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Wednesday, 6 May 1942

Mr SPOONER (Robertson) .- in reply- It may be found in the future that the debate this evening has been of great value to Australia. I welcome the remarks of the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin). I see no reason why statements of the trading banks, as well as the statements of the Commonwealth Bank, should not be submitted more regularly to Parliament, so that honorable members may be able to take an over-all view of the important subject of finance, which goes to the root of the economic wellbeing of the nation. The suggestion of the Prime Minister is an excellent one. In my previous observations I made no reference to the private banks, because their position is, in a measure, a matter of concern between themselves and their shareholders or depositors. The position of the Commonwealth Bank is a matter of wide national concern. It greatly concerns Parliament, and the policies that emanate from it. Regulations now provide that the surplus deposits of the trading banks shall be deposited with the Commonwealth Bank. In other words, the whole resources of the nation are pooled for the conduct of the war and to enable important policies to be put into operation. As the finances of the trading banks are bound up more than ever before with the position of the Commonwealth Bank, I welcome the proposal of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister suggested that the statements of accounts should be submitted to Parliament at half-yearly intervals. I have no objection to that proposal, although I considered that the information should be made available quarterly. I have no intention of asking the Treasurer to impose upon the Commonwealth Bank all the detailed work of closing its accounts, adding interest, and doing all the book-keeping work which accompanies the balancing of the accounts. The figures which the Commonwealth Bank and the trading banks will prepare for Parliament are taken out month by month, for their own domestic purposes, and the compilation of a summarized statement for submission to Parliament will not impose upon them any great burden. In a well-organized, well-conducted concern like a bank, these statements are tabulated at regular intervals for internal consideration.

Whilst I am greatly obliged to the Treasurer for his proposal, I suggest that he should not ask the House to-night to give an expression of opinion upon any particular form of account, because that requires consideration. Prom this discussion may emanate a small committee to deal with this subject and various phases of Australian banking operations. If only 2 per cent. of honorable members read, or are capable of understanding the statement, that will be our misfortune. Let us hope that in time, the 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. will increase to 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. If that occurs it will be to the benefit of the nation.

I do not wish my attitude regarding the position that the bank should occupy towards the government of the day to be misunderstood. In my opinion, the bank should work in harmony with government policy. " Government policy " does not mean necessarily that the Treasurer will interfere with the operations of the bank from day to day. At present, Government policy means war policy. The bank must support the Government's war policy. A few years ago, it was necessary for the bank to be behind the policy of the Commonwealth Government for combating the depression.

Mr Calwell - A long way behind.

Mr SPOONER - The Commonwealth Bank was a little too far behind the Government in its support of the depression policy. The Loan Council will need to devise machinery to compel the bank to keep close behind it in the solution of problems of reconstruction and development when the war is over. The Commonwealth Bank must be in harmony with the Government's financial policy. When the Australian people decide policy the banks should be the means by which that policy is carried into operation. I hope that the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) will not construe my remarks to mean advocacy of political interference with the Commonwealth Bank - I should be the last to suggest that - but out of this debate may come a greater interest in the finances of Australia and in the financial tables published from time to time.

Question resolved in the negative.

Notice of motion No. 3, in the name of Mr. Spooner, for disallowance of Statutory Rules 1942, No. 123; being regulations made under the Commonwealth Bank Act, called on, not moved, and withdrawn.

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