported the second reading of the bill merely because the Government had thought fit to introduce it, but after all it is the duty of every member to improve legislation as far as possible at the committee stage. No Government can draft a bill satisfactorily in every detail, particularly when any deep principle is involved. It is only when the concerted wisdom of honorable members is brought to bear upon legislation that its weaknesses are discovered and finally rectified. Unnecessary expenditure should be avoided, particularly in this time of extravagance, and it cannot be denied that we have been indulging in extravagance ever since the war. There will be a day of reckoning, and probably it is not far distant.Fortunately for us we have had good rains, but if we happened to have a drought generally throughout Australia our position would be serious. The expenditure under this bill can be avoided, and it is the duty of honorable members in the committee stage to frame this bill in the interests of the community generally. If this measure is passed without drastic amendment the responsibility for the establishment of the Savings Bank Commission, the erection of new buildings and the consequent loss on administration, must rest upon the Government and those honorable members who support it. The Treasurer has not yet denied the contention of the Opposition that the setting-up of another authority to administer the savings bank will mean an additional expenditure and a consequent reduction of the profits of the Commonwealth Bank. It is not my intention to move any amendment to this clause, because it cannot be amended to my satisfaction, but if honorable members opposite support the view expressed from this side, it may be possible for the Treasurer to suggest an amendment that will meet the desire of the committee. . I should like the Treasurer to explain why it is necessary to separate the savings bank from the general bank, what will be the additional cost under the scheme, what powers will be vested in the commission, and whether the savings bank will compete with the Commonwealth Bank with a consequent interference with post office agencies?
– I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) has raised this question, because it gives me an opportunity to explain the exact working of the savings bank as contemplated under the bill. Contrary to what has been said by honorable members opposite, an attempt has been made by the Government to co-relate as closely as possible the operations of the savings bank with those of the Commonwealth
Bank itself. The only point at which there is a departure is in connexion with the actual administration and determination of policy. The commsision will go into the question of the amounts of money to be raised by the Treasurer and to be made available by the bank itself from its deposits. It will determine the various methods of investing the funds of the savings bank, and questions of policy will be separate from the board of directors of the Commonwealth Bank. With regard to the actual working of the savings bank and of the Commonwealth Bank, if honorable members care to read the bill, they will find, as I stated in my secondreading speech, that the intention is to bring the two institutions into close relationship so that one will tend to bring business to the other.
– Will there be two separate buildings in one town?
– But there will be two separate banks.
– There will be two separate banks operating in one building, as they do now, with the same staff. If honorable members will read the bill - and I do not think many of them have done so judging by their criticism - they will find that as far as possible the staff of both banks are to be interchangeable. Sub-clause 35 (w) of clause 7 provides that the commission may appoint the Commonwealth” Bank of Australia as its agent for carrying out any or all of its power under this bill, and may delegate to the Commonwealth Bank the power of appointing sub-agencies. As I explained in my second-reading speech the object of the Government is to utilize to the full the existing Commonwealth Bank agencies as savings banks, and to use their staff. The only difference will be in respect of the actual administration and the policy that will be pursued regarding the investment of funds. The. Leader of the Opposition asked whether there will be any alteration in the method of dealing with post offices, and whether they will still be used as agencies for the savings bank. I draw his attention to sub-clause 35 (y), which reads -
The commission may arrange with the Minister administering any department of the Commonwealth for an officer of the department to act as agent for the savings bank for the transaction of the business of the savings bank.
– Will the business be confined to post offices as at present, or will there be two banks in opposition?
– The position will be as at present. The clause inserted in the bill is practically identical so far as intenion and meaning are concerned, with section 52 of the act, which reads -
The only alteration in the bill is that instead of the board the commission may arrange accordingly with the Minister. That provision also disposes of the contention that there will be an enormous increase in the cost of administration. At present there is in charge of the savings bank business of the Commonwealth Bank a highly-paid and responsible officer. His place will be taken by the chief commissioner. The only additional staff will be two commissioners whose advice and expert opinion will be available to the chief commissioner, to assist him in the investment of funds. The Victorian Savings Bank operates over a smaller field geographically, although it deals with larger funds. That institution has a chief commissioner at a salary of £3,500, and an assistant commissioner at a salary of over £2,000. In New South Wales there are three highly paid men carrying out similar duties to those that will devolve upon the three commissioners controlling the Commonwealth Savings Bank. The chief commissioner is receiving £2,500 and the others £2,000. It will thus be seen that the Commonwealth Savings Bank will be conducted economically in comparison with similar institutions in Australia. The method of administration will cause little increase in the cost of the administration of the bank. It has been stated that because of the banking figures not being aggregated as previously, there will be a loss of prestige to the Commonwealth Bank. As indicated during my reply at the second-reading stage, I have circulated the following new clause: - 20a.- (1) The Treasurer shall, at least twice in each year, prepare a statement of the combined accounts of the bank and the savings bank in accordance with the prescribed form.
That provision will bring together the whole of the figures in connexion with both banks. The only occasion during the year on which the total figures are brought together is in the balance-sheet of the Commonwealth Bank. The aggregate balance-sheets for the half years ending 31st December, 1926 and 30th June, 1927, contain statements of liabilities and assets -
The figures relating to the rural credits department are sufficient answer to the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who asked what additional funds had been made available consequent on the establishment of that department.
– From what is the honorable gentleman quoting now?
– From the balancesheet of the Commonwealth Bank, as circulated about a fortnight ago.
– In what way is that relevant to this proposal to cut the bank in halves?
– I am showing how the figures at the present time are aggregated, and that under my proposed new clause the combined accounts of the general bank and of the savings hank will be published, so that the prestige of the bank will not be affected, as suggested.
– I was surprised to hear the Treasurer state that this measure will not involve additional expenditure. It will bring about the establishment of a fresh set of commissioners, ‘and will cleave in twain the Commonwealth Bank. Do honorable members understand what they are about to do? Surely they will not for ever be content to be gulled, and to sit silent, taking their physic? We have had an intimation that this bill intends, if necessary, to eliminate the general branch o£ the bank and remove it from competition with private banks. That was the principal reason underlying the visit of Sir Ernest Harvey. We were told that his expenses were paid by the Bank of England. The Bank of England is behind all private enterprises, and that is why it paid Sir Ernest’s expenses. We did not find it necessary to be prompted by the Bank of England when we inaugurated the Commonwealth Bank, or when we took over the note issue. Without . any outside assistance, we created an institution -the like of which has never been seen before, and of which every citizen of the Commonwealth should be justly proud. The Treasurer has endeavoured to prove that, since the board o£ directors was appointed, the profits of the Commonwealth Bank have increased by leaps and bounds. Why did not the honorable gentleman deal with the institution retrospectively to the time of its inception? For the five years, 1917 to 1921, the profits of thebank increased from £526,292 to £3.451,365, an average of £600,000 per annum. And that was before the board of directors came into existence! The Treasurer merely selected financial periods to suit himself, years in which a slight decline was experienced. I admit that, after the board of directors was appointed, a small advantageous increase was experienced, but that is infinitesimal when compared with the wonderful accumulation of funds that took place when the bank was under the control of the Governor and Deputy Governor. Throughout the most trying financial periods ever experienced by Australia, the Commonwealth Bank handled the most intricate financial problems, involving millions of pounds, and came out of the ordeal splendidly. Now this Treasurer contemplates cleaving it in twain. Clause 35d gives us a hint of what it is intended to do -
The savings bank shall, in addition to any other powers conferred by this act, have power -
to carry on the general business of a savings bank;
to acquire and hold land on any tenure ;
to receive money on deposit either for a fixed term or on current account ;
to make advances by way of loan or otherwise ;
to do anything incidental to any of its powers.
