19th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Will the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport undertake to obtain for the Senate figures showing the increased dollar expenditure incurred in the purchase of petrol since the abolition of petrol rationing? I asked this question twice yesterday, and the Minister refused to give me an answer. This is a matter of vital public concern, and I ask for a direct reply.
– Apparently there was some misunderstanding yesterday. The honorable senator asked whether I could tell him what dollar expenditure was involved in additional petrol purchases and I said that I could not.
– The Minister said that the answer was “ No “.
– Of the additional petrol imported into this country since rationing was abolished, 50 per cent, has come from British refineries, 25 per cent, from American refineries in British territory, and 25 per cent, from the Netherland East Indies, to which country most of the payments are made in sterling. I have ascertained from discussions with Treasury officials that it is impossible to estimate what dollar expenditure is involved in additional petrol purchases. Any figure that was arrived at would only be a rough estimate and the honorable senator’s guess is as good as mine.
– Will the Minister inform the Senate of the number of dollars that was expended on the purchase of petrol for the months of March, April and May, 1949, and of the sterling expended in the purchase of petrol during that period ? Will he also furnish details of the expenditure of dollars and sterling upon petrol during the corresponding period of this year ?
– I remind the honorable senator that money expended on the purchase of petrol is not included in expenditure from the dollar pool. As I have previously explained to the Senate, because of the complexities and the ramifications of petrol procurement it is impossible to give an accurate statement of the number of dollars involved, in the purchase of petrol. If the honorable senator desires to test his skill at calculation he can have a “ go “ at it.
– Do I understand from the Minister’s reply to Senator Morrow that, in the purchase of additional petrol by Australia, no quota was taken from the dollar pool?
– Yes. Because of the ramifications of dollar payments, and the difficulties involved, the purchase of petrol is excluded from the dollar pool.
– Do I take it that there are two dollar pools, or that in addition to the dollar pool there is a source of dollar funds against which petrol purchases are made? If so, what is that source, and what dollar expenditure has been made from it on petrol in the period mentioned by Senator Morrow ?
– There is only one dollar pool, but petrol is excluded from that pool.
– If petrol purchases are not made from the dollar pool where does the Government get dollars to buy petrol?
– I cannot add anything to what I have said.
– The Minister has not said anything yet.
– Apparently the honorable senator is so dense that he cannot understand what I am saying.
– I rise to order. I take exception to that remark, and I ask that it be withdrawn because I do not want to be put in the same category as the Minister.
– Senator Sandford takes exception to the Minister’s statement that he is dense, and asks that it be withdrawn.
– I withdraw it.
– I rise to order. I object to the imputation against the
Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport contained in Senator Sandford’s words.
– Is it the considered opinion of the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport and the Government that the Senate should not be told the source upon which the Government relies for its petrol purchases? Is there any mystery about the dollar pool, and if not will the Minister make a statement to clear this matter up?
– I shall only be too pleased to obtain a considered statement from the Treasury showing that petrol purchases are not included in the allocation of dollars, and indicating the difficulties in estimating what dollar expenditure is involved in the purchase of petrol.
– Are we to assume that, at present, the Minister is so illinformed that he cannot tell the Senate where the dollars for petrol purchases come from? I have been trying to get an answer to this question for two months.
– I hope that the reply that I shall get from the Treasury will satisfy the honorable senator.
– Is the Senate to understand that in the purchase of petrol no allocation of dollars is required or requested from the dollar pool?
– The position in regard to petrol is becoming so involved over this matter that I suggest the question be placed on the notice-paper. I shall then get a considered answer from the Treasury.
– Owing to the dissatisfaction with replies to questions by the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport, will the Leader of the Government inform the Senate whether the joint dollar committee is still operating? If it is, will it inform the Senate what allocations have been made for the priorities which this committee determines in regard to petrol or other commitments which entail dollar expenditure?
– So far as I am aware there has been no change in respect of the joint dollar committee which operated under the previous Go vernment. I do not know whether it would be wise to give the information which the Leader of the Opposition has sought and whether it was customary for the previous Government to give it to the chamber. If it was customary, there is no reason at all why the present Government should not be prepared to give it. I shall look into the matter further. The questions that have been asked of the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport have been most complicated and I ask that future questions on these complex matters be placed on the notice-paper.
– Can the
Minister for Trade and Customs give to the Senate any reason for the Government’s refusal to disclose its dollar expenditure since it assumed office? Will he now say, as Leader of the Government in the Senate, what amount of dollars has been expended in the current financial year and on what commodities? Can he give any valid reason why he should not announce what additional amount of dollars the Government has expended on petrol importations, and state which companies have been granted the additional accommodation? Lastly, when does the Government intend to abandon its “hush-hush” policy on the dollar shortage, its medical scheme, if any, its proposals to increase soldiers’ pensions, its attitude towards the impudent claim by Dr. Soekarno that Indonesia must have Dutch New Guinea, and, in fact, on every matter of real importance ?
– That question was obviously not asked for the purpose of seeking information. I have no comment to make.
– I take strong objection to the statement by the Leader of the Government (Senator O’Sullivan). My question was based on requests that have been made to me on the matter mentioned in my question. I think that the Minister has been most discourteous.
– Does the honorable senator ask for a withdrawal ?
– Yes, I do.
– Does the Minister withdraw?
– Withdraw what, Mr. President?
– The statement that the honorable senator was obviously not seeking information. Senator Hendrickson has stated that he was seeking information and I must naturally take it that any senator who asks a question and says he is asking for information is asking the question for that purpose. In the circumstances the Minister should withdraw his statement that the honorable senator was obviously not seeking information.
– I withdraw it.
– I draw attention to the fact that I was misrepresented in a reply by the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport inasmuch as he said that I asked yesterday for an estimate of the extra dollar expenditure incurred on petrol purchased since the abolition of petrol rationing. I asked twice whether he would get the information for the Senate and he refused point-blank on each occasion. To-day in his reply the Minister has not mentioned anything about extra dollar expenditure. He has hedged the question as usual.
Senator Scott having ashed a disallowed question,
– It has been the practice of late, and only of late, for honorable senators to preface their questions with statements. I should be happier if honorable senators would make any preface to a question as short as possible. I do not want to see the practice adopted generally because if it is allowed to grow it will reduce the time of other honorable senators. There is no need for any honorable senator to go into a long-winded dissertation by way of a preface to a question.
– Can the Minister for Social Services say whether it is a fact that certain social services cheques that have been cashed by retailers in Sydney on behalf of the recipients of social service payments have been returned to the retailers and that a request has been made by the Collector of Public Moneys for a refund of the amount of the cheques ? Is it also a fact that, because of the action taken by the department, the Retail Butchers Association has advised its members not to accept cheques issued by the Department of Social Services? Does the Minister agree that the refusal of traders to accept the cheques will cause great inconvenience to age and invalid pensioners, and others who receive payments from the Department of Social Services? Did the Minister notice the allegation that the signatures of payees had been obtained by fraud? Will the Minister have an investigation made of the complaint, and submit a report to the Senate at an early date?
– I do not know whether the report referred to by the honorable senator is correct. I did not see the report myself, although my secretary mentioned it to me this morning. It may be that pensioners have not understood that the endorsement on a cheque must agree exactly with the way in which the cheque is drawn. I regard the matter as of some importance, and I should like the honorable senator to put his question on the notice-paper so that, when replying to it, I may be fortified by a report from the department. It is desirable that the convenience of the pensioners should be met as far as possible, and that all information on the subject should receive wide publicity. A considered reply to the honorable member’s question will, I hope, attract such publicity.
– Will the Minister for Social Services consider placing on next years’s Estimates a sum of money to be allocated to social services offices in each State for the purpose of providing air transport for those unfortunate persons who must travel interstate in order to receive specialized medical treatment? Is the Minister aware that in Tasmania, because of the lack of specialists, and because of the geographical position of the State, many sick persons have to forgo treatment that would entail air travel to another State?
– The honorable senator’s proposal has ramifications in many directions. If I understood his question correctly, I should say that the matter mentioned by him is more the concern of the Health Department than of the Department of Social Services.
– It is the concern of both.
– Eather than give a snap answer now, I ask the honorable senator to put his question on the notice-paper so that it may receive proper consideration.
– I preface my question to the Minister for Social Services by pointing out that certain superannuated people who are ineligible for the age pension because of the operation of the means test - although their wives may draw such pensions - are obliged to pay taxes in the form of social services contributions, because they are ineligible for the rebate in relation to a spouse. “Will the Minister consider rectifying this anomaly if and when the amelioration of the means test is being considered, so that superannuated people will not be penalized because they have been thrifty.
– The circumstances related by the honorable senator are correct, but they are inseparable from any system under which eligibility is determined by a means test. It i3 inevitable that groups of individuals who are just outside the bounds of eligibility will be excluded from the benefits and that anomalies which cause discontent will occur. Whether the Government will rectify the particular anomaly mentioned by the honorable senator I am not prepared to say. We must consider all the different classes of people who deserve assistance, weigh their claims in the scales, and endeavour to do justice to all of them.
– According to newspaper reports, the Minister for Health announced a national health plan in Queensland this week. It has also been recorded in the press that the British Medical Association has rejected the plan, as also has the Pharmaceutical Services Guild. In view of the great interest taken by the public in a national health scheme, will the Minister representing the Minister for Health keep the Senate informed of negotiations between the Government and various authorities so that we may gain our information from the Government instead of from the press?
– I have seen the press reports to which the honorable senator has referred. I shall bring the question that he has asked to the notice of the Minister for Health and request that an answer to it be supplied.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Health say whether it is a fact that his colleague stated in Brisbane yesterday that next Friday and Saturday he will discuss with the Federal Council of the British Medical Association the proposed national health plan?’ Is that council empowered to discuss the final form of the machinery of the plan and the details of its operation? Is it a fact that the plan must be approved by the council before it is even submitted to Cabinet? If so, does the Minister for Health approve of the derogation of the powers of the Government and of the Parliament by an outside body that is professionally and financially interested in the proposed health plan?
– As the matter raised by the honorable senator concerns the Minister for Health, I shall direct the attention of the right honorable gentleman to the question, and ask him to furnish a reply as soon as possible.
– I ask the Minister representing the Postmaster-General whether, in view of the fact that the post office building in the city of Townsville, Queensland, has been in existence for a considerable number of years, is now inadequate to meet the requirements of the people of that important city and is, from the aspect of coolness, a most unsuitable building for a tropical region, his colleagues will give favorable consideration to the provision of a new or enlarged post office building there, specifically designed for the comfort of the staff and of the people of Townsville who use it?
– I shall direct the attention of the Postmaster-General to the question that has been asked by the honorable senator. An answer will be furnished as soon as possible. »
– Will the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral direct the attention of his colleague to the inadequacy of post office buildings in Adelaide and other places in South Australia? Does the Postal Department intend to bring post office buildings up to the standard required to ensure reasonable accommodation for employees of the department and the efficient handling of postal business ?
– I shall be very pleased to convey the honorable senator’s request to the Postmaster-General.
– I direct the attention of the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport to the serious hold-ups of Australian shipping that have occurred during the last few days. In view of his criticism of the Chifley Government, will he state what this Government intends to do to facilitate the- loading and unloading of ships in Australian ports?
– It will ask the Senate to speed the passage of the bill designed to outlaw communism.
– As Ministers in this chamber have refused ,to answer questions on the ground that they involve matters of Government policy, will the Minister for Trade and Customs say when the Government is likely to make a statement of its policy in relation to age pensions, ex-servicemen’s pensions and putting the value back into the £1?
– The honorable senator’s question is based upon an unfair premise. Whenever it has been practicable to do so, full and complete information has been made available by Ministers in reply to questions. It is obvious that the Government cannot disclose, in answers to questions, decisions upon matters of policy. Those decisions will be announced in due course. The Parliament is entitled to that information, and it will get it. Where information could be given in response to questions, it has been given fully and freely. That practice will be continued.
– Will the Minister for Social Services inform the Senate whether any further consideration has been given to the proposal to allocate money to the States for the purpose of providing assistance to the mothers of young children, the aged or the sick, by means of a housekeeper service?
– Speaking from memory, £15,000 was appropriated by the Commonwealth for the purpose mentioned by the honorable senator. Allocations were made to the various States for the provision of a pilot scheme to see whether the arrangement would work effectively. To my knowledge replies have not been received from all of the State authorities that were written to and the matter has remained dormant for some months.
Broadcasting op Senate Proceedings.
– I preface my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate by pointing out that Ministers are reported to have stated that the Opposition in this chamber intends to keep Government speakers off the air as much as possible during the debate on the Communist Party Dissolution Bill. Is the Minister aware that Government members constitute a majority on the committee that allocates broadcasting time to the Senate? Further, is it not a fact that if the proposals that were made by the Opposition yesterday are adopted, not only Government speakers, but also Opposition speakers will be kept off the air while that measure is under discussion?
– I have not read the report to which the Leader of the Opposition has referred. However, it is a fact that Government members are in the majority on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings Committee. I imply from the question - whether correctly or not I do not know - that the reason why the Government was refused leave yesterday to declare the bill an urgent measure was to keep Government speakers off the air. Although Government members constitute a majority on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings Committee, as honorable senators are aware the Opposition is numerically stronger than the Government in this chamber and can determine when measures shall be discussed in this chamber.
– Because of the importance to Australia of the pineapple canning industry of Queensland, which also earns dollars for us, will the Minister for Trade and Customs take steps to ensure that sufficient tinplate will he available to the industry to maintain maximum production and to overcome the present shortage of tinplate?
– The value to Australia of the pineapple and other fruitcanning industries in earning dollars is fully appreciated. I have been in communication with my colleague, the Minister for Supply, about supples of tinplate, and I know that he is giving the matter close attention.
– Can the Minister representing the Postmaster-General say what progress has been made in the erection of a national broadcasting station on the north-western coast of Tasmania?
– I cannot furnish that information immediately, but I shall obtain it from the Postmaster-General for the information of the honorable senator.
– Oan the Minister representing the Minister for Supply give the Senate an assurance that the aluminium production project that the Commonwealth is to undertake in New Guinea in co-operation with the British Aluminium Company Limited, will not interfere with the production of aluminium in Tasmania ?
– The Government, realizing that aluminium is a most important metal in the manufacture of engines and aircraft, has given careful consideration to the production of aluminium in this country. An adequate source of supply of aluminium in this country is regarded as essential. I shall bring the honorable senator’s question to the notice of the Minister for Supply and ask him to provide a reply as soon as possible.
– Yesterday and to-day honorable senators on this side of the chamber have had cause to complain about draughts. I understand that work on the heating and air conditioning of this chamber is still in progress, and I should like to know whether that is the cause of the discomfort, or whether it is due in some measure to the irritability and restiveness of honorable senators opposite.
– I have felt cold myself in this chamber to-day, and I have given orders to the messengers to ascertain from the engineer whether something can be done to warm the chamber. This problem has been before .the Joint House Committee for many months. As honorable senators are aware, a new system of air conditioning is in process for installation. That work has proceeded a little more than half way, and there is the greatest difficulty in finishing the job while Parliament is meeting. Both Houses are affected. There are many jobs to be done and priority has been given to certain work. Both I and the messenger who assists me had bad colds last week, due, I believe, to the inefficiency of the partly installed air-conditioning system. The Joint House Committee is doing its best to improve the situation, but it is severely handicapped by the extent’ of the work and the lack of labour.
asked the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Acting Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following replies to the honorable senator’s questions: -
NEW AND OPPOSED BUSINESS AFTER 10.30 p.m.
Motion (by Senator O’Sullivan) put -
That Standing Order No. 68 be suspended up to and including Thursday, the l5th June, 1950, to enable new business to be commenced after half-past ten o’clock at night.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown.)
Majority . . . . 12
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill, as its title indicates, is a bill to provide for the dissolution of the Australian Communist party and of other Communist organizations, to disqualify Communists from holding certain offices, and for purposes connected therewith. The recitals in the bill are very lengthy, and I need refer to only some of them to indicate the reasons why the Government has brought down this bill. The first three recitals relate to the constitutional power of the Commonwealth in the matter, and call for no comment. The next five enumerate sets of facts on which the Government seeks to justify its action in asking Parliament to confer power to deal with the Communist menace.
The findings of Sir Charles Lowe, as recorded in the report of the royal commission recently appointed by the Victorian Government to inquire into the origin, aims, objects and funds of the Communist party in Victoria, emphasize the validity of the recitals in this bill as to the revolutionary, treasonable and subversive nature of communism in Australia, and its affiliation and association with international communism. I quote paragraphs 5, 6 and 7 of the summary of findings appearing on page 236 of the report -
The aims and objects of the Communist Party in Victoria do not differ from those of the Communist Party in other parts of Australia. The aims and objects are: -
Y.ou will remember, Mr. President, that when Communist wreckers declared war against the people of Australia, and launched the coal strike last year, the then Government took very drastic action against them. Speaking at that time upon Communist tactics, several Labour leaders were reported as having made some very pertinent statements. I shall quote views attributed to the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), the Leader of the Opposition in this chamber (Senator Ashley), Senator McKenna, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and Mr. Calwell, who was then Minister for Information. Mr. Chifley said -
The whole economic and social life of Australia is approaching complete disruption . . I hesitate to believe that any citizens could plan deliberately for the holding up of the life of the community. But that is what has happened … As my colleague, Dr. Evatt, has said, it strikes at the very fabric of society . . . The law of the jungle is the Communists’ creed.
This is what Senator Ashley said -
The Communist leaders are trying to implement a foreign power’s policy . . . This is a struggle against constitutional government.
Senator McKenna also commented on the situation, and he will note that the Government has adopted his suggestion. This is what he said -
The policy of the Labour Government has secured conditions for the people under which Communism could not nourish … If the organizations will not take steps to get rid of the Communists, some inquiry by the Government and some action are required so that we will not have a repetition of what we have to put up with in Australia to-day.
Mr. Calwell said ;
We will use all the resources of the country against them … I speak for 95 per cent, of the people of Australia. Only the stars are neutral in this fight . . It is a Communist conspiracy . . . We will smash this strike first and deal with these things afterwards . . . If it is left to me, into a concentration camp they go.
I trust that the contribution to be made to this debate by the honorable senators mentioned will be consistent with the statements attributed to them on that occasion. I have in my hand a little booklet entitled Hands Off the Nation’s Defences by the Right Honorable H. V. Evatt, then Deputy Prime Minister. The foreword reproduces a resolution passed by the federal executive of the Australian Labour party on the 14th May, 1947, which reads as follows : -
The Federal Executive of the Australian Labour Party congratulates the Prime Minister and Dr. Evatt on the firm stand taken by the Government against the proposed black ban on the rocket range project. It is apparent that the propaganda recently issued by the Communist Party in connexion with this undertaking is for the sole purpose of defeating the Australian defence policy in the interests of a foreign power.
I leave for the moment my witnesses from the Labour party whose evidence emphasizes the reality and the closeness of the Communist menace to our cherished institutions and Australian way of life, and call as my next witness a man revered and respected throughout our land, and universally acknowledged as one with a profound and intense interest in the well-being of his fellow Australians, regardless of race or creed. I refer to His Eminence Cardinal Gilroy. In the Sydney Daily Telegraph, of Tuesday, the 23rd May, the following remarks are attributed to him : -
Communism is making total war on the democratic world and must be fought. Communism is the most insidious foe any democratic government has faced. Where communism has been victorious it has meant unconditional surrender on the part of all - total subjection of the body and soul of man to the State.
Cardinal Gilroy described the Communist Party Dissolution Bill as a “defensive measure, one of the means a democracy must take when a government realizes it is attacked by an insidious foe “. Under communism, it is not a matter of rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s, but rather that the Communist State presumes to take the place of God. The Christian concept that man’s responsibility, to God transcends hia responsibility to the State irritates and offends the Communist dictators, who acknowledge no authority above their own. This, to an extent, explains the universal hostility of communism to Christian, Jew, Moslem and all people who believe in God and in a moral law. The entire Marxist philosophy fails if the Christian system stands. Christian philosophy demands the recognition of man’s natural rights as a creature of God. Marxist philosophy denies any such rights. As Marx himself stated, “ Communism begins where atheism begins”.
I turn now to discuss the provisions of the bill itself. Clauses 1, 2 and 3 contain the short title, date of commencement and definitions, respectively. Clause 4 declares the Australian Communist party to be an unlawful association, and dissolves it. The GovernorGeneral is authorized to appoint a receiver of the property of the party. Clause 5 deals with, and applies to, organizations which, in a broad and general sense, may be said to be affiliated with the Communist party, whether they are incorporated or not; but it does not apply at all to industrial organizations registered under the law of the Commonwealthor a State. The clause covers four groups of organizations -
The clause thus applies, not only to existing Communist organizations, but also to any future disguises which Communist bodies may assume in an endeavour to defeat the act. The clause provides that where the Governor-General is satisfied that a body of persons is a body of persons to which it applies, and that the continued existence of that body would be prejudicial to the security and defence of the Commonwealth, or to the execution or maintenance of the Constitution or of the laws of the Commonwealth, he may by instrument published in the Gazette, declare the body to be an unlawful association. A body so declared may, within 28 days, apply to the High Court of Australia or the Supreme Court of a State to set aside the declaration. Upon the hearing of the application, the declaration is to be prima facie evidence that the applicant is a body to which the section applies, and if the Court finds that the applicant is not such a body it is to set aside the declaration. If the Court does not so find, the application is to be dismissed and the declaration is to remain in force. It is to be noted that “ the specified date “ is defined in clause 3 as the 10th May, 1948, being the last day of the National Congress of the Australian Communist party by which the current constitution of the Australian Communist party was adopted.
