15th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Gr. J. Bell) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– It is with deep regret that I refer to the death of the Honorable A. G. Ogilvie, Premier of Tasmania. Mr. Ogilvie died in Melbourne on Saturday night last. He had intended spending the week-end in Victoria on his way to Canberra for the Loan Council meeting. Mr. Ogilvie had been Premier of Tasmania since the 22nd June, 1934. First elected to the Tasmania^ House of Assembly in May, 1919, he was re-elected at each subsequent general election. He was AttorneyGeneral, Minister of Education, Minister of Forestry and Minister of Mines from October, 1923, to October, 1927, in a ministry led by the then Honorable J. A. Lyons. As Leader of the Tasmanian Government during the past five years, Mr. Ogilvie rendered distinguished service to his State. His public work was characterized by a desire to serve the interests of the Commonwealth as a whole. His death, which came as a great shock to a wide circle of friends, is a severe loss to Australia, and particularly to the Government and State of Tasmania which he served so ably. At the age of 48 years, he had a notable record of service, and it seemed likely that he would continue to occupy a prominent place in the public life of this country for many years to come. Mrs. Ogilvie and daughter have suffered a great personal loss, and to them we offer our heartfelt sympathy. I move -
That this House expresses its deep regret at the .death of the Honorable Albert George Ogilvie, K.C., M.H.A., Premier of Tasmania, places on record its appreciation of his distinguished public service, and extends its profound sympathy to Mrs. Ogilvie and her daughter in their sad bereavement; and also to the Government of Tasmania in the loss which the State has sustained.
– I second the motion with very deep regret. Mr. Ogilvie had achieved a place of very great distinction in the life of the Commonwealth. Although his services had been associated exclusively with the Parliament and Government of Tasmania, he, nonetheless, was a national figure. He participated in many important conferences of Commonwealth and State Ministers, and attended many meetings of the Loan Council. At those gatherings he won the respect and, I believe, the admiration of those who were associated with him in the work that was being clone. The Labour party regarded Mr. Ogilvie as one of its foremost personalities. He was a man of great strength of character, much tenacity of purpose, and great breadth of vision. It can also be said that he brought an emphatic individuality to his public duties. It is something to reflect upon that at so comparatively early an age in the life of so splendid a man he was obliged to lay down his labours. The Australian people should take cognizance of the regrettable losses that Tasmania has suffered quite recently. The late Prime Minister, Mr. Lyons, was, like Mr. Ogilvie, a Tasmanian. To have lost a Prime Minister and. a Premier in so short a period is to have suffered heavily, indeed. I have no doubt that the exacting character of the duties which. those two gentlemen had to perform so impaired what would otherwise have been their normal physical stamina that they were unable to withstand the inroads upon their strength. This is a troublous age. It imposes a very great strain on leaders in Commonwealth and State parliaments alike. Mr. Ogilvie could not but feel that strain heavily, as, indeed, must the Premiers of all of the States and the leaders of this Parliament. I hope that means may be devised to give the leaders of the people of Australia some reasonable respite from the continuity which at present marks their pre-occupation with their duties. Some kind of relief must be provided for the men who discharge these high offices if they are to continue their activities with a reasonable degree of strength for the ordinary period for which they might reasonably expect to hold office. Mr. Ogilvie’s services to the Australian Labour party can be said to be immeasurable. He gave great support to the party on the mainland as well as in Tasmania, and the greatness of his influence is attested by the fact that that party which he adorned has the strongest numbers among Tasmanian legislators both in this Parliament and in the State Parliament. I met. him in Launceston within the last few weeks, when he impressed me once again with his outstanding grip of Australian affairs. I feel that a truly great Australian lias passed from us. . …
– I associate thu Country party and myself personally with the regret that has been expressed by the leaders of the other parties in this Parliament at the sudden passing of such a virile, forceful, and energetic personality as Mr. Ogilvie. He was a man of progressive ideas, and full of energy; indeed, he literally worked himself to death in the public interest, and his passing is a blow, not only to Tasmanian, - but also to Australian political life. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the extraordinary kindness which he and his Government showed to members of the Lyons Government when they visited Tasmania in January and February of this year. Mr. Ogilvie spared no pains to make our visit to Tasmania as enjoyable and as informative as possible. He drove me and other Ministers around in his car for a couple of days in order to make certain that we should not miss seeing any part of Tasmania that was worth seeing. Subsequently, when Mr. Lyons passed away, the courtesy which Mr. Ogilvie and members of his Government showed to Australian Ministers was beyond words. I <«m privileged to have this opportunity to associate myself with the expressions of regret voiced in this Parliamenttoday.