It is merely the creation of a general bank in miniature, under the guise of a savings bank. It is well known that when the Commonwealth Bank was established, and when the note issue was taken over, it was the intention of the founders of the bank, and of those responsible for taking over the note issue, to utilize the profits towards redeeming our national debt. Now those profits will be distributed here, there, and everywhere, and scarcely any will be left for debt redemption. It is time that the measure was held up irrespective of the lateness of the hour. The fight certainly will not finish here. I am looking forward to having a larger audience than I have to-night - to the time when the matter will be placed before the electors of Australia. It was contended that the bill is carrying out the promise contained in the Prime Minister’s Dandenong policy speech of 1925. That is not so. Had this measure been foreshadowed to the electors of Australia before the last general election the Government would never have’ secured the number of votes it did. If there is one thing more than another by which the electors of Australia are prepared to stand, it is the continuance of our national bank. Now the Government proposes to tinker with it; to take away its stability. That must have a most damaging effect. What are the commissioners to do? The Treasurer stated there would be no increase in staff. If that be so this will be the solitary instance where the appointment of boards of commissioners has not involved the development of innumerable bureaucracies. The honorable gentleman intimated that the staffs of the general and savings bank branches would be interchangeable. This bill will so strongly establish those commissioners that they will be free to do practically what they like. Their creation must involve considerable additional expenditure, with no gain to the country.All private financial institutions are now taking a course directly opposite to that proposed by the Government. Private financial institutions throughout the world are amalgamating, in an endeavour to keep down expenses and bring about unification of policy. Instead of the Government weakening the Commonwealth Bank as it now proposes to do, it should follow the example of those - private institutions, increase the capital of the bank and unite its forces, so that itmay successfully cope with all crises. Sir Ernest Harvey travelled here, with all his expenses paid, faring sumptuously and living luxuriously on the best that the land could produce - for what purpose? Certainly not because the Bank of England is benevolently inclined towards Australia. Australia is faced with a problem similar to that which confronts other countries, and that can best be solved by uniting and strengthening its forces. Every man, woman, and child is behind our national bank, and those who seekto bring about its disintegration will be appropriately treated when the electors of Australia have an opportunity to deal with them. If they fail to do the rightthing by this institution and by the people of Australia, those people will dispense justice to them when the occasion arises.
– I had hoped that some of the objections which I put forward to this measure at the second-reading stage would be met by the Treasurer. The hope was vain. I fail utterly to understand why the honorable gentleman is dismembering the bank. After careful reflection I cannot discover any reason why the bank, as Pt present constituted, should not continue its work. The Treasurer, in detailing its many splendid achievements, has given us some excellent reasons for leaving it as it is. This Government was responsible for placing the bank under a board of directors. For many years it carried on its business efficiently without a board. Of the directors themselves I have nothing to say. They are estimable gentlemen; probably we might ransack the country without finding better men. But, as I said the other night, they are not bankers and, after all, some specialized knowledge of an industry is not always considered a disadvantage. The directors were intended to strengthen the control. Is it suggested’ that they and the Governor and the Deputy Governor could not perform the duties assigned to the commissioners under this measure? Does the board of directors oppose this change? Is the Governor favorable to it? Did the late Governor approve of it?
– None of them approve of this measure.
– Probably it would clear away the doubts from a good many of our minds if we knew that this measure represented the matured opinions of the board of directors, the Governor, and the late Governor. It has been said, and there are indications that lead one to believe that there may be something in the suggestion, that the retirement of the late Governor was not altogether unconnected with this proposal. I am unable to pronounce upon that. I do not know that the dismemberment of the bank and the housing proposal were put before him. I can hardly believe that the Treasurer would not consult the Governor and the directors of the bank, and I should like to know what they had to say about the bill. If they were in favour of it, it would certainly be a great step towards clarifying the position, and I would be ready to believe that the Government’s proposal was not one of a series of blows that must inevitably destroy the usefulness of the bank. But if neither the board of directors nor the Governor is in favour of this legislation, I must form the opinion that it is not only illconceived, but also quite unnecessary and most unfortunate. I have already said, and have shown by my vote, that I am entirely behind the housing scheme - I spoke for the Housing Bill and voted for it - but I can see no reason why we should pass this Commonwealth Bank Savings Bill. There is nothing the savings bank will do that the present bank cannot do. The Commonwealth Bank can now lend money direct for the building of houses, whereas in all probability the Commonwealth Savings Bank, when established, will be prohibited from doing so. In the future, therefore, we shall have the Commonwealth Bank lending money direct for the building of houses, while the savings bank will be unable to do so. It will be able only to lend to an authority. That, however, is a detail, The objection I take to the bill is that it dismembers a great institution, and is a shadow of darker things to come.
