19th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) - by leave - agreed to -
That Mr. Mulcahy be discharged from attendance on the House Committee, and that, in his place, Mr. Rosevear be appointed’ a member of the Committee.
– The Minister for National Development made a statement yesterday to the effect that he proposed to establish a large number of zones in connexion with developmental projects. Will the right honorable gentleman inform me whether any plan has yet been formulated for the administration of that matter! How far has the proposal been advanced, and have the States or the local government authorities been communicated with about, it! Can the. right honorable gentleman elaborate the statement which he made, yesterday about the matter !
– I did not say that we were proposing to create a series of zones in connexion, with developmental pro jects. Such a system of regions is already in existence in all States, with the exception of Queensland and Western Australia and it was established at the instance of the previous government. The administration is- carried out, in most instances, by twelve persons, six of whom are elected by the local government authorities in each region, and six are nominated by the State Government concerned from among prominent persons in each district. . The system is working quite well in respect of a minority of the regions. In the greater number of regions the serious attention of the residents has not yet been gained. In my reply to the question yesterday, I sought to encourage districts to complete the organization for the purpose of regional investigation, and to make, through the State government concerned, their surveys and reports which would eventually reach the Commonwealth. Such- action would tremendously assist the Commonwealth, and, I am sure, the State governments, and would serve to put the potentialities of those various regions on the map.
– I direct a question to the Treasurer, and by way of explanation, I point out that certain statements have been . published relative to the financing of co-operative building societies. One of those statements reads as follows : -
It was significant that the clamping down of finance of co-operative building societies had occurred since the federal elections inDecember last..
Will the Treasurer say whether there is . any foundation for such a statement based on a belief that some financial institutions are waiting for federal legislation to allow them to charge higher rates of interest?
– First and foremost there is no foundation whatsoever for the publicity which alleges that the Government intends to raise the interest rate on that class of financial activity. If the societies find that other financial institutions will not accommodate them in their requirements on the proper economic basis, the passing of the banking bill now before the House will make provision for further funds to be made available for such societies.
– Will the Minister for Works and Housing review the basis of tenure granted to people who construct or purchase war service homes? The present tenure granted to occupants of war service homes is that of a perpetual lease, which requires annual payments to be made. I submit that these people should be granted mining homestead leases which, after payments have been made for 30 years, become, in effect, freehold tenures.
– I shall examine the question and reply to it in full later.
– Would the PostmasterGeneral take up with his department a very undesirable matter in which [ was concerned this morning and that T consider should be made public. This morning I was called to the telephone to receive a trunk line call and directly T was connected to the exchange I found myself listening to a business conversation between two men. I informed the exchange that evidently the telephone lines were crossed and the exchange thereupon reconnected me to the same line. After several endeavours to continue my own conversation I put the receiver down rather than listen in for several minutes to a private conversation. About ten minutes later I was called again to the telephone for my call and again had the same experience. In disgust I replaced the receiver. I consider that a fault which enabled me to listen to a conversation that was not intended for my ears should not occur. Will the PostmasterGeneral take the matter up so that when lines that are crossed and the telephone authorities are aware of the fact, no connexions will be made that would enable outsiders to listen in to the telephone conversations of other parties?
– If the honorable member will supply me later with the details of the particular case that he has mentioned I shall take the matter up with the department. It is, of course, common when weather conditions are abnormal, for telephone lines to become crossed. Postal technicians endeavour to rectify such troubles as soon as possible. However, I shall have inquiries made on receiving the details from the honorable member.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture supply me with any additional information on the steps that the Government is taking to increase the export of flour? The present position is becoming increasingly embarrassing to millers whilst the scarcity of bran and pollard is forcing dairy-farmers to buy expensive substitutes, thereby adding to the production cost of milk.
– I am fully aware of the serious problem that has developed in respect of the shortage of mill offals in Australia, which has resulted from a decrease in the export trade in Australian flour. I have had various conferences with the flourmillers’ representatives on the Australian Wheat Board and also have been in contact with the Flour Millowners Association. I have also been working with the officers of my own department in an endeavour to discover what further steps we might possibly take to alleviate this undoubtedly serious situation. The steps which have been taken up to the present time are that the Australian Wheat Board has agreed to reduce the price of wheat for sale for gristing for export flour by an amount that is the equivalent of £3 3s. for a ton of flour. I am negotiating with the Flour Millowners Association with a view to endeavouring to arrange a cut in their profits on export flour, but there is no great scope for that, because the profits of the flourmillers are not very great per ton, but are in relation only to the volume of their output. The present situation arises chiefly from the circumstance that certain countries have re-established milling capacity or have established new milling capacity in a desire to mill their own grain ; and, secondly, to the disparity in the fixed price of mill offals in Australia and the price in North America. That disparity makes a considerable difference as 28 per cent, of wheat gristed becomes mill offal. The price in North
America for mill offal is £24 a ton compared with £11 a ton in Australia. The fact gives the North American millers a tremendous advantage in .quoting for export flour. I am grappling with the situation. The problem is affected to some degree by the fact that the Government has inherited a series of bulk sales and contracts to the United Kingdom for export commodities which call for mill offals, poultry products, dairy products and pig meats. The contracts were initiated on the assumption that those industries would have available wheat or wheat offal based on Australian local consumption. We are exporting wheat to-day at 16s. a bushel, but we are also exporting wheat in the form of eggs, butter and pig meat on the. basis of wheat at 6s. Sd. a bushel, and thus a very difficult situation is created.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that, for a variety of reasons, fencing posts are urgently needed throughout Australia, and that every effort is being made by Australian manufacturers to meet this need by the manufacture of steel fencing posts from 16- gauge steel? Is the right honorable gentleman also aware that because of the shortage of Australian steel manufacturers are unable to meet the enormous unsatisfied demand? In view of these facts, will he consider granting a subsidy on imported 16-gauge steel for use in the manufacture of steel fencing posts to enable requirements to be met without an increase of the retail price?
– I am, of course, well aware of the demand and of the shortage to which the honorable member has referred. This, as he knows, as far as Australian steel is concerned, is due primarily to the shortage of coking coal that has arisen from causes about which we in this place know something. The Government has recently made some relaxation of customs duties in order to encourage imports of some building materials, including certain steel sections. I shall look into the particular type of steel to which the honorable member has referred and see whether anything can be done about it.
– Will the Prime Minister state whether the ministerial and departmental inquiries into the reorganization of the Commonwealth administration are still proceeding, or whether they were concluded by the right honorable gentleman’s recent announcement regarding the re-allocation of ministerial portfolios ?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is that the inquiries have not been concluded. Some days ago I took the opportunity to announce certain ministerial changes, so far as they have gone. The Cabinet subcommittee and the expert advising committee are both still sitting. A meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee was held on Tuesday night. Further investigations are being continued and, no doubt, the results will be announced in due course.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister. By way of explanation, I point out that the Housewives (Victorian) Association, a very fine body, which is not to be confused with, the new Housewives Association, which is a Communist organization, has again made a request that a ministry of housekeeping be established to work for the following objectives, amongst others : - Comfortable housing on the basis of ownership and not tenancy; housing loans on easy terms; refrigerators and washing machines to be installed as a part of the original cost of homes; and emergency housekeepers and other domestic help when essential. Is the Government in favour of these constructive proposals of the association? If so, will the Government establish a ministry of housekeeping to give effect to the desirable objectives for which the association is working?
– I do not propose to take any steps to establish a ministry of housekeeping. In my opinion, the good results to which the association has very properly directed its attention would not be achieved by establishing an additional department. They are much more likely to be achieved by enabling existing departments, which are concerned with many of these matters, to concentrate upon those matters and get on with their job. I think that there is an erroneous assumption in the suggestion that has been made that by setting up a new department, with all its inevitable duplications, a better result will be attained than under the present- system.
– Some time ago the Treasurer stated that some allocation of petrol tax was to be made to local authorities in suburban areas. I understand that grants had previously been made only to local authorities in rural areas. Could the Treasurer supply further details of this proposal? To whom should local authorities in suburban areas direct a request for financial aid?
– The suggestion mentioned by the honorable member is a novel one to me. I know of no suggestion or inference that an allocation from the petrol tax was to be made to people in suburban areas. The petrol tax is allocated in accordance with the provisions of the Commonwealth Aid Roads and Works Act and such allocations will be reviewed before the 30th June next.
– During the week the Treasurer made a statement in the course of which he said -
A conference in London to-day will arrange a way to substitute sterling petrol for dollar petrol imported by Australia and other Dominions.
He said that events had proved that he was absolutely correct last year, when he had said that there was a surplus of sterling petrol which would enable petrol rationing to be lifted in Australia. Has the Treasurer seen a report which appeared in yesterday’s press that Australian hopes that the dollar petrol problem, will be solved soon were dashed by the British Treasury and Australian officials? The Treasury representatives said that there was little hope of any substantial amount of sterling petrol becoming available as a substitute for dollar petrol. Did this report emanate from the conference to which the Trea surer referred? If so what arrangements does the Government contemplate making in order to secure additional supplies of petrol in order to meet the greatly increased consumption? If this statement is part of the report of the conference to which he referred does it indicate that al] acute shortage of petrol will occur in the near future and, in that event, does the Government intend to re-impose petrol rationing?
– I have not seen the reports referred to but the information m the possession of the Government is of such a nature that there is no anxiety about petrol supplies and the Government’s policy in connexion with petrol generally.
– Will the Treasurer say whether the British Treasury has reported this week that the gap between dollar earnings and expenditure is rapidly closing, and that the dollar problem will be solved by the end of 1951? If that is so, does it not indicate that, if there has been any additional consumption of petrol in Australia since rationing was abandoned, its purchase has not caused a drain on the London dollar pool?
– The information conveyed in the honorable member’s question is consistent with information that has been supplied to me.
– In view of the request from district organizations for the establishment of an air service to the. south-western district of Victoria, including Warrnambool and Portland the progress of which is being hampered by indifferent railway services, could the Minister for Civil Aviation inform the House what progress has been made in this matter, particularly with regard to the service to Warrnambool ?
– If the Victorian Government will approve of the commencement of a service - and I think it will - and if an application is made for the service requested by the honorable member a licence will be granted for it to operate from Portland with a stopping place at Warrnambool, in the same way as the Gippsland service was planned recently.
– Has the attention of the Treasurer been drawn to a statement prepared by the Commonwealth Statistician that was released to the morning newspapers for publication on the 8th March, which showed that, at the 31st January last, after the first month of the right honorable gentleman’s occupancy of the office of Treasurer, savings bank deposits in Queensland had fallen by £238,000, that being the first decrease reported in Queensland since the end of the war? What action does the right honorable gentleman propose to take in order to put value back into the £1, as he promised to do during the election campaign, so that salary and wageearners in Queensland will not have to continue to draw upon their savings in order to maintain their present standards of living? Further, why is it that Queensland has commenced to fare so badly since this anti-Labour Government has been in office?
– I welcome the honorable member’s inquiry because it will focus the attention of Australians generally upon the industrial disturbances that have taken place continuously in Queensland in every port over th<> last three months. The Government took the first step towards putting value back into the £1 when it issued a proclamation under the Crimes Act last week.
– I direct a question concerning dollar earnings to the Minister foi- Supply because he dealt with the subject in this House previously when he was Minister for Information and Minister for Transport. In view of the report that the passenger liner Caronia netted the biggest dollar harvest since the war when it carried American tourists on a seven weeks voyage, during which it was estimated that passengers spent £1,428,000 worth of dollars on fares and a further £1,071,000 worth of dollars at ports of call, can the Minister inform the House whether it would be possible to negotiate with an American steamship company for the inauguration of similar tours to Australia as a means of earning much-needed dollars for this country ?
– Tourist activities, of course, have nothing to do with the Department of Supply but, because I was previously Minister for Information, I have been considering, with the permission of the Prime Minister, methods of stimulating tourist traffic to Australia, particularly from dollar areas. I have gathered together a great deal of interesting material, and I am optimistic that we shall be able to attract a great many visitors from the United States of America, which would have the effect of establishing goodwill and also bringing a flow of American currency to Australia. Some tentative suggestions have been made to mc concerning American steamer tourist traffic. I am examining them at present and hope to be able to submit some suggestions to the Prime Minister later.
Several honorable members rising in their places and addressing Mr. Speaker,
– Order ! For the benefit of honorable members generally I inform them that I am not going to take any notice of shouts of “ Mr. Speaker “. If honorable gentlemen insist upon shouting “ Mr. Speaker “ at me, they will not be called.
– Mr. Speaker, I rise to order. I addressed you most courteously and also audibly. I have been simply rising «nd speaking to you in very quiet tones. In fact, I have been observing the whispering campaign technique that you have imposed upon us during divisions. I considered that it was necessary for me to speak audibly in order that you might hear me.
– I have seen the honorable member. I have also heard him. I have seen other honorable gentlemen rising behind him, and some of them have risen more often than he has and others at least as often; but they have not made any audible remarks.
– I only ask that I be absolved from your rebuke in relation to the direction not to speak audibly.
– No absolution is needed. It was not a rebuke. I have stated before that I am not going to take any notice of shouts of “Mr. Speaker”.
– You publicly rebuked rue for shouting. I did not shout.
– You did not?
– Well, that ‘ is a matter of opinion:
– If it is a matter of opinion, my opinion is as good as your opinion and I ought to be given the benefit of the doubt.
– I think that the honorable gentleman and I have one thing in common. Neither of us is addicted to shouting.
– I rise to order. I -nsk you, Mr. Speaker, whether, as the Standing Orders indicate that honorable members shall rise uncovered and address the Chair, it is not common practice that unless that is done the Speaker is not forced to notice honorable members?
– That is not so. Honorable members are rising two or three dozen at a time and if every one were to address the Chair, this House would be more like pandemonium than parliament. I am taking note of honorable members who rise, and as I can fit them in I shall do so. I am endeavouring to switch the call to different parts of the House. More honorable members rise from the Opposition benches than from the benches in other parts of the House. I endeavour to turn the call to different parts of the Opposition benches as well as to other parts of the House. I keep complete lists of all honorable members who ask questions, and when an honorable gentleman has not asked ;i question during the preceding week and I notice that he has risen, I try to give him preference.
– I submit that that has not answered my question.
– I do not think there is any real point in the question, because when it comes to the matter of honorable members wishing to address the House an arrangement has been made, of which the honorable member knows well, whereby the Whips supply me with a list of the members to be called.
– Some honorable members think that they are in the wrong hatch.
– That may be so; I should say that the honorable member would have arrived at that conclusion long ago.
– I rise to seek information. When honorable members try to ask a question should they not stand and address you as “ Mr. Speaker “ ?
– There is no need to address me until I give the call.
– Should honorable members put their hands up ?
– There is no need for that either. Quits seriously I say to honorable members that, as far as I am concerned, there is no fun and games in this job at all. I am endeavouring to carry out my duties, and I hope I am doing sp with some degree of credit to myself and of usefulness to the House.
– You are too irritable.
– That is a remark that the honorable member should not have mads. I ask him to withdraw it.
– I withdraw it.
– You must admit to having made numerous remarks since you have been Speaker.
– The honorable member is not entitled to reflect upon the Chair and I advise him to restrain himself.
– If the coast is now clear I ask the Minister for National Development whether he has received any report from his colleague, the Minister for Health, on the advantages of the creation of a new State in the north of New South Wales. The policy which he advocates very assiduously when he is out of office he forgets when he is in office. I ask him whether the Minister for Health has made any representations in regard to the setting up of a new State in the north of New South Wales. If so, has he pointed our to the Minister for Health the constitutional difficulties involved, and further, has he pointed out to him the blessings of regional development as an alternative to a new State?
– Although the views of the Minister for Health are known to me, as well as to others on this side of the House, I have had no formal representation from him on this subject.
– With reference to a recent report that the Minister for National Development is considering the development of Eden as a port, I ask him whether he will also consider at the same time the building of a road connecting the upper Murray with Eden so as to bring the facilities of that port within the reach of the eastern Riverina?
– I believe that the Prime Minister is communicating with the Premiers of New South Wales and Victoria in order to increase the knowledge of the Government on developmental projects. If the Government of the State concerned is impressed with the need for the road mentioned by the honorable member, I have no doubt that it will be included in the list of works to be undertaken.
– On the 22nd March, I asked the Minister for the Navy a question in which it was suggested that transport should be made available to naval ratings to enable them to visit their families who live in the naval guest house at Katoomba. I have received a reply from the Minister in which he says that the normal practice is to allow naval personnel to visit the homes of their next of kin twice a year at the Government’s expense, and he added that he would allow that arrangement to apply to naval ratings whose families live in the guest house at Katoomba. Since the housing of families of ratings at Katoomba is a departure from the normal practice, will the Minister make transport available to enable ratings to visit their families in Katoomba more frequently, instead of obliging them to spend their shore leave in the big cities? Does the Minister believe that two visits a year provide sufficient opportunity for a naval rating to be in the company of his family?
– For a long time, it. has been the policy of the naval authorities to allow two periods of leave of a fortnight each to persons in the naval service, and to provide free transport to their homes. In response to the honorable member’s representations, I agreed to regard as the homes of the naval ratings in question the two guest houses we have provided for the accommodation of the wives of naval ratings who cannot get homes in the cities. One of these is near Melbourne, and the other at Katoomba. The Government pays the travelling expenses of naval ratings on leave from the port of disembarkation to those homes if their wives are living there. That is the general practice in the Navy.
– More than a year ago, officials of .the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board gave an assurance to waterside workers at Fremantle that they would take strong action with the Fremantle Harbour Trust over the dangerous condition of its cranes and other equipment. Notwithstanding that assurance, nothing has yet been done. The cranes belonging to the Fremantle Harbour Trust have brakes that do not operate, and the cranes can be stopped only by reversing the engines. Such cranes and other lifting equipment constitute a serious danger. Within the last few months, a chain snapped when steel was being lifted. Will the Minister for Labour and National Service direct the attention of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board to this gross and palpable neglect which has continued for more than a year? Will the Minister consider setting in motion again legislation which provides for the formation of local port committees, so that matters of the kind to which I have referred, concerning which employers and employees have something in common, may be thrashed out .before they become the basis of perfectly justifiable industrial disputes because they endanger life ? I also direct the attention of the Minister to the fact that 400 tons of steel have lain on the wharf at Fremantle and it has not been possible to move it because of the inefficiency of that equipment.
– The matters to which the honorable member has referred had not been previously brought to my notice, and, therefore, I am not able to accept at this stage his allegations of neglect or delay on the part of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board. However, I assure the honorable member that I shall immediately bring to the notice of the chairman of the board the details of his questions, and ask for an urgent report upon it. The honorable member’s suggestion that port committees might be reconstituted involves a matter of policy which the Government would need to discuss. I remind him that the Chifley Government, which he supported, did not reconstitute them, and I should need to examine the reasons which influenced it to delay taking any action in that matter.
– I inform the Minister for the Army that I have received correspondence from the Preston Branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia in which that organization asks for support in a certain matter. Will the Minister inform me whether it is true that Australia is the only country among the Allies in World War II. that has failed to make a sustenance allowance of 3s. a day to ex-prisoners of war? What representations have been made to him by the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia relative to its policy or desires in that matter? What reply has the Minister given to the representations, if any, that have been made to him about it?
– No Allied country has yet paid a sustenance allowance of 3s. a day to ex-prisoners of war. The Government is setting up a competent committee, as was promised by the present Prime Minister in his policy speech in the last election campaign, to investigate the whole matter.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Archie
Cameron). - On Tuesday the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson) referred to the delivery of newspapers to Parliament House. I am now able to inform the honorable gentleman that that matter is being thoroughly investigated, and I trust that by the time the Parliament reassembles after the Easter recess some improvements will have been made, and that the honorable gentleman will have no further cause for complaint.
– On Tuesday, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Fraser) directedmy attention to an article in the Sydney Sunday Telegraph of the 26th March, and invited me to comment on it. I have read the article and have discussed it with its author, Mr. Massey Stanley, who was my publicity officer for some months while I was the Leader of the Country party in 1939-40, during which time the New South Wales Labour party was led by the Honorable W. J. McKell, K.C. In March, 1940, Mr. McKell made an attack on me at the Labour party’s Easter Conference. On the 5th June, 1940, he made upon me the most personal attack that I have ever been subjected to in my life. Each was a prepared statement, and the more offensive of the two was, I believe, broadcast. Among the terms which were used in regard to myself were “ mistrusted “, “ detested “, “ narrow prejudice “, “ blindness “, “ personal jealousy “, “ intemperate “, “ blackmailing “, “ bushranging “, “ the indirect harm done by this man is incalculable “, “ a national liability “, “ an irresponsible, headstrong, egotistical man able to hinder the efficiency of our war effort, arouse hostility and dissension instead of a feeling of national oneness, and thus serve the enemy we are fighting”.
Opposition members interjecting,
– Order ! While Mr. Speaker is addressing the House, he must be heard in silence. The Government at that time was described as the “ vilest of vile coalitions “. Those are samples of purely personal abuse. On assuming the Speakership of this House, I took a calculated risk. I met the GovernorGeneral for the second time in my life, and I trust that my conduct on that day was no disgrace to this House. If it was, I have not heard of it. On the 27th February last, in reply to an invitation, T called the attention of the GovernorGeneral to his past attitudes to me. I informed His Excellency that I had no desire to accept the hospitality of those who spoke of me in the terms employed by him. To that letter, I have received neither an acknowledgment nor a reply. If, in truth, the Governor-General holds in regard to me the views which he had publicly expressed, he should have informed the House of that fact, and asked it to choose another Speaker. If, in truth, he does not hold those views about me, a well-known remedy is open to him. His failure to acknowledge my letter of the 27th February leads me to believe that he still holds those views.
Opposition members interjecting,
-Order! If that assumption is correct, he could hardly expect me to accept the hospitality which T had already refused, and I, for my part, could do nothing other than what I did on the 22nd March, and that was to treat His Excellency with the strict formality and respect due to his high office, and remove myself from his presence as soon as my duties had been discharged. Are there any ministerial statements?
– Before we proceed to that item of business, I rise to order. I should be glad if you, Mr. Speaker, will give a ruling on the ruling that you gave last week when the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke) referred to His Excellency the GovernorGeneral. I remind you that you said that no member of this House was allowed either to praise or to blame the repre-: sentative of His Majesty the King.
– Hear, hear ! The Chair is not above that.
– In view of that ruling, is not the statement that you have made indirectly a censure by you, as the Speaker of this House, upon the representative of His Majesty, and does it not conflict with your ruling that an honorable member may neither praise nor blame the Governor-General?
– Order! I have carefully considered that point. In my statement, I have made no attack whatever. I have given a recital of certain facts. If anything that I have stated is incorrect, the Governor-General may be able to correct it. But I say, quite frankly, that I have not made any attack whatever. I have simply stated certain facts. The material on which my statement is based is in my office, and it has been seen by one of His Excellency’s staff.
– I rise to order. I should like you, Mr. Speaker, to inform me whether an honorable member, including the Speaker, has the right to make observations upon the Governor-General in respect of an office which he held before he became the representative of His Majesty the King, and lay down conditions for the Governor-General to observe before that member will either accept his hospitality or recognize him in his official position other than in a purely formal way?
– I also rise to order. You, Mr. Speaker, may remember that, last week, you gave a ruling when the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke), who is a new member of the House, referred, possibly inadvertently, to His Excellency. You said that His Excellency must be neither blamed nor praised in this House, and I entirely agree with that ruling. But I should like to know whether the Speaker, without the authority of this House, and speaking on its behalf, can blame or praise the representative of the King.
– I have done neither. What I have said has been said in answer to the question of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. As a matter of fact it was in answer to four questions.
Mr. Tom Burke. - I rise to order, but as Government members are interjecting, I ask for your protection, Mr. Speaker.
– The honorable gentleman will receive it.
– As a matter of order I desire to know whether it is not correct that the name of the Governor-General may not be used in a derogatory sense. My point is that you, Mr. Speaker, have made a statement that indirectly bears on it in a most direct manner although it was done in the making of an indirect statement. If that is Irish, I must be found guilty of an Irishism. An indirect statement couched in such terms can be more condemnatory than the most direct statement that can be made. I ask, is not the statement that you have just made as presiding officer of this assembly an inappropriate statement for a presiding officer to make, and does it not flout the Standing Orders ? Secondly, I ask you whether the statement you have just made is not a highly unethical statement to come from the presiding officer of this assembly. I ask whether, if such a statement has been made, some opportunity should be afforded this House to examine Mr. Speaker’s action to see whether it can be justified.
-The House has its remedy, and if it wishes to take it, it can do so according to the Standing Orders.
– May I ask a question?
-The Prime Minister has asked that further questions should be put upon the notice-paper.
– I do not desire to ask a question without notice. I really desire to raise a point of order.
– (The honorable gentleman may raise a point of order.
– I ask for your ruling, Mr. Speaker. You have made a statement that we on this side of the House regard as highly controversial. It is normally the procedure that Mr. Speaker may not be criticized publicly or outside this chamber for his actions in such a matter. If we are disposed to attack outside this Parliament what we regard as a disgraceful statement from the Chair, what will bo your attitude as Speaker?
– That will be determined if and when an attack has been made. I do not answer hypothetical questions or give hypothetical rulings.
– Has Mr. Speaker given a ruling in reply to the request of the Leader of the Opposition?-
– I think so; but if the right honorable member will repeat his point of order I shall repeat the ruling.
– My point of order was that last week, when the honorable member for Fawkner was speaking-
– I gave a ruling on that matter.
– Will you please repeat the ruling, Mr. Speaker?
– My ruling was clear. 1 have made a statement of fact. I have made no attack upon His Excellency. I have simply stated the facts of certain transactions between us, and if the House considers that a reflection has been made on the Governor-General it has its remedy. 1 am the servant of this House so long as I sit in this chair, but when questions are addressed to me by honorable gentlemen I am morally bound to reply to them.
– I rise to order. I seek enlightenment. Over a long period of years, you, Mr. Speaker, as a private member of this Parliament, from time to time cast aspersions on various members of the Parliament. If more recently you have refused to observe courtesy to the Governor-General, 1 should like to know whether we should be justified in taking the same line of attack on you as Speaker.
-I have tendered to His Excellency every courtesy due to his office, and any suggestion to the contrary is simply untrue.
– I rise to move -
That the ruling of Mr. Speaker, in connexion with the statement of Mr. Speaker relating- to His Excellency the GovernorGeneral, foe disagreed with.
You have ruled, Mr. Speaker, that your ruling given to-day does not conflict with the ruling given when the honorable member for Fawkner was addressing the House, incidentally in a maiden speech. The honorable member for Fawkner had said on that occasion that he was inspired by the work of His Excellency the Governor-General. He made some other comments, that are not relevant at the moment, on how the Governor-General should be chosen in the future. He went on to say that His Excellency had, in the conduct of his high office, earned the approval of all honorable members of this House and of the country as a whole. As you have said, the Governor-General is above reproach. His name cannot be mentioned with praise or blame. That was a ruling with which I would have disagreed. I base that view on Standing Order 271 of the old Standing Orders, which provided that the name of His Majesty or of his representative may not be used to influence a debate, and nothing more. It is true, of course, that the Standing Orders provide that no reflection shall be made on the GovernorGeneral, the Executive Council and the High. Court. A number of others have now been included. But if your -previous ruling was correct, your ruling to-day that you were not out of order and not going beyond the bounds of the Standing Orders is, I believe, hopelessly incorrect. It is more. I think it is an instance of an incorrect interpretation of the Standing Orders. That is the mildest way in which I can put it. It appears to me to carry with it a bias that is inappropriate in the highest officer of this House, the Speaker. The holder of the office of Speaker should be in the same position as the holder of the office of a judge in the courts of Australia. Any man who takes office in the judicial, or quasijudicial, position of Speaker should forget immediately his past convictions, his past bias, his friendship or his enmity towards members of the Parliament, or any other person to whom he in the House is entitled to offer respect. It seems to me, however, that Mr. Speaker has merely carried into his high office feelings that he expressed on previous occasions. In support of this view I refer to Hansard of the ‘20th February. 19*7. The report shows that the honorable member for Barker, who is now Mr. Speaker, had this to say when speaking on a censure motion -
If I wore in charge of the Opposition and honorable members on tins side of the House gained a majority at thu next elections, I have very definite ideas as to how I would then deal with the situation.
He went on to say -
It is true that a Labour government appointed the King’s brother to bc GovernorGeneral of this country.
I ral: se there because I think that the next passage that I shall quote from this Hansard volume is of transcending significance. It reads -
In those circles in which I move, where men are entitled to know what I think, I then expressed my fear that it was intended so to exalt the Governor-Generalship as never before only so that, as soon as that appointee went home, it could be levelled to the dust and trampled in the mire.
The honorable gentleman went on to say-
That is what I feared and expected, and that is precisely what has happened.
On that occasion the then honorable member for Barker, that is yourself, Mr. Speaker,. was, I believe, wholly unjustified in his statement. He was casting a reflection that, to say the least, it was highly unethical for a member of this House to cast and, in fact, was doing more. He was making a charge that could and would cause feeling against the constituted institutions of this country. It was a very grave charge. But when the honorable member for Barker carries that attack into his manner and into his practice as the presiding officer of this House, I consider that he is deserving of the censure of this House. I should like to move, at this point-
– Move, then.
– It is not competent for the honorable member to move at this stage-
Government members interjecting,
– Interjections from the front bench are highly disorderly. However, Mr. Speaker went further and by a statement which he made - in respect of which there is no proper machinery for challenge-
– Order! We are dealing with a ruling at present. The honorable gentleman must confine himself to debate on the ruling.
Mr. Rosevear. - I rise to order.. You, Mr. Speaker, indicated when you assumed the office of Speaker that you intended to dissociate yourself from all connexion with your political party so that it could not be claimed that you were in any way partisan, and that you were in fact going to follow the precedent of the House of Commons. Are you, at the present time, following the precedents of the House of Commons by interjecting when your conduct is under review in a motion?
– I was simply calling an honorable gentleman to order.
– The point is that, according to all the authorities, when a motion of dissent from a Speaker’s ruling is moved, the House itself becomes the judge. Whether it is a good judge or a bad judge or a partisan judge is quite beside the point. The House becomes judge of your conduct. It cannot possibly become the judge of your conduct if you are going to restrict the mover of a motion from introducing into the debate elements that he considers are important to persuade the House that he is correct.
– Sheer time wasting!
– I resent that imputation. I could have made another remark when the Prime Minister was interrupting the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley). The right honorable gentleman would do better to keep quiet.
– I am terrified of you!
– The point I make is that according to the House of Commous procedure, which you, Mr. Speaker, said you would follow, Mr. Speaker must hear in silence both those for and those against him and allow the House to form its own judgment. It is obviously unfair for you to restrict the speeches of those honorable members who are against you and to bestow your -blessings on those who favour you.
– Order ! The honorable member is quite mistaking the position. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) said that he rose to move dissent from my ruling, but instead of doing so, he quoted from Mansard and in a way that was critical of me and of my office. My conduct as Speaker is not now under discussion. The only subject under discussion is whether the ruling that I gave in reply to the Leader of the Opposition is correct or incorrect. If the House wishes to discuss my conduct as Speaker, it may do so on a substantive motion. It may condemn my conduct, approve of it, or remove me from my office. At present, however, that matter is not under discussion.
– Mr. Speaker-
– Order ! The honorable member must not interrupt me.
– I did not intend to interrupt you, Mr. Speaker. I thought that you had concluded your statement.
-The only matter now under discussion .is whether the ruling that I gave was right or wrong.
Beyond that limit I shall not allow any honorable member to trespass.