Much has been said and written about what loosely has been described as shifting the onus of proof from the complainant to the suspect. It is, therefore, important that this provision of clause 5 and the corresponding provision in clause 9 relating to declared persons be clearly understood. Examining the position, we find that the only penal provisions are those contained in clause 7. To sustain a prosecution under that clause, the Crown must prove its case beyond all reasonable doubt. Under clauses 5 and 9, no prosecution lies, but if in the circumstances stated the Crown considers that a person or a body of persons is engaged in activities prejudicial to the security of the country, the Governor-General may make a declaration accordingly. No fine or imprisonment follows upon such a declaration. In the case of an organization, it is dissolved. In the case of a person, he is debarred from employment under the Commonwealth and is ineligible to hold office in certain organizations vital to the security of our country. The effect of such a declaration is substantially the same as an averment, the pro- ision for which appears in many acts sponsored by Labour and non-Labour governments alike. For instance, under the Customs Act a person suspected of being in possession of smuggled goods must, upon averment by the Crown, satisfy the court that he came by the goods lawfully or suffer the consequences provided. So, too, in certain circumstances, the Commissioner of Taxes may issue a default assessment and the person assessed is liable to pay in terms thereof unless he can prove it to be incorrect. Senators from Queensland are familiar with many statutes sponsored by Labour governments which provide that an averment is prima facie proof of the allegation contained in it.
If such provisions have been accepted and acted upon by all governments throughout the years in matters affecting only the revenue of the country, what reasonable objection can be raised against the application of the same principle in matters affecting the very safety and security of the country? As a matter of fact, the Chifley Government incorporated in the legislation dealing with the coal strike of last year provisions placing the onus of proof on certain defendants. In any event, in actual practice, all that a declared person has to do - in a matter, mind you, peculiarly within his own knowledge and that of his intimate friends - is to get into the witness box and support his own denial with some corroborative fact or circumstance, and unless the Crown by crossexamination or other further evidence rebuts the denial, it will be competent for the Court so to find as to set aside the declaration.
If the Commonwealth were required to establish by affirmative evidence the matters of fact alleged against an organization, or one of its members, war-time experience in Australia and in every other country shows that the effectiveness of security operations would be prejudiced. In the scheme of things, I have no doubt whatever that there are many Communists who would gladly have themselves declared if such a result would be achieved.
As to the Government’s right and duty to protect itself in the manner contemplated, I refer to a judgment of that great Australian democrat, former Chief Justice of the High Court and later the first native-born Governor-General of Australia, Sir Isaac Isaacs. The case was under the Immigration Act and is reported in volume 39, Commonwealth Law Reports, page 95. The facts are worth careful attention. Ah On was a Chinese immigrant who was found in Australia in 1926, and who made a number of statements, subsequently proved untrue, as to his age, his occupation, and the date and the vessel on which he entered Australia. But, apart from the averments of the prosecution, there was insufficient affirmative evidence of his actual date and mode of entry. The act, however, provided that the averments of the prosecution should be deemed, to be proved in the absence of proof to the contrary by the personal evidence of the defendant, either with or without other evidence. At page 105, Mr. Justice Isaacs spoke of Ah On as -
A proved Chinese immigrant, who in si II p-oral probability - he alone being able to con- firm or dispel it - surreptitiously foisted himself on this community, successfully eluded observation for some years, and eventually has unquestionably perjured himself wholesale in the witness-box to escape the consequences.
At page 103, Mr. Justice Isaacs had this to say about the averment section of the act -
These evidentiary provisions have been found necessary to prevent or counteract the surreptitious or fraudulent evasions of the actual immigration laws by persons who in truth are smuggled into this country and arc only discovered, if ever, with difficulty.
At page 104, he continued as follows: -
How can this nefarious and dangerous practice be nullified where it escapes detection at the time of entry? The only method so far found effective in which a legislature can provide for such a case and secure obedience to its enactments on immigration is to throw the burden of proof as to membership of the community on the suspected person. A nation has the strongest right to trust its executive officers who are administering the law to be both vigilant and careful to form, where necessary, a fair and honest prima facie opinion as to the citizenship of any person within the territory, and to accuse no one of intrusion except upon strong moral grounds for believing the tact. If such an opinion, however, exists, the public have a right, where the nature of the case requires it, to call on the suspected person by such procedure as the legislature makes lawful to satisfy a judicial tribunal as to the actual fact. That seems to be only elementary self-protection and to be inseparable from any self-governing constitution. I must confess to some surprise that it is necessary to justify it. For, otherwise, persons who are criminals, anarchists, public enemies, or loathsome hot-beds of disease, may, by secret or fraudulent entry into the country and being sheltered for a time by their associates, defy and injure the entire people of a continent. There is nothing in the Constitution and nothing in natural justice, which requires this court to sanction such an absurd and almost fatal situation. The Constitution was not made for a static Commonwealth. It was made - as I have repeatedly said before, sometimes with more and sometimes with less effect - as a practical working instrument for a growing nation, and there may be stability of legal principles and fidelity to the words of the Constitution quite consistently with adaptation of those principles and words to the new circumstances of a progressive people. And certainly the fullest protection to the Constitutional rights of the individual is not inconsistent with his public obligation in case of doubt to prove his right to share the privileges of the Australian community.
I return now to the provisions of the. bill. Clause 6 provides that a body of persons declared by the Governor-General in accordance with clause 5, as I have already described, is by force of the act dissolved at the end of 28 days after the gazettal of the declaration. Where the body applies to the court so set aside the declaration, the dissolution of the body will not take place till the court’s decision is given, hut, if the application is dismissed, the body is to be dissolved upon the day upon which the court dismisses the application. By clause7 a person shall not knowingly become, continue to be, or perform any act as an officer or member of an unlawful association, carry or display anything indicating that he is or was a member of such an association, contribute or solicit subscriptions for the association or take part in its activities. The penalty is imprisonment for five years. This is the only clause carrying a penalty. Clause 8 provides that the instrument declaring a body of persons to be an unlawful association shall appoint a receiver of the property of the association. Clause 9 provides for the declaration of Communists, or persons who were members of unlawful associations. The clause applies, that is to say, it can be applied to, two classes of persons -
Where the Governor-General is satisfied that a person falls into one or other of these categories, and also that that person is engaged, or is likely to be engaged, in activities prejudicial to the security and defence of the Commonwealth or to the execution and maintenance of the Constitution or of the laws of the Commonwealth, he may, by instrument published in the Gazette, make a declaration accordingly. This emphasizes that a harmless man in the street cannot be picked up and dealt with. He must come in under these categories. Clause 9 further provides that a person so declared may make application to the High Court or to a Supreme Court to set aside the declaration on the ground that he is not a person to whom the section applies, that is that he does not fall into either of the two categories I have mentioned. The clause goes on to provide that at the hearing the Governor-General’s declaration shall be prima facie evidence that the applicant is such a person. If upon the hearing the court finds that the applicant is not a person to whom the section applies, the court is to set aside the declaration. If the court does not so find, the court is to dismiss the application and the declaration is to remain in force. By clause 10 a person in respect of whom a declaration is made is incapable of holding office under or being employed by the Commonwealth or any Commonwealth authority, and of holding an office in certain industrial organizations. The clause empowers the Governor-General to declare that an industrial organization substantially engaged in vital industries - coal-mining, iron and steel, engineering, building, transport, power or other industries that he deems vital to the security and defence of Australia - is an industrial organization for the purposes of the clause.
By clauses 11 and 12, any person who, at the time when a declaration under clause 9 is made, already holds any of the offices covered by clause 10, is by virtue of the declaration suspended from office forthwith. If he makes no application to the court to set aside the declaration, he is to vacate his office at the end of 28 days after the gazettal of the declaration. If he does make an application to the court, and the court dismisses tile application, he is to vacate the office on the day on which the court’s decision is given. Clause 21 enables a magistrate to issue a search warrant to an authorized officer which will authorize him to enter premises when there is reasonable ground for suspecting that there are therein books, documents or papers belonging to an unlawful association. Finally clause 24 provides that certain actions of a person shall be evidence that that person was a member of an unlawful association, and that the name or initials of the person on certain documents shall be evidence that he was a member of the Communist party. Statements upon this bill have been made which not unfairly could be well described as maudlin rubbish. In opposing provisions of the bill it has been said that repressive measures have never suppressed an idea and the survival of Irish nationalism has been quoted as an example. I reply that throughout their centuries of struggle the Irish people were sustained by their devotion to their faith and their love of country The Communist wreckers against whom this bill is aimed deny their God and are traitors to their country. If honorable senators believe that the facts so abundantly and painfully evident in Australia and throughout the world justify the recitals in this bill, then there is not likely to be much time expended in dealing with it. If any honorable senator feels that I have exaggerated or misstated the position, then [ shall be interested to hear how and in what particular. Meanwhile, I commend the bill to the Senate.
– I should like the Minister to inform me of the source of his quotation in reference to me, and his authority for using it.
– It will be found in the Sydney Bulletin of the 10th May, 1950.
Debate (on motion by Senator McKenna) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 24th May (vide page 3065), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– At the outset I point out that the Opposition has no desire or intention to prolong this debate. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley), Senator McKenna, and other speakers from this side of the chamber have demonstrated ably and well Labour’s opposition to certain aspects of this measure. We have waited vainly for an answer to that criticism. So far no Government senator has advanced one logical reason why it has been introduced. It has not been satisfactorily explained in what manner this country would be benefited by the proposed alteration of the method of management of the Commonwealth Bank. I seriously resent the attitude adopted by Government supporters, who are in the habit of applauding all the speeches made by Ministers and their colleagues. From the beginning of the present debate they have showed extreme resentment of criticism of the present measure offered by the Opposition. I object to the display of such a spirit, because if the Senate is to become merely a chamber of “ yes men “, the sooner the farce is ended the better. Any honorable senator opposite who is sufficiently interested in the subject of the debate must agree with me that the future of the Commonwealth Bank is so important that the amount of time taken up in discussion of this measure is not excessive. Nevertheless, from the beginning of the debate, we have been accused of deliberately wasting time. I remind the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) and the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) that only a few months ago, when they were in Opposition in this chamber, they constantly stated that because they detested the then Government’s policy and programme they were out to defeat it, and that if they had had the numbers they would do so. The Labour party has never adopted such an attitude. It believes that an important measure such as the present should be thoroughly discussed. I am not satisfied with the treatment meted out to the Senate by the present Government, or, for that matter, by previous governments. I particularly resent the attitude that, irrespective of the time taken to pass a measure in the House of Representatives, if the Government declares the measure to be urgent, this chamber should rush it through without proper consideration. I do not want to embark on a discussion of the best manner in which parliamentary business should be conducted, but I point out to honorable senators that had the debate on this measure not extended over the past few weeks, the Senate would have had to adjourn because it had no other business to transact. That consideration should also be borne in mind by Government supporters when they accuse us so unfairly of having delayed the passage of this measure. As I have already said, members of the Government in this chamber adopted an entirely different attitude when they were in Opposition. Apparently the attitude is an exemplification of the old adage -
When the devil was sick, the devil a saint would be;
When the devil was well, the devil a saint was he.
Unfortunately, the importance of the Senate has been ignored for too long, and this chamber has failed to perform the functions for which it was originally established. I honestly believe that it could fulfil a most useful purpose by paying special attention to such matters as the external policy of the nation and the distribution of grants to the States. What about consideration of the big developmental projects that will be undertaken in the next few years? Recently the Minister for National Development (Mr. Casey) flew over Queensland in order to assess the developmental prospects of certain areas.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - Order ! The honorable senator must connect his remarks with the bill.
– I intend to do so. The only contention put forward by honorable senators opposite in this debate that is worthy of serious, attention is their allegation that the Opposition has wasted time. I point out to the Government that it has not yet replied to any of the serious points of criticism put forward by members of the Opposition in the course of the debate. Furthermore, I have yet to hear a decent argument in support of the bill.
– I put forward an argument to which no member of the Opposition has yet replied.-
– If that is so I regret it, because I know that any contribution to the debate made by the honorable senator would be interesting. However, if I have departed from strict adherence to discussion of the bill, I have been led to do so by the unfair attitude adopted by the Government and its supporters.
The fundamental principle of the bill is that it proposes to effect a radical change in the management of a great institution, for the birth of which Labour was responsible. In addition, the periods of greatest progress of the bank have coincided with Labour’s occupancy of the treasury bench. Frankly, we are suspicious of the Government because of the attitude that it has displayed in the past, particularly in 1945, when Labour introduced important amending legislation in connexion with the Commonwealth Bank. I do not want to be unfair to new members of the Senate who sit opposite, and therefore, I cannot accuse them of having opposed Labour’s proposals in 1945. However, I must say that they have lost no time in falling-in behind their leaders, and members of the caucus-ridden parties opposite unanimously support every measure that is introduced by the Government. In the course of the debate not one word of criticism of the Government’s proposals has come from honorable senators opposite. As I have already pointed out, it is only a few years since the present Prime Minister (Mr.
Menzies) and many of his Cabinet colleagues bitterly assailed the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945 which Labour had introduced. They said that that legislation was not in the best interests of the nation; but now they embrace its main principles. That has been the experience of the Commonwealth Bank since its inception. I knew Mr. Andrew Fisher, who was Prime Minister of the Commonwealth when legislation to establish the Commonwealth Bank was introduced. His constituency included the town in which I lived in Queensland, and he was a personal friend of mine. I recall the bitter opposition that the bill met from the anti-Labour forces in this country. Senator Arnold has mentioned what the anti-Labour press of the day said about the proposal. The bill was described as a dangerous measure, and it was said that the Commonwealth Bank would only be an experiment for a year or two. The anti-Labour parties said that when they were returned to office they would abolish the bank. Therefore, we on this side of the chamber are suspicious of any suggestion of interference by the anti-Labour parties with the operations of the Commonwealth Bank. I repeat that no honorable senator opposite has advanced any adequate reason for the proposed change in the control of the bank. I submit that nothing has been done under the present administration of this great institution that would warrant a change of management. On the contrary, under the guidance of the Governor, the work of the Commonwealth Bank has been a credit to this country. The only time that the bank failed Australia was in the early 1930’s when it was under the control of a board. In those days, the farmers were in a most serious plight indeed. Senator Maher knows that quite well and would admit it if he were game enough to state the case for Queensland. The people of this country were hungry. The farmers were in a desperate financial plight. The Premier of Queensland asked the Commonwealth Government for assistance to carry out developmental work such as road construction and irrigation and water conservation undertakings, to cushion the serious hardship that were being inflicted on the people at that time.
The Commonwealth Bank said that no money was available for that purpose. I remember when the then Labour Treasurer, Mr. E. G. Theodore, asked the Parliament for authority to raise a small loan of £18,000,000 to lift the depressed prices of primary products and so make conditions in this country a little easier. His appeal fell on deaf ears in this chamber. While starvation conditions existed amongst Australian farmers, the banks were building palatial offices in the capital cities. They refused to help the pioneers of this country. As I have said, the Commonwealth Bank at that time was under the control of a board. Whom do honorable senators opposite expect to get to run the Commonwealth Bank better than it is being run to-day? Is it the intention of .the Government that sectional interests should be represented on the board ? Will the board include representatives of private industries, manufacturers, exporters, &c. ? Are all these selfish interests to be given an opportunity to determine the financial policy of this country? Such suggestions are ludicrous. Honorable senators opposite are well aware that the Commonwealth Bank has been a great boon in the development of this country. How would the primary industries have fared without its assistance? What about the interim payments that have been made to primary producers simply because the Commonwealth Bank is a people’s bank? Again I say that honorable senators opposite have offered no legitimate criticism of the operations of the bank during the years that it has been under the control of the Governor. This change is being made for political reasons only.
Honorable senators opposite claim to have a mandate for this measure. We know that the proposal to re-establish the Commonwealth Bank Board was mentioned during the election campaign, but we know also that the private banks of Australia got behind the present Government parties, and not only assisted them by providing large sums of money, but also used bank officers to further the anti-Labour cause. Why did they do that? They did it because they were afraid that the growing Commonwealth Bank would interfere seriously with their activities. Whilst I make no personal accusations against honorable senators opposite, I believe that this measure is a deliberate pay-off to the banks for services rendered. It is also a deliberate attempt to place responsibility for the financial policy of the bank on the shoulders of a board instead of on the Government. Such an arrangement will be futile. Only a few short months ago, when the devaluation of sterling was under consideration, the utmost secrecy had to be observed. Do honorable senators opposite believe that information of that kind should be disclosed to a board of outsiders?
The Government would be well advised to withdraw this measure. I deny that honorable senators opposite have a mandate for it. I have an open mind on the matter, and I am concerned only with the development of this country, but I know what an important place financial interests hold in the development of a nation. If the primary producers are seeking financial assistance in a co-operative project which will be a benefit to the nation, they invariably go to the Commonwealth Bank. If, for instance, sugar-growers in Queensland wanted to establish a co-operative refinery - a project in which Senator Wood might be interested - the Commonwealth Bank, as at present constituted and controlled, would be the most likely to provide financial assistance. The private banks and the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited would hardly be likely to help. I believe sincerely that, under the control of the Governor, that bank has been well managed. I have always held the view that the financial policy of this country is the responsibility of the Government. The Government has at its disposal men who are quite capable of ensuring that the bank shall operate in the best interests of the community. The present administration of the bank by a governor, with the assistance of the Advisory Council, is quite adequate. It is in the best interests of the bank, and, therefore, in the best interests of the nation.
I have referred to the consistent opposition to the bank by the anti-Labour forces in this country. The present Government came into office rather unexpectedly, and will probably go out just as quickly because it gained office as the result of wrong practices. The people of Australia were stampeded into a state of fear. Leaders of the Government parties told them that if they voted for the Labour party, it would be the last time that they would have an opportunity to vote at an election at all. The AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer) and others who know the Labour party, are well aware that that was not fair criticism. Attempts were made also to saddle the Communists on the Labour party. If any political party in this country has fought the Communist, it is the Labour party. I have fought them all my life, as the leader of that party, Mr. Chifley, and practically all other Labour supportershave done; yet honorable senators opposite, including the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan), deliberately created an atmosphere of fear. They endeavoured to convince the electors that the Labour party was in some way associated with the terrible menace of communism which is causing destruction and disruption throughout Australia. Unfortunately, the people believed it. Not long ago, while the prices administration was under my control, I went into a private bank with which I had some dealings, and found there anti-Labour literature. I called the manager, whom I knew personally, and said, “ Can yon vouch for the truth of the statements that are printed on those pamphlets that you are handing out to people whom you regard as your friends and clients? “ He said, “ I hope they are true “. I told him that, as a Minister of the Crown, I knew that the statements were wrong. One allegation, for instance, was that the Labour party had been responsible for high prices in this country. There were numerous other similar statements.
Sitting suspended from 12.43 to 2.15 p.m.
– I have demonstrated to the Senate that the development and progress of the Commonwealth Bank was a matter of great satisfaction to the majority of the people of Australia, much to the discomfort of private interests. Supporters of the Government have not offered any substantial reason why there should be interference with the bank. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber are disappointed that Government supporters have not offered some argument to support their claim. In a review of this long debate, Mr. President, I am sure that you would give the honours to the Opposition. “When I said earlier that the Government supporters had not given any substantial reasons for their attitude, Senator McCallum protested. He said that if I had been in the chamber to hear his speech, I would have appreciated that there had been an attempt by him to justify the attitude of the Government. I arranged to get a copy of the honorable senator’s speech, but after reading it for some time, I found that it was made a considerable time ago, when he was a supporter of the Labour party and was in favour of the bank. That was before Senator McCallum became a member of the Liberal party. I do not know just when the rot set in so far as the honorable senator is concerned, but I believe that the reason for his change of attitude might emanate from the youthful senator who sits next to him. That honorable senator has not done a great deal to engender good feeling in this chamber since he entered it, and his efforts have been rather disappointing to honorable senators on this side. His entry into the chamber was unfortunately associated with a disconcerting circumstance. The honorable senator seemed to have associated himself with some manipulation, by which he was placed in a position which had been held with equal ability by one of his colleagues over a considerable period when there was no emolument associated with it. Happenings of this week have demonstrated that the honorable senator has not carried out his duties with ability equal to that of his predecessor and certainly with a great deal less charm. I am sorry if I have done Senator McCallum an injustice in not being present when he stated the case for the Government, but if he did make a case for the alteration of the management of the Commonwealth Bank, he is the only senator on the Government side who has done so.
T am waiting for the Minister in charge of the bill to present some substantial reason for the urgency of thi? measure. Honorable senators on this side hope that the Minister will give some reasons why the Government wants
Senator Courtice. to make the proposed drastic alteration in a great institution which means so much to the people and which honorable senators on this side of the chamber hold very dear. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and other members of the Government have completely changed their minds about this banking legislation since 1945. They strongly condemned the Banking Act 1945, which they now embrace. That demonstrates their capability for contortion, which is equalled only by their powers of distortion. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber have a deep-seated suspicion of the Government regarding the Commonwealth Bank. Clauses 3 and 5 are the only clauses of the bill upon which there is any real dissention. I suggest to the Leader of the Government, who is always ready to compromise, that honorable senators on this side of the chamber should give way on clause 3, which some honorable senators on the Government side believe to be important, and that the Government give way on clause 5, which deals with the appointment of the board.
– The Government is uncompromising on matters of principle and generous where no principle is involved.
– The Minister does not surprise me. When members of his party make up their minds nothing can change them.
– The honorable senator ought to know!
– Honorable senators opposite must support whatever their leader says on this matter. They have to carry out the policy that is determined behind closed doors in the precincts of the House. It is regrettable that no matter what honorable senators on this side say or do, there is no possibility of the Government supporters changing their minds. The Labour party believes strongly that the control of currency and credit is the most important responsibility of the Government. That is why honorable senators on this side refuse to allow that responsibility to be undertaken by a board which i* not really responsible to the Government. The
Labour party gave birth to the Commonwealth Bank and has watched its progress. Members of the Labour party are determined to fight to the last ditch against any interference with the people’s bank. “We say emphatically, “ Hands off the Commonwealth Bank”.’
– With other honorable members on this side of the chamber, I oppose the bill as presented by the Government. I am not speaking on this measure simply for the purpose of stonewalling. The Labour party established the Commonwealth Bank and every member of the Labour party will defend it against a repetition of the events that followed 1924. If honorable senators consider the history of the Commonwealth Bank and review what happened a few years before the bank was established, they will realize why the private banks want to take control of the Commonwealth Bank. It has interfered with the big profits that they made before 1911. If the Commonwealth Bank had been allowed to continue during the depression along the lines on which it was established, numbers of business people and farmers would not have been ruined in the depression and a third of the population would not have eaten the bitter bread of charity.
