An Independent Queensland Regional & Rural
(Cairns... Far North Queensland)
MAKING THE COMMONWEALTH A BANKERS' BANK
Keynote address by Clyde Cameron to the Victorian Country Conference of the amalgamated Association made up of the former Australian Telecom Employees' Association and Australian Telephone & Phonogram Officers' Association held at the Clyde Cameron College on 28 April 1989.
Mr. Chairman and fellow Laborites:
The main thrust of my remarks tonight will be towards the role of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. But before doing so, I want to express a concern I share with a growing army of loyal and lifelong Laborites over the Hawke Government's attitude towards privatisation of public assets.
Only a few weeks ago Mr. Hawke made noises which suggest that he, at any rate, may still be toying with the idea of selling Australian Airlines and Qantas.
This may not be done in one fell sweep. It could be done in stages. Stage one, could be to continue the crazy practice of compelling the public to pay taxes to itself by taxing its own enterprises.
The next stage could be to deliberately starve them of capital by refusing them the rights enjoyed by Alan Bond & Co. to borrow funds for capital expansion.
And the final stage could be to then pretend that the Government is left with no option but to sell. Or, it could be to short-circuit all three stages in so far as Australian Airlines is concerned, by appointing a Chief Executive who will "co-operate" with its competitor instead of engaging in active competition with it.
There are more ways of killing a cat than choking it with butter!
In this way, deregulation could become another way of ensuring that Ansett Airlines would continue to receive such benefits of regulation as to be guaranteed the right to take government business away from the Government. It has an equal right with Australian Airlines to carry public servants while they are carrying out public duties. In fact, it actually enjoys a right to carry a percentage of the country's mail!
One might well ask, 'Just how stupid can a Government become as to tax itself and give its own business to its opposition?'
Ansett Airlines has already been given a 20-year lease on 50 per cent of our air terminals. At one time it was even suggested that the Government was considering actually selling the terminals to private enterprise! The terminals themselves have already been transferred to a body called the Federal Airports Corporation.
But is this just the first step towards actually handing over our air terminals to private profiteers?
Can we assume that bribery and corruption in high places is confined to the State of Queensland. Perhaps it is. Maybe the police, politicians, and public servants in the rest of Australia are lily white and as pure as the driven snow!
But if they are, they deserve the highest possible praise; because the temptation to place the interests of the rich and powerful above the interests of the majority is great indeed.
Leaving aside the possibility of corruption at the personal level by way of expensive gifts, overseas trips and meeting the costs of sending a friend's children to private schools, etc., there is the funding of the major Parties' campaign expenses by private entrepreneurs.
Television has lifted the cost of electioneering to unbelievable levels Mr. David Morgan, a former public servant, and now the Federal Director of the Federation of Australian Commercial television Stations, told a March meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, that it cost the ALP. $500,000 just for three seconds of voiceover and graphics in each TV Spot at the last election.
The total cost must have amounted to tens of millions of dollars. If we can assume that the Liberal Party is charged the same rate, we are entitled to ask, 'Who's paying; and why?' One thing is certain, the cost is not being donated by the ordinary wage and salary earner!
Before television, election campaigns were run for a tiny fraction of today's costs. In 1947, while I was still the State President of the Labor Party, the total cost of the whole State election campaign was £1,100. In earlier elections it was even less. But every single penny of those costs was donated by our affiliated unions.
The Labor Party of that period owed no favours to Big Business, takeover merchants, Media Barons and the like. But today's union donations are infinitesimal compared with that which comes from private sources who stand to gain from privatisation of public assets and other favours.
In fact, at a meeting of the Port Adelaide F.E.C. of the ALP. on the 9th of this month (April) 1989), the Hon. Mick Young, a former Federal Campaign Director for the Party, declared that union contributions now cover no more than 3 or 4 per cent of campaign expenses.
The rest must, therefore, come from donors who expect some favour!
Does anyone really believe that Alan Bond and his rich mate's kick into Labor Party funds because they believe in our Socialist Objective? Of course they don't! They do it because they know that he who pays the piper can call the tune.
But is there any way out of Labor's predicament? Public funding has helped; but it leaves the Party millions of dollars short of the amount it must now meet to fund a television campaign.