– I point out, Mr. Speaker, that you have not dealt with the point that I raised. You indicated that you intended to follow the procedure of the ‘House of Commons-
– The honorable member will resume his seat. That matter is not in question. The honorable member is not at present entitled to question my conduct in any way. . That may be done only on a substantive motion. My conduct cannot be questioned at the present stage and I shall not permit it. to be questioned.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker. I was seeking topoint out the circumstances in which, your previous ruling was given-
– My previous ruling is not now under discussion. The question before the Chair is whether or not my present ruling is correct.
– How do you reconcile the ruling that you gave in reply to the Leader of the Opposition with that which you gave on a previous occasion ? Honorable members are surely entitled to expect that the Chair shall be consistent! I have pointed out that the offence alleged to have been committed by the honorable member for Fawkner was far lass grave than the offence that has been committed by Mr. Speaker himself. Mr. Speaker has taken an unprecedented course and has given a ruling with which this House must disagree. I am sorry for the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in this matter. Whatever may have been the feelings of the right honorable gentleman at the outset, he must regret the course which Mr. Speaker has followed. He will agree that when the time comes for a change in the office of Governor-General to be made it will be made, but that in the meantime due respect must be accorded to the person who now holds that high office. By using the weight of the Government’s numbers to defeat the motion before the Chair, the Prime Minister can do nothing but harm*. Whoever the Governor-General of this country may be, he is entitled to the respect of all honorable members. The present occupant of that high office was appointed by the Chifley Government-
– I had intended to use the word “ nominated “. At some future time another Governor-General will no doubt he nominated by the present Government. Wo person can carry out the duties of Governor-General without having had some political or high administrative experience. To say that is not to cast a reflection upon the occupant of that high office. At some stage of his career a person who has been appointed as Governor-General may have had to take a stand on some matter.
– He is entitled to his opinions.
– That is so. Because a Governor-General may have expressed opinions, whether in connexion with industrial or other matters, is no reason why he should be attacked.
– Order ! The honorable member is departing from the matter before the Chair, which is a motion of disagreement with my ruling.
– I am trying to stress the vital importance of the division that will follow this debate.
– The only question before the Chair is whether my ruling was right or wrong.
– I have pointed out that your ruling cannot be right and therefore that it must be wrong. The Standing Orders are against it; the customs and practices of this House are against it; ethics are against it; and accordingly your ruling must be disagreed with.
– I second the motion that the ruling given by Mr. Speaker be disagreed with. The essential point made by the honorable member for Perth-
Government members interjecting,
– May I, Mr. Speaker, bc permitted to speak without interruption ?
– I hope so.
– About a fortnight ago the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke), in the course of his maiden speech, made a perfectly respectful statement concerning the Govern or- General and the office of GovernorGeneral. I remind the House that the honorable member simply suggested that the young Prince of Kent, when he ceases to be a minor, might be asked to come to this country as Governor-General in succession to his father, whose appointment was frustrated by his lamentable death. On that occasion Mr. Speaker ruled that no statement, either of praise or of blame of the Governor-General, could .be introduced into the debates of this House. Mr. Speaker has now ruled that the statement which he has read from the Chair contains neither praise nor blame of the Governor-General - a ruling so laughably inaccurate that it deserves nothing but the condemnation of this House. In the first instance Mr. Speaker quoted what, he alleges the Governor-General said when he was leader of a political party in New South Wales at a conference in relation to the proceedings of which no Hansard or verbatim report was made.
– That is not the matter under discussion. The question before the Chair is whether or not my ruling should be disagreed with. The honorable member must confine his remarks to that question.
– With respect, Mr. Speaker, your ruling was that your statement does not conflict with your earlier ruling-
– The honorable member may not discuss my statement at. this stage.
– But your ruling was that your statement did not contain praise or blame of the Governor-General. How cwn I establish whether or not it contained praise or blame unless I am permitted to discuss the statement? It is perfectly clear that you made a partisan statement which was directed at the Governor-General and that you invited a reply by saying that no reply had been made. It is perfectly well known in this House that the Governor-General may not reply to statements made in the Parliament or enter into any political controversy. I suggest that your ruling manifestly contradicts the ruling which you gave in relation to the remarks of the honorable member for Fawkner. I suggest that your statement was manifestly an attack on the Governor-General and that therefore it is contrary to your previous ruling.
– This matter has some deplorable features. Apropos of the incidents from which it has arisen, I should like to add that at the request of the Governor-General, I myself, was present with other honorable members, on the occasion of the presentation of the Address-in-Reply.I am bound to say thatI was unaware that any sinister significance could be read into anything that occurred on that occasion until I read the newspapers.
– Did the right honorable gentleman not touch the GovernorGeneral on the shoulder and console him ?
– I did not.
– You did.
– I did not observe that the honorable member was present. This is one of his usual inventions.
– A reliable witness saw the incident.
– A reliable witness? As this matter ought to be taken out of the kind of atmosphere represented by the last interjection, let me say that I was unaware-
– You are out of order.
– That may be, but it is very necessary that I should say, for the benefit of the people of this country, that on that occasion matters were conducted with proper courtesy on both sides.
– I rise to order. The Prime Minister is discussing what took place at Government House on that afternoon. If he is permitted to continue, will other honorable members be permitted to discuss that subject also?
– I think the Prime Minister should confine himself to the question before the Chair.
– I regret that that point should have been taken, because I think that a calm atmosphere should surround the representative of the Crown and that these controversial statements, wherever they are made, do nothing but harm. I have refused to engage in such controversies. It is for that reason only that I desired to correct the record as I regarded it as a very misleading account of what took place the other afternoon. However, Mr. Speaker has given his ruling, and it is quite palpable to me that if this debate continues there will be enormous heat engendered and that it will do harm to the office of the Governor-
General and to the reputation of this House. I therefore propose to take the necessary steps to terminate this debate.
– You are taking intimidatory measures because you are embarrassed by the action of Mr. Speaker.
– I am not engaging in intimidation. I am doing what has been done many times before, and I think that most people will agree that the best thing we can do is to have this point determined and then to continue with the business of the House. Mr. Speaker has stated his position. Honorable members may now proceed to vote on the matter for I move -
That the question be now put.
Question put - the House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Ayes . . 61
Noes . . . . . . 43
Majority . … 18
– Order ! The honorable member for Darling ! There must be complete silence while the House is being counted.
– Under what Standing Order, Mr. Speaker, do you claim that members must keep absolute silence in division ?
– There may be speech only when there is a question before the Chair.
– I ask when you became aware of that requirement because, in previous years, you apparently were not conversant with that rule. Under what Standing Order are you acting?
– I am exercising the authority of the Chair. If the honorable gentleman wants to question my ruling, he may do so in the proper way.
– There is no doubt that that will be done in due course. I am now asking under what Standing Order complete silence must be observed.
– I was speaking in deaf and dumb to the Minister for Labour and National Service when you called me to order earlier. I now ask what the conversation was that I was said to be engaging in and to which you objected.
– If the honorable gentleman does it again he will receive the penalty which I will inflict.
– What was my conversation?
– I did not say that you were speaking.
– Under Standing Order 301, Mr. Speaker has great powers in a ease of gross disorder. Is the House to understand that speaking during a division is to be interpreted as gross disorder.
– If the honorable member wants to put it to the test he may do so.
– I ask for your ruling.
– I gave it last night.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the ruling of Mr. Speaker, in connexion with the statement of Mr. Speaker relating to His Excellency the GovernorGeneral, be disagreed with.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 17
Question so resolved in the negative.
– by leave - The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse) made an inquiry in the House on the 21st March regarding the conditions of issue of campaign stars and war medals. I have looked into this matter, and I find that announcements on the general conditions governing these awards were made from time to time in the House and in the press by Ministers of the former Government. A general explanation and description of them by the Minister then acting for the Minister for Defence, Mr. Forde, was, by leave of the House, incorporated in Hansard on the 14th March, 1946. Subsequently, a paper embodying a summary of the conditions was issued for official use by the authority of the former Minister for Defence, Mr. Dedman, in December, 1948. The paper contains a summary of the conditions of award of the following campaign stars and medals: -
The paper comprises 46 pages, and it is too lengthy and detailed for me to read to the House, but I shall be pleased to make available a copy to the honorable member for Calare. For the information of other honorable members, I propose to place another copy on the table of the library. Since the pamphlet was prepared in 1948, an additional award - the Australia Service Medal , 1939-45 - has been instituted. That was done upon the approval of His Majesty the King, last year. This is a special Australian medal, and it is to be awarded to those who rendered the required war-time service in the Australian armed forces, mercantile marine, or as civil air pilots in the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve who served as air crew in operational areas. The qualifying period of service is eighteen months’ full-time duty at home or overseas or three years parttime duty. The full conditions of award are shown in the Royal Warrant which was published in the Commonwealth Gazette, No. 91, of the 30th November, 1949. For convenience, they have been reproduced in a separate paper which I shall also make available to the honorable member. I shall also place a copy of it on the table of the library. The manufacture of the Australia Service Medal and Ribbon will take some time and an announcement will be made as soon as the service departments are in a position to commence issues of this medal. Issues of campaign stars and war medals, other than the Australian Service Medal, have been in progress for some time. Campaign stars and medals, and the Australia Service Medal when available, are inscribed with the regimental number, initials and surname of recipients, and issues are made upon application to the service or department concerned by those eligible to receive them. This decision was taken by the former Government in June, 1949, after consultation with the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. Prior to this, stars and medals were issued without application and those who had already received issues were invited to return them to the issuing authority for inscription, if so desired. Vs will be appreciated, the inscription of campaign stars and medals with individual personal particulars is a formidable task and, as was pointed out by the former Government in their consultations with the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, some delay in dealing with applications is unavoidable, the main factors being what it is physically possible for the government contractors to produce and for the available service staffs to handle. Every effort is being made to ensure that the delay in the inscription and issue of stars and medals is reduced to a minimum.
A poster is displayed at all post offices and service establishments, indicating thi! procedure to be followed in making application for campaign stars and medals. The poster has also been forwarded to all ex-servicemen organizations. In addition, a summary of the conditions of the award of the principal campaign stars was forwarded by the Army authorities to the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia last year for distribution to their branches. The issuing authorities of the services, who are the experts in this matter, will be pleased .to furnish advice and information to any ex-serviceman who may be in doubt about the particular awards which he may be entitled to receive by reason of his war service. I hope that the information and papers which I am making available will be of assistance to the honorable member for Calare and other honorable members in dealing with inquiries or representations which n-av be made to them on this matter.
– I lay on the table the following papers: -
Twenty-fourth Annual Report of the Australian Dairy Produce Board, for year 1 (I4S-49, together with statement by Minister regarding the operation of the Act.
The report is submitted in pursuance of section 29 of the Dairy Produce Export Control Act 1924-1947. Under the sponsorship of the Australian Dairy Produce Board, Dr. W. E. Petersen, Professor of Dairy Cattle Husbandry, Minnesota University, United States of America, visited Australia in December, 1948. Public addresses delivered by this noted world authority on dairy cattle husbandry in the chief dairying districts of the three eastern States, are considered to be the most educational yet heard in Australia on that particular subject with which he dealt, namely, “ Milking Management “.
Debate resumed from the 29th March. (vide page 1337), on motion by Mr. Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The introduction by the Government of the Commonwealth Bank Bill 1950 indicates the necessity for the supporters of the people’s bank - and I use that term with diffidence because of the objection to it by the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Mackinnon) - to be constantly vigilant about the affairs of the bank. It is important for the supporters of the people’s bank to keep watch to ensure that iti? activities are not emasculated in the interests of private financial institutions. When I heard that this bill was being brought before the House I was rather puzzled because, knowing the splendid record of the bank, particularly since the passing of the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945 and the Banking Act 1945, I wondered why such excellent work should not be allowed to continue. I listened attentively to the supporters of the Government during their attempts to advance reasons to justify this measure, but I must confess that I was in a state of complete bewilderment for some time. That bewilderment was not decreased when I read in the press of the criticism of the bank by the supporters of the Government and by the press itself. Yesterday some articles were referred to which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. A. few days ago the newspapers of the capital cities published articles indicating that there was dissatisfaction in the ranks of the Liberal party over the provisions of this bill. Some of the members of the Liberal party in Sydney think that the bill does not go far enough. After listening to the speeches in this House yesterday, I am convinced that the Government watered down the bill deliberately. I.t has sought to confuse the issue by including in the bill matters of very minor concern. The important provision is that which relates to the appointment of the Commonwealth Bank Board. Recognizing the high regard in which the bank is held by the people of Australia, the Government realized that it would be unwise to make a frontal attack. To do so would be to invite political annihilation. Even the Liberals have been forced to admit the efficiency of the bank. Therefore, in its attack on the bank, the Government is adopting Trojan horse tactics. It has planned to attack the bank from, within rather than from without. It is proposed to place the bank under the control of a board through which, without taking further legislative action, the Government can achieve its purpose, which is the stult.ifica.tion of the activities of the bank.
The Labour party makes no apology for its interest in the Commonwealth Bank. If there had not been a Labour party there would never have been a Commonwealth Bank at all. As long ago as !907, the Labour party told the people of Australia that if the country were to progress it was necessary that the monetary policy of the nation should be under the control of the representatives of the people. Those who control credit have power of life and death over millions of Australians. The way in which credit Ls controlled can determine whether the unemployment queues are going to be large or small. All this was in the mind of the Labour Government that introduced the bill in 1911 for the purpose of creating the Commonwealth Bank. Even the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) belatedly recognized the fact that the control of monetary policy should be in the hands of the people themselves because, when he introduced his famous, or perhaps I should say infamous,- Commonwealth Bank Bill in 1924, he said -
A very great power is exercised by the banks in the creation of credit, in their control of business and in their effect on wages and other conditions.
It is a pity that the Minister for Health, when he had the opportunity, did not put his ideas into practice, and ensure that control of credit was vested in the people. Instead, he placed the Commonwealth Bank under the control of a board whose administration adversely affected the economy of Australia for many years. The Commonwealth Parliament has never enacted more important legislation than the Commonwealth Bank Act of 1911. The Commonwealth Bank is novel in that it has no share capital. “When the establishment of a national bank was first discussed by the Labour party in 1907, the idea was that it would be a bank to help ordinary people in their affairs. Later, it was realized that a national bank, by controlling the monetary policy of the nation, could profoundly affect its destiny, and promote the welfare of the people as a whole. The policy of those who founded the Commonwealth Bank was fully vindicated during the period from 1914 to 1918, when the bank became the foundation of Australia’s financial structure. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how the first world war could have been financed without the Commonwealth Bank. The importance of the bank has increased since then, and it is no exaggeration to say that Australia’s economic progress is bound up with its operations.
It is amusing to hear honorable members opposite say that they have never been opposed to the Commonwealth Bank. The other day. the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) said that the Liberal party had never at any time been opposed to the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank. Apparently, his knowledge of the subject is not very profound. If he looks up the files of the newspapers published when the establishment of the bank was first discussed, and studies the cartoons that appeared in weekly newspapers, he will see that there was considerable opposition from Liberal organs of opinion. Some of the cartoons were scurrilous and libellous. One that was printed in Melbourne Punch in 1911 portrayed Andrew Fisher and King O’Malley in the role of burglars hiding behind a tree watching the approach of a man carrying a bag labelled, “ The people’s savings “. Andrew Fisher was represented as saying, “My word, O’Malley, what a wonderful haul we will get “. The suggestion, of course, was that it was intended to confiscate the people’s savings. The Labour party has always sought to guard the people’s savings, and so has the Commonwealth Bank. In 1945, the Commonwealth Bank guaranteed the deposits of the people even in the private banks. It is interesting to recall the attitude of members of the Liberal party to the proposal to establish the Commonwealth Bank. A great majority of them opposed the proposal. Some were not so concerned about establishing a national bank to engage in trading operation, as they were opposed to its becoming a central bank.
Sitting suspended from, 1S.J/5 to 2.15 p.m.
– One of the main reasons for the Liberal -party’s objections to the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank in 1911 was the suggestion that that institution should control the note issue. At that time the Liberal party made dire prophesies to the effect that the control of the note issue, as proposed by the Fisher Government, would result in the reduction of the value of the £1. Commonwealth £1 bank notes were described as “ Fisher’s Flimsies “, and the suggestion was made ad nauseam by the opponents of the bank that within six months it would be found that a £1 banknote could be sold on any street corner in the Commonwealth for the sum of 5s. Time has proved the falsity of those early forecasts, which are typical of the attitude of the Liberal party generally towards the Commonwealth Bank. Members of that party opposed the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank in 1911. and since that time they have accepted its existence with bad grace, and have seldom, if ever, lost an apportunity to snipe at it.
The Labour party makes no apology for objecting to the Government’s proposal to re-establish the Commonwealth Bank Board. Honorable members opposite claim that what happened in the past with respect to the Commonwealth Bank will not happen in the future, but history has an unfortunate habit of repeating itself. The activities of the Commonwealth Bank Board from 1924 to 1945 were of such a nature that they could be repeated if a board of the kind proposed in the bill were constituted. The Treasurer has not announced the names of some of the persons whom the Government proposes to appoint to the bank board, if this bill becomes law. In an endeavour to allay our fears, the right honorable -gentleman has explained that a member of the board may not be a director of a private banking institution. I do not accept- that statement because a member of the board, whilst not being a director of a private bank, may still have a considerable financial interest in or be associated with the conduct of such an institution. The bill does not provide that large shareholders in private banks shall not be eligible for appointment to the Commonwealth Bank Board. A director of a large industrial concern, who mixes freely with the directors of private banks in business and society, may be appointed to the board. Therefore, the Government’s proposal is fraught with all sorts of possibilities that, may prove adverse to the interests of the Australian people. The Commonwealth Bank Board, which ceased to exist in 1945, may be indicted on two main grounds. First, it did not encourage the trading activities of the Commonwealth Bank, and, secondly it attempted, when serious economic and financial problems confronted the country, to dictate to the elected representatives of the people in this Parliament. When that board was appointed in 1924, it made no effort to encourage the trading activities of the Commonwealth Bank. I know several businessmen who, during the 1930’s. attempted to transfer their accounts from private banks to the Commonwealth Bank. When they interviewed the manager of the Commonwealth Bank, they were told that such transfers were contrary to the policy of that institution, and that it would not accept their business. That the Chifley Government was well aware of that situation is proved by Section 18 (2.) of the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945, which reads -
The Bank, through the General Banking Division, shall not refuse -to conduct banking business for any person, by reason only of the fact that to conduct that business would have the effect of taking away business from another bank.
Before 1945, officials of the Commonwealth Bank made no secret of their reluctance to have accounts transferred from the private banks. Honorable members will be interested in the following report of an address by a former Governor of the bank, Mr. Riddle, which appeared in the Sydney Sun on the 22nd November, 1932 : -
Addressing: a meeting of the fellows of the Royal Empire Society at a luncheon in October, 1932. dealing with the policy of the Commonwealth Bank, Mr. Riddle stated that although the Commonwealth Bank continued to conduct general business, that side of its activities was not pushed.
When a customer of a private bank asked the Commonwealth Bank for accommodation, the Commonwealth Bank undertook to investigate his position and if satisfied that he was entitled to the accommodation, private banks were notified and informed by the Commonwealth Bank that if they were prepared to do business they the Commonwealth Bank would withdraw from the negotiations. If not, the Commonwealth Bank would make the advances. In nearly every case, said Mr. Riddle, the private banks made the advances.
Mr. Riddle’s frank statement about the policy of the bank reveals that some of its resources had been utilized to investigate the circumstances of possible clients, and that the information so gleaned had been made available to the private banks. In other words, public money was squandered by the Commonwealth Bank in the interests of the private financial institutions. Mr. Riddle’s admission proves that the policy of the Commonwealth Bank was deliberately and remorselessly conducted with the idea of reducing to a minimum certain sections of its trading activities. Therefore, I contend that the Chifley Government was completely justified in making provision in the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945 for the bank to undertake any class of business that prospective clients brought to it.
The Commonwealth Bank Board was a dictatorial body. In 1931, it had the brazen effrontery to attempt to dictate to the elected representatives of the people, and what is more remarkable, it actually succeeded in doing so. In the tragic days of the financial and economic depression of the early 1930’s, the Scullin Government was faced with a hostile Senate, and was forced to go cap in hand to the Commonwealth Bank Board with a request for financial accommodation to relieve unemployment. The then Treasurer, Mr. Theodore, pointed out to the board the difficulties of the Government and requested it to provide a loan for the assistance of the unfortunate unemployed who were suffering acutely in those troublous times. In my opinion, the board’s reply 19 the most impertinent letter that has ever been sent to a public authority in Australia. Had it not had such tragic consequences, it might have been regarded as amusing. However, the conditions that were laid down by the board meant untold suffering to hundreds of thousands of worthy Australians. The letter, which is dated the 13th February, 1931, was addressed to Mr. Theodore by the then chairman of the board, Sir Robert Gibson. It reads as follows: -
With reference to your discussions with the directors of the Bank Board on the subject of the rehabilitation of the financial and industrial position of Australia when it was agreed that some concerted effort must be made to cope with the situation and so avoid, if possible, the ultimate disaster which will otherwise eventually face the country, I am requested by my board to convey to you a resolution of the board as set forth hereunder - “ Subject to adequate and equitable reduction in all wages, salaries and allowances, social benefits of all kinds, interest and other factors which affect the cost of living, the Commonwealth Bank Board will actively co-operate with the Trading banks and the governments of Australia in sustaining industry and restoring employment. “My board realizes that this resolution in itself can be taken as only a comprehensive objective which it is desirable to aim for, and necessitates some definite movement and the creation of constructive plans for accomplishment. “ I inn requested to state that my board desires me, a* chairman, to cooperate with you in every way possible to this end and to join with you in calling together a conference of the trading banks, when general measures might be adopted for the purpose of giving effect to the terms of the resolution, and the creation of a sub-committee, to be approved, representing the Government, the Commonwealth Bank and the trading banks to. watch developments and advise upon methods to be adopted which will further the attainment to prosperity of the country.”
That was a clear intimation to the Scullin Government that unless it was prepared to bow to the dictates of the Commonwealth Bank Board, the financial assistance that had been sought would not be forthcoming. The Labour party, and the people of Australia as a whole, have not forgotten that experience, and I believe that if the peple are asked to indicate whether they consider that the basis for a repetition of that condition of affairs shall be restored, their verdict will be a resounding “ No “.
The composition of the proposed bank board is so clouded in mystery that members of the Opposition believe that they should do everything in their power to prevent its re-establishment. We suggest that the board could, and possibly would adopt policies that would be detrimental to the interests of the Australian people. The Treasurer has stated that the board will consist of the Governor of the Bank, the Deputy Governor, the Secretary to the Treasury, the Economic Adviser to the Commonwealth Bank, the Commonwealth Statistician, and five other persons. The Government has displayed a marked reluctance to convey to the House any idea of the identity of the five other directors. I suggest that the reason for that secrecy is that the Government has something to hide. It hopes that the Parliament will pass this bill before it reveals the identity of those five persons. Too much power will be placed in the hands of members of the board which, despite the assurances that have been given, will be only indirectly responsible to the Parliament. The Leader of the Opposition has pointed out that the bill docs not provide that the Parliament may resolve a dispute between the Treasurer and the bank board, and even if that objection be met, the bill does not provide for the matter in dispute to be submitted to the Parliament with the least possible delay. Honorable members on this side of the chamber believe that th, proposed composition of the board is a breach of a firm principle of the Labour party, namely, that the representatives of private interests shall not be given a voice in the control of the people’s bank. The proposed new section which allegedly disqualifies the directors or employees of private banks from appointment to’ the Commonwealth Bank Board is “ eyewash “, because a large shareholder in a private bank is eligible for selection. That, loophole leaves the way open for the representatives of industrial firms ami private financial institutions to have a voice in deciding whether the Commonwealth Bank shall expand its operations to serve the interests of the public. They will have an opportunity to exert an influence on proposals for the establishment of new branches of the Commonwealth Bank in towns, suburbs and villages. The Labour party contends that the Commonwealth Bank can expand its operations only by opening additional branches in every part of the Commonwealth where business is offering. It is probable that five representatives of private sectional interests on the proposed board could frustrate any proposals to open new branches of the Commonwealth Bank in suburbs and small towns where the branches of a number of private banks are already in existence. The passage of this bill will also enable the Commonwealth Bank Board to exercise a measure of control on interest rates, a matter in which the interests of the private banks may well be at complete variance with the public interest. We have ample precedent to justify our fear and alarm. For example, the Commonwealth Bank Board in 1932 refused to finance cooperative housing schemes in New South Wales because the private banks were not keen on such a procedure. The bank board at that particular time was, in every sense of the phrase, hand in glove with the private banks. There was no semblance of competition in connexion with interest rates. We are fearful that the same conditions will recur. For example, as soon as the board was established in 1924 the rates of interest for the financing of primary production began to rise. In 1923-24 the interest collected from primary production, plus the amount of bank charges, totalled £3,000,000. In 1924-25 the total was stepped up to £7,000,000. That fact goes to show that the Commonwealth Bank then worked hand in glove with the private banks without any concern for the people who had to pay interest to it and to them. In 1936 the private banks raised interest rates on fixed deposits. Almost immediately the Commonwealth Bank Board took similar action - in other words, there was no semblance of competition between the publicly owned bank and the private financial institutions. As a matter of fact, in 1936 the Melbourne Age was so appalled by the lack of competition and the general state of disinterest evinced by the Commonwealth Bank in respect of the functions that it was intended to carry out, that it published a leading article that contained the following statements : -
Whether the reasons are sound or not, the fact that impresses and startles the community
– Order 1 The honorable gentleman has exhausted his time.
Motion (by Mr. Bryson) put -
That the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) be granted an extension of time.
The House divided. (Mk. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
.- Attempts have been made in this chamber to show that the real reason for the Opposition’s intention to reject or interfere with this bill lies in the depression years of the late 1920’.? and early 1930’s. Fortunately, being rather young during the depression years I can regard this measure without any disturbing recollection of any fear that might have possessed me had I been older than I then was. I find, on looking back, that the world-wide depression did not start in Australia but that Australia was affected by it. I find also that the majority of the governments in Australia at that time, in both State and Federal spheres, were Labour governments. We had in Queensland an antiLabour government.
– What about, the Moore Government?
– After the depression was over, and perhaps basing their actions on the custom of the ancient Israelites of selecting a scapegoat to bear the sins of the whole year on the annual day of atonement, the Labour party in Queensland decided that it would find a scapegoat for the depression. It is rather interesting to note that in Queensland where we had, as I have been reminded by the honorable member who interjected a moment ago, the Moore Government, the Labour party found its scapegoat in that Government because it was an antiLabour Government. For the last eighteen years, whenever people of my political thought have risen to address a meeting, somebody has felt bound to bellow from the back, “What about the Moore Government ? “ The Moore Government became the Labour party’s scapegoat for the depression. Many young people who were not born in the depression years have been so indoctrinated with that belief by the Labour party that they really and truly believe that when Mr. Moore was Premier of Queensland he caused a worldwide depression, and they give him full discredit for doing so. But it would not do for the Labour party to blame Labour governments in power in other States at that time, and so the blame for the depression was attached, in those States, to the private banks, which therefore occupied the same position of scapegoat in those States as the Moore Government occupied in Queensland. People who have been subjected to the indoctrination of the Labour party over the years have come to believe that the private trading banks were, in effect, responsible for a worldwide depression that affected almost every nation on earth. This doctrine was originated before we in Australia had come to understand the meaning of propaganda as it was first practiced in Hitler’s Germany. Honorable members opposite worked on the principle that if they repeated a misstatement often enough the people would believe it, and because many people are gullible they believed the story that was told to them. Yesterday I listened with interest to the speech of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron). At the time of the depression a Labour government was in office in the State which be represents.
– That is so, but its decisions were overridden by the Commonwealth Bank Board.
– The honorable member poured out a tirade against the private hanks of Australia.
– What does the honorable member know about the depression? He was not on the dole for six years as I was.
– Fortunately, because of my ability I was able to hold my job. Labour’s doctrine of blaming the private banks has been embraced by very many comparatively young men. I give the honorable member credit for honestly believing that the private banks caused the depression which brought him to the dole. During the debate on the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply I listened to the harrowing details given, by the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) of his experiences during the depression years. When he described how he waited at Broken Hill from week’ to week for the dole his words brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat. He, too, is a young man who has been indoctrinated with the erroneous belief that the private banks were responsible for the depression. Here are two young men, one from South Australia and the other from New South Wales, who have been indoctrinated with the belief that, because they could not blame the governments of their own States for the conditions that were brought about by the depression, they must perforce blame the trading banks. A young Labour member from Queensland has asked, “ What did the Moore Government do ? “ He blames that Government for the depression. Honorable members opposite believe that the greater the number of scapegoats they can find the more easily will they be able to implant dissension among the people. An analysis of the facts will reveal that the disastrous consequences that befel Australia during the depression resulted from happenings overseas. Most of the Labour governments that were in office in Australia at the time did little to soften the impact of the depression or to lessen its effects upon the community. On the contrary the Moore Government of Queensland did everything it possibly could to ease the sufferings of the people resulting from the depression. That Government assumed office at a time when its predecessor, the Labour Government, was no longer willing to carry on the administration of the State. When the Moore Government assumed office the number of unemployed in Queensland represented 29 per cent, of the population of that State. When it relinquished office three years later unemployment had dropped to 22 per cent, of the population. As one who was an almost disinterested spectator during the depression I am convinced that neither the governments of the day nor the trading hanks had anything to do with it. The depression has had a great effect on the history of Australia during the last eighteen years. The sufferings of the people at that time have distorted the thoughts of the supporters of the Labour movement. As the result of the manner in which the facts of the depression were misrepresented the right honorable member for Macquarie, the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley), was able to assume office as Prime Minister of Australia.
– He was the best Prime Minister Australia has ever had.
– When he came into power he was imbued with the thought that at all costs he must place on the private banks full responsibility for the difficulties that faced this country during the depression years. As soon as he assumed office he launched a vendetta on the banks. Honorable members opposite have said that during the last general election campaign the Liberal party conducted a campaign of fear and terror. L remind them of a certain day in 1947 when the then Prime Minister of Australia, now the Leader of the Opposition, in an announcement of 21 words sent a wave of fear throughout the whole community. The excitement of the people reached a high pitch when they realized that he intended to bring about the culmination of all his past efforts to gain control of the people by means of the Banking Act 1947.
– He did not frighten the workers.
– Those who worked in factories realized that whoever controlled the financial policy of Australia controlled the factories in which they worked, and also controlled their jobs. I interviewed many men and women in their homes and listened to their views about the Chifley Government’s banking legislation. Their fear that that legislation would bring the people of Australia completely under the control of the then Treasurer, was very real. At that time petitions and letters of protest poured into Canberra from all over the countryside. No one can convince me that only wealthy people signed the petitions or wrote the letters of protest.
– They were “stooges”, just as is the honorable member himself.
– Order ! The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) must cease interjecting.