In 1910 the Labour Government introduced the Australian note issue. That move interfered with the activities of the private banks. All notes issued by the private banks were called in and the power to issue notes was vested in the Commonwealth Bank. Within a few years of the Commonwealth Bank taking over control it showed a profit of millions of pounds. Between 1910 and 1917 an enormous profit was made on the note issue and the Government paid out £5,760,000 from that profit towards the cost of the Transcontinental Railway. The actual cost of the railway was about £7,000,000. Profits from the note issue were thus put back into the defence of the country and that profit shows why the private banks want to regain control of the monetary system. The stonewalling tactics with which honorable senators supporting the Government charge Labour supporters are nothing compared with the stonewalling when Mr. Andrew
Fisher, a Labour Prime Minister, introduced a bill to establish the Commonwealth Bank. The press was against the Labour Government. Members of this chamber and in another place supported the interests of capitalists and stonewalled on every possible point. “ Sovereigns for all ! “, they said. But the bank was established, and we know that it proved a God-send to Australia during the 1914-18 war, and during the last war, also. When the Commonwealth Bank was first established, it was placed under the control of a governor. Its expansion was rapid, and it continued to assist industry, farmers, businessmen and even the workers, up to 1923. AntiLabour governments found that they could not interfere with the operations of the bank because the Governor, Sir Denison Miller, was a very strong man who fought the trading banks. He had resigned from a prominent position in the Bank of New South Wales to become Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. He died in 1923, and immediately the trading banks brought pressure to bear upon the Bruce-Page Government to place the Commonwealth Bank under the control of a board. That was duly done, and the real function of the board was to restrict the activities of the bank. No one can deny that, under the management of a board, the bank was strangled. No branches were opened in the back country of Western Australia, or the other States, because it was against the policy of the board to open branches in country towns that were already served by the trading banks. Now, the Government proposes to place the Commonwealth Bank once more under the control of a board, but this time under what it calls a small board of ten, instead of eight, as before. The Governor of the bank will be chairman of the board. The other members will be the DeputyGovernor of the bank, the economic adviser, Mr. Melville, the Secretary to the Treasury, and Mr. Roland Wilson, Commonwealth Statistician. In addition, five mystery men are to be appointed to the board. The Government has not hesitated to publish the names of five of the proposed members, but the important thing is that we should know who the other five are to be. Will they represent the same interests as were represented on the board in 1924 and in 1934, when the Governor of the bank did not even have a vote? He was an executive officer only, but the chairman of the board exercised a casting vote. The two nominees of the Government were regularly outvoted on the old board. Under the arrangement now proposed, even if there were four Labour sympathizers on the board, they would be out-voted by the five mystery men.
It has not been suggested that the Commonwealth Bank is not operating successfully at the present time, or even that it did not operate successfully from 1911 to 1923 under the governorship of Sir Denison Miller. New members of the Senate who support the Government probably do not know what is behind the Government’s proposal. The Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) and the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) know, but no one else has been informed. Yesterday, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) said that the Commonwealth Bank was a very successful institution. We recall, however, that when Andrew Fisher introduced the first Commonwealth Bank Bill in 1911, those interests which now support the present Government condemned the bill root and branch, and declared that if it ever became law the country would be ruined. Instead of that happening, of course, the bank has been the salvation of the country.
I do not trust the Government. I am certain that the board will not be appointed for the benefit of the Commonwealth Bank, but for the benefit of the trading banks. Its function will be to restrict the activities of the Commonwealth Bank, but the Government will not get away with its scheme if we can prevent it. The bank should be allowed to continue to operate as at present. No criticism has been offered of the way in which the Governor has controlled the bank since 1944, with the assistance of the Advisory Council. The activities of the bank have been increased, and new departments, including the Industrial Finance Department, have been added. I shall not tolerate the appointment of a Commonwealth Bank Board if I can prevent it, because I know that it would function, not in the interests of the people, but in the interests of the trading banks. Before the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank, the trading banks made enormous profits by issuing bank notes, and by manipulating interest and exchange rates. We do not want to return to those conditions.
– in reply - Much has been said since this bill was first introduced, and although a division of opinion between the Government and the Opposition has become evident, it can be stated in simple terms. The bill contains three proposals: first, that the Banking Act 1947, which provides for the nationalization of banking, shall be repealed; secondly, that additional capital shall be found for certain of the trading departments of the Commonwealth Bank; and, thirdly, that the Commonwealth Bank Board shall be reconstituted as the controlling authority of the bank. Both the Government and the Opposition are agreed upon the proposals to repeal the 1947 act and to provide additional capital for the trading sections of the Commonwealth Bank. The conflict turns on the third proposal, which is to reconstitute the Commonwealth Bank Board. Even on that contentious proposal, the field of argument has been narrowed in that both the Government and the Opposition believe that the final control of the bank should rest, not with the bank board itself, but with the representatives of the people The proposal of the Opposition is that the bank shall, subject to directions by the Treasurer, be controlled by a governor, assisted by an advisory council. The proposal of the Government is that the governor shall be a member of an independent bank board, that that board shall work in collaboration with the Treasurer, and that, in the event of a dispute between the board and the Treasurer, the will of the National Parliament shall prevail. That is the pith of the argument. At the risk of wearying the Senate, .1- shall repeat a passage from my second-reading speech upon this measure. It is as follows: -
If the Treasurer and the board are unable to reach agreement, the board is to furnish a statement of its views and the Treasurer may submit a recommendation to the GovernorGeneral who, acting with the advice of the Federal Executive Council, may determine the policy to be adopted by the bank. This procedure will ensure that any submission to the Governor-General on this matter will be made after full consideration by the Government.
Although the matter that is in dispute between the Opposition and the Government lies within a very narrow compass, it has been debated at considerable length. In answer to the assertion that the passage of this bill has not been unduly delayed, I say that I have no quarrel with, and indeed I support, those honorable senators who claim that the Senate should debate comprehensively and conclusively all measures that come before it; but that is a far cry from the procedure that has been adopted by the Opposition in relation to this bill. When an issue lies within so narrow and so well-defined limits as does this issue, it requires the exercise of a great deal of ingenuity, not only to speak upon it for an hour, but also, having obtained an extension of time, to speak upon it for another half-hour. If my recollection be correct, in addition to the Leader of the Opposition and Senator McKenna, seven honorable senators opposite spoke for that length of time in this debate. No objection can be taken to the length of the speeches of the Leader of the Opposition and Senator McKenna, who is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
– The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) moved that I be granted an extension of time, and I spoke for only seven minutes after that.
– I do not think that that affects the point I am attempting to make, which is that all that could reasonably have been said upon the issue could have been said in a much shorter period of time than that which was in fact taken.
Honorable senators opposite have, in various forms of words, made the charge that in introducing this measure the Government was not acting in a bona fide manner but with the intention to destroy the Commonwealth Bank. A charge of a lack of bona fides is diffi cult to answer. If the Government is not believed, it cannot very well adduce arguments that will satisfy its accusers. The Government indignantly repudiates the suggestion that this measure is in any way designed to hamstring, hurt or destroy the Commonwealth Bank. The present Government parties presented to the people a definite statement of their policy, in which reference was made to the matters that are dealt with in this bill. We said that we should, if returned to power, continue the trading bank activities of the Commonwealth Bank in fair competition with other banks. We put that proposition to the people, the people voted in favour of it, and it is contained in this bill. Some of the statements made by honorable senators opposite were completely unwarranted. The Leader of the Opposition said that the Government wanted to wreck the bank and Senator McKenna said that it intended to sabotage the bank. One honorable senator opposite rose to dizzy heights when he said that the slogan of the Opposition was, “ Hands off the Commonwealth Bank “. There is a strong vein of humour in the average Australian, but any person who says that the present circumstances justify a great political party in adopting that slogan to protect the bank against attacks by this Government is entirely devoid of a sense of humour. If the argument is reduced to an attack upon our bona fides, we can only state fairly and honestly the principles for which we stand. If the argument is reduced to the lowest level - and I emphasize these words - the fact is that, viewed from that level, no political party in Australia would ever attempt to destroy the Commonwealth Bank, because it is firmly ingrained in the commercial and private life of the community. Any government that attempted to destroy it would be swept from office by the people on the first occasion on which they had an opportunity to express their opinion of that conduct. I believe that nobody will take seriously the suggestion of the Opposition that it is our intention to destroy the Commonwealth Bank. On the contrary, the people of Australia believe that, with all our faults and with all our virtues, our intention is to place the bank in a position in which it can be of the greatest possible service to the Australian community.
– We do not trust you.
- Senator Ward says that he does not .trust us. There is only one answer to that statement; it is that the Australian people trust us. I am speaking not only for myself, but also for every other member of the present Government parties when I say that I will not be recreant .to the trust that has been reposed in me by the Australian people. The time when honorable senators opposite could sit back and make senseless observations such as that has passed. The Opposition has said that, for some mysterious reason, at the behest of the private banks, we want to hamstring the Commonwealth Bank. We are under no obligation to the private banks, we have had no communication from them about this measure, and we have not discussed it with them. We shall conduct the business of this country in the way in which we think it should be conducted, that is, for the benefit of all the Australian people and not for the benefit of a particular section of the community.
Why should we want to destroy the bank, and in what way could we do so? The answer to the suggestion that we want to destroy .the bank is that we do not want to do so, and that we shall not do so.
– The Government could not destroy the bank but it could handicap it.
– How could we handicap .the bank, and why should we want to do so? Let us examine its activities one by one. I take, first, its savings bank activities. In New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia there are no savings banks other than the Commonwealth Bank. Does any one in his proper senses suggest that we wish to handicap, retard or hold back the savings bank activities of the Commonwealth Bank when saving bank facilities in Australia are already inadequate? The boot is on the other foot. The only political party in Australia that has destroyed savings banks is the Labour party. As a citizen of New South Wales, I know what happened to the savings banks in that State. Let honorable senators oppo site search their own hearts before they accuse the Government of wishing to impede the savings bank activities of the Commonwealth Bank.
Opposition senators interjecting,
– The cap is there for the Opposition to wear, if it fits.
– The Minister is not speaking the truth.
– I object to the statement that the Minister is not speaking the truth.
– Order! This is not a beer garden. It is a House of the Commonwealth Parliament in which men should gather together to discuss matters reasonably. I know, as a member of a political party, that we all hold strong views upon this measure and that, to use ?. vulgarism, honorable senators sometimes become “ hot under the collar “. But there is no need for this intense heat. The Minister is entitled to reply to the debate, and I hope that he will be heard in silence.
– Tell him he is not speaking the truth.
– Order ! It is not my business to tell any honorable senator to speak the truth. I think that any man who is worthy of being a senator should speak the truth. It is open to any honorable senator who considers that he ha3 been misrepresented or misquoted by another honorable senator, to stand in his place at the end of the speech in which the alleged misrepresentation occurred, and make a persona] explanation. I appeal to honorable senators to curb their emotions and to listen to the Minister in silence.
– I turn now to the central banking functions of the Commonwealth Bank. It has been suggested that the Government, with evil intent, wishes to damage that phase of the bank’s activities. I reply to that suggestion by saying that I believe it is not an overstatement of the position to say that the present strength of the central banking activities of the Commonwealth Bank is due to the activities of those on my side of politics. It is true that in 1930 a Labour government introduced legislation designed to enable the Commonwealth Bank to act as a central bank and that it was not successful in persuading the Parliament to pass the legislation. In 1941, the present Treasurer (Mr. Fadden), who was also Treasurer at that time, made an arrangement with the trading banks. That arrangement was the basis of some of the national security regulations that were promulgated later. They were amended from time to time and, as amended, were finally embodied in the 1945 banking legislation. I submit that we on this side of the chamber have as much cause for gratification in connexion with the development of the strength of the central banking functions of the Commonwealth Bank as have honorable senators opposite. That being so, there is no justification for the thought that, having initiated these functions, and having seen them grow, we should retreat and depart from the principles that we advocated.
So far as the Rural Credits Department, Mortgage Bank Department, and Industrial Finance Department are concerned, again I say the complete reply to any suggestion that we are going to harm these specialized activities of the bank lies in the fact that the bill now before the Senate contemplates a substantial increase of the capital available to those three activities.
– Does the Government claim credit for their establishment?
– Although the Government does not claim credit in that connexion, it does claim credit for assisting their development by providing increased capital. As I have said before, no government can rule Australia without leaving some good behind it. Therefore, I shall not decry any good that has been done by a previous government. I am referring not to whom full marks should be awarded, but to the suggestion that the Government intends to do something wrong, which we believe to be completely unjustifiable criticism.
I come now to the pith of this matter. The Opposition claims that the Government is the big bad wolf that will destroy the trading sections of the Commonwealth Bank. About this aspect the arguments of the Opposition reached great heights.
Again I want to carry the war into the enemy’s quarter-
– Are we “enemies now ?
– There is only one enemy to me - the Opposition. The progress of the trading sections of the Commonwealth Bank has not been so marked as that of other sections of that, institution. The published accounts of the bank show that the growth of profits and assets in that section has not been so marked as in other sections of the bank’s activities between 1946 and 1949. One of the principal reasons for that is that a Labour government was in power in this country during that period. By its activities it did harm to the trading sections, and hampered their development. Banking, like all other transactions, depends largely on confidence. Labour’s approach to banking could be likened to the fable of the bull in the china shop. The prestige of the trading section of the Commonwealth Bank was lowered when the public - quite incorrectly - thought that the Commonwealth Bank and its staff supported Labour’s proposals to nationalize the trading banks. If a poll had been taken of the staff of the Commonwealth Bank, it would have shown quite clearly that they thought that they suffered because the average person associated them with the incomprehensible policy of the Labour party in relation to general banking activities.
– Apparently the Minister has a nightmare.
– My view is thai the more the Commonwealth Bank is kept out of the cockpit of national politics the better.
I shall now deal with the main headings of the bill. I think that all that could be said about the proposed repeal of the banking nationalization legislation has already been said by the people of Australia. They will have their opportunity to speak on that subject again when, “in due course, we shall place before them by referendum the proposal to make it constitutionally impossible for any political party again to attempt to nationalize any Australian industry without the prior consent of the Australian public. I shall not ‘deal at, any great length with the proposal to increase the capital of the bank, because that has not been challenged by the Opposition. Therein lies the main reply to accusations of lack of bona fides. I shall now refer, briefly, to the proposed Commonwealth Bank Board, and appointments thereto, but I do not intend to discuss the names, qualifications, or any other circumstances relating to the existing officers of the bank. I hold the view that while those permanent Government officials confine themselves to their duties and remain out of political matters they are entitled to the support of members of both sides of politics. Our proposal is that the bank board shall be reconstituted, and that there shall be a formula to provide that disputes or lack of agreement between the Treasurer and the bank authorities shall be brought before the National Parliament. It is of the greatest national importance that when there is lack of agreement between the government of the day, as represented by the Treasurer, and the Commonwealth Bank Board, that lack of agreement or dispute should be taken out into the fresh air, and brought before the National Parliament. There should be an opportunity for the Parliament to express itself on the matter. I am not concerned about the method of the debate in the Parliament or the formal result of such a debate. Honorable senators on both sides of the chamber know much more about the technicalities involved in that connexion than I do.
– The Minister is doing very well.
– I hope to do much better. The greatest influence in determining the actions of a government, and the Opposition, is public opinon. 1 have sufficient confidence in my fellow Australians to believe that if public opinion is well informed it reaches the correct conclusion. If, in the future, there should be a dispute between two great authorities, the Government anil the Commonwealth Bank, it is of the utmost importance that the people of Australia should know what that dispute is all about, and be able to reach their own conclusion.
– That will never occur.
– It occurred in 1931. It will occur only in a time of great national crisis. When it does, let us hope that there will not be a “ hole-in-corner “ procedure between the bank and whatever government may be in power at the time. I have no doubt that public opinion dominates the Parliament. When the previous Administration flew in the face of public opinion with its bank nationalization proposals, that was the beginning of its end. The same fate will befall any subsequent government that flies in the face of public opinion. Matters of such high import should come before the National Parliament so that the representatives of the people may express their opinions about them.
I turn now to the constitution of the proposed board. The suggestion has been advanced that the present authorities have done well and should not be changed. As I have said before, I do not wish to introduce personalities. I hope that the Opposition will assist me in that respect. A period of great national prosperity is not the time to judge the capabilities and the correctness of a policy. It has been suggested by honorable senators opposite that since 1945 the success of the Commonwealth Bank has been exceptional. That is not so. From 1924 to 1945, when the Commonwealth Bank was, I believe, controlled by a board, its assets increased by £905,000,000. Its profits rose from about £250,000 in 1924 to £1,800,000 in 1945. During that period the staff of the bank increased by 6,180, while the number of its branches increased by 265. In the face of such figures how can the Opposition justify the claim that between 1924 and 1945 the previous bank board hamstrung the operations of the Commonwealth Bank? During the four years since 1945 the bank has been without the assistance of an independent bank board and has lost ground and public confidence. When an independent board is appointed the bank will attract additional public confidence and will go on to greater heights than during the last five years.
– The Minister deceives himself.
– This legislation will go a long way towards improving the standing and status of the Commonwealth Bank. It will go a long way towards attracting additional public confidence in the institution. The proposal contained in the bill embodies the best of both worlds; it contemplates a board which will have as a substratum the existing Governor and Advisory Council. In addition there will be a number of people of experience and ability, who most surely will make a valuable contribution to the policy of the bank and to its method of management.
-Who will be appointed to the board?
– During this debate an awful lot of nonsense has been talked about the type of persons that will be appointed to the Commonwealth Bank Board. Any great institution must enjoy public confidence.
– Order ! The Minister’s time has expired.
– Would I be in order in moving that the Minister be granted an extension of time?
– Under the Standing Orders no extension of time is possible.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 (Parts).
Paragraph (a) of the clause proposes to amend section 3 of the principal act -
By omitting the words - “ Part . II . - Constitution of the Commonwealth Bank.” and inserting in their stead the words - “Part II. - Constitution, Policy and Management of the Commonwealth Bank.”;
I should like the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) to explain that proposal.
– That is merely a formal alteration, and I suggest that it would be better dealt with when we come to the operative clauses of the bill.
– I suggest that the present is the appropriate time to deal with the matter. I am particularly concerned with the fact that the proposed amendment of the principal act deals with the policy of the bank.
– I intervene in the discussion to suggest to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) that it would be convenient to postpone discussion of this clause until we come to discuss proposed new section 9. After all, the words proposed to be inserted in section 3 of the principal act in place of certain words that now appear in that section constitute merely a new heading, and the substantive matter to be covered by that heading will be found in proposed new section 9. That section provides for the constitution of the board and for its proper management.
– With all respect to the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer), I suggest that the adoption of his proposal would be a most irregular way to deal with the bill. He is asking us, in effect, to postpone discussion of the clause and to go ahead and deal with certain other provisions that are consequential upon that clause.
– I think that some confusion has arisen because of the reference made by the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) to section 9. Clause 7 of the bill under discussion proposes to insert a new section in the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945 which will be numbered “ 9 “, but this bill itself contains a clause which is numbered “ 9 “. I point out that there is an alternative to the Minister’s proposal that we should postpone discussion of clause 4. If the committee allowed certain parts of the principal act to stand until this bill has been’ disposed of, it would be an easy matter to recommit clause 4 and to insert new headings in that clause in accordance with the alterations that are actually made to the principal act. No great difficulty will arise if that course is pursued. However, at the moment we are discussing a purely procedural matter, and it is not of any great consequence whether we adopt the suggestion put forward by the AttorneyGeneral or follow the course that I have outlined.
– I suggest that it would be much more convenient to deal with this problem when we are discussing the substantive clauses themselves than to embark upon a discussion of amendments to the principal act to be made under an introductory clause, which merely sets out the headings of certain parts of the principal act.
– Paragraph (6) of clause 4 of the bill proposes to amend section 3 of the principal act by removing the management of the Commonwealth Bank from the control of the Governor and Deputy Governor of the bank, assisted by the Advisory Council, and transferring it to the control of a board and the Governor and Deputy Governor of the bank. I ask the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) why it is proposed to abolish the Advisory Council that was established under the 1945 legislation, which has functioned most satisfactorily in the interests of the bank and of the people.
– I do not propose to answer that inquiry at this stage but to do so later because, it seems clear to me now that clauses 4, 5 and 6 of the bill are merely preliminary provisions intended to alter headings of certain parts of the principal act in the light of the alterations which will be made to the substantive provisions of that legislation.
– But the proposed alterations deal with the policy of the bank, which is a matter of the greatest importance.
– I agree that the headings of the parts of the principal acf are important, but they are not so important as are the provisions of the parts themselves. Surely we should not adopt a heading for a part of a bill until we have discussed the part itself and agreed upon iti
– I am dissatisfied by the reply furnished by the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner). He proposes, apparently, not only to alter the heading of the parts of the principal act, but also, by so doing, to depart from one of the most important principles embodied in that act. I consider that it is very wrong of the Minister to refuse at this stage to answer a simple question, and I again request him to explain exactly why the Government asks the Senate to agree to the abolition of the present Advisory Council.
– My answer is that this is not the appropriate occasion to deal with the matter raised by the honorable senator.- I suggest that the proposed abolition of the Advisory Council will be more appropriately dealt with in discussion of clause 10 of the bill.
– I should like to know definitely whether the clause under discussion envisages the abolition of the Advisory Council, and also whether it is proposed to replace the present Advisory Council by some consultative body other than the proposed board. I contend that this is an appropriate time to raise this matter. As members of the Opposition have already pointed out, the Advisory Council has carried out its duties with conspicuous success.
– I rise to repeat what I said before, because I am sure that some honorable senators opposite completely misunderstand the purposes of the clause. If honorable senators will refer to section 3 of the principal act, which is the Commonwealth Bank Aci; 1945-1948, they will see that section 3 contains no substantive provisions. All that that section does is to set out the series of headings into which the act is divided. It states -
This Act is divided into Parts, as follows: -
Part 11. - Constitution of the Commonwealth Bank.
