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Friday, 6 December 1985
Page: 3152


Senator TATE(12.46) —I have been somewhat disrupted in the flow of my remarks on this very important topic, but I am indebted to the Senate for not adjourning at a quarter to one as usual. I am making the very important point that one can have various indications as to efficiency, and the Commonwealth Bank measures up very well when one looks at its international ranking and its profit performance, given the fact that it is only in recent years, with restructuring undertaken by this Government over the last two years, that it has improved its capital basis and been encouraged. Indeed, this legislation is part of that encouragement and is more akin to some of the competitive forces that work within the private sector. Nevertheless, I am making the point that it is the quality of the staff that has to be acknowledged. The Australian Financial Review has made that point extremely well. I know that in Tasmania-and I speak for a moment as a Tasmanian senator-the employees of the Commonwealth Bank there are very well regarded by the whole of the Tasmanian community. They provide 167 services to Tasmanians at the latest count I was able to undertake. There are two city branches in Hobart and six urban areas are covered around the Hobart district. There are four branches in Launceston and branches in Burnie, Devonport, New Norfolk, Scottsdale, Smithton, Ulverstone, Queenstown, Georgetown and Cygnet. I have not mentioned the various post offices and I could go into the service centres and so on and so forth. Suffice it to say that the coverage in my home State is very extensive and well regarded by Tasmanians in all walks of life.

I am emphasising the efficiency aspect as one measure of the Commonwealth Bank's contribution to Australia in accordance with its charter obligations. It serves and contributes to Australians in a way that no other bank does in the building up of resources of all kinds. I could outline many instances. In fact if one looks at the very well presented annual report for 1985, one finds some of the more notable instances mentioned of the major raising of capital and provision of finance for major Australian projects. I could mention some of the more notable; for example, the management of the multi-option finance facility to cover the cost of the construction, launch and insurance of Aussat satellites and related earth stations and equip-ment, a momentous event for Australia and its communications.

It is also well known that as Australia's largest lender to local councils and other semi-government organisations, the bank finances most essential public services, including water, sewerage and electricity. One might also note the very interesting fact that in the scope of its undertakings in 1984 the Corporation was involved in the largest single bank loan agreement in Australian history, involving a $550m bill acceptance finance facility for an accelerated capital works program by the Government of New South Wales. It is probably well known that as lead manager, the Commonwealth Bank was involved with a group of major international banks in providing a facility of $US785m to assist Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd to buy back the farm by purchasing the Australian assets of Utah.

In reading the very interesting and well presented annual report of 1985, I also note the fact-and of course this is relating to the report of the year past-that despite subdued conditions for deposit gathering, the Commonwealth Savings Bank, as Australia's largest home lender, continued to meet the needs of borrowers, thereby contributing to the consolidation of high levels of activity in the dwelling construction industry. In financing the erection and purchase of almost 50,000 dwellings in 1984-85, the Commonwealth Savings Bank approved home loans totalling $1,925m-an increase of 15 per cent on the previous year's record. That is perhaps the aspect which is best known to most Australians, that the Commonwealth Bank is Australia's biggest home lender. I appeal to all those who have ever taken out a home loan with the Commonwealth Bank to protest strongly at the prospect of the next generation of home loan borrowers having to approach an overseas owned so-called Commonwealth Bank. What a misdescription and fraudulent labelling that would be, to have an overseas owned so-called Commonwealth Bank. I appeal to all home loan borrowers who have the opportunity to arrange mortgage facilities through the Commonwealth Bank to protest strongly at that prospect ever coming to pass.

I turn, as the Bill demands, to the Commonwealth Development Bank of which I am a great admirer. It is worth noting that the Commonwealth Development Bank is celebrating 25 years of operation and its total assets passed the notable milestone of $1 billion. It now pays tax into Commonwealth revenues. I would also mention that it has an after-tax profit of $10.5m, reflecting the Government's decision to remove the CDB's exemption from the payment of income tax as from 1 July 1984. I wish also to mention that the Commonwealth Development Bank during 1984-85 approved loans totalling $278m compared with $270m in 1983-84. I shall not go into the breakdown of that figure, except to remark that tens of thousands of primary producers and business enterprises throughout Australia have benefited from this service, unobtainable from other banks operating in Australia. That has to be emphasised.

Honourable senators will be well aware that the Commonwealth Development Bank is a lender of last recourse. When other banks and financial institutions will not assist a farmer, a fisherman, somebody in the primary industry sector, or a small business, the Development Bank looks to the future prospect of that enterprise and not so much at the immediate security. It takes a punt on behalf of the borrower and thereby on behalf of all Australians. If ever there were a fulfilment by the Commonwealth Bank of the spirit of its charter, it is here. I am proud to supplement that observation with the recognition of the considerable help the officers of the Development Bank give to similar development banks in the Asian and Pacific regions.

I return to the purpose of the Bill, which is to amend the charter of the Development Bank so that it can provide finance to a wider range of small businesses and primary producers throughout Australia. I see Senator MacGibbon nodding in agreement because I know that he sees this as a good thing and the Opposition is supporting the Bill in this respect. Senator MacGibbon, like the Government, is concerned that primary producers and small businesses get greater opportunities to obtain finance from this magnificent organisation.

I have made my strong plea that the community rise up in resistance against the privatisation mania that obsesses the Federal Opposition and some of its front benchers at the moment. I will not be distracted by some of the toing and froing and modifying that goes on in some of their statements. The fact is that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) made his position very clear on 28 August. It must be kept in mind as a signal to the community of the Opposition's political program in relation to the Commonwealth Bank. I for one do not intend to stand idly by to watch the dismantling and sale of this great institution owned by all Australians. I believe that the Commonwealth Bank Officers Association with widespread support from the Australian Council of Trade Unions Congress held only recently will mount a vigorous campaign of resistance. I assure the officers and managers throughout Australia, particularly in Tasmania where they are held in such high regard, of the support of my colleagues on this side of the chamber. I am heartened in the belief that we have the support of the vast majority of the Australian people.