– Petitions and letter? of protest came from the factories, offices and homes. They were signed by young and old because the people realized tha t, the Chifley Government intended to take from them their God-given right to govern themselves through their elected representatives in this Parliament. If the Banking Act 1947 had remained unchallenged the people would have lost their personal freedom which they regarded as a precious right. During the last general election campaign the people were vitally interested in the subject of banking control. The people of Victoria had already made known their views about it in a very emphatic manner. Australians, generally, realized that the general election provided them with what would probably be the last opportunity to decide who should determine the banking policy of Australia. They knew what they wanted and how to get it. Only the stalwarts of the Labour movement who would adhere to the platform of the Labour party through blood, fire and water, believed that Labour was not. plotting against the freedom of the people. The people grasped the opportunity to protect their freedom before it could be lost forever. We are here to carry out the will of the people. We sit in this Parliament for that purpose alone. Those who were honest said to the electors, “ We shall represent you in the National Parliament and do our utmost to govern in a way that is good for you “. The people were so interested in the election campaign that some of the political meetings were the largest that had been held in this country fomany years. . We on thi3 side of the Housewere conscious of the drift of public feeling. So, too, were honorable members opposite. The then Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) and his deputy, the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) held up their hands in pious horror at the thought that any one would suggest that they intended to interfere with the banking institutions of Australia by nationalizing the trading banks. They said, “ That is a dead issue. We would hot do such a thing “. Only une honorable member opposite had the courage of his convictions. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who was then Minister for Transport and Minister for External Territories said, frankly, “ Of course we shall nationalize the banks. That is a plank in our platform. We are bound to nationalize the banks “. Every Labour mail was bound to uphold the platform of the Labour party as endorsed in 1948, which pledged the party to proceed with r.be nationalization of banking. So, this glossing over of the intentions of the Labour movement continued. Honorable members opposite tried to fool the people into believing that no further attempts would be made to control the private banks. Some people must have believed them, but the majority were more influenced by the policy speech of the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), who was destined to become Prime Minister of Australia on the 10th December. They listened to, and were impressed by, these words of the right honorable gentleman -
We believe that a central bank ought not to hp able to ignore the wishes of the elected representatives of the people, but we believe that great financial decisions which, if they are wrong, are wrong on so vast a scale as to injure many thousands of people, should not be made by one man without reference to or control by the national Parliament.
On the night on which the present Prime Minister delivered his policy speech, I was in a mining town in my electorate. Loudspeakers had been set up in a hall and in the streets to give the people an opportunity to listen to the words of my leader. I was interested in the reactions of the people. I saw the light of interest in their eyes. People stopped in the street to listen to his stirring words. When the right honorable gentleman had finished that section of his speech which dealt with banking the miners and their wives cheered him to the echo, as did the people generally. They realized that he was the one man who was in close touch with them and was able to enunciate in a few words a policy that appealed to them. So, on the 10th December, a decision was made not only as to who should occupy the Government benches in this House,, but also who should decide the banking policy of Australia. That decision was the decision of the people of Australia as a whole. It was not made over-night. The people had given close thought to this subject of banking policy from 1947 to 1949. They talked about it as they worked in their homes; they talked about it all over the countryside and the result is that we have a government bringing forward a bill that expresses the opinion of the majority of the people of Australia. This bill represents government by the people. It represents democracy in action. It expresses clearly and definitely exactly what the majority of the Australian people want. It relieves them of their past fears. It repeals the 1947 legislation. It gives back to the people the control of the financial affairs of their land. It gives back to them, through their elected representatives, the right to decide what they shall do with their money in their own country.
This bill then becomes more than a document that is written in words with ink on paper; it becomes an expression of the opinion of the people and, as such, a symbol of democracy. I say to honorable members opposite and to any person who may attempt to tear down this symbol of democracy, “ Beware ! History provides abundant proof that those who attempted to destroy were themselves destroyed “.
.- In considering the Commonwealth Bank Bill 1950, some pertinent factors present themselves. First, the alterations sought to be made were not clean and clear-cut issues before the general public. One section- of the community, representative of the banking interests of this country, was clearly opposed to the 1945 banking legislation and was determined that a Commonwealth Bank Board should displace the authority that had been set up by the Chifley Government. To usethe words of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), it was determined to establish a bankers’ bank or a bank of banks. But most of the ordinary folk of this country - and this was very firmly stressed by the last speaker - were led along the false trail that the real issue was nationalization of banking, even though the 1947 act had been held to be invalid. In order to lead the people further down this false trail, legislation was projected which would provide that before any further nationalization issues could be legislatively enacted by this Parliament, they would have to be approved by the people at a referendum. There is not the slightest doubt that the proposal now before the Mouse was not specifically approved by the people. The Government is merely taking advantage of the confusion that it set out to cause and did, in fact, cause. Clearly, the 1945 acts were approved by the people at the general election in 1946 and that approval was given in a most definite way. Honorable members composing the Government switched the terms “ nationalization “ and “ socialization “ until the utmost confusion existed in the minds of the people and, so far as I know, that confusion still exists.
I have often wondered by what force and at what time nationalization became synonymous with socialization. Nationalization has been an instrument of conservative governments both here and abroad ever since the beginning of parliamentary practice. Conservative governments nationalized railways when they found that expedient. They took over from private enterprise and developed huge irrigation schemes when private enterprise had failed; they developed water reticulation and storage schemes; And, in particular, they had no compunction about nationalizing education and thereby affected private property at its very source. They directed when and how and what a child should be taught. I ask the great champions of private property to reflect that the essence of private property is found in the Marriage Act and the rights of parents to teach their children when and how and what they wish. The nationalized education system is a product, not of Labour governments, but of conservative governments. Those governments have had very little regard for the actual interests of private property where they affected parents and their offspring. The only time they spring to attention on this subject is when it happens to affect moneyed interests. That point should be borne firmly in mind by those who are prepared to reflect on whether or not nationalization in certain circumstances is good or bad. It is unadulterated hypocrisy to specifically wrap the Labour party in the garb of nationalization. Nationalization is a convenient government institution and whoever administers a country determines the degree of democracy and the wisdom that may be expressed under such an institution.
To socialize an organization is a democratic and responsible act. Rightly understood, it involves erection of the three sides of a concern. There would be, of course, the ownership, the producer, and the consumer. In applying the principle to the Commonwealth Bank a board would be composed of one representative elected by the Parliament, one representative elected by those engaged in the undertaking, and one representative of those for whom the institution was established, namely the people associated with the Commonwealth Bank itself. I very much regret the confusion that exists in relation to the whole subject. As has already been contended, nationalization is not an issue in our consideration of this measure. My party do not intend to oppose the repeal of the 1947 act which, as I have said, has already been declared invalid.
To summarize these points, I assert that because the 1945 acts were approved ai the 1946 general election and because those who are now on the treasury bench confused the electors on the whole banking issue, no mandate for. the principal amendment proposed has been given by the people. Honorable members who allege that they have a mandate from the people for the introduction of the principal amendment are indulging in wishful thinking.
The second issue that presents itself clearly is that the Commonwealth Bank belongs peculiarly to the Labour movement. Labour gave it its shape against bitter opposition and those who gave it that shape - those who envisaged the scheme - also contemplated giving to the institution its very soul. They knew the method by which the private banks operated and flourished and spread ruin and misery and they desired to ensure that never again should the people lose all their savings as they had done previously. They knew to what extent the people could rely upon those whose souls could not rise above the motive of profit. They decided that its characteristics should be such that no outside influence would ever mould its development or corrupt its practice. The Commonwealth Bank was Labour’s greatest monument and it has excited the envy and jealousy of every ill-intentioned institution or representative that has been opposed to the Labour movement. It has been the first object of evil desires and, in the fullest sense, it has been raped every time antiLabour forces have been successful at the polls in this country. The Bruce-Page Government made it a bankers’ bank and the people, who were the owners, were robbed of thousands of pounds while the bank was used to bolster the credit of the private banks during the difficult years following 1929. It was used, as the outcast it was then, to add to the miseries of the depressed in those dreadful years following 1929. The Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) had the temerity in his second reading speech to say -
We are convinced that responsibility for the determination of monetary and banking policy should be a collective responsibility and the bill now before the House is designed to give effect to this principle by setting up a Commonwealth Bank Board under the chairmanship of the Governor and by restoring to the elected representatives of the people the ultimate responsibility for monetary and banking policy.
He emphasized that that principle was embodied in the Commonwealth Bank Bill which was introduced by the Right Honorable Sir Earle Page as Treasurer in 1924. Ask the people who lived under the Scullin Government how much say in the management of the bank the elected representatives of the people had in their dire years of crisis. At that time this people’s bank completely lost its character and the 1945 legislation was a guarantee of reform. No sooner is the anti-Labour party again in power than its hands stretch out to the object of its illicit affection because as it touches it corrupts, and the bank board is the issue with which we are again presented.
If the 1950 bill be compared with the 1945 bill it will be seen that either conversions have been effected or there is significance in the appointment of aboard. The speeches made by the Treasurer and the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) on each occasion in relation to practically the same subject would lead one inevitably to the conclusion either that they have undergone conversion or that there is a tremendous significance in the appointment of a bank board. The Treasurer cried out in 1945 that the bill of that year pronounced sentence of death on the private banks. To-day he says that the trading department of the Commonwealth Bank will be enlarged and that there will be active competition between it and the private banks. In 1945 the Prime Minister called the bill of that year reactionary and unsound, and complained that the interests of the private banks and their shareholders were only of minor importance. To-day he seems to have donned one of the mantles of the right honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Chifley) and is all for fair competition which he believed, in 1945, would lead to slow strangulation. There have been some very great changes in the speeches of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. Have their ideas changed? Why are so few marks made upon this keystone, the 1945 act? Is there so much as a cold acquiescence with the bulk of its provisions? What is the reason for the present attitude of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer? Their motive is to conserve the interests of the private banks. Listen to what the Melbourne Herald of the 18th March had to say -
Powers conferred on the Commonwealth Bank by the 1945 legislation now endorsed by the Menzies Government- and this is important - with provisos about the board of reference to Parliament are strong enough to drive the trading banks out of existence if used to that end.
That statement is strongly reminiscent of the statements that were made in 1945 by many honorable members who support the present Government. The article in the Herald continued -
Restoration of a board with political independence was promised. In now going half way on this and retaining five of the bank’s present advisory council, the Government is, in effect, paying a tribute to the reasonableness with which those public servants performed their duties.
Thus, the Herald declared that the Commonwealth Bank has indeed become a great national institution, particularly in respect of its central banking functions. That being so, as I contend that it is, why is there a demand for a change? Nobody is being driven out of business, and there is no need for fear on that account. The Herald claims that it speaks on behalf of the general public. Who, then, demands that the organization established by the 1945 legislation shall be altered? That newspaper, of course, also expresses the views of other people, and I ask honorable members to pay careful attention to the following passage in the article : -
It still comes back … to the sort of government the people elect. If a government wants, or dares, to use the powers they are still there.
There are other powers that were not mentioned by the Herald but that can be exercised when a Government that has a demand to fulfil is in office.
According to all the evidence, not a breath of criticism has been directed at the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank or the advisory council that was appointed under the 1945 legislation. Not one excuse has been produced for the Government’s proposal to attack the 1945 egislation. On the contrary, we have heard nothing but praise of the Governor of the bank and the advisory council. There is not a single wrong to be righted. Yet this Government has seized upon the earliest available opportunity to endeavour to change the organization. We are entitled to ask why it has decided to do so. The Labour party wanted the Commonwealth Bank to operate under a management untainted by financial interests outside the bank. It succeeded. The advisory council has worked successfully, and everything is going smoothly at present. In fact, so impressed are the latest converts to the Labour party’s view that the services of the members of the advisory council are to be retained. Nevertheless the efforts of those members can be rendered ineffective in the most subtle way. The authors of this scheme can operate behind the backs of the most honest and place responsibility upon even the most pure. Therein undoubtedly lies the motive for the Government’s action. The powers that will be granted to the Commonwealth Bank under the bill are as wide as those that were granted to it in 1945. It will fix the whole range of interest rates. It will have the power to order trading banks to adopt different rates from those charged by itself. Those powers, of course, can be used in two ways. They can cripple the trading banks or they can affect the business of the Commonwealth Bank. The Herald gave a further clue when it stated -
It should be sufficient for the central bank to set the general level of interest rates and allow their breakdown and details to be fixed by competition.
The result depends upon the board.
The Commonwealth Bank issues to the trading banks detailed instructions about the sorts and amounts of advances that they can make to various classes of industry. That is an important provision in these days of unbalanced economy, and it stresses the urgent necessity for the management of the Commonwealth Bank to be completely divorced from business interests. I listened very carefully to a statement that the Prime Minister made recently about the unbalanced economy of Australia and the necessity for importing houses and materials in order to restore equilibrium. Luxury production is in an overprosperous condition to-day at the expense of the production of basic materials, ‘and it is possible for that bad state to be made worse, especially if business interests are to be represented on the Commonwealth Bank’s board of directors and even be given the power of a majority vote. That must be apparent to everybody. The whole economy of Australia could be disturbed by a. wrong majority appointment to the board. The trading banks have to obtain the permission of the Commonwealth Bank even to invest in Commonwealth loans. Any increased deposits with the trading banks must be lodged, upon demand, in special accounts with the Commonwealth Bank. That provision has had the effect of preventing overlending and the acceleration of secondary inflation. If those powers were placed in the bands of interested parties, the whole economic structure of Australia could be menaced. Having those facts in mind, 1 return to the search for the Government’s motive.
The legislation provides for the granting of wide powers that could be used not only for the destruction of the private banks, which is not contemplated, but also for the complete break-down of our economic life, by radical changes of administration in order to gratify the desire for profits of the private banks. The 1945 legislation is not being amended for fresh air purposes ! The present administration of the Commonwealth Bank is without blame and has not been the subject of any accusations. Unfortunately, the private banks ‘ engaged in politics last year. Their style had been cramped by the 1945 legislation, the 1947 act having been declared invalid. They poured thousands of pounds into the campaign funds of Liberal and Australian Country party candidates, and now the pay-off is being worked out in a most subtle way. The names of five men who have been chosen for appointment to the proposed board have been announced already. The quality of their work has earned commendation. But the names of the remaining five members will be hidden until this measure receives the signature of authority. “Who will those members be? They must not represent financial interests. But, as has been pointed out, they may represent business interests or investors in financial institutions. The provision that members of the proposed board may not represent financial interests appears to be shrewd until wo remember a certain Prime Minister, who resigned his business directorship when he became a Minister of the Crown, but picked up all the threads immediately after his parliamentary days had ended.
– I rise to order. You ruled yesterday, Mr. Speaker, that an honorable member might take objection to remarks concerning another honorable member as being personally offensive to him. The honorable member for Darebin (Mr. Andrews) has just made an untrue and completely misleading statement concerning a, former leader of my party. It is most offensive to me. and 1 ask that he withdraw it.
– Is the person towhom the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) refers a member of this-
House at present?
– No. I am speaking of Lord Bruce.
– I cannot uphold the point of order.
– Nonetheless the wordswere offensive to me, and, as you have made a. departure in one respect, I ask. you to do so in another respect.
– My ruling is and must remain that any words used in respect of a member of this House that are considered to be offensive to that member or any other honorable member must be withdrawn. Unfortunately, the Standing Orders do not provide for the protection of any person who is not a member of this House.
– Nobody could be convinced that the mind of the former Prime Minister whom I have mentioned suffered any radical change when hpresigned his directorship.
Five members remain to be chosen for appointment to the proposed Commonwealth Bank board. The Secretary to the Treasury will undoubtedly, and I believe rightly, represent the views of the Treasurer. A statement that was madeby the Treasurer during his secondreading speech gave us a cue as to what might be expected in connexion withthe appointments that remain to beannounced. He said that collective responsibility for the determination of policy would be restored by the reestablishment of a board comprising men of wide knowledge and experience.
– What is wrong With that?
– I allow any honorable member one guess as to the interpretation that will be placed by the Government and its supporters upon the term “ men of wide knowledge and experience “. The statement indicates to me that the Government can have six effective votes on the proposed bank board. Under the 1945 legislation, if the government of the day wished to effect a change of policy, it had to accept responsibility for its action and take the consequences. It had no alternative. Under the bill now before the House, the Treasurer will be able to make secure the policy of his Government through the appointments that he makes to the bank board and to take refuge behind the board. In fact, the Parliament will have no responsibility in respect of policy. The private banking interests have undoubtedly provided the motive for the introduction of this bill. It arises from their hostility to the restriction of their profits and to the substantial expansion of the Commonwealth Bank. The bill is designed to destroy the system which the Labour party has established. I am unwaveringly opposed to Part V. of the bill, which is intended to take the place of Part V., Divisions 1 and 2, of the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945.
The Government and its supporters should realize that they have no more hope of avoiding national planning henceforward than they have of flying to the moon. National planning has become part and parcel of the very life, not only of Australia, but also of every other country. I greatly regret that Government supporters persist in describing nationalization as socialization and in trying to link it with communism in order to pretend that the Labour party is almost on all fours with the Communist party, whose forces are sweeping down from the north in the direction of Australia even now. Honorable members on the Government side know that national planning has come to stay, and all the experts who have spoken about it say that planning of the nation’s economyis absolutely inevitable. If this country is to have a sound defence system then national planning is essential. As men must be nationalized for service during war, so the nation’s affairs must be planned during peace for defence in time of war. The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Spender) is striving to work in co-operation with other nations so that a sound economic plan can be made to stop the flood of communism pouring from the north to the south of Asia. Economic planning on a great scale is necessary if the poverty in the eastern parts of Asia is to be overcome and if that type of national planning represented by communism is to be eliminated. Those who have confused the people on the subject of nationalization have done a grave disservice to Australia.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr. Bryson) put -
That the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. Andrews) be granted an extension of time.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . 18
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I give my support to this bill with the greatest confidence that the measure will bring back to Australia sound and stable administration of the Commonwealth Bank in the interests of enterprise and liberty. It has been urged that in addressing ourselves to this particular proposal we should look at the history of the activities of the Commonwealth Bank, and particularly at the history of the association of all parties in this House with the activity and progress of it. There is no doubt that the Government of Australia has a fair mandate to proceed along the lines set out in this bill. The vote on the policy placed before the people of Australia by the present governing parties during the last general election, was clear and overwhelming. It left no doubt in the mind of any one that the people supported the proposals and agreed that legislation such as this should be placed on the statute-book of this country. The Opposition was undoubtedly surprised in many respects by the vote of the people at that election. During the session of the Parliament preceding the election the number of electorates in Australia had been increased, and a redistribution of seats had been made. [Quorum formed, .] No one would suggest that the Government of this country, in carrying out that redistribution, would do so without some thought about its own future and the result of the pending general election. Therefore it is quite apparent that the government of the day would examine the redistribution with the closest attention, in order to see how its prospects would be affected by it. It is known that the recommendations of the commission that was appointed to fix the boundaries of electorates were examined by the Government, and returned to the commission for review. Naturally, the Labour Government wished the boundaries to be fixed in such a way as to give it the best chance of winning the elections.
– What has this got to do with the bill ?
– It has to do with the mandate of the Government to introduce this bill. The Labour Government even altered some of the names which the commission had recommended for electorates. For instance, the name proposed for the electorate which I now represent was Kendall, but the Government changed it to Lyne.
– I rise to a point of order. Is the honorable member justified in discussing the names of electoral divisions?
– He is just as much in order as were those members of the Opposition who, when discussing the mandate of the Government to amend the Banking Act, cited the figures which the various parties had polled in the general election.
– I was one of those whom you rebuked, Mr. Speaker, for digressing from the subject-matter before the Chair. I think your remarks were a reflection on me.
– The honorable member must withdraw that statement. He must not reflect on the Chair.
– I withdraw the statement. However, I think the honorable member has been digressing, and I ask you to see that the Standing Orders are observed.
– So far, the honorable member has been in order.
– The commission probably recommended the name of Kendall in order to perpetuate the name of Henry Kendall, and also because there is a town of Kendall in the district. Why the name of Lyne was bestowed on the electorate I do not know. Despite the attempts of the Government so to arrange the electorates as to make conditions as favorable as possible for itself, . a majority of the people voted the Labour Government out of office. The electors made it quite clear that they were opposed to Labour policy, and they gave the present Government an unquestionable mandate to apply its policy of providing freedom of opportunity for all. The Opposition is opposed to this bill because its members stand for socialism. Members of the Opposition take great credit to themselves and their party for the existence of the Commonwealth Bank, but it is obvious that they have never examined the position carefully. The record of the Labour party over the last 40 years in its relation, to the Commonwealth Bank is a dismal disappointment. Although members of the Labour party have talked more about the bank than any one else, they have done little for it. The Labour Government which established the bank provided it with so little capital that for years it was unable to progress. The bank struggled on until 1924, when legislation was introduced by tie Bruce-Page Government to provide for the control of the bank by a board. The measure went further than that, and provided something which no Labour government had done. I refer to £20,000,000 of additional capital, which enabled the bank to expand its operations as never before. From 1924, when the bank was’ provided with sufficient capital, until 1945, Labour was in office for only about two years, when Mr. Scullin was Prime Minister. Therefore, practically all the progress made by the bank up to 1945 was made under non-Labour governments. During that period, the bank expanded its operations throughout all the States, and opened branches in a great many towns. During the last war, it did a tremendous job by financing the nation’s war effort, as well as the primary industries, and it was all done under the control of the Commonwealth Bank Board. When members of the Labour party attack the board, which directed the operations of the bank so successfully for twenty years, it is obvious they are actuated by political motives. The act of 1924 placed control of the note issue in the hands of the Commonwealth Bank Board. That was another progressive move. It also provided for the setting up of the Rural Credits Department,- which has done much to help the rural industries. Unlike the Labour Government in 1912, the Bruce-Page Government in 1924 provided the new department of the bank with adequate capital. An amount of £2.000,000 was made available to enable the bank to begin its operations immediately. In 193S, the non-Labour government then in power brought in a bill to establish a mortgage bank department of the bank, but the war intervened, and the scheme was not put into effect. In 1943, when a Labour government was in office, legislation was enacted to set up a mortgage bank department, but only after a committee representing all parties bad recommended a scheme which was almost on all fours with the proposal of 193S. It is clear, therefore, that nonLabour governments have made genuine and successful attempts to extend the operations of the bank, and to increase its usefulness to the nation. They have not used the bank merely as an excuse for political propaganda, as has the Labour party.
In the course of this debate members of the Opposition have spoken much about the depression. It is well that the subject should be mentioned, because a Labour government, under the leadership of Mr. Scullin, was in office in 1929 when ihe depression began, and another La 00711 government was in office in New South Wales during the period of the depression. Labour members opposite have claimed that the Scullin Government could not take the measures it believed should be taken during the depression because of the opposition of the Commonwealth Bank Board.
– And of the Senate.
– Yes, and of the Senate. However, if the Labour Government at that time believed that the opposition of the bank board, and the hostility of the Senate in which the Labour party was in a minority, were preventing it from taking action to relieve the depression, why did it not approach the GovernorGeneral and ask for a double dissolution, so that it might go to the people for a mandate authorizing it to impose its will upon the bank ? The Scullin Government was not game to seek a mandate from the people to enable it to give effect to its policy for countering the conditions of the economic depression, and thereby failed miserably in its responsibility to Australia. Because of that failure, it. was thrown out of office, and the Labour party remained in Opposition for nine years. The Labour party must accept responsibility for the conditions that prevailed in Australia in those difficult economic times because the Scullin Government had a substantial majority in this House. If it had had confidence in its policy, it could have sought a double dissolution in the hope of obtaining a majority in the Senate. Members of th? Labour party have attempted to blame the Commonwealth Bank Board and the nonLabour parties for the depression, and they conveniently overlook the fact that they failed miserably to deal with the situation.
– I rise to order. The honorable- member for Lyne has repeated a misstatement three times. We all know that the Scullin Government did not go to the country because the hostile Senate was sufficiently clever not to reject its economic legislation but to refer it to a select committee. Is the honorable member for Lyne in order in indulging in tedious repetition?
– There is no point of order.
– The Scullin Government failed to shoulder its responsibilities, and members of the Labour party are well aware of the fact, but they are trying to shelter behind the Commonwealth Bank Board. The Scullin Government had ample opportunity to introduce measures for the purpose of alleviating the distress that was caused by the depression, but it ran away from its responsibilities. Thousands of Australians in every walk of life suffered severely during the depression.
– Did the honorable member suffer?
– Yes. Hundreds of thousands of Australians engaged in primary and secondary industries suffered severely during the depression. That difficult economic period had a serious affect on the Australian birthrate. As the result of unemployment, young people were not able to marry, establish their homes and have families. To-day, Australia is paying the price. Had the Labour Government at that time made practical provision to relieve the situation, more young Australians would have married and the birthrate would have been higher. The Labour party must accept responsibility for that position.
The members of the Commonwealth Bank Board during the financial economic depression of the early 1930’s were most capable, highly reputable gentlemen who had as much interest in the welfare of Australia and its progress as any honorable member of this House, or any person that the Labour party has pro.duced. They were Australian citizens who were anxious to do the best they could for their country in those troublous times. Honorable members opposite sneeringly referred to them as tobacco merchants and farmers, but they were just as qualified to hold their responsible position on the Commonwealth Bank Board as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) would be. The Commonwealth Bank Bil1 which the Chifley Government introduced in 1945 dissolved the board, and the reason for that action is clear. Thi’ Labour Government set out to socialize Australian industry, but could not succeed in doing so while gentlemen of un questionable ability, who were opposed to socialization, controlled the policy of the bank. Therefore, the board was abolished and the Government appointed in its stead a financial dictator. Th,Common wealth Bank Act 1945 gives to the Governor of that institution and the Treasurer, complete control of the financial destiny of the country. The Curtin Government and the Chifley Government appointed many boards consisting of three, four or five members, yet it placed the control of the greatest financial institution in Australia in the hands of one man. It is obvious that the purpose of the Chifley Government was to socialize this nation through the Commonwealth Bank. The Australian people, by the mandate that they had given to this Government, have demonstrated their opposition to any form of socialization, and, therefore, the Government propose? to place the control of the Commonwealth Bank in the hands of capable men who will ensure for the people and for industry, a continuance of freedom and opportunity.
Time will not permit me to deal at length with many of the provisions of the bill, but I should like to point out that the responsibility of the Commonwealth Bank to-day is not so much a matter of actually providing money a? of trying to check the serious inflationary conditions in Australia. That problem is most serious, and can cause grave economic difficulties. The present Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, and other planners associated with the Chifley Government, have failed to check inflation, and, therefore, the new Government, with its mandate, has every right to place the control of the Commonwealth Rank under the board of able and experienced men in the expectation that they will be able to deal with that problem. The constitution of the proposed board is sound. The link between the bank and ike Treasury is essential. It is proper that the deputy governor of the bank should be a member of the board. I have no reason to speak against the Governor himself, but I should like members of the Labour party to explain why the Chifley Government appointed as the governor a man who had not been a member of the staff of the Commonwealth Bank. That institution has progressed successfully for 40 years, and the Government could have recognized the faithful and competent services of its trained staff by selecting one of them as Governor. Fortunately, the Deputy Governor is a trained banker. The Secretary of the Treasury has considerable experience of banking. The selection of the Commonwealth Statistician as a member of the board is obvious, because of his knowledge of economic and financial activities in Australia. Professor Melville possesses wide experience of financial matters. But despite the experience of those gentlemen as economists and bankers, it is still desirable that a financial institution should have associated with it a number of men who have had practical experience of business in Australia. Therefore, the Government has acted wisely in asking the Parliament to authorize it to appoint as directors five other men who have had experience of the Australian industrial structure. I have every confidence that it will select five practical, highly responsible men.
.- The main objection - in fact the only real objection - that the Opposition has to this bill is in relation to the future control of the Commonwealth Bank, the people’s bank. A great principle is involved in that issue. If the attitude of the Government in this matter is indicative of the shape of things to come and the manner in which it will fulfil its election pledges, the people of Australia will not have much faith in it in future. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) solemnly promised the people, during the recent election campaign that if returned to office, they would ask the Parliament to amend the Commonwealth Bank Act with a view to re-establishing a small board to control that institution. The Prime Minister particularly stressed that fact in his pre-election speeches. Everything now hinges on the definition of “ a small board “. If the Government had kept its promise and had provided in the biD for the appointment of a small board, the Opposition might have been inclined to give some consideration to the legislation. Probably many people consider that the appointment of a small board consisting of three, or even five members to control the Commonwealth Bank would be reasonable, but I am sure that many of the people who voted for the Government at the last election consider that they have been seriously misled, because the Government now proposes to appoint a board of ten members.
The House can define “ a small board “ only by comparing the proposed Commonwealth Bank board with the boards that control other financial institutions. Many honorable members opposite who have been associated with large businesses, have a knowledge of the constitution of public companies, banks and the like. I invite them to name a financial institution that has a board of ten members. I have gone to the trouble of analysing the directorates of various large companies and banking institutions that are operating in Australia, and I have come to the conclusion that the proposed board of ten members for the Commonwealth Bank is unusually large. The Bank of Australasia, a big organization which is really controlled from overseas, has branches throughout. Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. It has London directors in addition to Australian directors. The Government may be astonished to learn that the directors of that institution number eight. The Bank cf New South Wales, which is the largest private financial institution in this country, has its head office in Sydney, and branches in London and Fiji, and throughout Australia and New Zealand. It has a board of seven directors. The Commercial Bank of Australia Limited, with its head office in Melbourne and branches in London and throughout Australia and New Zealand, has a board of five directors. The Commercial Banking Company of Sydney Limited, with ite head office in Sydney and a branch office in London, and branch offices throughout Australia, has a board of six directors.
The English, Scottish and Australian Bank Limited, with its head office in London, and branches throughout Australia, has a board of six. The National Bank of Australasia Limited, the largest private bank after the Bank of New South Wales, has a branch in London, and branches throughout the Commonwealth. It has a board of nine members. The Union Bank of Australia Limited, with branches throughout Australia and New Zealand, has a board of eight directors. Not one of those banks has a hoard that is as large as the proposed board of the Commonwealth Bank. Australian Consolidated Industries Limited, which is one of the largest industrial organizations in this country, has a board of six members. The ramifications of that company are very wide indeed, and extend overseas. Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, which is the biggest industrial organization in Australia, and one of the largest in the world, has a huge capital and many activities and also has numerous subsidiaries, but it has a board of only six members, some of whom have to bc technical men so as to be able to deal with the various aspects of the company’s activities and those of it3 subsidiaries. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited has a board of five directors ; the Electrolytic Zinc Company of Australasia Limited has a board of six directors; and Howard Smith Limited, which has extensive interests in shipping, coal, iron, steel, sugar, and cement, has a board of four directors. Honorable members who have been associated with industry and commerce know that company directorates usually have from three to five members, because- a company must be conducted efficiently and a large board is unwieldy and makes its operations more costly and inefficient than they otherwise would be. The Opposition’s whole criticism of the bill hinges upon the interpretation of the words “ a small board”. If the Government had kept faith with the electors and had brought down a bill in conformity with the promise that the Liberal and Australian Country parties made during the general election campaign that a small board would be appointed, the bill might have been worthy of some consideration. The whole bill is a fraud and justifies our suspicion of it. After all, there are more ways of killing a goose than by chopping its head off. .It is possible to get rid of it by slow strangulation, and anybody whohas studied the history of the Commonwealth Bank when it was in the hands of anti-Labour governments in days gone by knows that that is what actually happened to it.
I turn now to the qualifications of the members of the proposed, board. The proposed new section 23 (1.) provides that the board shall consist of the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, the Deputy Governor, the Secretary to the Treasury and seven other members who shall be appointed by the Governor-General in accordance with, the provisions of the proposed’ new section. In introducing the bill, the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) pointed out that twoof the seven other members may be officers of the bank or of the Public Service. I stress that point. That is a very astute move. It is also a unique move,, because I do not know of any precedenfor an announcement, before a bill actually becomes law, that mentions the proposed directors by name. In this instance the proposed directors mentioned’ are a very eminent gentleman, Mr. Melville, who is in the Public Service at the present time, and Dr. Roland Wilson, who will occupy their positions merely at the will of the government of the day. It is important to bear in mind that all the seven junior members of the proposed board are to be recruited from spheres that are entirely outside hanking. Fiveof them are not to be members of thePublic Service or of the Commonwealth Bank staff. The Treasurer, when heintroduced the bill, specifically stated that - in appointing the members, who will not berepresentative of any sectional interests within the community, and will not have any association with other banks, the Government will befully conscious of- the need for men of wide knowledge and experience. The inclusion of such men will bring to the board’s deliberations the views of men who are not directly associated with government administration and policy.