We now propose to alter the constitution of the bank by establishing a board and by making certain other alterations that have already been referred to, and in consequence it becomes necessary to alter the headings of the parts mentioned in section 3 of the principal act. If the committee does not adopt the proposals contained in the later clauses of the present bill, such as the proposal to establish a board, then I agree that it will not be necessary to alter the headings of the parts mentioned in section 3 of the principal act.
– Why did the Attorney-General not give that explanation in the first place and proceed with the discussion of clause 7?
– I suggested that.
– No. Clause 4 was called.
– I suggested earlier that the convenient course to follow would be to postpone the formal clauses 4 and 5 and to proceed with clause 6 and subsequent clauses. Then, having regard to the decisions reached on those clauses, we could have gone back to the earlier ones.
– Why not move that that be done now?
Motion (by Senator SPICER) agreed to-
That consideration of clauses 4, 5 and 6 bc postponed.
Clause 7 (Establishment and functions of Commonwealth Bank Board).
– This clause is the crux of the bill from the viewpoint of the Opposition. Proposed new section 9 (1.) states - (1.) There shall be a Commonwealth Bank Board, which shall be constituted in accordance with Part V. of this Act.
However, the clause doe3 not provide only for the establishment and functions of a Commonwealth Bank Board. It proceeds to determine what shall happen in the event of a difference of opinion between the government of the day and the Commonwealth Bank Board. Up to the ultimate point there is no vital difference between those provisions, and the corresponding provisions in the Commonwealth Bank Act. For instance, proposed new section 9a (1.) is almost iden tical with section 9 (1.) of the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945. It states - (1.) The Bank shall, from time to time, inform the Government of the monetary and banking policy of the Bank.
Proposed section 9a (2.) is almost identical with existing section 9 (2.). It states -
In the event of a difference of opinion between the Government and the Bank as to whether the monetary and banking policy of the Bank is directed to the greatest advantage of the people of Australia, the Treasurer and the Board shall endeavour, to reach agreement.
Sub-sections (3.), (4.) and (5) of proposed section 9a are almost identical with section 9 (3.) of the Commonwealth Bank Act. Sub-section (6.) of proposed section 9a is more or less identical with section 9 (4.) of the present act. However, there is one real point of difference between the provisions of clause 7 and those contained in the principal act. It is contained in proposed section 9a (7.) which states - (7.) The Treasurer shall cause to be laid before each House of the Parliament, within fifteen sitting days of that House after the Treasurer has informed the Bank of the policy determined under sub-section (4.) of this section -
a copy of the order determining the policy ;
a copy of the statement furnished to the Treasurer by the Board under sub-section (3.) of this section.
Continuing my analogy, proposed section 9b is practically identical with section 23 of the Commonwealth Bank Act ; proposed section 9b (4.) is comparable to section 27 of the principal act, and proposed section 9c is practically identical with section 28 of the principal act. In short, the provisions of the existing act relating to a policy dispute are largely re-enacted in this measure except that this bill sets up machinery whereby in the event of a dispute the bank shall make a statement of its policy, the Government shall do likewise, and there is an obligation on the Government to table those documents in the Parliament. That is the one substantive change that this measure purports to effect in the existing law, apart of course, from the proposal to reconstitute the bank board. What virtue is there in that change? The AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer) himself, during the second-reading debate, said that if a difference of opinion arose, it would be on a matter of substance. I think he said that it would be an important matter, and a great national issue. There is absolute certainty that that would be so. Therefore, the matter not only would be the subject of discussion by the public and in the press, but also would be a live issue in the Parliament itself.
– If the Parliament knew about it.
– The Parliament could not help knowing about it. Assuming that the Treasurer gives a direction to the Commonwealth Bank, it will be incumbent on the bank to give effect to that direction, to inform the private banks of it, and to issue instructions in consonance with the requirements of the Treasurer. The whole business community of Australia would be instantly aware that the Government had intervened and had directed a course contrary to that hitherto pursued by the Commonwealth Bank. I agree with the Attorney-General when he says that such issues would be very much alive. It i9 perfectly certain that they would be the subject of debate in the Parliament before any direction was given to the Commonwealth Bank. I invite the Attorney-General to consider this position : If a great issue is under consideration, and if the Treasurer is going to accept the responsibility of directing the Commonwealth Bank - a grave step for any Treasurer to take - he will not be acting on his own initiative. He will first of all have consulted Cabinet. He will certainly have sought the prior approval of his party.
– That does not follow.
– Not necessarily, but it is almost certain that that would be so.
– Did the honorable senator’s leader have the approval of the Australian Labour party to devalue the Australian currency?
– That is a separate matter entirely. That occurrence was most rare. The Attorney-General knows quite well that if there is to be a change in the value of the currency, it must he made instantly. No matter what this bill provides, that is something that must be done without any prior warning, to prevent people from taking advantage of the situation.
– I am not criticizing that action. I merely mentioned the devaluation of the currency as an instance in which a Treasurer did not first seek the approval of his party.
– The devaluation or appreciation of the currency is a matter for the Government alone, although I have no doubt that it would confer with the Commonwealth Bank. It is certainly not a matter for determination by the bank. The decision must be made at the governmental level. Therefore, the Attorney-General has not raised a matter that is relevant to the subject under discussion. The matters that will be the subject of determination by the Treasurer, and, perhaps, a direction to the Commonwealth Bank, include interest rates, advances policy, the quantum of surplus investible funds that the private banks are required to deposit with the Commonwealth Bank, and all matters broadly affecting the economy of the nation, and, therefore, having a bearing on the level of employment and unemployment. Accordingly, they will be live questions affecting not only the Government and the Parliament, but also the everyday lives of the people. That is the important point. It is completely inescapable that these issues will be the subject of debate, not only in the Parliament, but also outside the Parliament. Whether the relevant documents are tabled in the Parliament or not those great issues will unquestionably be discussed in the Parliament. All the forms of parliamentary procedure will be exploited to ensure that they 6hall be discussed. There will be motions of no confidence, formal adjournment motions, and debates on the motion for tho adjournment of either chamber. Members of the Parliament will avail themselves of all the opportunities that are afforded by the Standing Orders to press Lome the points that they believe should be made clear. The inclusion in this clause of the provision that documents relating to differences between the Commonwealth Bank and the Treasurer shall be tabled in the Parliament does not advance the matter one whit. I invite honorable senators opposite to point out where, pursuant to this clause, there is any provision that the Parliament can, under this legislation, take the matter up and discuss it. The Parliament will be in no better position under this legislation than it is to-day. The Parliament would not lack information about any difference of opinion. I have already indicated that the Commonwealth Bank would have to give practical effect to the Treasurer’s direction throughout the whole industrial life of this country. What would happen? I do not know how many honorable senators are burdened with the necessity to obtain overdrafts from a bank, but I point out that when one goes to a bank for an overdraft one is told instantly of the advances policy. If that policy was to be varied, one could hear the bank managers saying, “We have to vary this policy pursuant to the direction of the Commonwealth Bank. The Commonwealth Bank cannot be blamed because the Treasurer of the day has compelled it to do this “. It is inescapable that the matter would come to the surface, and the tabling in this Parliament of documents relating to a dispute would serve no useful purpose at all. All the verbiage that is printed in this clause is in substance not different from the provisions of the existing legislation, except that documents relating to a dispute must be laid on the table of each house of the Parliament. That is the main purpose of this clause.
– Is that all that the honorable senator objects to?
– It is the main purpose, but we are not dealing with those provisions alone. If they stood alone, the Opposition would not have any grave objections to them, but the clause provides also for the establishment of a Commonwealth Bank board. In fact, the first sub-section of proposed new section 9 is -
There shall be a Commonwealth Bank Board which shall be constituted in accordance with Part V. of this Act.
Perhaps I was in error when I said that the main purpose of the clause was to provide for the tabling in the Parliament of documents relating to a dispute between the Commonwealth Bank Board and the Treasurer. The milk in the coco-nut is in the first lines of proposed section 9. The remainder of that section, and all the provisions of proposed section 9a relate to the procedure to be followed in the event of a dispute. The provision relating to the tabling of papers is only part of a general plan to set up in place of the Governor, a bank board, one-half of the members of which have not yet been named by the Government. We are vitally opposed to the re-constitution of the board. If at some stage in this debate the Government will relent and say who it has in mind for appointment to the board, we may be inclined to reconsider our attitude. We are most suspicious of the re-establishment of the board-. We make no pretence about that. Our suspicions are based on strong grounds. Whether or not our arguments were answered by the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) in his reply to the second-reading debate I do not know, because, unfortunately, I was not in the chamber, a circumstance that I regret exceedingly.
– The honorable senator missed a good speech.
– I am prepared to say that I have not yet heard the Minister for Social Services make a bad speech. His speeches in this chamber have been thoughtful and courteous. Again I record the fact that we are uncompromisingly opposed to this clause.
– Proposed section 9a (4.) provides that in the event of a dispute between the Treasurer and the board -
The Treasurer may then submit a recommendation to the Governor-General, and the Governor-General, acting with the advice of the Federal Executive Council, may, by order, determine the policy to be adopted by the Bank.
That provision has been emphasized by honorable senators opposite. They have been at pains to tell us that, in the event of a dispute between the Government and the Commonwealth Bank Board, government policy shall prevail.- In defence of the word “may” in sub-section 4, it could be argued that the Government, after conferring with the board, might consider the board’s policy to be right, and then there would be nothing to prevent the Government from accepting the advice of the board, and adopting its policy. As Senator McKenna has said, the proposal to re-establish the Commonwealth Bank Board is the crux of this measure, so far as the Opposition is concerned. Not one Government spokesman has given the slightest indication of who the other five members of the bank board are to be, or what experience they have had. All we have been, given is the ridiculous statement that they will be men who are not connected with banking. Again, I ask the Government where it proposes to find competent men, experienced in banking, but not connected in some way with the private banks. Because of our experience of a Commonwealth Bank Board, which was completely subservient to the private banks, we are suspicious of the proposed reconstitution of the board. In my second-reading speech I showed how, during the regime of the previous bank board, the private banks had held this country to ransom. When I said that the private banks had issued an ultimatum to the Government, the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) asked, by interjection, who had called it an ultimatum. That is how these legal men grow rich - quibbling over words.
– They never grow rich.
– There are exceptions, I admit, but I have no doubt that the Attorney-General is much richer than I am. The only bank I have had anything to do with is the Yarra Bank, and all I have been able to draw is my breath. Therefore, I have no personal interest in the Commonwealth Bank, but I am gravely concerned for the welfare of the Australian people. The Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) said that the only bank in Australia that had closed during the depression had been closed by a Labour government. . I do not know who gave him that information, but it is incorrect.
– Order ! I ask the honorable senator to deal with the matter under discussion.
– I am coming to the clause, but it seems to me that I should answer these untruths-
– Order! The honorable senator cannot answer them now.
– Very well, but at the same time-
– Order! The honorable senator must confine his remarks to the clause under discussion.
– I am dealing with the constitution of the Commonwealth Bank Board. We do not want a recurrence of conditions that existed in this country when the previous board controlled the bank. This matter is most germane to the issue now before the Senate. I propose to discuss Sir Robert Gibson’s statement that the bank to which the Minister for Social Services referred had ample funds, and need not have closed at all. I submit, therefore, that my remarks are related to this clause. However, I do not wish to labour the point. I desired merely to refute the statement of the Minister in his second-reading speech.
I am concerned over the Government’s proposal to reconstitute the Commonwealth Bank Board. The Government has persistently refused to give a reason for its proposed action, or to state the need for it. It is admitted by every one that the bank has been conspicuously successful since 1945. The Government has also refused to state the names of five of the persons who are to be appointed to the board, despite the fact that their appointments can be terminated at the end of twelve months. The statutory appointments can be terminated at any time. There is nothing to prevent a person, who is at present actively associated with one of the trading banks, from resigning his position on one day and being appointed to the Commonwealth Bank Board the following day. The Government has a concealed motive in endeavouring to appoint a Commonwealth Bank Board. It may be said, indeed, that this is not a Government bill at all. It is a measure inspired by the trading banks, and is intended as a reward for what they did for the Government parties during the election. Opposition members take strong exception to the proposal for the appointment of a board unless they are told more about it.
– I am in a difficulty regarding this clause. This is the clause that provides for the constitution of a Commonwealth Bank Board, and also provides for a number of other things, including the manner of resolving disputes between the board and the Treasurer, and the establishment of a liaison between the bank and the Treasury. I cannot, in conscience, vote for the reconstitution of the Commonwealth Bank Board, but I am in favour of the other two proposals that I have mentioned. Some of the other provisions of the clause have been simply lifted out of the existing Commonwealth Bank Act. My difficulty is that, if we are required to consider the clause as a whole, I must, vote against it, whereas if it were taken in its various parts I could accept those parts of which I approve, and vote against the rest.
During >the whole of the debate on this bill, no spokesman for the Government has given any reason why the Commonwealth Bank Board should be reconstituted. We know what happened when the bank was previously under the control of a board. It may be true, as the Minister said, that the bank made bigger profits during that time, but there were also 300,000 people out of work in Australia, and practically starving. We do not want that to happen again. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber have given plenty of reasons why the present method of control of the Commonwealth Bank should continue. Clause 7 contains the following provision: -
The Treasurer shall cause to be laid before each House of the Parliament, within fifteen sitting days of that House after the Treasurer has informed the Bank of the policy determined Under sub-section (4.) of this section -
a copy of the order determining the policy;
a statement by the Government in relation to the matter in respect of which the difference of opinion arose; and
a copy of the statement furnished to the Treasurer by the board under sub-section (3.) of this section.
What does that mean ? There is nothing in the bill to indicate that the Parliament would be in a position to direct the board.
So far as this measure is concerned, the board could tell the Parliament to go to the deuce. The Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) has said that, if necessary, a special combined meeting of both Houses of the Parliament could be held, but there is no reference to that in the bill. Indeed, we have no assurance that the board, once appointed, will not be able to go its own sweet way, in spite of what the Government, or even the Parliament, might say. This clause, of course, provides for the bringing of a dispute before the Parliament, but it would, I claim, be a spurious dispute if it were about something in regard to which the Parliament had no jurisdiction. Those papers must be laid before the Parliament within fifteen sitting days. During the debate I posed the question as to what would happen if Parliament were not in session during that time and the answer was that Parliament could be called together at short notice, but what the Government proposes and what it can do are two different things.
In this matter, Opposition senators have the interests of the people of Australia to consider. I am not concerned about the interests of the private banks. I am concerned about the future of the Commonwealth Bank, which belongs to the people, was created by the people’s representatives and did remarkable work until it was hampered by the bank board. That board was created by the Government of the day with the deliberate intention to prevent the growth and development of the bank. Unless the vote is taken on proposed new sections 9 (1.) and 9 (2.) apart from the remaining proposed new sections, I must vote against this clause.
.- The part of this clause which particularly appeals to me is the part containing the provisions mentioned by Senator McKenna and Senator Nash that the Treasurer shall cause the various documents 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 proposed section 9a (4.). I believe that the people should know details of any dispute between the Government and the Commonwealth Bank Board since such a dispute would affect every citizen of this country. That is of the highest importance. Senator McKenna said that if there was a dispute and the Government had overridden the bank board, it would be known in any case without this provision, but the reasons that he advanced were not very convincing. He said that the matter would be spread throughout the business world by word of mouth or that it would be made public through the press. But even if that were true there would not be any precise information on which the Parliament or the people could form a reasoned conclusion. All that would be known through the press would be statements and accounts of adjournment motions without the facts. There would be no way of knowing whether the board had been overridden by the Government or of knowing the exact reasons why the board or the Governor had been overridden.
But under this clause, an exact statement of such reasons must be placed before the representatives of the people. Some facts would thus be provided on- which the Parliament could pass a reasoned judgment. That is the only way in which the representatives of the people can reach a conclusion as to what should be done in the future. Senator Nash asked what was to prevent the bank board from continuing on its own sweet way in spite of the wishes of the Government. The provisions made in this clause for the will of Parliament to have its effect on the conduct of the bank board or the Governor, would prevent the bank board or the Governor from continuing on their own sweet way. Proposed sub-sections 5 and 6 of proposed section 9a provide that in the event of a dispute, the Treasurer shall inform the bank of the policy which the Government has determined and the bank shall thereupon give effect to the policy determined by that order. It shall, if the order so requires, continue to give effect to that policy while the order remains in operation. Those two proposed new subsections establish that the bank must do what the Government wants it to do.
The next sub-section provides that the Parliament shall be informed of the position. The Parliament can then debate whether the bank should be compelled to continue to obey that order. Every honorable senator knows that if a majority in the Parliament votes against a course which a government has followed, that government falls and a new government is formed to do what the majority in the Parliament wants it to do. These proposed new sections taken together show how the Parliament controls the Government and the Government controls the bank and I commend them to honorable senators.
– This clause which provides that there shall be a Commonwealth Bank Board constituted in accordance with Part V. is one of the main principles on which all the controversy about this measure is based I recall to the minds of honorable senators the debate on the Commonwealth Bank bill in 1945 and the concluding remarks of a speech made by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who was then Leader of the Opposition. The right honorable gentleman said, “If and when we get back into power we will re-constitute the Commonwealth Bank Board “. That was rather a vain threat on the part of a vain man because every point that the right honorable gentleman made in his attack on the Commonwealth Bank Bill 1945 has proved to be wrong, including the one that the bank board would be re-constituted. If the onus of proof were on the Government to show why this clause should stand, I could easily “ declare “ the Government, because it has given no reason at all why this clause should be in the bill. There i9 no sound reason why the Parliament should interfere with the present set-up of the Commonwealth Bank. It has been said that it is unwise to change horses when crossing a stream. The present bill emphasizes the wisdom of that advice.
Australia is poised on the brink of an economic chasm and how the economic situation is handled depends on the Commonwealth Bank. By continuing the sound and stable policy of the bank, the economic position of this country can be stabilized. But why should the Government want to bring in people who are not experienced in Commonwealth Bank policy and have had no experience of the development of the Commonwealth Bank or of its great work during the war when the bank financed Australia to the amount of £300,000,000? Why should the Government bring in outsiders who have not had an opportunity to grow up with this great institution, at a time when the economy of the country is at a stage as critical as it was in war-time? The Government, has not given one sound reason for the inclusion of this clause in the bill.
The present Prime Minister mentioned in his policy speech that Australia is to embark on a huge expenditure for compulsory military training and that there are certain responsibilities associated with re-armament. Australia must therefore ensure the continuity of the Commonwealth Bank’s operations. Supporters of the Government have stated frequently that Australia has not reached a state of peace. In that event, why should people inexperienced in the affairs of the Commonwealth Bank be given information which they can take wherever their interests lie? Why should that vital information be dispersed? The economic plans of the nation are as important as military information. When a bank and a government are working together, the economic aspect is as important as the political or the social aspect. The affairs of the Commonwealth bank are being conducted efficiently, and there is no reason why outside people should be brought into its activities. The bank bas expanded and has proved quite capable of assisting the Government and carrying out its policy over the past eight years, particularly since the Banking Act 1945 was passed.
I have searched for the point where this retrogressive and reactionary step commenced and have found it in a speech by the Prime Minister in 1945 when he said that if he and his party were returned to power, they would reconstitute the bank board. That was the culmination of a series of attacks that the right honorable gentleman made on the government of the day, all of which proved to be wrong. He was excited and wanted to defeat something that the Government planned. The right honorable gentleman is a tactician, a sound debater and an orator. He is a smooth-tongued gentleman and has the ability to hypnotize people, particularly over the radio. I have heard of others who had that ability and have had the experience of seeing what happened to the people of the nation who were hypnotized by him. Franquin, the hypnotist, cannot be compared with the right honorable gentleman and his honeyed words. The present Prime Minister has the ability to use his gifts of oratory and persuasion for political purposes. In 1943 he suffered one of the most overwhelming political defeats in the history of Australia. He was smarting under that defeat, and looking for some means by which he could discredit the Labour Government that was then in power and regain his lost position. Then, in 1945, the Commonwealth Bank Bill was introduced, and he tried in every way possible to find fault with it. Each of the criticisms that he then made of it has since been proved to have been unfounded. Honorable senators opposite have not criticized the Commonwealth Bank or the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945, except in relation to the method of control by a governor. They have praised the bank highly, and that is very satisfying to honorable senators on this side of the chamber who, through the years, have consistently supported the Commonwealth Bank, which has progressed from an idea to a stage at which it has the support of the great mass of the people. The struggle against the private trading banks has not been an easy one. At times it has been, politically and economically, bitter.
The real reason underlying the Government’s proposal to re-establish the Commonwealth Bank Board is that the present Prime Minister said that, if and when he was returned to power, he would re-establish it. No sound reasons have been put forward by supporters of the Government either here or in the House of Representatives in support of the proposal. I intend to use the full strength of my one vote in this chamber to secure the deletion of this clause. I am certain that the views that I have expressed are held, not only by honorable senators on this side of the chamber, but also by 80 per cent of honorable senators opposite, in their hearts and minds. I am certain that they do not want this bill. Their arguments in favour of it are unconvincing. I believe that they feel that they are intruding. As the cuckoo occupies the nest of another bird, so they want to put a cuckoo in the nest of the Commonwealth Bank. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber will do their best to ensure that the cuckoo does not get into the nest.
I shall have something to say later about proposed new section 9a, which provides for the tabling of papers if a dispute occurs between the board and the Treasurer. We shall discuss at a later stage of the committee debate what the Parliament would be able to do if the board had an argument with the Treasurer and the Government laid a statement on the table in this chamber. I am convinced that this clause is the fruit of the seed that was sown by the present Prime Minister when, faced with what he knew was a progressive measure introduced by the then government, he felt that the only way in which he could give expression to his petulance was to say, in effect, “I shall let you play now, but if ever I go to the wicket again I shall take the bat home with me and have it to myself “. The right honorable gentleman forgot that history has a strange habit of repeating itself. In times of crisis, the people have repeatedly called upon the Labour party to put the country back upon its feet, and we have done so very successfully, despite the efforts of non-Labour majorities in this chamber. Through the years, progressive measures introduced by Labour governments have been frustrated by a hostile Senate. Now the position is reversed, and the Labour party, which is now in opposition, will be able to secure the deletion of this important clause providing for the establishment of a Commonwealth Bank Board. History will have repeated itself, but this time for the good of the people.