.- I do not think the committee has ever listened to a weaker justification for a bill than that offered by the Treasurer in reply to the Leader of the Opposition. If, as the Treasurer has just said, the purpose of the bill, is to bring together the several principal functions of the general bank on the one hand and the savings bank branch on the other, would not that object be best accomplished by dropping the measure ? If that is the real desire of the Government, why proceed with the bill? The Treasurer says that the. Leader of the Opposition, by some kind of strange and incorrect reasoning, is assuming that he is trying to drive a wedge between the savings bank and the ordinary bank, whereas in fact the purpose of the bill is to bring together those two sections. It seems to me, however, that in this matter the Treasurer’s ideas are perverted. We know that the principal act was passed for the purpose rf establishing a Commonwealth Bank in Australia, but proposed new section 35 (b) establishes “ a Commonwealth
Savings Bank, tq be called the Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia.” It is to be a completely independent institution, no longer under the authority of the Commonwealth Bank or of the Governor, the Deputy-Governor, or the board of directors of the Commonwealth Bank. It will have its own board of commissioners, appointed by virtue of this measure, bat they will do no more than the Commonwealth Bank now has authority to do, and, indeed, has been doing. The Treasurer also ridiculed the suggestion of the Lead:, of the Opposition that this would lead to additional expenditure, and declared thai at all events it would not lead to any considerable increase. Let us examine the facts. The chief commissioner and each other commissioner must he paid, and whatever additional staff will be necessary as a consequence of the separation of the savings bank from the Commonwealth Bank must also be paid. I suppose that, the chief commissioner will be paid a salary of about £3,000 or £4,000 a yea.]-. Surely that will mean additional expense. That increased expenditure, no doubt, will be passed on to the authorities who are dealing with the housing scheme, and will ultimately become part of the cost of the houses. When, under an arrangement properly entered into between the Queensland Government and the Commonwealth Bank, the Queensland Savings Bank was amalgamated with the Commonwealth Bank, Sir Denison Miller, who was then Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, did not consider it necessary to have a separate authority to control the savings bank branch. He thought that the savings bank could be properly administered by the authorities controlling the Commonwealth Bank, and to that end made arrangements to retire the highly paid commissioner of the Queensland Savings Bank, who received nearly £10,000 by way of compensation. That was only two or three years ago. Yet the Treasurer now proposes to appoint a new commission to control the savings bank business. No doubt the chief commissioner will be paid a salary commensurate with the very important functions he will be called upon to discharge, and he will be assisted by two other commissioners, one of whom is to be a director of the Commonwealth Bank. To restrict the Treasurer to the appointment of a director of the Commonwealth Bank as a commissioner of the savings bank, in my opinion, would be,a mistake. If the bill goes through, I do not think that the Treasurer should be restricted in his choice of any commissioner to the present directors of the Commonwealth Bank. He has already told us that these directors are so loaded down with work, and the responsibility caston their shoulders is so great, that they do not care to take on the additional functions of a housing scheme. But apart altogether from the heavy work which the Treasurer says the directors of the Commonwealth Bank are charged with, I think he is making a mistake in limiting his choice to half a dozen men who now form the board of the Commonwealth Bank. How does he know that any one of them will make a suitable commissioner for a savings hank? They may all have been successful commercial men in their particular businesses - it was for that reason, we understand, they were appointed as directors of the Commonwealth Bank - but it is admitted that they have had no training in bankingbusiness, and certainly have no specialized knowledge of the operations of a savings bank. If, however, the Treasurer is committed to the choice of a commissioner from the present personnel of the administration of the Commonwealth Bank, let him, instead of appointing one of the directors of the bank, appoint the Governor or Deputy Governor of the bank, thereby maintaining some nexus between the two institutions. That nexus I regard as indispensable if the interests of the Commonwealth Bank are to be safeguarded. Of course, I believe that the bill itself is subtly aimed at the existence of the Commonwealth Bank.
– The honorable member does not really think that?
– I do. There must be some reason for the bill. The reasons given by the Treasurer are wholly inadequate. The weight of argument i.; against the measure, and if it were not for the fact that four-fifths of those who sit behind the Treasurer are more or less caucus slaves, the bill would not bc passed. We know that there are party hacks in every Parliament, and in this Parliament the majority of them ave to be found on the Government side of the. House. Their silence or their acquiescence they may be able to explain to their own satisfaction, if not to the satisfaction of their constituents. There is not a tittle of justification for the bill. The Treasurer is content to sit silent, offering no reasons for it and affording no answer to the solid arguments that have been advanced against if.
.- The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) hit the nail on the head when he said that there was some dark and sinister purpose behind the Government’s proposal. Judging by the the Government’s policy during the last few years, one can . only draw the conclusion that in the very near future it is intended to abandon the general trading operations of the Commonwealth Bank I challenge the Treasurer to deny that it. is intended to create a central reserve bank, separate the savings bank work, and then ultimately abandon trading operations altogether. Statements from- honorable members on the Ministerial side indicate that they are entirely opposed to any State competition with private enterprise. We have had an illustration of this in the sacrifice of the woollen mills some years ago, in the recent transactions in regard to the Federal Capital Territory transport service, and in the recent action of the Government in briefing counsel to appear before the High Court to argue against the acceptance by the Cockatoo Island Dockyard of a contract to build turbo alternators for the City Council. Everything points to the fact that the Government is out to destroy the true functions of the Commonwealth Bank by preventing it from entering into active competition with private institutions. I am afraid that if the trading operations of the bank are isolated they will become the subject of an attack by private banking institutions, and the Government will be afforded an excuse for suggesting that it is unconstitutional for the Commonwealth Bank to carry on trading opera tions. This opinion is supported by recent statements made by High Court justices. It is not possible to do this while the savings bank is operated in conjunction with the other hanking functions of the Commonwealth Bank, because the various transactions of the different departments are inter-related, and interwoven ; but with the separation of the trading bank operations, no doubt their constitutionality will be challenged. . .That, I suggest, is the dark and sinister purpose referred to by. the right honorable member for North Sydney, and suggested by certain other honorable members.
.- This is the vital clause of the bill. I- do not propose to traverse- the main arguments used during the second-reading debate, but one argument brought forward by the Treasurer ought to be answered. Yielding to the strong argument of honorable members on this side that the prestige and power of the Commonwealth Bank would be weakened by these proposals, and realizing that they were making an impression on the country, if not on the Government and its supporters, he said that he intended to bring forward an amendment to provide that the Treasurer should aggregate the figures for the Commonwealth Bank and the savings bank. That might do a little to restore the prestige of the Bank, but its effect would be small. The figures would not appear in the balance-sheet, which, therefore, would not reveal the bank’s true strength. While the aggregation of the figures would do something towards maintaining the prestige of the bank, it would be valueless so far as maintaining its power is concerned. The strength of the Commonwealth Bank in the first instance was due to the large amount of cheap money it obtained from the people: it was built upon the savings of the public. When the bank was established, and the government then in power offered to place £1,000,000 to its credit, its first Governor said that he did not want it, but would build the bank on the foundation of the people’s savings. He got their millions, and without spending one penny of government money, or issuing shares as private banks do, he made a success of the institution. Later as the savings bank deposits grew, the general bank opened out, until it was found possible to lend money to municipalities and other public bodies, as well as to private institutions and firms, on generous terms. During the whole of the war period the Commonwealth Bank advanced money on overdraft at 6 per cent., whereas other banks charged per cent, to 1 per cent, higher rates of interest. The Commonwealth Bank was the only bank in Australia which during the dark years of the war did not raise the rates of interest on overdrafts. It was effectual in keeping down the rates of interest because it had the savings of the people at its disposal.
– Does the honorable member suggest that savings-bank money was loaned at 6 per cent. ?
– The savings bank deposits formed the foundation on which the bank was built. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) quoted some figures the other day showing that up to 1925 the Commonwealth Bank advanced £39,000,000 to governments and municipalities, and a further sum of about £12,000,000 as general advances. Yet the Treasurer said that £40,000,000 was not a great amount on which to build the security, prestige, and power of the bank. It is now proposed to sever from the bank the savings bank branch, although in order to maintain the prestige of the institution, it is proposed to aggregate the figures for the whole bank. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) in a short survey of the history of this Government rightly pointed out that, in order to remove competition with private enterprise, the Government had sacrificed the profitable woollen mills at Geelong, which were giving a 20 per cent, return; and prevented the authorities at Cockatoo Island Dockyard from undertaking contracts. Tlie declared policy of this Government is “ No competition with private enterprise.” The present Treasurer, as a private member, advocated that there should be no competition with private enterprise. I then asked him whether he would sell the railways of Australia, and he said that he would be willing to do so. I repeated the question three times, and on each occasion I received the same affirmative answer. That answer is recorded in Hansard in clear and de finite terms. Now the honorable gentleman is endeavouring to sell the Commonwealth Bank. Until this afternoon, honorable members were not aware that the expenses of Sir Ernest Harvey, who came to Australia for the special purposeof reporting on the Commonwealth Bank, were paid by the Bank of England. I should like to know in what way the Bank of England is interested in the Commonwealth Bank.
