The Australian banking Royal Commission of 1935-37: a precedent unlikely to be followed

Update 27 February 2018: Nicholas Gruen in Pearls and Irritations dives deep into the issues.

Update 3 December 2017: Greg Jericho in Guardian Australia looks closely at the terms of reference this time around. And so does Kevin Davis in The Conversation.

Update 1 December 2017: draft terms of reference for the 2017 Royal Commission.

Update 30 November 2017: a reluctant prime minister sets up a Royal Commission but insists it is not intended to put Capitalism on trial.

While we await the next step in the saga of ‘the banking Royal Commission or possibly just an inquiry’ here is a link to the report of the 1935-37 banking Royal Commission, the terms of reference of which were very broad:

[T]o inquire into the Monetary and Banking Systems at present in operation in Australia, and to report whether any, and if so what, alterations are desirable in the interests of the people of Australia as a whole, and the manner in which any such alterations should be effected.

This Royal Commission came about partly because the banks of the day were seen to have contributed to the hardships of the Great Depression. The Royal Commissioners included Ben Chifley, then a recently defeated Labor MP, but later Treasurer and Prime Minister, who unsuccessfully tried to nationalise the banks in 1947. The resulting struggle inside and outside Parliament was one of the most bitter in Australian history.

Honest History has had a long-standing interest in banking and we have collected some relevant resources. Notable among the collection is this article by veteran Australian historian, Humphrey McQueen.

30 November 2017 updated

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