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Wednesday, 29 November 1944

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) (12:12 PM) .The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) referred to a report by the War Expenditure Committee in connexion with matters he had submitted to it, affecting a man named Fitzpatrick in his electorate. It is true that a report was made by that committee to the Government. The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Forde) may know that the committee recently wrote to the Government asking what stage its consideration of the report had reached. It is now, I believe, about three months since it was submitted. I hope that the Government will not delay further the taking of such action as it may consider appropriate in connexion with the matters which the committee brought to its notice.

I endorse strongly the remarks of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) concerning the Government's proposed banking policy. I have the same realization of the seriousness of the matter and of the danger that lies in the use by honorable members of intemperate or extravagant language when dealing with the public concern that has developed in regard to the proposal of the Government in relation to banking legislation. It is said that the sheaf of telegrams and letters we have received is a direct result ofa campaign instituted by the private trading banks. Certain of those institutions - I do not know how extensive has been the practice - have made no secret of the fact that they have circulated what they call their constituents - possibly their clients - and have told them of their concern in regard to the projected legislation. The Government cannot have this sort of thing both ways. Only yesterday, the Acting Prime Minister told the House that, despite the attempts by a highly influential newspaper - which, he said, would be read by approximately half a million people in the State of New South Wales - there had been a very lukewarm response by the public to its suggestion that telegrams and letters should be sent to members protesting in regard to the coal situation. If it. be the view of the Government that the public does not respond readily to suggestions of that kind, we are entitled to interpret the protests on the subject of banking that have reached us in such large numbers, as an indication of the very real concern which the people are feeling. I impress on the Treasurer my conscientious belief that, whatever may have been the action of the banks, there is no doubt that, at present, there is a very real fear and concern in the minds of many people that the programme of the Government will have a detrimental effect on the banking structure of this country.

Mr Haylen - The bank-tellers write the letters on behalf of the bank.

Mr HOLT - The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) misunderstands the situation, if that is his view. I have had my share of these letters. Their contents clearly show that, whatever may have been the original prompt ing which the writers received, they have written them in their own terms so asto express their own views. There is no uniformity about their tone or their context. It is noticeable, in my case at all events, that by far the greater proportion come from women. It is understandable that women whose entire savings and perhaps the bulk of whose resources are represented by bank deposits, and who do not understand very much about the niceties of banking practice or the vagaries of government or parliamentary procedure, should be alarmed at any radical change that may be contemplated in respect of accepted banking practice. This is only one phase of the practice that has developed within recent months. The Government is following a very dangerous course when it indicates in this House vital changes of policy without proceeding forthwith to carry them through by means of legislation. Only recently, there was an announcement in regard to the acquisition of commercial interstate airlines. The Government acted very unwisely in not delaying an announcement on that matter until it was able to present to this House the legislation by means of which it proposed to acquire those lines. Then, there would not have been the hiatus, causing uneasiness, that we are about to experience between the announcement and the implementation of the policy.

Mr Forde - -The interstate airline companies were anxious to know whether or not the Government intended to acquire the airlines. They have been advised of the Government's intentions, and will be able to plan accordingly.

Mr HOLT - On the evidence produced, and from the discussions they had bad with individual members of the Government, the companies were under the impression that an expansion of their present activities would be favoured. My point is, that if the Government was in a position to make a clear statement it should have proceeded with its legislation forthwith. "Statements have been made in general terms, and it has become generally accepted throughout the community that the Government proposes to bring down in the course of the next sessional period legislation which will permanently and radically affect the banking structure of this country.

Mr FoRDE - The honorable member means a policy which will improve the banking structure.

Mr HOLT - I do not know what the Government has in mind, and I am not prepared, on the strength of the vague statements which have so far been made, to accept the proposition that any improvements will take place. If the Government has decided on the principles which it proposes to apply it should make a clear statement now. The Australian people are not prone to panic, and they can stand up to fundamental changes of government policy, but they are entitled to know what the Government has in mind. The people are afraid to-day that in place of the freedom which existed before the war to take a business proposition from one bank to another in search of financial accommodation, some other system will be instituted. There is a fear that the present satisfactory system by which a central bank exercises control over currency whilst private banks provide financial accommodation to private citizens will be replaced by a government monopoly directly created by the Government, and directly influenced by it. We do not have to go back very far in order to see how government-controlled banking systems have operated in other countries. For instance, when the Government assumed control of hanking in Germany, success or failure of one's dealings with the banks depended largely upon whether or not one was sympathetically inclined towards the Nazi party. There is a fear in Australia that with direct political control the banking service will be influenced by the political patronage which the client of the bank is prepared to show to the governing party.

Mr Holloway - I challenge the honorable member to show where that is evident in any letter which he has received.

Mi-. HOLT. - It is my own observation. If the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway) wants a letter on the subject I shall, as an elector, write him one myself. I do not. think that any political party should be placed in a position where it can influence the applications of private citizens for banking accommodation. The Government has a definite responsibility to the community to make known as soon as possible its policy on these matters.

I refer now to the overhaul of the National Security (Landlord, and Tenant) Regulations, which the Government has been considering for some time. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) told a deputation in February last that he would give consideration to a number of suggested amendments, and in June of this year he wrote intimating that six amendments would be put into effect. So far, however, no amendments have been made. I raised this matter during the last sessional period and the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs told mc that if the amendments had been promised it was time that they were made. I have since brought the matter to the notice of the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), and have had discussion with the Parliamentary Draftsman. I now bring the matter to the notice of the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Forde) for hi? consideration, because there can bc no justification for delay.

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