– In what way is England interested in Australia?
– Instead of making interjections, the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Cook) should endeavour to make an intelligent contribution to an important debate. An eminent banking authority has stated that the policy of this Government is to prevent the Commonwealth Bank from being a competitor with private banks, to terminate its trading operations, and to take away its cash reserves which enable it to compete with the private banks; and, instead, to establish a bank of reserve. By that process the gold of the Commonwealth Bank would be transferred to the vaults of the Bank of England. Let us assume that the Commonwealth Bank becomes a bank of reserve which will hold the cash reserves of the other banks. Does the Treasurer believe that, in that case, it would get the genuine reserves of those banks whose head-quarters are in London, or even a portion of their reserves which are necessary for the conduct of their Australian business? I am of opinion that it will not. It is impossible to have in Australia a bank of reserve which will hold the reserves of every other bank operating in Australia, seeing that many of them are but pups of the banks operating in other parts of the world. This clause, is one further step towards the realization of the Prime Minister’s desire to make the Commonwealth Bank a central bank and a bank of reserve, which, on the authority of Sir Ernest Harvey, necessarily means a bank which cannot compete with private trading banks. I invite the Treasurer’s attention to the fifth recommendation made by Sir Ernest Harvey. On the one hand we have the declared intention of the Government to remove the Commonwealth
Bank from competition with other banks; and on the other hand the Treasurer’s attempted camouflage of the position when he speaks of aggregating the figures.With more than half of its cash deposits taken from it, the Commonwealth Bank cannot maintain its present strong position.We, on this side, are strongly opposed to this clause, because we believe it involves a vital issue. I hope that when the committee divides on this clause, honorable members will vote to leave the bank where it now stands. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) spoke truly when he said that not one sound reason had been advanced for the proposed separation of the savings bank branch fromthe Commonwealth Bank.
– If there is a sound reason for separating the savings bank branch from the other functions of the bank, there must be an equally sound reason for separating the trading bank from the bank of reserve.
– That is so. The Treasurer has given no good reason for the proposed change. The excuse that he has offered in support of a vital departure from the present policy is the most paltry I have ever heard. When a Labour Government established the Commonwealth Bank, it realized the importance of keeping the institution free from political interference. The AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) to-day preached the same gospel. When it was suggested that a select committee should be appointed to inquire into certain facts the honorable gentleman said (that the Commonwealth Bank ought not to be interfered with in that way. If it was improper to ask the reason for the resolution of the Commonwealth Bank Board, it was improper to quote that resolution as an argument in debate. Notwithstanding that the AttorneyGeneral said that there should be no political interference with the bank, this bill, if agreed to, will interfere with it in a vital manner. Apparently, to administer the Government’s housing scheme would impose such onerous duties on the directors of the bank that they would fall down dead under the heavy strain of the added obligations! The bank that was able to float loans for the prosecution of the war, that established pools for the marketing of our produce, and financed housing schemes for returned soldiers, is incapable of advancing £20,000,000 to six States without its directors being in danger of breaking down from exhaustion ! The reason - if such it can be called - is, indeed, paltry. The sinister motive behind this bill is the desire to weaken the Commonwealth Bank, and thus to remove a formidable competitor with private enterprise.
– It appears useless to ask the Treasurer any question, because he seems incapable of giving a straightforward answer. When referring to the profits of the Commonwealth Bank he misled the committee by quoting from an old balancesheet. A Minister who plays fast and loose with figures in that way cannot be trusted. Honorable members supporting the Government should not blindly accept all the Treasurer places before them. I remind them that when Labour Governments have been in power, its supporters have, at times, forced late sittings upon them when they felt that information was being withheld. In matters of finance the Treasurer should be straightforward and definite. Instead, information that should be disclosed is withheld. I should like the Treasurer to inform the committee what the new commissioners will do with the money already loaned by the Commonwealth Savings Bank. What action are they going to take? That is proof positive that the bank as it stands can do all that the Treasurer proposes to give the commission power to do under thisbill. The savings bank, rural branch, and general banking branches can together do all that is required. I would like to know from the Treasurer what he thinks the new commission will do. I would ask the Treasurer for once to be a little candid.
.- This is the last opportunity the Committee will have of dealing with any vital clause in connexion with this bill. When we made an inroad into the banking business of Australia, and placed the credit of the country in the hands of the people for their benefit and interest, we took one of the best steps that h.’i.s ever been taken for the progress of Australia. I say without fear of contradiction that the greatest enemy Australia has got is the present Government, which seeks now to limit the ramifications of the Commonwealth Bank. The opposition, in connexion with this bill, have adopted a course which, I feel sure, will commend itself to the people of Australia. The time is approaching rapidly, I fear, when as a result of the* action of the Government, we shall have to consider very seriously the financial position of the country. Those who control the financial destiny of Australia are those who control its Government. During the banking crisis we were able to do nothing until the Government came to the assistance of the banks. The private banks and monetary institutions were dead - dead as Julius Caesar - but the Government stepped in and prevented a great financial disaster. When we established the Commonwealth Bank, it was with the idea of preventing such a crisis from every arising again, because the Government would be behind the bank. But what has taken place since the present, Government took office? From the very outset it has made inroads into the operations of the bank, and endeavoured to destroy its effectiveness. It has been remarked previously that the Government should seek to unite, rather than to divide. Division of authority in the bank will lead to danger. In Great Britain one bank alone has amalgamated with four other banking institutions in order to cut down the enormous expenditure involved in each bank carrying on by itself. The head of that institution - the Midland Bank - is no less a person than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. McKenna, and it is from his knowledge of the finances of England, as Chancellor, that he is adopting that course. The opinion of experts is that amalgamations must take place if expenses are to be kept down. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) pointed out, the creation of numerous commissions leads to in- creased expense. I remember very well some years ago, when we went to Sir Henry Parkes, or Mr. Parkes as he then was, with a request that he should appoint an officer to carry on some duties in connexion with education, he refused to sanction the appointment because he maintained that it would mean the appointment of an additional staff, leading to increased expense. It is most dangerous to create such a body as that proposed in this bill. One of the greatest disasters that ever befell Australia was the death of Sir Denison Miller. From that very moment, inroads have been made into the operations of the Commonwealth Bank. At the present time one cannot, go into any town, corporation or municipality in Australia where one will not find the private banks in active competition with one another. They put up buildings more like rabbit hutches’*, than anything else, and as numerous as barbers’ shops in every town. They are doing that because they know that the Commonwealth Bank will not compete with them, and that the Treasurer is doing his best to remove the Commonwealth Bank as a serious competitor. He is, in effect, telling the private banks that now is the time to get in for business, as they will have no active competition to fear from the Commonwealth Bank. The, Government is destroying the one financial institution in Australia that has been the admiration of every civilized community, and of every honest’ man who knows anything about banking. The only thing is for those who sit on this side of the House to tell the people how they arc being robbed of the benefits of this institution. I cannot put it too plainly, because the people do not yet realize that Government is finance, and finance is Government. This Government has not got the courage, or it is too politically dishonest, to save the bank. The supporters of the Government are disregarding their oaths, and the responsibilities of their office, when they allow this bank to bo emasculated, as is proposed in this bill.
