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Wednesday, 16 November 1927

Senator FINDLEY (Victoria) . - Prior to the last election the Government announced its intention of introducing a measure to provide for a housing scheme. For a period of thirteen months, in which Parliament sat for only three weeks, the Government had ample opportunity to formulate its policy and to prepare its programme for the present session. It had every opportunity to consult and interview those entrusted with the responsibility of controlling the Commonwealth Bank; but it was not until the Commonwealth Bank Savings Bank Bill and the Commonwealth Housing Bill were vigorously discussed in another place, and the former seriously debated in this chamber, that the Government showed any disposition to amend the measure. We pointed out as strongly as possible that, there was no necessity whatever to separate the savings bank from the general bank. We also said that as far as the Government activities were concerned its proposals would not bring into existence a solitary tenement. We- said that it was an insult to the intelligence and the capacity of the members of the board to suggest that their duties were so heavy that they could not hand over to certain specified authorities money which was to be made available under the housing scheme. I am disposed to think that the directors of the Commonwealth Bank were not consulted upon this proposition until to-day. It was rumoured some time ago that the directors were consulted as to whether they would or would not be able to give effect to the Government's housing scheme, and that they said it was not a function of a banking institution to undertake housing. That is about the only consultation that occurred. I have heard it said that some of the directors of the Commonwealth Bank hinted that they would resign their positions if they were forced to control the housing proposals which were foreshadowed. It now seems an extraordinary- development that a Government supposed to consist of business men should even give way in the slightest degree, and that we should now be informed that an entirely different policy is to be adopted. I understand that the directors of the Commonwealth Bank were summoned to Canberra. An interview between them and the Government took place here this morning, and after this eleventh-hour consultation they have said that they did not appreciate the full extent of the Government's proposition. Does the Minister expect the members of the committee to seriously believe that these astute commercial men, whose business it is to understand propositions of this kind, were not aware of the actual position. They understood the provisions of the bill as did every member of the Government, and there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the directors told the members of the Government to mind their own business and not to separate the general bank from the savings bank. The directors, no doubt, told the Government not to appoint commissioners, who would merely hand over money to certain State authorities when the necessary State legislation had been passed. Apparently the directors also informed- the Government that, their duties were not too heavy to prevent them performing this task, and that they .are able to do the work. I am satisfied 'that they were willing and able to do it before this legislation was introduced. Let me repeat and !emphasize that what was expected of them in this respect was merely that they should hand over .money to the State .authorities for the purposes of the housing scheme. Under the changed conditions . I am satisfied that a commission will not be appointed. What does the amendment provide? That until commissioners are appointed the directors will do the work. That is what the members of the Opposition urged from the first that they were able to do, and would do, to the satisfaction of the people of Australia and in the best interests of the Commonwealth Bank. This change of front on the part of the Government is proof of our contention, and the Government now recognizes that our attitude was a correct one. I am glad the Government has seen the error of its ways, and has awakened to a sense of its responsibilities. I am glad that public attention has been focussed on its action. The people of Australia are becoming sick unto death of this Government's activities in the direction of appointing boards and commissions to undertake that which could be easily handled by the Government itself or institutions under the control of responsible officers. I am as certain as that night follows day that Savings Bank Commissioners will not be appointed, and that the mischief which the Government attempted to do will not be done. This is due wholly and solely to the efforts of the Labour party in this chamber and in another place. I am satisfied that the directors of the Commonwealth Bank will effectively carry on the work which the Go.vernment said they were unable to do because of their heavy responsibilities.

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