– I shall give reasons why there should be a Commonwealth Bank
Board. The reasons have already been given in the second-reading debate. There should be a Commonwealth Bank Board, first, because it is the general practice of central banks throughout the world; secondly, because it is the common practice of business undertakings, both private and public; thirdly, because the Royal Commission on Monetary and Banking Systems recommended it; and fourthly, because the Labour party, in 1930, when it was led by much abler men than those who lead it now, recommended that a board of this kind should be established.I shall read a clause from a bill that was introduced into the Parliament in 1930 by a Labour Treasurer, Mr. Theodore. It is as follows : -
Part III. - Management of the Bank.
– (1.) The Bank shall be managed by a Board of Directors composed of the Governor and seven other Directors. (2.) Subject to this Act, the seven other Directors shall consist of -
– Who opposed that provision ?
– That is not relevant. We are discussing this bill, not past history.
– Was the honorable senator a member of the Labour party then?
– I was then a supporter of the Labour party, and I supported that provision. As I said in my second-reading speech, I have not shifted my ground upon this matter. I have been perfectly consistent. The whole of the Opposition’s objection to the proposal to establish a board is based upon the completely false assumption that the board established under this measure will be similar to that which operated from 1924 to 1945.
– What is the difference ?
– The diferences should be obvious to every one. The previous board had a position of quasi-independence of the Government that this board will not have. The previous board was not subject to the direction of the Government or of the Parliament. As honorable senators opposite have pointed out, in some matters it could act independently of the Government. The whole of the Opposition’s case against the Government’s proposal is that that board dictated to the Prime Minister of the day. The board that will be established under this measure will not be able to do that.
– It very soon will b-i able to do so.
– I have commented before upon the pathetic faith of one honorable senator in the power of mere assertion. That, of course, waa Hitler’s faith. I do not believe that an untruth becomes a truth if it is repeated continuously. I am stating facts, every one of which can be supported by documents. The second difference between the previous board and the proposed board is that, under this measure, the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank will be the chairman of the board. Sir Robert Gibson was not the Governor of the bank and was not connected with its general management. We have learned our lesson. We propose that the Governor of the bank shall be chairman of the board.
I do not believe that what I have said will prevent honorable senators opposite from saying again that we have not advanced reasons in support of the proposal to establish a board. The reasons have been given before. I said all this in my second-reading speech. No honorable senator opposite contradicted it or dealt with it, but the Opposition continued to make assertions that had been confuted by what I had said.
– Shame !
– It is not a matter of shame, but of whether honorable senators opposite had a sense of responsibility, and were talking to the people or, in the famous words of an American congressman, “talking to bunkum “.
This board will operate in continuous association with the Government. It will be an integral part of the bank, because its chairman will be the governor of the bank. As the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) recognizes, there is no great likelihood of there being a dispute between the board and the Government that will come to the Parliament, but if there is, under this measure, it can come to the Parliament and can be settled. There is no reason, other than the ineradicable suspicion that honorable senators opposite will not get out of their minds, for believing that the Government had any sinister purpose in including this clause in the measure.
– Once bitten, twice shy.
– That interjection was not a very intelligent one. After all, a person who re-acts always to the same experience in the same way is making no mental progress. As I have pointed out, the Commonwealth Bank has grown, and both the Labour party and the non-Labour parties in the Parliament have contributed to that growth. I do not wish to detract from what the Labour party did and tried to do. I believe that if the bill introduced in 1930 had been passed, it would have been unnecessary for the non-Labour parties to introduce other legislation. The growth of the Commonwealth Bank has been assisted by both sides of politics. The purpose of this clause is to strengthen the bank.
– I thank Senator McCallum and Senator Gorton for the excellent interpretations of this clause that they have presented to the committee. It is because of those excellent interpretations that I intend to vote against the establishment of a Commonwealth Bank Board. The arguments advanced by both those honorable senators prove conclusively that a board is not required. Senator McCallum was quite correct when he said that the method of control of the Commonwealth Bank had moved forward rapidly in the last few years. When the Labour party established the Commonwealth Bank there was no political control of banking. The present measure does not provide for the removal of political control of banking. A great fuss was made in 1945 when a Labour government introduced the Commonwealth Bank Bill of that year, which was designed to vest control of the bank in a Governor instead of in a board of directors. It was suggested that that would constitute political control, because one clause of the measure provided that, in the event of a dispute between the Treasurer and the Governor of the bank, the will of the Treasurer should prevail. This measure provides for the establishment of a bank board and also specifies the kind of persons who will comprise the board. We find that they will meet only occasionally^ and that their duties as members of the board- will be only part-time duties. Senator McCallum and Senator Gorton stated definitely that in the event of a dispute between the Treasurer and the board, the Treasurer will instruct ;he board upon what it must do. Is there any merit in the fact that the Treasurer of the day will be able to bring to heel a board of ten very eminent gentlemen, rather than the Governor only? The Treasurer may say, “ These great men that we have selected to carry on the bank thought that they could do the job all right, but in my opinion they are not doing it in the best interests of the country. Therefore, I shall instruct them what they shall do “. Even after they have stated their reasons fully for following a certain policy, the Treasurer may say to them, “ I do not believe that you fellows know how to control the Commonwealth Bank. Therefore, I shall merely deposit the statement that you have presented to me in the wastepaper basket. You will carry out my instructions “. That is the aspect that the anti-Labour Opposition growled about in 1945. Yet it still remains. I contend that the Government is not game to alter that provision because of the progress that the bank has made since then. Honorable senators are fully aware of the great value of that national institution to-day, and the functions that it has performed on behalf of the nation in times of peril. The Commonwealth Bank has progressed considerably since the introduction of the 1945 banking legislation. However, as Senator O’Byrne has pointed out, when the legislation of the Curtin Labour Government was enacted in 1945, the then Leader of the Opposition in this chamber, who is now Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay), in a fit of pique shook his fist, looked very wise, and outlined what the opponents of Labour would do in the matter if and when they were elected to govern this country. However, the anti-Labour Government now in office proposes only to remove the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank and appoint ten men in his place. The present Governor could continue to administer the Commonwealth Bank efficiently and well. Assuredly he would do so at least as efficiently as a number of mysterious men who lurk somewhere in the distance, and whom the Government is not game to name. However, when this bill becomes law, that is, after the next election - assuming that the opponents of Labour should gain a majority - these wonderful people will be appointed to look after the affairs of the Commonwealth Bank. It is just so much humbug for the Government to provide in this measure that the Governor shall be replaced by a board comprised of men that nobody knows. Honorable senators will recall what happened to the Commonwealth Bank during the regime of the former board, which was not subject to direction by the Treasurer of the day. As Senator McCallum has pointed out, Sir Robert Gibson, who was the chairman of the board at that time, was told by the majority of the board what to do. The directors were representatives of other financial institutions, who desired to retard the progress of the Commonwealth Bank. They decreed that organizations that were already dealing with the trading banks should not be allowed to open accounts with the Commonwealth Bank. That is sufficient justification for the fears of honorable senators on this side of the chamber that the growth of the Commonwealth Bank will again be retarded if the Commonwealth Bank Board is reconstituted. Since 1945 the Commonwealth Bank has progressed considerably. Branches are now established in all important country centres, and the bank has made advances to assist the development of small industries. Since the introduction of the banking legislation of 1945 a great deal of the monetary service so necessary for the development of Australia has been favorable to the people of this country. The Opposition, therefore, considers that if the bank board were reconstituted the progress of this great institution would be retarded. Howeer I thank honorable senators opposite for the explanations that they have advanced in this matter. Those explanations have proved conclusively that there is no need for the Governor to be replaced by a board, because the Treasurer of the day will finally determine the policy of the bank in the event of a crisis. I intend to vote against the clause.
– I oppose the reconstitution of the Commonwealth Bank Board for several reasons. My main opposition to it arise3 from a reading of the Macmillan report on banking in 1931, a copy of which is in the Parliamentary Library, together -with the transcript of evidence. The report it well worth reading. The Government has declined to name the men that it intends to appoint to the proposed board, and it has also declined to announce how it expects to restore value to the Australian £1. This suggests that the Government has no clear conception of its policy in this connexion. The Macmillan Committee was appointed in 1929. It comprised: The Right Honorable H. P. Macmillan, K.C., now Lord Macmillan, chairman; Sir Thomas Allen; Mr. Ernest Bevin; the Right Honorable Lord Bradbury, G.C.B. ; Professor T. E. Gregory, D.Sc. ; the Honorable R, H. Brand, C.M.G.; Mr. J. M. Keynes, CB. ; Mr. Lennox B. Lee ; Mr. Cecil Lubbock; the Right Honorable Reginald McKenna; Mr. J. T. Walton Newbold; Sir Walter Raine; Mr. J. Frater Taylor ; Mr. A. A. G. Tulloch and Mr. G. Ismay, of the Treasury, as secretary. They were all men of repute who occupied very high positions in England. The following passage appears in paragraph 301 of their report, at page 129- . . When practical bankers and business men can explain clearly the causes of the Trade Cycle, why prosperity is followed by depresssion, and depression by prosperity, and can find practical means to avoid the economic waste caused thereby, and when they can adjust more satisfactorily the powers of the modern world to consume and absorb wealth with its powers to produce wealth, they will have more justification than they now have in ignoring and treating as of little or no consequence economic research into these very difficult but vitally important problems.
– I rise to order. I submit that the honorable senator is out of order discussing the Macmillan report. The committee i9 at present considering clause 7.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Senator Nash) . - The honorable senator is in order if he intends to associate his remarks with the proposed Commonwealth Bank Board.
– My opposition to the reconstitution of the board arises partly from the recommendations of the Macmillan committee. The Government has refrained from naming the proposed appointees to the board. It is unlikely that the Opposition will be informed who they will be for some time even if the appointment of a board were agreed to by the Senate. The passage continues -
The practical man is satisfied to make profits when the sun shines, and to bear his losses when the bad times come, regarding these alterations more or less as laws of nature, when very often they are due to the working of the monetary machine and are to some extent at any rate under human control. But, if they are even partly under human control, it is of the utmost importance for the betterment of humanity and the stability of society that such methods of control as may exist should be worked out and put into practice, even if, as is and will remain true, there exist no simple scientific rules by the mere application’ of which such control can be exercised. The management of currency and credit is essentially an art and not a science.
It is quite obvious that although the members of the Commonwealth Bank Board at that time were capable in their respective spheres, they were not capable to decide the policy of the Commonwealth Bank. Its administration was disastrous. Although for all practical purposes they had unlimited resources at their disposal, hundreds of thousands of men and women were living under conditions of semistarvation. That fact proves that the members of that board were either incompetent and lacking in knowledge or were callously indifferent to the sufferings of the people. I prefer to think that they were incompetent and lacking in knowledge. We are told now that five independent persons will be included in the personnel of the proposed board. We are not told who those five individuals will be, but are asked to give the Government a blank cheque in that respect. In such circumstances I am convinced that we would not be justified, particularly in view of our experiences of the previous board, in agreeing to the Government’s proposal, and, as an old editor, I think that the editorial maxim, “ when in doubt knock out “ should apply. The proposed board will be expected to give effect to government policy, which, I remind the committee, has changed considerably since the last election. “We know that since then circumstances have changed for the worse, and I am particularly concerned at the economic situation that now confronts us. It is exactly similar to that which confronted Australia in 1929, and everything points to the onset of an economic crisis. What has the present Government in mind to deal with such a crisis? An economic crisis has already developed in the United States of America and in Europe, and one must inevitably develop here. The previous Government established a system of management of the Commonwealth Bank which has given entirely satisfactory results to date. Now, the present Government asks us to change that system, and to hand the bank over to the control of a board, without even informing us of the identity of half the members of the bonn!. I submit that we would not be justified in agreeing to the establishment of such a board on the mere assurance of the Government.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN. - Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
Senator SCOTT (Western Australia) id.48”1. - I rise to support the clause, and I shall point out what are. in my opinion, the reasons for the hostility that the Opposition has shown to the Government’s proposal that a board shall be established to control the bank. The first reason for the hostility of members of the Opposition is undoubtedly that they realize that the passage of this legislation will destroy whatever chance they may have of socializing the trading banks. The Commonwealth Bank Act 1945 was introduced by a Labour Administration with the ultimate intention to obtain complete control of the banking system by driving the private trading banks out of existence. In January, 1947, the former Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) sent a telegram to all local authorities ordering them to confine their banking transactions to the Commonwealth Bank, and instructing them that if they did not already bank with that institution they were to transfer their accounts to it within fourteen days. The local authority of which I happened to be a member at the time refused to obey that order because we believed that we should have a choice in the selection of our bank. Now, in 1950, the present Government proposes to repeal the 1947 act completely and to amend the 1945 legislation so that the Commonwealth Bank will be controlled by a board. Last night I mentioned that there were 157 boards in existence during the regime of the previous Labour Administration. Of that number, eight were appointed during the last two years Labour was in office.
In the course of Senator Nash’3 speech he contended that Parliament would not have any say in the control of the Commonwealth Bank or in determining the financial policy of the nation. However, I remind him that sub-sections (3.) and (4.) of proposed new section 9a provide that in the event of a disagreement between the proposed board and the Treasurer -
If the clause under discussion is adopted, it is clear that the Parliament will have complete control of the proposed board. Any policy which the Parliament desires to implement will have the endorsement of the elected representatives of the people, and, therefore, those who elect the members of Parliament will have the final say in determining the policy of the Commonwealth Bank. Another point which members of the Opposition completely overlook is that the proposed board will be entirely different from the board which functioned in 1929. The government of the day could not, apparently, issue directors to that board, but it is clear that the new board will be under the direction of the Government. The 1945 legislation distinctly provides that the Commonwealth Bank shall be administered by the governor of that institution, who will be subject to direction by the Treasurer, but it does not contain any provision to enact that the Parliament must be consulted on matters of policy.
– But any government must accept responsibility for the actions of its Treasurer.
– The Labour Administration which introduced that legislation did so because it wanted to socialize the trading banks. Now that Labour is in Opposition it wants to prevent the establishment of a board to control the bank because it hopes that when it again attains office, in 20 or 30 years, it will not have to contend with the opposition of a board in its attempt to socialize the private banks. I commend the clause to the committee, knowing full well that the people of Australia will have the last say in the contra of their bank.
, - I oppose the clause in its present form. Senator Scott argued that the reason for our opposition to the proposal to establish a board is that Labour does not want to he hampered by the existence of a board in any future efforts to socialize the Commonwealth Bank. That is the most stupid contention that I have heard since I have been a member of the Parliament. The fact is that the Commonwealth Bank is already socialized, and every member of the community is virtually a shareholder in that bank. If we want an example of successful socialization we cannot do better than cite that institution. If the bank is not completely socialized, then I do not know what institution is. The honorable senator then went on to make the glaring misstatement that if there were any change in the policy of the proposed board it would have to be approved bv the Parliament. I houe that the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner), who is in charge of the bill, will excuse him for having made such a misstatement, because any one who has taken the trouble to read the bill knows that it does not contain any provision requiring the board or the Government to seek parlia mentary approval for any change of financial or economic policy. Only in the event of a serious dispute between the board and the Treasurer on a matter of considerable importance will the matter come before the Parliament. The honorable senator, who has now left the chamber, came into the chamber to make a contribution to the debate without knowing anything whatever about the bill.
Of course, the Minister in charge of the bill is obviously not completely in accord with the provisions of the bill, because he stated that in his view the policy of the bank should not be permitted to become the plaything of parliamentarians. Yet, as has already been pointed out, the bill provides that in the event of a dispute between the board and the Treasurer the subject-matter of the dispute is to be resolved in the Parliament. Otherwise, the measure provides definitely and clearly that the proposed board shall have the sole responsibility for defining the policy of the bank. I remind honorable senators that a nation’s financial policy determines the economic welfare of Ihe community. It follows, therefore, that the present, or any future, Administration will have to determine its economic policy in accordance with the financial policy laid down by the board. If the board’s policy conflicts with that of the Government, or is likely to affect adversely the economic welfare of the community, the Government will have to consult the board in order to devise some means of reconciling their divergent viewpoints. The negotiations that would ensue in such circumstances might drag on for months. I interrupt my argument to remind honorable senators that we do not even know who the members of the proposed board will be. That, apparently, is a close, almost a military secret. which cannot be divulged to the Parliament As I was saying, after months of fruitless negotiation, all that a government could do would be to bring the subjectmatter of the dispute before the Parliament. Of course, if the Parliament were not sitting, the board would continue to implement its policy, irrespective of the economic damage that that policy might be doing in the meantime.
– The Government would overrule it. The honorable senator has not read the clause.
– I am only using the argument that the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) himself advanced. He now says that the Government would overrule the bank board. The bank board could turn round and say, “ We shall not take your instructions “.
– The board would have to accept the Treasurer’s instructions.
– I repeat that I am only using the Attorney-General’s own argument. I thought that I could take notice of what he had to say on legal points. I followed closely what he said on this matter. I find now, however, that when I take him up on his own argument, he wants to adopt another one. As Senator McKenna pointed out, owing to the changing world economic situation, it might be necessary at some time in the near future to alter our exchange rate. Supposing the board does not agree with the Government on that matter and an argument ensues; who will be able to get a rake-off by anticipating a movement in the exchange rate? Who are the members of the Commonwealth Bank Board to be? Are they to be representatives of wool brokers, exporters, and other sectional interests ? Will they have personal interests to serve? Knowing well in advance of the public that the exchange rate is to be altered, will these people not be inclined to take advantage of that knowledge for the benefit of the sectional interests that they represent? I agree with Senator McKenna that if the Government will riot tell us who the other five members of the board are to be, it should nominate a panel of fifteen members from whom the five are to be chosen.
– Perhaps they will be five wizards of finance - five housewives of Australia.
– Senator Robertson has come to the rescue of the Minister for Social Services and the Attorney-General. Whether she has inside information or not, it is difficult to say, but apparently she believes that the bank board may include five members of the Housewives Association.
– I did not say that. I said five wizards of finance - five Australian housewives.
– We must take Senator Robertson at her word. She has said that the five mysterious members of the board are to be five wizards of finance from the Housewives Association.
– I rise to order. I did not mention the Housewives Association.
– Order! The honorable senator cannot take a point of order merely to contradict a statement made by another honorable senator. If she wishes she may make a personal explanation later.
– I withdraw the remark if it is offensive to the honorable senator. Perhaps the proposal to appoint housewives to the board is the surprise that the Government intended to spring on us. We do not know. We only have Senator Robertson’s word for it. I thank her for letting the cat out of the bag. If what she has said is not correct I trust that the Minister for Social Services will deny it and give us the correct information. He should not let us be misled by one of his supporters. However, as Senator Robertson is a true democrat, I take it that she would agree that the five housewives should be elected by the people of Australia. That would be the democratic way. Assuming that five women were to be appointed to the board, could we find in this country five women who have had banking experience and were capable of determining the financial policy of this country? Would they be prepared to give first priority to the consideration of international monetary problems rather than to the price of rump steak or eggs ? I can assure you, Mr. Chairman, that members of this Parliament have been very appreciative in the past of the information that they have received from Australian housewives, particularly in regard to the prices of commodities and the cost of living generally, but national and international financial policy is another matter. However, I should welcome the five housewives if they were appointed to the Commonwealth Bank Board.
There are many reasons why the proposal to re-establish the Commonwealth Bank Board should not be supported. They are not just my reasons ; they have been given by men who have held much higher positions than I hold or the Minister holds. In the French financial crisis late in 1936, the Premier of France said -
The bankers beat me. They are so strongly entrenched that there is no hope for a popular front government.
He was referring to the bankers whose organizations were controlled by boards such as those mentioned by Senator McCallum. A distinguished president of the United .States of America, Theodore Roosevelt, said -
– Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– We have now discussed this bill in committee for more than an hour, but no Minister has yet attempted to explain any of the points that have been raised by Opposition speakers. I do not know whether that is due to lack of courtesy, or whether it is a new technique that is being developed by the Government. I hope that when I have concluded my speech the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) will pay me the courtesy of replying to the points that I have raised. Senator McKenna said that sub-sections (2.), (3.), (4.) and (5.) of proposed section 9a were practically identical with provisions in the Commonwealth Bank Act. Sub-section (2.) of proposed new section 9a reads -
In the event of a difference of opinion . . .
But the relevant section in the original act reads -
In the event of any difference of opinion . . .
I want to know why the wording in the bill now before the committee has been altered to “ a difference of opinion “ whereas in the other bill it was specifically stated, “any difference of opinion”. Are honorable senators to understand that there may be some dispute between the Commonwealth Bank Board and the Treasurer, and that the Treasurer may not regard it as sufficient to be referred to the Parliament? The clause in the original act provided no alternative. Any difference must be referred to the Treasurer and dealt with. An attempt was made by Senator McCallum and Senator Gorton to explain one of the clauses. I do not know whether honorable senators on this side of the chamber can accept the fact that Senator McCallum attempted to speak for the- Government as a tribute to him. I am not sure whether the honorable senator endeavoured to answer the question because of the intelligence that he gained while he was a member of the Labour party, or whether his effort was a reflect-tion on the inability of the other members of the Government side to answer the question.
– Is the honorable senator displaying the new technique- of courtesy ?
– I would have nothing to learn in that respect from the honorable senator who interjected. In the original act, a dispute could have occurred between the Treasurer and the Governor or the management of the bank. Then the Government of the country which is responsible for the monetary and financial policy would have accepted the responsibility and directed the bank. Under the amendment proposed by the Government, a board of ten is to be appointed and before the proposed procedure would operate, there must be some difference of opinion or a brawl must take place before the dispute will be put before the Parliament. When a report is eventually laid on the table of the Parliament it can be debated, but that is- all that can be done. Honorable senators can talk about the dispute, but no effective action can be taken in the Parliament regarding any decision of the board. I ask the Minister to clarify the position in regard to this clause.
