16th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. M.Nairn) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Will the Prime Minister consider making the hours of sitting for the remainder of this period of the session from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., with the object of obviating, if possible, allnight sittings?
– I am entirely in agreement with the spirit of the honorable member’s question, and shall consider the matter he has raised. There are, of course, obstacles that would have to bo overcome. Members of the Parliament desire to meet and consult with each other regarding matters that are to be dealt with in the House. There are also party meetings, Cabinet meetings, and meetings of other bodies.
– Will the Prime Minister give consideration to this Parliament sitting five days a week, from Monday to Friday, until the Government’s legislative programme has been completed ?
– Will the Prime Minister indicate how much longer we are likely to sit?
Mr.CURTIN. - I cannot indicate how much longer we shall be here. On the notice-paper there is a matter relating to theStanding Orders of this House. I think that we should give some consideration to the Standing Orders. At least one day should be set aside for their review, so that honorable members may, in the light of their present experience, amend the Standing Orders for the purpose not only of meeting their convenience in attending to parliamentary business, but also of ensuring that without suppressing criticism or limiting the opportunity for debate, they may accept or reject bills within a reasonable period.
Battleof the Bismarck Sea.
– by leave - I inform the
House that I am in receipt of the following letter from the Commander-in-Chief, South-West Pacific Area, General Douglas MacArthur: -
The grateful thanks of all ranks go to you, Mr. Prime Minister, to the Leader of the Opposition, and to the honorable members of the Parliament, for the generous tribute you have accorded us in the name of the people of Australia. It strengthened our invincible determination to fulfil in complete degree our sacred duty to this great country and to its Allies in the furtherance of the immortal principles for which we fight. I shall take great pride in publishing your letter to the Command.
– In view of the fact that certain of our war industries are languishing because of insufficient orders from the service departments to keep them going at full productive capacity, will the Prime Minister consider the continuance of those undertakings from which the service departments do not require further supplies of particular equipment, for the supply of equipment to our allies, particularly the Chinese, rather than that the whole or a portion of the plant shall cease to operate, and thus cause men and machines to become idle?
– The total of our production programme for war purposes has to be related to our man-power resources as well as to any deficiencies that may exist in relation to certain requirements. Basically, this country is most anxious to. supply all that it’ can from its own resources, as a contribution to the strength of all its allies, and very extensive allocations have already been made to them ; but there are portions of our production which can best serve the total interests of ourselves and our allies by being directed towards making good any deficiency in the total programme. That involves a re-allocation of resources and productive capacity, and may mean a temporary suspension of the routine of a given establishment. I cannot agree that because a man was given a war job three years ago he can regard the arrangement as a permanent one; nor can I agree that, because a firm was given a contract two years ago, it is entitled to expect constant renewals of it. The business of war is not to keep enterprises going; but the business of enterprises is to meet all the requirements of war, and the adaptations that are needed to that end will have to be effected.
Delegation to the United Kingdom.
– Is the Prime Minister prepared to make a statement on the question that I raised last week, in connexion with the circumstances in which my friend, the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson), was selected to accompany the delegation from the Commonwealth branch of the Empire Parliamentary Association to the United Kingdom? Will the right honorable gentleman state why the honorable member for Wimmera is not able to sail with the remainder of the delegation, and who, if anybody, will defray the cost of transporting him to the other side of the Pacific by air?
– There is no mystery about the delegation from the Commonwealth branch of the Empire Parliamentary Association to the United Kingdom, or the arrangements relating thereto. More than a year ago - I believe it was about November of 1941 - the United Kingdom branch of the Empire Parliamentary Association issued to the Commonwealth branch an invitation to send a delegation of its members to’ the United Kingdom. That invitation was accepted. It was arranged that, in order to make the delegation entirely representative of the Parliament, it should consist of six persons - four members of this House and two members of the Senate. It was also considered desirable that the total of six members should be composed of three ministerial and three Opposition supporters. I was asked to submit the names of the ministerial supporters. Having made the requisite survey, I informed the Empire Parliamentary Association that the ministerial supporters who had accepted nomination were the honorable members for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) and Wimmera (Mr. Wilson), and Senator Armstrong. I understand that the Leader of the Opposition in this House intimated that the honorable members for Wilmot (Mr. Guy) and Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard
Corser), and Senator Wilson - who was then on service with the Australian Imperial Force in the Middle East - would represent the Opposition. The Commonwealth branch of the Empire Parliamentary Association then formally selected those six members of this Parliament to compose the delegation to the United Kingdom. I was asked to make the consequential arrangements, in association with the then secretary of the Commonwealth branch of the association, and I did so. It will be recalled that Japan entered the war on the 7th December, 1941. The result was that the arrangements were suspended. Some little time ago, the United Kingdom branch intimated to the Commonwealth branch that it considered that, in the existing circumstances of the war, it was not only practicable but also desirable that the delegation should visit the United Kingdom in April of the present year. I understand that the association decided to accept that invitation. The United Kingdom branch intimated that, having examined the suggested personnel of the delegation, it was anxious that a seventh member should be added, if possible, to represent Western Australian members of this Parliament. The executive of the Commonwealth branch considered this suggestion and accepted it. It was arranged that a seventh delegate should go, and this delegate, as is no secret, is Senator Allan MacDonald. Because the decision was reached so late, Senator Allan MacDonald asked me to provide transport by aeroplane from Canberra to Perth and back again, so that he might complete preparations which may be regarded as incidental to his appointment as a delegate. I authorized the transport for him, so that he should not be inconvenienced in the making of such arrangements as would enable him to accept, the gracious invitation of the United Kingdom branch. The Commonwealth branch, having made a selection, I felt that it was my duty to facilitate arrangements as far as possible. The association wrote to me on the 19th February as follows: -
Mr. Alex. Wilson is unable to leave Australia ‘before the 11th April, and it hag been ascertained that there are no berths available on any passenger vessels leaving Australia between that date and the end of May..
In these circumstances I have been directed by the executive of this association to seek the Prime Minister’s approval for Mr. Wilson to travel by air to the United States of America as soon as possible after the 11th April.
I minuted the paper with a query, “ Why is Mr. Wilson not able to proceed with the other delegates?” and a letter was sent to the secretary making that inquiry. The association replied as follows: -
I regarded those reasons as sufficient to justify me in not putting any difficulties in the way of the movements of a member who had been chosen for what I regard as a. most important delegation, with the selection of which I, as head of the Government, had nothing to do. I shall make such transport arrangements as are possible in the circumstances. In respect of the honorable member tor Wimmera,no cost will be involved, at least as far as Honolulu, and probably as far as San Francisco.
Interpretation and Breaches of Regulations
– Has the AttorneyGeneral noted the remarks of Sir Frederick Jordan, Chief Justice of New South Wales, regarding the difficulty of interpreting certain of the price-fixing regulations? If so, will he undertake a complete revision of the regulations, so that’ those who desire to obey them may be able to do so ?
– I have already asked the officers of my department to look into the observations of the Chief Justice in order to see what can be done to remove the ground for criticism. As the honorable member knows, the drafting of regulations has placed an almost insupportable burden on the officers of my department.. I have had experience both in drafting and interpreting, and I know that it is easier to criticize drafting than to make the perfect draft.
– It is impossible to interpret some of these regulations.
– I shall find out what is the precise ground of criticism, and I shall do my utmost to have the regulations amended so that he who runs may read.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs how many companies are being forced to refund money to the public for breaches of the prices regulations? Will the Minister specify those companies by name and indicate whether any Adelaide firms are involved? Has action been taken against any companies for such breaches without any public announcement ?.
– The honorable member’s question will require research and I shall send it to the Department of Trade and Customs in order that the information required by the honorable member may be compiled and supplied to him.
– Notice should be given of such a question as that.
– Can the Prime Minister say whether it is true that 22 coal-mines are idle in New South Wales, and whether this fact is responsible for the closing down of five coke ovens in Australia? If so, what action does the Government intend to take? Is it true that a general strike is being canvassed on the coal-fields of New South Wales, and that the Prime Minister proposes shortly to preside over a conference of representatives of the coal-owners and the Coal and Shale Employees Federation ?
Mr.CURTIN. - I understand that a suggestion has been made that I should convene such a conference, but I have not yet had time to consider it. During the last 48 hours, I have been engaged on other business of very great importance to the Commonwealth. I have not yet studied the report dealing with stoppages on the coal-fields, but I have it here, and it would appear from its length that what the honorable member has said about the number of mines that are idle is probably a fact. I look at this report, which I have just seen for the first time to-day, with great distress and with bitter disappointment. The mere existence of such a report is a condemnation. I do not know the causes which have contributed to any of the stoppages, or whether some of them are, from the point of view of thoseparticipating in them, justified. As head of the Government, I regard stoppages on the coalfieldsat this time, whatever the cause, as something which does infinite mischief to Australia’s capacitytowage war. Such stoppages, whatever their cause, threaten thesecurity of the Commonwealth, without in any way contributing to the rectification of whatever grievances are said to exist. The machinery for settling grievances has been worked out in collaboration with the union and the employers. The Government has done its best to enable that machinery to work. I prejudge nothing. It is probable that oldbitternesses are still seeping through, and creating all sorts of vexations. I ask the coal-miners to put all that sort of thing aside, as I ask the owners also to put such feelings aside. No man in Australia, who is engaged upon work of importance to the country, and for whom Parliamenthasdevised machinery for the examination and settlement of his grievances, has any right to stop the work which he is doing. I am giving consideration to declaringall stoppages of work unlawful.
Subversive Elements in Industry.
– Isthe Prime Minister aware that, although the Government isnow encouraging the setting up of joint production committees representing the management and the employees in war industries, certain influences are at work trying to prevent this from being done? In view of the fact that similar committees in Great Britain have done much to create industrial harmony and to increase production, will the Prime Minister, before taking action of the kind which he indicated in his reply to the last question, inquire why those influences are atwork to prevent the appointment of joint production committees in Australia ?
– Cabinet has approved of the setting upof these committees in the various production plants. It also approved of the setting up of the pit-top committees inthe coal-mining industry. I do not know what the factors are which are at work to frustrate the machinery which has been devised to settle these disputes.
– Will the right honorable gentlemen set up some authority to examinethem?
– Yes, let them be examined.
– I have examined the factors, but, broadly speaking, I say that when this Parliament has established machinery whereby grievances can be examined and determined, every man, whether he be worker or employer, ought to respect that machinery, and that there isno justification for the workers or the bosses ceasing operations when such machinery exists and can be used. I know of no grievance in any industry in Australia which is so substantia] as to make it imperative that men shall go on strike in order to achieve reform. I say that deliberately and definitely. But I know that there are interests in this country that do not like this Government and arc anxious to foment industrial turmoil. They have working for them quite a number of “ stooges “, who are to be found infiltrated intothetrade union structure.
– Guilty men!
Mr.CURTIN. - I am notable at this stage to find remedies for this sort of tiling. It happens in the United States of America and the United Kingdom. I am glad to say that the production of coal in January and February this year exceeded the production of coal in January and February last year.
– So it ought to.
– I quite agree.
– No coal strikes have occurred in the right honorable gentleman’s State of Western Australia or in Victoria.
– I know that.
– Why then does the right honorable gentleman make his grave statement about agents provocateurs?
– Because New South Wales is the State about which the statement can be justifiably made. The Government is anxious to provide machinery in the form of these committees whereby the workers and the employers shall find common ground for the solutions of the problems of industry. I do not think that the “ big stick “ is the remedy. Discussion and negotiation will find solutions for these problems. But the final responsibility for the enforcement of the law of the land devolves upon the Government.
– I should like to know whether the “ stooges “ who have fomented trouble, to whom the Prime Minister referred, have any political affiliations, and whether the right honorable gentleman i? able to inform the House what he knows about them. If he is not in a position to confide in the House what he knows about them, I ask him whether he does not consider that it would be a better policy to declare their organization an unlawful association rather than wait until a trade union strikes and then declare it unlawful?
– Those “ stooges “ are not members of organizations. They are individuals whom I regard as mercenaries. I am not without experience of the trade union movement. My experience is probably as long as that of any honorable member of this chamber, and I know what I am talking about. We have had a number of convictions for offences of the sort I have in mind - for instance, absenteeism - but I am quite sure that many of the persons so convicted have been the unwitting tools of wiser heads and more subtle brains operating in the background.
– That is my point. Why not declare them unlawful?
– That is a matter on which the Security Department is constantly at work. I have nothing to add to what I have said.
– Does the Prime Minister believe that the industrial harmony which he is so properly seeking is likely to be hindered by his very vague and defamatory statement in relation to the action of some employers in introducing agents to foment strife in industry? If he has a knowledge of any such activity, or of the engagement of any individuals in such activities, will he, in fairness to industry generally, make that information known to the House?
– Industry in general is working satisfactorily, and my statement did not apply to it. The honorable gentleman knows, as well as I do, that some branches of industry in Australia notoriously bear the imprint that justifies my criticism.
– I do not know them.
– The honorable gentleman, as a former Minister for Labour and National Service, must have known them.
– No allegation of that kind was ever made to me when I was Minister.
– What I have said stands.
– In what industries have these agents been placed.
– The Prime Minister did not say that the employers had introduced them.
– Then who are they?
– I shall say no more about the matter.
– I ask the Prime Minister who is responsible for the collation of the material which appears in the Digest of Decisions and Announcements and Important Speeches ? What is the exact purpose of this publication? Is it intended that it shall be impartial? If so, will the Prime Minister explain why a speech of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) commencing “ I propose to give to the House some particulars regarding the appalling state of the defence of Australia at, the time I took office “ was published in extenso, whereas not one word of the speeches in reply to that speech, particularly those made by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) and myself, was published ?
– It is a digest of government statements. I say quite frankly that it is circulated for the purpose of informing those members of the public who are interested of the announcements made by Ministers of State in speeches, in reply to questions, or in exposition of policy.
– I asked for a full reply.
– That is the answer.
– I ask the Treasurer whether it is a fact that material sent to Australia by the United States of America under the lend-lease agreement is being debited against Australia at the American domestic ceiling price and not at the much lower export prices of manufacturers which Australia previously enjoyed in its trade with America? What is the basis of valuation upon which reciprocal lend-lease goods supplied to or on behalf of the United States of America are debited against that country by the Commonwealth Government ?
– Certain aspects of the honorable member’s question will require examination before any public statement can be made. As much information as is possible will be supplied to the honorable member.
– Will the Treasurer in form me whether treasury-bills are being allotted to the trading banks of this country either by the Treasury or by the Commonwealth Bank? What is the aggregate amount of the bills so allotted, and what is the interest rate? Does this practice conform to the Government’s general banking policy?
– Treasury-bills have been allotted by the Commonwealth Bank to the trading banks, and I shall ascertain the amount for the information of the honorable member. The rate of interest which treasury-bills bear is 1½ per cent. The Government makes no payment to the trading banks for treasurybills. It deals directly with the Commonwealth Bank which, in its discretion, allots treasury-bills to the private banks. However, special circumstances, arising out of the banking control regulations, are associated with the allocation of treasury-bills. Owing to government control advances have been restricted; other advances have been repaid. The general principle is that the trading banks shall have certain rights to invest funds in their possession after they have lodged a percentage of their balances with the Commonwealth Bank in conformity with those regulations. I shall prepare a full statement on the matter for the information of the honorable member.
– Is the Prime Minister yet in a position to make a statement regarding his attitude to the appeal to him to exempt from excise all comforts for our fighting forces?
– I hope to be able to make an announcement relating to some aspects of the matter a week hence.
– The Governments of New South Wales and Victoria are reputed to be accumulating considerable surpluses from moneys which the Commonwealth Government has paid to them under the uniform income tax legislation. In addition, theCommonwealth Government is paying to those States large sums of money for rail transport. Will the Treasurer consider the advisability of reviewing that legislation so that the payments to States with big surpluses may be reduced, and the money thus saved devoted to Commonwealth pur- poses?
– I do not believe that the States are accumulating great surpluses from the compensation that the Commonwealth Government pays to them under the uniform income tax legislation. As the result of the increased commercial activity of government undertakings such as the railways, some States are probably receiving substantial increases of revenue. The explanation is that the Commonwealth Government is utilizing those undertakings for the transport of troops and materials. It will not be possible, before the end of the current financial year, to ascertain whether the figures issued from day to day show the complete picture. When the Loan Council next reviews the financial position of the States, all matters raised by the honorable member will receive consideration. The amount of compensation granted to the States is determined on a definite basis, namely, the amount of tax that they received from individuals and companies, in the two base years up’on which the calculation was made. My impression at -the moment is that one State will certainly have a deficit for the present financial year; others may find it possible to balance their budgets. Because of increased commercial activities and greater revenue from sources other than income tax, New South Wales and Victoria are possibly accumulating surpluses. The matters raised by the honorable member will receive attention.
– Has the Treasurer read that the Government of New South Wales has introduced a new system of land taxi Is the honorable gentleman aware that for the seven months ended the 31st January last expenditure in New South Wales exceeded by £4,000,000 the expenditure for the corresponding period last year? Will the Treasurer take appropriate steps, if necessary by seeking an amendment of the Constitution, to compel the States to co-operate with the Commonwealth in the organization of Australian finance at the present time ?
– Every aspect of State finance will be fully examined at the next meeting of the Loan Council. The point which the honorable member raised regarding increased expenditure in New South ‘Wales will be investigated ; I am unable to say offhand whether there is any special reason for it. It may prove, on examination, that provision has been made for a maintenance reserve to meet the depreciation and deterioration of rolling-stock; roads and bridges after the war. Obviously, no State at present is able to keep in a proper condition of repair ‘ its -rolling-stock or roads. Every matter which the honorable member has mentioned will be fully examined; but I point out that this Government has found no State more co-operative than New South Wales in the prosecution of the war.
Formal Motion tor Adjournment.
– I have received from the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely: - “ The action of the Government in licensing the production of a new weekly newspaper in Sydney, to wit, the Standard. the official organ of the Labour party, and enabling such newspaper to secure the .necessary newsprint at a time when newsprint is severely rationed and other applications have been, refused.”
.- I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
– Is the motion supported?
Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,
– I am taking this course to discuss this subject because I have found it impossible to obtain satisfactory replies to questions that I have directed to responsible Ministers on the subject during the last two or three weeks. I have tried to ascertain the conditions under which the Standard newspaper of Sydney was granted a licence for publication, although similar licences had been refused in other parts of Australia. The Minister for ‘Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley) stated that the Minister ‘for Trade and -Customs (Senator Keane) was unable to furnish a reply to questions as he was ill in hospital. But statements have been published in. the press to the effect that the Minister for Trade and Customs is doing departmental work at >his bedside. Since the replies to my questions were matters of fact, I can see no reason why the issues should have been evaded.
The conservation of our limited stocks of newsprint is a matter of first importance, .and National Security Regulations on the subject have been operating since the 27th February, 1941. At present no newsprint is being imported, and the quantity ‘being manufactured in Australia provides only a small pant ‘of our total requirements.
