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Thursday, 23 June 1949

Mr SPENDER (Warringah) .- I shall make a few observations on this clause in view of what the Minister (Mr.

Lemmon) has said. It may well be that when the Shipping Bill and the bill to establish the Joint Coal Board were before the Parliament the financial provisions contained in them were not discussed or criticized. I shall assume that that is correct. But we are now dealing with a different matter in which the magnitude of the operation involved requiries that this Parliament shall exercise control over the expenditure of money in connexion with that operation. It cannot be disputed that it is proper that the authority should have power to raise money, nor can it be disputed that the money to be raised by overdraft should be obtained from the Commonwealth Bank. That is the policy of the present Government and it was the policy of the Opposition parties when they were in office. The real nub of the question is whether the Parliament is to have control over the total appropriation that will be made by the authority from year to year, lt is all very well for the Minister to say that sub-clause 1 of this clause is intended to deal with temporary finance only. It is rather significant that that method of finance appears in pride of place in the clause, and not as a subsidiary or auxiliary part of the main method of finance, which the Minister says, is to be by appropriations approved by the Parliament. Sub-clause 1 gives to the authority, with the guarantee of the Treasurer, power to borrow any sum of money, without any limit being imposed by this Parliament. That is the basis of the criticism emanating from this side of the committee. It is somewhat significant that the same course has been pursued in this legislation as was followed in the legislation to nationalize banking. It is not inapposite to say that when the banking legislation was before this chamber it was criticized because no provision was made in it for the Parliament to be called upon to approve an appropriation to meet the cost of the compensation of the shareholders of the trading banks. It is significant that that is the real method of finance that could bc followed under the terms of this particular measure. In short, there is in regard to the method of financing provided in this measure a very grave suspicion - it seems to me to be more than a suspicion and in fact a certainty - that the method adopted hy the banking legislation to provide the necessary money to give effect to that measure is being followed in this case, for we have had no indication that an appropriation message will accompany this bill. It appears that what the Commonwealth intended to do in relation to the banking legislation was not to pay compensation to the shareholders of the trading banks out of Consolidated Revenue or from loans, but to do so by increasing the credit base of the Commonwealth. That is exactly what can be done under this measure. I mean that it can be done theoretically, because we do not know what may take place. Theoretically the whole of the money required for this vast scheme could be raised by way of overdraft from the Commonwealth Bank. Since that is the country's central bank, that means that the currency of the country could be debased to support this scheme. I do not contend, nor do I believe that that will occur, but I am pointing out that there is no guarantee in this clause that the control of finances under this measure is to be exercised by the Parliament. On more than one occasion I have drawn attention to the steady decline of the prestige of this Parliament because of its loss of control over the public purse. If the Government is too obstinate to accept this amendment an amendment could be perhaps inserted in the bill, when it is before the Senate, to the effect that the authority shall, within such limits as the Parliament lays down, from time to time borrow money on overdraft from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. I do not believe that we should hand over to the executive Minister, who is in this instance the Treasurer, complete control of the methods of financing so vast a venture as this will be. If the Minister is correct in saying that it is intended to follow the normal course of appropriation, one may ask why an appropriation message has not been brought down in connexion with this measure. It is true that perhaps not very much will be done regarding the scheme during the. next twelve months, hut will the Minister give an undertaking that next week, or at least before the end of this sessional period, he will cause an appropriation message to be introduced? I have a shrewd suspicion that, magnificent as is this scheme, which has the support of all parties, the introduction of the present measure has been accelerated merely because of the forthcoming general election.

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