Yes, there is a way out. It is by eliminating altogether, the prohibitive costs of televising electoral material. If that were done, no Party would have to become beholden to the selfish and greedy demands of rich donors as is now the case.
The remedy for removing today's principal ingredient towards political corruption was spelt out by Dr. H.V. Evatt and the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party 33 years ago when Menzies first opened the doors to commercial television.
During the Second Reading debate on Menzies' Bill, the Caucus unanimously agreed to authorize its Leader to move a long and comprehensive amendment to ensure fair and just use of televising religious, educational, cultural, political and social organizations "to ensure that facilities were provided free of charge, on an equitable and impartial basis for the broadcasting and televising of matters of political or industrial controversy, or relating to current policies of national importance".
Dr. Evatt's amendment to the Bill had the full support of every Labor Member and Senator; and, I know present day Labor Parliamentarians, plus the Democrats, would do likewise if given the opportunity. In fact, there is an outside chance the coalition Parties might also support such a Bill.
A full report of that debate can be found at pages 1767 and 1998 of the Hansard for 1956.
Dr. Evatt was also concerned to see that trade unions had a right to have their case seen and heard via the electronic media. He pointed out that his amendment was merely preserving the provisions of a law that had been passed by the Chifley Labor Government.
The airways are the collective property of all of the Australian people; and as such, the people have the right, and the duty to demand that a condition of granting a license to use their air waves shall include the kind of conditions set down in Labor's 1956 Amendment.
A truly Labor Government will turn its back on the greedy monopolies which now dominate the media of this country.
I would like to know what assistance, if any, has been given to the major political Parties and / or the Leaders by, or on behalf, of Ansett Airways, Bond Corporation, and the many other Corporations that would benefit from privatisation of the people's property. I would like to know what donations, if any, were made to the Party or the Leaders' Campaign Fund by those associated with corporations which have already benefited by decisions of Government.
In all the 31 years I was a Member of the Labor Caucus, only one Leader ever offered Members of Caucus the right to see details of all donations made to the Leaders' Campaign Fund (commonly known as the "Slush Fund.")
That Leader was Bill Hayden!
I was one of those who took up his offer. In fact, he handed me all the documents and left the room while I sat at his desk and made a minute examination of all receipts and payments from the Slush Fund.
I assume Bob Hawke has followed the Hayden precedent. Caucus Members should know whether moves might be motivated by money.
Always remember: public disclosure of donations is not required to be made of donations and other assistance not covered by the current legislation. You will remember the Woodchip donation to the New South Wales Branch of the Labor Party.
But I very much doubt whether that was an isolated instance.
Each and every target for privatisation could be the pay back for favours already received or, it could be a deliberate betrayal of Labor's policies; crass stupidity; a genuine belief that the public has no right to be serviced by a bank or an airline that will give efficient service on a non-profit making basis; or, it may be for some other reason.
We must allow the circumstances to give the answer.
However, although every public asset owned by the Australian people is sacred to Labor voters, the Commonwealth Bank probably stands out as the prime example of a former Labor Government's determination to protect our people from being exploited by the private sector.
But even this great monument to the Australian Labor Party is now threatened. It has been reported that this Labor Government is considering a move to amalgamate the Commonwealth Bank with National Australia Bank.
In point of fact, the Financial Review of 19 April last year, reported that on the previous day, Paul Keating had addressed a Federal Conference of the Commonwealth Bank Officers' Association (C.B.A.) to head off opposition to a merger between the Commonwealth Bank and the National Australia Bank. The C.B.A. had a resolution on its books opposing privatisation of the Bank.
Promoting the merger option, Mr. Keating was reported as saying that this would not only shake up the Banks' operations, but would put it in the big international league, drawing major corporate clients.
The Conference, however, stuck to its previous decision and rejected privatisation, or the proposed merger, by 22 votes to two. It called for a union campaign to maintain full public ownership of the Bank.
If the Commonwealth Bank were to be lost, every Australian would be placed at the complete mercy of the private bank connivance and greed which in the year 1911, prompted the Fisher Labor Government to establish a Peoples' Bank with a charter to engage in full-blooded competition with the private banks.
It wasn't required to pay dividends or taxation, and continued to function that way for nearly fifty years. In fact in 1950, even the Menzies Government rejected outright a Liberal Senator's demand that the Government engage in the senseless exercise of taxing itself.