, - During the course of this debate, Senator McCallum referred to an interjection in which I said that my attitude towards the establishment of a bank board wasthat, having been once bitten, I was twice shy. It might be of interest to honorable senators on the Government side to know something of the form of the horse that they are backing and in which they place so much confidence. I refer to the evidence given by Sir Ernest Riddle, who was then Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, before the Royal Commission on the Monetary and Banking Systems of
Australia. Sir Ernest Riddle was questioned by the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) and I quote from the minutes of the evidence as follows- : -
Mr. CHIFLEY. Do I understand from your answer to question 2 tha t your bank will not take a customer from a trading bank? - We take creditor accounts without any restrictions. In regard to advance accounts, if the banks are giving what we consider satisfactory service at a satisfactory rate, we do not interfere with them.
That is evidence that there was an agreement under which the whole fie1 el of creditor accounts was left to the trading hanks and there was an agreement that the Commonwealth Bank would not intrude on those preserves at that t:me. The report of the evidence continued -
Mr. CHIFLEY. From what has been said here, I take it your rate for advances is lower than that of the trading banks. Supposing a customer of a trading bank wants to transfer his business to your bank, would you refuse him? - Yes, we have given an undertaking to the banks that, if they maintain their reserves with the Commonwealth Bank, we shall not use those reserves in competition with them.
We were informed by witnesses on behalf of t)ie trading banks that there was no understanding with the Commonwealth Bank that if they maintained their reserves you would not compete with them? - We have stated publicly from time to time that we shall not use their funds in competition with them. We use our own bank funds, but not the banks’ funds.
Does that mean you have given them an undertaking that if they leave their reserves with you. von will not, in effect, take customers from them ? - We will not use their funds to take customers from them. The amount of money we have available does not permit us to compete largely with them.
The report of the evidence continued -
Mr. CHIFLEY. Do I understand that, if you did have funds available you would not make an advance to a customer of another bank nor allow him to transfer his business to you ? - There is no definite undertaking that we will not do it, but as a general rule, we will not. ] quote that evidence to show what was the accepted policy of the bank board prior to the introduction of the Banking Act 1945. I know employees of private companies and of the Commonweath Bank who loudly condemned that policy. The Commonwealth Bank had a wide field of activity waiting to be developed and all the necessary facilities and staff, but because of this gentleman’s agreement, the bank was unable to extend its business. Therefore I say that we must learn by past mistakes in considering the reintroduction of a bank board.
Senator McCallum said that a man who adopts that attitude does not show very great intelligence. I would say to the honorable senator that a man may be a fool once and make a mistake, but if he makes the same mistake a second time, he is really a fool. If honorable senators on this side of the chamber supported a measure which would lead them to make the same mistake a second time, they would be branded as fools.
I am convinced that the attitude of the Commonwealth Bank Board was to put the Commonwealth Bank in a position where it became purely a banker’s bank. Its function was simply to assist the private banks and leave to them the field that enabled them to return big profits to their shareholders. The private banks were thus able to exert the power and influence which is part and parcel of control of the economic system of the country. As the economic system is the life-blood of the nation, an organization that is in a position to apply a tourniquet to any portion of the economy has a power that should not rest in its hands, but in the hands of the people alone. I repeat that the old adage “ once bitten, twice shy” is fully justified in relation to this measure.
– I draw the attention of honorable senators to a statement by Senator McCallum. The honorable senator, who was a member of the Labour party in 1931, said that the difference between the old board and the proposed board was that the old board was independent of the government and the new board would be under government direction. Then he had the cheek to stand up and say that he had not changed his opinion.
– The honorable senator is confusing two different things.
– That was what the honorable senator said. He can pop up again if he wants to make another sta tern en t.
– Mr. Chairman, may I make a personal explanation ?
– Order ! The honorable senator cannot make a personal explanation while another honorable senator is on his feet.
– Senator McCallum said the difference was that the old board was independent of the government and the proposed board would be under the direction of the government. Yet he claimed that he had not changed his opinion. To-day the honorable senator is advocating political control, of the Commonwealth Bank whereas the party of which he is a member opposed political control in 1931 and did so again in 1945.
In my speech on the second reading, I said that I was opposed to the establishment of a board unless the Government could prove that the Commonwealth Bank had not been working efficiently under a governor since 1945. An attempt has been made by the Minister to prove that the bank was not working efficiently so that he could bolster his case for a board. When the Minister replied he said that the general trading bank section had gone back since 1945 and that therefore it was not as good as it ought to be. I have in my hand a complete review of the operations of the Commonwealth Bank since it began operations. Up to 1945, the general bank and central bank were not separated in the accounts. Since 1945, the profit made by the general bank has been separated from that of the central bank.
The figures that I have in my hand show that at the end of 1945, the central bank and the general bank were one and the total profit was £957,000. In 1943 they were separated. The central bank showed a profit of £670,000 and the general trading bank profit was £334,000. The following year the profit of the general trading bank was increased to £350,000. Before 1945, the general trading bank did certain mortgage work and that was not shown separately. The bank also did some industrial finance, but it was not shown directly. Two separate branches were set up and their profits were recorded separately. The Mortgage Bank Department made a profit of £25,000 in 1946 and a profit of £30,000 in 1947. The Industrial Finance Depart ment made a profit of £6,000 in 1946, the first year of its operation as a separate department/and in 1947 it showed a profit of £23,000. Now separate departments have been established to control the various activities of the bank. That being so, it is evident that the general trading section has made remarkable progress since the bank was placed under the sole control of the Governor in 194’5. I ask the Minister to place before the Senate the relevant figures for the years 1947-48 and 1948-49, and then we shall see whether he can justify his statement that the Commonwealth Bank has not done so well under the Governor as it did under the board. The Government must offer some convincing reasons why the bank should be placed under the control of a board. The bank is obviously efficient, and has done a magnificent joh while under the control of the Governor, as the figures indicate. We should like to know just why it is proposed to alter the method of control. We should also like to know why the present Government parties are now in favour of political control of the bank when they so bitterly opposed it in 1946.
.- Senator O’Flaherty must have misunderstood me. My contention is that the board which it is proposed to appoint under this bill is of the same kind as that which Mr. Theodore proposed to appoint in 1930. It is not the same kind of board as that appointed by the Bruce-Page Government. Under this legislation, the Government may appoint as non-official members of a board any member of the community. It is not specifically stated that the non-official members shall represent particular interests, although the assumption is that they will. In Mr. Theodore’s bill, the specific interests to be represented were actually named. In both Mr. Theodore’s bill and this one, the intention is that political control shall be ultimate, and not exercised over the day-to-day operation of the bank. I certainly have changed some of my opinions since 1930, but on the matter which we are considering I stand now where I stood then.
– I enter the fray at this stage only in order to avoid the charge of discourtesy. Apart from Senator O’Flaherty’s dissertation, the speeches of honorable senators opposite have been largely a reiteration of what was said during the debate on the second reading of the bill, and I was content that their remarks should be answered by those who sit behind me. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) raised two points. He asked why the word “ a “ in sub-section (2.) of proposed section 9a had been substituted for the word “any” in section 9 of the principal act. I understand that the draftsman believes that both expressions have exactly the same meaning, but he prefers the word “ a “. The Leader of the Opposition also asked what procedure could be followed after the tabling of the papers relevant to a dispute. The answer is that it would be competent for the Opposition to move that the Senate or tie House of Representatives, as the case may be, be adjourned to discuss the matter. A motion of want of confidence could be moved, or a motion could be moved expressing disagreement with the action of the Government. Speaking in reply during the second reading debate, I made the point that, far moTe important than any form of parliamentary procedure, would be the weight of an informed public opinion, which would make its influence felt upon the Parliament, and through it, on the management of the bank. The world has moved on since 1930. Now, banking is everywhere regarded as an attribute of government, and government rests very largely upon well-informed public opinion.
Senator O’Flaherty challenged some of the figures which I cited in support of my statement that the General Banking Division of the Commonwealth Bank had not progressed to the same extent as had the other departments of the bank. I did not claim that the General Banking Division had not progressed, but merely that its progress had not been so great. The figures which I propose to cite relate to the period from 1946 to 1949, and they are the relevant figures, because no useful purpose would be served by going back beyond 1946. Before then, trading conditions were different. From 1946 to 1949, the profits of the Central Bank increased by 45 per cent., whilst that of the General Banking Division increased by 25 per cent. The profits of the Industrial Finance Department increased enormously, and those of the Mortgage Bank increased by 43 per cent. The profits of the Rural Credits Department increased by 18 per cent. It is evident, therefore, that whilst the profits of the General Banking Division increased, the percentage increase was lower than in the case of other departments of the bank.
– Is not that an indication that the General Banking Division was giving greater service to the people?
– We are not going into that now. I do not think that it is wise for us to criticize the bank unduly. Included in the profits of the General Banking Division are the appreciable profits arising from the very large sum of money lent out for home building.
All sections of the community must have confidence in the Commonwealth Bank if it is to achieve the best results, and I believe that the appointment of an independent board to control the bank will do much to promote that confidence. Whether honorable senators opposite agree with me or not, I believe that from 1946 onwards the General Banking Division of the bank has suffered as a result of all the argument that has taken place about the nationalization of banking. Obviously, the Commonwealth Bank, as a national institution, must act as a buffer for the protection of the community should an economic crisis occur. It is only reasonable to assume that it will be able to perform its task more effectively if everybody has confidence in it; if everybody believes in it, and supports it in the very important decisions that it will have to make on behalf of whatever government is in power. I do not believe that control of the hank by the Governor alone would be as acceptable to the people generally as control by a board representing various sections of the community.
Much has been said about what happened in 1930. I am an altruist, and perhaps I have got things wrong, but I cannot believe that in any great national crisis persons at the head of affairs would not do the best of which they were capable in the light of the information available to them. It is now said that a wrong policy was applied in 1930, and I think that I subscribe to that view. I also subscribe to the view that, in the future, depressions can be mitigated or averted by government spending, and by the wise use of national resources, but in spite of all the advances made in the science of economics during the last twenty years, who is to say that we are right or wrong in the views that we hold now? There is no laboratory for testing economic theories. It sends a cold shiver down my back when I recall that the much-criticized policy of 1930 was fully approved by the professional economic adviser, who is the originator of the policy in which we all believe to-day. In a grave economic crisis, what we do we should do together. Everybody should have his say, but the National Parliament should have the final word. It should be able to seek, from a group of people in whom all sections of the Australian community have confidence, advice based, not only upon a technical knowledge of banking, important as that is, but also upon a knowledge of many other activities. I become impatient when honorable senators opposite criticize the persons who will be members of the board. I believe that every generation in Australia produces its great men - soldiers, lawyers and even parliamentarians. Surely no one will say that from this generation we cannot get the comparatively small number of men who will be required to serve on this board and in whom the whole community will have confidence. This independent board will eventually be established, because our side of politics is in power for the time being. If the political wheel turns in favour of the Labour party, as it may do some day, honorable senators opposite will then accept this proposal of ours, just as, over the years, we have accepted some of theirs.
Sitting suspended from 5.50 to 8 p.m.
..- I move-
That the Seventh Report from the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, presented to the Senate on the 26th October, 1949, be adopted.
From the printed copies of the report that have been circulated, honorable senators will see that the subject-matter dealt with by the committee is very vital. It concerns papers that are laid on the table in the Senate, over which every honorable senator exercises a watching brief. The committee itself has a more specific task. It examines in great detail the regulations, statutory rules and ordinances that are laid on the table. The fourth report of the committee was adopted by the Senate in 1938. It provided that the function of the committee was to scrutinize all regulations and ordinances to ascertain (a) that they were in accord with the statute, (b) that they did not trespass unduly on persona: rights and liberties, (c) that they did not make the rights and liberties of citizens dependent unduly upon administrative rather than judicial decisions, and (d) that they were concerned only with administrative detail, and did not amount to substantive legislation, which should be a matter for parliamentary enactment The committee applies those principles when examining documents that art placed before it. The present report draws attention to the requirements of various departments. Broadly speaking those departments have advised that they are adopting the recommendations con tained in the report. The one need that the committee sees is that the depart ments should put those recommendation: into effect rapidly. I believe the report that is now before honorable senators is a most important one. The fact that the papers coming before the Senate are examined both by honorable senators indi vidually and by the committee tends to prevent the rights of the Parliament from being abrogated by the administration.
Debate (on . motion by Senator McKenna) adjourned.
– I move -
That the days of meeting of the Senate, unless otherwise ordered, be Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of each week; and that the hour of meeting, unless otherwise ordered, be 3 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, and 11 a.m. on Thursday.
In view of the happenings on last Thursday and Friday I consider that the motion should be supported by every member of this chamber, irrespective of party affiliations. Unless the position in relation to sitting days be clarified it will be impossible for honorable senators to plan their week-end activities in the States that they represent. Honorable senators will recollect that even as late as 9.30 p.m. last Thursday the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator O’sullivan) was unable to state to what hour the Government desired the Senate to sit last Friday. It is true that the Minister had asked me previously for an assurance that the second-reading debate on the Commonwealth Bank Bill 1950 would be completed by 6 p.m. yesterday, which I declined to give. I was not in a position to do so. Prior to that we had cooperated amicably in order to prevent any dislocation of the working of the Senate. I point out. however, that the fact that nine members of the Government parties were absent last Friday indicates the need for the position in relation to the sittings of this chamber to be defined. I presume that Government senators who were present last Thursday and who left Canberra on Friday morning, would not have done io had they not made prior arrangements that were of more importance than the intended sitting of the Senate on Friday morning. It is true that pairs had been arranged for five Government senators, but that had no bearing on the position last Friday morning. As a matter of fact, the pairs were arranged because of she intended absence of honorable senators in each side of the chamber. The press references to statements by the Minister had nothing to do with the natter. At week-ends many honorable senators of the Opposition - perhaps more :han Government senators - meet workers in industry. That is the only opportunity that they have of interviewing them. Some honorable senators who had arranged to travel to distant States appealed to me on Thursday about the matter. However, when I asked the Minister to what time it was intended that this chamber should sit on Friday, he was adamant that he could not make a decision until he saw what progress had been made.
– Why is the Leader of the Opposition stone-walling?
– Apparently he is stone-walling for the same reason that the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) stone-walls in answering questions.
– Other aspects of the matter must be considered also. Approximately 27 honorable senators travel south each week-end during the parliamentary session, while eighteen travel north. Transport must be booked early in the week for those 45 honorable senators. Had it not been for an accident, as a result of which an aircraft that should have left Canberra on Thursday remained here until Friday, a number of honorable senators would have had great difficulty in getting to Sydney. I am sure that the Minister will agree that something definite must be determined in relation to days of sitting of the Senate. According to a press statement, the Government has accused the Opposition of obstructing and delaying the business of the Senate. I contend that the Government as well as the Opposition has a responsibility in this matter. Yesterday Government and Opposition spoke alternately during the debate on the motion for the second reading of the Commonwealth Bank Bill 1950. The Government did not evince any desire to expedite the passage of that measure.
– Honorable senators of the Opposition spoke for three times as long as did Government senators on that measure yesterday.
– I do not for a moment suggest that Government senators should remain silent. However, I make it clear that the Opposition will not countenance being gagged on important measures in this chamber.
– There is no necessity for honorable senators to be granted extensions of time on frivolous pretexts.
– Despite the fact that the Leader of the Government in the Senate moved a motion to declare the Communist Party Dissolution Bill an urgent measure, the Government has not shown any desire to get on with the measure. The bill in connexion with which honorable senators opposite desire friction is the Commonwealth Bank Bill 1950, so that in the event of a double dissolution they will be able to rally the financial institutions and the banks of this country behind them again in an endeavour to regain the reins of government. That is very evident.
Another statement appeared in the press to-day to the effect that the Minister had announced that the Opposition was desirous of preventing Government supporters from speaking on the proposed banking legislation whilst the proceedings of this chamber were being broadcast. It was very noticeable last week, that at times when the proceedings in this chamber were not being broadcast, Government senators did not speak during the debate on the banking legislation. However, they were most voluble yesterday. Each took his turn. It is entirely a matter for the Government to arrange when the proceedings of this chamber shall be broadcast. The’ motion that I have moved, if adopted, will safeguard the interests of both Government and Opposition senators in this connexion. The following statement appeared in the Canberra Times on Saturday, the 20th May : -
The move took the Government completely by surprise, and spot-lighted a deep-seated, bitter personal antagonism between the Government and Opposition parties in the Senate, which has been simmering for some time.
– Where did that come from?
– I do not know from where that report emanated. I should like the Minister for Trade and Customs to be perfectly honest and frank about the matter.
– I was about to inquire of the Leader of the Opposi tion (Senator Ashley) whether he had inspired that statement.
– From that report it would appear that a simmering has been taking place amongst supporters of the Government for a considerable time. According to the report in the Canberra Times, the Leader of the Government also stated -
The Leader of the Opposition (Senator O’Sullivan) said that those who cherished and appreciated the parliamentary institutions would deplore the petulant and obstructive tactics. . . .
I object to the accusation that I was petulant. Ever since I have been a member of the Senate I have tried to show respect to all those who have tendered respect to me, and I have been on the best of terms with the Leader of the Government and with many other members of the present Administration. I have not been petulant at any time. In fact, so far from being petulant, I have been chided on occasions by my own supporters with having been too sympathetic to our political opponents. Another statement that was attributed to the Minister is as follows: -
There is no foundation for lobby reports that the Opposition was taken by surprise by the resolution to sit. Last week I notified the Opposition Leader to be prepared to sit this Friday, but that a final decision would depend upon the progress made.
That is the position. The difficulty, however, was that we could get nothing definite from the Leader of the Government.
– Was not the statement of my position, which the honorable senator has just read, sufficiently definite ?
– As a matter of fact, the honorable senator adopted a schoolmasterly attitude and said, in effect, “ If you do such and such a thing we shall go on “. I have moved the motion standing in my name so that the Opposition, and also Government supporters - who, to judge from their absence last Friday morning, need some definite intimation of the sitting days - may be given definite information of the days on which the Senate will sit. I hope that on future occasions we shall not be placed in a similar position to that in which we were placed last Friday morning.
, - In the first place, I think that this discussion should be raised beyond personal issues. I am not disposed to allow any personal discourtesy suffered by myself to distract me in any way from doing everything that lies in my power to assist the Government to function in accordance with the best traditions of the Senate, and in accordance with the wishes of the people who sent us here. During the last ten or fifteen years we have witnessed in other countries the destruction and disappearance of legislative chambers whose members were once freely elected. “Why have they disappeared? It happened because the people who should have cherished them allowed them to be brought into disrepute. Their prestige became so lowered that it was not difficult for their enemies to destroy them. Do not let us think that we, in Australia, enjoy any special dispensation, or that there are not in this country people who want to discredit our Parliament with a view to destroying it. Despite what has happened I am still anxious to work in co-operation with those members of the Opposition who have a sense of their obligation to their country and to the electors to ensure that the Parliament functions properly. It is not a matter of personal pique and discourtesy. I am not prepared to deal with the matter on that basis. I will deal with it only on the basis of what is best for the people, who look to us to sustain and support the Parliament against those who wish to destroy it.
The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) said that some Government supporters absented themselves from the sitting of the Senate last Friday. I am not at all proud of the fact that the Government did not have a quorum here on Friday to enable the Senate to function. That is not a matter of which the Government is at all proud ; but there were extenuating circumstances. We thought that the Opposition was conscious of its responsibilities. Never in a generation would it occur to us that elected representatives, who are paid by the people to do a job, would lurk like errant schoolboys around the corridors when the bells were ringing, knowing all the time that there was important national work to be done. Whatever folly there might have been on the part of the Government supporters, I would say that their greatest folly was that they paid the Opposition the compliment of believing that they would not treat the Parliament with such scant discourtesy. To-day we had another illustration of the fact that the Opposition has no intention whatever of allowing the Government to function. Indeed, day by day, it is giving proof upon proof of its intention to obstruct the Government in every way possible. This morning I submitted a motion which is almost traditional in British parliaments towards the close of a sitting period. I challenge the learned members of the Opposition to controvert my statement on thi9 matter. I moved that Standing Order 68 be suspended. For the benefit of those honorable senators whose recollection of the Standing Orders may require me to mention it, that standing order prevents the introduction of new business after 10.30 p.m. The purpose of suspending that standing order is to enable outstanding business to be disposed of so that honorable senators may return to their constituencies. I assumed as a matter of course that my motion would not be contested, so much so that when you, Mr. President, called upon me to say whether my motion was formal or otherwise, I replied that it was formal. That meant, of course, that it could not be debated. I did not for one moment realize that the Opposition was so determined to discredit the Parliament that it would oppose my motion. The Opposition did not co-operate with me even in that small matter.
– How did the antiLabour parties co-operate with the Scullin Government ?
– Neither the honorable senator nor I was a member of this chamber when the Scullin Administration was functioning, so let us leave it at that. Those Government supporters who were present on Friday morning had no reason to suspect that members of the Opposition would behave in the churlish, childish manner in which they did behave.
The Leader of the Opposition also mentioned the matter of the broadcasting of our proceedings. It is true that the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Committee determines on what days the proceedings of each House of the Parliament shall be broadcast, but, unless the .Standing Orders are suspended, it is entirely in the hands of the present Opposition in the Senate to agree on what particular days bills introduced by the Government shall be brought before the chamber for debate. The second-reading speech that I delivered on the Communist Party Dissolution Bill 1950 was not, in fact, broadcast because the Opposition deliberately prevented me from moving the second reading of that bill yesterday when the proceedings of this chamber were broadcast. Of course, the actual merits of the speech that I intended to make do not matter. Indeed, I was nattered to think that the Opposition considered that it might be so powerful that they desired to prevent me from making it on a day when the proceedings of this chamber would be broadcast, and I thank them for the compliment which they paid me.
