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Thursday, 5 March 1942

Mr FALSTEIN (Watson) .- Honorable members opposite have struck a new " high " in lowness. On the pretext of speaking on a loan bill, they have made an attack on the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward). If this bill had not come before the House, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) intended to move the adjournment to discuss whether or not that Minister should continue in the Cabinet. By their conduct in this debate, Opposition members have proved not that the Minister should resign, but rather, their own unfitness to represent the people in the Parliament at this grave time. I think it was the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) who said that there was no substance in the criticism of the shipment of pig iron to Japan. I shall not discuss that matter, but I shall direct attention to something else. While the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) was reciting to the House what was said by the Minister for Labour and National Service -as member for East Sydney in 1936, namely, that he would not fight against German workers in a war, I had lively recollections that in the same year the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), when he returned from Germany, greatly praised Hitler's administration and said that what Australia needed was a leader, which is the English translation of " Fuhrer ".

Mr SPEAKER (Hon W M Nairn -Order ! The question before the House is whether this bill should be read a second time. I shall disallow any further references to persons.

Mr FALSTEIN - In the debate it was said that it would be a bad thing if the Commonwealth Bank was to be the only bank to survive this war. I put it to honorable members opposite that the Commonwealth Bank is more than a bank. It is an instrument with which to prosecute the war.

Mr Archie Cameron - It is more than that; it is the honorable member's office at present.

Mr FALSTEIN - My only wish is that all members of the community could share equally with members of the Commonwealth Bank their privileges and what is permitted to them during the course of this war. I was saying that the Commonwealth Bank is not only a bank, but also an instrument with which to prosecute the war. We, as a Labour party, having regard to our policy, must so fashion and sharpen that instrument that it will be the most effective weapon that we can procure on the financial side.

I have drawn the attention of the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) on two occasions through the medium of questions to the fact that, although the Government sees fit to continue its policy of borrowing from the public purse, nevertheless some persons are still being paid a commission of 5s. per cent. in respect of applications made by their clients. Those who benefit from this commission are banks, large insurance companies and stockbrokers. Simple mathematical calculation shows that in respect of the £100,000,000 conversion loan recently floated, the commission of 5s. per cent. would mean that the Commonwealth Government might be liable to pay a sum not exceeding £250,000. A contribution of £250,000 to this loan would be most substantial But still this practice is being continued and, although the Treasurer has said that he proposes to review it in respect of future loans, none theless the Commonwealth might be obliged to pay in respect of the present loan a sum of £100,000. If a firm of stockbrokers, for example, J. B. Were and Son, which acts for people like the Mutual Life and Citizens Assurance Company Limited, and the Bank of New South Wales, which make very large contributions, are to be paid 5s. per cent. on every application, which is merely a written piece of paper lodged with the Commonwealth Bank, it means that they will be paid many thousands of pounds for very little work indeed. I do not regard such expenditure as proper in respect of either the raising of loans or the prosecution of the war. The 5s. per cent. is over and above amounts authorized for expenditure on advertising, radio, and other publicity.

In supporting the principle enunciated this afternoon by the Minister for Labour and National Service that war loans should be non-interest-bearing, I emphasize that it is a poor lookout for Australia if the measure of its people's patriotism is to be the percentage rate at which those who have money will lend it for defence purposes. The arguments of the Opposition fall quite flat when we remember that the money which the Government is seeking in order to prosecute the war is to provide for the safety of the very people who subscribe it. If war loans are to be looked upon purely as investments Australia is in a most unhappy position. The great majority of our people look forward to the time when all the money necessary for defence will be provided without argument, in order to give our men fighting in the front-line all the arms and equipment they need.

Mr McEwen - Does the honorable member favour voluntary or compulsory non-bearing interest loans?

Mr FALSTEIN - I believe that the people of Australia are now sufficiently appreciative of the peril of the country to spare no effort to provide the means to keep out of our land the enemies who are at present attacking it.

Mr McEwen - That is not an answer to my question.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member addressing the Chair is not obliged to answer questions.