– As the only Tasmanian member present to-day, excepting yourself, Mr. Speaker, I associate myself with the remarks just made by the leaders of the different parties in this House. It is with the greatest regretthat I find it necessary to express the loss sustained, particularly by Tasmanian members, in the passing -of such a great leader as Mr. Ogilvie. Mr. Ogilvie was undoubtedly the strong man in Tasmanian politics. He was not only a great Tasmanian, but also a great Australian. He forcibly brought forward the Tasmanian point of view in the political life of the Commonwealth. He was always a great advocate of Tasmania’s ease, and as such was recognized as the leader of political thought in Tasmania during the last few years, not only when he Was Premier, but also when he was Leader of the Opposition in the State Parliament. Tasmania will find it very difficult indeed to repair its loss. I express my appreciation of all that he did for the Labour movement in that State, and also for what he did for me personally within the last few weeks. It is very largely due to his energies that I am a member of this Parliament. I associate myself with the motion of sympathy to be conveyed to Mrs. Ogilvie and Miss Ogilvie in their very sad bereavement.
Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable members standing in their places.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) agreed to -
That Mr. Speaker be requested to transmit to Mrs. Ogilvie and to the Government of Tasmania the foregoing resolution, together with a copy of the speeches delivered thereon.
– I regret to inform honorable members that Mr. A. C. Ceabrook, a former member for the Division of Franklin in this chamber, died in Hobart on Sunday last, the 11th June. I did not know the late Mr. Ceabrook personally, but the fact that he was a. member of this Parliament is known to all. He was elected to the House of Representatives at the general elections of 1922 and was re-elected in 1925. He was defeated at the general elections of 1928. While a member of the Commonwealth Parliament, he was a member of the Select Committee on the effect of the operation of the Navigation Act on Trade, and of the Royal Commission on the same matter. He was a member of the Public Works Committee from January, 1926, to September, 1928. In 1931, he was elected to the Tasmanian House of Assembly, and he retired in 1934. It is appropriate that we should place on record our appreciation of the public work done by Mr. Ceabrook in both the Commonwealth Parliament and the Parliament of Tasmania. To his widow and family we extend our deep sympathy in their bereavement. 1 move -
That this House expresses its deep regret at the death of Mr. Alfred Charles Ceabrook. a former member for the Division of Franklin, places on record its appreciation of his meritorious public service, and tenders to bis widow and family its deep sympathy in their bereavement.
– I second the motion. Honorable gentlemen on this side echo the sentiments voiced by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in appreciation of the honorable services rendered by Mr. Ceabrook to this country. We regret very much that he has passed from iia, and we tender to his family our deepest sympathy.
– I support the motion moved by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and seconded by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). Those of us who remember Mr. Ceabrook as a member of this House will recall that he was always a doughty and consistent fighter for the apple industry, and particularly for Tasmania. He was a fair fighter, and, I am sure, every honorable member will regret his passing.
Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable members standing in their places.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) agreed to -
That Mr. Speaker be requested to transmit to Mrs. Ceabrook the foregoing resolution, together with a copy of the speeches delivered thereon.
– On my return from Queensland I received telegraphic advice that the motor launch Nerita, with a fishing party of fourteen on board, was lost on Monday in or outside Moreton Bay, and I was asked by anxious relatives of members of the party to request the Minister for Defence to make available a service aeroplane or aeroplanes to search along the coast for the missing launch. Has the Minister been able to accede to that request? If so, has any aeroplane yet commenced the search, and with what results? If not, will he later give the House a progress report concerning the search?
– As soon as the representations made by the honorable member were brought to my notice I got into touch with the station commander at Richmond, who immediately despatched two Avro-Anson aircraft to search south of Brisbane in accordance with information supplied as to the possible whereabouts of the launch. The search is proceeding to-day, and, if unsuccessful, will be continued to-morrow. I have not yet had any report from the aeroplanes engaged in the search, but shall acquaint the honorable member with the report when I receive it. I am informed by the Minister for Civil Aviation that a Rapide machine has also joined in the search.