That is an extraordinary procedure, which’ means that men in the Public Service and in the employ of the Commonwealth Bank, who have had long years of training in connexion with the service of the people of the country and in that banking organization are being deliberately excluded from eligibility for appointment to .the proposed board. Apparently anybody else can be appointed - a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker, a bedstead maker, a greengrocer, a farmer or a person following any other avocation at all. But an appointee must not be a member of the Commonwealth Public Service or cf the Commonwealth Bai;k staff. Those men, who have given the whole of their active lives to the service of the nation, are to be pariahs and are to be excluded from service on the board. The other appointees whom I have already mentioned, the Governor, the Deputy Governor, and the Secretary to the Treasury, obviously must carry out the will of the government of the day. After the other two members whom the Treasurer has named cease to function they may be replaced by men from outside the spheres from which they are being taken. There are only two sources of supply of men with previous experience in banking. One source from which such men can be obtained is from the private banking institutions. I am not saying that we cannot get worthy men from that particular source. As a matter of fact, the Commonwealth Bank itself evolved from the private banking institutions. A former bank officer, Mr. King O’Malley, was really the father of the Commonwealth Bank. It was he who, in the light of experience garnered in the employ of private banks, realized the weaknesses in the private banking system and was able to prevail upon this legislature, through the Labour party, to bring the Commonwealth Bank into being. We are indebted to him in that regard. At that time the Labour party had conservativeminded members in it just as other parties had. Those who know the history of the Labour party and the work of the “ torpedo brigade “, realize how King O’Malley had to fight conservativeminded people in the Labour party in order to bring the Commonwealth Bank into being. When it wa3 decided to establish the bank, the- government of the day naturally had nobody who had had experience of conducting a governmentcontrolled bank, to take charge of it. Mr., later Sir, Denison Miller, who was a metropolitan inspector of thi- Bank of New South Wales at that time, was nominated for the post of -Governor of the new Commonwealth Bank. We know only too well the good work that he did in that position, although the Bank of New South Wales, in making him available, was perhaps not altogether altruistic at that particular time. But Denison Miller himself was seised with the whole ideal of a government bank and did great service on behalf of the bank and the. people of this country.
The second and only other source from which directors with experience of banking can be obtained is the Commonwealth Bank itself. In the early stages of the bank the Government had to seek officials from the private banks to take charge of the new organization. But to-day there are many thousands of men who have been trained in the service of the Commonwealth Bank and work in its 400 or so branches. In view of the conflict that arose over the Chifley Government’s proposal to nationalize the private banks, and the heat and bitterness that have been engendered, it would, in my opinion, be unwise to select for the proposed board anybody who has had any connexion with private banks in recent years. The only source to which we can look for men of .the right type is the Commonwealth Bank itself. Why should not men connected with the Commonwealth Bank be given first preference when appointments are being made to the board? By studying the history of the bank under the control of the previous governors and boards we can obtain a fair indication of whether or not the present control should be altered. During the regime of the first governor, Sir Denison Miller, great work was done on behalf of this country. In the first year or so of its existence the Commonwealth Bank did not show a profit. Then suddenly World War. I. came upon us and the bank was able to finance the nation’s commitments until a successful conclusion had been reached. It was also able to assist primary producers and others. Subsequently, when the war was over, Sir Denison Miller said that as the bank had helped to save the country during the war it could be utilized for a similar purpose during the ensuing peace period. Unfortunately he died shortly after making that statement, and the Bruce-Page Government before long placed the bank under the control of a hoard. From that time forward the control of the bank was a very sorry spectacle indeed.
– It increased enormously in the number of branches established, staff, assets, and profits, as the records show. It brought us through World War II.
– And it placed this country in pawn to overseas bondholders. I do not wish to traverse the whole history of the bank, particularly during the depression years, but I shall quote the famous remark of Sir Robert Gibson, the chairman of the board, when the government of the day asked for a mere £18,000,000 to provide work for the hundreds of thousands of unemployed people who were walking the streets during the depression, and to assist the primary producers and other industries. He said, “ Not another so and so penny will you get to provide work for the people of this country “. That remark characterized the record of the bank under that particular regime. Even the private banking institutions somerimes admit in their articles that there have been faults in their methods in days gone by. In 1936 the National Bank of Australasia Limited, in one of its usual monthly circulars, pointed out that the national policy that was in vogue during the depression years was entirely wrong.
– That policy was dictated by the Labour government of the time.
– It pointed out that it was the Government’s function to take up the slack of unemployment. The question is whether the control of the bank should be placed under a board of that description. We have two records to use as a comparison - the record of the bank under the first Governor, Sir Denison Miller, and its record under subsequent control. Since the governorship was restored to the bank in 1945, splendid work has been done, .first under Mr. Armitage, and more recently, under Dr. Coombs. I say that the slogan, so far as the Opposition in this House and the people of this country are concerned, should be, “ Hands off the people’s bank “. Some honorable members opposite, and I think the Treasurer himself, have made scone claims about what the Commonwealth Bank has done in the way of providing finance for co-operative building societies and such organizations. I happen to know something about that particular matter, because I was associated with the first co-operative building society established in Sydney in 1936. Those who were sponsoring the various building societies considered that the Commonwealth Bank, as it was a national institution, would be the logical place to which to go for the necessary finance, particularly as it charged a lower rate of interest than did the private financial institutions. A number of societies approached the Commonwealth Bank at that time and after about six months were “’ led up the garden path “ by the board and were finally told that the bank was not interested in lending money for homebuilding. Its justification for that decision was that the scheme had not been proven despite the fact that it was national in character and had the aim of providing homes for the people. It had even been sponsored by a non-Labour government, the Stevens Government, which was in power in New South Wales in 1936, and the repayment of the whole of the advance was to be guaranteed by that Government.
– At that time repayment was not fully guaranteed because there had been a deficit in the accounts of the co-operative building societies. Repayment was fully guaranteed later.
– I agree that at one stage some doubt existed as to whether the guarantee would operate until all other avenues had been explored. Although the State Government had placed its imprimature on the proposed method of raising the required finance, the Commonwealth Bank Board was not interested in the scheme. Immediately after its rejection the Bank of New South Wales provided £4,000,000 under the guarantee given by the New South Wales Government. Whether or not the Commonwealth Bank’s disinterest in the scheme was in conformity with its earlier policy of not competing with the trading banks, I do not know. The fact remains that it was left to the Bank of New South Wales to foster the scheme and to provide the initial capital. It is to the credit of that bank and its chairman of directors, Sir Alfred Davidson, that they were sufficiently enterprising to back the scheme.
Provision is made in this bill for the Secretary to the Treasury to be appointed as a member of the Commonwealth Bank Board. Obviously the Secretary to the Treasury must attempt to carry out the policy of the government of the day, but there is no certainty that his views will prevail. History shows us what may happen under this form of control. In 1938 or 1939, when the private banks and insurance companies of New South Wales had more or less exhausted their funds in backing a co-operative building scheme in New South Wales to the amount of £10,000,000- the Commonwealth Bank had also been interested in the scheme to a limited degree - I came to Canberra and interviewed the then Treasurer, who is now Minister for National Development (Mr. Casey). There was then a belief that the time had arrived when the Commonwealth Bank should play a greater part in the financing of co-operative building activities in New South Wales. When I put the case to the then Treasurer, he asked me how the co-operative building societies had managed to succeed in by-passing the Loan Council to the extent of £10,000,000. That was a most extraordinary attitude. Obviously, if the decision had been left to the Loan Council, the societies would not have obtained the advance of £10,000,000 from the financial institutions. In the light of experience the people of this country must be suspicious of any proposal for the restoration of the Commonwealth Bank Board. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) has pointed out that the private banks are naturally looking for some pay-ofF for the support which they gave to the present Government parties during the recent general election campaign. This Government proclaims that it stands for free enterprise and free competition. The existing set-up of the Commonwealth Bank provides the only guarantee of free enterprise and free competition in banking. The private banks are in unison on the subject of interest rates. They may compete for specific business but they adopt a common policy in regard to interest rates. Only if the structure of the Commonwealth Bank is maintained on its existing basis will it be possible for interest rates to be kept down. What is the pay-off to which the Leader of the Opposition has referred? Two great stakes are involved in the proposal to re-establish the Commonwealth Bank Board. During the general election campaign officers of the private banks circulated pamphlets entitled “ The way the wind blows After the Privy Council had declared the Banking Act 1947 to be invalid one of those pamphlets was issued by the private banks exhorting their supporters not to rest on their oars. It contained an appeal to them to carry on the fight against the Banking Act 1945. The private banks were concerned with the repeal not only of the Banking Act 1947 but also of the Banking Act 1945. It was a part of their policy to shackle the Commonwealth Bank. As I have said, two great stakes are involved in this proposal to wrest from the government of the day the power to control the Commonwealth Bank. The first is represented in the special deposits that have been and are being made by the private banks with the Commonwealth Bank. The second Ls the control of interest rates. What is known as the excess investable funds of the private hanks are now held by the Commonwealth Bank. The Treasurer has said that during his previous term of office during war-time arrangements were made for the private banks to deposit their surplus investable funds with the Commonwealth Bank. Because their coffers were then already swollen from the proceeds of their customers’ war contracts the private hanks could no longer invest their surplus funds in the ordinary way and they agreed to hand them over to the Commonwealth Bank. Interest at the rate of 10s. per cent, per annum was paid by the Commonwealth Bank on such deposits. The private banks now seek the return of their funds. They have always reserved the right to challenge the retention of these funds. Apparently, however, they went into the matter very closely with their legal advisers and came to the conclusion that it would not hi.’ wise for them to take the matter to court. They believed that it would be much easier to obtain control of the Commonwealth Bank as a first step towards securing the return of their deposits. When one considers the amount of money involved one readily realizes why the private banks were prepared to back the Liberal party and the Australian Country party in their election campaigns. I understand that the deposits now total £460,000,000. If the private banks can bring about the return of their funds they will naturally do so by the easiest possible means. The interest on £460,000,000 invested at .01 per cent, would amount to £460,000. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) has estimated that the private banks and other interests financed the election expenses of the Liberal party to the amount of £1,000,000. Naturally they expect a pay-off for that assistance. An outlay of 1 per cent, on the amount involved as insurance for the return of the Liberal and Country parties would be a mere bagatelle compared with the profits that the banks would be able to make if they could obtain their surplus funds and invest them at 4 per cent, or 5 per cent. I admit that a case might be made out for a gradual restoration of the funds. Indeed, I understand that it is the policy of the Commonwealth Bank to make, such a gradual restoration. From time to time, as circumstances warrant, some proportion of the funds might be returned to the banks for the financing of industrial developmental projects, but in my opinion restoration should continue over a long period, otherwise there would be a grave danger of inflation.
-Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Dr. Evatt) put -
That the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) be granted an extension of time.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Mr. BROWN (McMillan) ±A5).Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that the speeches made by honorable members on the other side of the House ha.ve been coloured by incidents which happened a long time ago. Most of the arguments which they have brought forward refer to the time of the depression. I suppose that I was affected by the depression as much as anybody else, and I sympathize with the point of view which is coloured by that time. During the depression I derived my income from the export of the produce of a small farm. I suppose I was hit by the overseas depression prices twelve months before anybody else, and I feel that I am just as qualified to talk about the depression as any one else.
The honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Eggins) referred to allegations that the depression was aggravated by the actions of the private banks and of the Commonwealth Bank Board. Honorable members opposite have suggested that it, was caused by the actions of those bodies. I do not think any reasonable person would suggest that it ‘was caused or aggravated by them. During the depression there was a Labour government in power in every State in Australia except Queensland and Tasmania and a Labour government was in power in the Commonwealth Parliament. Yet it is suggested that it was impossible for Labour governments to do anything because the Bank Board and the Senate controlled the whole situation. The answer to that allegation was given by the honorable member for Lyne when he said that if the Labour government sincerely believed in the justice of its claim, it could have overruled the Bank board and put the matter to the test of the intelligence of the Australian people. There is no reason whatsoever why a double dissolution should not have been effected in an endeavour to give the Labour government power to do something if it had had the courage and sincerity to put the question to the people.
Honorable members opposite appear to suspect that there is some ulterior scheme involved in the constitution of this bank board. I suggest that the composition of this House at the present time is due to some suspicion on the part of the people of Australia in regard to a scheme formulated by honorable members opposite. When the Banking Bill 1945 was introduced a good deal of protest was made against it. After it was passed it was decided by the previous Government that, under that act, the Melbourne City Council should be ordered to transfer its accounts from a bank with which it had had. long and friendly association to the Commonwealth Bank;. The council successfully fought that order. Almost immediately after the failure of the Chifley Government to force municipal and State government authorities to bank as directed, it stated that the whole of the banking system of Australia was to he nationalized. If the people of Australia did not want any of their major industries to be nationalized - and I think they have shown that they did not - they had good reason to be suspicious of what was going to happen to them in future. It is a curious fact that although in this debate we have referred to the composition of the bank board, we have let the Banking Act 1947 die a natural death. Honorable members opposite have said that its operative provisions have been ruled out of court by the Privy Council and that we need not bother about it. The decisions of the High Court were given on certain points and it was mentioned by one honorable member that it would be quite possible under that act to nationalize the banks by compulsorily acquiring their assets and their shares. This curious act of 1947, brought in as something absolutely essential to the welfare of the country, beaten in court and then dropped by honorable members opposite as though they had never had anything to do with it, lias raised a good deal of suspicion in the minds of the people of Australia. It is the intention of this Government that the Commonwealth Bank should be strengthened in every way in order that it might more successfully carry out its functions, first as a central reserve bank and secondly as a general trading bank. I am convinced that the appointment of a properly constituted and selected bank board will be of real value to it.
I should like to deal very shortly with an experience which I had with one of these expert boards during the war. At the beginning of the war a board was set up in order to try to overcome the shortage of vegetable seeds in Australia. At its inception, this organization contained experts who had been appointed from government departments and also practical business nurserymen. Later on, the nurserymen were removed and the board consisted only of the highest experts in the country. I was too old to serve as a soldier in the last war and I tried to do the best job I could on a well-equipped and wellcultivated farm growing vegetables. I tried to get a selected group of experienced seedsmen to select the seed which I should grow. I was asked to produce a certain type of white turnip. I was told by the board not to attempt to use any locally produced seed. Absolute experts had selected the seed which I should grow, which would be sent to me. T received the seed and grew it. “When it came up I found that I had nine types of vegetables, but I did not get one single turnip in the patch. That is my experience of a completely expert government committee which was divorced entirely from practical experience of the outside world. 1 do not think the House would believe what happened the following year and the year following that. The same thing went on for three years.
The attachment to the bank board of men experienced in outside business will do nothing but strengthen the position of the bank. The last speaker complained very bitterly about the number of members to be placed on the board. The board is to consist of ten members. The board of the National Bank of Australasia Limited consists of nine members, which the honorable member thought was too many. The Bank of England has seventeen members on its board. Large industrial companies with subsidiary companies may have any num- ber of men on their board of directors, and large banks may have various State advisory boards dealing with various parts of their activities. Considering that the Commonwealth Bank has to deal with the whole range of the nation’s banking activities and that the size of bank boards in other countries is large, the board now proposed is not a very large one.
The business of the trading banks was dismissed rather airily by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) as “ just money lending”. Honorable members know as well as I do that that is not true. For a long time I was concerned very intimately, as the president of an Australian farming organization, with the export of apples and pears. I was interested, not only in the shipment of fruit to Europe, but also in the development of new markets, and I was sent to many parts of the world on behalf of the industry. I found that trading banks were of great assistance to me in making contacts in other countries, arranging for sales and fixing final details of the transactions. One trading bank, for example, was able to supply good reports about prospective customers on the eastern coast of the United States of America and assisted us in making financial arrangements with them. Another bank was able to provide a similar service for us in southern Asia when we were developing useful markets in Java, Singapore, Shanghai and Hongkong. We ako developed small markets for Western Australian apples and pears in East Africa, Mauritius, Egypt, Palestine and Greece, and in every instance we went to a different trading bank and obtained help and advice in completing our trading plans. To-day we are subjected to difficulties because overseas shipping is not readily obtainable and contracts for the sale of Australian products overseas are usually made on a government to government basis. Banking does not play a particularly important part in those transactions. However, a time will come when the banks will be able to help us considerably once more in handling our exportable surpluses. I cannot imagine that a bank, completely controlled by one man whose main task is to preserve its central banking functions in a strong and healthy position, could be capable of the imagination and vigor that would be necessary to provide such services as I have mentioned. Just prior to World War II., when orchardists were importing special types of sprays from California, I found that arrangements foi imports could be made more satisfactorily through the Bank of New South Wales than through the Commonwealth Bank, although I should have preferred to dea. with the Commonwealth Bank. The private bank handled the work much more expeditiously than the Commonwealth Bank could have done. I do not criticize the Commonwealth Bank for its inability to provide a service as efficient as that of the trading banks, but I suggest that it never will be able to compete on equal terms with the private banks unless its operations are directed by people with imagination and vigor who have the business experience that is needed in such work. The establishment of the proposed board will give the Commonwealth Bank an opportunity to expand and fulfil the functions that it should fulfil. At present the bank handles only about 10 per cent, of the trading accounts in Australia. I do not suggest that it should not get more business; any bank that provides efficient and imaginative service should have its full share of business. However, the Commonwealth Bank will not have a chance against the other banks unless it is directed by people who understand the requirements of banking services and are able to give the benefit of their knowledge to it.
The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Mackinnon) very rightly directed attention to the curious suggestion by members of the Opposition that the Commonwealth Bank, as the people’s bank, will be able to do for the people certain things that the other banks have refused to do. I imagine that the Leader of the Opposition insisted, when he was Treasurer, that the Commonwealth Bank should observe business-like precautions in all its operations. I -hope that all members of the Labour party who advocate in an airy way that the Commonwealth Bank should sweep away other banks do not consider that it ought to be more lenient or generous in its ordinary trading activities than are the trading banks. The adoption of such a policy would be utterly disastrous. The Commonwealth Bank has rendered valuable service to farmers and industrialists through its industrial finance organization. Probably it could render even greater service if it had the extra capital that the Government proposes to allot to it in this bill. However, that is not the sort of activity that we refer to sentimentally when we talk about a people’s bank. The small loans department of the Bank of New South Wales is rendering a very useful service to the people who need temporary financial aid to tide them over periods of difficulty, and the Commonwealth Bank is lagging far behind in that line of activity. Honorable members opposite should remember that we began to find our way out of the morass of the economic depression that developed in 1929 when our exportable products again became saleable overseas al reasonable prices. That happened when the exchange rate rose to £A.125 for £100 sterling. The move that established that rate did not come from the Treasury or from the Commonwealth Bank. It began when Sir Alfred Davidson announced that the Bank of New South Wales would buy. sterling at the firm rate of £A.125. The other private banks fell into line, and the Commonwealth Bank followed them. I well recall the effects of the depression. I had to give up farming and start cutting firewood and carting it to the railway station, which was 5 .miles away, for 3s. 9d. a ton. That was a hard life and it did not provide much of a livelihood.
The establishment of that firm exchange rate did more than anything else to aid our recovery. A reasonable income from the sale of our exports began to enter the country and was circulated through the community so that it became possible for the present honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) to approach the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in 1936 with a claim for a prosperity loading on the basic wage. I have been depressed by the arguments of members of the Opposition who have suggested that there is some lack of integrity about the proposed appointment of a Commonwealth Bank hoard. I have tried to emphasize some of the very deep suspicions that were entertained by honorable members on this side of the House concerning the Labour Government’s banking legislation of 1945 and 1947. Admittedly, part of that legislation was challenged at once by the Melbourne City Council and was declared invalid by the High Court of Australia and subsequently part of the 1947 act was declared invalid by the Privy Council. The people of Australia were perfectly justified in regarding that legislation as suspect and their suspicions have not been lulled by the fact that the Labour party now disowns it. T am convinced that the appointment of. a Commonwealth Bank board will only strengthen the Commonwealth Bank and enable it to fulfil its proper functions.
.- I entered this chamber a few minutes ago after reading a sub-leader and a cartoon in the Sydney Bulletin. Both the article and the cartoon attacked the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden), an event without precedent in recent years, because nobody would suggest that the Bulletin is in any way sympathetic to the Labour party. However, it attacked the Treasurer for the inconsistency between his statements when the Labour Government’s banking legislation of 1945 was introduced and his actions now in maintaining most of the essential features of that legislation. One would have thought that members of the Government would have been gracious enough to acknowledge that we have not changed our position in relation to banking, but that they have moved very far to the left from the position that they maintained for many years. The Treasurer’s second-reading speech should have included an apology to a former Prime Minister, Mr. J. H. Scullin, and a former Treasurer, the late Mr. E. G. Theodore, because the bill incorporates many of the ideas that they sought to establish during the depression. In other words, the lessons that members of the Scullin Government had learned during the depression were incorporated in the Banking Act 1945, which was denounced by the present Treasurer as “ the backdoor to socialism “. The right honorable gentleman cried havoc when that legislation was introduced and described it as the architect of disaster for Australia. Yet this is what he said, in his secondreading speech, about the working of that act -
In respect of central banking operations and otherwise, the Commonwealth Bank and other banks have achieved a considerable measure of harmony and co-operation and the Government is satisfied that the broad purposes of monetary and banking policy are being achieved.
During the debate in 1945 the right honorable gentleman bitterly attacked the entry of the Commonwealth Bank into the field of trading bank activities. When introducing this bill, he said -
In the light of this policy the Government has given consideration to the position of the General Banking Division and of the several departments of the Bank. The General Banking Division of the Commonwealth Bank operates in competition with the private banks-
And I remind honorable members that in 1945 he said that such competition could not be fair. On this occasion he went on to say - - and has made a valuable contribution to the welfare of the community, particularly in relation to housing finance. The Rural Credits Department, which was established under a bill introduced in 1925 by the Eight Honorable Sir Earle Page, has facilitated the production and orderly marketing of a wide range of basic foodstuffs and other primary products on a scale that has increased tremendously in recent years. The Mortgage Bank Department provides long-term loans to primary producers, and the Industrial Finance Department, which has only been in operation for a little over four years has been of great benefit to industry.
I remind honorable members again that he did not say who was the architect of either the Mortgage Bank Department or the Industrial Finance Department. That speech of the Treasurer is a confession of the falsity of his forecast of the effects of the Banking Act 1945, when the measure was being debated in this House. That is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of objective fact. I suggest that honorable members should ‘ read the speech that the Treasurer made when the 1945 banking measures were before Parliament. He has confessed that his judgment at that time was- at fault. He has not had the grace to say that those who were maintaining the 1945 banking legislation were right, but honorable members must still distrust his judgment about the measure that he brings before the House, especially in respect of one particular feature of it. Much of this debate has consisted of partisan statements on the movement of the Australian economy during the depression years. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) devoted some considerable time to speaking about the party decisions of various governments. He spoke about Labour propagandists as though no kind of propaganda ever issued from any other party. He said that those propagandists had falsely explained the course of the depression.
I do not believe that the mere operation of any banking policy could have altered the- effect in Australia of the disastrous collapse of the overseas prices of Australian exports. In that respect I am on common ground with the honorable member for Lowe (Mr. McMahon) and the honorable member for McMillan (Mr. Brown). Opinions can range from the belief .that the banks caused the depression, to an equally absurd view that banking policy had nothing to do with the depression. Statements we’re made that Australia was one of the countries which made a spectacular recovery from the depression, and that if we consider that banking policy had anything to do with that recovery, then ipso facto Australian banking policy must have been very good. If honorable ‘members want an example of a country which did recover rapidly from the effects of the depression they should study a country which, in the volume of its export trade, and in its population, is closely comparable with Australia. That is the European country of Sweden. There were 200,000 unemployed workers in Sweden at the beginning of the depression, but within two years the number had dropped to less than 50,000. In 1939, Australia was still lagging behind with about 250,000 unemployed. There are many important lessons to be learned from the banking policy adopted by Sweden, because that is a matter that goes to the heart of the controversy between the Government and ourselves on the whole question of banking. Honorable members on the Government side of the House have devoted a great deal of argument to trying to prove that customers have not been treated well by the Commonwealth Bank, and that they have been treated considerately by the private banks. They have mentioned on many occasions the good relations that exist between customers of the private banks and the banks themselves. All those statements are, without question, true; but plenty of other examples can be quoted to prove the opposite. Surely the controversy does not exclusively revolve around the politeness of the local bank manager and his customer. It is tied up with the general credit policy of a bank which is operated on the one hand for a private purpose and a bank which is operated on the other hand for a public purpose. If there was any feature of Swedish financial policy during the depression years that contrasted with our policy it was the insistence by the Swedish Social Democratic
Government on the pre-eminence of public benefit in the advances policy followed by the banks of Sweden.
– Does not service to the individual count for anything?
– The honorable member for McMillan is caricaturing my argument in the common way if he suggests that I ever said that service to the individual did not count. I am speaking about the public operation of financial policy, and honorable members generally might contribute a little more to the debate if they did not caricature arguments, but dealt with them. The point about the operation of Swedish policy that I wish to stress is that if a bank is operated purely for private considerations it is well known that when there is a boom, as there is to-day, it is easier for individuals to obtain credit than it is during a depression. If a customer is merely considered as a risk, whether he is an individual or a government, then during boom conditions the tendency will be to make heavy advances. This measure recognizes the danger of such an easy money policy at the present time, by maintaining the Commonwealth Bank’s ability to freeze the funds of private banks. “When a boom occurs the private banks adopt an easy advance policy, thus aggravating the boom, and so it has been decided to freeze £460,000,000 of their assets so that that money could not be advanced to aggravate a boom. This legislation shows that the Government admits that a public purpose must take precedence over a purpose of a private bank.
During a slump when a bank’s customers are not a good risk and when even governments are not a good risk, a bank; does not make advances, but by a stringent financial policy makes the situation even more difficult than it was before. During the depression the private hanks insisted on watching the activity of even the Loan Council. With a private bank, operating under considerations of private business, the whole tendency is to operate according to the trade cycle rather than against it. In Sweden the opposite policy was pursued. The Government of Sweden insisted on a vastly expanded policy of advances to private firms, to local government authorities, and to the government itself for the financing of public works. “When the government considered that such an easy credit policy was producing a boom it reversed the policy and sought by means of taxation and other means to skim the top off the boom and level off the financial position of the country. That was the reverse action to the elevation of the trough of the slump by means of advances. An argument along those lines was developed by the late Mr. E. G. Theodore when he was Treasurer of the Commonwealth. .He brought down a measure to provide for the issue of fiduciary notes. It may be true that the Scullin Government lacked the political courage to go on to a double dissolution over that matter. If that is true then it establishes nothing whatsoever one way or another about the correctness of the financial proposal made by Mr. Theodore. He proposed that fiduciary notes should be issued to the value of £18,000,000, some of which would be used to guarantee a homeconsumption price of 4s. a bushel for wheat, and some of which would be used to finance housing and other public works which it was hoped would alleviate unemployment. Of course, he did not attempt to control export prices. When the measure was being dealt with by the House the Leader of the Opposition at that time, Sir John Latham, interjected a number of times, “ This is inflation “. Finally, Mr. Theodore challenged him to define the term “ inflation and stressed the fact that prices were crashing disastrously all over Australia and that that situation could hardly be called an inflationary one. He said that inflation is a condition of rapidly rising prices. So challenged, the then Leader of the Opposition, eminent rationalist though he may be, had nothing more rational to reply than, “We have inflation and deflation, too, and we are suffering from the effects of both “. That is surely one of the silliest statements ever enshrined in Hansard.
The Treasurer of that day was trying to use the authority of the government over the Commonwealth Bank; but the authority could not ultimately be used because of the opposition of a hostile Senate. He was trying to use. that authority to inject fresh purchasing power into the Australian economy and to try to raise rural industry by a guaranteed home-consumption price for wheat. He was acting along the same lines as those followed by Sweden. A great economic expert, one of the group which has received such condemnation from Government members, John Maynard Keynes, was quoted at some length by Mr. Theodore when the measure was before the House. During the debate on this bill members on the Government side have admitted something that they have denied for years. That is that at some point in the Australian economic structure concern for the social welfare of the people must take precedence over the motives of private banks. The latter institutions have tended to follow the ordinary trade cycle of private business, which is to increase advances during a boom, thus aggravating the boom, and to contract credit during a slump thus aggravating the slump. The quintessence of the proposal put forward by Mr. Theodore was to reverse that procedure. The wisdom of his proposal was never overthrown at the time, and by implication it is admitted in this legislation now before the House.
An attempt has been made by several honorable members opposite to argue that this measure conforms to what they are prone to call the mandate they received from the people at the general election. I should very much like honorable members opposite to point out to me that passage in the speech of the Prime Minister, which he made as Leader of the Opposition, in which he said that outside interests would be represented on the bank board which it was proposed to appoint. In his policy speech, he made no reference whatever to the constitution of the board. He merely advanced the argument that there was safety in numbers. Great financial decisions, he said, ought not to be made by one man. Such a suggestion is a caricature of the situation that exists to-day, especially since those great financial decisions, allegedly made by one man, have been so handsomely praised by the Treasurer, who said that the broad principles of his banking and monetary policy had been given effect to. Even if it is shown that there ought to be a board, that does not establish the case for bringing outside influences on to the board. It would be possible to appoint a board consisting of Treasury experts and public servants, plus the six general managers of the Commonwealth Bank in the six States, which would establish a territorial interest on the board. In that way, there would be appointed to the board efficient servants of the bank who had risen to the highest positions in that institution and had necessarily come to know something of the financial problems of the States. If the argument in favour of the appointment of the board Ls merely that the responsibility for decisions should be spread among a greater number, why is it necessary to bring in outsiders? Why not use experienced officers of the Commonwealth Bank who are already devoted to its interests, and whose efficient service to the bank has led to their promotion? They would provide the numbers in which, according to the argument of the Government, lies safety, especially when it is admitted that, even without a board, the bank has been efficiently conducted.
Honorable members opposite, and some newspapers, have mentioned that, for many years, the Bank of England was managed by a board when it was a private bank - although even then it was necessarily influenced by the Government in matters of policy - and that after its nationalization it is still controlled by a board. All analogies between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Bank of England, and the Commonwealth of Australia and the Commonwealth Bank, are completely false. The Bank of- England has always conducted its relations with the Government of the United Kingdom in the knowledge that if it flouted the will of the Government of the United Kingdom that Government, being sovereign and unhampered by constitutional restrictions, could make its will prevail. In fact, conservative governments have made their will prevail over the strongest opposition of the Bank of England, notably when, before the war. a government compelled the bank, even at critical loss to itself, to sustain the economy of France when there was a flight from the franc under the Leon Blum Government. It did not matter that the relationship between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Bank of England was not formalized. In British practice, such arrangements often are not formalized. If the Bank of England had been defiant, the Government of the United Kingdom, being vested with plenary power, could have overcome its defiance. The controllers of the Bank of England conducted the affairs of the bank in that knowledge, and that fact profoundly affected the relations between the bank and the Government. In England, the banks, as banks, have never made a decision in modern times such as the decision of the Bank of New South Wales, when it varied the exchange rate between sterling and the Australian £1. In England, decisions of that kind have always been made by the Treasury.