It is with great regret that I have to confess that the Hawke Government has allowed the Commonwealth Bank to remain in exactly the same position as when it took office -a bankers' bank! It is no longer the People's Bank, as former Labor Prime Ministers had insisted upon.
So, that's why the central theme of my address this evening will relate to the Commonwealth Bank.
But what I have to say about the Commonwealth Bank applies with equal force and relevance to Telecom, AUSSAT, the Federal Airports Corporation, Australian Airlines, Australian Industry Development Corporation, Medibank Private, Australian Shipping Commission, 0. T. C., Qantas, Pipeline Authority, Snowy Mountains Engineering Authority, Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, etc., etc.
Even the Royal Australian Mint could fall into a private profit making body such as Jaggard Mint Sales Pty. Ltd.
Those who are part of the plot to hand over these public assets to private monopolists will use every device and word trickery they can think of to make it easier for the true owners of these public assets to forget that they are the common heritage of every man, woman and child.
They will first use such terminology as "Corporation" in lieu of Commission in the hope that this will disguise the nature of the public asset and ease the pain of privatisation. The Commonwealth Bank is now called a "Corporation".
It won't worry the conspirators that as every new born baby opens its little eyes, it becomes a part owner of all these valuable assets. But Labor's National Conference will not allow anyone to snatch that baby's birthright from its little hands: Conference will decide whether the ALP. will remain a Labor Party or become a rich man's Liberal Party.
The Labor Party, as distinct from the Labor Government, is committed to the principles of Democratic Socialism which is not about profit and loss.
It is about right and wrong.
It worried loyal Labor supporters to pick up the Weekend Australian of 21 May last year, and read of Mr. Ian McLachlan telling the Rural Press Club in Canberra, 'I'm delighted, quite frankly, delighted with the ALP.' He meant, of course, the Labor Government, not the Labor Party.
To have a leading Conservative like Ian McLachlan praising a Labor Government is like Yasser Arafat telling the Jews that Yitzhak Shamir is the best Prime Minister Israel has ever had.
But why do members of the Million Dollar Club like Peter Abeles, Rupert Murdoch, Alan Bond, Rene Rivkin, Laurie Connell and Eddie Kornhauser support the Hawke Government? Or perhaps more to the point, why wouldn't they?
They support it because it has done more to help the rich than any Liberal Government has ever dared to do!
But allow me to now return to past Labor Governments.
The 25th day of October 1911, was one of the most important days in the history of Australia because on that day, a Labor Government introduced a Bill into the Commonwealth Parliament to give the people of this country their own Bank. It was the first time ever, that the people of any Country had been given their own Bank.
The Head Office of the new Bank was opened on 1 June 1912, in Stanway House, King Street. In his opening address, the first Governor, Sir Denison Miller, said:
'The Bank is being started without capital as none is required, but it is backed by the entire wealth and credit of the whole of The Commonwealth of Australia. It is intended to conduct business on sound lines - and at the same time extend every reasonable facility to meet the growing requirement of our trade and commerce and the development of our National resources.'
'Its success in the measure we hope and anticipate will, to a large extent depend upon the continued prosperity of the States of The Commonwealth and the support of the people whose Bank it is and in whose interest no effort will be spared to make this National institution one of great strength and there is little doubt that in time it will be classed as one of the greatest Banks of the world.'
Ben Chifley once gave the late Tom Burke and me an inside account of why the Tories put the Commonwealth Bank under the control of a Board endowed with the prerogatives of Government. He explained that this outside group was given dictatorial powers enabling it to defy the elected representatives of the people.
It had the power to frame and enforce policy contrary to that of the elected Government.
Mr. Chifley put it this way: He said, 'the powers of the present Commonwealth Bank Board are not based upon any principle of democracy; because democracy is an affirmation that, within the powers of the Constitution, an elected Government shall be supreme and responsible for the proper conduct of all publicly-owned enterprises.
The Board, he asserted, was a creation of Toryism; to act as an upper Chamber of veto against any elected Government that seeks to expand the functions of the Bank. He reminded us of the way the Tory Board of the Commonwealth Bank had arrogantly defied the Scullin Labor Government's wishes to provide an £18.million note issue to relieve unemployment.