– I rise to refute certain statements, more especially in regard to the conduct of the bank since the directors have had control. I deprecate the tendency of honorable members to impute sinister motives. Ever since the present board of directors have been appointed, the profits of the bank have consistently increased by nearly £120.000 a year. I shall give the figures again in order to have them incorporated i.u Hansard. In 1923-24, which was the year before the board of directors was appointed, the total profits were £250,686. In 1924-25, the first year the board of directors was in existence, the profits were £334,557. In 1925-26, the profits were £461,297, and in 1926-27, they amounted to £580,9S7. The profit that is being made now by the Commonwealth Bank board, under what are nearly normal conditions, approximates very closely, indeed, to the biggest profit made in the war period, during which the Commonwealth Bank had at its disposal enormous sums of Government money lying there to be used free of interest. The greatest profit ever made by the Commonwealth Bank was in 191S-19, when it amounted to £846.944. At the end of the financial year, 30th June, 191S, there was available, in the Commonwealth Bank, Commonwealth Treasury moneys at the credit of current account of no less a sum than £18,S52,000. Next year a profit, of £833,144 was made. On 30th June, 1919, there was a balance of £20,548,000, Treasury moneys, lying free of interest in the Commonwealth Bank. By the 30th June, 1920, the balance had . declined to £10,128,000, and clOwn came the profits to £695,262. In 1921-22, the amount was only £7,323,000, and the profits declined to £550,292. On the 30th June, 1922, the balance stood at £9,045,000, and the profits had declined to £402,32S. During the last two or three years the funds available have been very much less, because of the alterations in the conditions of finance, and yet, despite that fact, the Commonwealth board of directors has been able to extend the operations of the bank, and has made profits very closely approximating those made during the very best years, when millions of pounds of Commonwealth moneys were lying free of interest in the Commonwealth Bank. That is a tribute to the work which is being performed by the directors of the bank. It is the fashion for honorable members opposite to charge the board with a desire to detract from the usefulness of the bank by preventing it from competing with private institutions. In. answer to that I say that during the last few months it spontaneously reduced from 6-J per cent, to 6 per cent, the rate of interest chargeable on advances made by the Rural Credits Department of the bank. That was of incalculable value to the producers of Australia who last year placed their wheat in the pool. In 1925 the Commonwealth Bank was instrumental iu having the exchange rate lowered from £3 10s. per cent., to 5s. per cent. “Was that playing into the hands of the associated banks and driving all its business away? Despite every attempt to depreciate the value of the work that is being done the public are fully aware that not an office of the bank has been closed, but that, ou the contrary, its operations have been extended. The op portunities to make deposits and obtain advances are no fewer now than they were formerly. But something further remains to be done. The institution cannot be allowed to stand still. “We desire that the savings bank shall progress as rapidly as have the general, central, and rural credit branches. In my secondreading speech, I pointed out that 85 per cent, of the total savings bank deposits were invested in Government securities The Government if of the opinion that a greater amount than is at present being made available should be utilized to provide homes for the people. This measure provides a means for the investments of those funds. Honorable members of the Opposition say “ These men have nothing to do ; they have simply been investing their * money in Government securities; let them shoulder this further burden even though their backs be broken in the process.” The reason that honorable members are anxious to prevent the Government from giving effect to this proposal is that they do not wish the people to have a year’s experience of its- beneficial operation. At the next general election, they will have very great difficulty in disproving the assertion of honorable members who sit ern this side, that the powers of the bank and its opportunities for carrying on beneficial work have been increased rather than lessened.
– The Treasurer is remarkably persistent with his references to the profits that have been made by the bank whilst it has been under the control of a board of directors. The profits may have been slightly increased: but what is a paltry £100,000 or £200,000 compared with the £3,426,2S8 which, was made by the associated banks in the same period ? Those banks have reserves totalling £40,000,000, whilst their paid up capital amounts to only £63.000,000. The Commonwealth Bank was instituted by a Labour Government with the object of coming into open competition with the private banks and finally becoming the sole controller of finance and credit in Australia. Yet, the profits of the private institutions are greater in millions than are those of the Commonwealth Bank in hundreds of thousands. .The board of directors has been used deliberately to sabotage the bank and destroy its effectiveness as a trading institution. It must be remembered that the fundamental principle which underlay the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank was that it was to be not a bank of reserve for other banks, but a trading institution, the ultimate goal being the control of finance and credit as well as the note issue of Australia. That definite object was re- cognized by Sir Ernest Harvey. Although he doubted its wisdom he said that, as it was being managed similarly to the Bank of England, lie was prepared to place behind it the resources of. not only that institution, but all England. The directors of the bank were appointed by this Government to so manage its affairs that it could be destroyed at any time by private institutions. It is not and never will be a reserve bank. The divorcing of the two institutions will create a danger graver than any which formerly existed. It is a reserve bank only when the directors so will. The associated banks lend 17s. out of every £1 they hold on current account, for which they charge interest at the rate of 7 per cent. If they should happen to experience a shortage of counter change they can replenish their stocks from the reserve which is held in the Commonwealth Bank upon payment of interest at the rate of 5 per cent. The Bank of New South Wales has with the Commonwealth Bank a private arrangement under which it can” obtain accommodation up to £300,000 at an interest rate of 3 per cent. That is the position to which the Commonwealth Bank has been reduced by directors who, according to the Treasurer, have managed its affairs magnificently and in the interests, of the nation. There is not a bank, in Australia which is compelled to keep its reserves in the Commonwealth Bank. It is argued that it is necessary to divorce the two institutions because of the necessity to create a reserve bank. It is not possible to have a bank of reserve ‘under the constitution of the Commonwealth Bank. The Bank of England is a reserve bank simply because private institutions are compelled to lodge their reserves with it. There is not a financial institution in Great Britain to-day which can draw on the reserves of the Bank of England other than by deposit slip receipt. When the Treasurer was amending the Commonwealth Bank Act two years ago I asked him to make it compulsory for all reserves to be held in the Commonwealth Bank. The fundamental principle which is recognized by every financial institution in the world which functions in the interests of private persons, is that there must be a central bank, the reserves of which can be drawn upon only by deposit slip receipt. The Commonwealth Bank is not a trading bank, because its effectiveness in that direction has been destroyed. It is not a reserve bank.’ for the reasons that I have stated. It is a shandy-gaff, a thing of shreds and patches, which is at the mercy of private institutions and can be destroyed at any time. This bill, and that which preceded it, are merely camouflage and humbug. The real object is to drive the last nail into the coffin of a splendid institution and thus destroy one of the greatest achievements of a Labour Government.