– Has the Minister for External Affairs any information to give to the House regarding the position in relation to British interests in China?
– No ; but I shall be pleased to make a statement during the week.
– In view of the fact that the Melbourne Tramways Board has floated a loan at £4 10s. per cent, in competition with the Commonwealth loan of £3 19s. 2d. per cent., and that its loan is not subject to the authority of the Loan Council, which, I understand, was established in 1928 to co-ordinate all public borrowings, I ask the Treasurer whether he will take vigorous steps to point out to States which have been guilty-
– Order !
– Of encouraging the semi-government borrowing racket-
– Order !
– In view of the great importance of this matter it should be forcibly pointed out by the Commonwealth Government to all the States concerned that semi-government borrowings of so brazen a character are not in the best interests of the country, as they force interest rates to rise.
– The problem to which the honorable gentleman has referred has, I need hardly tell him, exercised my mind a very great deal since I assumed the office of Treasurer. It will be debated with the representatives of the State governments at the Loan Council next week. On that occasion, the views of the Commonwealth will be put quite clearly. The Melbourne Tramways Board loan, to which the honorable member referred, has not yet been considered in any way by the Loan Council, but no doubt an application for approval of it willbe made next week, upon which the whole issue will come before the council.
– Does the Prime Minister, as the representative of the Commonwealth Government on the Loan Council, propose to recommend to that body that no borrowing should be done by semigovernmental bodies except through the Loan Council? If so, will he obtain an assurance from the council that semigovernmental bodies will receive all the funds they require through the council ?
– I am notin a position at present to indicate what views I shall present to the council on that subject, though I am aware of its importance. As the honorable member probably knows, the practice, under what is known as the gentlemen’s agreement between the various governments, is to submit to the Loan Council for its approval all proposed semi-governmental borrowings over £100,000. It is pursuant to that arrangement that these matters have come before the council, but it may very well be that some much more precise method of dealing with them may have to be evolved. The subject will undoubtedly be discussed at the council meeting next week.
– Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that at the forthcoming meeting of the Loan Council the loan requirements of semigovernmental bodies will receive proper consideration, seeing that they provide extended employment and that, in the main, the works they undertake are of a reproductive character?
– I trust that due and proper consideration will be given to the loan requirements of the Commonwealth Government, the State governments, and semi-governmental bodies, as, also, to interest rates payable by private citizens.
– Has it been reported to the Minister for Trade and Customs that members of the Metal Trades Union are refusing to effect repairs to ships recently purchased overseas as a protest against the policy of acquiring ships from abroad instead of having them built in Australia? Will the Minister take steps to expedite the decision of the Government regarding the report prepared by officers of his department on this subject, and can he say whether the report itself will be made available to honorable members before Parliament goes into recess?
– I was not previously aware of the action of the Metal Trades Union, but I shall have inquiries made into it. I shall do everything possible to expedite the making of a statement regarding ship-building.
Publication of Journal
– Can the Prime Minister say whether the Australian Dairy Board is now actually publishing a certain journal, to the publication of which I, with the backing of the Attorney-General, objected last year? Has the Government reached a decision regarding the wisdom of statutory bodies ha ving the right to publish journals on their own initiative?
– I have no knowledge of any such publication, but I shall have inquiries made, and I hope to be able to furnish the honorable member with a reply to-morrow.
– In view of the fact that the number of experienced officers in Australia is not great, and that the Government is asking men of 65 years of age to register, will the Minister for Defence give an assurance that formation commanders be consulted before the reduced retiring ages are brought into force for members of the Citizen Forces?
– The new retiring ages recommended by the Inspector-General have received the approval of the Military Board, and it is not proposed to hold any further consultations upon the matter.
– Has the PostmasterGeneral seen the following press report : -
The Commonwealth Government is investigating the cost of establishing a 50 k.w. short wave station for the transmission of programmes to foreign countries. The cost is said to be in the vicinity of £20,000.
Will the Postmaster-General say to what that press statement relates, seeing that he has twice previously denied that the Government was considering anything of the kind?