The Board did nothing to develop the general banking business of the Commonwealth Bank. Instead, it actually retarded its operations. When the Chifley Government was defeated in 1949, the very first Bill proposed by the Menzies Government was one to re-establish a Board to control the Commonwealth Bank. And, in August 1951, the Menzies Government announced that top businessmen in the persons of Messrs. W. L. Anderson, J. W. Fletcher, A. E. Symons and G. H. Grimwade had been appointed to that Board.
I will now demonstrate how those four men were able to use cross-directorships and indirect directorships with representatives of Big Business and the private banks to fashion Commonwealth Bank policies and practices to suit the aims of their 26 business associates who sat on other boards.
Between them, those 26 business associates sat on the boards of 117 commercial and business enterprises.
These included such powerful pillars of private enterprise as Adelaide Steamship Co., BHP, C.S.R., Carlton & United Breweries, Elder Smith, Foster Brewing Co., G.M.H., Goldsbrough Mort, H.C. Sleigh, Herald & Weekly Times, I.C.I., News Ltd., North Broken Hill, New Zealand Loan, Repco and the SA Brewing Co.
Their companies also included numerous Trustee Companies, Insurance Companies and no less than five of Australia's biggest private Banks, namely: Bank of Adelaide, Bank of NSW., Commercial Bank, E.S. & A. Bank and the National Bank of Australasia!
Ben Chifley and the Labor Opposition opposed Menzies' Bill to put the People's Bank in the hands of the associates of Big Business. In fact, the 1951 National conference of the Party unanimously determined to pledge Labor Government to restore Labor's commitment to keeping the Bank in the hands of a Governor directly answerable to the people's elected Government. It directed the Labor-controlled. Senate to continue its opposition to Menzies' Bill to place the Bank under the control of a Board.
Labor Senators deferred the Bill; and it was on that deferral that the Governor-General granted Menzies his 1951 Double Dissolution.
But the 1951 election was not fought on the issue of putting the Commonwealth Bank in the hands of a Board; it was fought entirely on the bogus issue of communism and the Communist Party Dissolution Bill. Not a word was said about the issue that caused the Double Dissolution to be granted.
The Whitlam Government inherited that legacy from the Menzies era. The DLP which held the balance of power in the Senate, made it clear that it would prevent us from abolishing the Board and placing the affairs of the Bank in the hands of a Governor and an Advisory Council of officers of the Bank and senior public servants answerable to the elected Government. But that was no excuse for our action in re-appointing to the Board some of the Liberal appointees.
The first instance of this occurred in 1973, when Cabinet was asked to re-appoint Sir Brian Massy-Greene. I was dumbfounded to find a Labor Cabinet proposing such a step! And, although my opposition delayed the appointment, Sir Brian finally got the job.
Sir Brian's huge business interests include Santos, Hazelton Air, Pacific Dunlop, Commonwealth Mining, Dalgety, Mt. Lyell Mining, Consolidated Goldfields, Goldsworthy Mining, Bellambi Coal, Lawrenson Alumsac, Zip Holdings, Associated Minerals and Austral Bronze.
Those particulars come from the current issue of Who's Who In Australia; but Who's Who didn't include all of Sir Brian's interests, e.g. it didn't mention his links with the National Mutual Life Association and its subsidiaries which operate in some of the fields covered by the Commonwealth Bank.
But thanks to the Hawke Government, Sir Brian actual became Chairman of the Bank's Board; and remained in that position until he was over 70 years of age, when he was replaced by Morrish Alexander Besley, another Business tycoon.
According to Who's Who, Mr. Besley sits, or sat, on several Boards including Monier Ltd. and the AMP. Society. In fact, he was a member of the Business Council of Australia.
The other Barons of Big Business who now control the Peoples' Bank are G.H. Slee, J.T. Ralph, H.G. Schmidt and J.J. Kennedy.
It didn't take the Board appointed by Menzies very long to compel the People's Bank to dance to the tune set by the private banks! In less than a year, the Management was compelled to follow the dictates of its private competitors by charging a fee for keeping cheque accounts which had previously been free of charge.
When Ben Chifley was Prime Minister the people's Bank made no charge for cheque accounts. These are now fixed at charges that correspond with the rates charged by the private banks. Its establishment fees for overdraft accounts are in line with the private banks and its fees on cheques collected and paid are the same.
