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Thursday, 14 May 1942

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) .- All of us appreciate the difficulties of the task that confronts the Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman). Some person has to administer this department and not every one can be an expert in the organization of industry. A Minister is not necessarily expected to be expert in the work of the department he administers. Under our system of government, the Prime Minister is limited in his selection of personnel, and has to place in appropriate positions such honorable members as he has at his disposal. It has fallen to the lot df the present occupant of that office to place in the position of Minister for War Organization of Industry the honorable member for Corio. I do not criticize that honorable gentleman on the grounds that he has not an extensive knowledge of either industry or organization. Similarly, I do not criticize the fact that the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Beasley), who is discharging his duties very capably, may not have had previous knowledge of the particular functions that he has to discharge. That applies also to the Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin) and the Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford). But I trust that Ministers approach the performance of their tasks with a receptive mind, and are capable of enlisting the aid of others and of weighing the various facts and representations placed before them. Unfortunately, many Opposition members consider that the Minister for War Organization of Industry lacks not only the necessary qualification of previous experience but also that receptivity of mind that is essential for the administration of such an important department. Judging by the criticism and lack of support of the honorable gentleman by Government members yesterday, they are of the same opinion. These observations are made in the hope that he will pay a little heed to the advice of those who are competent to offer it, and will not blunder into the commission of acts that may have not only repercussions upon the Government but also disastrous consequences to the community as a whole.

Mr Dedman - The honorable member is very concerned for the Government.

Mr ANTHONY - I am concerned for the administration of the affairs of this country in war-time, and the position in which tens of thousands of individuals have been placed during the last few days by reason of the lack of foresight displayed by the honorable gentleman. A wide experience of business, industry or organization was not needed in order to foresee the chaos that would result from his premature pronouncement in regard to restriction of the sales of clothing. At one time in the life of this Government, it was suggested that he might fill the position of Treasurer. Had that been fulfilled, and had he made a similar pronouncement in relation to finance, the rush on banking institutions would have been far greater than was the rush to purchase clothing. He would be well advised to seek the aid of men who have had long experience in industry, and are competent to direct him.

To a meeting of representatives of banking institutions on- Monday, the 2nd March, the honorable gentleman outlined a plan for the re-organization of their industry.

Mr Barnard - In a very good speech.

Mr ANTHONY - Provided that his facts were correct, and provided also that he did not distort facts. I am in a position to question the accuracy of some of them. I refer in particular to his statement in regard to the excess number of banks in certain country towns. He instanced Geelong, with a population of 40,000, which had eight trading banks and two savings banks. He contrasted that position- with the position of other country towns, one of which was Murwillumbah, in which I reside and about which I consequently have exact knowledge. He said that Murwillumbah, with a population of 4,500, had eight trading banks in addition to the Commonwealth Bank and the Commonwealth Savings Bank, or 572 persons to each institution. The honorable gentleman either was misinformed as to the position or deliberately used the figures in such a way as to support a case which otherwise could not be substantiated. Murwillumbah is the centre of an intensely settled farming district which has a population, within a radius of less than twenty miles, of 20,000 persons. Thus the eight trading banks serve not 4,580 but 20,000 persons, the majority of whom are small farmers. Nearly every one of these has an account with a trading bank, and a very large proportion is working on overdrafts. Had the Minister wished to make a correct statement of the fact3, he would have said that there was one bank for approximately every 2,000 persons, instead of for every 572 persons. That is quite a different story. I have mentioned the population in the municipality of Murwillumbah and the Tweed Shire. Those people are directly served by the banks that I have named. The Minister backed up his suggestion to the banks by a display of power, and threat. Although he has stated that he did not issue specific instructions for the closing of branches, it was well recognized that unless they took action in connexion with those places at which he "pointed the bone ", more drastic measures might be adopted by him; consequently, such branches were closed.

Mr Dedman - That is a lie!

Mr ANTHONY - I ask that that expression be withdrawn.

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