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Wednesday, 6 May 1942

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Prime Minister) . - The purpose which the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) had in mind in gazetting these regulations was to spare the Commonwealth Bank the labour of preparing statements which would not be comparable with the banking structure as a whole, and to confine the submission to Parliament of balance-sheets, &c, to an annual statement, so that it would be comparative with the information prepared and published by the private banks. Honorable members will recall that the Royal Commission on Monetary and Banking Systems devoted, an elaborate part of its report to the necessity for the banks to have a common nomenclature in describing their accounts. The commission also recommended that all the published accounts should mean the same things. The object was to ensure that Parliament would have available to it, in a clear and comprehensive form, the whole of the essential facts relating to the Australian banking system. So that recommendation was designed to achieve the very purpose that the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Spooner) has in mind.

The Australian banking system consists of a group of private banks and the Commonwealth Bank. For some years, the

Commonwealth Bank has submitted to Parliament quarterly statements of accounts, &c, and an annual balancesheet, which must also bear the certificate of the Auditor-General. The Government has no intention of interfering with the submission of the annual balancesheet. The purpose of the Government is to relieve the Commonwealth Bank of the obligation to make these interim statements, which have not been required of the trading banks. But the operations of the trading banks must be taken into account if Parliament is ever to view ihe functioning of the Australian banking system as a whole.

Mr Spender - The regulations, as drafted, do not provide for the submission to Parliament of even a balancesheet.

Mr CURTIN - The honorable gentleman knows that the bank must produce an annual balance-sheet, and I am certain that the regulations would not override the authority of the Treasurer, by order, to direct certain statements of accounts to be prepared. The Government is willing to consider the very reasonable case submitted by the honorable member for Robertson. In amending the regulations, the Government simply proposed to relieve the Commonwealth Bank of a burden on its clerical administration, which the institution has found, under war conditions, to be oppressive. Having regard to the report of the royal commission, I have only to say that any amendment of the regulations will be designed to impose upon all the banks in the Australian banking system the same periodical obligation to submit to Parliament their statements of accounts.

Mr Spender - The Commonwealth Bank is on a different footing from thai of the private banks, because we, as a people, have a direct interest in its profits.

Mr CURTIN - Yes; and the Treasurer has a very special interest in the profits of the Commonwealth Bank. The Government will consider the views expressed by the honorable member for Robertson and the honorable member for Warringah. Their purpose, I understand, is to enable Parliament to consider the whole of the working of the

Australian banking system, the place of the Commonwealth Bank in that system, and the relationship of Parliament to the system, not only as a whole but also in its several parts. Any amendment of the regulations to impose upon theCommonwealth Bank an obligation to present statements to Parliament must be accompanied by the imposition of an equal obligation on the private banks. Those documents would give to Parliament the fullest information. Knowing the problems of the Commonwealth Bank and the private banks in the present circumstances, we should not ask them to do this more often than at half-yearly intervals. Under those conditions, the Treasurer will consider the views expressed by the Opposition. But [ make it perfectly clear that, in view of the reasons given for promoting this discussion, any changes will be applicable to the banking system as a whole.

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