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Wednesday, 6 May 1942


Mr SPENDER (Warringah) . - I support the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Spooner) in his objection to these regulations. We have heard from the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) why the provisions of the Commonwealth Bank Act relating to the presentation of accounts and balance-sheets are now to be done away with. The relevant parts of the act, sections 18, 20 and 20a, are as follows : -

18.   The Board shall furnish to the Treasurer, in accordance with the prescribed forms, quarterly statements of the assets and liabilities of the Bank and of the business of the Bank, which statements shall be published in the Gazette, and also such other periodical statements as are prescribed.

20.   The Board, at least twice in each year, shall prepare a balance-sheet in accordance with the prescribed form and submit it to the Auditor-General for report as to its correctness or otherwise, and transmit it with the report of the Auditor-General to the Treasurer, and shall also transmit a true copy of the balance-sheet and report to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of tlie House of Representatives to be laid before the Senate and the House of Representatives respectively. 20a. - (1.) The Treasurer shall, at least twice in each year, prepare a statement of the combined accounts of the Bank and the Savings Bank in accordance with the prescribed form. (2.) The Treasurer shall submit the statement to the Auditor-General for the Commonwealth for certification as to its correctness. (3.) Tlie statement shall within 14 days of its being so certified, be laid before both Houses of Parliament if tlie Parliament is then sitting and, if not, then within 14 days after the next meeting of the Parliament.

These regulations provide that, instead of the returns prescribed in the act, there shall be compiled a balance-sheet which, together with the report of the AuditorGeneral, is to be laid before the Treasurer. Honorable members will note that it is not prescribed that these returns shall be placed before Parliament. I have no doubt that the sections I have quoted were inserted in the act because it was believed that Parliament was vitally interested in the affairs of the bank. As a matter of fact, Parliament is directly concerned with the profits made by the bank. As one who, for a time, held the position of Treasurer, F. believe that generous spending by the Commonwealth Bank has sometimes had the effect of depriving the Commonwealth of some of the profits which it might otherwise have obtained, profits which would have gone towards the liquidation of the national debt. It is no answer to say that only two or three members of the House ever look at the bank returns. It is enough if one or two publicspirited members capable of understanding the matter give it their attention. The only reason so far advanced for varying the existing arrangement is that 1,600 Commonwealth Bank employees have been called up for military service. However, the honorable member for Robertson has stated what I believe to be true - that the Commonwealth Bank Board has been urging since long before the outbreak of war the abolition of those sections of the act which stipulate that the returns be prepared. That leads one to the conclusion that the Bank Board is reluctant to give the information - not from any ulterior motive, but for a reason well-known to the Treasurer. "When I was Treasurer, I directed several requests to the Bank Board for further information regarding several matters referred to in the balance-sheet. It did not seem to me that the balancesheet had been prepared on a proper commercial basis. As I never received full replies to those questions up to the time when I left the Treasury I cannot say what the actual position is. I have heard nothing to justify the claim of the Bank Board that, because of a shortage of staff., it cannot prepare the returns required under the act, and I take the liberty to doubt the reason put forward for these regulations. Parliament should insist upon receiving, periodically, the information for which the honorable member for Robertson has asked. A balance-sheet by itself is of no value. I have looked - very quickly, I admit; - through the draft statement which the Treasurer has placed before me, and I say that it would not convey sufficient to the House to enable an intelligent debate to take place. The important thing is to have a balance-sheet and return, so that we may know the items in the balance-sheet to which the AuditorGeneral has directed attention; and we must have a statement of the current accounts of the hank in order to understand its operations. Without both statements, we cannot intelligently discuss the affairs of the bank. In fact, anydiscussion would be quite futile. I take strong objection to the affairs of the bank being more and more removed from the surveillance and investigation of Parliament, and I urge the Treasurer to accept the suggestion of the honorable member for Robertson. Unless we adopt such a policy, we shall have no data upon which we may properly debate the operations of the bank. No reason has been advanced by the Treasurer to convince the House that it should adopt the regulations in their present form, and I shall vote against them.

The honorable member for Robertson believed that it was important to infuse government policy into banking policyIn a measure, no exception can be taken to that statement. But if the honorable member had in mind that the policy of the bank should be determined in accordance with the political colour of the government from time to time, reflection upon the matter will, I hope, induce most honorable members to reject the proposition. It is of the utmost importance that general lines of financial policy should be laid down, as they are, to a large degree, in every budget. When I was Treasurer, I never found that the Commonwealth Bank Board was unwilling to appreciate the problems of the Commonwealth. It was earnestly desirous, within the limits of sane finance, to render all possible assistance. I refer to this matter for the purpose of forestalling any statement that the Opposition considers that political appointments should be made, or that the operations of the bank should be placed under political control. I reject any such suggestion. It is most important that the finances of the country should, to the utmost degree, be removed from political partisanship.







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