Question - That clause 4 he agreed to - put. The committee divided: -
Ayes .. .. ..30
Noes . . . . . 17
Majority . . . . 13
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 5 (Definitions).
.- The Treasurer should give the committee some information concerning the salary to be paid to the chief commissioner. It has been pointed out during the debate, and quite recently by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore), that the chief commissioneris to be selected from the present staff of the savings bank, which we have been told is at present overworked, and will probably . receive a salary of £2,000 or £3,000 a year. In addition to the chief commissioner two other commissioners are to be appointed, each of whom will receive £500 a year for twelve sittings, so that for a meeting lasting perhaps a couple of hours they will receive over £40. It is unfair to saddle the bank with such unnecessary expense; it cannot be expected to function in the interests of the people if the administration costs are unduly heavy. If unnecessary expenditure is incurred, possibly the rate of interest paid to depositors will have to be reduced. After the bill has been passed by Parliament, the GovernorinCouncil, on the recommendation of the Cabinet, will fix the salary to he paid to the chief commissioner. The amount should be stated now even if honorable members on this side of the chamber are opposed to the establishment of a board. If it is not disclosed and complaints are made later concerning the salary paid, we can at least say we did our best to obtain the information.
– In reply to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) I may say that no one has yet been offered the position of chief commissioner. We cannot enter into negotiations until the bill has been passed by Parliament. The amount the Governpropose making available as salary for the chief commissioner will be between £2,000 and £2,500 a year.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 6 agreed to.
Workmen in the Federal Capital Territory - The Honorable Member for Eden-Monaro and Newspaper Criticism.
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- During a recent debate in this House the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Parsons) reflected upon the workmen engaged in the Federal Capital Territory. The men have taken strong exception to the remarks of the honorable member, and at a meeting held the other day they carried a resolution which they have forwarded to me with a request that I should bring it before the House.
I am now doing so because I think it only fair that the refutation of these men, who have no opportunity of replying to comments made by honorable members, should be placed on record. The resolution which was passed at a quarterly meeting held on Capitol Hill last Sunday, and which was unanimously agreed to, reads -
That we, the members of the Australian Workers’ Union, Railway Industry Branch, enter an emphatic protest against the statements made by Mr. Parsons, Conservative member for Angas, Hansard No. 3, pages 155-6, whereinhe states that members of this organization are adopting a go-slow policy in the construction of this city, and regret that he has not something better to occupy his time than spying on workmen.
From observations I have made during the time I have been in the Federal Capital Territory I am convinced that the workmen here compare favorably with those in any other part of Australia. I believe they endeavour to do a fair thing. I have noticed how vigorously they apply themselves to the work they have in hand, and it ill becomes any honorable member to make disparaging remarks concerning their work, especially in view of the fact that they are always under the supervision of officers of the Federal Capital Commission, who would dispense with their services if their work was unsatisfactory. Every man employed here or elsewhere ought to give a fair return for the wages he receives, and, generally speaking, I think that is the desire of all workmen throughout Australia.
.- I am not surprised that objection has been taken to the remarks I made in this House concerning the manner in which some workmen in the Federal Capital Territory carry out their duties, and I sympathize with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) in having to defend them. I do not have to support the’ go-slow policy of some of the men employed in the Federal Capital Territory, whose work has become the laughing stock of Australia. I previously stated that some, not all, of the men engaged on the earthworks at Canberra were a disgrace to their fellow workmen. I give place to no man in my admiration of Australian workmen generally; but high as my opinion is of most of them, I have a very poor opinion of the man who does not do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. I have seen there some workmen who are a disgrace to the country to which they belong. I am sure some honorable members opposite have also seen them, but they are not free to admit it.
– Let the honorable member speak for himself; I spoke of what I saw.
– If the Leader of the Opposition supports the policy adopted by some workmen in the Federal Capital Territory, I hope the day is far distant when he will be the leader of a Commonwealth Government. My remarks concerning the workmen here have in effect been supported by the chairman of the Federal Capital Commission (Sir John Butters), who said that its officers could not always have their eyes on the men, some of whom speeded up whenever the overseers came along. That confirms what I said. Men of that type are in the Territory to-day, and are making a good thing out of being here. The high cost of building homes here for civil servants is accounted for, in part, by these men loafing on the job. I am glad that we have none of that kind of thing in South Australia. I have seen many gangs of men at work over there and I am glad to say that they have proved to be true Australians. I have been amazed and astounded at the sort of thing I have seen going on here. I have seen some workmen who do the fair thing, and some who work hard ; but I have been ashamed to see how others loaf upon their “ cobbers.” I have no use whatever for the man who loafs upon his fellows. We know how the crowd regards the member of a football or cricket team who fails to do his fair share in a hard match. Such men are most unpopular and they deserve to be. I am not strong physically, and at present I am under medical advice, but I would guarantee that even in my crippled condition I could do more in half a day than the men that I have been criticizing would do in a day. I have seen some of these men pick up half a shovel full of earth, walk along leisurely with it for five or six yards, and then carefully deposit it in position. They take good care to handle it gently and to see that it gets into its right place. Honorable members on both sides of the chamber have seen that kind of thing going on here, and those of us who sit behind the Government are not afraid to protest against it. The Leader of the Opposition, as well as those who support him, know in their heart of hearts that I am right.
– I know nothing of the sort. I know that the honorable member is doing a grave injustice to honest working men.
– The Leader of the Opposition should be thankful that some one has the courage to draw attention to the matter. I have often said that Australia is the finest country in the world, and I believe it. I was born in Australia. I have an Australian wife, and five Australian children, and I am proud of them all. I have frequently said that the Australian soldier is the finest in the world, and I believe it. I have also said that the Australian workman isthe finest in the world, and I believe that.
– Where has the honorable member saidthat?
– The honorable member for Hindmarsh could find itin Hansard if he cared to look. Some of the men who are employed on earth works in this Territory are a disgrace to their fellow Australians, but I am glad to say that the exhibitions of slow motion pictures that I have seen here are not typical of the Australian workmen.
.- I do not know whether we should take the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Parsons) seriously.
– Very seriously.