When the regulations were gazetted, certain newspapers had considerable stocks on hand, whilst other papers had very ‘little. The combined stocks in ‘the hands of :the existing newspapers were later pooled, and it is upon these reserve stocks, supplemented by whatever quantity Tasmania can produce, that’ our. newspapers- are operating. Under the regulations, each newspaper and journal in Australia has been placed on a tonnage quota, which greatly restricts the number of pages which it can issue, the size of the pages, the number of copies it can circulate, and the frequency of its issues. The regulations are properly specific in these matters. It is obvious that, if supplies of newsprint are no longer being imported, and we are living on our reserves, the only way in which any newspaper can secure an increased tonnage for itself must be at the expense of the other members of the pool.
The regulations covering the use of newsprint are clear, and do not fall within the category of those mentioned yesterday by Mr. Justice Jordan. Regulation 5 issued under Statutory Rules 1941, No. 46, reads as follows: -
A person shall not without the consent in writing of the Minister -
print or publish any newspaper, magazine or other periodical which was not published immediately before these regulations.
In a time of war, such as we are passing through, it is necessary to confer wide powers upon the Government, so that it shall be encumbered as little as possible in taking, promptly, whatever action it may consider necessary in the interests of national security.When Parliament passed the National Security Act, it realized that reliance would have to be placed in the Government and Ministers administering the regulations under the act, to discharge them with justice to all sections of the community, and without fear or favour, and with complete impartiality to political friend, political foe, and neutral. For some time, a feeling has been increasing in the public mind that these powers, conferred for the purposes of enabling the nation to defend itself from aggression, are being used to advance the interests of Labour organizations, regardless of the rights of other sections of the community. In order that the Government may confer favours upon its friends, it has been guilty of the most flagrant disregard of the rights of other people in allowing a weekly newspaper to be published in Sydney under the name Standard and described, in bold type on its front page, as the “official organ of the Labour party “. If this new paper is being issued under permit from the Government, it is in violation of the newsprint rationing regulations issued under Statutory Rules 1941, No. 46, which have for their purpose the conservation of our limited stocks of newsprint.. These regulations have been rigidly applied to all other newspapers; The only exception has been in favour of the Standard: The regulations provide -
A person shall not without the consent in writing of the Minister -
publish any newspaper, magazine, or other periodical at more frequent intervals than those at which it was being published immediately before the commencement of these regulations.
The device used to covet the production of the Standard is to wrap it in the cover of a small and obscure newspaper of irregular appearance, small size and limited circulation, called: Metal Trades News, and to appropriate to the Standard the newsprint allocation which was formerly made to that journal. Despite this camouflage, the production of the Standard is still in. direct conflict with the regulations, for, under sub-regulation a, of regulation 5, the Standard, as it appears to-day, is an entirely new paper. Its contents could not in any way. be claimed to cover the field which was previously covered by the Metal Trades News. The publication also conflicts with sub-clause b of the same regulation, because, whereas previously the Metal Trades News was published once a fortnight, the Standard is published weekly. The Standard also conflicts with the specific provisions of the Customs (Import Licensing) Regulations 15 - Licensing Instruction No. 181 - which; under the heading “ General Provisions “, states -
Newsprint allocations established for one particular publication cannot be used in the production of another publication, even though both are issued by the one proprietor. Any newsprint so used, will constitute a debit against the allocations of the publication to which it is transferred, and will be regarded in the same light as newsprint imported subsequent to 30/6/40.
This means, for example, that the Baily Telegraph may not use any of its allocation in the publication of the Woman’s Weekly, which is published in the same office, and that the Sydney Truth may not use any of its allocation in the production of the Mirror, and that the Melbourne Herald may not use any of its allocation in the production of the Sun. Therefore, it is clear that, under the regulations, authority for the issue of the Standard could not be given under cover of the newsprint allocations formerly made to the Metal Trades News. If such newsprint is being used in the production of the Standard, a very serious breach is- being committed of regulations which have been rigidly applied to every other organization. If the Minister has used his ministerial prerogative under war-time powers, for the purpose of granting special rights to a sectional interest, to the detriment of other sections of the community, he has committed a serious abuse of that prerogative; since whatever newsprint the Standard is to receive will have to be provided by the newsprint pool out of its limited and dwindling resources. This newspaper, described as a Labour organ, is making its appearance in defiance of every wartime necessity imposed on every one else. Although during the last twelve months numerous applications have been made for permission to print newspapers, all of them have been properly refused, the only exception being in respect of the Standard, which has been accorded special treatment. As I have already stated, even though it is claimed to be the Metal Trades News in a different dress, no authority to issue it could be granted except by the special use of ministerial powers. Even if that point were conceded - which it is not - the Metal Trades News was a fortnightly newspaper of eight pages, the circulation of which was doubtful, and certainly very limited, whereas the Standard, which is supposed, to replace it, and has no right to do so. is published in defiance of the regulations as a weekly newspaper of twelve pages. Therefore, even if there were any virtue in its replacement of the Metal Trades News, its size is 50 per cent, greater. The Metal Trades News and the Standard may be small and insignificant journals, and doubtless will continue to be so. But the principle involved is not insignificant; on the contrary, it is of prime importance, because it involves the impartial use of the administrative powers of the Government under the special conditions of war-time, the general morale of the community, and its confidence in the good faith of the Government in applying equally to every one, irrespective of politics, creed or class, whatever restrictions may be deemed necessary for the mobilization of our resources for war. That confidence has been impaired in this instance by political interference with the just application of the law. At a time when many small newspapers, particularly country newspapers, are being forced out of existence, or their services to their communities are being greatly curtailed, owing to newsprint restrictions, a new organ of Government propaganda has been allowed to come into existence. At a time when the Government, under man-power regulations, is taking from existing newspaper organizations man-power and materials, a new organ of its own has been allowed to engage man-power and obtain materials with which to commence publication.
I have asked previously under what conditions the Standard was granted a licence to publish. I now ask, in addition, whether the application of the Standard to publish was placed before the advisers of the Government in the Department of Trade and Customs. If so, will the Minister lay the relevant papers on the table of the House? If there is nothing to hide, there is no reason why the question should not be answered and the documents tabled. I also ask whether, on the 9th February, the Minister for Trade and Customs received ap telegram from members of the newsprint pool protesting against a licence to publish being issued to the Standard; whether on the following day, the 10th February, the Minister for Trade and Customs telegraphed the reply that no authority to issue such a newspaper had been granted; and whether on the succeeding day, the 11th February, the Standard was or was not selling on the streets of Sydney? If those are facts, an explanation is due to this House. I” challenge the Government to deny the accuracy of my statements. If they cannot be denied, I insist - and the House should support my insistence - that the Government shall administer the regulations with impartiality, untinged with political bias.
– A motion for the adjournment of the House has been submitted by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), on the ground that it is necessary to discuss a matter of urgent public importance. I suppose that the degree of importance attached to the subject-matter will be determined by honorable members according to the side of the House on which they sit. The country will be rocked to its foundations because of its gravity. I am mindful of its seriousness, and trust that the House has given close attention to everything that the honorable member has said. The one thing needed in this country is impartiality of administration by the Government in the exercise of its powers, so that justice may be done to all people. The honorable member would not, I take it, ask the Government to act differently from any other Administration. A previous Administration, in its wisdom, made a’ decision or decisions concerning the matters he has raised; it granted some licences, and rejected the applications of other persons.
– Not since these regulations were made.
– That brings me to the particular regulations. An interesting feature of them is that they were signed by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison).
– They are good regulations.
– Of course they are ! The honorable member during his administration exercised discretionary power, and in his wisdom embodied in these regulations what he considered they ought to contain. On the 26th February, 1941, Statutory Rule No. 46 was signed by “ Eric J. Harrison “ “ for the purposes of controlling, under National Security Order “ the matters mentioned. Regulation 5 provides that a person shall not, without the consent in writing of the
Minister, do a number of things. Those things have already been mentioned by the honorable member for Richmond - he shall not print or publish any newspaper; he shall not distribute any magazines; publications shall not exceed certain sizes; and so forth. The honorable member set out to make the House believe that the action of the Minister for Trade and Customs in this regard constituted a violation of the regulations, but that is not true.
– It is true.
-The regulations were specifically drawn, as were thousands of others, so as to give the Minister discretionary power. Whether or not the Minister in this case exercised the power wisely may be a matter of opinion, but there can be no doubt that, under the regulations, he possessed such power. The honorable member for Wentworth when he was Minister for Trade and Customs, exercised discretionary power under these regulations. I do not object to that. He took such action as seemed, in his judgment, desirable and necessary, and authorized the publication of an additional newspaper. The present Minister for Trade and Customs has in this instance, similarly exercised his discretionary power. It is essential that the Minister should possess such power. It is not possible to administer the Department of Trade and Customs, or any other department, for that matter, unless some discretion is allowed the Minister. It is not possible to draw regulations laying down a hard-and-fast procedure which must be followed on all occasions. I hold the view that the Government must accept the responsibility for governing, and this applies, in some measure, to individual Ministers also.
It is true that this publication was formerly known as the Metal Trades News. It is also true that.it was acquired by other interests, and is now published under the name of the Standard, but no additional allocation of newsprint has been made to the Standard.
– Has it been subjected to the rules which govern newsprint allocation ?
– Yes ; it is subject to all rules which govern newspapers in this regard, and the allocation of newsprint from the pool, or from any other source, is no greater now than was made formerly to the Metal Trades News. It has been said that, as a result of this transaction, there is a greater demand on man-power and material at a time when these should be employed in the national interests. “Well, if that be so,’ the same argument should have been applied to the Metal Trades News before it was acquired by the Standard, because no additional man-power or newsprint has been called for since. Therefore, the honorable member’s case falls to the ground.
– But the newspaper is now published more frequently than before, and it has more pages.
– That may ultimately affect its ability to continue publication on the present lines, but, for the time being, there is no additional drain on the newsprint pool. The fact is that the honorable member is politically troubled because he fears that the view of the Government may be presented to the public in New South Wales through this newspaper, even with its limited circulation, in a manner which does not suit his wishes. It has been stated that country newspapers have been forced out of publication, but that contention is merely an attempt to build up a fictitious case. It has no application to the matter under consideration. In this instance, the number of publications is not being increased ; it is merely a case of substituting one publication for another.
– What is the circulation of the new publication?
– I do not know. This matter was not handled by me.
– Of course, the Minister’s newspaper is the Century.
– Well, perhaps it was felt that another newspaper might be helpful. When the honorable member asked his questions in the House, there was a delay in answering them because the Minister for Trade and Customs is a member of the Senate. Unfortunately, also, he has not been well for nearly a fortnight, and I did not consider that the matter was of such urgency that he should be disturbed with a request to examine the files and prepare a reply. I believed that it could well stand over until the Minister was able to give it his personal attention. As I have said, this is not so much a question for departmental officials to determine, as for the Minister himself, because it is one in regard to which the Minister exercised his own discretion.
– Do I understand that there is no objection to one newspaper transferring its newsprint quota to another?
– Apparently the Minister believed that the general situation would not be altered by his decision, and that no extra demand would be made on available newsprint supplies.
– But is this in accordance with the usual practice? If not, why was an exception made in favour of the Standard ?
– I do not know that there is any hard and fast practice, but when the honorable member for Wentworth, as Minister for Trade and Customs, was administering the newsprint regulations, he undoubtedly granted licences in some cases and rejected licences in other cases. I think that is a fair statement.
– I defy the Minister to cite one instance of my exercising my prerogative to grant a licence.
– I do not know what applications from newspaper companies the honorable member handled. I have not felt disposed to go through the files relating to the honorable gentleman’s administration of the Department of Trade andCustoms, for I do not think that it is required of me to make a close scrutiny of his actions and decisions. My point is that the honorable gentleman granted some licences and refused others. No doubt, the honorable gentleman believed that he was fairly exercising his discretionary power under Statutory Rule No. 46 of1940. Whatever he did I do not question, but it would appear that the honorable member for Richmond is most anxious to question the actions and decisions of the present Minister for Trade and Customs. The honorable gentleman has asked me questions about a weekly publication, which he declares at this stage has no wide circulation. This aspect is a matter of minor importance in the mind of the honorable gentleman. His main objective to-day is to ventilate here a matter which he believes will have some political advantage in connexion with this matter.
– I am not a scrap worried that the honorable member holds that opinion or even if it is shared by his colleagues. All I say is that the Minister for Trade and Customs exercised the discretion which he possesses under the statutory rules. He granted a licence in circumstances which I have already related. I support him in the action he has taken. If the House considers that he should not be supported it may say so. There has been no violation of the law. The statutory rule has been administered by the Minister for Trade and Customs in the same spirit and with the same discretion as was shown by his predecessor, the honorable member for Wentworth, and there is, accordingly, no justification for the adjournment motion.
– The Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley), as the ministerial representative in this House of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane), made fine play in his opening remarks of the fact that the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) had moved the adjournment, of the House to discuss a matter of urgent public importance, and, with fine irony, he declared that the country would be rocked to its foundations by the revelations made by the mover. I do not know whether the Minister for Supply and Shipping considers that the conservation of newsprint is not a matter of national importance. If he does, he is the only one who holds that opinion, because every Minister for Trade and Customs who has dealt with the matter of newsprint has found that its conservation is a matter of the utmost importance. Governments have gone to great lengths to restrict its use, and, when newsprint could no longer be imported, they took steps to ensure that all stocks of newsprint in the country should be pooled and that there should be no misuse of stocks. I cannot understand how the Minister for Supply and Shipping could cast doubt upon the importance of a commodity which is of the first importance in the maintenance of public morale. As the honorable gentleman truthfully said, these statutory rules contain regulations which give to the Minister for Trade and Customs certain discretionary power. It is quite fitting that that should be so, but, at the same time, whilst that power is reposed in the Minister, there must also be reposed in Parliament the right to criticize any exercise of that power if, in its opinion, such action is contrary to the spirit and meaning of the regulations. It ill behoves the Minister for Supply and Shipping to try to make political capital out of the fact that a member of this Parliament who has the interests of this country at heart has moved the adjournment of the House in order to direct the attention of the Ministry to what he considers a misapplication of the statutory rule, which vests the Minister for Trade and Customs with specific powers to conserve newsprint. I repeat now what I said in my interjection during the speech . of the Minister for Supply and Shipping, namely, that I defy the honorable gentleman to cite one instance of my having exercised my discretion as Minister for Trade and Customs to grant a licence which would enable another newspaper to be brought into existence. One newspaper was mentioned this afternoon in relation to ray administration. I direct the attention of honorable members to the fact that the Minister for Supply and Shipping was not prepared to make a specific charge in answer to my question. The licence for the establishment of that newspaper was given in January, 194.1, and the regulations were promulgated in February, 1941. I did not exercise the discretion that I was allowed, because I realized the dangers that would accompany my doing so. I knew that if I exercised my discretion to grant one new licence, I should not be able to stand up to demands for other licences. The Minister for Trade and Customs, having granted a licence under which a defunct paper has been revived under another name, will not be able to stand up- to applications for the revival of other defunct publications. The defunct newspaper which has been revived appeared fortnightly and had a circulation of between 2,000 and 3,000. I understand that, under its new name and in its new form, the journal, which is now published weekly, has a circulation of about 10,000. The Minister for Trade and Customs now has the obligation to listen to every representation that may be made to him for the revival of every defunct publication in Australia, and, if he does that, he will lay open to abuse the whole of the national security regulations. There is no place for political partisanship in the administration of the national security regulations. It is freely rumoured in Sydney that the newspaper for which the Minister for Trade and Customs gave a licence for publication in the exercise of his discretion is owned by a Labour leader. If that is the case, the Government has laid itself open to a strong charge of political bias.
– The honorable member is building a man of straw.
– The honorable member for Dalley will know whether what I have said is true or not.
– I have not the faintest idea.
– In the fullness of time the ownership of that newspaper will be revealed. For political purposes the Minister for Trade and Customs has violated the spirit of the regulations, in the administration of which he has discretionary power.When I was Minister for Trade and Customs, I received numerous applications for an increased tonnage of newsprint for existing journals, and the allocation of newsprint for new journals and magazines. The fighting services made representations to me that they should be allotted newsprint for the purpose of enabling them to publish newspapers within the services; but they were obliged to amalgamate the journals of various units for the purpose of conserving newsprint. The continuation of the present policy will provide opportunities for exploitation. I congratulate the honorable member for Richmond on having directed attention to the violation of the powers which the Parliament conferred upon the Minister.
The sooner the regulations are amended in order to prevent the Minister from running wild, the better it will be for the country.
.- The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) concluded his remarks by congratulating the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) upon his eloquent speech. I remind honorable members of our great difficulty at all times in inducing the honorable member for Richmond to address the House, and it came as a surprise to me to discover that he knew so little about the subject upon which he spoke to-day. His speech had obviously been prepared for him, and he read every word of it. The burden of his complaint was that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) had approved of the allocation of newsprint to a weekly journal of theAustralian Labour party, in New South Wales. To honorable members of the Opposition that was the most disturbing feature of the whole business. What are the facts? The Minister exploded the allegations of the honorable member for Richmond in his carefully prepared speech, by proving that the regulations had not been violated. The Minister for Trade and Customs possesses discretionary power to consent to the allocation of newsprint; in this instance the Minister exercised that power. I have no doubt that in due course he will justify his action.
The journal to which objection has been taken was formerly published regularly at fortnightly intervals. The honorable member for Wentworth omitted to state that one month before the promulgation of this regulation, when supplies of newsprint were desperately low, he consented to the publication in New South Wales of a new daily newspaper, requiring twenty times as much newsprint as the weekly newspaper authorized by the Minister. The honorable memberbased his objection on the ground that under these regulations which were issued in February, 1941, the Minister must give his consent to the allotment of newsprint, and declared that when he approved of the publication of the new daily newspaper in Sydney, the regulation had not been promulgated. A fact which the honorable member cannot evade is that at the time he, as Minister for Trade and Customs, gave his consent, there was a serious shortage of newsprint. He cannot take refuge behind the fact that the regulation was not in existence in January, 1941. The all-important question before the House now is whether permission to publish the Standard has any serious affect upon the quantity of newsprint available to Australia. The only difference between this case and the daily newspaper sanctioned by the honorable member for Wentworth is that the persons arranging for the publication of the daily newspaper were members of a more powerful journalistic organization than the controllers of the Standard. I do not blame the honorable member for Richmond, because his speech had been prepared for him, and he was unaware of its contents. He did not know that the regulation contains no provision to prevent the altering of the name or the ownership of a newspaper. There is nothing in the regulation to prevent the amalgamation of the interests of the Australian Labour party and the metal trades group as the proprietors of the journal. So whoever wrote into the honorable member’s speech that a change of ownership is prohibited under these regulations was just as clearly “ pulling his leg “ as when he gave the honorable member the speech to read verbatim.