Adverting to the events of last week which culminated in a proposed sitting of the Senate last Friday being impossible for want of a quorum, I noticed that the Leader of the Opposition agreed that he and I did discuss during .the week whether the Senate would sit on Friday. During our discussions I pointed out to him that it was not so much a matter of the period for which the Senate actually met, as of how much business was transacted that would decide whether it would be necessary to sit on Friday. I also pointed out to him at that time that the necessity or otherwise for sitting on Friday was essentially a matter within the control of the Opposition. I told the honorable senator that if satisfactory progress were made it would not be necessary to sit on Friday. That statement was not an indication of a paternal, or dictatorial, or schoolmasterly attitude on my part. After all the Leader of the Opposition is not a schoolboy. I have a very healthy respect, both politically and personally, for the Leader of the Opposition, and I believe that if he had been a free agent in this matter we should not have had any trouble at all in coming to an arrangement. I am not under an obligation to consult my political followers in such a matter, and, in fact, I did not consult them before* I told the Leader of the Opposition that it would not be necessary for the Senate to sit on Friday if satisfactory progress were made, and if the banking bill were taken to the committee stage. However, I also told the honorable senator on that occasion that if his supporters continued to stone-wall and to obstruct the progress of the bill the Senate would meet on Friday. Members of the Opposition need not suggest that they were not driven to make lengthy second-reading speeches on that measure, because it was obvious that some of them were figuratively flogged to death, like poor horses driven to the point of exhaustion, in trying to complete extensions pf time secured for them. Some of them were absolutely flogged into the ground. It was entirely within the power of the Leader of the Opposition - assuming that he was not subject to the dictates of caucus - to decide when the Senate should rise. We are here to do a job, and unless we can agree that we can go a certain distance in a certain time the chamber cannot function. However, I think that two sensible people ought to be able to reach agreement on such a matter. In referring to us as sensible people, I am not speaking so much myself as for the Leader of the Opposition. I do not think that there should be any real difficulty in coming to a satisfactory agreement on such matters.
I am very disappointed with the Opposition, which, because it has temporarily a majority in this chamber, has seized the opportunity to insult me personally, and to discredit and belittle the Government. Honorable Senators opposite want to let the people know what big men they are. In effect, they are saying by their attitude : “ We have the numbers, and regardless of our duty, we shall exercise our petty authority during the fleeting time in which we enjoy that authority “. If they derive any .satisfaction from that attitude, they are welcome to it.; but I assure them that one of these days they will answer to an angry people. This is the people’s Parliament-
Senator Armstrong interjecting,
– On a previous occasion when #the Government was endeavouring to get the Senate to transact a little business Senator Armstrong said that he would not be a party to “ legislation by exhaustion “. The people o£ Australia will be interested to know how exhausted senators are because of the hours and days that they work. In 1944, the Senate sat for 43 days ; in 1945 for 57 days ; in 1946 for 42 days; in 1947 for 3S days; in 1948 for 39 days; and in 1949 for 32 days. In the current year, 1950, they have sat for 21 days, excluding the day of absenteeism, upon which I shall have a word or two to say presently. I repeat that so far this year we have met on 21 days - and this is the matter on which an angry and a disillusioned people will have something to say. For those sitting days, honorable senators on both sides of the chamber have been paid at the rate of approximately £47 a day plus £1 2s. 6d. travelling allowance. Yet Senator Armstrong talks of legislation by exhaustion. It is of no use for any of us to mouth platitudes to the people upon whom we rely for production, security, and the economic strength of our country. “We must, by our own example, show that we all owe an obligation to our country. Last Friday we had in this chamber one of the most shocking examples of absenteeism in the history of Australia. “When the bells were ringing for the meeting of the Senate, honorable senators opposite were running up and down the corridors like little larrikin boys “ wagging it “ from school. I repeat that I refuse to treat this matter on a personal basis. As Leader of the Government in the Senate. I appeal again to the Opposition to make this Parliament work according to the wishes of the people, and in terms of our obligations to those who have sent us here. I shall conclude by repeating a quotation that I made last Friday and which the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) omitted to mention in the Senate to-night. This is rather good. It is a quotation from a speech by Lord Jowitt, the Labour Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom, and T commend it earnestly to the Opposition.
Speaking in the House of Lords, Lord Jowitt said -
The risk of their losing the Second Chamber would be if that Second Chamber were to bring itself into fundamental opposition to the elected Chamber, and thwart that Chamber. If we get into that position or if we allow our Chamber to clog the machinery of Government, or if we disposed our Chamber to embark on controversies for the sake of ascertaining its own power, we shall have brought about the classical conditions on which we shall loose the Second Chamber altogether.
.- The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) began his speech by saying that he did not propose to deal with this motion on a personal basis. I do not look forward to the day when he decides to be personal, because throughout the course of his remarks, which were not to be personal, he hurled epithet after epithet at the Opposition. I do not view with favour the honorable senator’s effort to be completely impersonal and to deal with this matter on a non-party basis. Despite all his words and all bis simulated indignation, he has not told us whether he supports or opposes the motion now before the Chair.
– I have not voted yet.
– I realize that, but I believe that the Senate was entitled to an expression of the Minister’s view on the motion. Dealing with this matter, I, too, shall endeavour to be impersonal. Whether I succeed or not will depend somewhat on the degree of provocation to which I am subjected by honorable senators opposite. I shall endeavour first to pose the position that the Senate was in last Thursday night, and to show the consequences of the lack of consideration on the part of the Minister for Trade and Customs. The Minister has accepted full responsibility for what happened, and has admitted that he did not consult his own party before reaching a decision. Until late on Thursday night, no honorable senator knew with any degree of certainty whether the Senate would meet on Friday or not. On Thursday night, also, the Minister intimated in threatening terms that it might be necessary for the Senate to sit from Monday to Friday inclusive in future. Altogether the atmosphere that surrounded proceedings on Thursday night was most minatory towards honorable senators on this side of the chamber. Letus consider from the viewpoint of human relations what was involved for a lot of people in the Government’s decision to sit last Friday. Considerable embarrassment was caused to the officers of this Parliament who are charged with the responsibility of making transport arrangements for honorable senators. Each week, senators travel from Canberra to various other capitals and beyond. The journey to Western Australia and back has to be made between Friday and Monday. One full day is spent on the outward journey, and a full day on the return journey. Bookings cannot be made at short notice. The Minister’s sudden decision last Thursday night that the Senate should meet on Friday placed transport officers in a predicament. That is the first point to be considered. The second point is that airline operators cannot pluck aircraft out of the air at a moment’s notice. They must know some time in advance what passenger accommodation is required. It is most unfair to expect airline companies, at the last minute, to provide aircraft to fly honorable senators in all directions.
– It is unfair to the travelling public, too.
– I am coming to that. If unexpected bookings are made for honorable senators who wish to travel to various parts of the Commonwealth, it follows that members of the public who otherwise would have occupied those seats must make other arrangements.
– Hotel accommodation is also a difficulty.
– Yes. Untold inconvenience is caused not only to airline operators but also to hotels. I come now to another aspect of the matter. The Australian Broadcasting Commission is charged with the responsibility of broadeasting the proceedings of the Parliament. Until a late hour on Thursday night, the employees of the commission did not know whether they would be required to provide a broadcast of the Senate’s proceedings on Friday morning. They were faced with difficulties in connexion with programmes. When the Minister announced that the Senate would meet on
Friday, I asked him by interjection until what hour the Senate would meet. He replied that that would depend on the progress that was made. That answer was completely indefinite, and most unhelpful not. only to parliamentary officials, but also to the Australian Broadcasting Commission. To-night the Minister presented an entirely false picture to the Senate. He knows perfectly well that, apart from domestic arrangements, honorable senators have to fulfil obligations in their electorates to all kinds of people and organizations. Apart from a very brief break at Easter, the Senate has been meeting continuously for three months. Considerable travel has been involved for honorable senators both in visiting their homes and in attending to their electoral duties. The Minister was completely unfair when he listed the number of sitting days of the Senate for each year since 1944. As every honorable senator knows, there are executive meetings, Cabinet meetings and party meetings, which occupy the time of members of the Parliament. Speeches have to be prepared, and correspondence attended to. In fact, the time of every honorable senator is taken up for far longer than the normal working hours of each day. Last night, for instance, the sitting of the Senate continued until nearly 11.30 p.m.
I submit that the Opposition’s motion in regard to sitting days is a distinct improvement from the point of view of working time on the proposal that the Government itself has made. Sessional orders, made at the instance of the Minister, provide that the normal sitting days shall be Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of each week. The Minister himself has fixed the time of rising at 3.45 p.m. on Fridays. Therefore the Senate, under those arrangements, would work less than three full days in the sense that we understand a full day. The Opposition proposes that the sitting days shall be Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. That would give to the Senate almost four hours’ additional working time. That arrangement will meet the convenience not merely of senators, but also of officials who attend to the accommodation and travelling arrangements of honorable senators. If the Government considers that sittings on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and
Thursdays will not be sufficient to transact the business of the Senate, he has only to follow the practice that was followed over the years until last Thursday night when negotiations broke down. Ha has only to come to the Opposition and to submit his proposals to us. If he desires chat the Senate should sit on days other than those specified in this motion, I assure him on behalf of the Opposition, and with a full sense of responsibility, that we shall consider any such request.
In a sessional period lasting for three months, only two bills had been introduced into this chamber until to-day, when a third was forthcoming. We have disposed of the Child Endowment Bill, and the Commonwealth Bank Bill is now reaching its final stages. Until the third measure was introduced to-day, the Senate had no legislation in prospect for discussion. I repeat that in three months we have had only two bills on which to launch a debate. No blame for that can be laid at the door of the Opposition. It is not our function to introduce bills. The Government went to the people with a vast legislative programme, and, having laboured mightily, it has produced only three bills in three months, the latest as recently as to-day. I throw back to the Leader of the Government his comments on the events of last Friday morning. If ever the ineptitude of the Government was shown, it was shown on Friday in this Senate. There can be no argument against the proposition that it is plainly the obligation of the Government to keep a quorum in this chamber. Honorable senators witnessed the spectacle on Friday of the government of the day, with the whole of the Senate at its disposal, unable even to begin to function. That is a responsibility upon the Government, and not all the high words of the Leader of the Government can provide an escape from it. I fear that members of the Government have made many assumptions that they are not entitled to make.
The Minister referred to an incident that took place in this chamber this morning when he moved as a formal motion that the Government should be able to submit new business to the Senate after 10.30 p.m. By putting his proposal forward as a formal motion, the Minister precluded amendment or debate upon it. The Minister not only tied his own tongue and rendered himself inarticulate, but he also tied the tongues of the honorable senators on the Opposition side. In short, he presented to this chamber a very important motion and got himself into the position in which he was not able to say one word in support if it. Then the Minister sought to chide the Opposition with the fact that it did not pass the motion. The fact is that it was flung in their faces at short notice and treated as formal so that no debate was possible.
– It has never happened before in this chamber. I challenge the honorable senator to name one occasion on which he has debated such a motion.
– That type of motion has been opposed consistently in the House of Representatives in recent years.
– I am talking about this chamber.
– The Minister is talking about this chamber in which he constituted one of a minority of three when the Labour Government was in office. At that time honorable senators on this side had no difficulty in determining what business was to be transactedIn dealing with another matter, the Minister suggested that honorable senators on this side desired to keep off the air his second-reading speech on a bill that was introduced yesterday. I can assure him that that aspect of the matter did not enter into the minds of the Opposition at any stage when they were determining the course that they would follow. If the Minister will examine the proposal that was put forward by me on behalf of the Opposition, he will recall that I intimated that the Opposition would be prepared to proceed to the second-reading speech of the Minister to-day and that we would then seek an adjournment of the debate to the next day of sitting. I intimated that that would probably be next Tuesday.
If the broadcasting arrangements that have obtained in the past are to continue, and I have no doubt that they will because the Government has a majority of members on the committee which determines broadcasting time, not only will the Minister’s second-reading speech not be broadcast, but my reply on behalf of the Opposition next Tuesday, if the chamber sits then, will not be broadcast either. I return to the Leader of the Government the charge that the Opposition sought to keep him off the air with the information that we were also keeping ourselves off the air, and I inform him that the question of who should have the broadcasting time when the different phases of the bill were being discussed was not in the minds of the Opposition.
Senator O’sullivan imparted a great deal of heat into a debate that he claimed to desire to keep above a personal level and above party politics, and he concluded his speech by stating that the Opposition was seeking to insult him. If the honorable senator even thought of that, then his perspective is quite out of balance. When Senator O’sullivan was a member of the Opposition in this chamber, the government of the day entertained the highest respect for him. Now that honorable senators who supported the previous Government are in the Opposition, they have the same respect for Senator O’sullivan. They respect him as Leader of the Government in this chamber, but he has to learn to take some hard knocks without thinking that there is anything personal in what transpires. I should not like to see the Minister step down from the pedestal of high esteem and regard in which honorable senators on this side hold him. If the Minister feels that the things that must take place in the course of debate, ;md the manoeuvres in seeking advantages for the views that each side holds are associated with personal feelings towards him, he will fall in my estimation and in the esteem of all other honorable senators on this side of the chamber.
.- In supporting the motion, I wish to refer particularly to the fact that statements have been made that the actions of the Opposition have tended to discredit the Parliament. Allegations have been made in the press, and more especially the Melbourne press, by members of the Government during the past week, that the Parliament was being brought into discredit. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) insulted the Senate by stating that delay was taking place as a result of manoeuvring -by members of the Opposition, but a member of the Parliament who could be charged with wasting a whole day is the Government Whip in the Senate (Senator Wright), who moved a motion of dissent from the ruling of the President. Now the Government has charged the Opposition in the Senate with wasting time.
I had a peep into the mind of the Leader of the Government (Senator O’sullivan) when he said that honorable senators on this side of the chamber would discredit the Parliament. Honorable members in another place are not sitting longer than is proposed in this motion, notwithstanding the fact that there are 123 members in that House. The Leader of the Senate said that it was quite possible that we might lose this free chamber. I remind honorable senators that in another place the “ guillotine “ is used to prevent honorable m embers from speaking upon these very measures. The remarks made by the Leader of the Government demonstrate to me that the Opposition will need to be more wide awake in the future than it has been in the past. I am not going to concern myself with tactics, but while honorable senators are discussing three sitting days a week, I remind them that one honorable senator on the Government side suggested that the Senate should meet on six days a week. He asked a question whether it would not he possible to increase the days of sitting. I may be a little different from some honorable senators, but since I have been elected to represent Victoria in this chamber, I have not missed one sitting or one division, and I take strong exception to the actions of those who would endeavour to bring discredit on our parliamentary institution. Honorable senators must be careful in that regard, especially when certain leaders of political thought in Australia are attempting to dictate to the people what they shall do and how they shall carry on their respective trade union organizations.
Honorable senators on this side of the chamber must remember that they are in the majority. What time is given to the members of the Labour party in the Upper House of the Parliament of Victoria where they were in an absolute minority? “When a Labour Government was in power in the Legislative Assembly. Labour members in the Upper House were given practically no hearing. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber have to protect the interests of the people of Australia. By supporting this motion, honorable senators will be doing everything possible to conserve the liberties of the members of the Senate and the parliamentary institutions of Australia.
Senator HENDRICKSON (Victoria) [8.561. - There are very good reasons, I believe, why I should support this motion. Honorable senators on the Opposition side are as entitled to know the days of sitting of this chamber as are the members of the lower house to know when that chamber will sit. That is recognized in Canberra and in all the State parliaments. The Leader of the Government should be able to notify honorable senators on Tuesday or Wednesday of each week when the Senate will meet in the following week. Last Thursday evening many honorable senators had made arrangements to return to their respective States to attend to political duties, and if the Leader of the Government has no responsibility to the people of Queensland whom he represents, at least I believe that I have a duty to the people of Victoria who sent me here to represent them. The Minister said that if honorable senators discredited the Senate, we might lose our Upper House. I remind him that all the countries of the world that have lost their democratic rights of government have had anti-Labour leaders. Not one country has lost its democratic rights under a Labour government.
– Hitler was a socialist.
– The interjection reminds me of a subject that is uppermost in the mind of the honorable senator and that is Hitler. I remember some weeks ago when Senator Maher said that Hitler had many good qualities. I have yet to learn of them. At least I believe in Australian democracy and honorable senators on this side will do everything they can to preserve the rights of this Parliament. My mind goes back to 1942, when Australia was facing the greatest crisis in its history. At the outbreak of war, an anti-Labour government was in power, but because of internal intrigue and back-stabbing among its supporters it was defeated in 1941 in the House of Representatives, and a Labour government came into power, although the Labour party was in a minority in both Houses of the Parliament. When the war broke out, the Leader of the Labour party, Mr. John Curtin, gave an assurance to the then Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that the Labour party would give every possible assistance to the Government. No one has ever attempted to deny that such an assurance was given. When the Menzies Government was succeeded by the Curtin Government, Mr. Menzies, as Leader of the Opposition, gave an assurance to Mr. Curtin that he would reciprocate, and give every assistance to the Government. However, notwithstanding that assurance, the anti-Labour Opposition did everything in its power to frustrate the Government, and prevent the passage of legislation.
– And where was Senator Hendrickson?
– My son was serving in the war. I, myself, had served in World War I. Senator Wright, probably, served in neither of the wars, and in that Australia, I have no doubt, was fortunate. In spite of the promise given by Mr. Menzies, hardly a sitting day passed without the Opposition moving a motion of want of confidence in the Government, or moving that some war-time regulation be disallowed. The Government proposed to appoint a coal board in an effort to obtain more coal for the prosecution of the war. In order to carry the necessary motion, a statutory majority was required in the Senate. Senator McLeay, Senator Spicer, and some others will remember the occasion. At that time I was secretary to the Minister for Trade and Customs.
– Who was he?
– He was Senator R. V. Keane, a most honorable Minister.
– The honorable ^senator protests too much.
– I know what slur is intended by the representative of the master carriers of Tasmania. At 8 o’clock one morning, when the motion was being discussed in the Senate, our majority, Senator Arthur, was missing.
– Was he “ fu’ the noo “?
– Other people get “ fu’ the noo “ sometimes. If I were Senator Maher, I would not have too much to say on that point. The Minister for Trade and Customs said to me, “You had better find Senator Arthur “.
– Is this a serial?
– I am trying to show how absurd is the charge that we are holding up the business of the Senate. I went along to Hotel Canberra, and asked the manager whether Senator Arthur was there. The manager said he was not. I sent the driver of the car over to Hotel Civic, the manager of which said that Senator Arthur was not there, either. I then gent the driver to Hotel Wellington, and Senator Arthur was not there.
– I rise to a point of order. How many hotels is Senator Hendrickson going to visit? I submit that this pilgrimage from hotel to hotel has nothing to do with the motion before the Chair.
– It is not the province of the Minister for Trade and Customs to attempt to take charge, and say what shall be done. I am in control of the Senate. The Minister himself was given a certain amount of latitude. Perhaps I should have pulled him up sharply, but I allowed him to go on. I hope that Senator Hendrickson will connect his remarks with the motion, which deals with the days of meeting of the Senate.
– I rise to a further point of order. Am I to interpret your remarks, Mr. President, as meaning that I have not the right to take a point of order?
– Every honorable senator has the right to take a point of order. I have never prevented any honorable senator from doing so, and I have always tried to decide the points in accordance with the Standing Orders. If I were a martinet, I should be freqeuently calling honorable senators, including some Ministers, to order for straying from the point. I ask honorable senators to expedite the business of the Senate by keeping as closely as possible to the motion before the Chair.
– I am very sorry that I have aroused the indignation of the Minister for Trade and Customs. While I was waiting at Hotel Canberra after having been informed by the manager that Senator Arthur was not there, I heard his voice. Mr. Forster, who was in Canberra lobbying on behalf of the coal owners, went over to the desk to send a telegram. He said to me, “ You need not bother waiting here any longer. We have Arthur “. Unfortunately for him, by that time I had Senator Arthur in the car, and I brought him back to Parliament House. Those were the fascist tactics of the antilabour Opposition in this chamber. They were trying to bribe Senator Arthur, and had the money ready, so as to keep him out of the chamber, and thus prevent the Curtin Government from doing what was necessary to obtain the coal that was needed to make munitions for our boys who were fighting in defence of Australia. The Opposition spirited Senator Arthur to Hotel Canberra, where Mr. Forster was waiting with his hand out. The Minister for Trade and Customs is piqued, and is trying to treat us as if we were schoolboys. All we are asking is that he shall extend to the Opposition in the Senate the same courtesy that the Labour Government always extended to the Opposition.
– Soon after this session began, I suggested to the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) that he should consult the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) in an attempt to arrange a programme so that honorable senators would know in advance when they were expected to attend sittings in Canberra. Unfortunately, that was not done. It was only a little while before the Senate adjourned for the Easter recess that we were told when the adjournment would take place, and when the Senate would be called together again. If the Minister had acted on my suggestion, the difficulties which have occurred during the last few days would not have arisen. The Minister for Trade and Customs said that members of the Opposition had been flitting about the corridors instead of attending to their duties in the Senate. Some people would say that the Minister was an unmitigated liar. However, I content myself with saying that members of the Opposition were not flitting about the corridors. The Minister, apparently, does not understand the position, and because of his arrogance, and because he is so furious over what happened, he has made certain charges against members of the Opposition.
– Members of the Opposition conducted a sit-down strike.
– I have a vivid recollection of staying here until 7 o’clock in the morning because the anti-Labour Opposition, consisting of three members, kept the Senate sitting all night and Government members kept a quorum. They were Senator Foll, Senator Herbert Hays, and the late Senator Leckie. Senator McLeay was present in the chamber during the early stages of the debate, but later he went home to bed. On that occasion the Labour party mainrained a quorum, despite the delaying tactics of the Opposition. Nothing like that has occurred during the life of this Parliament. I have a rooted objection to wight work, and I shall do everything that I possibly can do to prevent very late sittings. I make no secret of that. 1 did so when the Labour party was in power. I feel very strongly about this matter, and that is the reason why I became a little cross on Thursday last when an honorable senator suggested that we should sit till 1 a.m. Incidentally, he bobbed up in his seat, and then he got the word to sit down and keep quiet. It is said that honorable senators opposite are not controlled in any way, and that only members of the Opposition are controlled.