– The department has no knowledge of any station about to be established for the purpose mentioned, nor is such a proposal even being investigated. So far as the Postal Department is concerned, there is no truth in the statement.
– Has the Minister for Defence seen a report that the Commonwealth Government is investigating the establishment of a 50-k.w. short-wave station for the transmission of programmes to foreign countries, the cost of which is said to be in the vicinity of £20,000*
– The statement is entirely a mystery to me, and I have ho knowledge of it whatever.
Pilots Training School
– Can the Minister for Defence say whether his department has yet acquired the land on which it is proposed to establish a pilots’ training. school near Wagga, and if so, has the work of construction yet been commenced?
– I cannot say whether the purchase of the* land has yet been actually completed, but a good deal of preliminary work has been done in the way of making contour surveys, and constructional work will be begun as soon as possible.
EMPLOYMENT of Returned SOLDIERS
– Will the Prime Minister state whether it is proposed to amend sections 82 and 83 of the Public Service Act so as to enable returned soldiers, now temporarily employed in the Public Service, to bc more readily provided with permanent positions? I have sent many letters to the Prime Minister on this subject, but have received no reply, and the people concerned will think that I have fallen down on the job.
– Have the honorable member’s letters not been answered?
– A circular letter was sunt out, but no reply has been received to it. T should like to have an assurance that some action will be taken, so that these men may be given permanent positions before they re..ch the retiring age.
– If .any letter addressed to me by the honorable member has not been acknowledged that is a discourtesy for which I apologize, and I shall make inquiries in order to find out the reason for it. As for the suggested amendment of the law, that will receive the consideration of the Government, but it has not been possible up to now to give the matter attention.
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has, no doubt, seen it reported in the press that there is a bill before the House of Commons to approve an arrangement by which the British Overseas Airways Corporation is to acquire and operate Imperial Airways, and that the new authority will have power to issue stock, and that it will receive a subsidy of £4,000,000 and will have authority to borrow up to £10,000,000. Can the Minister say what will be the position under the new arrangement of Qantas Imperial Airways? Will the present agreement, which provides for the payment of a subsidy, be abrogated when the new company takes control?
– I have seen the reports referred to. I understand that the new air corporation will take over the committments of Imperial Airways, including that of the present Empire Airways service.
– Will there be any alteration of the amount of the subsidy paid to Qantas?
– No, that subsidy is paid under the terms of a fifteen years’ agreement. The new company will take over all the responsibilities of Imperial. Airways.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising1, adjourn until l i a.m. to-morrow.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment. ..
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) proposed -
That Government Business shall take precedence over General Business at the next sitting.
.- Will the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) indicate to the House exactly what business it is proposed should be transacted during the remainder of this session. I am not going to oppose the motion which the right honorable gentleman has moved; I shall support it, but I should like to know what is to be done.
– Apart from several short and relatively minor matters, in regard to the exact nature of which I cannot commit myself at present, the items on the business paper which it is proposed to dispose of before Parliament rises will be as follows: - Orders of the Day 1 and 2, dealing with national insurance, might well be disposed of to-day, and indeed this afternoon. I assume that all honorable members know where they stand in relation to this problem, and are ready to cast their votes. Under Order of the Day No. 3, “ Supply it is proposed that a supply bill be introduced, and I think it might be convenient to honorable members if that were introduced some time to-day.
– After Orders of the Day 1 and 2 are disposed of?
– Yes. Honorable members would then be in a position to reflect about it between the adjournment to-night and the resumption to-morrow at 1.1 a.m. It is proposed to deal with Order of the Day No. 5, “ States Grants Youth Employment Bill 1939 “ and also Order of the Day No. 6, “ Aliens Registration Bill 1938 “. I have no great degree of optimism about disposing of Order of the Day No. 7 although I should like to see that done. I have even a lesser degree of optimism, and certainly much less than I had a few weeks ago, of disposing of Order of the Day No. 10, “Commonwealth Bank Bill 1938”. I should have liked to have had, at least, some of the debate on that bill disposed of this week. These are the matters which Parliament will be required to dispose of, and in that order.
– Is it definitely intended to close the session on Friday of this week?