The honorable gentleman pointed out that all supplies of newsprint were pooled and allotted to the newspapers on a tonnage quota. That is true. That action preserved many Australian newspapers which were not associated with the group that controls the paper-making industry in this country. Imported newsprint was pooled with newsprint manufactured in Australia and allocations were made to all journals on a quota basis. The Minister has clearly shown that the controllers of the organ of the Australian Labour party had a perfect right to the tonnage that they are receiving. Although now a weekly instead of a fortnightly publication, the journal is not receiving a greater allocation of newsprint. Consequently, the agreement in relation to the allocation of newsprint has not been infringed.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the news paper will cease publication when its allocation expires?
– No. I only suggest that this journal still operates within its original allotment. All of its original allotment was apparently not used when the newspaper was published fortnightly, but the whole of it is now being absorbed. Accepting the word of the Minister on this matter, I repeat that it does not involve a greater allocation of newsprint than the newspaper was originally entitled to receive.
– I thought that the newspaper may have been using the newsprint twice over, as the Government will use the welfare fund.
– No. If I had my way I would use all newsprint as shaving paper, and the general community would bc better off for it. But while there are newspapers in Australia, I like to see a few of them place the views of the Labour party before the public. The honorable member has drawn two fine lines of distinction between the Standard and other newspapers. He said, in the first place, that other newspapers play an important part in connexion with the war effort. Just how they are doing this passes my comprehension. If the placing of the war position in a truthful light, and the encouraging of the workers to do their beat to win the war, can be regarded as a contribution towards the war effort the Standard is doing more than are many daily newspapers which have adopted tactics that amount to sabotage. The honorable gentleman said, in the second place, that other newspapers use their newsprint for the purpose of advancing the war effort, whereas the Standard uses its quota for political purposes. Is the honorable member such a political neophyte that he does not know that practically every anti-Labour newspaper in Australia is positively saturated with political prejudice? Has he not realized during the Commonwealth elections campaigns in which he has participated that the anti-Labour press has taken upon itself the duty to tell the people of Australia who are the outstanding candidates for whom they should vote? [Extension of time granted.] Has the honorable member failed to observe the strong political tinge in the anti-Labour press of the Commonwealth? Does he not know that anti-Labour newspapers have been ceaseless in their endeavours to continue in office anti-Labour governments in this country ? Is he not aware that ever since this Government has been in office antiLabour newspapers have clone their best to white-ant the Ministry? If he does not know these things, it is just as well that some one with a little intelligence should tell him of them. All newspapers in Australia are political, whether they frankly admit it like the Standard has done, or attempt to hide it, as the daily press does.
The time of the House has been wasted sufficiently in discussing this subject. I shall conclude, therefore, by observing that as the honorable member for Richmond appears to be unwilling at all times to address himself to questions of substance before the House, he should take care that, on the occasions when he does speak, the speeches prepared for him are worth delivering.
.- The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) has raised two important points: first, whether there has been a breach of the regulations by the Government; and, secondly, whether emergency war-time powers are being used by the Government in order to confer some political preference upon its friends. The honorable gentleman asked some blunt questions on the first subject, and they have not been fully or satisfactorily answered. I intend to devote the limited time at my disposal to the second subject, for it raises important matters of practice and principle which go beyond the issue immediately before us. We, on this side of the chamber, have watched with what the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) once described as “ technical admiration “ the capacity of this Government to put its wares in the shop window in the most attractive way, and to use adroitly all the media of propaganda to serve its own ends. At question time to-day the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) asked some questions concerning the use being made of a publication issued, by this Government and known ae the Digest of Decisions and Announcements and Important Speeches. He stated that a highly controversial subject charged with party political significance had been dealt with in this publication which contained a long report of the views of a Minister but not one word of the views of responsible speakers on this side of the chamber. I vividly remember that, early in the regime of this Government, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) made a highly coloured and partisan speech on a certain industrial subject. As the outgoing Minister for Labour and National Service, I put the view of honorable members on this side of the chamber. The present Minister’s speech was published in this journal, but not a word of my reply appeared.
– But the honorable gentleman, as a taxpayer, helped to pay for the publication of the Minister’s speech !
– That is a painful reminder. The use made by this Government, also early in its term of office, of the facilities of the Australian Broadcasting Commission for broadcasting the views of the Government, raised a storm of protest throughout the country.
– What has this got to do with the motion?
– The issue is the same. Is the Government to be permitted to use Government facilities for party political purposes? Particularly, is it to be permitted to use war-time emergency powers for party propaganda purposes?
There can be no argument about the purposes for which the Standard newspaper is being published. This is clear from the following extract which I cite from the first issue of the publication: -
The Standard flings wide its banner in challenge to these newspapers and demands a fair deal for lighting Labour Governments, and an end to personal persecutions of Labour loaders and their Ministers devoting their time and energies to the winning of the war.
The Standard quite frankly declares its policy. The statement by the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley) concerning the allocation of newsprint to this newspaper is not convincing in any way. Here is .the problem in arithmetic : There was in existence a newspaper called the Metal Trades News, the circulation of which had dwindled, presumably to such a point, that the newspaper could not pay its way. It was a publication which appeared fortnightly and consisted of eight pages. Out of its ashes, phoenix-like, the Standard has appeared - the mighty Standard, the new voice of the great Labour movement of New South Wales! It appears weekly, consists of twelve pages and circulates throughout New South Wales. The Minister would’ have us believe that it uses only the newsprint tonnage allocated to the Metal Trades News. Are we to infer from the honorable gentleman’s statement, that the Standard, having been raised, will later be lowered? Having lived a short and merry life, and having ousted the Century, and the- black sheep of the Labour movement, Mr. Lang, will the Standard’ be retired from the field ?
– The honorable gentleman should think a little more deeply and he would realize the true position. The point is that the allocation made to the Metal Trades News has been transferred to the Standard. The Metal Trades News may not have been using its full allocation. What is wrong with that?
– Well, we have heard a little more. Probably we shall have an opportunity to press our inquiry at a later stage. The Minister now says that this defunct newspaper was not using its full allocation of newsprint, and that the quantity which was sufficient for a sectional trade journal circulating fortnightly in an eight-page issue is deemed sufficient to meet the needs of the Standard, which is to carry the message of the Labour movement throughout New South Wales. It will be interesting to note whether that will be its history. I confidently predict that it will not. In such an event, we must expect a further allocation of newsprint to be made to it. In this connexion. T invite the Minister for Supply anc. Shipping to consider weighty words that have been used by his colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service. The Sydney Baily Telegraph invited that Minister to express his views at length, and in a letter under his own hand, which even he, I imagine, will not claim misrepresents his views, he wrote : -
With newsprint in such short supply and its transportation involving the constant threat to the lives of gallant seamen, I have no wish to use it with abandon and prodigality equalling your own.
I trust that when Ministers have to face up to this problem, which must inevitably arise in the future if the Standard is not to droop on the flagpole from the word “ go’ “, they will recognize that the increased use of newsprint must involve the different factors that have been mentioned. We who sit on this side of the House cannot, unfortunately, escape from the conclusion that the decisions of the Government which made possible the establishment of this newspaper were a part of the sordid brawl in New South Wales to-day, in the snatch for power by the two Labour sections. Such being the case, the Minister for Supply and Shipping, instead of deriding the honorable member for Richmond for having brought this matter before the House, should recognize that he has performed a public duty by letting the people of the Commonwealth, and particularly of the State of New South Wales, know the motives that have actuated the Government in making this publication possible.
.- This being an election year, I suppose that we have to tolerate many things that would not otherwise be countenanced; but when we are expected to hold up vitally urgent and important legislation, such as the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill - which is intended to increase the pensions of returned soldiers and afford relief generally - the Mortgage Bank Bill - which proposes to give relief to primary producers - and other financial and social legislation, in order to listen to such a trivial matter as that raised by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), too great a strain is being placed on our tolerance. The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) referred to-day to influences that are attempting to foment industrial trouble- in the community and to retard our war effort. One wonders whether attempts are not being made to stir up the passions of the people on any trivial pretext. I am reminded of the famous letter addressed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden), secretly, to all members of the Opposition, advising them to collect data in respect of various matters, in order that they might embarrass the Government and impede the business of the Parliament. I understand that yesterday the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) notified Mr. Speaker of his intention to move the adjournment of the House in order to discuss the transport of the honor.able member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) by air to the other side of the world. That is indicative of the depth that is being plumbed- by the Opposition in its attempts to stir up political strife. Obviously, its members are barren of statesmenlike ideas. Last week, they held up the business of the House in order to deal with the matter of patent medicines. It appears to me that some persons consider that the war is nearly over, and are using every endeavour to revert to the old order. The right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) had half a page devoted to him in one section of the capitalist press, in order that he migh argue that the capitalistic system must be preserved. Only yesterday, I read in the Sydney Morning Herald an article headed, “ Congress in Revolt “ ; “ Aim to Embarrass President”; “Danger Seen to War Effort”. It began -
Since it met on the 6th January, the new Congress has not passed a single piece of important legislation and the calendar is heavy with such from the new tax programme to the renewal of lease-lend. It has within that period, however, considered or passed a score of resolutions or bills definitely aimed to embarrass the President and the Administration.
That is in line with what is taking place in Australia.
– What has that to do with this matter?
– Quite a lot. All the democracies are fighting to preserve their freedom. Are we to weaken our war effort by internal strife of this sort? The Minister for Supply and Shipping has pointed out that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane), who, because he is in hospital, cannot answer the charges that have been made, exercised discretion in this matter. Surely some discretion should be allowed to the Minister in matters of the sort! Are we to have a regimented press, such as exists in Germany, where there is now only one daily newspaper of four editions, or are we to allow to the Minister a certain degree of discretion? In this instance, discretion has been exercised on sound grounds. It has been pointed out that the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison), as Minister for Trade and Customs, exercised discretion in allowing a new daily newspaper to be brought into existence after the right honorable member for Kooyong, when Prime Minister, had stated that no further licences were to be granted. That particular licence had been refused by the Menzies Government, but was subsequently granted by the then Minister for Trade and Customs. It may be merely a coincidence, but at the time an election campaign was in progress, and the honorable member for Wentworth was being “ played up “ considerably in one section of the press, whilst another section which was opposed to the granting of the licence “ played him down “. The present Minister (Senator Keane) has exercised discretion because the Labour party in’ New South Wales is without a voice. At the present time when Ministers are being misrepresented in certain sections of the press, it is necessary for them to have an opportunity to reply. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) has mentioned the objects of this newspaper ; these are, to improve the war effort, to establish co-operation and harmony in the community, and to obviate industrial strife.
– I did not mention those.
– The honorable member mentioned the general aims ; those are the particular aims. A further object is to counteract attacks on the Government. As conditions existed, these could not be prevented, because the Labour newspaper in New South Wales - the Daily News, f ormerly the Labor Daily - has been closed down, although it had been published fo» many years and until a year or more after the commencement of the war. The Bank of New South Wales held a mortgage over its assets ; yet, although it had cost probably £100,000, and had a considerable goodwill and a circulation of 25,000 daily, the bank sold it to the Sydney Daily Telegraph for ?30,000. It used to have a circulation of 100,000, particularly at election time, when the public were more interested in what was published in the paper. It was understood when the Daily News was acquired by the Daily Telegraph that it would not be closed down, but would continue to be published as the voice of the Labour party. However, it suffered the same fate as most publications which are acquired by their rivals; it was closed down, after which the Labour party had no newspaper to voice its opinions. The new newspaper is to be a weekly publication only, and it will not use so much newsprint as did the Daily News. It has no axe to grind “, and there is no attempt to make profits. Its general purpose is to educate the people on economic matters, and to further the country’s war aims. Sir Keith Murdoch, the general manager of the Melbourne Herald and other newspapers, recognized that newspapers were sometimes guilty of misrepresentation because, when he held an important post under a previous government, he was responsible for the issuing of regulations requiring newspapers, in certain circumstances, to publish the truth. This created a furore, and the regulations were subsequently withdrawn, but the incident shows that there does exist a need for such a newspaper as the Standard. I deprecate newspaper wars. We know that some of the newspapers are fighting one another at a time when they should be setting a better example for the public. I particularly deprecate their attempt to disparage members of Parliament and Ministers. There seems to be a deliberate attempt to bring members of Parliament and parliamentary institutions into disrepute. Now that we are fighting for the maintenance of democratic institutions, newspapers should not play down Parliament lest the people become disgusted with it. [Extension of time granted.] I hope that the newspapers will recognize that there might well be introduced a new order in regard to the press of Australia which could, if properly directed, be of great assistance to the community. All of the newspapers are not to blame, but some of them could, with advantage, improve their behaviour. I quote the following from an address by Mr. Henry Martin, editor-in-chief of the Press Association of Great Britain: -
Mr. Henry Martin, editor in chief of the Press Association, in a speech said the war presented the finest opportunity the press had ever had of winning the respect and gratitude of all concerned with the spiritual welfare of the nation. “ Proprietors, managers and editors ought now, as part of the post-war planning, to re-evaluate on the highest level their degree of personal responsibility for the millions of readers whom God has entrusted to their care,” he said. “An account of their stewardship will one day be demanded of them. “ The idea, that a report of the religious aspect of an address or of public affairs is neither readable nor remunerative, as well as unwanted, is out of date. “ The Peter Pans of journalism must grow up and realize that there is a widespread hunger for spiritual sustenance, which it is the duty of the press to satisfy. “ Fleet-street is not the home of infallibility. In its passion for realism it can badly stray and misdirect readers by misinterpreting motives or by showing itself strangely blind to goodness in different guises. “ There are thousands to-day ignorant of Christian principles and practice. “ Newspapers tilling this vast field will reap not only” material reward for their enterprise, but, which is infinitely more important, a rich harvest in prestige, gratitude, and influence and consciousness that they are furthering God’s purpose. “ To do nothing and exercise power irresponsibly is to play into the hands of the fifth columnists. “ Proprietors and editors should unmistakably lead their staffs,” added Mr. Martin.
Many of the things which appear in the newspapers might well be excluded, and matter of a more uplifting nature published in their stead.
– I compliment the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) because he is the first member of this Parliament, so far as I know, to make a spirited protest about the length of time devoted to a debate, and then to obtain an extension of time in order to complete his protest. Such a performance is worthy of passing admiration. I propose to speak for only three minutes.
– Too long.
– For the honorable member, perhaps, but just long enough for me. The Minister for Supply and
Shipping (Mr. Beasley) has not attempted to answer the point of substance made by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony). He contented himself with saying that the regulations conferred discretionary power upon the Minister for Trade and Customs and that it was lawful for the Minister to exercise that discretion. Of course it, is; The real question is whether that discretion has been ‘exercised properly. We could discuss that in general terms until midnight without getting any farther forward, but the Government could, in a very short while, give to the House some facts of great importance. It could tell us what was the circulation of the Metal Trades News, and what is the present circulation of the Standard. It could tell us what the newsprint allocation was in each case. We should then know all the material facts, and so would the public, and we could form our own judgment. All we know now is that an obviously small and not very strong fortnightly journal called the Metal Trades News, with, presumably, a most limited circulation, has now been converted, by a strange process of alchemy, into a great Labour newspaper, which, I understand, is to be the voice of the Australian Labour party in New South Wales, and this newspaper is to be published weekly. If it is using the same quantity of newsprint as its predecessor used, its circulation must be only half that of its predecessor, because it is published weekly, whereas its predecessor was published fortnightly. However, I understand that the present publication has twelve pages, whereas its. fortnightly predecessor had only eight, so that, if the sheets are of the same size, the circulation of the new publication must be less than half that of the old one. We are entitled to the facts in regard to this matter. If we get no more facts than have so far been given to us. then I take it that the distinguished proprietor of the Century, whose white-haired boy the Minister for Supply and Shipping used to be. need not worry about the future of his newspaper, because its new rival, the Standard, cannot possibly have a circulation of more than half that of the Metal Trades News. Therefore, it cannot obtain many advertisements, and if it. is to be the voice of the Labour party, that voice will be so attenuated that it, will never be heard at all.
– It will never be heard in the wilderness.
– Certainly, it will never be heard in the wilderness. I hope that I am not more sceptical than the next man, but I do not like to be asked to believe such nonsense.
.- The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) has exercised hisdiscretion, as he is entitled to do, in granting a licence for the transfer of the ownership of a newspaper. I frankly admit that that paper is now being published under another name and is performing another function. In similar circumstances I would have done exactly what the Minister for Trade and Customs did. I would have taken into consideration the fact that the State of New South Wales did not have a journal which expressed a sane and considered judgment on matters and provided a counter to the distortions of the daily press. I should like to see the Minister for Trade and Customs further exercise his judgment and his discretion in order to enable the publication of similar newspapers in every other capital city of the Commonwealth which does not already publish one, and the only exception is the city of Perth. Unlike the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), I do notcare that, under its old name and former ownership, this paper was published fortnightly and that, under its new name and ownership, it is now published weekly. I counter what the right honorable gentleman said by saying that it is necessary that the newsprint pool should be divided on a rational basis and that it cannot be so divided unless the needs of the masses of the Australian people are catered for. The only way in which to cater for those needs is by the publication of journals which express the view of Labour. The plain fact of the matter is that the Labour press is entitled in the interest of Australia to a greater share of the newsprint stocks of this country than it is at present receiving. Men and women in industry to-day demand a newspaper to counter the effect, of the journals which traduce them and by every pretext condemn their war effort, thereby inciting them to take the action which nobody at this time of peril wishes them to take. There must be some balance in the newspaper world, not only in New South Wales, but also in all other States, and I repeat that if I were Minister for Trade and Customs I would not hesitate to exercise whatever power I had to grant licences to anybody who desired to ensure that the people of all capital cities in Australia should be supplied with news and opinions expressing the workers’ views.
– That would satisfy me.
– That is gratifying. The Minister for Trade and Customs has nothing for which to apologize to anybody, inside or outside Parliament. I commend him for what he has done, and I hope that his action in this case will be followed by similar action in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Hobart.
.- I have no complaints to make about the motion for the adjournment of the House in order to discuss this matter, or, indeed, any matter, provided that the forms of the House are complied with and the requisite number of honorable members have risen in their places to indicate their support of the motion. I cannot think that it lies with the Government or with government supporters to conclude that a matter is too trivial for discussion. It may be very trivial or even undesirable from the point of view of the Government that the matter should be discussed, but it may be very desirable in the minds of honorable members in opposition that it should be discussed. That is precisely how democratic institutions work. That is precisely how the British instrument of government has operated for many decades. I have a very distinct recollection of rising in my place and looking hopefully for the support of honorable gentlemen on a motion for the purpose of discussing a matter, which I considered to be of urgent public importance, but which the then Prime Minister considered to be of very minor significance. Indeed, he considered it to be of such minor importance that, after he had made his reply to me, another honorable gentleman - I think it was the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) - moved that the question be put, and thus decapitated the discussion and, in an entirely metaphorical sense, decapitated me also. But I have survived it, and I have retained my firm conviction that motions for the adjournment of the House are suitable instruments in the possession of the Opposition, and, possibly, in the hands of members supporting the Government.