I turn from that to a consideration of the structure of the proposed hoard. It is good, in a political debate of this kind, from the point of view of the present Government, perhaps, to suggest that all the decisions on banking policy during the last few years have been made by Dr. Coombs. It is being argued that, although he has been right in his decisions, and the broad purposes of banking and monetary policy have been achieved, we are nevertheless standing in grave peril because our economic safety is depending on the slender thread represented by his individual brain. In fact, everybody knows that the Advisory Council, to which the Treasurer has been paying compliments, has always influenced the Governor of the bank in reaching decisions. Everybody knows that, except in critical matters in which the Government itself would exert its supremacy, the advice of the council is taken by the Governor, and has been taken by him all along. Statements about one mind only taking vital decisions are a caricature of the facts as they have existed since the Banking Act .1.945 has been in operation. However, there is an important difference between the present situation and that which will exist if this Government’s proposals are given effect. Under the 1945 legislation, ultimate responsibility for the operation of the banking system of Australia rests squarely on the Treasury. Just as the Treasury of Sweden insisted, during the depression, on an expanding credit policy, and thus mitigated, if it could not nullify, the effects of the depression, so the Treasurer in Australia has the power and the responsibility to insist on the pre-eminence of a social purpose, and on a policy of advances when risks are great.
Many boards appointed by governments, including the Repatriation Commission, provide conspicuous examples of the way boards are used by Minister? to evade their responsibilities, and I say that of all the Ministers. When representations are made to Ministers, letters are often received in reply pointing out that the matter is the responsibility of a board. If this legislation is passed, I have no doubt that, when representations are made in this Parliament about the policy of the Commonwealth Bank, we shall be told that the matter is in the hands of experts, and that it is for the board to make decisions. That was the answer when the previous bank board was criticized. The critics were told that the members of the board were highly qualified men, unlike Mr. Theodore who, like a bull in a china shop, was threatening to destroy the economic structure of the country. Boards have proved to he a very good alibi for Ministers. If decisions on banking policy are so important, I suggest that the Government should Accept its responsibility, and make them. For that reason, we believe that the Banking Act 1945 places the responsibility where it should properly lie. That act should not be impaired or altered.
The remarks of honorable members opposite about experts, and their experience of experts- in various industries, do not impress me at all. I am prepared to concede the many follies of boards set up in the past to control the affairs of primary producers, but I have yet to hear that they were composed of experts. In many instances, the members of those hoards were civil servants with no particular experience of the industries concerned. It is absurd to compare men like Professor Melville, Dr. Coomb3 and Mr. Wheeler, of the Treasury, with some of the persons who have been appointed to boards that controlled primary industries during recent years. Such boards should consist of farmers with practical experience. Who outside the Commonwealth Bank has had practical experience of controlling the note issue, or of dealing with the problems of central banking ? We know, by definition, that there are no such persons who could be appointed to the Commonwealth Bank Board in the same way as orchardists could be appointed to a board to control the disposal of apples and pears.
– That is absolute rot. It is not an argument.
– I would not say that the interjection of the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) is an argument, either. We shall listen with interest to his contribution later.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– Members of the public who follow this debate must be astounded to note that all the criticism of Government supporters is directed against one section only of the Banking Act. They will remember the streamer headlines of Liberal party propaganda during the election, and the slogan, “ Socialism is so permanent; vote Liberal”. Now, however, when the Liberal Government has received what it calls a mandate to amend the Banking Act, it has concentrated its attention on one section, and one only. Let us consider for a moment just what the 1945 act provides. I am convinced that most Government supporters have not read, the act, and do not understand its principles. That act contains six major principles, which may be enumerated as follows: - (1) The strengthening of the central banking functions of the Commonwealth Bank; (2) abolition of the Commonwealth Bank Board; (3) subordination of the Governor of the bank to the government of the day ; (4) active competition with the trading banks ; (5) abolition of the board controlling the note issue; and (6) abolition of the currency reserve. I am sure that honorable members opposite do not understand the objectives of the act of 3945, and because I believe that they are ignorant of that matter, I may be excused for emphasizing those six principles, and pointing out to some confused minds that in reality the Government has a flair for socialism. The only mandate that the Liberal party obtained at the last election was to repeal the Banking Act 1947, which has been described by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) as a dead horse on the track. If the Government claims that it has received a mandate to go beyond that point its mandate must cover all six principles in respect of the act of 1945. I propose to take for the purposes of my argument the same basis as the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) used when he was speaking on the Commonwealth Bank Bill 1945. On that occasion the right honorable gentleman made the following statement : -
Every banking proposal such as the one that is now before the chair must be tested by asking, not how it will affect the bankers, but how it will affect the people.
– That is right.
– I welcome that interjection. I ask members of the Liberal party the three questions which the Leader of the Opposition addressed to them last Tuesday night. They are as follows : -
Has there been anything in the management of the Commonwealth Bank since the legislation of 1945 became law that can be cavilled at? Has any action been taken by the two governors of the bank since that year that has been contrary to the national interest? Has anything been done during that time which has not been done for the good of the community and in the interests of the sound management of the bank?
I invite the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) to state whether he is prepared to give an answer other than “ No “ to those three questions, bearing in mind the statement that the present Prime Minister made in his secondreading speech on the Commonwealth Bank Bill in 1945. . Honorable members opposite should constantly have regard to the fact that the only opposition that the Labour party is voicing to this bill is in respect of the proposal to re-establish the bank hoard. I remind my very interesting friend, the honorable member for Sturt, that the original bank board was appointed in 1924, and from that time until it was abolished in 1945, it had authority with respect to central banking. I again refer to the speech by the present Prime Minister during the debate on the Commonwealth Bank Bill in 1945. He was speaking in defence of a former Treasurer, Sir Earle Page, who was responsible for the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank Board in 1924, and he made the following statement: -
In 1924, the first legislative proposal designed to establish central banking in Australia was presented to this Parliament by the Tight honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Pa.ge).
Therefore, the Commonwealth Bank had powers in respect of central banking. The quotation continues -
The bill then introduced, and the speech then made, represented the first large scientific and intelligent attempt in this country to establish central building. In the bill which was sponsored by the right honorable member for Cowper, a board of directors was substituted for one-man control.
The present Government also proposes to establish a board of directors as a substitute for one-man control. . The statement continues -
Comprehensive central .banking powers, including the control of the note issue, were conferred upon the bank.
That fact should not be forgotten. The Commonwealth Bank Board had powers with respect to central banking at the beginning of the financial and economic depression in the early 1930’s. Again, I feel that many honorable members opposite know very little of the background of those times. There can be no question that central banking was a prominent feature of the act of 1924, which removed one-man control of the bank and substituted a board. It may be appropriate for me at this stage to refer to a review of the depression by Orwell de R. Foenander, as published in Towards Industrial Peace in Australia. It is as follows: -
Throughout the year 1030 conditions grew steadily worse. In an attempt to deal with the situation, heavy increases were made in tariff duties (in some cases actual prohibition)
Yet some honorable members speak of the benefits of free, trade. The quotation continues -
Decided steps were taken through the banks to ration imports.’ Exchange rates continued on the upward grade; by early 1931, the
Australian-London rate quoted by the banks touched 30 per cent, premium, and the outside market rate was exceeding this official rate.
One honorable member opposite suggested that the alteration of the AustralianLondon exchange rate contributed to the ultimate recovery of this country. However, the book proceeds to explain what happened in 1931 as follows: -
Long-term borrowing overseas had ceased; governments were leaning on the banks, and their budgets were getting out of hand; there was an expectation that banks, as a salutary step, and in their own interests, would soon cease their accommodation to the governments. Unemployment figures were mounting, and bank overdraft rates were being raised. The national income, since the export industries had ceased to bo profitable, and because of the cessation of overseas borrowing, was rapidly decreasing. A flight from the currency had set in; investment was practically at an end, and public confidence was obviously weakening. Australia was in real danger of defaulting on her obligations, both external and internal. In short, there was a great dislocation of the country’s economy, and her foundations seemed to be in jeopardy.
– Under a Labour government.
– The Labour Government was shackled by the Commonwealth Bank Board, and this Liberal Government will be similarly shackled if the Commonwealth Bank is again placed under the control of a board. I have adduced ample evidence to show the weakness of central banking under a bank board. Whether honorable members like it or not, central banking is a prominent feature of this bill. The review by Foenander continues -
The case in support of a 10 per cent, wage reduction was based on the very serious fall in the national income. It was estimated trlin* the immediate real loss in spending power amounted, in the first instance, to about f/0.000:000 a year. That was quite a conservative- estimate. Of this sum, approximately £40.000.000 represented the result of the fall in *he prices of the surplus of primary commodities exported.
Those conditions were permitted by a bank board that controlled the central banking system. The writer continues -
The chairman of the board, Sir Robert Gibson, in April, 1031. definitely informed the Loan Council of Australia that a limit wit? fixed to its advances to Government. Tt would have been useless for Government because nf the state of it« credit, to appear in the market to raise n loan.
That attitude is the principal reason why the Opposition is so bitterly opposed to the re-establishment of the bani board. Experience has taught us that a central banking authority under the control of a board is useless. The present Prime Minister said in 1945 that the test of any banking bill was to determine what its value would be to the community. We do not regard the control of central banking by a board as an interesting experiment, because we have already had bitter experience of it in operation, and we know precisely what a bank board can do to the central banking system. This bill interferes with only one of the six main principles of banking to which .1 have referred, but that measure of interference is sufficient to cut the throat, as it were, of the principal provision of the act of 1945. The Treasurer is well aware of that fact. Perhaps some honorable members opposite do not know that during the financial depression in the early 1930’s, the Commonwealth Bank Board refused to grant assistance to the Scullin Government. That action indicated that central hanking, when controlled by a board, was of no value to the community. The Commonwealth Bank Board at that- time allowed conditions to drift to the point at which 186,072 persons, equivalent to 33.2 per cent, of the working population, were unemployed in New South Wales at the end of the second quarter of 1932. Those figures show what can happen to the community when a board controls central banking. Is il any wonder that members of the Labour party propose to fight the reestablishment of the Commonwealth Bank Board to the last, ditch ? As Mr. Menzies stated in 1945-
– Order ! The honorable member may not refer to the Prime Minister by name.
– We do not need to wait to see what the Commonwealth Bank Board will do because we have had ample experience of the impact of the policy of such a body upon th, credit of the community. That knowledge is the main reason, possibly, why members of the Labour party, who have bitter memories of the depression, are so resolutely opposed to the re-establishment of the board. The bill, apart from that provision, is innocuous by comparison with the legislation of 1945. In fact, the bill merely implements the act of 191-5 with the one exception of the proposal to reappoint the Commonwealth Bank Board. I emphasize that the control of central banking should not at any time be in the hands of any authority other than the government of the day, which is responsible all the time to the people.
– The bill proposes to achieve that objective.
– It is necessary for us to get a clear picture of what is intended in respect of the control of central banking.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting I tried to show how central banking, when administered by the Commonwealth Bank Board, failed to meet the requirements of the Government and the people. I propose now to proceed to show what the present Prime Minister thought of central banking when the Commonwealth Bank Bill was before this House in 1945. He had this to say on the 21at March of that year -
To achieve those results the central hank must be in a position - and I want to emphasize and re-emphasize this throughout my speech - of real strength and real authority. The central bank is not to -be simply a servant of some passing movement. It is to be in a position of real strength and real authority. lt is not only to be in a position to control the total volume of credit, and so affect the entire economy of the nation, but it must also become the custodian, as it is in Australia, of the nation’s cash reserves, and the nation’s chief monetary adviser.
T ask honorable members opposite to note the use of the singular noun “ adviser “. The right honorable gentleman went on to say: -
If t may, I emphasize the reference to the nation’s chief monetary adviser. The adviser to any government or to any community should be detached, objective and utterly above the storm, because on the skill, honesty and disinterestedness of his advice-
Again note the singular term “ advice “ - a great deal will depend. The consideration of these things will show that a central bank, adequately equipped with brains, scientific knowledge and experience, must bc in a position to lead banking thought and banking practice. So much for the objectives of the central bank.
I turn now for a moment to a comparison between what the 1945 bank act means and the intention of the present measure. The 1945 act provides for the control of the central bank to be in the hands of an advisory council responsible to the Treasurer. This talk of one-man control that honorable members opposite have indulged in is not putting the position fairly when we recall that when the measure establishing the original board was introduced in 1924, the then anti-Labour Government said the same thing as our friends opposite are saying now. It said that control of the hank was being taken out of the hands of one man and put into the hands of a board. How utterly miserably that move failed ! Wherever I heard Liberal party members speaking during the last election campaign, they were talking about bureaucrats and of what the Labour Government had done in respect of establishing boards and taking away from private enterprise the right to do certain things and from individuals the right to fend for themselves. Whilst the parties opposite have consistently condemned the Labour party’s policy as one that favoured bureaucracies, in the very first bill that they bring before this Parliament they propose to remove from the act, as it at present operates, the provision for a council acting in an advisory capacity, and to establish an executive authority in its place. This Government desires to shirk its responsibilities by establishing that executive authority to take over control of the institution that means most to the people of this country. Honorable members opposite do not have to take my word for that, but can refer to the Sydney Morning Herald of the 17th March last, the leading article of which states, inter alia - “ It will be the function of the governor,” Mr. Fadden asserts, “ to administer the bank in accordance with the policy laid down by the board “. Thus the head of the bank is to have his own subordinates at each board meeting laying down instructions which he must carry out. In practice, either the governor must dominate the proceedings, or else intolerable friction will arise within the bank itself.
That is what you are asking us to swallow now. Your own Sydney Morning Herald, which did most to elect you to power, brands you as the creators of bureaucrats to take control of the banking system of this country.
– The honorable gentleman will address me, and not the Liberal party.
– I bow to your wishes, Mr. Speaker, but I am not unmindful that the Liberal party tried to brand me as a creator of bureaucrats during the election campaign. The Sydney Daily Telegraph, which never speaks for the Labour party, published on the 28th March, under the heading, “ Liberals Attack Menzies’ Banking Bill.”, an article that quoted one of the Liberal party speakers as having said -
The bill, as framed, will give greater powers to bureaucrats than they had as members of the Advisory Council under the Chifley Government.
So the Liberal party, which tried to brand us as creators of bureaucrats, tries to establish, by the first measure that it has brought before the Parliament, a system under which bureaucrats are to have greater control of the things that matter to the people. Evidently the Treasurer and the Government are not game to accept responsibility for the financial future of this country. I remind honorable members of what happened in 1943. I shall now quote from the Sydney Daily Mirror of the 26th January, 194.3, in which appeared the following headlines : -
FADDENS SLASHING ATTACK ON GOVERNMENT.
Reckless Financial Policy.
The report under those headings read -
Accusing the Federal Government of pursuing a “ reckless financial policy “, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) said last night that in the past six months 42 per cent, of Australia’s Avar expenditure had been met by the simple device of borrowing against Treasury bills and on T.O.U.s from the Central Bank.
The report continued -
Mr. Fadden said the fact that at the close of last year the unfunded debt in Australia had reached the record level of more than £230,000,000 indicated how reckless was Labour’s financial policy.
When he was Treasurer in -Tunc, .1941, Treasury bills then outstanding on behalf of the Commonwealth totalled only £1,750,000.
Now we come to the milk in the coco-nut. The reason for setting up the proposed Commonwealth’ Bank board is to permit of the restriction of the power of the central banking system of Australia. The right honorable gentleman left the door wide open when he attacked the Government at that time. I do not know what were the feelings of honorable members opposite, but I felt proud when I heard the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) say in this House some nights ago that this great financial structure, the central bank, was able at one stage to make available £343,000,000 to provide for the future of this country by enabling the Government to bring in secondary industries from overseas in the greatest number that Australia is ever likely to see. Upon those new industries the whole future of this country may depend. If the present Treasurer follows the policy that he enunciated in 1943 and reduces the amount available from the central bank to the sum of £1,750,000 that he talked about then, we are due to have the greatest degree of deflation and unemployment that we are ever likely to experience. Deflation is the right honorable gentleman’s policy and that is why the Commonwealth Bank Board is to be reconstituted by this Government, which wants to revert to the conditions of 1929 which enabled the Australian Government of the time’ to plead that it was not able to help the people in their troubles because the Commonwealth Bank Board would not advance the necessary money to pull the country out of the depression. It is crystal clear to us that the Treasurer, on his own say-so, is afraid to stand up to the determination of financial policy in relation to bringing to this country the industries that are so important to our future welfare. He desires to bring back into being the type of Commonwealth Bank Board that was introduced in 1 924, so that when the present conditions end, prices fall and unemployment increases, the Government will be able to say that the board would not find the cash needed to meet the crisis. Then we shall have h contraction of the amount of treasury bills outstanding from more than £200,000,000 to £1,750,000, and the same degree of unemployment as we had under previous anti-Labour governments. The Opposition will go on fighting this measure because it is not prepared to see Australia strangled economically by a Commonwealth Bank Board.
.- Sometimes a composer obtains from the utterances of others an inspiration about what, to say and how to put into verse that which affects him most deeply, but I feel sure that he who wrote The Voice that breathed o’er Eden did not obtain his inspiration from such utterances as the Yarra, bank oratory of the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison), I almost had my ear-drums burst by his vitriolic attack.
– I rise to order. I personally object to the reference by the honorable member to “ Yarra bank oratory “. I have never been on the Yarra bank.
– Order ! The honorable member for Ballarat has the floor.
– It is a truly notable fa et that most honorable members who have spoken on this bill-
– I rise to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I object to the honorable gentleman’s use of the term “ Yarra bank oratory “ in reference to my speech and ask for its withdrawal.
– The expression is not unparliamentary. Ithas been used in the House many times.
– I insist upon a withdrawal of the expression because it is offensive to me.
– I 1 Ul( that it is not unparliamentary.
– It is offensive to me at any rate.
– I rise to order. The honorable member for Blaxland has told you quite clearly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that he objects to what he regards as an offensive expression and has asked for a withdrawal of it. I put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you have no alternative but to direct the honorable member for Ballarat to withdraw the remark.
– I desire to speak to the point of order. I submit that quite obviously it cannot be sustained. The honorable member for Blaxland did not claim to have been misrepresented. All that he said was that the words used by the honorable member for Ballarat were offensive to him.
– Is not the Yarra offensive to any one?
– Obviously the honorable member who objects cannot be the judge and jury in his own case. It is for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as the occupant of the chair, and for no other honorable member, to decide whether or not the words complained of are offensive.
– I rise to order. Only to-day Mr. Speaker stated that if an utterance were characterized as offensive he would insist upon its withdrawal. 1 ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to extend to me a similar courtesy and to direct the honorable member to withdraw the offensive words.
– The honorable member for Ballarat used the words complained of in a general sense. I do not regard them as unparliamentary.
– I have claimed that they are offensive to me.
– Order ! The honorable member for Ballarat will continue his speech.
– If it be the wish of the House that I should withdraw the words, I do so. Many eloquent spokesmen for the Labour party have served their oratorical apprenticeship on the Yarra bank. In order to make themselves heard they had to speak loudly. Most of them were unaccustomed to speaking in a chamber such as this. I could name several honorable members opposite who now sit near the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) who served their oratorical apprenticeship on the Yarra bank. Honorable members who have some knowledge of the intricacies of banking have made splendid contributions to this debate; but many others who have taken part in it have contributed nothing worth while to it.
– Speak up !
– Order ! The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) has already spoken in this debate. He must cease interjecting.
– The issue before the House to-night is precisely the same as chut upon which the general election was fought on the 10th December last, namely, the nationalization of banking, the regimentation of the people and the monopolistic control of their affairs as was envisaged by the Labour Government when it was in office. The Labour Government favoured an all powerful Commonwealth Bank directed by the Treasurer and in no way controlled by the people. In a truly democratic way the people of Australia rejected that policy on the 10th December last. I do not claim to speak as one who has knowledge of banking and financial matters. I speak as a layman who was elected to this House to express the views of the constituents of the electorate of Ballarat. On the10th December the people rejected in no uncertain manner the Chifley Government and its banking policy.
This bill is not vindictive in character. It is moderate and democratic in structure and it represents the will of the people. It seeks to restore control of the Commonwealth Bank to a board offor members. Such control is foundedin principle on modern banking procedure which has been adopted by most progressive countries, including England, New Zealand, South Africa and. Canada. The bill proposes to retain as governor of the bank the man who was chosen for that position by the Labour Government. I refer to Dr. Coombs, whose outstanding qualities in matters of finance are widely acknowledged. The bill recognizes the value of the services of specialists, employees of the bank and public servants who are skilled in matters of finance. It provides for the appointment to the board of five of the six public servants who were chosen by the Chifley Government. It seeks to add to their number five independent representatives who will not be associated with the Commonwealth Bank in any way. These independent representatives will be free from political affiliations. They will be selected because their outstanding qualifications will fit them for the high responsibilities of their position. They will be true representatives of the people-
– How does the honorable member know that? They have not yet been chosen.
– I know that they will be true representatives of the people because they will be selected by this Government, which is truly representative of the people. Honorable members opposite look for ulterior motives in every action taken by this Government. The independent representatives will be chosen from different walks of life. They may be representative of primary producers industrialists, employers and employees, and professional men. As members of the board they will welcome the opportunity to render service to the public. I ask honorable members opposite to not the difference between this bill and the legislation that was introduced by the Labour Government. It is as is the difference between free expression and dictatorial power.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) has bitterly opposed this bill. Around that opposition the whole of this debatemust rotate.
– I rise to order. I ask whether the honorable member for Ballaratisin order in reading his speech.
MrDEPUTY SPEAKER.- The honorable member for Ballarat is not reading his speech ; he is merely referring to copious notes.
– If that be so, I must be blind.
– The honorable member is blind, dumb, and foolish.
– I ask that the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), who has interjected and run away, be brought back to the House and compelled to withdraw his offensive remark.
– I did not bear what was said by the honorable member for Henty.
– He made an offensive remark and I ask that he be made to withdraw it.
– Order ! The Chair is in control of the House.
– I again ask that the honorable member for Henty be compelled to withdraw.
– To what remark does the honorable member take objection ?
– The honorable member for Henty said that I am blind, dumb, and foolish. If that statement be true, I have no right to be here and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have no right to call me to order. I insist that the offensive words be withdrawn.
– As the honorable member for Hindmarsh regards the words of the honorable member for Henty as offensive, I ask that they be withdrawn.
– In accordance with your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I withdraw them. It is now only too plain that the honorable member is not dumb. All T can say is that it would be better for the honorable member and for all of us if he were dumb.
– The Leader of the Opposition does not agree with the Government’s proposal for the appointment of a Commonwealth Bank Board of ten members. He has suggested that the advisory board which he himself established is all that is required. At least the right honorable gentleman is consistent. He is not anxious that a Commonwealth Bank Board consisting of men who are truly representative of the people shall be established. Throughout his term of office as Prime Minister the right honorable gentleman persisted in ignoring the advice of the people and sought to use dictatorial powers to regiment the people. He says that this legislation must be stonewalled and that it must be rejected by the Opposition. He has adopted a straight-out policy of no-com promise. He refuses to take into account the wishes of the people that were so clearly expressed on the 10th December last. He will not budge from his objective. The members of his party automatically endorse everything he says, regardless of the fact that by so doing they are hastening their own political extermination. As the result of their blind following of their leaders in another matter Labour members of this House find that their numbers have been sadly depleted. In other countries people who have blindly followed stubborn leaders have found that they have hastened their extermination. I know of a State in central Europe in which a man who, according to history, exercised dictatorial powers, was guided by his horoscope. I know a man in a country that is very dear to me who has also exercised dictatorial powers. One begins to think that he should have studied numerology, especially the significance of the figure ten. . There is every possibility that politically he, too, will come to a sorry end..
– Has the honorable member read his horoscope for this week ?
– No. My views are not affected by such considerations. The fundamental difference between the Bank ing Act 1945 and the measure now before us is that under the former all power was vested in the Treasurer, whereas under the latter power will be shared by ten board members who will be responsible to this Parliament for their actions. The measure retains the central bank and trading bank functions of the Commonwealth Bank. The prosperity and progress of the bankwill be retained by its competition with the existing trading banks. The central bank will retain its senior position. Policy will be the responsibility of the newly elected board. Administration will remain in the hands of the Governor. The Parliament will have recognition as an adjudicator when differences arise in regard to policy. Later, additional capital will be provided to help the trading section of the bank to take a more active part in high priority work such as housing.
Having read through the bill, 1, in common with most people throughout this land, may be a little timorous of what are referred to as consequential amendments. They, I think, are worrying most, honorable members of the Opposition. Under “ consequential amendments “ a series of alterations is to be made. They are these : “ Omit the word Governor ‘ and insert the word ‘ Bank ‘ , omit the word ‘ Governor ‘ and insert the words ‘Bank determines’; omit the word ‘ Governor ‘ and insert the word Board ‘ “. These are small alterations for the printer to make, but they are highly important in that they mean discarding socialization for a free and true democratic outlook.
The administration of the bank under the bank board will not be subject to frequent violent changes because the length of tenure of the personnel will permit it 10 carry on even when there is a variation of control. It is the object of honorable members who sit on the Government benches to see that the control of government shall be in the hands of the people and that the people shall not be’ controlled by the Government.
Most of those honorable members who have spoken from the other side of the House have stated that the effects of the years of depression can be laid at the doors of the trading banks. That has been said for many a long year. I refer those honorable members to what Professor Douglas Copland has said. He is a man of whom the Labour party has spoken highly. He has filled official positions under a Labour regime and is held in high esteem on this side of the House. His statement, which has never been gainsaid, was that in the climb out of the depression, the private banks played a major part.
I feel that the whole argument of honorable members opposite comes back to the statement by the Leader of the Opposition that the number of members to be appointed to the board is not acceptable to him. He doubted whether there were five independent men to be found who would be capable of filling positions on the board. Does he suggest that in this Commonwealth of ours five men cannot be found who have the outstanding integrity, the desire, and the ability to serve on this bank board? He who casts such an aspersion as that in our 8,000,000 people there are not five men who hold those desirable credentials, is out of touch with the people of this fair land. The attributes loyalty, integrity and a desire to serve are held by many of the citizens, of this Commonwealth. During the war a desire to serve, a willingness to make a sacrifice, and a wish to do something for their birthright inspired most men to enlist. If any one doubts that we have five men who can fill these positions T ask him to think of those who serve on local government bodies and. philanthropic institutions. I direct his attention to honorable members who occupy these parliamentary benches;
Ifr. Pittard. they have many desirable qualifications which would fit them well to hold positions of trust in which they could render a service to the community. Many people with the outstanding abilities that are necessary for those who areentrusted with these all-important positions are to be found. Apparently, in his egotistical way, the Leader of theOpposition claims that he is the only person capable of chosing a.n advisory council. There is no doubt that whenthe selections are made by this Government, the men chosen will have all the characteristics I have mentioned. They will be men who are acceptable to the people of Australia and I hope that the stubbornness that has been so blatantly noticeable during this session will at last break down and that honorable members opposite will admit that, after all, the Treasurer can choose men with the qualities that are needed for these high positions.
With a great deal of pleasure I support the bill that is now before the House, knowing that in doing so I carry out the will of the constituents of the electorate I represent and that, at the same time, I live up to those important principles that mean so much to those of us who are advocates of freedom and democracy in seeing that on this major institution of our land the people will have a full opportunity to express their views in anappropriate, fair and reasonable manner.
, - Mr. Speaker, this measure gives a wonderful opportunity to the people of Australia, to understand the fundamental difference between Opposition members and those who support the Government. The honorable member for Ballarat who has just resumed his seat (Mr. Pittard) tried to belittle the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) because that honorable gentleman, in his enthusiasm, endeavoured to say to this House what writers and other people who have studied this matter have said. The honorable member for Ballarat accused the honorable member for Blaxland of being a “Yarra bank ranter”. I have gained my knowledge of financial matters in the school of experience, not on the Yarra bank nor in Oxford College or a big secondary school. My experience has been among the men in industries, the men on farms, and the men in small businesses that were absolutely crippled and ruined by the policy of the old bank board. What is of moment to-night is not what was done by the late Mr. Theodore or a past Governor of the Commonwealth Bank but having a central banking system that will meet the needs of the people. Experience has made honorable members on this side of the House determined that if they can prevent it what happened in the past will not happen again. One honorable member complained to-day that the Scullin Government had not the courage to go to the country. Does not the honorable member know that there cannot be a double dissolution unless the Senate throws out a measure and takes certain action? Does he not understand that when Mr. Scullin and Mr. Theodore brought down a measure which provided for a fiduciary issue of £18,000,000 it was not thrown out? The Senate did not say, “ Put it up to us again and let us throw it out a second time and then you can go to the country after obtaining a double dissolution “. No. The old, subtle way of deferring consideration was used. If the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) now receives medicine of the kind given to the Scullin Administration he should have nothing to complain about. Last night, the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond), said that the other House should agree to whatever legislation was brought forward by any Government, because it represented the will of the majority of the people. If the honorable member had had my experience of legislative councils he would know very well that that is not correct. The members of another place, who have to pass legislation before it can become law, were elected by the people of this country and are in duty bound to protect the people. When honorable members opposite talk about the powers and rights of the Government I recall the 1930’s when the governments or the ship-owners of the day wreaked their wrath upon the waterside workers of this country. I can remember the day when men from my own town were walking the streets starving while men who could not speak English were being given preference in employment on the waterfront. Those conditions were imposed by people who now talk about giving fairness and justice to the people. When honorable members opposite talk in that strain and expect to be believed they must think that the people have short memories. When the Scullin Government attempted to promulgate a regulation which provided that a share of the work should go to the men I have mentioned it was thrown out. The honorable member for New England, who was a Minister in a New South Wales Government, knows what was done in the past yet suggests that members of the Labour party in another place have to pass this legislation. If honorable members opposite think that that is so, they have another think coming.
The honorable member who has just resumed his seat said that he had read right through the bill, and had noted towards the end a series of consequential amendments, such as to omit “ Governor “ and insert “Bank”. I do not know whether the honorable member missed clause 4 or did not have his glasses on when he looked at it. It provides -
Section three of the principal act is a mended -
) by omitting the words - “ Part V. - Management of the Commonwealth Bank.
Division 1. - The Governor and Deputy Governor.
Division 2. - The Advisory Council.” and inserting in their stead the words - “Part V. - The Commonwealth Bank Board and the Governor and Deputy Governor of the Bank.”.
The honorable member said that the independent members of the board would be capable of doing the job assigned to them. He spoke of the primary producers. I have been a farmer, and I know all about their work. There are many intelligent men among the primary producers, but the honorable member was drawing upon his imagination when he declared that their representatives would be properly equipped to instruct the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank in the policy that ought to be adopted by the bank. Supporters of the Government have often told us that experts are needed for specialized jobs. They declare that workers are not capable of legislating in the interests of the people and that trained men, such as economists, are needed. With all clue respect, I consider that economists represent the worst profession, next to the legal profession, that I have come in contact with since I have been a member of this Parliament. There may be exceptions to that general statement, and I am certainly not referring to any particular individual. The task of this Parliament is to frame national policies, and men who come to thi3 place ignorant of anything not connected directly with their own businesses are not properly equipped for that task. I know of. honorable members on the Government side of the chamber who cannot leave this place quickly enough at the end of each week in their eagerness to attend board meetings elsewhere. They are principally concerned about their private affairs, and they devote their attention to the work of the National Parliament only in the brief periods of time that are left over from their business activities. The Government now wants to appoint men of the same calibre to the proposed Commonwealth Bank Board.
– How does the honorable member know that?
– Does the honorable gentleman think that the five men who will be selected to fill the remaining vacancies on the proposed bank board will be sitting at home or playing bowls all the time when they are not attending meetings of the board? They must not beworking bankers, under the terms of the bill, but they can be retired bankers. However, whatever their vocations may be, it is certain that they will retain interests outside the Commonwealth Bank. Of course, if the Government does what everybody expects it to do, it will choose able men. Nevertheless, thu Labour party says that the Government should take complete responsibility for framing the policy of the Commonwealth Bank and should not pass it on to a board. The Bank of New South Wales has many shareholders, and they elect representatives to the board of directors of that bank. The Commonwealth Bank belongs to the people of Australia.