– I would invite the co-operation of honorable members in an endeavour to complete the business by Friday for this reason among others; that it was unfortunately necessary to postpone the Loan Council meeting until next week. That meeting is to be followed by meetings of the National Council, and by a Premiers Conference which will be required to discuss two or three matters of extraordinary importance. These meetings will occupy two or three days of next week, and will necessitate considerable attention on the part of several Ministers, and particularly myself. It will then be necessary to have a series of Cabinet meetings, because there are matters of great moment which Cabinet has not yet had an opportunity to discuss. From the Government’s point of view the forthcoming recess will have to be fully occupied by financial considerations, because I would like to be able to meet Parliament as soon as possible for the presentation of the budget. 1 think that all honorable members will agree that a reasonably early budget is desirable this year, and for that reason I should like to be able to meet Parliament by the middle of August. I know that I shall be told that it is indiscreet to disclose so fully what is in my mind, but I think that honorable members should know why it is necessary that we should have co-operation in the disposal this week of the business which I have indicated. I suggest to honorable members that business may be discharged quite easily, not by forgoing the right of any honorable member to vote against a measure of which he does not approve, but by curtailing some contributions to the debates.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) agreed to -
That Standing Order No. 70 - 11 o’clock rule - be suspended for the remainder of this week.
Debate resumed from the 8th June (vide page 1528) on motion by Sir Frederick Stewart -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to annul certain proclamations made under the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act 1938 and under certain acts with which that act is incorporated.
Upon which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) had moved, by way of an amendment -
That all the words after “to” (second occurring) be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ repeal the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act 1 933 “.
– I have already contributed something to the debate on the motion by the Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart), and the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), but after I had spoken for twenty minutes my speech was interrupted in accordance with Standing Order 119, which provides that after the debate on a notice of motion has proceeded for two hours, it shall be interrupted until orders of the day are dealt with. The orders of the day which stood in the way of the completion of the debate have now either been dealt with or postponed, and I have fifteen minutes left in which to finish my speech.
Honorable members on this side of the House Strongly support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition, and in doing that we are at least consistent with the attitude which we adopted in this Parliament when the National “Insurance Bil] was before the House last year. We want the Government to repeal the act because we believe it is not national in character. Numerous sections of the community are not included in its scope. It excludes farmers, shopkeepers and self-employed workers, and it makes no provision for unemployment insurance. That latter omission is particularly important, because provision to combat malnutrition, and for assistance in cases of sickness is lacking. There are no health provisions for wives or families, and that also is a serious omission. It is important that fundamental features of any health insurance scheme should commence with motherhood and babyhood. It does not cover hospital cases, it omits definite provision for casual workers, and discriminates between males and females. As a social measure it is retrogressive in that it ignores a cardinal principle of taxation under which those best able to pay shall bear the burden. It imposes on the workers charges which cannot be passed on as they can be by employers conducting large wholesale or retail enterprises. Those in receipt of large incomes from property and investments are relieved from any obligation, the responsibility falling solely on the wageearning community. The act is designed to relieve the Treasurer of the necessity to impose higher taxes on incomes and on property to provide and maintain the existing or even a wider measure of social justice. As the scheme is sectional in character, we opposed the bill when it was before this chamber, and we intend to oppose this motion. If all political parties represented in this chamber would adopt a similarly consistent attitude Ministers would not be in the ridiculous position in. which they are to-day. Honorable members listened with considerable amusement to the speech of the Minister for Health and Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) in submitting this motion.
– I have not yet spoken on the amendment.
– I did not say the hon- .orable member had spoken on the amendment, hut he moved a motion to delay the introduction of the scheme by appointing a peregrinating committee of inquiry to travel all over Australia taking evidence on a subject that has been fully investigated for the last fourteen years. When the bill was before Parliament he said there wa3 more than sufficient evidence available, and that he had personally made searching inquiries not only in Australia but also overseas. The Minister now wishes to refer the whole matter to a time-wasting committee in order to shelve the whole project in the hope that before a report is presented the Government will get out of its present difficulties. The people of Australia are astounded at the acrobatics of the Prime Minister, the Minister for Health and Social Services. and other Ministers. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) made ii clear that the fundamental objection of the Labour party is due to the fact that unemployment insurance is excluded and widows’ pensions were on a contributory basis instead of a non-contributory basis in. accordance with the promise he made at the last federal elections. The Government finds itself on the horns of a dilemma in connexion with this project. Before honorable members can record a vote on the motion they should consider the eagerness with which the present Minister, before he was a member of the Government, urged the Lyons Government to go right ahead with the measure. When it was suggested that the scheme should be modified, the present Minister said -
What arc the reasons advanced for this extraordinary turnabout? Is it suggested that the requirements of the defence programme make the financing of the scheme impossible? There are apparently a lot of people in Austral in. who do not accept that a? the real reason, and I am one of them.