I have listened to this debate with great interest, and I have agreed with a good deal of what has been said on both sides. The Minister is under the disability that he represents the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane), who sits in another chamber and has been laid low by illness. That prevents us from getting a full measure of information on the subject. But 1 am content to accept the summing up of the speech of the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) by the honorable member for Fawkner and the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies). The honorable member for Fawkner said that the matter had been reduced to a double-barrelled question : (1) Has there been a breach of the regulations, and (2) has there been an abuse of the discretionary power of the Minister? He revealed his own opinion by stating that he was content to address himself to the second point, namely, whether there had been an abuse of discretion in sanctioning the commencement of a newspaper under a new name, although in effect it was the continuation of an existing journal. The right honorable member for Kooyong directed the whole of his brief speech to the question of whether there had been an abuse of discretion, so the matter is limited.
When we examine the use or misuse of discretion by a Minister - it being admitted that the conservation of newsprint is most important - we are entitled to ask what purpose the newspaper under consideration serves. Hundreds of tons of newsprint is being utilized by the capitalist, anti-Labour press, but an insignificant number of tons is being used for Labour propaganda, although the Commonwealth has a Labour Government. In addition, supporters of the Labour party represent at least one-half of the electorate. Consequently, the exercise of ministerial discretion favorable to the publication of a newspaper which is, in a general way, in sympathy with the policy advocated by the reigning Government, appears to me not calculated to shock the public conscience, but on the contrary to be reasonable.
We speak of the exercise of ministerial authority with our tongues in our cheek. The whole trouble is that we are not so candid as we might be. The fact is that a weekly journal of the Labour party is already in existence, and is flourishing, but it is highly critical of government policy, and has exceedingly able contributors. Insofar as it may be thought on occasions to publish personally offensive articles, I dissociate myself from its views; but I largely agree with the opinions that it so ably expresses. This is the Century. The other newspaper, it is intended, shall take the place of the Century, or at least act as a counter-blast to it. There is ample room for both of them in a country which is so largely dependent upon antiLabour capitalist newspapers, and which on all critical occasions fail to render any real service to the Labour movement. I hope that ‘both of these newspapers, so long and so far as they express true Labour opinions, will flourish, and I consider that the Minister exercised a wise discretion in sanctioning the allotment of the necessary quantity of newsprint for the publication of the second journal.
.- The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) desired, in moving for the adjournment of the House, to embarrass the Government in respect of its decision to sanction the allotment of newsprint to the Standard newspaper. As the debate proceeded, attention was focussed on the more important fact that the press of Australia is almost completely owned by elements bitterly antagonistic to the Labour party. The whole of our daily press is owned by the enemies of the Labour movement, who do not wish to see even one Labour journal published. From the point of view of the Labour party, it is regrettable, in one sense, that the Standard newspaper has been published in New South Wales, because there will now be in one State two conflicting journals, each claiming to express the views of the Labour movement and vieing with one another for the support of the workers. That unfortunate fact is something, however, with which the Labour movement itself will have to deal.
The purpose of the motion is to protest against the establishment of the Standard. No argument has been advanced as to why a newspaper such as the Standard should not be produced. If the purpose of the journal had been to espouse the cause of the anti-Labour forces, no objection to it would have been forthcoming from the ranks of the Opposition. The proposal is bad only because the Standard will express, perfectly or imperfectly, what it believes are the views of the Labour party. It might not express my views, or the opinions of other people in the Labour movement; but, at any rate, the Standard will preach the gospel of social emancipation, and that seems to be its cardinal sin in the eyes of the big newspaper interests, which pretend that the publication of this journal will make undue demands upon supplies of newsprint in Australia. Newspaper proprietors have been moaning and squealing since the outbreak of war at the demands made upon them to curtail their daily publications, although to date reductions of the size of newspapers have not been very substantial. Evidently the newspaper proprietors in Australia cannot “take it”, as the newspaper proprietors in England have had to do. The average newspaper in England is. a very small publication compared with its pre-war dimensions whilst ‘ Australian newspapers, by comparison, have been almost unaffected. We have only to examine the size of the Sydney Morning Herald, the Melbourne Herald, and that reptilian rag, the Sydney Daily Telegraph, mentioning only a few, to realize what little sacrifices to the war effort have been made by the big financial interests which control the daily press of this country. When the Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) wished to restrict publication to one morning and one evening newspaper daily in each capital city, he brought down on his head a torrent of abuse and opprobrium, and the newspaper proprietors regard him, in consequence, as Enemy No. 1 in the Government. Having heard the views of honorable members, I consider that the Government should not only allow the Standard to continue publication, but should also make further cuts in the quotas of the metropolitan daily press in order to ensure that newspapers similar to the Standard may be established in other States if necessary. The Government should not consider itself to be bound to the quotas fixed in the hase year. A new formula should be drafted to cover the daily, weekly, fortnightly, and monthly press. The present arrangement is all in favour of newspapers established before the war. A Labour Government should not help to maintain that advantage; in fact, it should destroy it as soon as possible. The honorable member for “Wentworth said that the Metal Trades News was defunct ; but in the next breath he said that it was being published fortnightly. How can a defunct newspaper be published at all ? If “ defunct “ means ’ dead “, a journal being published monthly under the title of the *Australian Statesman, by the Young Nationalists’ organization of “Victoria, is certainly dead.
– The organization should be defunct, too.
– I agree with the Minister. We know that the United Australia party is in its last throes. I should like to know whether honorable members opposite would support a proposal that further restrictions should be made in the use of newsprint by the metropolitan daily press in order to provide larger quotas for other publications. We all are well aware that the country newspaper proprietors of Australia have complained bitterly of the inadequacy of the quotas granted to them.
– They are not receiving fair treatment.
– If the country newspapers be left to the mercy of the city newspaper interests much longer they will have to go out of existence. The defence of a small city newspaper may truly be regarded as the defence, also, of country weekly newspapers which, even before the war, were finding it difficult to continue publication.
I am concerned about the welfare of other honorable gentlemen more than about my own welfare when I direct attention to the possibility that adequate supplies of newsprint may not be made available by big newspaper interests during the coming election campaign in order to permit of reasonable propaganda campaigns being conducted by all parties. I hope that the Minister for Supply and Shipping will take the necessary steps to ensure that sufficient newsprint will be available for the dissemination of political views in a proper way.
We should concern ourselves, not only about the use of newsprint, but also about the waste of man-power in big city newspaper offices. We have the spectacle in this Parliament, daily, of 40 journalists allegedly reporting our proceedings. The Government might be well advised to instruct the man-power authorities to investigate whether fewer journalists could meet the needs of the case. I consider that a news agency could be established at Canberra, employing about ten journalists, which could give a satisfactory report to all Australian newspapers of the proceedings of this Parliament. Such a reform would release about 30 journalists for more useful work in connexion with the war effort.
Although the honorable member for Richmond will not achieve his purpose of bringing about the suppression of the Standard, he has given the House an opportunity to discuss the man-power position in relation to the daily press. The daily press of Australia has rendered very little useful national service since the outbreak of the war. In fact, it has done a great deal of harm to the national effort on many occasions by its sensationalism, its distortion of facts, and its poisonous propaganda carried on, frequently, in deliberate disregard of all the canons of decency and the safety of the nation. The daily press has often misrepresented the views of honorable members of this House and also of honorable senators. It is no credit and of no use to the country, and its deterioration is proceeding apace.
.- Mr. Speaker-
– Mr. Speaker, I rose before the honorable member for Barker.
– That is so; the honorable member for Herbert rose immediately the honorable member for Melbourne sat down.
– I have called the honorable member for Barker.
– I informed the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) before this debate started that I was prepared to take part in it. The honorable member is in charge of the debate, so far as this side of the House is concerned.
– The honorable member for Barker did not rise until after I had risen.
– Surely the Government is in charge of the business of the House.
– Oh, no; the business of the House is in charge of those astute gentlemen, the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) and the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles). We ought to be quite clear in our minds about that.
– The honorable member for Barker must address himself to the question before the Chair.
– It is high time something was said about the “ monkeying “ that is going on in relation to newsprint in Australia. The publication of the Standard has brought matters to a head. I do not suggest that the Labour party should not have ajournal through which to express its views. I have never held that opinion. But the issue before us to-day is not whether the Labour party should have its own newspaper in New South Wales, but whether certain national security regulations, which have the effect of law in Australia, have been contravened. An attack has been made on the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) for having granted a newsprint ration to a certain daily newspaper now being published in Sydney. The truth is, that the first grant of that ration was agreed to by the Menzies Government early in 1940, before I had joined it. This grant, made by the honorable member for Wentworth, was not made immediately prior to the promulgation of the National Security Regulations.
-He himself has said that it was.
– I know that he. has; but the other part of the story ought to be told, too. Let us have a look at another aspect of the use of newsprint. Since about July, 1940, the Communist party of Australia has been an illegal organization. Particularly since the advent to office of the present Government, the military camps in Australia have been periodically flooded with Communist literature. The question has been raised, I believe more than once, as to how newsprint had come into the possession of those people - it was not an infinitesimal quantity, either - and how the printing had been done. The AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt), apparently, has a very soft spot in his heart for anything red.
– That condition existed prior to the adventof this Government. I raised the matter in this House when I was sitting in Opposition.
– I was not the Attorney -General, and did not handle the matter. The growth of the number, size and variety of these journals and pamphlets in the last eighteen months has been phenomenal ; the country has been flooded with them. Nothing whatsoever has been done to correct that state of affairs by any Minister in the present Administration.
– The honorable member did not do anything, although the same thing was going on while he was a Minister.
– The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) is looking at me quite angrily. I have done nothing to make him angry this afternoon.
– I am not interested in that aspect. I say that the same thing was going on while the honorable member was a Minister.
– I say that it was not, except to a very limited degree. Although the honorable member may have raised the matter, it was not. brought to my notice; nor was it my job to handle the Communist party, although I had the pleasure of signing” the varrant for its suppression as an illegal, subversive and treacherous party in this country. That is what it still is; let us get that clearly into our minds. The Minister foi Trade and Customs is on trial for a .breach of National Security Regulations. There is no doubt that a very good defence has been made on his behalf by -the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley). Anything that that honorable gentleman puts forward in the form of a defence is always .put with considerable vigour and a good deal of acumen; and judging by what I heard from him this afternoon, he has not slipped in that respect. But he has still left a lot to be explained. He has asked whether or not the Labour party should have a newspaper to speak on its behalf. Let us get down to tintacks. In New South Wales to-day, the Labour party has two newspapers - the Century and the Standard; and unless the position has changed quite recently, it has two weekly newspapers, -one run by the official party and the -other by a more -or less legitimate offshoot of the great “ J.T.”, in my ‘State. How newspapers of that ;or-t exist, and what purpose they -serve in politics, I really do not know; but I do -know that, in other activities in -which I have been engaged, there have been occasions when it has been extremely difficult to get the paper that one needs in order to perform certain essential tasks. Apparently, those who wish to publish any number of editions of an afternoon -or a .morning newspaper, have no difficulty in getting ‘all the newsprint that they need. I do not often ask the Minister for War .Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) to do anything ; consequently, I am perfectly sure that he will tate notice of my suggestion that one of the things that he could -very well do with the object of conserving newsprint is to lay it down that there shall be only one edition of every morning .and afternoon newspaper. I should say that some of his supporters would be quite prepared to grill him the moment he put up a proposition of that sort.
– That matter has been thoroughly (examined.
– And what -does the Minister propose to do about it?
– The saving that would :be .effected by cutting out several editions is not as great as the honorable member believes ‘.that it would be.
– I am delighted to hear that; because I have always had the suspicion that the main purpose of having several editions of an afternoon newspaper was to sell practically the same news two or three times between about .2 o’clock and 6 o’clock in the afternoon. There I leave the matter.
.- The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) apparently thought that I waa .angry with him. I was not concerned with him personally in the the slightest .degree. In regard to the newspaper that was to be published in 1941, a licence, enabling it to be published was granted, but for some reason known only to the government of that day it was cancelled. Mr. Norton visited Canberra .and made representation to the then Prime Minister, the right honorable member foi” Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), who agreed that the newspaper should :b.e printed and published and that newsprint for the purpose would be made available. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) merely gave effect to the decision of the Government. The fact is that, in the first instance, when the right to publish was refused, although an .agreement had been entered into, the reason given for the refusal was the definite .shortage of newsprint. A similar position has again arisen. I suggest, with due deference, that this is a very flimsy excuse. The newspaper that is now to be published was published previously, and always within thi: limits of the newsprint that was available to it. I venture the opinion that, if it were proposed to publish another newspaper in support of the Opposition in this Parliament and the interests which it represents, honorable members would evince a keen desire to have made available to it all the newsprint that it -needed. The honorable member for Barker has said, “I do -not mind the Labour party having a voice; but I do protest against what has been done, not because a Labour newspaper is concerned, but merely because I do not consider that it was right. “. I have never heard him voice any protest against what he says the Communist party is doing. The right honorable member for North’ Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was AttorneyGeneral when I brought to his notice printed and roneoed material that was being issued by the Communist party of Australia, and asked what action he intended to take. His reply was, “ What can I do? I do not know where it is published “. J ust as much paper was being used by that body at that period as has been used by it since the present Government came into power. It was the business of the Government which declared the Communist party an illegal Organization to prevent it from doing that. But the right honorable member for North Sydney, with the assistance of the honorable member for Barker - who belongs to the crowd which goes round seeking certain information where it believes it can be found - could not discover its source, although the printer’s name and the street from which it was issued were stated on it. At Collinsville, in my electorate, a roneoed sheet was issued either weekly or fortnightly. I gave copies of it to the right honorable member for North Sydney, who said, “ It might have been printed in Western Australia “. By the same reasoning, it might have been printed in Russia, or anywhere else. It was distributed, and used as much paper as any other newspaper containing the same volume of typed matter. Thus we see that the attack on this newspaper has as. its basis the fact that it represents the Labour movement. I have no illusion on that point. The Minister for Trade and Customs did no more than exercise his proper judgment in deciding as he did.
Debate interrupted under Standing Order No. 257b.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) agreed to -
That leave he given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the War-time (Company) Tax Assessment Act 1940-1942.
Motion by (Mr. Lazzarini) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to make provision for the granting of long service leave to Commonwealth employees.
Motion (by Mr. Holloway) agreed to-
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act 1908-1942.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Mr.HOLLOWAY (Melbourne PortsMinister for Social Services) [5.15]. - -by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The bill gives effect to the Government’s undertaking to amend the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, in order to reduce the delay in applying variations of pensions as a result of fluctuations in the cost of living, to provide allowances to wives and unendowed children of invalid pensioners, and togrant funeral benefits for invalid and old-age pensioners. All honorable members know that the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act authorizes fluctuations of 6d. a week in the maximum rate of pension for every variation of at least 21 units in the price index number, provided the standard rate of 25s.a week is not lowered without parliamentary approval.
The index number 1053, which is related to this amount of 25s., is based on the “ C “ series cost of living in six capital cities, and the new number is usually declared by the Commonwealth Statistician during the third week in January, April, July and October of each year; and, in accordance with the existing provisions of section 24 of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, the altered pension rate takes effect as from the first pension pay day in the next succeeding April, July, October and January respectively. It will be seen that there is adelay of approximately ten weeks between the date the index figure is declared and the date the pensioner receives the increasedrate.
Conversely, if the cost of living falls sufficiently to cause a reduction of the pension, the recipient will have the higher rate for a correspondingly longer period after the fall has been announced. In the case of many workers, basic wage variations operate as from the beginning of the first complete pay period in the month immediately following that in which the index figure is declared; thus the lag, which rarely equals a fortnight, is much less than in the case of pensioners.
Representative organizations and individual pensioners have asked that the present system be altered so far as pensioners are concerned, and have requested the introduction of a new method more closely resembling that applied to employees who participate from time to time in variations of the basic wage. The Government has been so impressed with the justice of the requests that it has decided to amend the existing law with a view to reducing the period the pensioner has to wait for an increase or reduction of the pension rate. For many reasons, notably notifications to postmasters, overprinting of cheques and the fact that, while invalid and oldage pensions are payable fortnightly in advance, wages are usually payable at least weekly in arrear, it has been found impossible to bring the two systems absolutely into line. In the circumstances, the best that can be done is to arrange that the cost-of-living variations in regard to pensions shall commence on and from the due date of the last fortnightly instalment in the month next succeeding that in which the price index number is declared. To illustrate the benefit that will accrue to pensioners in the event of an increase, the following example is quoted: Date index figure declared, 20th April, 1943. Under the present system the adjustment would be made as from the 8th July, 1943, whereas under the proposed amendment in the bill the adjustment would be made as from the 27th May, 1943. The estimated cost of this additional benefit, which will commence in April next, is £50,000, and as it removes an anomaly, I feel sure that all members of the House will support the proposal.
During the course of its investigations, the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Social Security obtained considerable evidence in favour of the payment of allowances to the dependants of pensioners, and the Government has decided to include in this bill financial aid for the wives and unendowed children of invalid pensioners. In common with other honorable members, I have seen examples of the hardship inflicted on families when the breadwinner suffers from an illness permanently incapacitating him for work. Almost invariably the dependants find themselves in necessitous circumstances, and, as a consequence, are forced to seek sustenance or food relief from one of the various State schemes. In an endeavour to alleviate the position to some degree, it is proposed, subject to the usual means test applicable to invalid and old-age pension claims, to pay an allowance not exceeding 15s. a week to the wife of an invalid pensioner, who is not living apart from her -husband.
The bill also contains a provision for the payment of an allowance at the rate of 5s. a week to the wife of an invalid pensioner who has the custody, care and control of an unendowed child under the age of sixteen years. An invalid pensioner who is widowed or is living apart from his wife, shall be eligible to receive this allowance if he has the custody, care and control of an unendowed child, but, following as far as possible the- policy laid down by successive governments, we propose that the child’s allowance shall be payable to the mother in all normal cases.
The payment of allowances under this bill is contingent upon the continuance of the invalid pension to the bread-winner and, therefore, allowances shall not be paid to a person who is, or whose husband is, an inmate of a benevolent asylum or a hospital for the insane, and it is not intended to grant an allowance to any person who is in receipt of a service pension under the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, because, under that act, the means tests are identical with those in this bill.
Ever since the introduction of Commonwealth old-age and invalid pensions, it has been the practice, subject to other qualifications, to regard every male who has attained the age of 60 years and is permanently incapacitated for work as eligible to receive an old-age pension. Consequently, men between the ages of 60 and 65 years, although in fact invalids, receive old-age pensions. In order to ensure that the dependent wife who is otherwise eligible shall participate in the proposed allowance for the wives of invalid pensioners, it has been decided to amend the relevant section of the act to permit of the husband being granted an invalid pension in lieu of an old-age pension. I do not know why that provision was inserted in the Invalid and Old-age Pension Act, but it is there, and we consider that it should be replaced by the proposed new section.
– It came as news to me too. But it is a fact that a number of men possessing all the qualifications for an invalid pension are granted instead anold-age pension. The only reason for that which I can discover is that the Statistician did not want to have too many peoplecatalogued as invalids.
-Surely, it is against the law to grant old-age pensionsto menless than65 years of age.