Members of this Parliament have been elected by the people to govern the country, and we, not outsiders, should direct the affairs of the bank. The Leader of the Opposition has declared that the Treasurer should bear the responsibility of determining the policy of the bank and that the Government should appoint a man as Governor to act under his directions. The right honorable gentleman had the full confidence of the Government that was in office when he was Treasurer. It is ridiculous to decry the way in which the business, of the Commonwealth Bank has been managed during the last eight years. Even the present Treasurer has praised its achievements during tha; period. I remind honorable members of the old adage about the danger of changing horses in midstream. That is what the Government proposes to do. It knows very well that we are trying to avoid one of the gravest financial crises in history. The people are wondering whether our currency will be appreciated, and they want to know how the dollar shortage is to be overcome and how Australia, is to finance its overseas purchases. The Commonwealth Bank deals with such problems efficiently under its present system of management, and it should be allowed to continue to do so. Proposed new section 9 of the Commonwealth Bank Act provides that the proposed board shall have power to determine the policy of the bank or the savings bank in relation to any matter. Under the present system, the governor, a man of great experience, who is acknowledged to be at the top of the class in matters of finance, determines such matters subject to the directions of the Treasurer.
– He will be the chairman of the proposed board.
– That is the burden of my complaint. He will be hamstrung as the result of the change. Everybody knows that a chairman generally hae very little voice in the decisions of the meetings at which he presides. Sometimes he is able to use a casting rote, but that does not happen often. I doubt whether supporters of the Government have considered carefully what this bill proposes. A board of ten members will meet under the chairmanship of the present Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, who will have the right to exercise an ordinary vote with the other members and, in the event of an equal division of opinion, will be able to record a casting vote. However, as has already been pointed out very clearly, the Secretary to the Treasury will act as the mouthpiece of the Treasurer at meetings of the board. The five nominees whose names the Government has not yet announced will, of course, be competent men, but honorable members can rest assured that their views and those expressed on behalf of the Treasurer will be identical. The chairman of the board will be at the mercy of those five men. They will decide whether he or the Secretary to the Treasury knows best.
– That is democracy.
– Democracy is the system under which the people have the right to govern. Who will govern in this case? The bank will be ruled by the five government nominees in conjunction with the Secretary to the Treasury.
– That is democracy.
– That is not democracy. Members of the Australian Country party always demand that experts shall be appointed to boards that deal with the affairs of primary industries in order to represent the interests of the farmers, yet now they say that experts should not be appointed to control the Commonwealth Bank.
I think that the Government and its supporters are engaging in a sham fight over this bill. I do not believe that they will be game enough to go the whole hog and appeal to the people on the issue.
Government members interjecting,
– Order! The House is becoming altogether too boisterous. The honorable member should be given a fair hearing. I want to hear what he is saying, not what others are trying to say.
– When supporters of the Government become noisy I realize that some of the home truths that I have been stating have struck home. In politics, when people begin to yell, one knows that one’s remarks are getting under their skins. If I have not been able to get under the skins of Government supporters, they must have very thick hides.
– Order ! The honorable member must not refer to the skins of other honorable gentlemen.
– I apologize if I have offended honorable members by referring to their skins. The fundamental question is whether the Treasurer, representing the Government chosen by the people of Australia, will take responsibility and act on behalf of the people or whether he will pass the responsibility to somebody else. Supporters of the Government have said that the responsibility will rest ultimately with the Parliament. The bill provides that the bank shall inform the Government from time to time of its monetary and banking policy and that, in the event of a difference -of opinion arising between the Government and the bank concerning that policy, the Treasurer and the board shall endeavour to reach agreement. I prophesy that for the next three years, if the life of this Parliament should last as long as that, there will not be any differences of opinion between the Treasurer and the proposed board. However, should a difference arise and the Treasurer and the board fail to reach agreement, the bill provide* that-
That means, in simple terms, that decisions will be made by the Executive Council, in accordance with the wishes of the Treasurer, who will, of course, be acting on behalf of his government. In other words the government, not the Parliament, will frame the policy of the Commonwealth Bank. The bill then states that the bank shall give effect to the policy determined in accordance with the earlier provision and adds - (7.) The Treasurer shall cause to be laid before each House of the Parliament, within fifteen sitting days of that House after the Treasurer has informed the Bank of the policy determined under sub-section (4.) of this section - («.) a copy of the order determining the policy; (l>) a statement by the Government in relation to the matter in respect of which the difference of opinion arose; and
That is all that will happen. The documents will be laid on the table.
– And neither House of the Parliament will be able to do anything about the order.
– That is true. The bill does not provide that the Parliament may disallow any order determining the policy of the bank. Such orders may be debated and motions may be submitted criticizing the Government, but the Parliament will not be able to interfere with the .policy. Yet the Government declares that the bill will get away from the present system under which the Treasurer determines policy and will hand back to the Parliament full control over the Commonwealth Bank! In fact, the measure merely provides for a roundabout and complicated method of doing what can he clone now. The Treasurer will continue to be responsible for the determination of banking policy. Unless the Government is prepared to take responsibility for the financial policy of the nation, the peoplewill be let down as they have been let down on other occasions. Only after a Labour government came into office were the farmers able to benefit from the operations of the Commonwealth Bank. In the South Australian Parliament some years ago the advisability of the Commonwealth Bank becoming a mortgage bank was canvassed. The question asked was why the Commonwealth Bank was not able to meet the needsof the people in that regard. The Commonwealth Bank did become a mortgage bank by the acts of the Curtin and Chifley Governments.. The Leader of the Opposition, when Treasurer, gave effect to the desire that the Commonwealth Bank should perform the functions of a mortgage bank. The Government now says that the people have given it a mandate and that it will carry through this bill. I do not want to quote from newspapers or books, becausemost honorable members have enough knowledge to be able to understand the facts of this matter. After the general’ election, when people asked me about a double dissolution I told them that theGovernment did not need one to carry through its policy, that my experience had been that a government could largely give effect to its desires through administrative acts. That is actually the position now. An example of that is afforded by the abolition of the limitation of capital investment. Some time ago the authority of the Treasurer was required for certain capital investments, but as soon as the general election was over a statement was issued on behalf of the Government that in future every such application would begranted. The Government did not come to this House to get the authority to do that; it did what it wanted to do by administrative act.
I believe that all honorable members were quite honest when they gave their opinions about the Commonwealth Bank Board. Therefore, I shall deal with the fundamentals of this matter. Forty years ago the fundamentals were the same as they are to-day. When Andrew Fisherestablished the Commonwealth Bank thesame financial principles applied as apply now. What the present PrimeMinister and Treasurer said in 1943. about the Labour Government’s proposed reforms was, in effect, said about Andrew Fisher’s proposed establishment of the bank - “ Buy a trolley load of Fisher’s ‘flimsies’ for 10s. “. Every time the Labour party hastaken a forward step in banking the same objection has been hurled at it. “ Ruination “ has been the cry of Labour’s opponents. Yet when the step has been taken it has never been retraced -by any subsequent government. You, on the Government side of the House, are not game to do away with the Commonwealth Bank.
– The honorable gentleman must address me.
– I do not say that you would do it, Mr. Speaker, because I do not think you are that kind of man. But the Government to-day is trying to give effect to the policy with which it frightened the people at the last general election. I know that honorable members opposite would not have tried to scare the people, but a great difficulty faced by some political parties is that they must pay someone to conduct their election campaigns. After one such campaign a man said to me, “ I don’t belong to the Liberals, but .they gave me £400 to run their campaign, and I did it for them. If they want me to run another they will have to give me another £400 “. Such campaign directors earn their money by spreading propaganda that honorable members opposite would not put their names to. Neither you, Mr. Speaker, nor honorable members of this House, would tolerate some of the things that were said in the recent general election about the subject of banking. Campaigners went round my district and told the people there, many of them market gardeners with a little money in the bank, “If you put Chifley back you will lose your money “. They were men who were paid to do their jobs. If honorable members on the Government side had any mandate with regard to banking it was given by the people because they were afraid of what might happen to their money if the Labour party was returned to power. Yet those same people had made money as a result of the Labour party’s policy on banking. They got what they have to-day despite all the claims that the Labour party’s banking policy is wrong. We can read books and go into the classroom and try to learn economics, and then try to teach the people but we all know that a lot of them are not able to appreciate the real meaning of what is said to them. They were scared last December, in the same way as they were scared twenty years ago, about losing their life policies and their bank savings. Before the election, I said that my main fear was that the Liberal party would try to bring fear into the lives of the people during the election campaign. Judging by what happened at that time I was not far out in my forecast.
The Labour party is quite justified in opposing the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank Board. I am not concerned about any of the matters that the Treasurer .mentioned, such as the increased amounts being made available to the Industrial Finance Department and other departments of the hank, because if my party were in power to-day it would do the same thing. But I do say that the policy to he determined is that which the Governor of the bank will have to administer. He may believe in a certain policy, but unless the Treasurer stands by him against the Commonwealth Bank Board, and, after consulting the board, overrides it, he will not be permitted to administer the act as he desires.
Whilst I do not say that the Commonwealth Bank helped to cause the depression, I cannot forget that it could have ameliorated the conditions of the people at that time had it so desired. I was a member of a State government at that time, having been elected in 1930. My Government followed a Liberal government and the Premier said to the new Treasurer. “When you go to the Treasury all you will find is a bottle of smelling salts “. The Treasurer said that he almost wore a track between the Treasury and the Commonwealth Bank. The Minister dealing with unemployment, who wanted to get public works going in South Australia, said, “ As we cannot get any money for works to be done by the unemployed, I shall try to give them a little more in the way of sustenance”. That was because the policy of the bank board at that time was to consider the safety of the bank rather than the welfare and rights of the people.
.- In this debate the House is dealing with -
A bill for an act to repeal the Banking Act 11)4.7-48 and to amend the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945-1948.
The first important clause is clause 3. That clause contains only six words, “The Banking Act 1947 is repealed”. Both the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) and another honorable member who spoke this afternoon, said that t<he Banking Act is a dead horse. If it is a dead horse we all must admit that it kicked the Labour party to pieces before it died. Instead of squealing about what happened to put them in opposition, honorable members opposite should take a look at their leaders and advisers to see why they were misled into enacting such a measure as the Banking Act. The Leader of the Opposition, when he was Prime Minister introduced that act. Some one said that the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank was the greatest piece of work that a Labour government had ever done for this country. That may -be so, but the worst piece of work that anybody ever did for the Labour movement in this country was the introduction of the 1947 Banking Bill. Not one Labour man throughout the country can make any attempt to deny that. This so-called dead horse, when it kicked the Labour party to pieces, kicked Mr. Cain and his party from office- in Victoria, and caused a certain amount of disruption in the ranks of honorable members opposite. Then it kicked them off th, treasury bench of this House. It is well said that the “ mills of God grind slowly “, and when I look at the Opposition I see that they also “ grind exceeding small “. Some honorable- members opposite havesaid that their defeat was due to the bad advice they were given. The right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) advised the Government on many important points when the bill was introduced, and on every point he has been, proven wrong. The Labour party should consider that fact.
Honorable members opposite say that this Government has no mandate to bring forward legislation providing for a Commonwealth Bank Board. It was made plain in the policy speeches in the recent election campaign that a Bank Board1 would be appointed. There is no doubt that this Government has such a mandateWhen the previous Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) introduced his bill to nationalizethe banks he said that he had a mandatefrom the people, but at the general election that had been held a few months earlier he had mentioned’ nothing about nationalization. Every honorable member in the Parliament, and every person interested inpolitics, knows how true that is. The Leader of the Opposition is perturbed about the position that the Labour partyis in, but honorable members opposite must know that the Banking Bill of 1947 revealed them in their true colours as socialists. As such, the people of Australia swept them out of power into the political wilderness where they will remain probably for many years to come. Under this proposed act, the Government will give freedom to the people. I have heard honorable members opposite speak about monopolies. I suggest that there is no greater monopoly in history than the institution into which the last Government intended to turn the Commonwealth Bank. This Government will give the people the right to bank where they wish. Some people who are not fond of the private banks will still be able to deal with the Commonwealth Bank while those who favour the private banks will not be disturbed. This Government is pledged to fair competition between the banks, and when it made that pledge it meant to keep it. If it did not carry out the policy on which it was elected the people would take some action before it had been in power for three years. Most honorable members opposite who have spoken have said that the most objectionable clause in the bill from their point of view, is that dealing with the appointment of the Commonwealth Bank Board. Most of them have objected to the proposed number of members of the board. They say that ten is too large a number. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) this afternoon read out the names of seven trading banks, and the number of directors on the boards of those banks. There were 49 altogether, an average of seven directors to each hank, and the honorable member suggested that that was about the right number. In an attempt to bolster, up his argument, he had to turn to the trading banks, which members of the Opposition have always roundly condemned. I remind honorable members that we are now considering the control of the great Commonwealth IBank. It is proposed that the board shall consist, not of seven members, but of ten, and the additional members will bring to bear upon the affairs of the bank knowledge and experience that will be of great benefit to the bank and the people generally. Not long ago, members of the Labour party argued in justification of the proposal to increase the size of the Parliament that the additional number of members would be able to bring so much more knowledge to bear upon the problems of the nation that better legislation would result. How their logic has changed ! When the Government proposes to appoint ten members to the bank board, they say that the board would be better if there were only seven. Surely, the arguments that they applied to the Parliament should apply also to the bank board.
The honorable member for Fremantle (“Mr. Beazley) said that the manager of the Commonwealth Bank in” each State should be appointed to the board. He criticized the proposal to exclude officers of the bank from the board and asked who outside the bank bad had experience of the note issue. I ask what man in the service of the bank has had experience in the wool industry, the wheat industry, or any of the primary industries ? The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) said that his experience had been among men in industry and on the farms, and with men who had suffered during the depression. According to the honorable member for Fremantle, that experience would not qualify him for appointment to the bank board.
– I am not looking for a job like that.
– No, but other men with similar experience would be prepared to accept such a position, yet the honorable member for Fremantle would not have them. He wants to put bank managers on the board. Members of the Opposition say that if the Government’s proposal is adopted we shall have a bankers’ bank. How could it be more of a bankers’ bank than if the board were to consist mostly of bank managers, as the honorable member for Fremantle suggests ?
– We want it to be a people’s bank.
– We believe in letting the people have a voice in the management of the bank. It is not necessary that every member of the board should know all about the note issue. A member who possessed a knowledge of the wool industry could give his colleagues advice that would enable them to decide matters concerning the note issue. The same applies to other primary industries. The Government is providing an opportunity for the appointment to the board of men who possess practical experience, rather than planners of the kind that have run this country into so much danger in the past. At one time, the planners would not allow farmers in my electorate to strip a wheat crop that would have yielded six or eight bags to the acre, even though they proposed only to feed the wheat to stock on their own properties. They had to allow the wheat to rot into the ground. The planners have done little of value for the nation. Let us have on the board men who have helped to build the nation, and upon whom we must depend for progress and economic stability. It is provided that civil servants shall not be appointed to the board, and that disposes of the planners to some extent. We have been informed that Professor Melville will be a member of the board. He is a man of great knowledge, and I am sure that he will be able to work to advantage with those members of the board who have a practical knowledge of the primary industries. I heard Professor Melville speak in this building on the Bretton Woods Agreement, and what he said influenced me in deciding how I should vote on the proposal. Dr. Roland Wilson is also to be a member,, and every one seems to approve of him. However, members of the Opposition want the Government to announce the- names of all other members of the board even before the legislation authorizing the establishment of the board has been passed by the Parliament.
I listened closely to the speech of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Fraser). He said that the bill gives power to restrict the granting of credit, and the opening of hew branches. I remind him that it also gives power to increase the number of branches and to expand credit. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro was so taken up with his argument that he said that if any one was not convinced of the truth of what he said, he would quote his own statements to prove it. Then, in an effort to substantiate what he had just said, he started to quote from an address that he had broadcast a few days earlier. If any vaudeville artist has ever put on a more ridiculous turn than that I should like to hear about it. It was an extraordinary thing to be done by a man who ought to have known better.
The Leader of the Opposition said that, in the course of discussions, he had found that only two general managers of trading banks had any knowledge of the functions of the Commonwealth Bank in its ‘ operations as a central bank. The right honorable gentleman sets himself up as an authority who is qualified to decide whether other persons have certain knowledge regarding banking matters. I have heard it said against a former member of the bank board that he was a maker of bedsteads. I have no wish to reflect on any man because of his occupation, and 1 merely point out that the Leader of the Opposition for many years followed an occupation which certainly had nothing to do with banking. Now, however, he sets himself up as one qualified to judge the knowledge of other men about this subject. The right honorable gentleman was not at the time thinking of the Commonwealth Bank as a central bank. He already envisaged it as a bank that would give power to the socialists, and it would, indeed, have been a monopoly institution if the High Court, and later the people themselves, had not intervened.
The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) made one remark to which
I take exception.. He said that many members of the Australian Imperial Force had joined up because they wanted a job. On the motion for the adjournment of the House to-night, he should withdraw that statement.
– I said that they were unemployed when they joined, and so they were.
– I took down the honorable member’s words, and the Hansard record will bear me out. I object strongly to any member of this House saying that the men who served in the forces during the war did so only because they were out of a job in Australia.
– Mr. Speaker-
– If the honorable member has been misrepresented, he may speak later.
– The remarks of the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) are offensive to me and I ask that they be withdrawn.
– Nothing has been said that could be offensive to the honorable member for Watson in his person. The reference was to something he said last night, and if he wants to explain his position he may do so when the honorable member for Mallee has completed his speech.
– What I have said is true. I wrote down the honorable member’s words as he said them, and anyone who doubts me may consult the Hansard “ flats “ to-morrow. I am willing to admit, because I believe the honorable member for Watson is not a bad fellow, that in the heat of the debate he may have said something he did not mean, but statements made in this chamber are published throughout Australia, and a statement of the kind made by the honorable member reflects little credit on the Parliament. The honorable member for Watson said that he had served on a dilutee committee which concerned itself with training ex-servicemen and placing them in jobs. I had some experience of that work. I know that sometimes, when a young man went before such a committee with a request that he be trained as a plumber, the determining factor was, not whether he was suited for such a calling, but whether the union thought he could ‘be absorbed in the trade. In my own electorate, the unions prevented many men from being trained in the occupations they had chosen for themselves. If the honorable member for Watson served on such a committee, he should explain why things like that were done.
I believe that this is a good bill, but that it should contain an additional provision. One clause provides that members of the Public Service may not be appointed to the board. Another provision debars bank officers. I would insert a provision that no socialists may be appointed to the board. If I had my way I would sweep away all the socialists, and start afresh. I support the bill because it will assure the people of a choice in their banking. In this measure, the Government is giving effect to the will of the people who, at the last general election, clearly demonstrated what they thought of the attempt of the Labour Government to foist the 1947 banking act upon them. Members of the Labour party are making
I support the bill, because I believe that it is in the best interests of the country. The members of the board will be persons of considerable calibre and wide knowledge and experience. The Government will select them, very carefully, because it is keenly desirous that the Commonwealth Bank shall function in the best interests of the people of Australia. Who knows better than members of parliament that the people have the final voice ? At a general election, the people vote as they think they should, in the national interest. They undoubtedly had the national interest at heart on the 10th December last, and 1. am confident that they would support the Government on this banking issue if it were put to them. It is one of the glories of a great democracy that such legislation as the Banking Act 1947 must at some time be approved or condemned by the people, either by referendum or at a general election. Democracy gives us great privileges, but it demands great responsibility.
The people are aware of the mandate that they have given to this Government with respect to banking, and they expect the Government to ensure that there shall be fair competition between the Commonwealth Bank and the private banks. The people have expressed their desire to be at liberty to choose their banker, and there.by secure the best possible terms. Competition is the life of trade. I believe that this country will continue to prosper, and, in addition, that it will progress. A nation may be prosperous, yet not be progressive. . When the Labour Government went out of office last December, the country was in a prosperous condition, but that Administration, throughout it3 period of office, had not been progressive. I believe that, through this bill and by other means the present Government will not only make Australia prosperous, but also ensure its great progress in future.
– I desire to make a personal statement in my own defence.
– The honorable member may make a personal explanation if he claims that he has been misrepresented.
– I should like to make an explanation in defence of my good name. In order to do so, I must give the full text of the statement that I made last night about the unemployment position in Australia at the outbreak of war in 1939. I had said that in 1930, approximately 700,000 worthy Australian citizens were thrown out of employment, and had to accept the dole. All the building artisans went to New Zealand-
-Order ! The honorable member is not entitled to repeat all of his speech. He should place before the House the point on which he claims to have been misrepresented.
– I should like to lead up to the point by saying-
– Order! The honorable member must relate his remarks to the point on which he claims that he has been misrepresented.
– I shall do so. I stated that the apprenticeship agreements were scrapped, and youths were thrown on to the scrapheap. After they had been on the dole for three, four or five years, the war broke out in 1939 and most of the unemployed youths enlisted in the armed forces. That is the full statement that I made, and I should like the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) to withdraw his remark about me. It was a dastardly statement.
– Order ! The honorable member must withdraw the word “ dastardly “. I have the proof in front of me, and the honorable member may have a look at it if he pleases.
– I withdraw the word, but not my statement. I have the proof of my speech in my room, and the verbatim report shows that I did not say that those youths joined up because they were out of work. Those words were not used. The words that I used were that when the war broke out, the youths were unemployed and joined the army.
– I am afraid that your proof must be different from mine.
– I rise to order. I understand that you, Mr. Speaker, stated that you have a proof in front of you, which is, I. take it, an uncorrected, proof of Hansard. That is not accepted as an authoritative report. It is expressly stated to be an unrevised and confidential document and may not be quoted from or used as an authority. You have said that you have a proof in front of you, and that the honorable member for Watson may look at it. Were you not clearly conveying the impression that you were supporting the view that had been expressed by the honorable member for Mallee about the statement made by the honorable member for Watson?
– There is no point of order.
– I rise to order. The attitude of the Speaker in the chair should be one of absolute impartiality. T fed-
– Order ! It is not a matter of the honorable member’s feelings. What is the. point of order?
– My point of order is that, the attitude which you have adopted is not impartial.
– Order ! The honorable member may not make that statement, except upon a certain motion.
– The point that I make is that you have quoted from the Hansard “flats “-
– I have not quoted from the Hansard “ fiats “.
– Did you not say that you had the Hansard “ flats “ in front of you?
-It does not matter what I have in front of me.
– You have quoted from the “ flats “.
– Order! The honorable member will resume his seat, while the Speaker is on his feet. The honorable member stated that I quoted from the Hansard “ flats “. I did not. I advised the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) to have a look at his proof, and that is a friendly statement.
Mr. MINOGUE (West Sydney) [9.40 J. - I oppose the bill for the simple reason that I consider it to be a “ sell-out “ to the private banking institutions. Before the general election on the 10th December last, the present Government had not revealed that it proposed to appoint ten members to the proposed Commonwealth Bank Board. Many officers of the private banks who worked against the Labour party during the last election campaign, and other people who heard the secondreading speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) on this bill, have come to the conclusion that the Government has misled them on this matter. Bank , employees have made that admission to me. They feel that they paid too high a price to assist the Liberal party and the Australian Country party to win the election. They were compelled to devote some of their own time to the conduct of the campaign against the Labour paTty, and probably some of them were actuated by the fear of the “ sack “ if they refused to do so. They complain that the financial institutions that employ them paid them only a meagre salary, and they now feel that they have been “ sold out “ by the Government.
I should like to refer to two outstanding features in the history of banking in Australia. The first is the bank smash that occurred more than 50 years ago. I do not hold the Liberal party or any other political party that is represented in this House responsible for that financial disaster. Possibly the only gentleman here who was actively engaged in politics at that time is the right honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Hughes). Many people who are walking the streets of our cities and towns today are the sons and daughters of persons who lost their money in that smash. The Banking Act 1945 and the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945 provide adequate safeguards against the repetition of that kind of financial disaster.
The second outstanding feature in the history of banking in Australia is associated with the years of the financial and economic depression. What did the private banking institutions do in the early 1930’s to relieve the widespread distress in the community? They caused the depression. Some honorable members have stated that they were on the dole for a number of years. The Liberal party advises employees that if they work hard and for long hours, they will receive their reward. I fell for that advice for a number of years, after which I went into business on my own account. In 1929-30 my life’s savings disappeared when the banks restricted credit and allowed workers to nearly starve. Many thousands of worthy people in New South Wales were receiving the dole, and the homeless made their way to “ Canvas Town “ at Maroubra. At that time I had in my business no fewer than four persons. Three of them were exservicemen who lived with me for three and a half years. They had no money to pay for their board and lodging. What did the private banks and the Commonwealth Bank Board do to assist the unemployed in those days? Those conditions may be repeated a few years hence if this bill becomes law.
However, I feel confident that the Labour party will defeat this legislation, and I believe that some Government supporters are already weeping over it. They know that there is a “ catch “ in it. The whole purpose of holding general elections and increasing the size of the Parliament is nullified if a bank board is permitted to determine the credit policy of the nation, and perhaps prepare for another depression. I fear that a grim future lies ahead for the workers if this bill becomes law. Last night, the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) praised the virtues of the Legislative Council of New South Wales, and said that that chamber had not opposed any legislation for which the Government had received a clear and express mandate from the people. The honorable gentleman used that argument to support his contention that the Senate should not reject this bill; he claimed, that the Government had obtained a clear mandate from the people to introduce it. Of course, the honorable member was a supporter of the Bavin and Stevens Governments in New South Wales which, like the private banks, would not come to the aid of the unemployed during the depression. The Minister for Labo.ur and National Service (Mr. Holt) said that the Government could not see its way clear to increase age and invalid pensions, and he considered that the relatives and friends of pensioners should subscribe to their upkeep. If that be the view of the Minister even before this bill becomes law. what can the people hope for six ot twelve months hence? The PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony) said that the five members of the proposed board, whose names have not yet been revealed, would be persons of wide experience and considerable ability. Whilst that may bo true. I am completely opposed to the reestablishment of the board. I believe that the determination of the financial policy of the country should ultimately rest with the elected representatives of the people in this Parliament, and that we can expect only misery when the national credit is controlled by a board similar to that which ruled the Commonwealth Bank in the early 1930’s. Honorable members will recall that during the depression the British financier, Sir Otto Niemeyer, was invited to come to Australia to advise the Commonwealth and State governments how to balance their budgets. Many of the people expected that their plight would be eased as the result of the application of Sir Otto’s expert knowledge, but their hopes were dashed to the ground. The private banks and the powerful interests that support them paid the election expenses of the Liberal party. That is common knowledge. Strange to say, whilst many proposed legislative measures were mentioned during the election campaign by honorable members opposite, the present measure has proved to be the first that the Government ha9 introduced to this Parliament. The reason for that fact is that the private trading banks have claimed that they should get their pound of flesh first. The Government has said that the workers of this country must work harder so as to put more value into the fi. That is the only way in which the Government offers relief from the present economic conditions. It tells us in effect that that relief will not come unless employees work longer hours. How can people whose furniture, for instance, has been bought at high prices carry on if, in a few years’ time, when the banks will not be under the control of the Government but will be under the control of a board of ten members which will not have to account to the people, the country’s economy will have so altered that it will be impossible to liquidate the burdensome debts that they have contracted. Then the people will find that they are back in the same position as that in which they found themselves in 1930. I trust that common sense will prevail and that this bill will never pass the Senate. I feel sure that that chamber will not pass it, because the Opposition has decided that, come what may, this will be a fight to a finish. Honorable members doubtless saw in the press to-day a reported statement by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that nothing will stop him going right through with this measure. I can assure the House that many days, months and years will pass before this Government will be able to force the people of this country into doing what it has suggested - that is, allowing it to sell out to the private banks the financial structure that it inherited from the Labour Government that was led by the present Leader of the Opposition, to whom this country looked, during the wai’, to serve it, and who had to take up the cudgels and go to England on various occasions to look after Australia’s interests. He was praised in those days, just as Mr. Curtin was praised in his day, for the work that he did. But now that the war is over the too-wealthy people, who have accumulated great hoards, desire to find a way in which they can protect themselves against the demands of the workers for a fair day’s wages, for some comfort and for a just share of the goods that are produced in this country. I predict now that this Government will, in the very near future, find out that it is up against serious problems if it. decides to flout the will of the people.
.- The opposition to the bill now before the House is, from the standpoint of the Labour party, based on clause 10, which proposes to alter, the method of management of the Commonwealth Bank. The question that the House has to decide is whether the proposed new form of management will be more satisfactory, more efficient and in the best interests of the people compared with any other form that has operated in connexion with this very important national institution. I consider that it might be advisable at this stage to point out that the Commonwealth Bank has been subject to three forms of management sinGe it was established in 1912. The first form, was control by the Governor of the hank, which was absolute, although the act contained provisions that made it necessary for certain matters to be submitted to the Treasurer. The Governor of the Commonwealth Bank was appointed on the understanding that he would be free from all political control. He was subject to the Treasurer only in respect of the opening of agencies or branches outside of Australia, and in respect of any regulations dealing with the management of the bank itself or with its officers. That method continued until 1924. During that period the Commonwealth Bank grew in every direction. In 1924 the bank was not only firmly established in Australia but also had branches in practically every country in the world. In 1924 an amending act was passed which, introduced what was known as the Commonwealth Bank Board. The control of the bank was then vested in a hoard of eight members, comprising the Governor of the bank, the Secretary to the Treasury, and six other persons who were drawn from, or had been engaged in, agriculture, commerce, finance, and industry. I might incidentally state here ir. answer to the statement made to-night by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), that the board at that time included people who knew a great deal about the wool industry, the wheat industry, commerce, manufacturing and finance. In 1945, the form of management of the bank was amended so as to provide that the Governor of the bank should control it subject to overriding direction by the Treasurer, but in the carrying out of his functions as Governor he was assisted by an advisory council to which he could submit problems and which could tender advice to him. To-night we are dealing with the question of whether the new form of management of the bank is to come into operation, and I feel that it would be advisable at this stage to quote from the statement made by the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) in commending this bill to the House. The Treasurer then said -
When the board was established in 1924, the technique of central banking had not been developed in Australia. Even among the older central banks in Europe, central banking policy and technique had not been fully developed and in any case, their experience was hardly applicable to Australian conditions.
These are the words that I wish to stress -
In these circumstances, the board of necessity had to feel its way and no doubt, on looking back, it is possible to see how the work of the board could have been improved. To some extent, its difficulties arose from the fact that the Governor of the Bank was not chairman of the board. This tended to divide responsibility.
Thea he went on to say -
Knowledge in relation to these problems in Australia had been built up and a growing body of expert technical advice was. available from the bank’s staff, and by 19.3.9. the bank, under the board, was operating efficiently b,oth in its central banking and trading banking activities-
I also stress, the following words:- and a satisfactory co-ordination of the bank’s policy with that of the Government had been achieved.