– Some of us know the honorable member fairly well, and we know how much consideration his remarks are worth. He has said that his statements could be endorsed by the majority of his colleagues on that side of the House. Let the honorable members who support him get up and say so. The honorable member knows full well that his accusations are unworthy and unjustified. The accomplishments of the workmen in this Territory are in themselves a complete refutation of the charge that they have been going slow on the job. Palaces have been built in this place where seven or eight years ago one brick did not stand upon another. This area has been converted from a wilderness into a place of beauty, because of the hard work that the rank and file have faithfully done here. If the honorable member for Angas desires to see a congregation of loafers, and men who go slow, I invite him to visit any number of gentlemen’s clubs in Melbourne and Sydney. He will there find those who do nothing but rake off huge profits from the hard work of their fellows. These idle rich render no valuable service to the community, and do nothing whatever for its welfare. They simply profit by the toil of the working man who has been so unjustifiably criticized to-night. The charges of the honorable member reflect not only upon the workers, but also upon the staff of the commission which is administering the affairs of this Territory. The commission has in its employ foremen, leading hands, and supervisors, whose duty it is to see that the rank and file do their work satisfactorily. I have heard many charges made against the workmen employed in the railway workshops in South Australia; but I know from personal experiencethat no body of men anywhere in Australia work harder than they do. It has been demonstrated time after time that the fault is not in the men, but in the management and supervision. I have paid careful attention to the activities of the working men of Canberra, and have come to the conclusion that faithful service is being rendered to the community. The honorable member would be much better occupied in giving his attention to the big problems that face the country than in spending his time at playing “ Peeping Tom “ upon those whose business it is to beautify this city, and contribute to his own personal comfort. When the working men in the division of Angas realize upon what flimsy pretexts the honorable member is prepared to insult them, I am sure that they may be relied upon to deal appropriately with him in the future. I go so far as to say that the honorable member has never in his life done a hard day’s work. I should be quite prepared to match against him even the men in this Territory who no longer possess the vigour of youth, for I am sure that they would give more satisfactory service than lie could give. It is regrettable that honorable members opposite should he so ready to malign the workers; and it will be to the everlasting disgrace of the honorable member for Angas that he has so unjustly criticized those who have done such magnificent work in the building of this fair city.
.- I do not wish to reflect upon the workmen in the Federal Territory, but I submit that neither the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) nor the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) would be prepared to employ privately for any length of time some of the men working in the Territory and to pay them the wages that they are now receiving. There are men in this Territory receiving double the wages that they are earning. I blame not the men but the supervision, which is certainly conspicuous by its absence. “Works are done and no sooner finished than undone. As an instance, in front of the Hotel Kurrajong four men were leisurely shovelling dirt a distance of about three feet, and two others were picking it up and throwing it into a dray. There was nothing to prevent the dray from backing in and being loaded by two men. I do not blame the men because in their place I should probably do the. same. The sooner there is proper supervision over the workmen the better for the progress of the Territory. At the time of the great flood at Canberra I saw men on the flood repair work who were not earning 2s. a day. The same conditions applied previous to the visit of the Duke of York. “We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that the development of the Territory is being hampered by an apparent lack of supervision. I heard that one man who was dismissed complained to the chairman of the Federal Capital Commission. He was asked why he was dismissed, and he could not give any reason. Sir John Butters said “ Surely there was some cause V The man replied “I noticed when I knocked off one night that I had no pick on the handle.” I know what work is, because I have worked from the bottom rung of the ladder. I worked for 10s. a week.
– I once worked for 5s. a week.
– I have employed 40 men for fourteen years, and I know what labour can be reasonably expected from a workman. I feel sure that the men in the Territory would work willingly under proper supervision.
.- I do not rise at this late hour of the night to discuss the fact that two honorable members of the composite party were at one time paid one at the rate of 10s. a week and the other at the rate of 5s. a week for services rendered, nor have I anything to say as to whether or not that emolument was sufficient. For the moment I accept their word that that was the value which they placed upon their services and that by freedom of contract happy relations were established between them and their employers. I congratulate them upon their handsome promotion at the present day and express the hope that now also their services bear due proportion to their emoluments. There is a principle involved in this question. I regard it as derogating very sadly indeed from the position of dignity and honour which those honorable members occupy, as representatives in an Australian Parliament, that they should bring into this chamber, under cover of privilege, charges against men in respect of whom they personally have no responsibility whatever. This Territory is managed by a commission, and in commenting on any slackness in its work honorable members in the corner are really displaying, a want of confidence in their own Government which is responsible for the management of the commission. If those honorable members have kept any working man in this Territory under observation long enough to enable them to form a useful estimate of the service that he renders to the commission, then they have taken altogether too much time from that which they,’ as legislators in this Parliament, should give to the service of their country. I have been much too busy with the work that I was sent here to perform to devote time to keeping labourers in the Territory under observation for the purpose of forming an opinion of their work. My principal reason for rising is that the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Parsons) said, in reply to the Leader of the Opposition - who, in a very temperate and moderate manner, put the position as he saw it, and as I also see it - that if honorable members on this side were only “game” to speak - I think that was the phrase - they also could support his observations. When he makes such a statement, and inferentially associates any member of this party with that species of espionage - which I personally hold in abhorrence and contempt - he should take the responsibility of naming any honorable member concerned, and allow him to make his reply. I do not believe that there is one member of the Labour party who would use his position as a member of this Parliament’ to come into this chamber and make charges of that kind. It is not part of our job as members of the Federal Parliament.
– One day last week I made a statement concerning the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), and a certain course of action which he took in connexion with the founding of the Commonwealth Bank. There was nothing sneaky about my remarks, which were made within the .hearing of, and contradicted by, the right honorable gentleman. I quoted my authority, and the right honorable member replied in a gentlemanly fashion. Unfortunately, ,w,e have in our reporting gallery a scurrilous pressman, representing one -of the most important papers “in the Commonwealth. That gentleman devoted three-quarters of a column to an endeavour to prove that Eden-Monaro is represented by an exceedingly meek dove. I was rather pained by that article; but I have noticed that practically every honorable member is subject to similar lampoons. I rise to indicate that even a dove will endeavour’ to free -itself ‘from vermin. L met this -reporter once, and congratulated him upon his article in the Sydney Morning ‘Herald of that -day. He is a capable journalist, deserving considerable credit; a man who- will; go-far in the journalistic world ‘if -he -rids himself of the habit of indulging in personalities. When he indulges in personalities he sinks beneath the level of my contempt. Hansard has not the circulation of the Sydney Morning Herald, but it faithfully represents to my constituents my course of action in this House. In my district I have occupied many high and important positions. I was its representative in the State Parliament for five years, and have been in this Parliament for eighteen months. I have also been associated with many public societies in New South Wales, and at the last election, when eleven candidates stood for the electorate of Goulburn, I topped the poll. That is not the record of a “ dove-like “ man, and I bitterly resent the attack on me. I have collected many expressions of opinion of this reporter from members of Parliament, his fellow reporters, and - in the form of correspondence - -from my constituents. I have a little reporting knowledge so have taken their opinions down in shorthand. I propose to have some of them incorporated in Hansard, for the edification of the gentleman concerned. Others are unfit for publication. Those from members of Parliament and his fellow reporters read -
A very able chap, but blind with bias against Page.
Too prejudiced in his views, and the wrong views at that, to reign long with the Herald.
Is nearly blind in both eyes. Can see the faults of Page only with one eye, and the virtues of Billy Hughes only with the other.
You made a mistake in supporting the Government. Had you supported ‘Hughes you would have been a friend for life.