Interest charges are kept in tune with the private banks and the general pattern of the Board's behaviour violates the Bank's original charter of "vigorous competition with the private banking establishments ."
I hold in my hand a letter dated 20 March 1952, addressed to myself and signed by Robert Gordon Menzies, the then Prime Minister of Australia, in which he frankly admits that a new Commonwealth Bank charge on cheque accounts flowed from discussions the private banks had with the Commonwealth Bank Board. His letter says:
'I am informed that for some considerable time discussions have been taking place among the banks in Australia including the Commonwealth Bank on the question of charges generally'.
His letter concludes with this confession:
'The whole of the banks, including the Commonwealth Bank, in conference and after full investigation decided that an increased current account fee was justified'.
So there we have an unashamed admission right from the horse's mouth, so to speak, that the Board did force the People's Bank to become a bankers' bank.
If this Government really wants the Commonwealth Bank to carry out its proper charter, it must move at once to dissolve the Boards of both the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and the Reserve Bank, so that these Banks will be directly answerable to the Australian people.
This action must be taken so that our Treasurer will not be forced to suffer the indignity of having to confess that he has no control over interest charges, as he did a few weeks ago.
I realize that the abolition of these two Boards will mean that former ACTU President, Cliff Dolan, will lose his emoluments as a Member of the Board.
The abolition of the Reserve Bank Board will similarly affect Charlie Fitzgibbon , a former ACTU Vice President , Bill Kelty, the current ACTU Secretary; and Bob Hawke's friend, Sir Peter Abeles.
Even though Sir Peter has no commitment to Labor tradition, I am sure Cliff Dolan, Charlie Fitzgibbon and Bill Kelty would be happy to see the Bank returned to the kind of control the ALP. has advocated for so many decades.
Why hasn't the Hawke Government repealed Menzies' legislation and given the Bank back to its owners? Why has it forced our public utilities to pay it income tax and dividends? Why doesn't it allow the Commonwealth Bank to engage in aggressive competition with the rich private banks instead of joining them in compelling clients to pay exorbitant charges on cheque accounts, handling cheques, servicing overdraft accounts and on withdrawals from Savings accounts?
Why has the Government sat idly by, while what used to be the People's Bank pays its Savings Bank depositors a miserly 3.75 per cent interest, but charges them a massive 21 per cent on Bankcard debts which on 15 June this year, will be further increased to 2 per cent?
I know why the Bank does it. It is to ensure that it doesn't undercut the charges imposed upon customers of the private banks! But why, I repeat, does a Labor Government allow it to continue?
To add insult to injury, the People's Bank has recently decided to charge its poorer customers, a fee of $1.50 per month whenever their accounts fall below $250. However, thanks to the efforts of Senator the Hon. Nick Bolkus, Minister for Consumer Affairs, certain categories of customers have now been exempted from these charges; but they still apply to the rest of the Bank's customers.
Instead of turning the Commonwealth Bank, Telecom, Australia Post, Qantas, Australian Airlines and other public utilities into tax gatherers, why doesn't the Labor Government allow them to be what their founders intended, instruments for providing the public with an efficient service at the cheapest possible costs. And, if there is need for capital expansion, why doesn't our Labor Government abandon the anti-Labor practice of forcing them to pay it dividends and taxation, so that surpluses can be used for better and cheaper services or capital expansion?
On 29 March 1950, the Liberal Government of that period showed a far better appreciation of a correct role for the Bank than is now followed by our Labor Government; because on that day, Senator Malcolm Scott asked Senator Spooner, representing the treasurer, this question: -
'Will the Government consider a charge against net profits of the Commonwealth Bank in the form of income tax so that the people can gain an honest account of the Bank's position? '
Senator Spooner replied, 'The Commonwealth Bank is a government institution. To charge the Commonwealth Bank income tax would in truth be merely to transfer money from one pocket to another. There would be little point and no advantage in requiring the Bank to pay income tax.'
That Liberal Government was correct! Why can't we get a Labor Government to follow the same correct policies by relieving the People's Bank from having to pay income tax and dividends so that it can meet capital costs and better serve those who own it?
Last year, the Commonwealth Bank made a record profit of $662 million. the private banks made record profits too; Westpac made a huge $1,000 million profit by charging more for money loaned than it paid to depositors for money received.