I desire to make only one comment on that extract from the Treasurer’s speech. First of all, the Treasurer was very guarded indeed in his commendation of the bank board that operated between 1924 and 1945. He very plainly stated that it took fifteen years for that board to reach a stage at which there was satisfactory co-ordination of the bank’s policy with that of the Government. I suggest to the House that the whole question of the control of the Commonwealth Bank has become a political football that has been bounced from one politcal party to another so that the particular political views of the parties concerned might be made clear. The real test to which this House must submit this measure is the test of whether the board system as it operated between 1924 and 1945 was able adequately to deal with the problems associated with banking, central and other, and to enable the bank, as a national, institution, to give that stability to economic conditions., that measure of financial assistance and that general improvement of the financial affairs of the Commonwealth, that would give the very best results. I propose to submit to the House that the real test of whether a board can control the Commonwealth Bank on the lines submitted in this measure can best be made by having reference to what happened between 1924 and 1945 and by showing whether the bank survived the real crucial test of standing up to the difficult and complex financial and economic intricacies that we had in the early 1930’s. On the question of whether the last board proved to be successful, I submit to the House that on the real test of effective management and of efficient control in regard to difficult economic and financial conditions, the board failed miserably. It displayed a lack of leadership, incompatibility of knowledge and a complete inability to read the economic signs of the times and to make such adjustments and re-adjustments in the financial circumstances of the nation as would enable it to escape the perils of the economic storm that took place at’ that stage of this country’s history. I submit to the House that the board failed on five essential points. It failed properly to interpret the functions of the Commonwealth Bank, by not making its trading bank facilities available to the people of Australia as a whole. Secondly, it failed in that it lacked leadership on foreign exchange. Thirdly, it acted incorrectly in 1930 on the vital subject of interest rates. Fourthly its attitude to governments in 1933 and thereafter indicated clearly an inability to grapple with the problems of government finance: and fifthly, its restrictive financial policy assisted continued deflation in this country and prevented the rapid recovery that could and should have been made at that particular time. I desire to point out to honorable members that all the statistical records in Australia show that in 1928 our economy was far from well. Many honorable members have tried in the course of this debate to throw the blame from one political, party to another. It is not my intention at this stage to suggest that any political party was responsible but I point out to those who have affirmed that all the failures that took place during the depression period were due to Labour governments, that, the first signs of the coming economic blitz so far as this country was concerned, were very clearly evident in 1928. Those who care to examine the economic and financial records of Australia at that time will fmd these facts clearly and indisputably revealed. In 1928, there were several indications of difficult. times ahead. Export prices had been constantly falling. A strain had been imposed on the London funds of the Australian Banks, which were diminishing slowly but surely. The signs also indicated that deposits in the trading banks and in the Commonwealth Bank were decreasing, that unemployment was increasing, that the cash ratio to advances was declining, and that the advance-deposit ratio was increasing. One can say fairly that during 1928 when these signs were evident and economic conditions were not so good as they might have been the Commonwealth Bank Board might reasonably have regarded the situation as a passing phase and that no action was required. But in 1929, instead of an improvement occurring the indications were that conditions were becoming worse. During the second quarter of 1929 export prices fell by 20 per cent., and unemployment increased to 10 per cent, by comparison with 6.4 per cent, in 1927. The same trend was revealed in relation to London funds, deposits, the cash ratio to deposits and the advance-deposit ratio. That trend had been, continuing for a period of eighteen months. When the wool sales opened in Australia in 1929, with prices still declining, and with indications that the price of wheat would continue to fall, the Commonwealth Bank Board should have realized that something grave was happening to the Australian economy. Instead of recognizing the import of the signs of the times and seeking to revitalize our financial position by the provision of additional money for investment and production in January, 1930, the Commonwealth Bank Board and the trading banks took the remarkable and unexplainable step of increasing the interest rate on fixed deposits, with the inevitable result that the interest rate on advances increased. Obviously, in a period when unemployment was rising, and when it was apparent that our economy should be strengthened and stimulated, the action of the banks in advancing interest rates indicated a. total lack of appreciation of the very difficult position into which Australia had been drifting. As the months went by the position became much worse. By the second quarter of 1930 export prices had dropped 40 per cent, below the figures for 1928, unemployment had reached the staggering figure of 18.5 per cent., deposits in the banks, including the savings banks, were falling rapidly, advances were declining, our gold reserves were disappearing and, because of the lamentable fall that had taken place in export prices, exchange was being rationed. With two years of economic conditions of that description gradually engulfing Australia and strangling our national life, destroying the purchasing power of the primary producers and of the people generally, with London funds gradually diminishing, strong action should have been taken by the Commonwealth banking authority. If ever there was an occasion when the Commonwealth Bank Board should have taken action to at least arrest the fall in the national income that had resulted from the extreme fall in export prices, that was the occasion. Unfortunately, instead of action being taken by the Commonwealth Bank to adjust exchange rates between this country and others in order to stabilize the falling purchasing power of the exporters of this country, action in that direction had to be taken by the private trading banks. A board which controlled a great national banking institution, functioning as a central bank, and having complete power to control the Commonwealth Bank free from political interference, should have been able to take whatever action was necessary to safeguard the financial position of this country. It was the duty of the Commonwealth Bank Board to take the initial steps to adjust exchange rates so as to correct our position in London and mitigate the effect of falling prices for our primary products.
The next matter that the Commonwealth Bank had to face was the financing of the governments of Australia. In 1928-29 the deficits of the Australian Governments exceeded £12,000,000. In 1929-30 they amounted to £25,000,000. It was essential that steps be taken to revitalize our economy and to stimulate our credit resources by making money available for essential works, first, to increase the national income and, secondly, to provide work for our unemployed. The proposition was submitted to the Commonwealth Bank Board that a fiduciary loan of £18,000,000 should be made available to arrest the deflationary tendency, to finance public works. and to stimulate the demand for materials and thus provide additional avenues for the absorption of the unemployed. That proposition was rejected by the Commonwealth Bank Board. Its attitude towards the proposal was entirely different from that adopted in Great Britain, where a fiduciary note issue was authorized and action was taken to try to stem the tide of the depression. Obviously, there is greater danger to the economic system of a country in a period of falling prices than in a period of rising prices. When prices are rising production is stimulated, employment is provided and the incomes of the people are assured.
One honorable member has claimed that the Commonwealth Bank Board kept stable the value of the Australian £1. That is not so. Indeed, the policy adopted by the board helped to make the Australian £1 one of the most unstable monetary units in the world. As a consequence of the inflationary tendencies which resulted from the failure of the Commonwealth Bank Board to cure the economic ills of the community, while the purchasing value of the Australian £1 increased, the great bulk of the people were not earning sufficient to enable them to take advantage of the increased purchasing power of the £1. Unemployment inevitably means loss of income. It is not of much use to tell the unemployed in 1930, 1931 and 1932 that the £1 would purchase much more than it would in 1926-27, when the great bulk of the people were on the dole and were not receiving sufficient to keep body and soul together. As a result of the unemployment that followed the policy pursued by the Commonwealth Bank Board the national income of the community declined considerably and the people suffered great poverty and destitution. The’ board dictated to the governments of the day the financial policy which this country should follow. It is astonishing that a banking institution which was established by this Parliament and which was controlled by a board appointed by the Government should be able to refuse to provide the finance necessary to enable the governments of this country to meet their financial commitments. It is astonishing that such an institution should be able to say to the Government of the Commonwealth and the governments of the States that money would not be made available for the payment of the salaries of public servants, for pensions and for the administration of the country unless those governments accepted a financial plan which had been formulated by the bank. That plan, which was subsequently known as the Premiers plan, caused greater destitution and deflation than this country had hitherto known and compelled Australia, to pursue a financial policy that was entirely different from that followed by the United States of America. The President of the United States of America had expressed the view that during an economic cataclysm of the type that we experienced in 1931 and 1932 the last function of a Government was to endeavour to balance its budget. He said that the first function of government was to make money available to arrest deflation and to bring back stability to a sick economic system.
My next chai-ge against the Commonwealth Bank is that it retarded the recovery of this country from the effects of the depression. Those who have made a study of the conditions that existed during the depression will recall that every economist of that day said that the only way in which we could recover from the effects of the depression was by stimulating capital expansion. They claimed that the stoppage of capital expansion that had taken place in most countries in 1929 had accelerated the depression and that the only way in which we could overcome our difficulties was by creating a demand for raw materials and for consumable goods, thus providing employment for our workless. That could be be done only by stimulating capital expansion. Instead of pursuing such a policy, the Commonwealth Bank adopted the attitude that loans which were raised for the purpose of financing public works should be restricted in character and having decided the minimum and maximum amounts to be raised by those loans, it then determined that the money so raised was to be rationed among the various governments. Consequently, it was impossible to provide full’ employment. Those are the things which happened as a consequence of the inability of the members of the Commonwealth Bank Board, first of all to appreciate the seriousness of the depression and secondly, when the depression did come, to pursue a financial and monetary policy which would enable the community to recover from the desperate straits in which every section found itself. I knew many of the men who were appointed to the board, personally, and have the greatest respect for them. They were honorable men and some were men of very great ability but although they were very capable in regard to the particular industry from which they were drawn they failed to appreciate the significance of economic events, trends and patterns and when disaster fell upon this country they were totally incapable of giving the necessary leadership to bring the community out of difficult economic conditions. When it is found that the activities of a board have not been in the best interests of the community it is very unwise to set up a similar board and return to a system that was found to be ineffective at a time when the community needed it most to safeguard itself from the economic conditions of the period. What happened between 1930 and 1936 will happen again. The mere fact that we are obtaining good prices to-day for wool, wheat and meat and the many other things that we export overseas does not mean that those prices are going to continue. Sooner or later, the commodities that are bringing such a phenomenal national income to Australia are going to be subject to all the fierceness of -world competition. The national income of this community will then again decline. The income of the primary producers is again going to become lower and lower and when those circumstances arise it will be necessary to have complete and effective collaboration, co-operation and consultation between the Governor of the Bank and the Treasurer so that decisions may be made quickly and in such a manner as will safeguard the interests not only of the Government, but also of the people. I suggest to honorable members that even the Government is not quite satisfied with the proposal that it has placed before the House. I quote again from the speech of the Treasurer. This, apparently, was the paragraph with which he blessed the proposal and caused him to feel that, having blessed it. the millennium had arrived so far as bank control was concerned. He said -
It is the Government’s view that the proposed composition of the Board will result in balanced judgments by a body of men, properly chosen for their various abilities and knowledge.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Gullett) adjourned.
– I move -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn to Wednesday, the 19th April next, at 2.30 p.m.
It is proposed that in that week, as the House will resume on the Wednesday, it shall meet on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. In the following week the Tuesday is Anzac day. It is therefore proposed that the House shall resume at 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, the 26th April, and meet also on Thursday and Friday.
Question resolved in the affirmative
Armed Forces - Pensions - Bricks - Immigration : Northam Camp Sewerage System - Basic Wage - Mr. Eric J. Harrison, M.P. - Super- ANNUATION - Means Test - Medical Services - Newspapers - Government Enterprises - War Gratuity.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) proposed-
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I wish to speak about those members of the Australian Military Forces who have given voluntary service over a period of years to their country and the position in which they will find themselves when compulsory training is introduced. I am in favour of the introduction of compulsory training and I am willing to await details of the proposed system, but it seems to me that whatever ‘system of national service is introduced its success will depend in a very large measure on the continuance of voluntary service by those men who are already possessed of a certain measure of military experience and who will be required, under a system of universal training, to act as officers and instructors. Indeed, unless this large body of volunteer soldiers carries on under a system of universal training the success of ‘that system will be extremely doubtful. The present volunteer forces provide a trained nucleus of instructors and officers. They constitute a body of men of a higher age than those who are likely to be brought in under a system of universal training. I suggest that the Government should give very careful consideration to some of the disabilities under which those offering for voluntary service now find themselves, for in order to make a success of the system of voluntary training, especially” after the universal training system is introduced, there will have to be worthwhile inducements for the volunteer. I think that those men who volunteer for military training do so partly for financial reasons - for there is a financial inducement of sorts - partly because they have an interest in military training - for soldiering is something in the nature of a hobby to them - and partly because of their sense of patriotism and national duty in this field. The fact that I have mentioned patriotism last does not mean that I place it last in the order of persuasiveness of the factors which influence these men to offer their services. However, I think that those who are responsible for the administration of the Australian Military Forces do need to give very careful attention to the financial considerations and interest in the training, as well as to the feeling of devoted patriotism, for attention to these will show dividends in effective work.
I should like to mention some matters which may he small in themselves hut which affect the attraction of volunteers to this very important service. There is the matter of unpaid parades. At the present time, there is provision for 38 days of training a year. I am sure that the authorities will agree that it is impossible to reach a reasonable standard of training and efficiency with only 38 days of training a year. Consequently, the volunteer not only volunteers for 38 days of training, but also for an enormous amount of unpaid training in his own spare time. The leisure hours which the rest of us devote to our hobbies or to sport he devotes to the service of his country. I suggest that, under the new system, some consideration should be given to increasing the number of days of voluntary training for which remuneration is granted.
The payment of income tax on their Army pay affects a number of volunteers who have risen to commissioned rank. By rising to commissioned rank they obtain slightly higher remuneration for their paid parades, but obtain little advantage from it. To cite a particular instance, one volunteer having risen to a higher rank found that 42 per cent, of the additional money he received by undertaking that extra responsibility was paid out in taxation. I submit that some amelioration of the burden of tax should be given to men engaged in military training.
The allowances that are made to various units for welfare and betterment are another important factor. Those allowances, at the rate of 3s. a man, are allotted on the efficient strength of the unit at the beginning of training, which means that they may amount to a mere £20 or so for a whole battalion because the battalion may start its period of training with a very small number of efficient men. By the end of its period of training it may have a very large number of men who might rightly expect to share in the amenities provided. I submit that some other basis for the granting of welfare and betterment allowance should be considered.
Among other minor matters are the furnishings of messes, the provision of equipment for mess rooms and the supply of other amenities which would be attractive to soldiers. I have been told that some units complain of slowness in equipping them with suitable uniforms. I am referring not to uniforms for the purpose of appearing in public and making a sort of peacock parade but to uniforms suitable for carrying out the serious business of training - the issue of battle dress and summer shorts and other equipment which would normally be essential to carry out any sort of warlike undertaking. I have mentioned these several matters, small as they fire, in order to indicate that there are various respects in which the attractiveness of voluntary training can be greatly increased. I submit to the House that it is essentia] for the Government to do whatever it can to make voluntary training more attractive, not only at the present, moment, but also after a system of universal training has been introduced. The success of that system will depend to a. considerable degree upon the efficiency, experience and enthusiasm of the men who have been trained as volunteers and who will be willing to continue to serve voluntarily in co-operation with the compulsory training system.
.- As the House will adjourn to-night until the 19th April, I make an urgent request to the Government now in the hope that it will take action during the recess. I ask it to give prompt and sympathetic attention to the needs of age, invalid and widow pensioners. I do not mention war pensioners because we have already been assured that action is being taken on their behalf. Unfortunately, Ministers have replied to requests made on behalf of pensioners by members of the. Opposition by asking, “What did the Labour Government do?” Questions of that sort will not help the pensioners to buy an extra loaf of bread or tin of jam. There is very cold comfort for them in such unhelpful remarks. I remind the Government, in any case, that the Labour party increased pensions by more than 100 per cent, while it was in power and endeavoured to keep pace with rising cost9 by granting increases at fairly regular intervals. However, the Labour party has been out of office for some months now, and in the interim the cost of living has increased at a much greater rate than at any other time since the end of the war. I appeal to the Government to give urgent consideration to the plight of the pensioners during the forthcoming recess. Winter will soon be upon us, and we should not expect pensioners to rely upon the charity of neighbours, municipal councils and other well-meaning people for gifts of food and clothing during that season. It is the duty of the Government, whatever ito political colour may be, to care for those people who have borne the heat and burden of the years and have reached a stage at which they cannot earn income. They have contributed to the development of the country by their labours and the Government is responsible for ensuring that they shall live in reasonable comfort during their declining years. Their standard of living has depreciated considerably during the last few months. We all know that people in full employment who earn reasonably high wages are now having difficulty in maintaining the standard of comfort to which they are accustomed. The aged, the invalid and the widows of the country are obliged to eke out an existence on a small fixed income. I appeal to the Government not to throw back in my face and in the faces of the pensioners the jeering question, “ Why did not the Labour Government aid the pensioners when it was in office ? “ That sort of thing does not help the pensioners. They cannot wait until value is put back into the £1. Their situation is desperate and it will become even worse, because we can be sure that the cost of living will continue to rise steeply during the next few months. These people are granted only a small pittance with which to maintain themselves, and they cannot satisfy their needs adequately as the cost of living increases. I ask the Government, in all sincerity, to give earnest attention to my request, and, if possible, to bring down a measure for the purpose of increasing pensions soon after the Parliament re-assembles.
.- I bring a serious matter to the notice of the Government to-night because I am afraid that the situation will become out of hand very soon unless something is done about it promptly. I refer to the inadequacy of brick production throughout Australia. The shortage of bricks constitutes such a serious bottle-neck, especially in New South Wales, that the construction of homes is being retarded to a very marked degree. I am not accurately informed of conditions in other States, but I believe that the lack of production is common to all parts of Australia. In New South Wales, it is impossible to place orders for the delivery of bricks from local yards within less than two years.
– Is not that a reflection upon private enterprise?
– That is another matter. Various factors affect the low rate of production.
– Was not the honorable member connected with the sale of the State brickworks in New South Wales?
– There are State brickworks in that State, and they are operating at a severe loss. However, I raise this matter in a spirit of constructive suggestion, not destructive criticism. I suggest that the Government treat the matter as one of urgency and initiate a nationwide survey of brick production. The State Government is falling down very badly upon its job in New South Wales. One of the retarding factors is the shortage of labour, and I am glad that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) is present to hear my remarks.
– I am always here.
– That is true. It is very difficult to retain labour in the brickyards for a variety of reasons, but I believe that the Minister can help if he will give consideration to the problem. Production could be greatly increased if we had a sufficiency of modern brickmaking machinery in Australia. The shortage may be so serious as to justify the allocation of additional dollars for the purchase of up-to-date machinery, which is available in the United States of America. I consider that a special effort should be made to import such equipment. Difficulties due to taxation also reduce the incentive of private manufacturers to produce bricks. As far as I am aware, the policy implemented by the previous Government has not been altered. No proper allowance is made in tax assessments for the wasting assets of brickyards, and that is having a detrimental effect upon production. This matter does not call for party criticism. We all should get together with the object of encouraging the maximum possible rate of home construction. The bottle-neck caused by the shortage of bricks needs urgent investigation. In fact, it is having a serious effect upon the production of other building materials. I ask the Government to have a survey of brick production made during the recess, so that we may be able to determine the best means of helping State governments to increase output. After all, this is a national matter of great urgency.
– I refer a matter of great urgency to the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Holt). A state of affairs that can be described only as most disturbing exists at the immigration reception centre at Northam in Western Australia. It is an old army camp. Admittedly during the war it held between 5,000 and 6,000 troops, but, it is not suitable to house a similar number of migrants. I have in mind particularly sanitation and hygiene. It is deplorable that sanitation in such a large camp, situated close to a densely populated industrial centre, should depend on the pan system.
– It is partly sewered.
– The hospital and headquarters buildings are sewered, but the main part of the camp is not. I do not want the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) to think that I am blaming the previous Government for the present state of affairs at the camp. It was occupied speedily when speed was called for; but I consider also that the present situation warrants speedy remedial action. The Australian standard of hygiene and sanitation is high compared with that prevailing on the continent of Europe.. It is higher still in our armed forces. The migrants now housed at the camp come from countries where standards are not so high as they are here. The camp is occupied by men, women and children, living almost together. Although the migrants are medically examined before coming to Australia, it is possible for them to bring into this country undetectable diseases. Under present conditions, disease could spread rapidly. Local residents are particularly afraid of an outbreak of gastroenteritis amongst children. Already there has been an outbreak of hookworm in the district, and although the suggestion that the disease may have come from the camp has been rejected, that cannot be proved .to my satisfaction or to the satisfaction of anybody else. There is an average of 3,000 immigrants in the camp all the time, and sometimes there are as many as 6,000. I am aware that the installation of sewerage would involve the use of materials now in short supply, but considerable labour would also be required for .this work, and I consider that a start could be made on the job immediately. I ask the Minister for Immigration also to consider placing the health inspections of the camp under the jurisdiction of the local authority, the Northam Road Board. The board has a qualified health officer who could inspect the camp. That is the wish of the people of the district. I arn not casting any reflection upon the health officer who is doing the work at present, but it is not necessary for him to inspect the Northam camp when there is already a health officer in the district who could do the job. - The present medical officer at the camp is Dr. van Rooyen, who comes from India. She is of Indian extraction, and is well qualified. I have nothing in particular against female doctors, hut I understand that it has been impossible to hold nursing staff at the hospital for any reasonable time. I have personally consulted with nurses who have worked there, and although professional ethics prevented them, from saying anything definite, it was clear that their refusal to continue to work at the hospital was due to the conditions prevailing there under Dr. van Rooyen. I am informed that neither the men nor the women at the camp are willing to go to Dr.. van Rooyen. I believe that an earlier complaint was made about Dr. van Rooyen, but that Dr. Murray, the Commonwealth Medical Officer for Western Australia, sent in quite a good report. I urge the Minister to make some inquiries from the medical officer stationed at Northam and from the Western Australian Public Health Department about Dr. van Rooyen’s work when she had a private practice or was working in one of the district hospitals. I hope that the Minister will treat these matters as urgent and will take immediate steps to allay the fears of local residents who are perturbed about conditions at the camp.
– Like the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer), I am anxious that .the Government should give earnest and serious consideration to brick production. My approach to this problem is different from that of the honorable member for Bennelong, although our objective is the same. We both want to see the problem of increasing brick production tackled in a proper manner, so that this bottleneck may be removed from the building industry. The honorable member for Bennelong has suggested an examination of clay deposits, a general survey of the industry, and the importation of American brickmaking machinery. My approach is somewhat different. I believe that I can claim to be the most authoritative person in this House on brick production. I am recognized in South Australia as one of the best authorities on all phases of this subject. My opinions are sought by employers and employees. I am frequently approached by builders who are” finding difficulty in getting bricks, and sometimes I am able to get bricks for them. The problem in South Australia is not a shortage of machinery, but a shortage of man-power.. We could employ 240 men to-morrow morning if they were available. I have no doubt that, in this regard, South Australia is typical of the other States. Within a few weeks, an additional 240 men would be able to overtake the lag in brick production, and so remove that bottleneck in the building industry. However, other bottlenecks, would take its place. The production of an additional 30,000,000 bricks, a year in South Australia would produce a cement bottleneck, and when that was removed, it would he replaced by bottlenecks of tiles, roofing material, earthenware plumbing pipes timber for second fixings and roofings, and so on. In South Australia there are three Hoffman kilns capable of producing about 400,000 bricks a week. There are also a number of square, or dome kilns as they are referred to in the trade, which are not being used to their fullest capacity. Importation of plant from America, which has been suggested, would not solve the problem. The American plant most favoured by people who do not know much about the brick industry is the kiln known as the continuous kiln which is a semi-Hoffman type and is not adaptable to the conditions in Australia. Such a kiln would take about three years to erect, would cost about £350,000 and would be totally unable to produce the number of bricks that are required. A suggestion that I put forward to the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Holt), as a solution of the brick shortage, is that he should make available, as quickly as possible, to the brick producers throughout the Commonwealth sufficient migrants to meet the shortage of man-power. However, it ia useless to send migrants to the brickmaking trade unless adequate provision for their accommodation is made close to their work. The key to the solution of this problem is the provision of housing facilities close to the brickyards. That accommodation should be suitable for the migrants and their wives.
It has been said in South Australia that migrants are not suitable as brickmakers, because they consider that the work is too heavy, dirty and laborious. However. Australians will not stay in the brickyards, either. There is a brickyard in South Australia, owned by Mr. James, where it has been’ proved to everybody interested that migrants can become excellent brickmakers. Mr. James has provided them with cubicles so that they can live with their wives close to their work. “With such a provision it has been shown that, migrants can produce bricks just as well as the best Australian brickmakers. The problem should be tackled not by the importation of expensive machinery from Britain or America, with the consequent expenditure of thousands of pounds or dollars, or by any form of mechanization, but rather by the provision of extra labour. Migrants suitably housed would do the work.
– I associate myself with the remarks that were made by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson) about the necessity for a. more adequate scale of pensions for invalids, widows and the aged. The present pensions are entirely inadequate to meet the needs of those people, and I plead again, as I have done before, that the Government shall immediately institute a system of housing for the invalid and age pensioners of the Australian Capital Territory. Pensioners are living in this very rigorous climate under conditions which make it impossible for them to have any degree of comfort or health. It is perfectly obvious that many of these people are suffering from extreme undernourishment. It is a common experience of medical practitioners throughout the Australian Capital Territory to examine invalid and age pensioners who cannot purchase enough of the necessaries of life to nourish them in the “ sere and yellow leaf” of their lives. The houses which some of them occupy are completely unsuitable a3 habitations in this climate. We are just about to enter into the . winter season, which is so rigorous here that this House finds it desirable to go into a long recess to avoid its discomforts. I again beg the Government to give the most earnest consideration to the provision of houses for invalid, widow and age pensioners.
It is extraordinary that the age pensioners should be expected to live on £2 2s. 6d. a week, whereas the Parliament has found it necessary to grant pensions at the rate of fS a week to expoliticians. I often wonder -
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed, that be needs £8 a week. The decreased purchasing power of the £1 must also be remembered. T hope that the Government will give consideration to this matter.
.-! was interested in the remarks of the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer), who stated the well-known truth that there is a shortage of bricks for the building industry. However, I fail to see any solution of the problem in the suggestion that this Government should make a. survey of the brick production of Australia, ostensibly for the purpose of improving it. The plain fact is that brickmaking is most unattractive work, and brickmakers find it difficult to retain labour even in times when it is plentiful. It would be difficult to-day to secure labour to increase the production of bricks in Australia without some form of compulsion, which, of course, both the Government and the Opposition oppose. The greatest handicap faced by the building industry to-day is a legacy from the past. It is a legacy from the time when major brickworks were buying up smaller brickworks and closing them down for the purpose of creating a shortage of bricks, thus increasing their price. The big brickworks bought out a number of smaller brickworks in New South Wales and completely dismantled them so that nobody else without a great deal of trouble could get them producing again. So, I say that the difficulty that confronts the brick industry to-day is a legacy of the past, which has been brought about by the greed of the brick monopolists who were able before the war to buy out their competitors and create an artificial shortage of bricks in. order to cause an increase of the price of bricks. That fact is incontestable. Nearly half the brickyards in New South Wales were closed down at that time and have not since been re-opened. The honorable member for Bennelong said that perhaps an increased price would encourage the production of more bricks-
– I did not say that.
– If the honorable member did not say that, English has lost its meaning. My understanding of his remarks was that a higher price would increase the production of bricks.
– No, I did not say that. I spoke of taxation.
– It is immaterial in which way the brick-makers are to receive greater profits-
– I suggested that taxation should be reduced on wasting assets.
– It is immaterial whether taxation be reduced or the price of bricks be increased, because the brickmakers will still receive more grist for their mills without producing any more bricks. The great difficulty that confronts the Government of New South Wales to-day is that, whilst it has given the greatest possible assistance to rehabilitate some of the brickyards and to obtain labour for brickyards through the Commonwealth Department, of Immigration, the State Government has not been able to restore the happy position that existed before the brick monopolists bought out the brickyards. I cannot see that any useful purpose can be served by the Government making a survey of the position. If the Government made a survey of the position, what could it do? The position has been surveyed over and over again by successive State governments, and, regardless of the politics of the governments of the ‘States, I venture to suggest that there is not one State government in Australia to-day that is not receiving the maximum supply of bricks that is possible under the circumstances in which the industry is conducted. It is idle for the honorable member for Bennelong to shake his head, because I believe that he was associated with the power supply, and probably also with the building industry, and therefore he should know the difficulty that confronts every builder, from manufacturers down to those who desire to build humble cottages. They cannot obtain sufficient bricks, and the reason why they cannot obtain them is that before the war brickyards were bought out and closed down by the brick monopolists in New South Wales.
One other matter to which I desire to refer, and which I shall treat very gingerly, because I know that it is very easy to tread on delicate ground, is that, although I asked a question of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) yesterday, I have not yet received a reply-
– I received the Hansard “ flats “ only to-day.
– But 24 hours have elapsed since I asked the question, and that should have been ample time to deal with the matter. In any event, the Minister does not need to obtain the Hansard proof, because he knows exactly what was said. The question that I asked the Minister referred to the causes of the delay that has taken -place in the completion, of the basic wage inquiry. I think that the intention of the Minister was to convey the impression that the delay that has taken place in the determination of the basic wage was entirely due to the time taken by the unions to present their case to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. It sounds bad when it is said that the unions have taken twelve or fifteen months to present their case, particularly if the individual who criticizes the unions does not have the honesty to say what intervened at that time. One of the things that intervened Was that, immediately the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) stated that he was going to pay endowment for the first child, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court suspended the inquiry, ceased to function, did not hear any more witnesses and did not do another tap of work until the result of the election was known.. Then it could only have been a matter of speculation for the court because its members were apparently interested to know how the endowment matter would be treated politically. In fact, the matter has not yet been disposed of by the Parliament, which means that further delay must occur in the court. All these delays are cumulative. The trade union movement did attempt to have the hearing speeded up. It made a request to the court to sit on more days than had been the practice. Their Honours indignantly repudiated the suggestion, with the result that, although the court closed down for the entire period .of the election in order to see what the result would be-
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– Various matters which affect the departments that I administer have been touched upon in the course of this discussion, but unfortunately, the time allotted under the Standing Orders will not permit me to deal with them as fully as I desire. However, I shall try to deal with some of the matters raised by the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer), the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron), and the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), who concerned themselves with the problem of increasing the production of bricks, which are so urgently required for house construction to-day. Only one aspect of brickmaking comes under my purview, and that is the provision of manpower for the brickmaking industry. I merely intend to repeat what I said last night concerning the general problem of housing costs, and that is that the Government is making as much use as it can of the migrant labour available for industry in order to ensure that those industries that are concerned with housing are supplied as adequately as possible with .the necessary labour. After the matter was raised by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) last night I took the opportunity to examine the relevant statistics, and I found that of the male migrants who have come to Australia under the displaced persons scheme approximately one-fifth are now engaged in industries directly associated with the housing programme. They are employed in the production of materials for housing, such as felling timber, and various other pursuits.
– The proportion has remained constant all along.
– Yes. The former Government realized the importance of those industries that are concerned with the production of housing materials, and allocated migrant labour to them. The present Government is fully conscious of the need for labour in those industries, and the brickmaking industry is one to which we have given our attention.
The honorable member for Moore (Mr.Leslie) was good enough to advise roe before he spoke that he would raise the matter of the health and sanitary services in Northam camp in Western Australia. Dealing quickly with the three points that he raised. I desire to inform him that, according to my advice, the greater part of the Northam system is catered for by a sewerage system, in place of the former pan system, except the hospital and. one block, which are equipped with septic tanks. A daily pan removal service is supplied by the Northam Municipality. The lavatories are kept in good order, and are considered to be hygienic.
– They are not fly-proof, however.
– Perhaps not, but, while we all desire an extension of sewerage systems, I point’ out that in the honorable member’s own State of Western Australia, three out of every four towns are not sewered, but use the pan system. It would not be practicable to install a complete water-carriage sanitary system at Northam, as it would be a long and costly operation owing to the hard nature of the ground in the area. The length of sewerage piping for such a project would be 5£ miles. This piping is scarce, and any supplies coming forward are urgently required for housing purposes in Western Australia, and could not be conveniently diverted to Northam. The honorable member also suggested that the camp be brought under the jurisdiction of the local health inspector for the Northam Roads Board, in whose area the camp is situated, Our Department of Health has a fully trained and experienced health inspector supervising and inspecting all migrant camps in Western Australia. He is a man of long local experience, and has done excellent work in advising the camp authorities on the health and hygiene measures necessary. He has ensured great improvement at Northam, in particular. The State health authority has also at times inspected the camp, and given advice. It would not seem, appropriate to introduce, a. third authority into the control of the camp, especially as the Commonwealth health inspector has established a very good liaison with the health inspector of the Northam Municipal Council. The Northam Roads Board in whose area the camp is situated, has no health inspector, and, if the health inspector of the Northam municipal area were to spend an effective time in the camp it would impinge on his already fully occupied time in his own area.