– I think that that provision was inserted in order to benefit certain people because the examination for old-age pensions isless stringent than the examination for invalid pensions.
– I do not know of any other reason than the dislike of the Statisticianof having too many invalids in his statistics.
– Will those personscontinue after they haveattained the age of 65 years to be classified as invalid pensioners or will they be placed on the old-age pensions list in accordance with the present custom?
– If their wives are not old enough then to be eligible to draw the old-age pension, the allowance willcontinue to be paid to them.
– The men will then qualify for the old-age pension.
– Yes. We are taking the only just and proper course. I do not know why the section which we propose to remove was inserted in the act.
– Honestly, I do not know either.
– Only the Statistician and the Pensions Department officers knew of its existence.
– The “ total and permanent “ qualification will still apply?
– The wives of those men will receive the allowance regardless of whether the men are invalid pensioners or old-age pensioners?
From statistics in the possession of my department, it has been estimated that approximately 14,000 wives and 7,000 unendowed children of invalidpensioners will benefit by this bill, and the cost of the allowances, which will commence on the 8th July, 1943,will be about £640,000 a year.
Most honorable members are aware that many pensioners have a real fear of being buried as paupers and, therefore, contribute to a pensioners’ mortuary fund,which, in consideration of the payment of a few pence a week, guarantees an amountusually not exceeding £10 towards the cost of a decent burial. In an endeavour to relieve pensioners of this anxiety in their declining years, and at the same time ensure that the total pension shall be available for maintenance purposes, the Government has decided to provide, in respect of deaths occurring as from the 1st July, 1943. an amount not exceeding £10 towards the cost of a pensioner’s burial. Pensioners or their dependants may enter into private arrangements for funerals, but the necessity for pensioners’ mortuary funds will no longer exist, and as the Government is satisfied that their continuance will not serveany useful purposethese organizations shall not be eligible to receive benefits under this bill. It isestimated that some 23,000 pensioners die in each year, and consequently themaximum annualcost of this new scheme,which will be a charge against the National Welfare Fund, will be approximately £230,000. I believe that the provisions of the hill will he warmly welcomed by those who, through age or invalidity, find it necessary to seek some measure of government assistance. They represent a desirable improvement of our present pensions law, and an advance in Commonwealth social legislation. It gives me pleasure to recommend them for acceptance by the House.
Debate (on motion by Sir Frederick Stewart) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Holloway) agreed to-
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Widows’ Pensions Act 1942.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
In introducing an earlier measure providing for a reduction of the delay in applying the cost of living variations to invalid and old-age pensions, I outlined to honorable members the system which is now in operation. The remarks which I made in submitting that measure apply also to the Widows’ Pensions Bill. When this benefit was introduced, it was decided that the cost of living variations should apply to the payment of widows’ pensions in. a manner almost exactly the same as that in force for invalid and old-age pensions. Although the index number is the same, there is some difference between the two measures. Under section 35 of the Widows’ Pensions Act the new pension rate commences to accrue from the beginning of the first four-weekly pension period in the quarter following that in which the price index number is declared, and is payable on the days following the completion of the period. In these cases a delay of from ten to fourteen weeks occurs in making the increase available. Of course, if costs were to fall, the recipient would have the higher rate for the longer period.
Because widows’ pensions are payable monthly in arrear, it is not possible to apply the same formula as has been used for invalid and old-age pensions. For administrative reasons, it is not possible to make payments of increased widows’ pension rates available as early as can be done in the case of basic-wage earners.
After a careful examination of the position, the Government has decided that the cost ofliving variations in regard to widows’ pensions shall take effect as from the beginning of the first pay period commencing in the month next after the month in which the index figure is declared. It is anticipated that the next cost of living index figure will be declared on the 20th April, 1943, and under the present method, adjustment would be made on the 24th August, 1943, for the previous four weeks. If the proposal in the bill be adopted, the adjustment will take place on the 1st June, 1943, for the previous four weeks.
The estimated cost of this additional benefit, which will become operative in April next, is £5,000, and I am sure that the Government will have the support of all honorable members in rectifying the present anomalous position.
Debate (on motion by Sir Frederick. Stewart) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Holloway) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Maternity Allowance Act 1912-1942.
Bill presented, and read a first time..
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to liberalize the provision made for assisting mothers to meet the financial commitments in connexion with the births of children. As honorable members will see from a study of the measure, it is a radical departure from the existing system. When the maternity allowances legislation was introduced in October, 1912, a. uniform rate of £5 was payable without a means test, and during the period 1912-1931 allowances were paid in respect of 96 per cent. of the births which occurred. As part of the then Government’s financial emergency legislation, an income limit of £260 was imposed in 1931, and since that date both the income limit and the amount of the allowance have been adjusted on several occasions.
The present law, which has operated since January, 1938, is that there is an income limit of £247 in respect of the birth of a first child, rising by £13 for each previous surviving child under fourteen years of age in the family, until a maximum income limit of £338 is reached. The amount of the allowance is £4 10s. where there are no other children, £5 where there are one or two other children, and £7 10s. where there are three or more other children. In effect, this means that before the sum of £7 10s. is payable there must be at least four children under fourteen years of age.
The bill contains three important provisions which will receive universal approbation. First, the means test is removed and in respect of births occurring on and after the 1st July next, allowances will be paid irrespective of the means or income of the parents. Secondly, the minimum allowance is raised from £4 10s. to £5, whilst the intermediate rate has been increased by £1 to £6. But perhaps the most important item is the provision of an allowance of 25s. a week in respect of each of the four weeks immediately before and after the birth of the child. This is a completely new feature in our social legislation and the Government hopes that it will be the means of providing reasonable assistance towards the nursing, domestic and other attention which is essential at this time.
The amount of the allowance which will be determined by the number of surviving children at the date of birth, plus the additional payment in respect of the four weeks preceding the birth, will be payable as soon as possible after the receipt of the claim, whilst the balance of £5 representing the allowance for the four weeks immediately following the birth of the child will be payable at the expiration of four weeks after the birth of a child. The estimated liability for a full year for all maternity allowance payments based upon the new provisions is £1,990,000, and the expenditure will be a charge on the National Welfare Fund. The estimated expenditure for maternity allowance for the next year, under our existing provision, is £375,000.
The Government submits this measure to the House with great confidence, believing that it will be accepted as a very real contribution to the welfare of mothers and children, and will go far towards providing pre-natal and postnatal rest and treatment, as is advocated by medical authorities.
Debate (on motion by Sir Frederick Stewart) adjourned.
In committee : Consideration resumed from the 26th February (vide page 1088).
Clause 7 -
After Part VIb. of the Principal Act the following Part is inserted: - “ Part VIc. - Mortgage Bank Department. “60abu. - (1.) The Treasurer may make advances to the Mortgage Bank Department of such amounts, and subject to such terms and conditions, as are agreed upon between the Treasurer and the bank. “ (2.) The Treasurer may from time to time, under the provisions of the Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act 1911-1940, borrow money for the purpose of making advances to the Mortgage Bank Department under this section. “ (3.) The Bank shall pay to the Treasurer half-yearly out of the funds of the Mortgage Bank Department interest on advances made in pursuance of this section and not repaid -
in the case of advances made from money borrowed under the last preceding sub-section - at the rate or rates equivalent to the effective rate or rates of interest payable by the Commonwealth on money so borrowed ; and
in any other case - at such rate as is agreed upon between the Treasurer and the Bank. “ (4.) For the purposes of the last preceding sub-section, the effective rate or rates of interest payable by the Commonwealth on money borrowed in pursuance of sub-section (2.) of this section shall be such rate or rates as is or are certified in writing by the Auditor-General as being the effective rate or rates of interest payable by the Commonwealth on loans raised by the Treasurer out of which those advances were made, or on any conversion or renewal of any such loan. “ (5.) Where the Bank is unable to employ profitably in the Mortgage Bank Department any money advanced to that Department by the Treasurer under sub-section (1.) of this section, the Bank may from time to time repay to the Treasurer any sum not less than Fifty thousand pounds. Any sum so paid shall be applied proportionately in reduction of the several advances then outstanding. “60abw. Subject to this Part, a loan made under this Part shall be on such terms and conditions as the Bank determines. “60aby. The amount of any loan under this
Part, or, if there are two or more such loans to any one person or to persons jointly, the aggregate amount of those loans, shall not exceed two-thirds of the value (as determined by the Bank) of the estate or interest in land on which the loan or loans are secured, or Five thousand pounds, whichever is theless. “60abaf. The Bank may, with the consent of the Treasurer, enter into an agreement with any authority of a State for the performance by the authority of such of the functions of the Bank under this Part as are specified in the agreement.”.
Upon which Sir Earle Page had moved by way of amendment -
That the proposed new section60abu be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following new sections: - “60abu. - (1.) For the purposes of this
Part, the Bank may issue debentures or inscribed stock secured upon the general assets of the Bank. “ (2.) The existence under this section of any security upon the general assets of the Bank shall not in any way prejudice or affect the rights or powers of the Bank -
to reconvey, release or discharge any security, or the property comprised in any security, given to the Bank under any provisions of this Act;
to foreclose any such security or property; or
to deal with any such security or property under this Act. “ (3.) The amount of debentures and inscribed stock issued under this section and not repaid shall not at any time exceed six times the amount of the capital of the Mortgage Bank Department. “60abua. Debentures issued for the pur poses of this Part shall be in such form as is prescribed and debentures and inscribed stock so issued shall be subject to such conditions as are prescribed. “60abub. Subject to this Part, the pro visions of Part VI. of this Act relating to debentures and inscribed stock issued by the Bank shall apply in relation to debentures and inscribed stock issued for the purposes of this Part.”.
.- I support the amendment, the purpose of which is to provide that a substantial part of the capital of the proposed mortgage bank department of the Com monwealth Bank shall be raised by the issue of debentures. That practice has been followed in every country where mortgage banks operate successfully. There are sound reasons for it.
– And someunsound ones.
– That may be so. The Government is proposing to provide capital partly from savings bank funds, partly from profits from the note issue, and partly from moneys raised by unstated methods. If we desire this department of the bank to operate satisfactorily we must ensure that as far as practicable it shall be removed from political interference. If the provision of funds is dependent upon the government of the day, it follows that the amount of funds available will be determined by the political complexion of the government in office for the time being, and it is quite conceivable that a government may be in office which will require such substantial funds for social welfare purposes, repatriation, bounties of one kind or another, and other purposes, that it will not be disposed to find money for the purposes of this bank. We know that often a government will intimate that funds are not available for certain purposes. The mortgage bank department may find itself in that position.
– Such statements are always made by governments supported by honorable members opposite when they get into difficulties.
– The purpose of the amendment is to avoid any such possibility as the result of the decisions by any government. I am not quite satisfied that even if the amendment be agreed to, money will be subscribed at present by the public for debenture purposes; but I am quite certain that after the war ample funds could be obtained by this means. I therefore look upon this amendment as a method of ensuring that, ultimately, the bank will be able to operate satisfactorily. It is doubtful, in my mind, whether this mortgage bank department will prove to be of much help to farmers while the war lasts; but if provision be made now for the issue of debentures as proposed in the amendment, the bank.will be able to operate effectively after the war. The Commonwealth Bank has power to issue debentures, but it has never done so. There is no reason why this new department should not be given such power. The debentures could be issued on the security of the assets of the bank. In fact, if the bank is required to issue debentures in order to obtain funds, we shall be assured of wise management. When funds can be ladled out by a government without due regard to covering assets, loose methods of management are likely, whereas if an authority must provide its own resources by the issue of debentures, care will be taken to ensure competent management. J. believe that the ladling out of funds by governments to certain government and semi-government institutions tends to laxity in management.
– Would the proposed debentures carry a government guarantee?
– In other countries such debentures are secured by the assets of the bank; they do not need a government guarantee. Funds raised for the private trading banks are not covered by government guarantees; they are protected by good management. A definite weakness in many government and semigovernment institutions is that the management is not required to render an account to directors, shareholders or some responsible authority.
– Adam used to say such things to Eve.
– The Minister assisting the Treasurer (Mr. Lazzarini) must have obtained his financial creed from those times. I am pleased to observe, from his interjection, that there has been some progress in his financial education during the last twelve months. A year ago, he was fairly closely identified with Major Douglas.
– The honorable member is quite wrong in that statement.
– Well, I am quite certain that the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Baker), and some of his colleagues who hold similar views, will be disappointed by this backsliding of the Minister. I support the amendment.
.- Some of the remarks made by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) impel me to remind him that, unlike the Minister assisting the Treasurer, the honorable gentleman never changes his financial policy, nor does the party to which he belongs.
– Because it is sound.
– It is all “ sound “. It was “sound” during the depression years, and it has been “sound” ever since. We always hear the same protest when a suggestion is made that national credit shall be released. Funds are not available when there is unemployed material and man-power, or when it is a matter of establishing a mortgage bank designed to assist the farmers.
– I have supported this proposal for very much longer than the honorable member.
– That is perfectly true, because the honorable member has had the privilege of being a member of this House for a longer period than I have; but the value of his support has been nil, because nothing has ever been achieved. Now, when really worth-while action is proposed, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), who hamstrung the Commonwealth Bank, wishes to hamstring this institution, by obliging it to issue debentures. He wants the financial control to be in the hands of private enterprise.
– That is absolutely untrue.
– It is of no use to deny what is a fact.
– It was never a fact.
– The honorable member for Richmond said that it was better to have debentures issued to the public than to have money ladled out by the government of the day. I made a note of those words when he used them.
– I qualified that, by saying that the Government might not ladle out any money.
– The point which the honorable member made was that he did not want it to be ladled out by any government. He went on to say that it might not be ladled out at all. He does not want the matter to be handled by a government institution.
– We want it to be handled by the Commonwealth Bank, not by the Government.
– In my secondreading speech, I referred to what had been accomplished by the Agricultural Bank of Tasmania. That institution is not financed by debentures. It is perfectly true that Tasmania is small, and is more easily covered and controlled than would be the operations of a mortgage bank throughout Australia, but the principle is the same, and could be applied in this instance.
– The Agricultural Bank of Tasmania has obtained a lot of money from the Commonwealth Bank.
– I know that the honorable member for Darwin is anxious that the mortgage bank shall be established, and I am sure that he will give this measure the utmost support. I consider that he made a good second-reading speech. Having given him that credit, I hope that he will refrain from interjecting further. I was referring to what has been done by the Agricultural Bank of Tasmania. It has. not used debentures, nor can it use them under its charter. Whilst I do not agree with all the provisions of the bill, I consider that the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) is acting on the right lines, and I hope that he will not accept the amendment of the right honorable member for Cowper.
Sitting suspended from 5.57 to 8 p.m.
.- I .address myself Only to the amendment moved by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page). The right honorable .gentleman has moved for the omission from clause 7 of proposed new section 60abu, and he proposes to replace it by other new sections. The effect of his amendment would be to omit that part, of the clause which proposes to give to the Treasurer power to make advances to the mortgage bank and to provide that instead the bank shall be financed by the issue and sale of debentures or inscribed stock. I know of no reason why the mortgage bank should not be allowed, if it wishes to do so, to issue debentures or inscribed stock. The Commonwealth Bank has always had that power, but has never exercised it, and the mortgage bank could be given it and still not exercise it. I am opposed to the omission of the provision whereby the Treasurer would have the power to -make advances to the bank from loan moneys. One ‘ reason given by the right honorable member for Cowper in support of his amendment is that the mortgage bank would be able to borrow money more cheaply by the issue of inscribed stock or debentures than by borrowing from the Treasury. I do not believe that people would lend money to the mortgage bank at a lower rate of interest than they would receive on money lent to the Treasurer. I am afraid that, if we exclude from this bill the power of the Treasurer to borrow money for the purpose of financing the mortgage bank and force the bank to raise its capital by means of debentures or inscribed stock, the money so raised will be dearer, not cheaper, than money which it would have otherwise borrowed from the Treasurer, and the result will be that, the interest rate charged to primary producers on mortgage will be correspondingly higher.
The right honorable member for Cowper and the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) declared that to make the mortgage bank dependent on Treasury advances would mean political influence over the bank. I have no such fear. I suppose that by “ political influence “ the right honorable member for Cowper means government, influence, -and I should say that the Commonwealth Government now has substantial influence over the ‘Commonwealth Bank. Pew people would believe that the Commonwealth Bank Board readily made available to the Commonwealth Government about £200;000,000 worth or more of bank credit simply because it was a good thing to do. The fact is that you can never get away from political influence. The other suggestion made by the honorable member for Richmond in support of the amendment was that the mortgage bank should be free to administer the bank without government interference. Well, the amendment, instead of freeing the mortgage bank, would probably have the opposite effect.
If the right honorable member for Cowper would omit from his amendment the provision for the omission of proposed new section 60abu and merely move for the insertion of new sections empowering the bank to issue debentures or inscribed stock in the termshe has used in the remainder of his amendment, I would support it, because I see no reason why the bank should not have power to issue debentures or inscribed stock. If it did have that power and a government ever refused to make further advances to it, or the Australian Loan Council so reduced the Commonwealth Government’s share of the borrowings of the Australian governments that advances could not be made, as has been suggested, the bank could itself go on the market and borrow whatever money it required. That would be a good insurance against any contingency of the sort feared by the mover of the amendment.
– I find myself at variance with the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) in regard to this amendment, which I look at as the extension of a principle which can be dangerous to Australia’s finances generally. I believe that the consolidation of Australia’s finances, not only in war-time, but also in the post-war period will depend on the control of finance being kept in as few channels as is possible. The trend of policy of the Australian Loan Council in recent years and of legislation in the States, as the result of the influence of the Loan Council, has been to prevent the setting up of new authorities with special borrowing powers. The Financial Agreement is silent upon the powers of statutory authorities to borrow money, but for about fifteen years a gentleman’s agreement has been honorably observed by all the governments of Australiathat no such authority shall borrow more than £100,000 without the approval of the Loan Council. The reason is obvious. If a number of statutory authorities went on to the market competing with the Australian governments for whatever money was available, the investment funds and the interest rate would be distributed and the ability of governments to finance themselves from the available funds to the extent that they do finance themselves from loan money, would be diminished. Therefore I should regard it as a dangerous procedure if the Parliament gave to the mortgage bank power to raise its own finances in the manner proposed by the amendment. I believe that the needs of the bank for some time to come will be met by the method provided for in the bill. It is quite clear that there is only a certain amount of money available at any time in the loan market. That amount is capable of being reasonably well estimated by those who have access to the necessary information through being in control of the nation’s finances. It is also quite clear that, if some separate authority, such as the mortgage bank, had the power to raise x millions of pounds, the money raised by that authority would have to be deducted from the available sum of investible funds. Once the principle of separate borrowing authority was admitted in the case of the mortgage bank, it would have to be admitted in other instances, and the result might well be financial chaos, or at any rate inability of the Australian Loan Council to control the available funds. I believe that the trend of Australian finance since the Financial Agreement and the setting up of the Loan Council has been a distinct improvement, and I believe that it will continue to improve under normal conditions, by a continuance of those methods. The amendment would, I think, have the opposite effect. I, therefore, urge the committee to rely upon the machinery that the bill provides for the financing of the bank for the time being. I have no doubt that if in the years following the war the financial needs of the bank are more than can be imagined now, and the means adopted for financing the bank are found to be not sufficient. Parliament will reconsider the matter.