Of its $662 million profit, the Commonwealth Bank paid the Government $392 million in income tax and a dividend of $129.7 million - a total of $521.7 million which should have been used for reducing charges and for meeting the cost of capital expansion.
So, for the years 1987 and 1988 the Bank's total profit was a massive $1,112 million! It is little wonder, therefore, that the National Australia Bank Ltd. would like Paul Keating to support an amalgamation of the Commonwealth with the National by using the false claim that that is the only way the Commonwealth Bank can become big enough to function properly.
If it is valid to argue that "Big is beautiful," why doesn't the Government allow the Commonwealth Bank to revert to the position postulated by Senator Spooner when he rejected his Liberal colleague's demand that it pay income tax to the Government?
That would allow the Bank to grow bigger without having to merge its proud identity with the National Australia Bank. That, indeed, is what a fair dinkum Labor Government would be doing?
The only reason the Commonwealth Bank hasn't been able to live up to its obligation to curb the greed of private banks lies in the fact that Tory Governments handed control of the Bank to its Tory mates who had close personal, as well as business, links with those who had close personal and business links with the private banks.
It was the anti-Labor Bruce Page Government which in 1924, gagged a Bill through the Parliament to hand over the Commonwealth Bank to a board of rich Tory businessmen. It remained that way until the Chifley Labor Government restored it to its original status of a truly People's Bank operating in active competition with the private banks.
Connivance gave way to active competition when Ben Chifley rep1aced the Board with a sing1e Governor and an Advisory council answerable to the elected representatives of the owners of the Bank.
The first Governor, Hugh T. Armitage, and his successor, Dr. H.G. (Nugget) Coombs, had the obligation to restore the Bank to its former greatness; and, under the guidance of the great J.B. Chifley, the Bank was; in fact, restored to its original role.
Labor voters all over Australia are yearning for the return of a Labor Government that will behave like a Labor Government.
They want a Labor Government that will not regard power as more important than purpose. They want a Labor Government that will see that purpose and power can be made to walk arm in arm.
Labor voters are angry! They are angry because they feel betrayed. They feel betrayed because while real wages are falling and prices and interest rates are rising, the rich are getting richer and the great corporations are announcing record profits and carrying a smaller proportion of the Government's tax burden.
When we view the two-story homes being built in our fashionable suburbs and the million dollar mansions already occupied; and when we see the multi-storied skyscrapers in our cities; the million dollar yachts; the $200,000 motor cars and the obscene extravagance of birthday and wedding parties costing more than a $100,000; we are looking at the property and spending habits of the drones of our society who have the ear of those who wield power.
Unlike members of the workforce who meet the full amount of their income tax obligations at the pay office and receive less than they earn, these drones produce no real wealth, and are permitted to use tax havens etc. to even avoid taxation.
When we look at the Australian people we are seeing a people which allows the rich to grow richer while the poor grow poorer. We are looking at a society that is being brainwashed by a media monopoly into believing that it is proper that Senior Executives should receive incomes ranging from $200,000 a year, to as much as $2,000 a day from tax free dividends.
But we are also looking at a country ruled by what passes for a Labor Government, but which has done far more for the rich than the Liberals ever dared to do!
I don't want to see the Hawke Government defeated. For more than fifty years I've worked and voted for the return of Labor Governments and I'm too old and too prejudiced to vote for any other Party; but there are great armies of former Labor voters who are not burdened with my political hang-up.
All I want is to see the Hawke Government perform like a Labor Government, by telling the boodlers to shove their non-reportable donations towards the "cost of Party administration" . I want the Government to remember that on election day the ballot paper belonging to Annett's' Peter Abeles carries no greater weight in the final count than the ballot paper handed in by the poorest person entering the polling booth.
Then, and only then, will grass roots Laborites be able to hold up their heads and proudly boast: "I voted Labor."
By Hon. Clyde R. Cameron AO
NOTE: This document was reproduced UNEDITED.
The contents of this document raises some very serious questions in relation to the direction Australia was being guided under the then Government. It would also appear that successive Governments have, without any consultation with the Australian people, continued down the same path. The references made to:
These and other questions raised, all Australian taxpayers would like answered!
Written and Authorised by Selwyn Johnston, Cairns FNQ 4870