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Thursday, 14 May 1942

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - The Minister must make an unconditional withdrawal.

Mr Dedman - I withdraw.

Mr ANTHONY - I have made an absolute statement of fact. I have the Minister's speech to the representatives of the trading banks, in which he referred to a number of towns which, according to him, were over-banked. He cited figures which I have shown are a complete distortion of the facts. The result of his speech was the closing of three banks in the town of Murwillumbah. If the Minister says that that is an incorrect statement of the facts, I should like to know in what way I may correct it.

Mr Pollard - The honorable member has been agitating for man-power, and now that it is being provided he does not want it.

Mr ANTHONY - The experience of residents of Murwillumbah has, no doubt, been repeated in many other country centres. As the result of the Minister'3 declaration and veiled threat - I know that the bankers took his statement as a threat - three banks closed down in Murwillumbah. He stated in his speech in the House that two interests would be served by a reduction of the number of banks in country centres. In the first place, man-power would be conserved, and, secondly, there would be a conservation of bank premises. As the result of the closing down of three banks in Murwillumbah, six employees were displaced, but 700 accounts had to be transferred to the remaining banks in the town, which will find it necessary to employ four more men in order to handle the extra accounts. Those banks were already short-staffed, so there was a net saving of two elderly men. There are now three vacant bank premises in the town to add to the large number of empty premises to be found in most country towns. It is well known that business has declined in country towns which have not a military camp or a munitions industry in the neighbourhood. Yet the Minister says that good use could he made of the premises vacated by banks

I also draw attention to the statement by the Minister that a thorough reconstruction of industry, dictated by the exigencies of national survival, is now in hand, and that social and political objectives have no part in it, except that unnecessary sacrifices must be avoided. We on the Opposition side of the House should be much happier if we felt convinced that social and political objectives had no part in the present efforts of the Government and of the Minister in relation to war problems, but, the discovery that the exigencies of war are frequently used as an excuse to implement social and political objectives does not produce that degree of co-operation and confidence which the Government should have at this juncture. If there be any lack of co-operation on the part of the Opposition, it is and will be because of the apparent placing of political and social objectives before the real War objectives. I am not concerned about the banks as such, but I am concerned as to what is happening to persons in country centres who for many years have been dealing with those institutions. As the result of the closing down of some of the banks, many farmers who have been good citizens, but have not been able to reduce their overdrafts, have been unable to find banks that are prepared to take over their accounts. Consequently, men who formerly did their business with the local branches of the banks situated a few miles from their holdings, have had to transfer their accounts to branches from 60 to 100 miles distant.

The Minister has told us that plans for the re-organization of industry are being pushed forward very rapidly. I trust that, during the next week or two, he will increase the speed at which he has been working.

Mr Dedman - Does the honorable member refer to the plans for the reorganization of banking?

Mr ANTHONY - I refer now to the restrictions imposed upon the sale of clothing. Despite the self-satisfaction of the Minister, I suggest that he should take a walk through the department stores, or through any clothing establishments in the capital cities or country towns on any day during the next week or two; in order to ascertain for himself the result of his policy of restriction. No man engaged in a full-time occupation has the slightest chance of purchasing any article of apparel that he may require until real rationing is put into operation. The man or woman who does not happen to be on the doorstep of a clothing store within a few minutes of the opening time has no chance of purchasing his or her requirements. Will the Minister allow those conditions to continue until rationing is in operation? Will he be content to allow tens of thousands of working people, who are engaged in all kinds of industries from about 8 a.m. until a late hour in the evening, to be deprived of an opportunity to purchase the clothing that they require, whilst members of the leisured class have the first choice of the goods available? Is such a policy equitable? The Minister is in duty bound immediately to review the consequences of his action, and take steps as rapidly as possible to repair the injury that has been done to a large number of citizens. The Minister and also the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) have asked for the cooperation of the Opposition. The Minister has pointed out that the trade unions have rendered valuable assistance to his organization. A clothing rationing commission has been appointed, and it was announced to-day that the chairman is the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles), and that the other members are the honorable member for Martin (Mr. McCall) and Senator Armstrong. Why has not provision been made for adequate representation of the workers who will be seriously affected by the rationing of wearing apparel? The only member of the commission who could be regarded as an official representative of the workers is Senator Armstrong. One would have expected that a Labour government would have insisted on the majority of the members of the commission being representatives of the workers, but two of the three members have been selected from outside the Labour party. Is the party so lacking in able men, other than those at present engaged in ministerial duties, that the Government was afraid to appoint two of its own followers to the commission, but selected two outcasts from the United Australia party? Will the Minister inform .the House of the reason which actuated him in recommending the appointment of two nonLabour members, and only one member of the Labour party to such an important commission, which should have had a preponderance of government representatives ?

Mr Chifley - The Minister for War Organization of Industry is not in charge of rationing. He made no recommendation regarding the matter.

Mr ANTHONY - I remind the Treasurer that I directed my question not only to the Minister for War Organization of Industry, but also to the Prime Minister. I am surprised to learn that the Minister for War Organization of Industry is not also in charge of rationing, because it would seem to be part and parcel of his duties; but if he is not in* charge of rationing, I can assure him that we on this side of the House feel much happier about it.

I should also like to ask the Minister for War Organization of Industry whether there is any collaboration between his department, the Department of Labour and National Service, and the Department of the Army regarding the calling-up of men employed in private industry? Does he know whether the Army can absorb, equip and train the men as rapidly as they are being called up? Would it not be better, in some instances, if the men were allowed to remain in their jobs producing something useful until the Army was in a position to use them effectively? I have reason to believe that, in the military camps, many men are standing around who, for a number of reasons, are not being trained. I should like to know whether there is proper co-ordination between the various departments, or whether each pursues its own way without reference to the others. The department carrying the imposing title of War Organization of Industry should take the initiative in bringing about the necessary coordination.

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