.- I support the amendment moved by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), because it provides for expanding the amount of capital which the bank will have at its disposal to lend on mortgage to primary producers. I believe that the mortgage bank should be able to issue debentures or inscribed stock in order to raise finance, because I am aware that the Loan Council must meet the requirements of the Commonwealth and State governments before attending to those of statutory authorities, such as the mortgage bank, and that the decisions of the Loan Council may easily limit the usefulness of the bank. Because the issue of bonds or debentures could greatly increase the capital of the bank and the usefulness of the institution, especially to the industries that it is designed to assist, I prefer the amendment forecast by the honorable member for Darwin (Sir George Bell), as it is more specific than the amendment submitted by the right honorable member for Cowper. However, I am prepared to accept either. This is a sphere in which we can justly utilize the credit of the nation for the purpose of making advances against the real asset of the country, namely, the land. I shall support any amendment, the object of which is to increase the amount of capital available to the bank in order to enable it to function successfully.
. - Although I have had some differences of opinion with the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), I agree with his statement that some honorable gentlemen appear to have mistaken the purpose of the bill, which is to create a mortgage bank department and not to mortgage the Commonwealth Bank itself. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) even suggested that foreign capital may be invested in the mortgage bank department, but I hope the Commonwealth Bank, whatever its present defects may be, will remain undefiled by the investments of private financial interests. The Government will not accept the amendment.
Question put -
That the proposed section proposed to be left out (Sir Earle Page’s amendment) stand part of the clause.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. Prowse.)
Majority . . . . 21
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
.-I move -
That the following words be added to proposed new section60abw: - “, but the rate of interest on any such loan shall not exceed Three pounds per centum per annum, or in the case of a member of the Forces, Two pounds per centum per annum. In this section the expression ‘ member of the Forces ‘ has the same meaning as the same expression has in the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act 1920-1941 “.
To the people whom the measure is designed to benefit, this is the most important provision of the bill. The vital feature is the rate of interest, and primary producers expect the Government to implement the promise that it has made from every platform at the elections, and the specific promise which was given by the former Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) some time ago. To remind the Government of its promise, I quote from a speech that the honorable gentleman delivered in this House -
When the Labour party takes over the government of this country it will take action promptly to establish a mortgage bank, as a department of the Commonwealth Bank, in order to assist primary producers with longterm loans at a minimum cost. It will also insist on the Commonwealth Bank Board establishing branches of the mortgage bank wherever necessary throughout Australia. Furthermore, it will take steps to ensure that the legislation enacted for this purpose shall contain no provisions which might give the private financial institutions an opportunity to secure control of the mortgage bank or to have any decisive voice in its administration. Some fears of this sort were entertained regarding the legislation that was introduced some time ago. In addition to a mortgage bank, the Labour party will also set up a rural reconstruction department in order to rehabilitate rural industries, in the meantime, giving to primary producers ample protection against foreclosures.
Some honorable, members may declare that the rate of interest, which has been indicated, of approximately 4 per cent, is reasonable. I say definitely that it is not a low rate of interest in a comparative sense. The primary producers have been promised a low rate, and there is no better way in which to reduce interest rates generally than to begin with the mortgage bank, which is specially devised to assist the man on the land. If the Government and the Treasurer were sincere, as I hope they were, when they announced their desire to reduce interest rates, they now have an opportunity to give effect to their promise.
– “Why not grant a similar concession to home builders?
– I have no objection to that; but we have to make a start somewhere, and if we begin at this point the principle may be extended to other sections. Some honorable gentlemen may contend that a lower rate of interest may in some way affect banking principles and securities of all kinds. I do not think that it will. I stated on a previous occasion that if capital for the bank were made available by the issue of sufficient credit by the Commonwealth Bank the effect would be to release for investment many securities at present locked up. This would result in increasing the deposits in private banks; and in this way funds would be made available to various lending institutions. This money could then, be available to the Treasurer at the low rate of interest on the bank’s surplus investible funds, namely, 15s. per cent., and placed at the disposal of the mortgage bank. Also, savings bank deposits are increasing rapidly. The Commonwealth Savings Bank pays only 2 per cent, to depositors, and this money could be made available at 2^ per cent, to the mortgage branch of the Commonwealth Bank. Even if -j per cent, were added to cover administrative costs, the money could be lent to primary producers at not more than 3 per cent. The interest rate on loans should be kept low even if it be necessary for the Commonwealth to subsidize interest payments by borrowers. This would be in some cases of more use to the primary producers than even guaranteed prices for their products. The primary producers are looking to this Labour Government to establish a mortgage bank that will advance money at a low rate of interest. Representations have been made to me and to other honorable members that the rate of interest should be even less than 3 per cent., but I suggest that the Treasurer should fix a maximum rate of 3 per cent. I assure the Treasurer that, if this be not done, the stocks of the Government will slump very badly with the primary producers in the near future. I trust that honorable members on both sides of the House will recognize the essential fairness and practicability of my amendment, and that they will show their interest in the primary producers by supporting the amendment.
.- I support the amendment because I believe that 3 per cent, is enough to pay for money advanced on such excellent security. I know of no better security for a loan than land, particularly as repayment will be guaranteed by the imposition of an amortization fee. This makes of advances ‘gilt-edged securities.
.- The amendment of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) is a very reasonable one, and I believe that the rate of interest on advances should be even less than 3 per cent. If the maximum rate were fixed at 3 per cent, it would be an assurance to the primary producers that the creation of this mortgage bank represented a. genuine attempt to help them. In New Zealand, £20,000,000 was advanced by the Central Bank at If per cent, in order to finance the State housing scheme, and money was made available to private home-builders at 3 per cent. I see no reason why the mortgage branch of the Commonwealth Bank cannot advance money at the same rate of interest. We know that interest is charged by private banks for the purpose of paying dividends to their shareholders. The Commonwealth Bank has no shareholders, and all profits go to the people. Therefore, of what use is it to charge a high rate of interest, and then hand the money back to the people? If a maximum rate of 3 per cent, were fixed, the borrower would have a chance to repay his indebtedness, not in 41 years as at present contemplated, but in 20 or 25 years. When the rate of interest is too high, the farmer can usually do little more than pay the interest, without reducing the principal at all.
I do not see why it should be necessary to limit .advances to 6fi§ per cent, of the value of the security. I understand that the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) is now prepared to increase the maximum advance to 70 per cent., but even that is too conservative. The purpose of keeping advances low in proportion to the value of the security is to protect the financial institutions against the possibility of default on the part of the borrower when interest rates are high or in an economic crisis, but if the mortgage bank advances money at a low rate of interest this precaution should not be necessary.
The Commonwealth Bank is a bank of issue, and it can provide credits for the making of advances without going on to the market to raise money at high rates of interest. It can create credits by means of a book entry, and need charge no more on the advances than would be sufficient to defray the cost of administration. It has been shown in England that this cost is no more than i per cent, so that if the mortgage bank advanced money at even 2 per cent, it should make a handsome profit. The Commonwealth Bank can also draw upon savings deposits as a source of capital for the mortgage bank. The savings bank pays the depositor only 2 per cent., and even at this rate deposits have been increasing very substantially. On the 31st January last, deposits amounted to £317,000,000 compared with £269,000,000 on the corresponding date of last year. By the end of January of this year deposits were £8,673,000 more than for December of last year. Thus, for this one month alone, the Commonwealth Bank has at its disposal additional capital amounting to £8,000,000, and yet it is proposed to provide only £4,000,000 of capital for the mortgage bank. I hope that the mortgage bank will be administered in a liberal spirit so as to afford genuine relief to primary producers. Young men starting out will not have had an opportunity to acquire capital amounting to 30 per cent, of the value of the farm which they wish to acquire, and therefore the amount of the advance should be increased. Assistance should also be given to farmers who have had a load of debt about their necks for years past, and have never been able to do more than pay interest rates and taxes. These debts should be taken over by the mortgage bank so that farmers may be ‘free of the financial institutions which advanced the money, and have an opportunity to own their farms within a reasonable time.
– I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Wimmera. I believe that the establishment of a mortgage bank is necessary in order to give security to the primary producers. At present, very few of them enjoy security of tenure. Money borrowed from a bank is always repayable on demand, and if the farmer borrows from a private person for a term of three or five years he kas no guarantee that he will be able to renew the loan when it falls due. In prosperous times ample funds are always available and farmers are urged to borrow, but in time of depression, when prices are low, money cannot be raised at any price. Foi’ too long the banks and private lenders have manipulated the national credit, for their own benefit. It is essential that money shall be made available to the farmers at a low interest rate, not more than 3 per cent. I regard that as a reasonable rate, taking into account the conditions enjoyed by persons engaged in secondary industries. At present, our secondary industries are operating on a cost-plus-profit basis. If we are to continue to provide sufficient foodstuffs for service and civilian use, and for our allies, we must ensure to the farmers reasonable conditions. It is a fair proposal, also, that the men who return from active service, particularly those who have served in New Guinea and the Middle East, shall be given an opportunity to re-establish themselves in industry. Those who enter the primary producing industries should not be charged more than 1 per cent, for the money they need. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that such men should be allowed to work on their properties for three or five years in order to renew their strength without having to meet any interest rates. However, that may be beyond the bounds of financial possibility at present. I am glad that the honorable member for Wimmera has moved this amendment. The honorable gentleman said that, unless the Government agreed to such a proposal, its stocks would fall heavily with primary producers. The fact is. that its stocks have already fallen heavily. The award,1 of the Wheat Harvesting Employment Commission placed such an intolerable burden on the primary producers that they feel resentful towards this Government. It is essential that the Government shall adopt a common-sense attitude towards farmers. While honorable gentlemen opposite were sitting in Opposition, they shed crocodile tears over the primary producers. Now that a Labour government is in office Ministers may be likened to crocodiles shedding tears while devouring their prey. It is. proposed to provide the mortgage bank department with a capital of £4,000,000, yet the Governmenthas introduced a scheme under which £30,000,000 is to be set aside annually for social services. The best social service that the Government could render to the country would be to provide conditions for the primary producers which would permit, them to remain solvent and to continue producing the foodstuffs we need. The primary producing industries have been the backbone of this country, and we should ensure that the people engaged in those industries are enabled to maintain their operations on a fair basis. We all realize that the largest proportion of the money that will be disbursed in social services will benefit city dwellers, many of whom are unemploy- able, and are not so deserving of assistance as are the primary producers.
– The workers buy the bulk of the products that the farmers grow.
– The honorable member should not talk rot. Unfortunately, some primary producers assisted to return the honorable gentleman to this Parliament, but they must regret their choice. The people who live in cities will not go into the rural areas. They think too much of their picture shows, their trams, and other amenities of city life.
– Any one would think that the “ cocky “ never drives his motor car to a picture show on a Saturday night! Of course he does, and he gets petrol to do it. I do not complain of that.
– It is essential that money shall be made available through this bank at a low rate of interest, so that the primary producers may be assured of security of tenure. Our social services are already somewhat top-heavy, and it is unreasonable to expect that the representatives of farming constituencies will be satisfied if this mortgage bank department is established with a capita] of only £4,000,000, seeing that £30,000,000 annually is to be paid into the National Welfare Fund for social services.
.- Interest rates are more important to farmers than to any other class of producers. This is due to the fact that primary producers turn over their capital at only about a quarter the rate of persons engaged in secondary production. A manufacturer may have an annual output equivalent to even 100 per cent, of his capital investment, whereas a farmer in this country is extremely fortunate if his output equals 25 per cent, of the capital invested in his farm.
– He would not have a turnover of anything like 25 per cent.
– I accept the statement of the honorable member in relation to Australia. In some European countries, where holdings, are small and cultivation is intensive, the output may represent 25 per cent, of the capital valuation of the property; but that is rarely the case in Australia. Consequently, it is necessary that interest rates shall be kept at the lowest possible figure. I join issue, however, with the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) as to the rate at which money can be made available for the purposes of this bank. The rates chargeable must have some relation to interest rates applicable to other industries, otherwise we shall have an unbalanced, unsatisfactory and inefficient allocation of our financial resources. Who fixes interest rates? If the money has to be borrowed from the general community, we must take it that the longterm loan rate represents the minimum at which the Government will be able to obtain money. In relation to the relending of such money, some margin must be allowed which will represent administrative costs and risks involved in connexion with bad debts and the like. Practical experience the world over has shown that this margin cannot be kept much below. 1 per cent.
– It is six-tenths in France.
– That may be so, but on the general average it would not be safe to take a figure lower than 1 per cent. Consequently, the minimum lending rate that the Government must adopt must be about 1 per cent, above the rate at which it can borrow long-term money on the market. Even if the funds for this bank be obtained from central bank credit resources, the same situation will arise ultimately. Central bank credit cannot be drawn upon indefinitely. Funds from such sources must become exhausted at some stage, and recourse must be had to the loan market. Obviously, therefore, it would be unwise to make central bank credit money available at, say, 2£ per cent, if it was certain that ultimately the Government would have to lend at 4 per cent, or 4£ per cent, from new money raised on the loan market. If this mortgage bank department is to be sound from its inception a standard rate of interest must be established, and that rate must have some relation to the minimum borrowing rate available to the Government, plus some percentage to cover administrative costs and risk.
It has been suggested that primary production requires special assistance. That may be so; but such assistance should not be afforded by means of a specially low interest rate; otherwise, investments might be directed into primary production in an unbalanced ratio, and we should be faced with an unstable national economy. The Government must endeavour, at all times, to maintain balance in our national economy. Interest rates must be related to the total productive activity of the nation. Obviously, if investments in primary producing enterprises were made unduly attractive by reason of specially low interest, which is not related in any way to normal interest rates, our national economy would become unbalanced. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) suggested that a specially low interest rate could be regarded as a social service for the farming community. I do not think that any honorable member would disagree with the view that the farming community may need some assistance; but I disagree with the suggestion that that assistance should be afforded by means of a fictitious interest rate. Primary production should be assisted by means of a proper scheme of rural reconstruction and the fixing of price9 for commodities which would ensure to farmers a reasonable return. Tariff adjustments, bounties, and other methods of effecting this result are available to the Government. I do not think that we shall achieve any useful purpose by fixing an artificial rate of interest to help producers in marginal areas. That policy will merely produce another crop of hard-pressed producers in marginal areas somewhere else. For this reason, I cannot support the amendment. I consider that it represents an unsound approach to the problem.
– Whilst I am in entire sympathy with honorable members who favour the provision of a low rate of interest in respect of advances to primary producers, I point out that it would be foolish to accept this amendment. The bill does not prescribe any rate of interest, for such rates vary from time to time. We must apply common-sense thinking to the structure of this bank and to the provision of funds for it. Funds, can be made available only from certain sources. If the Bank is to expand, it must obtain moneys from some other source. One possible source that has been mentioned is the Savings Bank. It has been claimed that that institution has not performed its true function, inasmuch as its funds have not been available for loans to primary producers and others. Under the structure of the bill, it is impossible to fix 3 per cent, as the maximum rate, because in such circumstances the bank would not operate except at a loss. Very few savings banks are able to keep accounts at a lower rate than 1 per cent, on each £100 a year. Therefore, if that institution were to lend money at 2 per cent, in order to subsidize this other department of the Commonwealth Bank, it would make a loss on the transaction. I am entirely in sympathy with the reduction of interest rates. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), as Treasurer in a previous administration, set out on a campaign to reduce rates. I confess to a feeling of amazement that the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Marwick) should refer to the land as a gilt-edged security.
– It is.
– I have heard so much complaint concerning the lot of primary producers that I have conceived the idea that in many instances the land is not a gilt-edged security. It has been argued that subsidies and other special concessions, such as a much lower rate of interest, ought to be given to the primary producers.
– They have not had parity prices for their commodities during the last twenty-odd years.
– That does not concern the rate of interest.
– It has a lot to do with the matter.
– There may be some connexion. That matter, however, has to be tackled in another way. The high rate of interest that has operated was brought about largely by the private banking institutions, for profit-making purposes. The honorable member, and some of his colleagues, including the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin), have been warm supporters of the private banks while they have been in this Parliament.
– I have never been.
– It is common knowledge to all members of this Parliament that previously the private banking institutions were absolutely the core of our financial system, and had to be fully protected. They charged high interest rates to the farmers on overdrafts.
– What rate of interest did the Scullin Government pay for money that it borrowed in 1930?
– The rate which the financial institutions of this country compelled it to pay. A hostile majority in the Senate would not agree to an attack being made on the private banks, or anything which would tend to reduce their power.Not until the honorable member for “Warringah became Treasurer in a previous administration had anybody had the courage to tackle interest rates; and since then, attempts have been made steadily to force them down. I have endeavoured to continue that good work. Whilst agreeing with honorable members that interest rates are far too high, I point out that a general reduction would have implications. A large number of the ‘institutions for whose solvency I am solicitous, and who, I believe, are warm supporters of the Opposition, such as insurance companies, trustee companies, and banking institutions, depend for their income on the interest that they obtain. That is true also of superannuation funds. So strongly held was the belief that interest rates would always remain reasonably high that actuarial calculations in connexion with some superannuation schemes were based on the assumption that not less than 4 per cent, would be received from their investments. I consider that the rate ought to be steadily reduced, and that other adjustments should be made accordingly. I cite, as an example, the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund, which was based on the assumption that 4 per cent, would be returned by all its investments. If the return were to be reduced to 3 per cent, or 21/2 per cent., obviously a readjustment would have to follow. I have given evidence, since I became Treasurer, of complete sympathy with the idea that interest rates should be reduced. On behalf of the Government,
I placed a ceiling rate of 5 per cent, on all overdrafts issued by banking institutions. That is a very great boon to- the primary producers; nevertheless, it will he admitted that I did not on that account receive one word of praise in this House from a member of the Country party.
– What was the rate when the ceiling was imposed?
– It was per cent., 5 i( per cent.,, and in some instances 6 per cent. Notwithstanding my sympathy,. I do not propose to accept the amendment. I suggest to the honorable member who moved it, that he refrain from pressing it, because, unless interest rates generally were forced down, it would be impossible for the bank to carry on under the proposed structure except at a loss. I do not want that to be the experience of the Commonwealth Bank. This Parliament is able to assist any industry if it wishes to do so. I also contend that this is not the occasion on which to deal with the rehabilitation of returned soldiers. If it be considered that some concession should be given by way of a lower interest rate or a subsidy for purposes of rehabilitation, the Commonwealth Bank, which stands very high in the estimation, and respect of the people, should not be asked to act as a benevolent institution and to- do what is the responsibility of this Parliament as the representative institution of the whole of the people. If money is to be made available to subsidize returned soldiers or others to take up land, it has to be provided by this Parliament, not by a department of the Commonwealth Bank.