Mr McEwen - It is a fair question.

Mr.FALSTEIN. - I regret that in recent weeks the Government has paid so much heed to views enunciated by the Opposition.

Mr Marwick - Our suggestions have been helpful, which is more than can be said of the remarks at present being made by the honorable member.

Mr FALSTEIN - I am debarred by a recently promulgated national security regulation from disclosing information made available at the recent secret meeting of senators and members. Otherwise I should be able to show clearly who are being helpful to Australia's cause and who are hindering it.

Much has been said to-day concerning the financial views of the Minister for Labour and National Service. It has been stated that if his policy were adopted Australia would be divided. It might be a good thing if Australia were divided on such an issue, for it would show us clearly which of the people were anxious for an all-in war effort and which were not. I believe that the division would be in the ratio of 97 per cent. for and 3 per cent. against. Included in that 3 per cent. would be the members of the Opposition and their friends.

Some suggestion has been made in this debate that private members who have been appointed to assist certain Ministers in their administrative work are receiving large amounts in remuneration for such service. That suggestion was made by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) among others. The fact is that they are not receiving any remuneration. I have a most lively recollection that the committee system under which certain honorable gentlemen are receiving fees was introduced and sponsored by the present Opposition when in office. I am happy to say that I am not, and have not been, a member of any committee.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member is now introducing party politics.

Mr FALSTEIN - In any case, members of all parties in the Parliament are benefiting by the payment of fees to committee members.

Two ideas have been specially emphasized by honorable gentlemen opposite in connexion with this bill. The first is that the Government's financial policy tends to inflation; and the second is that the principles enunciated by the Minister for Labour and National Service are communistic. The honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) described the Minister's speech as " a new communist manifesto ". In doing so the honorable gentleman was playing the game of party politics at its hardest.

As to the suggestion of inflation, I remind the House that this Government is being advised by the identical financial advisers who advised the previous Government. Honorable gentlemen opposite have done a great deal, by their utterances to-day, to disturb the financial stability of the country.

As to the suggestion that the speech of the Minister for Labour and National Service was, in effect, a new communist manifesto I say frankly to honorable gentlemen opposite that I do not know, nor do I care, whether the communist system is good or bad; but I am convinced that the Communists of Soviet Russia, in being prepared to die for their system of government, have rendered a great service to Australia. We ought to be most thankful for what they have done.

Mr Marwick - Communists are patriots in Russia, but traitors in Australia.

Mr Pollard - For how long has the honorable member for Swan recognized the Soviet Communists as patriots?

Mr Marwick - For many years.

Mr FALSTEIN - We in Australia are greatly indebted to the people of Soviet Russia for the splendid way in which they have maintained their resistance to aggression. It is probably true, as has been stated by Sir Stafford Cripps, the new Leader of the Government in the British House of Commons, that the war will be won primarily because of the magnificent stand of Russia against the German forces.

Mr.JOLLY (Lilley) [9.7].- In addressing myself to this bill, I begin by assuring the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) that I intend to support the measure. I listened with interest to the honorable gentleman's speech, but, at its conclusion, I was unable to tell whether he favoured the bill or not. Parliament, of course, has already approved of the raising of this loan, for it was envisaged in the budget proposals agreed to last year. I believe that the people of Australia will wholeheartedly support the loan, for they are anxious that a maximum war effort shall be made, and are fully prepared to foot the bill. I assume that the interest rates on this loan will not be higher than those applicable to the Liberty Loan now being floated, namely, 2½ per cent. for the short period and 3¼ per cent. for the long period. We all would be interested to know the proportions of applications for the long and short periods respectively in the Liberty Loan.

It is gratifying to know that interest rates to-day are just about half what they were on loans raised during the last war. No other costs in connexion with the war have shown such a large percentage reduction. In this respect, Australia is in step with Great Britain. We are apt to overlook the fact that persons who invest their money in war loans are accepting a greater reduction of income than persons who are assisting in any other war activity.

Mr Morgan - Does the honorable member believe that interest rates should be even lower than they are?

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