There was also a reference to the present medical officer at the centre, Dr. van Rooyan. Dr. van Rooyan is a Dutch national with satisfactory medical qualifications, a.s she hold degrees of L.R.C.P. and L.R.F.P.S. of Edinburgh. She practised in Western Australia for a number of years before being appointed to the centre. In view of the fact that a large proportion of the persons in Northam requiring medical attention ace- pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children, there does not seem to be any disadvantage in having a female medical officer in attendance. I have no evidence that patients are loath to consult the present medical officer at Northam. Owing to the difficulty of obtaining medical staff, it has not been possible to obtain all the necessary assistance for her. Vacancies have been advertised by the Department of Health repeatedly, and all the assistance offered has been accepted.
The honorable member for Dalley mentioned the basic wage inquiry, i have never suggested at any time that there has been undue delay on the part of the representatives of the trade unions in presenting their case. I have been advised that since May of last year there ha v. been no interruptions other than the one to which the honorable member referred. That was during the period of the election campaign when the court, acting entirely on its own initiative, adjourned the hearing for one month. The Government is doing everything in its power to ensure that there is no delay, and it is our genuine desire, to see the matter brought to finality as soon as is practicable.
The final matter to which I propose to refer will, I am sure, strike a. responsive chord in the breast of every member of the House. Sitting at the table is my colleague, the Minister for Defence (Mr. Eric J. Harrison). This is the last occasion for a considerable time that the Minister will be with us in his present capacity. He leaves very shortly for England to do important work for the Government as Resident Minister in London. That work can he of tremendous value to Australia. I am certain that the Minister will carry with him the best wishes of all honorable members, including his political opponents, who have become aware of his doughty fighting qualities, but who have learned to respect him for his sincerity, and his genuine desire to serve his country to the best of his ability. I am sure that in the new field to which he is going he will serve Australia with great distinction, and we wish him well. I hope that he will not be away too long, and he can be assured of a warm welcome from honorable members when he returns.
, at least to the extent of hoping that the newly appointed Resident Minister to London (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) will be able to use his ability and talents in the service of his country. We are living in difficult times, and the Resident Minister will have a lot of headaches. He will need the good wishes even of his political opponents in the task ahead of him. We shall do our best to bring him back as soon as we can, because we shall continue to oppose Government measures in the hope that something will eventuate that will make the return of the Minister necessary. We on this side of the House will miss him. He traded plenty of punches. He did not ask for quarter; he did not give it, and he did not get it. Those with whom he “ mixed it “, did not ask for quarter, either. We hope that his journey to England will be pleasant, and that Mrs. Harrison, too, will enjoy the voyage. We trust that the Resident Minister will carry on the good work that has been done by all the High Commissioners and Resident Ministers from the inauguration of the office back in the day3 of Sir George Reid about 1910.
I bring to the notice of the Government the anomalous position of those persons who are in receipt of pensions from the Commonwealth or the States, and of those who are living on superannuation allowances provided by private employers and semi-government instrumentalities. I have here a copy of a letter signed by Mr. Harry Sawkins, president of the Citizens League for the Abolition of the Means Test. The letter was sent to the Prime Minister. I do not propose to read it, but in the letter Mr. Sawkins pleads for those in receipt of superannuation benefits who, for that reason, find it difficult to get the full benefit of the age pension. We did liberalize the means test about two years ago, when the permissible income was raised from £1 a week to 30s. However, costs are rising all the time, and many pensioners are finding it very difficult to live. The cost of living figures for the March quarter, which should be released about the middle of April, will, I understand, make necessary an increase of another 2s. in the basic wage. That shows how difficult it is for those on the basic wage, or something near it, to live. These matters have been stressed by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson) and the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Dr. Nott), and I hope they will receive the attention of the Government during the recess.
Difficulties associated with the production of bricks in New South Wales are largely the result of the actions of the brick manufacturers themselves. About a year ago, I was approached by the brickmakers with a request that migrant labour be allocated to the industry. I found that they were paying a bonus to Australian workers to attract them to take employment in the brickmaking works. Paradoxically, we have a depression in reverse at the present time. There are in Australia about 250,000 more jobs than there are workers to fill them. Therefore, the workers go to the most, attractive jobs. Some brickmakers in New South Wales when the prospect loomed of migrant labour becoming available promptly withdrew the bonus that they were paying to Australian workers. That led to trouble with the trade unions, and, subsequently, some of the brickmakers said that they would pay the bonus to Australian workers but not to migrant workers. Naturally, the unions objected to one section of employees in the industry being paid a differential rate. We had no trouble from that cause outside of New South Wales. Two years ago J placed 250 migrant workers at brick kilns in Victoria with the result that the production of bricks was stepped up by !0,000,000 bricks a year. The figure given by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) indicated that that was the additional production required in South Australia to meet their present shortage. Whilst surveys have already been made, I suppose that other surveys could be -made; but T do not know of any fresh surveys that the experts that were employed by the Chifley Government and are still employed by this Government could devise.
The honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) referred to conditions at the Northam migrant camp. I have visited that camp on several occasions, and I know a good deal about it*. The conditions there to-day are immeasurably better than those that were provided for the troops when the camp was under military control. When I was Minister for Immigration a large area of the camp was sewered.
– Only the hospital block was sewered.
– No ; other parts hlso were sewered. I recall giving instructions for the provision of fly wire and other improvements to meet conditions during the summer months. The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Holt) has made an adequate reply to the honorable member’s allegation. Whilst I do not think that the honorable member intended to harm the Government’s immigration programme in any way, attacks of the kind that he made have a bad effect on the Australian public, and, possibly, upon the morale of the migrants themselves. It is not a good thing to have complaints of such a kind ventilated in the Parliament or in the press as they have been recently. It is easy to criticize, but 1 point out thai hundreds of thousands of good Australians are living in various parts of the Commonwealth under conditions that art not as favorable as those that exist at the Northam camp and other migran camps.
– Why should that state of affairs be allowed to continue?
Air. CALWELL. - I am saying that the Minister and his departmental officers are doing all that is humanly possible to improve the conditions. As a matter of fact, Australia has done more than any other country in the interests of displaced person migrants. That fact has ‘ been acknowledged by the United States of America and Great Britain.
Tributes have repeatedly been paid to Australia for all that we have done in receiving displaced person migrants, looking after them while they are living in migrant camps and placing them permanently in the community. We have endeavoured to do all we can in their interests to the limit of our resources and ingenuity.
It is regrettable that the name of a lady doctor should be brought into a debate in the Parliament and that she should be attacked on hearsay for alleged incompetence.
– I did not say my information was based on hearsay.
– The honorable member said that the Minister, if he visited Northam, would hear all that the people there had to say about the matter. The Director-General of Health selects these officers and any criticism of this kind should be addressed to him and his competent assistants. They do the best they can in the circumstances. Although they cannot obtain the number of doctors that they require they certainly place only competent doctors in charge of these camps. It is easy for any one to cast aspersions upon these doctors, as was done some months ago when an attack was made on the medical officers at the Bonegilla migrant camp when there was an outbreak of measles and enteritis resulting in the deaths of several children. However, those children would have died if they had been obliged to remain in Europe. Many others now living in Australia also would have died had they also been left in Europe. It is not right to criticize a doctor in1 the Parliament as this particular doctor has been criticized. She has no avenue for redress and she cannot reply to the accusations. Her professional character has been gravely affected by the attacks of the honorable member. We shall not attract doctors to the Public Service if we do not discourage this sort of thing.
.- The honorable member for Curtin (Mr. Hasluck) raised several interesting points with respect to defence and service administration. The honorable member is perfectly aware that on the defence side the matter he mentioned involves matters of policy, whilst his other references involve matters of an administrative nature. So far as defence policy is concerned, I can say very little at this juncture beyond informing him that the improvement of conditions within the volunteer services, such as, the Commonwealth Military Forces, must be taken into consideration in a very broad way if the ultimate benefit to national defence is to become apparent. Unless we establish an attractive service in which those who finish their preliminary training can progress further afield within the defence scheme we shall not encourage the enthusiasm that must be generated if the scheme a9 a whole is to be a success. The question of taxation, for example, is being considered by the Treasury, Unless we can give an incentive to the men involved to carry on, we shall lose the services of quite a number of officers whom we should hold within the general scheme. The other matters that the honorable member raised will be considered by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) in respect of general administrative policy.
The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson), the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Dr. Nott) and the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) raised matters relating to social services. I say with the best of goodwill that it seems strange to me to hear an appeal from the honorable member concerning the need to give further consideration to the extension of age and invalid pensions. I am perfectly aware that the honorable member for Melbourne would not expect to have that fact thrown back at him, and I do not intend to do se ; hut, when he is so impatient at what he describes as the Government’s failure to do anything in this matter during the few months that it has been in office, he should bear in mind that when the
Chifley Government increased the rate of age and invalid pensions it postponed the payment of that increase for a considerable period on the plea that the staff of the department could not distribute the increased payment on the date that it was announced. For that reason, that Government would not make the increase retrospective. That aspect, I suggest, is of some interest. However, this matter is the subject of continuing investigation by the Government, and the honorable member’s representations, together with those of the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory, who presented an excellent case for consideration by the Minister for Social Services (Senator. Spooner), will be carefully examined. The honorable member for Melbourne also referred to the necessity to give some relief to superannuated public servants in the application of the means test to them when they apply for social service benefits. That was a plank in the election policy of the Government parties. We undertook to examine the anomalies created by the application of the means test to superannuated public servants, with the object of preventing the means test from bearing harshly upon those retired public servants.
The honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer), the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) and the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) stressed the need to increase the production of bricks. The honorable member for Bennelong suggested that the Government should undertake a survey of the position. I imagine that such » survey would naturally be considered by the Minister for National Development (Mr. Casey), because it is of prime importance in the Government’s housing programme. The shortage of houses is one of the greatest human problems that confront the Government. The honorable member for Dalley said, in effect. “ That position was created years ago and what can we do about it ? “ He claimed that certain brickyards had been closed because the major brick companies had bought up the yards in an endeavour to establish a combine. Of course, that statement was not true. Those are not the facts, but the story has been repeated so often that some people appear to believe it. The position is that the State brickyards established the price for bricks at a figure which reduced the level of possible profit for investors in private enterprise. Of course, private enterprise has not the resources behind it that a State government has, and could not suffer losses that were then being incurred by the State brickworks. Consequently private enterprise had to protect itself. The private brickyards could not increase the price of bricks for the simple reason that the State brickworks, by selling at lower prices, would have taken the whole business. The whole purpose of socialistic enterprise is to destroy the profit motive. The socialists ask, “ “What do we care about the profits so long as we show losses?” The contentions that were advanced by the honorable member for Dalley may have sounded convincing, but when they are subject to test they cannot be sustained. I inform the honorable member for Bennelong and the honorable member for Hindmarsh that the Government will take some action in the matter. Indeed it must do so because the brick problem is probably the biggest that confronts those responsible for the acceleration of the housing programme.
I appreciate the kindly remarks which the Minister for labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) and the honorable member for Melbourne have made about my appointment to an overseas post. I also appreciate the fact that I have earned the esteem of my colleagues in this House to the degree that they are prepared to pay those tributes to me. It is perfectly true that the honorable member for Melbourne and I have traded solid punches from time to time, but Australia would not, be a democracy if it were not possible for us to express our political views fearlessly in the House and then be prepared to meet in friendly discussion outside the chamber. Once that condition is destroyed in this country democracy will have gone from it for ever. If the bitternesses of debate in this public forum are carried into the outer sphere, with all the accompanying pettiness and jealousy, our democracy will be in danger. I am sure that notwithstanding what may happen in this chamber, we have the leavening approach of friendship in personal contacts outside the House. I shall perform the duties that have been assigned to me by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Government to the best of my ability, and I thank my colleagues on both sides of the chamber for their kindly references to me. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, as the presiding officer of the House and also the officers associated with it for their assistance at all times and sometimes their forbearance.
I desire to refer to several matters that have already been discussed on the motion for the adjournment, and to raise a newone. At the outset I extend to the Minister for Defence (Mr. Harrison) my best wishes for his future in his post overseas. When he returns, we shall again trade those punches to which he referred, and we on this side of the chamber may be even better political pugilists as the result of our experience in Opposition. Therefore, I warn the honorable gentleman to strengthen his arm while he is abroad. We express very great confidence in his ability to represent Australia overseas. While I am paying those tributes to him, I desire to place on record my feelings about the way in which the Minister was treated by a section of the press after his appointment to the position in London had been announced. I regard those press statements as in the poorest of journalistic taste. If certain journalists can find a public man whom they think they can write down, they seem to regard it as a field day for themselves. While they engage in those criticisms they are not living up to the standard which we believe they should maintain. The honorable gentleman, while abroad, will have very responsible duties to perform, and we feel that, as the result of his experiences here, he will undertake those duties to the best of his ability, and with distinction.
The Minister stated that the previous Government did not make the payment of increased pensions retrospective to the date on which that increase had been announced. I am glad that he was temperate in his approach to that subject because I point out that the previous Government did, from time to time, substantially improve social services in general and pensions in particular. Had the Labour Government been returned to office at the last election, it would have been faced, as the present Government is faced, with the urgent need to increase pensions in order to meet the rising cost of living. The Minister also mentioned that the Government was committed to the easing of the means test. That relaxation is one of the problems of the social services structure of the country. The means test has been reduced in a marked degree in recent years, and, in consequence, any further reductions of it will not benefit a large majority of pensioners who are in the greatest need. The problem is most difficult. A. small group of pensioners have a fairly reasonable income with their pensions and supplementary earnings. However, approximately 85 per cent, of pensioners have an income of only £2 2s. 6d. a week, and that sum is hopelessly inadequate to-day to enable the recipients to purchase even the necessaries of life, and pay rent I am glad that the Government is giving attention to that major and most urgent matter.
The Minister said that’ the policy of the previous Labour Government might have been responsible for many shortages of basic materials. I think it is true that the policy of some previous governments is responsible for the existing conditions, including the shortage of housing, building materials and many other commodities, but I emphasize that the Curtin and Chifley Governments cannot be blamed for that situation. If governmental action or inaction is responsible for it, the responsibility rests with governments that were in office long before the advent of the Curtin
Government. After World War 1., Australia might have imported valuable capital machinery, encouraged immigra- tion and increased its industrial potential. However, Australian governments did not take advantage of those opportunities. Lack of finance was said to be the problem between 1918 and 1939. The present Government should consider that fact in the current controversy on the Commonwealth Bank Bill. It was not the desire of governments that housing should he scarce between World War I. and World War II., or that the deplorable slum conditions, which are a disgrace to this fair country, should exist. The reason for their inaction was always a lack of money, and the present Government should keep that fact prominently in mind.
The Minister said that losses incurred by governmental industrial undertakings was an argument against State participation in such enterprises. Government enterprises may have made extraordinary losses, but private enterprise has been in a similar position. But that has never been used as an argument for the abolition of private enterprise. Taken by and large, governments have engaged in industries in which private enterprise was not willing to engage or for which it could not find sufficient capital. They have engaged in industries the products of which had to be made available at low prices in order to meet the needs of the people. This constant carping criticism of government enterprise does not do justice to the country or the vast body of public servants who are employed in professional and indi!.trial undertakings.
T rose mainly because I desire to refer to the war gratuity. It will be payable in a few years. When it becomes due for payment, a large sum of money will have to be made available to exservicemen throughout the country. Prom day to day honorable members are approached by ex-servicemen who desire to obtain payment of their war gratuity. 1 suggest that the Government should give consideration to paying certain war gratuity claims now. A committee has considered this matter from time to time and made recommendations to the Government. Its recommendations were always accepted by the last Government. I suggest that similar machinery be established by this Government. I believe that, small amounts of war gratuity could be paid immediately. The gratuity should be paid in cases in which the applicant caD establish that he needs the money. If that were done, the Treasury could spread over a period of years the payment of a large sum of money that otherwise would have to be paid within a short period. I point out a substantial sum is available in the war gratuity fund due to action taken by Labour governments during the last few years. I urge the Government to give serious consideration to my suggestion.
.- Although I have not heard all that my colleagues have said in expressing their good wishes to the Minister for Defence (Mr. Eric J. Harrison), who is to proceed overseas, it is only fair to say that I do not share the opinion that the honorable gentleman is a good selection for Australia’s representative on the other side of the world. I think that the selection of the honorable gentleman was a bad one.” It is not often that I find myself in agreement with some of the views that are expressed in the press, but the opinion of some newspapers that the honorable gentleman is a poor selection is one that I share. If we wanted any evidence of the Minister’s unfitness to occupy the position for which he has been selected, we had only to listen to the comments that he made in this chamber to-night. He bas never had a reputation for handling the truth very carefully. In dealing with the statements that had been made by some of my colleagues, he referred to the disposal by an anti-Labour Government of the New South Wales State brickworks. He tried to lead the House to believe that that brickworks was an unprofitable undertaking and that it had been using public money to keep down the price of bricks in order to embarrass the private firms and force them out of business. The State brickworks and the State monier pipe works were both operating at a profit. They were saving considerable sums of money for home-builders of this country by keeping down the price of bricks and pipes. An anti-Labour government was returned to office and itput the State brickworks up for sale. The undertaking was purchased by a ring of private brick companies, which, immediately it had completed the purchase, increased the price of bricks and paid the additional profits into a fund from which the purchase price of the State Government brickworks was to be refunded to the companies. It was the users of bricks who found the money that the combine paid to the New South Wales Government. There was never a more scandalous or disreputable business deal than that. Nevertheless, the Minister for Defence, who is in a position to ascertain the facts - and if he does not know them, he .ought not to attempt to make a statement about the matter - had the audacity to say that that was another example of the inefficiency of socialism. If that is the kind of propaganda that he intends to put out. overseas, the people will not obtain a very good impression of this country or one that is in accordance with the facts.
The Minister said to-night that in debate in this chamber hard knocks are exchanged. Of course they are. The honorable gentleman represents himself to be one of those who has suffered as a result of misrepresentation by the press. He was one of the person* who cowardly attacked my reputation while I was absent from the Parliament and fighting to clear my good name ir. the courts of this country. The honorable gentleman did not have the decency k- wa.it until the decision had been given and I had returned. But now he is complaining because his reputation was bruised a little by what the press of this country said about him. I fear for Australia if the honorable gentleman is to represent us overseas. I shall be happy to see him come back to this country, not because I want him back, but because I am fearful of what he may do to injurs the reputation ‘ of Australia while he is abroad.
The Parliament is about to adjourn for three weeks. That means that for three weeks nothing will happen in regard to the implementing of the Government’s policy. Honorable gentleman opposite continually excuse their inactivity by saying that they have been in office for only three months, but time is getting on. The only thing that the Government has done up to date is to abolish petrol rationing. It has not accomplished anything else. The rate of home building has not been accelerated and prices are racing away from us. At the time of the referendum on. prices control honorable gentlemen opposite said to the people of this country that .they were not opposed to. prices regulation and that they believed that there should be a system of prices fixation while shortages of commodities existed. They. said that the issue was Commonwealth control or State control. The people made the mistake of removing anthority to control prices from the Commonwealth. Now the States are abandoning more and more controls and, as they abandon them, up go prices. There is not one commodity from which prices control has been removed .that has not increased considerably in cost. The persons who control prices in this country are the supporters of honorable gentlemen opposite who subscribe to their party funds. They are the members of chambers of manufactures, chambers of commerce and employers federations. It is within their power to regulate prices, but the only regulation that they apply to prices is such as will ensure the highest prices for their goods that can be obtained from the community that they are exploiting. Neither the State governments nor the Commonwealth are giving any protection in this connexion to the people of this country. While honorable gentlemen opposite talk a lot of “hooey” about value being put back into the £1 value is oozing out of the £1. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has said that it may take years to restore value to the £1. While his policy is being proved to be ineffective, prices are rising and persons in receipt of fixed social service benefits have to make desperate efforts to exist. The age pension is £2 2s. 6d. a week. On that sum, pensioners cannot provide themselves with three meals a day and pay exorbitant rentals for accommodation. Surely no honorable gentleman opposite will argue that the payments to age and invalid pensioners, war pensioners and widows are sufficient. The Minister for Defence said on one occasion that it was never intended that the pensions should provide the recipients with a comfortable living. He may rest assured that there is no comfortable living to be had on £2 2s. 6d. a week. If these people secure an increase in their income they do not put it into a bank or seek investments. They have to use it for foodstuffs principally. Most of them have to look to their relatives and friends from time to time for clothing. Surely with all the talk of the Spender plan to lift the living standards of people in Asia we should be able to spare food for the people of our own country. If we can find food to prevent the spread of communism in Asia, surely we can find the money to make more food, available to our own needy people. I do not say that we should not help those Eastern peoples who are in need, but the Government ought first to do something for our own people. Honorable members opposite may say that the country cannot afford it, but if this country cannot afford a little extra food for the pioneers who made it what it is to-day, then we do not deserve to live as a nation. I am asking the Government to take a practical and sensible view of this matter. By giving these people increased money it would be merely giving them an increased opportunity to obtain for themselves some of the foodstuffs that this country produces in such abundance. The present Government is in control of the country’s affairs and temporarily has a large majority in this chamber. I ask it while it still has control of the affairs of the country, to do something for the pioneers.
.- I do not propose to detain the House for more than a few minutes, but I do not consider that it is right, that this House should adjourn for the Easter recess without some answer having been made to the remarks of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) that were directed at the Minister for Defence (Mr. Eric J. Harrison). A reply to those remarks should certainly be given in this House before the Minister departs to carry out his important duties abroad. As one of the new and younger members of this House, 1 should like to say publicly - and I am sure that I am expressing not only my own views, but also those of my colleagues on this side of the House who like myself are new members, and also, perhaps, those of many honorable members on the other side of the House - that we have the utmost confidence in the Minister who is to proceed abroad. He has had a long record of distinguished service to this country, not only in a parliamentary sphere, but also in at least one other important sphere, which entitles him to be sent on his way with kinder remarks than those of the honorable member for East Sydney to which we have just listened. We wish the Minister success and we wish to record the fact that we have the utmost confidence that in his hands the affairs of this country-^ in England will be very well and ably handled.
– In answer to the remarks of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) in respect of the war gratuity, I wish to say that the matter will be examined by the Government. The honorable member knows that there are facilities for grants to be made in specific cases.
– The conditions are very strict and tied down, but I generally endorse what the Minister says.
– There are facilities for grants in certain cases. Most of us have made applications of that kind and have succeeded in having grants made in certain cases.
It is a pity that on the last night of sitting of the Parliament prior to the Easter recess, we have had to listen to the remarks of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) in relation to the Minister for Defence (Mr. Eric J. Harrison).
– They did not worry me.
– I know that the Minister for Defence was not worried about them, but a number of honorable members on both sides of the House were worried by them, not only because of their regard for the person involved, but also because that sort of talk at this time does not do credit to the parliamentary institution that we respect. The honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne) has said that the Minister for Defence is highly regarded, and so he is, not only by members of his own party, but also by many members of the Opposition. I close with the note that no matter what might be thought of the Minister, he is going home to England as the representative of this country in a distinguished position. It is a poor thing that he should go with the kind of farewell that has been given to him by the honorable member for East Sydney in his mind, or that the public should have brought to its attention even one breath of a sneer or a disreputable remark such as we have listened to tonight. Fortunately, what was said by the honorable member for East Sydney would not, in my opinion, be said by any other member of this House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Australian Broadcasting Act - First Annual Report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board for period 15th March to 30th June, 1949.
Dairy Produce Export Control Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1950, No. U.
House adjourned at 11.55 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
z asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows : -
I and 2. £7,102,891. The honorable member can be assured that the Government does not contemplate any more agreements of this kind.
s asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
In view of the hardship and suffering being experienced by many mcn and women throughout Australia to-day, owing to their being unable to follow any employment in industry through being afflicted with some chronic disease or ailment, will he inform the House - (a.) in what way the Government arrives at the So per cent, disability of persons to make them eligible to receive an invalid pension; and (ft) whether any formula is provided to the medical profession by the Government for them to work to in arriving at the 85 per cent, disability, and the details of any such formula?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
s asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
e asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 to 4. Under an arrangement approved by the Government, the International Harvester Company of Australia will import from the United States of America 74 heavy tractors with allied equipment such as the bulldozer, scoops and other attachments. The cost of the 74 tractors without their allied equipment will he approximately fA.500,000, which will be financed by the issue to the International Harvester Company of America of shares in its subsidiary Australian company to an equivalent amount. The additional capital resulting from the sale of the 74 tractors will be used by the local company to finance the expansion that is taking place in its manufacturing business in Australia. Thus, no dollar provision will be necessary to cover the cost of the 74 tractors. The attachments for the 74 tractors, costing approximately £A.l 40,000. will be paid for in dollars by the. local company and an appropriate provision will be made within the dollar budget for the importation of this equipment. This arrangement will, at a minimum dollar cost, provide a valuable addition to the equipment. required to carry out developmental works in Australia, at the same time enabling the International Harvester Company of Australia to raise permanent capital needed to finance an expansion of its activities in this country. 5 and 6. Information concerning the profits and dividends of International Harvester Company of Australia Proprietary Limited is confidential to the company. 7, 8 and 9. The only loans issued by the Commonwealth Government on the New York market since 1939 have been for conversion or re-financing operations, none of which involved any new money. Particulars are as follows: -
On the 24th October, 1949, the sum of 20,000,000 dollars was obtained in United States currency from the International Monetary Fund as the result Of an exchange transaction by which the equivalent amount of Australian currency was credited to the account of the fund with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Sydney. This transaction involved a service charge of 150,000 dollars, which was paid in gold in terms of Article V.. section 8 (o). It also increased the fund’s holdings of Australian currency to a figure equivalent to about 11,000,000 dollars above our quota of 200,000,000 dollars. Charges are payable by any member on the average daily balances of its currency held by the fund in excess of its quota. These charges are at the following rates: - (i) On amounts not more than 25 per cent, in excess of the quota; no charge for the first three months; one-half per cent, per annum for the next nine months; and thereafter an increase in the charge of one-half per cent, for each subsequent year: (ii) on amounts more than 25 per cent, and not more than 50 per cent, in excess of the quota ; an additional i per cent, for the first year: and an additional i per cent, for each subsequent year; (iii) on each additional bracket of 25 per cent, in excess of the quota: an additional i per cent, for the first year; and an additional i per cent, for each subsequent year. When the charges payable on any amount reach 4 per cent, per annum, the member must consider with the fund means whereby the fund’s holdings of the currency can be reduced. When they reach 5 per cent., and failing agreement, the fund may impose whatever charges it deems appropriate.
e asked the Treasurer. upon notice -
– The answers to th, honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
I and 2. Banking statistics published by the Commonwealth Statistician show that (i) the aggregate paid-up capital of the private trading banks in Australia at their balancing dates in I !)4S was about £39,000,000; (ii) tire aggregate profit and loss account figures of the same banks for 1947-4S were (a) disclosed net profit, £3,098,022; (b) amount of dividends paid and proposed, £2,005,214; (c) amounts written oil hank premises and similar appropriations, £181,948; (<i) balance - being disclosed profit carried forward, available for transfer to reserves, &c. £31.1,400.
Recent figures are not available. The report of the Royal Commission on Monetary and Banking Systems in Australia, issued in 1937. stated that the inner reserves of the trading banks in 1930 were about £22,000,000.
Paragraph (i;33 of the report of the RoyaCommission on Blinking states “these (the trading) banks should be regarded as en joying a privileged position which closely resembles that of a public utility “.
The honorable member will be aware that the trading banks were vitally affected by thelate Government’s Bank Nationalization legislation, and when the people were gi .-en anopportunity to pass judgment on the proposals,, they emphatically rejected them. 0 and 7. These are matters on which the honorable member might make his own inquiries. A question is involved on which legal’ advice may be necessary.
This question raises a matter of government policy. It- is not practice to supply answers to parliamentary questions of thisnature.
s asked the Minister for Works and Housing, upon notice -
What amounts have been paid to date: (a) by the Commonwealth; (6) by the States as subsidies under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement in respect of those tenants whose weekly earnings do not permit them to pay the full economic rent for their homes ?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
To the 31st December, 1949, the following amounts have been allowed as rental rebates to tenants eligible for such rebates in pursuanceof clause II. of the CommonwealthStateHousing Agreement: -
t asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
Will he consider altering the present systemof allocation of houses in the Australian Capital Territory and substitute therefor the following system in allocations: - (a) time elapsed since application; (6) three months for every dependent child, plus nine months for wife’s pregnancy, the priority resulting from the latter not to lapse until three months after the birth of the child; and (c) one month for every year of service, both for husband and for wife where applicable?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
It is my intention to review the system of allocation of houses in the light of recent representations. The suggestion of the honorable member will receive full consideration when this review is undertaken.
l asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What is the amount of increased bank overdraft accommodation made available by
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
t asked the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n. - On the 2nd March, the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Townley) asked me a question in relation to new premises for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia at Hobart. I now desire to inform the honorable member that I have conferred with the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank about the new premises being erected for the bank in Hobart. The facts of the matter are that the premises now occupied by the bank are owned by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. The bank’s lease has expired and the owner department requires possession of its property. The maintenance of the services of the bank for the public of Hobart requires the completion of the building on the scale planned. The relationship of this work to other building activities in Tasmania has been fully discussed with the State authorities and what is being done has the full support of the Premier and the Lord Mayor of Hobart.
s asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 to 7. The Commonwealth Government can only pay off London debt in accordance with the conditions on which the loans were originally raised, and those conditions provide for repayment of the different loans constituting the existing debt at various dates extending over the next 25 years. Therefore, London funds could not be used to extinguish the whole of the London debt at the present time.
Armed Forces: Australians in Japan: “ Bcon “.
s. - On the 15th March, the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Edgar Russell) asked whether I would have a colour sound film made of the ceremonial changing of the guard in
Tokyo and arrange for it to be screened in Australian theatres, and also for the film to be preserved as an historical record.I have investigated this matter, and desire to advise the honorable member as follows : -
A number of feature films have already been produced which contain sections devoted to the ceremonial changing of the guard by Australian troops on the parade ground at the Imperial’ Palace, Tokyo. These films include Searchlight on Japan, B.C.O.F. in Japan,B.C.O.F. on Parade, Off Parade, A ustraliaDay in Japan, How Troops Spend Leave, and Anzac Day in Japan. The B.C.O.F. on Parade film is being shown at present in Australia and New Zealand. The general practice followed by Army Public Relations in Japan was for film shots to be taken of a wide variety of events in which British Commonwealth Occupation Force troops took part. On arrival in Australia, the films were processed and suitable sections distributed to newsreel companies for screening in theatres throughout the Commonwealth. After exhibition, films are placed in the custody of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Owing to reduced regimental strength Australian troops no longer perform the changing of the guard ceremony in Tokyo.
On the 14th March, the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) asked me for information regarding the sale of BCON to a private company in Japan. I am now in a position to advise the honorable member that I have examined the file and find that the negotiations for the continuation of BCON as a newspaper in Japan were made by the previous Government when in office. and that in these negotiations the Department of the Army was not involved.
BY AUTHORITY, L F. JOHNSTON, COMMONWEALTH GOVERNMENT PRINTER CANBERRA.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 30 March 1950, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1950/19500330_reps_19_206/>.