The smartest man in the reporters’ gallery -
It is only if air to say .several gave this view. But I .ask my ;f friend to make the most of it, .as what is to follow is not so palatable.
Too strong for the Herald. More suitable for “……. “
Would like to buy him at my price, and sell him at .his.
No brighter in his wit than in his looks. I think his wife or sister, that is with him at the hotel, supplies the wit and he .puts in ‘the venom.
A regular ‘Don Carlos. Don’t sting him for torturing you, or he’ll .bite off your head.
A poor imitation of Brennan, of Melbourne; but Brennan is clean and this chap dirty.
A clever chap spoilt by use qf .personalities, -S.ometi.mes funny; .mostly “tripy.” .
A man -who shows up a speaker for dropping his “ H’s “ is out of ‘court .with decent journalists.
He is well paid by the Herald- for his articles. It is well for him, as I don’t think there is another daily paper in Australia that would publish them, even if they were contributed.
He’s more brainy than he looks, and it is a pity he allows his partisanship to influence his articles.
He’ll wake up some day, when ho gets his nose pulled.
He treated you very dirty. He must owe you a grudge for something.
I don’t care 2d. for him, but I don’t like to see the Herald stoop to such tomfoolery.
Oh ! you take him too seriously. He has to write something each day. If nothing humorous occurs he has to manufacture it.
Here are some extracts from letters I have received : -
I hope you don’t take him seriously. From what I see of his articles he is too personal to be really humorous. There is something wrong with tlie mentality of a man who can see humour in the stumbles of a lame man, the misuse of words by a sincere speaker, and tlie dropping of an aspirate by a self-made man. I call him a journalistic assassin, not a humorist.
If he had the confidence of as many people as you have he ‘would be able to double his fees.
What did you do to deserve that dirty article in the Herald? I would back your knowledge against the writer’s any day.
I read your speech, and think it honest, any way; far more honest than the “ cultured “ columns of the Herald indicate.
I consider you a fool if you do not take an action against them. Considering the important positions you hold in Parliament and as head of so many societies in New South Wales - these facts should show you have some fight in you - I’m sure you would win.
What you said you said openly in front of Mr. Hughes. He stabbed you in the back.
I wonder you don’t have a go at him. But I suppose if you did a dirty swine like that would continue his attacks on you. An unscrupulous journalist is as bad as an assassin; worse in a sense - as the latter is generally content with one victim. The former likes many, and prefers torture to sudden death.
Here is another statement from an honorable member -
I’d leave him alone if I were you. I only know one case where the second attack was not worse than the first. It was “ So and so “ in this House, and now they are inseparable.
I hope that there will be the same inseparability between this journalist ‘and myself, and that any difference between us will end with to-night’s discussion. My own opinion of this gentleman is that he is a smart and clever writer, but biased in his views, unfortunately, and by no means fair or decent so far as I am concerned. He probably saw me as he thinks others should see me, and these extracts I have read will show him how others see him; neither of us apparently is as we thought we were. Fortunately, I am as well known in this district as the Sydney Morning Herald itself, so that its biased article cannot hurt me much, and, as the Herald is not likely to publish my remarks, the opinions I have read of this writer will not hurt him. I want to be fair to him. He can write well, he can be witty; but surely in doing so he need not inflict pain on others.
.- The writer for the Sydney Morning Herald should be commended and given a medal for having provided the House with one of the brightest episodes of the session. Why should the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Perkins) worry? He is not the only victim. I have had many similar inflictions, yet am still alive. I remember that during 1915 :a friend of mine was arrested by an antiLabour Government and incarcerated, and when he was in gaol he wrote to me asking for my help. I replied, “1 am with you up to the hilt.” Some time afterwards, during a conscription campaign, my political opponents published my photograph, side by side with that of a man who was charged with having committed a murder at Tottenham, in New South Wales. There were a few lines drawn across each photograph, until one could not tell the difference between the two, and underneath were the words that I had written to my friend, Tom Barker, “I am with you up to the hilt.” Wherever I went throughout the country, I was met with the words, “ You associate with a murderer! You scoundrel! You dirty mongrel ! What do you mean ?” I did not occupy the time of the country in complaining. I took it all as coming to me, and thanked God that it was not worse.
It appears that one honorable member has been walking about Canberra, and has become very much worried by what he regards as the underworking of the men employed here. I have looked at some of these men, and have seen them bending their backs. I have heard the comment made that some of them are “pretty slow.” I agree that they seem to be slow, but I am not complaining. L do not think that 1 would go any faster if I were doing the work. If I had tha choice of doing their work for the remuneration I secure as a member of Parliament, or of fulfilling the exacting and tiring job of a member of Parliament for the little remuneration that these men receive, I should say “ Give me the workman’s wages and my present position, and give them the £1,000 a year.” Mark Twain in one of his works records the fact that he left his employment in a quartz mill and went to a rush, which turned out to be a “ duffer “. On his return from the rush he was offered a position as reporter on the Virginia Enterprise, and later on when passing the quartz mill his former boss asked him if he would take on his old job, saying, “ How much do you want?” When Mark Twain said, “ Forty dollars a day,” the boss of the quartz mill ejaculated, “ Good God, do you want to buy the mine?” Subsequently, looking back after the lapse of years, Mark Twain remarked, “I have done all sorts of hard work and all sorts of intellectual work, but I nm prepared to do the most arduous intellectual work for a small reward, because I know that when I am tired of it, I can always take up the pick and shovel for recreation.” Many of the men working in the Federal Capital Territory are employed by contractors, and I take it that it is the responsibility of their employers to see that they are kept going. But if any of them are working for the commission, I want to know where the supervisors are that they should permit men to go slow as is alleged. Who will work arduously, and in the rain, from early morning till late at night, when he can work easily? Are honorable members an example of those who do arduous work? Is the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Parsons) one of those who “ scorn delights and live laborious days’” Does he rise early in the morning, take a pick and shovel, and get up a sweat? I venture to say that the only time he gets up a sweat is when, at the end of the month, he is looking forward to drawing his salary.
– I have worked hard.
– And so have I, and I thank God that the day is past when it is necessary for me to work hard. But the mere fact that I have makes me most sympathetic with the men who have to do so. The world can go on only by effective effort, and if insufficient work is done for the money paid to the men in this Territory, the blame rests, not with the men, but with those who receive high salaries to see that the workers perform effective service for the wages they are paid. It is a shame that onn who lives an indolent life should, in the security of his position as a member of Parliament embalm iu the literature of Parliament a denunciation of men who, in any case, ‘according to their lights, are working and doing their best. But I do not rise to make propaganda out of the amount of work that is done by the workmen employed by the Federal Capital Commission. If I am thankful for anything it is that the days of hard work for me are gone. My sympathies go out to the honorable member for EdenMonaro. I can only say to him that I have had worse treatment than he has had, and that he need not worry, because the probability is that before long he will get more of that of which he has to-night complained.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.39 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 26 October 1927, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1927/19271026_reps_10_116/>.