If, later, that institution showed a loss, the very members opposite who now declare that it. should perform this function, would be the first to point, out that it was a failure on that account. The Government does not propose to have included in the bill any provision in regard to the interest rate. I have already stated that, on the structure set up, the rate will be not more than 4 per cent. I hope that a general reduction of rates later will enable the bank to make loans at a much lower charge than that.
– I am rather astonished at the modesty of some of my friends who favour a ceiling of only 3 per cent, in respect of loans made by the mortgage bank. That is not high enough. A man would hump his head, if the ceiling were not higher. I heard one honorable member on this side say this afternoon that the opportunity was here presented for the use of national credit for the provision of funds to the Commonwealth Bank for this purpose.
– What is wrong with that?
– I ask the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) and the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan), who on the Government benches are great protagonists of the primary industries, to say what is right with it. It is up to them to explain the position. If honorable members opposite rightly believe that there can be such a thing as the release of national credit free of cost to this country, they have no right to ask for 3 per cent. The arguments advanced to-night are not in the interests of the primary producers.
– Nor is the policy of the Government.
– I arn not arguing that point at the moment. If the honorable member and I were to express our views on the Government’s policy, there is no doubt that we would be in agreement. But we are not in agreement on this point. Furthermore, that such an amendment should have come from a Government supporter is still worse. I ask honorable members on both sides : What must he the feeling in the breasts of men like the honorable members for Maranoa (Mr. Baker), Calare (Mr. Breen), Riverina (Mr. Langtry), Ballarat (Mr. Pollard), and Wannon (Mr. MacLeod) towards an amendment of this description, which they cannot support, but on which one of their city colleagues can make a most fluent though ineffective speech, though he dare not support it with his vote? That i3 the worst sort of duplicity of which I am aware. Every man jack of us knows that, in the financial world, money cannot be obtained for nothing.
Honorable members on the other side may kick the fence as much as they like, but every man of us who represents an agricultural district knows perfectly well that a high percentage of the mortgages held to-day over the farming and grazing properties of Australia, is held, not by banks, but by private individuals, Government institutions such as savings banks, superannuation funds, and other institutions of that description.
– Because the primary producers, on account of their past experience, do not trust the associated banks.
– The honorable member forBendigo knows perfectly well that a considerable number of primary producers in his electorate have never been mortgaged to the private banks; they have private mortgages, which have been fixed at rates agreeable to the borrower and the lender, and in these the banks have neither a voice nor a part. That is the position. The Treasurer hopes that interest will come down still lower, if I understand his remarks correctly. He nodsassent. I thought he would. The rate of interest cannot come down very much lower. I put it to the committee that the capital asset of this country has largely been developed with the savings of people who have done without in order to put by something for themselves and. life being what it is, not quite without malice aforethought for posterity. The other money with which the capital assets of this country have been developed has been that obtained by loans from overseas.
– Now the honorable member is wrong.
– I am not wrong. How is it that the States of Australia, in the seven years after the last war, borrowed £250,000,000 from overseas? Why was the money brought into the country? The banks of Australia have played a minor part and have a minor responsibility for the debt structure of agriculture in this country. In reference to the matter of bringing down the rate of interest, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) mentioned marginal lands. Whatever agricultural economy you devise you must have either a margin of some sort or infinity, and, as you cannot have infinity you must have a margin. Honorable members will go out, or at least they hope that their speeches will go out, to the farmers - they themselves will go on to the hustings soon - telling them that they will get money at a fantastically low rate of interest. When they do that they do one of the worst things they could do to agriculturists. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Marwick) said to-night that investment in rural lands was investment in gilt-edged security. This is one of the few occasions on which I must disagree with the honorable gentleman, because there are too many unknown and imponderable things in primary production for any reasonable person to look upon rural lands as a giltedged security.
– I said that advances made under this bill will be on gilt-edged security.
– No advances made under this bill can alter the basic conditions of agriculture. Agriculture in this country depends first on markets. No member of this committee can say what the markets for the export industries will be after the war. No matter what control this mortgage bank were under, even if it were under the direction of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson), if it attempted to lay down what it would do on a longterm lending policy, agriculture would be heading for the greatest shock of troubles in its history.
There is another aspect of this matter. In a few hours, or in a few minutes, depending upon the duration of the discussion, another amendment will be moved to increase the percentage of the value of the security to which the bank may advance money. What are we doing? At one and the same time we are talking about lowering the rate of interest and contemplating increasing the amount of advance that a primary producer may obtain by mortgaging his property. Is the talk about lowering the interest only to compensate for the other advances which some honorable members hope to make directly. It stands to reason, and you, Mr. Chairman, as an experienced agriculturist, know it as well as I do, that the bigger the percentage of your property for which you owe the greater is your difficulty in carrying on. I hope that the committee will not get down to the position in which it will advocate advances of 100 per cent. of the value of the land at no rate of interest at all. That should be the ideal to which my friends opposite should aspire, as it is the only logical conclusion of the arguments that they have advanced.
– Did the honorable member ever hear of the theory of surplus value?
– Surplus value of what? Yes, I have heard of that theory. I have also heard of the theory of diminishing returns and a few other things that the honorable member will know about if he takes up the study of economics for a while, instead of studying Treasury accounts. There are many factors which a banker has to take info account in making advances on land,. The first is the value of the land. That value is based on what can be got out of the land, and that is what, the land will produce. What can be produced depends on the seasons encountered, and there are many parts of Australia in which the seasons are unreliable.
– Perhaps the Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) could take over the control of seasons.
– I would not inflict that responsibility upon the honorable member for Corio, for there are other honorable members opposite who are better equipped than he is to deal with imponderable things like that.
– What about the individual on the land?
– There is the land, there is the season, there is the price, there is the long-range possibility of prices and seasons, and, above all, there is the individual.
– And there is the rate of interest.
– The rate of interest depends on circumstances.
Mr.mcleod. - It never varies.
– Th e honorable member, as a wheat-grower, should know that the rate of interest varies from year to year.
Order! These conversations are disorderly.
– I do not mind them.
– Well, the Chair does.
– I would not disturb honorable gentlemen for worlds. Every agriculturist knows that the rate of interest varies from year to year. If a farmer gets a good crop and a good return, the interest burden does not worry him much. Honorable members from rural constituencies should know as well as I do that when farmers have had good crops and good prices any number of them have gone out and bought their neighbour’s properties, making low deposits and paying high rates of interest. In thousands of cases the private banks have played no part whatever.
– That was not the banks’ fault.
– The hon orable member for Grey will agree withme that in his own electorate he could choose dozens of cases of farmers who have done that. He will remember that farm properties were sold at £29 17s. 6d. an acre around Maitland, and that no money was advanced in respect of those sales by any bank.
– That is one isolated case.
– I can supply more instances. The electorate of Barker and the honorable member’s own electorate provide dozens of instances, and what is true of South Australia is true of every State of the Commonwealth. It is no use to try to deny the truth of my statement. Long before I expected to become their representative in this Parliament, I went into sections of the Barker electorate and told the farmers that many of their difficulties were of their own creation. They had coveted their neighbours’ farms. Some prominent wheat-growers, who are well known to the honorable member for Gray, boasted, before the depression took place and wheat prices crashed, that they could successfully grow wheat at1s. 6d. a bushel. But it was a very different story when they were asked to do it.
– Order! The honorable member for Melbourne will not be reminded again that interjections are disorderly.
– It was a very different story when they were asked to grow wheat at ls. 6d. a bushel. It simply could not be done. On this clause 1 support the Treasurer to the extent that I say that it ought to he left as it i.s. if the board which will administer the mortgage bank is entitled to the trust of this committee, it will he qualified to state what the rate of interest ought to he.
– What interest rate does the honorable member suggest?
– I do not suggest any rate of interest. I am not one of the “ know-alls “ of this place.
– What does the honorable member think that the primary producers ought to pay? [Extension of time granted.]
– I get right home now by asking the honorable member for Wimmera whether, if he were charged with the responsibility of making advances under this bill and took the oath to administer this proposed act without fear or favour, he would make advances to some farmers in his electorate? No, he would say that they were not good risks!
– What rate of interest does the honorable member suggest that the primary producers can afford to pay?
– I am not suggesting any rate. It depends on circumstances.
– Has the honorable member any idea of what they can afford to pay ?
– The only value of this measure to some honorable gentlemen is the personal publicity that they can get out of proposing reduced interest rates.
– That is an untrue statement.
– The honorable member may become annoyed if he likes. We have to look at this matter from a different point of view from that of the proponents of this amend ment. The problem is much bigger and much deeper than they would have us believe. No bank, no committee, no parliament worth twopence to the community can lay down the rate of interest to be charged in the far-distant future.
– Parliament has laid down the rate of interest in legislation.
– Not in this bill. No parliament can lay down a maximum rate of interest to be charged by the mortgage bank, because no one can forecast what the conditions will be. Advances on mortgage, if they are made, will not be short-term advances and the longer the term of the loan the greater must be the margin of security for the investor. A man may be quite prepared to take a risk with a loan for two or three years, if he is entitled to and is able to secure satisfaction for his loan at the end of that time, but, when it comes to advancing money for twenty years or 40 years, I say that, with the present state of world trade and production, it is impossible to lay down the rates of interest that shall be charged, and the attempt to do so is, in my opinion, unfair to the producers of this country.
.- The Government having defeated the amendment which I moved now finds itself on the horns of the dilemma which the amendment of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) has disclosed.
– There is no dilemma at all.
– The fact that supporters of Douglas credit, like the Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) and the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Raker), are frightened of putting a maximum rate of interestin the bill shows that they are impaled on the horns. I point out that the statement of the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) was a general statement, which omitted the bulk of the relevant facts about the capital of this hank. I shall support the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Wimmera because it will definitely limit the use of government money. When I attempted to achieve the same objective earlier this evening, my amendment was rejected. The proposal of the honorable member for Wimmera will throw the financing of the mortgage bank department back on to other sources of capital. The bill provides that -
The capital of the Mortgage Bank Department shall be in the aggregate, not exceeding £4,000,000 of the following amounts: -
These are exactly the same amounts as were provided in the Mortgage Bank Bill introduced in 1938 by the Treasurer of the day, Mr. Casey. The sum of £4,000,000 is interest-free capital which will be granted to the mortgage bank department in exactly the same way as I granted £2,000,000 of interest-free capital to the rural credits department out of the profits from, the note issue. That action enabled the rural credits department to lend money at the lowest rate of interest in Australia. The interest-free capital will be made up of the following amounts : - - ‘
Those three sources will provide £4,000,000 of interest-free capital for the mortgage bank department. In addition to that, the Commonwealth Bank may make advances to the mortgage bank department of sums not exceeding £1,000,000. But the bulk of the capital of the department may be obtained from advances from the Commonwealth Savings Bank “ of such amounts and subject to such terms and conditions, as the commission or, until the commission is appointed, as the board, determines “. The Treasurer has stated that the other capital will be raised by loans floated by the Government, and those loans will carry an interest rate equal to that paid to the subscribers, plus a certain management fee. That is the reason why I insisted on securing for the bank capital based on debenture issues. As the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan) pointed out during the debate on the motion for the second reading of the bill, the interest rate on these debentures is between1/2 per cent, and3/4 per cent, less than the rate at which the Government can raise the money. At one period, the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) interjected that there would be no prospect during war-time of raising loans for this purpose. But during the war, the mortgage bank department will be able to use £4,000,000 of interest-free capital, plus advances from the Commonwealth Savings Bank. At present the Commonwealth Savings Bank pays to its depositors interest at the rate of 11/2 per cent, or 2 per cent. If the mortgage bank department possesses £4,000,000 of interest-free capital and obtains this cheap money from the Commonwealth Savings Bank, the department should advance money to farmers at 3 per cent. The only obstacle is that the Government may advance to the bank loan moneys bearing a rate of interest higher than 3 per cent. If that should happen, the interest rate to the man on the land will be increased.
The amendment submitted by the honorable member for Wimmera does, in an indirect manner, what I tried to do by direct means, and I shall support it. It will prevent the Government from making a puppet of the mortgage bank department by raising money in the open market and advancing it to the institution. The amendment will ensure that the Commonwealth Savings Bank may lend money to the mortgage bank department for the purpose of making advances to primary producers. That will still enable the control of the bank to be independent of the government of the day. The amendment will not provide so much capital as I desired, but I realize that during wartime, there is no chance of getting extra debentures or loans.
I now desire to reply to the scathing comments which honorable members opposite directed against my proposal for the introduction of overseas capital. They uttered cheap gibes, and declared that the use of overseas capital was the cause of the financial strangulation of Australia. The truth is that the introduction of overseas capital in the form of manufacturing equipment during the period 1920-30 increased customs revenue by £20,000,000 a year, and made possible the extraordinary manufacturing development of this country. The United States of America, Germany, and Canada owe their greatness as manufacturing countries to the fact that they were able to obtain foreign capital and equipment to assist their development. If a farmer has to depend entirely upon his own meagre resources, 40 years may elapse before he will achieve any real results. But if he can obtain assistance to clear his land and utilize the whole of it for productive purposes, he will be able, within a short space, to discharge his liabilities.
– What is the opinion of the right honorable gentleman regarding lower rates of interest for returned soldier settlers ?
– That matter is not so important at the moment because until the cessation of hostilities comparatively few soldiers will be settled on the land. The shortage of labour throughout the country has made it difficult to keep many of the existing farms in production, and one would be an optimist to believe that while the war lasts land settlement can be extended. If this bill is to be of advantage during war-time, the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Wimmera should be accepted.
.- If I did not make my meaning understood previously, the reason was that I endeavoured to confine my remarks to the provisions of the bill now under discussion. The Treasurer (M,t. Chifley) and the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) disagreed with me when I declared that land was a gilt-edged security. Under the terms and conditions that are offered by the mortgage bank department, I claim that it is a gilt-edged security. If it is not, Heaven preserve this country in the future!
My reason for saying that it is a giltedged security is that I believe that if the Government invests £60,000,000 in rural areas, it will ensure that the primary producers shall get a better deal than they have had in the past. Taking into consideration the terms provided in the bill, I claim that it should be the hest gilt-edged security offering in the country. Without primary production, Australia would have been bankrupt years ago. We could not have met our overseas commitments. If Australia is to remain solvent, rural industries and primary producers must be given a better deal than they have had previously.
– I am glad that the honorable member made that admission.
– It is not an admission. I have held that view for many years.
– It is an admission that the farmers will get a better deal than they have received in the past.
– The establishment of the mortgage bank department and the Government’s interest in the primary producers must naturally bring that about. The Government will not invest £60,000,000 or £100,000,000 in agricultural pursuits, and watch them fail. Therefore, no better security could be offered for the money which will be lent under the provisions of this bill. I have in mind the clients that the bank will accept. The bank is the valuator. If the security were not adequate, why did the Treasurer agree to increase the percentage of the valuation of the property against which the bank may make advances? It shows that the honorable gentleman has confidence in the’ prospective clients of the bank. Naturally the bank itself will select only those clients with a reasonable chance of remaining solvent.
– The protests of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) regarding the proposed assistance to be granted to primary producers through the mortgage bank department are laughable. Although he was the Commonwealth Treasurer for some years, he never extended to the farmers the degree of assistance that this Government proposes to grant to them. This evening tears ran down his cheeks and his heart overflowed with solicitude for the man on the land as he tried to secure for primary producers a low rate of interest. All the time that he was a member of successive governments, he made no effort to establish a mortgage hank department. It is well that, the primary producers should know that. The right honorable member argued that, because the capital of the mortgage bank, amounting to £4,000,000, is to be advanced by. the Commonwealth Bank, the rate of interest on advances can be fixed at a low figure, does not carry much weight. I tried previously to make it clear that the capital of the bank bears no relation to the amount of money which the bank may lend to primary producers under the terms of its charter. The Commonwealth Bank, for instance, lias a capital of only £10,000,000, but, as honorable members opposite are fond of pointing out, it has lent to the. Government £2SO,000,000, apart from what it lias advanced to marketing pools and on mortgage. Therefore, although it is true that a portion of the base capital of the mortgage bank is. to be provided by the Commonwealth Bank, and will not be borrowed in the ordinary sense, surely the right honorable member for Cowper does not think that the rate of interest appro- .priate to advances made from that source should apply to all moneys lent by the mortgage bank, no matter from what source they may come !
– But it will influence the rate of interest.
– Four million pounds i.J only a flea-bite in comparison with the advances which, we expect, the mortgage bank will ultimately make. The total amount of the advances will not he limited to £4,000,000, but will be in proportion to all the moneys which come to the hank from various sources. As for the ‘ suggestion that some one overseas or in this country will advance money to the bank in accordance with the honorable member’s proposal, which has been already defeated, but which he now raises again, I regard that as just so much beautiful nonsense. This bill has been before a committee representative of all parties of both Houses of this Parliament. When Parliament appoints a committee to consider a bill, it .ought to pay some heed to that committee’s recommendations.
– The rate of interest was not discussed by the committee.
– That is so, because it was not included in the bill as submitted to the committee. However, I rose to make it clear to the public that all the solicitude of the right honorable member for Cowper for the primary producer has been exhibited during those times when he was in Opposition.
– That is absolutely untrue.
– The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the fact is that there is no mortgage bank act on the statute-book despite the long period during which the right honorable member was associated with various governments. He may go on protesting as long as he likes, but he cannot alter the fact that n.o mortgage bank was established during the regime of any government of which he was a member, whereas the present Government is making an honest attempt in this bill to bring such a bank into existence. I can see a great future for the mortgage bank, just as a previous Labour government saw a great future for the Commonwealth Bank when it was first started, despite the fact, that the parties then opposed to Labour could see no virtue in it at all. It may be that Parliament will decide that interest rates on money advanced by the mortgage bank should be subsidized by the Commonwealth. Apart altogether from anything that has been said during this debate regarding interest rates, it is the intention of the Government to keep rates as low as possible for the benefit of rural producers.
– Is it ‘within the power of the Government to subsidize interest rates?
– There is nothing to prevent it.
– I do not propose to join in the argument between the .present Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) and the ex-Treasurer (Sir Earle Page), because I do not believe that these tu quoque exchanges advance the matter in any way. I am not criticizing the Treasurer, but I believe that there is too great a disposition on the part of honorable members to ask those on the other side, “Why did you not do it?” And for them to retort, “ You should have done it yourself”. I support the Treasurer, and very reluctantly oppose the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson), because I believe that the rate of interest on advances must necessarily fluctuate. There is not usually stability in regard to interest rates on bank overdrafts. There is as much stability as the money situation of the world allows, but neither more nor less than that. If we attempt to direct the mortgage bank what the ceiling rate of interest - to use the current phrase - is to be, we shall be intruding upon a domain which belongs properly to the Commonwealth Bank. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Marwick) spoke of farm securities as gilt-edged, and that begs the question to an extraordinary degree. If it be true that the farms upon which moneys are to be advanced represent gilt-edged security, then why this constant and, T am bound to say, somewhat doleful reiteration of the plea that something must be done to subsidize the farming interests out of the public purse?