– We are not delaying the passage of legislation.
– Neither are we. In common with some other honorable senators, I have been elected to this chamber by the people of South Australia. We have the right to state our view on any matter that comes before the Senate, and, if necessary, to submit motions. South Australian senators could, if they so desired, move the adjournment of the Senate, and that will be done if the Government does not answer some of the questions that we put to it. I want that to be understood. We are not controlled in that regard. Let there be no mistake about that.
The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) referred to a statement made by Viscount Jowitt in the House of Lords. I direct attention to the difference between the House of Lords and this chamber.
– I have noticed the difference.
– I do not think that the Minister does know the difference. If he did, he would not have referred to that statement. The House of Lords is a hereditary chamber. I agree that its membership is increased from time to time when, on the recommendation of governments, men are promoted to the rank of earl, viscount, or whatever rank a man must hold before he can become a member of the House of Lords, but its members are not elected by the people of Great Britain. The members of this chamber are elected by the votes of all persons in this country over 21 years cf age who are eligible to vote at Senate elections. While that position obtains, we have the right to stand in our places in this chamber and say what we think, irrespective of what this Government does.
– No one objects to that.
– I heard it said a little while ago that somebody would be dealt with because he had said something or other. Somebody asked whether somebody was “ fu’ the noc “. If personalities are to be indulged in, I can tell the Senate of something that has occurred in this chamber. It is remarkable that on the two occasions when the Minister for Trade and Customs has- become arrogant and tried to dictate to the Opposition regarding what it should or should not do, there has been a need for some bracings. It was because of the bracings that the Minister had that he became so confoundedly arrogant. Honorable senators opposite know as well as I do that that is correct.
– Senator O’Flaherty should be ashamed of himself.
– I do not like to say those things.
– I rise to order. The remarks of Senator O’Flaherty are objectionable to me, and I ask that they be withdrawn.
– They are objectionable to all of us.
– As well as being deliberately untrue.
– Order! Senator Kendall has said that the remarks made by Senator O’Flaherty about the Minister for Trade and Customs are objectionable to him, and he has asked that they be withdrawn.
– If they are objectionable to the honorable senator, 1 withdraw them, but I point out that they did not relate to him.
– They are not objectionable to me.. A “ souper “ could not be objectionable to me.
– I think it is necessary to arrange that the Senate shall sit only during certain hours and on certain days. Never mind what we have done in the past. The Minister for Trade and Customs referred to past sittings, but he did not mention that on one occasion the Senate sat from 10.30 one day until 7 a.m. the next day. That should be taken into consideration when comparisons are made. We should prepare a time-table. If we want further time in which to deal with a measure, let us, if necessary, sit for two or three weeks longer than usual. That would be preferable to making last-minute decisions to meet on a day on which we do not normally meet. I support the motion.
– in reply - Mr. President-
– The first thing the Leader of the Opposition (Senator
Ashley) should do is to dissociate himself from the remarks made by Senator O’Flaherty.
– The Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) should prevent his leader from making insinuations..
– Order! The Leader of the Opposition has the floor.
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has said that if the Senate i3 to function properly, the cooperation of the Opposition will he required. If the Government desires the cc -operation and assistance of the Opposition, there must not be one-way trafficIt is not usual to make up to a girl and to kick her in the shins at the same time. I regret the way in which the debate has developed, but the Minister for Trade and Customs and other honorable senators opposite must accept some of the blame for that. A few minutes ago reference was made to an interjection by Senator Grant. The Minister stated that he did not know where the honorable senator was at that time.
– I did not.
– The Minister did say that, and when he had said it almost every honorable senator opposite grinned or smirked. Great credit is due to Senator Grant for holding the position that he holds to-day. I shall defend honorable senators on this side of the chamber, just as the Minister is prepared to defend honorable senators opposite, and they are prepared to defend him. I regret that the debate took the turn that it did take, but I assure the Minister that, as far as I am concerned, there is no personal feeling. I have >a high regard for him. Whenever I have approached him, he has tried to assist me, departmentally, in every possible way. I appreciate very much the assistance that I have received from him while I have been Leader of the Opposition, but, as I have already said, when we are travelling a road together we need to help one another. The help cannot be all in one direction. I am still prepared to assist the Government, but I want consideration for honorable senators on this side of the chamber. Last Thursday I was chased all day by honorable senators from Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland, who were wondering what was to happen. Even at 9.30 p.m. on that day, I could not tell them whether the Senate was to meet on Friday. I was told that that would depend upon the progress that was made. What could I do? It was only by accident that we secured the transport that we needed on Friday. I hope that better arrangements will be made in future.
Question put -
That the motion(vide page 3176), be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown.)
Majority . . . . 9
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) agreed to-
That during the presentsession, unless otherwise ordered at 10 30 p.m. on days upon which proceedings of the Senate are not being broadcast, and at 11p.m. on days when such proceedings are being broadcast the President shall put the Question - That the Senate do now adjourn, which Question shall be open to debate; if the Senate be in Committee at that hour, the Chairman shall in like manner put the Question - That he do leave the Chair and report to the Senate; and upon such report being made the President shall forthwith put the Question - That the Senate do now adjourn, which Question shall be open to debate: Provided that if the Senate or the Committee be in division at the time named, the President or the Chairman shall not put the Question referred to until the result of such division has been declared; and if the business under discussion shall not have been disposed of at such adjournment it shall appear on the Notice Paper for the next sitting day.
Motion (by Senator O’Sullivan) put -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow, at 11 a.m.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown.)
Majority . . . . 9
Question so resolved in the negative.
In committee: Consideration resumed (vide page 3175).
Clause 7 (Establishment and functions of Commonwealth Bank Board).
– The clause before the committee proposes to re-establish the Commonwealth Bank Board. As honorable senators are aware, the former bank board was an obnoxious body that prevented and retarded the progress of this country. This afternoon Senator McCallum referred to the “Theodore Bill”. The measure that he referred to was one that was introduced by the Scullin Government. When subsequently that government sought a fiduciary issue of £18,000,000, the Commonwealth Bank Board refused to agree. Only one member of the present Senate - I refer to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) - was a member of the Senate at that time. He knows all too well what happened to the measure that was introduced in connexion with the proposed fiduciary issue. At that time the anti-Labour Opposition in this chamber had a 28 to 8 majority. The matter was referred to a committee which, after holding it up for nine months, failed to reach a decision. Senator McCallum implied that the position to-day in relation to the measure before the committee is somewhat similar to the position on that occasion. He implied, also, that, the Scullin Government endeavoured to alter the constitution of the Commonwealth Bank Board. Actually, because of the hostile Senate, the Scullin Government had no opportunity to do so. If my memory serves me well, at that time Senator McCallum was a staunch member of the Labour party. I do not know whether he supported the Scullin Government, or the Senate of this country in the handling of the Scullin Government’s business.
I remind honorable senators that the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) was called upon to convince the Liberal party of New South Wales that although the measure before the committee would not achieve all that that party desired, it was the best that the Government could hope to get through the Senate. Evidently the Government is just as mindful of what might happen to this legislation as the Scullin Government was about the possible fate of its legislation. Unless the Opposition in this chamber applies the lessons that were learned as a result of the action that the opponents of Labour took in relation to the measure that was initiated by the Scullin Government, it may be claimed that honorable senators on this side of the chamber were not very apt pupils. The Labour majority in this chamber has the right to assert itself in the same way as the then Opposition - comprising supporters of the United Australia party and the Australian Country party - asserted itself in 1931. I remind the committee that Senator McCallum was a grand lecturer in those days, and did much good work on behalf of the Labour movement. If the honorable senator is entitled to refer to the Scullin Government’s measure as the “ Theodore Bill “, the measure now before the committee should be called the “ Fadden Bill “. If the honorable senator wished deliberately to avoid associating the Scullin Government with the previous measure he should have referred to the Gibson Plan in relation to the proposed £18,000,000 fiduciary issue.
The press of this country has suggested that the Opposition is delaying this measure. What does that mean? I remind the committee that during the regime of the Scullin Government, the bill to which I have referred was delayed for a considerable period by the expedient of referring it to a committee.
– At that time many of our people were starving.
– The object of floating that fiduciary issue was to keep the farmers on their farms. That was a specific motion, but the anti-Labour parties which controlled the Senate in those days did not worry about the plight of the farmers, the small business men or the workers. It gave the Scullin Government scant consideration. To-day the anti-Labour members of the Senate accuse us of obstructing the business of this chamber. Actually, the debate on this bill was commenced last week, and I understand that the bill will be finally disposed of on Tuesday afternoon. Is that an unreasonable period to spend in debating a measure of such importance? After all, every member of the Senate is entitled to express his views on the bill. In the light of those facts, is not the complaint of members of the Government and their supporters that we are obstructing the progress of the bill mere cheap political propaganda? The Minister for Social Services, who has a good understanding of politics, must realize that members of the Opposition are entitled to take whatever action they think fit on any matter such as this.
– They are not entitled to make such assertions as the scurrilous, lying statement that was made by a member of the Opposition to-night.
– The Government is not entitled to take away my right to say what I have to say on any measure that comes before the Senate. I also resent the suggestion made by honorable senators opposite that the failure of the Scullin Government to prevail upon the former Commonwealth Bank Board to provide funds to relieve the widespread destitution in 1929 was a “ baby “ that Labour has to carry. The facts of the Scullin Government’s dealings with the old bank board were revealed by the late Mr. E. G. Theodore, who was then Commonwealth Treasurer. Honorable senators opposite know perfectly well the way in which the anti-Labour parties at that time treated the Scullin Government. Adverting to the complaint made by the Minister for Social Services a few moments ago, in the course of an interjection, that a statement that he regarded as offensive was made to-night, I point out to him now that anything that was said did not come from me, and I do not want him to endeavour to put words into my mouth.
When the bill is returned to the House of Representatives, after it has been amended by this chamber, I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to those amendments. There is nothing wrong with the bill except that it proposes to establish another board to control the Commonwealth Bank. Of course, that board will be a kind of mythical institution, because no one seems to know who will be appointed to it. All that we know of the personnel of the board is that the Governor and the Deputy Governor of the Commonwealth Bank will be ex-officio members, and that eight outside individuals will be appointed to it.
– That is not in accordance with the specific announcements made by the Government.
– But my statement is in accordance with the provision of the bill itself.
– The honorable senator should look at the second-reading speech that was made by the Minister when he introduced the bill.
– I have carefully examined the second-reading speech, but the only important matter is contained in the bill itself. Senator Robertson said that it would be a good idea to appoint five women to the proposed board. Whilst the appointment of women to the board might -be all right, we know that that will not happen. The individuals who will be appointed to the board will bethose whom the private banks decide shall be appointed. Indeed, that is the reason, why the board is to be established.
In the course of his remarks, theMinister in charge of the bill complained that the trading division of the Commonwealth Bank had not made the progress which the other divisions of the bank had made. I point out to him that, until 1938, the activities of the bank were not segregated into divisions. However, since the bank’s activities have been divided into the General BankingDivision, the Rural Credits Department, the Mortgage Bank Department and theIndustrial .”Finance Department, the hank has made considerable progress. It is unfair, therefore, to complain that the trading division of the bank has not made as much progress as the savings bank has made. In conclusion, I trust that the Government will accept the proposed’ amendment to the clause, and will permit, the bank to continue to progress.
– I address myself to proposed new section 9 (2.) and to sub-sections (2.) and (3.) of proposed new section 9b.. Sub-section (2.) of proposed new section 9 provides -
Subject to this Part, the Board shall have power to determine the policy of the Bank or of the Savings Bank in relation to any matter and to take such action as is necessary toensure that effect is given by the Bank or theSavings Bank to the policy so determined.
Whilst sub-section (1.) of proposed new section 9b provides -
There shall be a Governor of the Bank anil a Deputy Governor of the Bank who shall be appointed and hold office in acordance with Part V. of this Act.
The succeeding sub-sections provide - (2.) Subject to the next succeeding subsection, the Bank shall be managed by the Govern or. (3.) In the management of the Bank, the Governor shall act in accordance with the policy of the Bank and with any directions of the Board.
There seems to be some ambiguity and a certain amount of conflict in those provisions. I am eager to learn exactly what power of management the Governor will have. The first provision that 1 have quoted provides that the Board will determine policy in relation to any matter. However, the subsequent provisions enact that the Governor is to manage the bank, and that in doing so he is to act in accordance with the policy of the bank and any directions of the board. However, it is not stated who will formulate the policy of the bank. I should like the Minister to clarify that matter.
– I rise again to take up the matter of the comparison of business done by the trading division-
Motion (by Senator Spooner) put -
That Senator O’Flaherty be not further heard.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator T. M. Nicholls.)
Majority . . . . 5
Question so resolved in the negative.
Senator ARMSTRONG (New South Wales) [10.2’J. - I welcome this opportunity to state publicly my view on the proposals now before the committee. In the course of the second-reading debate, most honorable senators expressed clearly their opinions on the proposed reestablishment of the Commonwealth Bank Board. I too, fail to see any need to alter a system of control that has worked so well. The present system has been described as one-man control, but undeniably it is a mobile and fluid system of handling a great bank. I see all the portents of difficult economic times ahead, not only in this country but also in other countries. The Government has admitted that it can do little about the rising costs of living. Only last week, Professor Copland said that if the rising trend of prices was not stopped it would automatically plunge us into a depression. That must be avoided at all costs. The greatest cushion that this country has against a depression is the Commonwealth Bank, provided that its control is flexible enough to permit it to meet any situation quickly. I am certain that it would not be able to do that under the control of a board. Looking at the international picture, we find that in both Canada and the United States of America unemployment is increasing. In this country already there has been a substantial diminution of our secondary industry exports. Towards the end of the war, and in the years that immediately followed, there appeared to be every prospect of developing a strong export trade in manufactured goods. There was a world-wide shortage of those articles, and other nations were not geared to produce them in sufficient quantities. Our export trade did- expand considerably, but the latest figures available show that in the last three to six months, there has been a diminution of that trade. The continually increasing cost of living in this country, the shrinkage of foreign markets, and the high prices that are being received on overseas market for our primary products are danger signs. I have never forgotten the depression of the early 1930’s, which, I believe, was the greatest depression in our history, and I make no apology for frequently referring to the conditions that existed in Australia in those days. Unless we keep such things vividly in our minds, the chances are that we shall once again fall into the errors that we fell into in those days. Amongst economists to-day there is a strong school of thought that depressions cannot be avoided. People who hold this belief look upon depressions as part of the ordinary cycle of our economic life. They say that certain ills develop in times of prosperity, and that a depression is the medicine that isneeded to cure those ills. Included in thefive members of the bank board who sofar have not been named, may be somepeople who hold that view. They might feel tempted to deliberately encourage another depression in this country believing that the sooner we took our medicine the sooner would the upward trend begin again. That is a tragicapproach to our economic problems. It is a defeatist approach, but one that has considerable support. Learned, pedanticeconomists do not consider human relationships. An employment level of 25- per cent, is merely a cold figure to them. They do not translate such figures intopersonalities. They do not think of the men whose responsibility it is to keep wives and families. A growing countrysuch as Australia must not have any unemployment, and the greatest singleweapon against unemployment in the hands of any government, regardless of its political colour, is the Commonwealth Bank. Honorable senators opposite have accused the Opposition of stone-walling on this measure. I consider it to be the most important bill that has been brought before us in this session. Over the years, we have seen the ills that can develop from a wrong economicpolicy. We have seen the tragedy that follows in the wake of such a policy. Undoubtedly, the Communist Party Dissolution Bill is also an important measure, but what will be the good of it if, in the next eighteen months, we have a depression that throws thousands of Australians out of work, thus providing a most fertile ground in which communism can breed. Although that breeding will be underground, it will be strong. Inept handling of the Commonwealth Bank by a board may cause irreparable harm to our economy. We must take every possible precaution to ensure that such harm will not be done. In a Commonwealth Bani? that is responsible only to the government of the day, we have a.n institution that is workable and fluid. If there is conflict it can be resolved. The Government’s policy is the policy of the bank. The whole procedure is in the open. I am not opposed to a board just because it is a board. If the Government would be content with a board consisting of only the five men who have been named so far, there would be no objection to the bill ; but the nigger in the woodpile is the fact that the five outsiders may be apostles of disaster. They may include men like Professor Hytten, who believes that an unemployment pool is essential to a sound economy, or Colonel Baldwin, whom I mentioned in my second-reading speech as having described America’s present economy as ideal with 5,000,000 people unemployed.
SenatorWard. - Those are the men that the Government will appoint to the board.
– I am afraid that is true. Such men might be able to convince a Treasurer that their views were right. Many members of this Parliament believe that depressions are unavoidable. They are defeatists of the worst possible kind. Therefore, I consider that the proposal to re-establish the Commonwealth Bank Board is dangerous. I repeat that if the Government were prepared to have a board consisting only of the men whose names have already been mentioned, there could be little objection to the proposal. They are men that we know and whose background is familiar to all of us. We know that they are not defeatists. In such a board we would have the perfect mechanical means by which the Commonwealth Bank, which has grown to such great strength, could cushion whatever recession or depression we might experience. On the other hand, a board consisting of men who believed unemployment to be essential and depressions a necessary prelude to further prosperity, would spell disaster to this country. We owe a debt to the great masses of the Australian people. We are under an obligation to keep the manpower of this country employed. That is a small enough debt, but it must be paid. If men who are willing to work are denied that right because of the attitude of a bank board which believes that 4 per cent of unemployment is necessary to a sound economy, the great mass of the people will rise against the government that made such a situation possible.
Motion (by Senator Spicer) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator T. M. Nicholls.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Senator COOKE (Western Australia) [10.201. - Under the clause that is before the committee, it appears that the Government is trying to convince the Opposition that there is no material difference between the board that it proposes to set up and the administration operating at present under the 1945 legislation which was endorsed by the electors at the 1946 general election. Supporters of the Government have stated that the question is simply whether one man or a board should control the bank. I am not prepared to accept that. I think that the first move that the board made would lower the efficiency of the bank compared with its present management. The Advisory Council, which is to be abolished, has operated satisfactorily. Honorable senators on both sides of the chamber have praised the members of that council and none have challenged their capacity. Each member of the Advisory Council has a department to which he applies his specialized knowledge and he is responsible for results. He has no interest other than the protection of the people and the welfare of the Commonwealth Bank. Because of that, the efficiency of the bank has risen, its business has expanded and it has given better service to the country.
The Minister could not find any point on which to criticize the administration of the bank except that the general trading section had not advanced as fast as the other departments. The Minister forgets that as a result of its administration, interest rates have been lowered, better conditions have been given to clients and the general banking facilities available to the people have been better and cheaper. T know that the private banks have followed suit, but they have had to do so because of the competition of the Commonwealth Bank. The Minister said that there are times when no other bank than the Commonwealth Bank could operate successfully for the benefit of the country. In effect, he said that in time of war and national stress, the Commonwealth Bank is the bulwark of the national economy, but in times of peace it should be kept in a position where is cannot compete with the private banks or operate against their profitable business. The Opposition argues that if it is to be assumed that the Commonwealth Bank has a great duty to perform in time of war, it has an equal duty to perform during a depression when the private banks will not accept security, responsibility or risks. Supporters of the Government also claim that when World War II. broke out, the Commonwealth Bank was under the direction of a board. That is admitted. The board was able to get a gentleman’s agreement with the private banks that they would co-operate with the Commonwealth Bank for the purposes of a national effort and, in effect, to save the business and the assets of the private banks. But the private banks did not agree to that with a good grace. That was proved from 1945 onwards. They reserved the right to throw over all controls and remove any interference with the tactics that they followed when they failed the country miserably. During the depression the Commonwealth Bank was strangled by the private banks, and their influence on government policy was such that the right to live was taken away from, many wage-earner3 who were allowed to become destitute. The Government may have learned something but I invite honorable senators to study what the bill provides and see how shallow its protection of the people is.
– Order! The honorable senator cannot interrupt an honorable senator while he is on his feet.
– On a point of order, I beg to be heard. My point of order is that Senator Cooke, who spoke for an hour and had an extension of time in the second-reading debate, told us the same thing six times in the course of his speech, and is now telling it to honorable senators again. It is tedious repetition.
– There is no point of order. As long as the honorable senator connects his remarks with this clause he is in order.
– I quote the proposed new section that the honorable senator apparently has not read or he would not have realized how directly connected it is. Proposed new section 9 states - 9. (1.) There shall be a Commonwealth Bank Board, which shall be constituted in accordance with Part V. of this Act. (2.) Subject to this Part, the Board shall have power to determine the policy of the Bank or of the Savings Bank in relation to any matter and to take such action as is necessary to ensure that effect is given by the Bank or the Savings Bank to the policy so determined.
It is proposed to take the Commonwealth Bank away from the Advisory Council of specialists and put in the hands of a board that can take positive action, change policy and limit expansion. Previously, a number of experts, who have been praised by honorable senators, advised one man who took the responsibility of running the bank on the advice of the various experts on the Advisory Council, all of whom were responsible for the success of the bank and were employed full time by it. It is proposed to transfer control of the bank to a board. The majority of the members of the board would not be concerned about the success of the bank except insofar as they were board members. Their tenure of office would be very uncertain. It would not mean much to them if they disagreed. They could take action that would disrupt the Commonwealth Bank and escape with very little loss.
The bill provides that when there is a disagreement between the Treasurer and the board, the matter shall be brought before the Parliament. Are honorable senators on the Opposition side expected to accept that provision in view of the fact that members of the same political parties were prepared to remain silent while the Commonwealth Bank Board carried out the policy that it followed during the depression? Would they not do the same again and play into the hands of the private banks in a time of depression when the assets of the banks grow and the people starve? The Government has tried to vindicate the bank board because it showed a profit of ?1,000,000 during a period when people who had the same party affiliations and objectives were reducing taxation on high incomes. The Commonwealth Bank Board policy then was such that it would not extend the credit of this country.
– (SenatorNicholls). Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Chairman do now leave the chair and report to the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The Chairman having reported accordingly,
Senate adjourned at 10.30 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 25 May 1950, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1950/19500525_senate_19_207/>.