– Because they must carry the cities on their backs.
– That is a classconscious generalization - which means very little.
– It is only a half-truth.
– It is certainly no more true than the platitude that the fixing of a decent minimum wage for workers is no hardship on the farming community because the workers are the farmers’ best customers. The honorable member for Swan reminded us that the Treasurer himself had agreed to raise the limit of advances to 70 per cent. of the security, and that fact was submitted as an argument in support of the contention that farms represented gilt-edged security. That sounds rather strange in the ears of a person who, like myself, has in a small way to deal with advances on properties. My experience is. that men who are endeavouring to borrow up to the limit of prudent investment, and even beyond it, are too often drifting into a morass of financial difficulty. It frequently happens that such persons, having obtained advances up to a limit of safety, continue to clamour at the door of the investor or the mortgagee for more and still more money in the vain hope that, sooner or later, they will be able to rid themselves of the debt which, in such circumstances, will almost inevitably engulf them in the end. I repeat that it is a great mistake to suppose that you would be doing a kindness to a borrower by raising the limit to which he may encumber his property. You are more likely to do him a disservice, and sooner or later, the mortgagee will have to take over the security. That, in fact, is why the lender does make further advances; it is his only hope of eventually recouping himself. I am aware that this may seem to be putting the matter rather from the point of view of the mortgagee; but, in fact, it is not so. It should be the point of view of any man who wishes to be a prudent borrower within his means. I repeat that the fixing of interest rates on advances must remain a function of the prudent and successful banker. In this case the ‘Commonwealth Bank is not being run in the interests of private shareholders. The rate of interest will fluctuate in accordance with financial considerations over which the Commonwealth Bank has only a limited control.
.- Although I should like to have seen a rate of interest definitely prescribed in the bill I realize, from the arguments of the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley), that it would not be wise to tie the hands of the bank. I accept the assurance of the Treasurer that the rate of interest will be kept as low as possible and that a liberal policy will be adopted in relation to the mortgage bank department. The Treasurer stated that Parliament should accept the responsibility for any discriminatory rate of interest for the benefit of members of the fighting forces who might go on the land. The honorable gentleman will recollect that the Royal Commission on Monetary and Banking Systems of which he was a member, declared that the Commonwealth Bank should give effect to the policy of the- Government of the day provided that the Government accepted responsibility. We have no reason to assume that the bank will not carry out the policy of the Government, and therefore we may expect that a low rate of interest will be fixed. I accept the assurance of the Treasurer on that basis.
.- I do not wish to cast a silent vote on this issue especially as I find myself at variance with some of my colleagues. Like the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) and the honorable members for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) I favour the fixing of interest rates for rural advances as low as practicable, and I favour it being done as soon as practicable ; but I am not agreeable to the stipulation of a figure in this bill. It is unreasonable to expect that interest rates shall be fixed at rates lower than those at present applicable to giltedged securities. Since the outbreak of the war rates have been fixed at 3¼ per cent. for loans for terms of fifteen or sixteen years. Administrative costs in respect of such transactions should be kept down to the lowest possible figure and should not be more than one-half of 1 per cent. If that could be arranged money could be made available for 3¾ per cent. I do not think it reasonable to expect the Treasurer to fix a rate lower than that and I do not expect him to do anything which I would not expect of the Treasurer in a government I supported. If artificially low rates are to be fixed we must ask ourselves the question: Are all borrowers to be welcomed by the mortgage bank department or is a means test to be applied? If all borrowers are to be welcomed, men of substantial means may seek loans at subsidized rates from the Government in order to expend money on their rural properties while they continue to use their own resources for investments which will bring them a more profitable rate of interest. That is not the purpose of the Mortgage Bank.
Whilst I support a policy of absolute preference to members of the services, I do not think that a discriminatory rate of interest should be fixed which would oblige the bank to say : “ We can make money available to a particular client at. a lower rate than to another client, because he is a returned soldier “. Any differentiation of that kind should be applied by direct government action and not by action through a bank.
– By this method of raising capital the bank is the Government, and the Government is the bank.
– I shall not argue that point at the moment. Although I have every desire to assist, to the utmost degree, the primary producers whom I have the honour to represent in this Parliament, I would prefer to be unpopular with some of them rather than vote for a proposal which I regard as unsound and impracticable. When the Government brings down a proposal which we regard as unsound we flail it, as we should do; but when it brings down a financially sound proposal we should support it.
.-I find it difficult to discover any logic in the submissions of the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) on this amendment, particularly in relation to the proposed lower rate of interest for members of the fighting forces. There is nothing new in such a proposal. I pointed out in my secondreading speech that a rate of 1 per cent. was provided in France for ex-soldiers who settled on the land and for civilians who suffered injuries due to the war and who needed financial accommodation. The rate of interest charged by the Agricultural Bank of France is 3 per cent. to ordinary primary producers. A similar situation exists in the United States of America. Figures which have been supplied to me indicate that the interest rate there is 2½ per cent. for agricultural loans. A like policy is applied in certain other countries. For the Treasurer to talk about inability to obtain money at certain rates is sheer nonsense. We know that hundreds of millions of pounds of bank credit has been found without any cost at all, and if the war continues for very long, hundreds of millions of pounds more will be pumped into the financial system of this country from the same source in order to finance the war. This cannot be denied. Both the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) and the Treasurer have said on many occasions that such a financial policy is feasible in peace-time as in war. I look to the Treasurer to give effect to the promise of the Government that money will be made available to primary producers at a low rate of interest. It is of no use for honorable gentlemen to talk about favouredtreatment of one section of the community. My desire is to make this the beginning of a new era of low interest rates for every body. The Government would perform a graceful act by accepting the amendment. I agree with the interjection of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) a few moments ago that the bank is the Government and the Government is the bank, or it should be. I urge the Treasurer even now to accept my amendment.
.- I wish to reply briefly to two or three statements that have been made during the discussion. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) said that if a special rate of interest were provided in order to help men in certain marginal areas it would simply create another problem in other marginal areas. The party to which the honorable member belongs supported a policy which afforded favoured-treatment, through tariff protection, to many marginal secondary industries. Many industries in this country would be unable to continue operations without substantial tariff protection. It has been said, on numerous occasions, that it would pay the country to close down certain industries altogether, dismiss all the employees engaged in them, pay them their wages for life, and pay the people who had invested their money in them, a reasonable rate of interest for as long as they lived. That is true. I do not accept the statement that it would be unsound to give to primary industries special treatment in relation to interest rates.
The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) said that most of the money which the Government was obtaining in these days was provided by private individuals and not by the associated banks. There is a good reason for that state of affairs. The primary producer needs a low rate of interest in order to assure him of security of tenure, and he knows that he cannot get a low rate of interest from the associated banks.
– The trading banks learned their lesson in 1895.
– Many private banks which were supposed to hold to the principle of the sanctity of contracts closed their doors in the ‘nineties and did not pay either their shareholders or their depositors1d. in the £1. Many other banks paid only 2s. 6d. in the £1.
– That was due to a too liberal banking policy.
– It was due to boom conditions. Many secondary industries are bolstered up by high tariff duties. If such industries are to be maintained and colossal cities developed in this country, we are entitled to expect, and to demand, fair treatment, reasonable prices, and a decent standard of living for people who live on farms and station properties. The arguments in opposition to the amendment are economically unsound.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be added (Mr. Wilson’s amendment) be so added.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. Prowse.)
Majority . . . . 37
Question so resolved in the negative.
.- I move -
That after proposed new section60abw the following new section be inserted: - “60abwa. - (1.) Notwithstanding anything in this act the rate of interest payable on a loan made under this Part to a member of the forces shall be not less than one per centum per annum lower than the rate of interest payable on other loans upon a security of substantially the same nature and value. (2.) In this section the expression’member of the forces’ has the same meaning as the same expression has in the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act 1920-1941.”.
There is very little that I can add to what I have already said in this connexion. I trust that the Government will see its way to accept the amendment, and thus prove its sincerity by providing members of the forces with the finance which will be necessary to re-establish those of them who may desire to be repatriated on the land at a concession rate. The amendment has everything to commend it, and I hope that it will he acceptable to the committee.
– I am not disposed to accept the amendment. The assistance and rehabilitation of returned soldiers is a very large matter which cannot be undertaken by such an institution as a department of the Commonwealth Bank, but must be dealt with in the most generous fashion by this Parliament. In saying that, I believe that I echo the sentiments of every honorable member of this House.
.- Proposed new section 60abx provides -
A loan under this part shall not be made for a period of less than five years or more than 41 years.
I consider that the term of 41. years should be extended. I point out to the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) that in every long-established mortgage bank in the world the maximum term far exceeds that which is here provided. In France, it is 75 years, and in Germany and England, it is 60 years. An extension would mean that the charge payable by borrowers would be appreciably reduced. At the rate of interest operating in 1933, which was far higher than the rate to-day, a borrower in England for a maximum term of 60 years paid £4 15s. per annum, representing interest and repayment. With a maximum term of 40 years, he paid £5 8s. 4d. per annum, a difference of 13s. 4d. Therefore, the longer term represented a very definite saving to him. If the Treasurer cannot agree to the extension for which I ask, I should like him to state his reason for the refusal. As the result of mortgage banking practice over a lengthy period, the terms are very much longer in other countries than in Australia. Germany first began mortgage banking, and has continued it for something like 200 years. Its experience has proved that the long term is very satisfactory. Financial practice in England is much more conservative than is the financial policy of the present Government, yet 60 years is the maximum term in that country. We might very well follow that example. If the Treasurer sincerely desires to reduce interest and repayment, surely the way is now open to him ! I agree entirely with the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) and other honorable members that primary producers need interest rates that are as low as they can possibly be made. Surely that end may be achieved by orthodox and legitimate means in the manner I have mentioned! Other speakers have stated that further assistance could be rendered by a reduction of the administrative charge. If that were also reduced by 10s. per cent., there would be a saving of over 1 per cent, on the interest rate of loans to primary producers.
– The special committee which considered this bill gave long consideration to the term for which loans should be made, and its unanimous recommendation was that the maximum period should be 41 years as against the period of 35 years provided for in the bill as originally presented and later withdrawn in favour of the present hill. The committee considered that the period of 35 years was too short, and that a period of 41 years would enable the debt to be liquidated at an amortization rate of 1 per cent. The Government has accepted the term recommended by the committee, and I regret that I cannot accept any further amendment of the proposed term.
– Have we passed the proposed new sections on which the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) proposed to move amendments?
The honorable member for New England is not here.
– I think that the amendments should have been called on.
– They were. He was not here to move them. The stage at which they could have been moved has passed.
– I would be prepared to move them.
.- I move-
That, in proposed new section 30aby, the words “two-thirds” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words : - “ seventy per centum “. The amount of loans which the mortgage bank may make under this bill was considered by the special committee. As originally presented prior to its submission to the special committee, the bill provided for a maximum advance of 60 per cent, of the value of the property. As redrafted, the bill provides for the maximum advance to be two-thirds of the value of the property. It is now proposed that the proportion be increased to 70 per cent. The special committee was not able to reach unanimity in regard to the amount. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) favored 60 per cent., but the honorable members for Indi (Mr. McEwen), Wimmera (Mr. Wilson), and Ballarat (Mr. Pollard), favored higher limits. The Government first compromised on two-thirds, but now proposes to increase the amount to 70 per cent.
– I do not oppose the amendment, although I think that the limit of the advance could safely be made 80 per cent, of the value of the property. I think this is an opportune time for me to refer to a portion of the platform of the Country party adopted at a conference held in Melbourne on the 16th July, 1937. Under the heading “ Finance “ there is a plank urging the establishment of a long-term mortgage bank as a branch of the Commonwealth Bank. Well, 1937 was a long time ago. I do not know how many members of the Country party who were members of this Parliament then, are still with us. I do not know whether you, Mr. Chairman, could advise me.
– That question is not before the committee.
– No, but the platform of the Country party has provided at least since 1937 for the establishment of a long-term mortgage bank. Perhaps the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) could assist the Country party to achieve its ambition in that direction by increasing the limit of the advances to 80 per cent.
– We are now dealing, not with the term of the loans, but with the amount that may be advanced by the bank on the valuation of properties.
– That proposed section is as good a peg as any on which to hang my argument that the Country party had many years in which to bring a mortgage bank into being, but failed to do so. That is all that I desire to say.
– There was such a clamour from all sides of the House during the second-reading debate that the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) decided to increase the percentage of advance that could be made on the value of a property. I consider that the other point of view should be expressed. It may frequently he in the best interests of the farmers themselves that the rate of advance should be even lower than that set out in the bill as it stands. It is customary in other parts of the world for the maximum advance to be about 60 per cent, of the value of the property. In Sweden and France the maximum advance is 50 per cent, of the value of the property, in Denmark it is 60 per cent., and in Italy and Belgium it is 66 per cent. Since the last war, in many countries, advances have been made on an even more conservative basis, and very frequently 30 per cent, or 40 per cent, of the value of the property has been regarded as the safe maximum. In some countries advances made on forestry properties or vineyards is only one-third of the value of the properties. I mention these facts because I do not think that we should too lightly regard the increased percentage proposed by the Treasurer to meet the general wishes honorable members expressed during the second-reading debate. The important point to be borne in mind is that the greater the advance the greater Ls the annual burden on the borrower. It may be that a man will be tempted to take on a liability beyond his capacity, especially when he is setting out as a landowner with a small amount of capital. Caution must be exercised to ensure that, in the interests of the scheme, the equity that remains to a borrower shall not become so slender that in difficult times when land values have depreciated he will walk off his property rather than maintain it at a heavy C03t. I do not challenge the amendment which merely states the maximum percentage, but I think it desirable to warn the com mittee against the implications in an extension of the amount of the advance.
.- I welcome the amendment, but I think that the amount of the advance proposed is still too conservative. The special committee which considered this bill could not reach agreement on this matter. In the bill originally presented, the amount of the advance was to be not more than 60 per cent.. of the value of the property. The majority of the special committee considered that that was too low, and an increase was recommended ; but there was no agreement about what the amount should be. The Treasurer withdrew that first bill and in the redraft he stipulated an advance of up to two-thirds of the value of the property. He has now agreed to make the limit 70 per cent, but I think it could safely be raised to SO per cent. The Government of New South Wales launched a housing scheme under which advances were made of up to 90 per cent. The amount involved in the scheme was £15, 000,000, and the Government guaranteed the financial institutions which made the advances to recompense them for any losses incurred, but it did not have to pay one penny by way of recom-‘ pense. This is not merely a question of financial liability incurred. The benefit that would accrue to the whole community if the Government launched out on a liberal scheme for financing people on the land must also be considered. I hope that time will show that the mortgage bank can with safety to primary producers and with benefit to the country as a whole make more liberal advances.
Amendment agreed to.
– I move -
That, in proposed new section (S0abai after the word “ State “ the following words be inserted: - “or with any savings bank”; and that after the word “ authority “, second occurring, the following words be inserted: - “ or savings bank.”
South Australia raised the question that “ any authority of a State “ may not be wide enough to include the State savings banks, which deal with mortgages to primary producers. In order to make certain that the section shall give permission for the bank, with the consent of the Treasurer, to enter into arrangements with State authorities including the savings banks where they are conducting mortgage branches, it is desirable to add the words set out in the amendment.
Amendments agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 8 agreed to.
Clause 9 -
The sections of the Principal Act, as amended by the foregoing provisions of this Act, which are specified in the first column of the Second Schedule to this Act are amended as respectively specified opposite thereto in the second column of that Schedule.
– I move-
That after the word “ Act “, second occurring, the following words be inserted: - “ (other than the provisions of the last preceding section ) “.
The object of this amendment is to make it clear that the section numbers of the principal act referred to in the second schedule to this bill are the section numbers shown in the act prior to its renumbering as effected by clause 8 of this bill.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Schedules and Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report - by leave - adopted.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a third time.
I take this opportunity to place on record my appreciation of the work which was performed by the special parliamentary committee that considered this legislation before it was introduced into this chamber. The committee consisted of Senator Allan MacDonald, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt)-, the honorable member for Darwin (Sir George Bell), the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen), the honorable member for
Ballarat (Mr. Pollard), the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) and myself. Some dayswere spent in considering the measure, and the Government appreciates the splendid work of the committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Rill read a third time.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
I have considered the proposal which was advanced earlier to-day that the House should meet to-morrow at 11 a.m. instead of 2.30 p.m., but I understand that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Hughes) desires to speak early to-morrow on the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill.
– The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) will open the debate on behalf of the Opposition.
– The Deputy Leader of the Opposition informed me that he intended to speak on the measure early to-morrow. As he is leader of one of the parties comprising the Opposition and is a member of the Advisory War Council, I considered that the meeting of the House at 11 a.m. would have been a source of embarrassment to the right honorable gentleman. In view of his distinguished services to the Commonwealth, honorable members will appreciate that I have taken the proper course.
– Will the Prime Minister indicate whether the House will meet next week from Monday to Friday inclusive ?
Mr.CURTIN. - I announced earlier that the House would meet four days this week and thereafter, from Tuesday to Friday inclusive.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre sented : -
National Security Act - National Security ( General ) Regulations - Orders -
Prohibiting work on land (2).
Taking possession of land, &c. ( 156 ) .
Use of land (15).
House adjourned at 10.50 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Relief for Wife and Children of Internee.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Mr.Chifley. - Inquiries are being made and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
Mr.Calwell asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What classes of goods, other than war goods, have been imported into this country in each of the last , two calendar years?
What is the country of origin of each class of imports, and what is the total value of imports from each such country?
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he assure the House that no regulation will be made under the National Security Act 1030-1940 until the Attorney-General has first given a written opinion that the proposed regulation would be legally valid?
– All rules and regulations made under Commonwealth acts, other than those made by the justices, are either drafted or settled in the AttorneyGeneral’s Department. It is considered that this safeguard should be sufficient to meet all reasonable requirements, it being understood that the Solicitor-General and his assistants will give a ruling on validity in every doubtful case. In any event if the validity of regulations is disputed, the question can be finally determined only in the courts.
l asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
At the 30th January, 1943, Army statistics disclosed that 4,155 ex-members of the Second Australian Imperial Force had re-enlisted or been called up for service in the Australian Military Forces, but there is no record of the number of those who were volunteers and those who were called up.
On the 24th February, the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Guy) asked me whether it was a fact that members of the Australian Imperial Force and Citizen Military Forces who are granted special leave to attend the funeral of a deceased relative had their pay stopped for the period of their absence.
I am now able to inform the honorable member as follows: -
It will be noted that this special compassionate leave is granted only in the case of the death of a dependent relative. The case referred to by the honorable member may have been that of a nondependent relative in which case the above conditions are not applicable. If the honorable member so desires, I shall be glad to inquire into any individual case ‘which he considers has resulted in hardship to the member concerned.
n.- On the 4th March, 1943, the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) asked the following question, upon notice: -
I desire to inform the honorable member that inquiries have been made and that I am now in a position to- furnish the following reply : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 10 March 1943, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1943/19430310_reps_16_174/>.