– When did the Minister say that?
– In March, 1939. Since then the Minister has been included in the Cabinet now led by a. right honorable gentleman who said that, it would be disastrous if wo did not go right ahead with the scheme.
– But is not the Minister a strong man in the Cabinet ?
– Up to the time he somersaulted I gave him credit for being a strong man. I recall the occasion on which he resigned from a ministry on ii matter of policy. Is he to remain in i his Cabinet and support a policy of procrastination? On a previous occasion the Minister who criticized the shiftiness of mother government is now occupying the exalted position of Minister for Health and Social Services, and is supporting a Prime Minister who said that he could not. remain in the Cabinet if the scheme were not proceeded with, but who now is the arch-conspirator in shelving the scheme indefinitely.’ The Minister was intolerant, of the members of the Country party because they were delaying the introduction of the scheme. The right honorable the Prime Minister said -
I frankly do not think we can expect to be taken seriously if we start on* again with conferences and drafting committees at a time when we have already so notoriously failed to go on with an act which represents two years of labour, a vast amount of organization, and a considerable expenditure of public and private funds.
The Prime Minister who was opposed to any further delay now asks the Minister for Health and. Social Services to submit a motion to annul the introduction of the scheme. The appointment of a time wasting committee will give the Government sufficient breathing space to enable another composite ministry to be formed and in that way give it a certain degree of safety. The Minister for Supply and Development (Mt. Casey), when Treasurer, said - “We could afford it in 1938, but certainly cannot afford it in 1939 ‘”’.
Dealing with the statement by the then Treasurer and the present Minister for Supply and Development, who said, “ We could afford it in 1938 but we certainly cannot afford it in 1939,” the Prime Minister said - lt might possibly have afforded me a way out of this impasse if I had been able sincerely to state that the carrying out of the defence programme rendered necessary the postponement or abandonment of national insurance; but the facts are that on the 8th December, when the Government’s announcement was made, our new three years’ defence programme of £(i3,l>00,000 had actually been presented to and approved by Parliament.
That strong statement disposed of the assumption by certain Ministers that the country could not now afford national insurance. The right honorable gentleman went on to say -
Bv the 24th January, the financial effects of thu drought were well-known and current financial prospects wore known. Whatever might
Vh: the position of other people, jio now financial circumstances have arisen since the 24th Ja n un ry which could possibly release me from the statement made on that date.
– The Prime Minister docs not. say that now.
– I have yet to hear that said by the right honorable gentleman. He should be in this chamber to- contribute to this debate and to justify his complete reversal of opinion. Either he was playing the party game when he resigned from
Cabinet or be is playing the party game to-day. Either he wanted to embarrass the Government of the day and to put the political skids under the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and his deputy (Sir Earle Page), or he is not politically honest to-day. That is a fair and reasonable interpretation of the somersault he has made. Speaking on the 15th March, 1939, the Prime Minister, after mature consideration, said -
The passing of the National Insurance Aci was, in my opinion, our greatest legislative achievement as a Government, and perhaps the most important reform in our social service during my own lifetime. Its institution was a large part of our mandate al the last election, and was a most prominent element in t.hu programme which I personally advocated before my own electors. … On the 8th December last, after extensive Cabinet discussions, the Treasurer, on . behalf of the Government, announced to Parliament, first, that the scheme of national insurance will be definitely proceeded with ; secondly, the division I of part 7, which rnakes provision for the constitution of approved societies, will be proclaimed to commence forthwith; and thirdly, that the remainder of the act or acts imposing contributions will at the beginning of January lie proclaimed to begin on the 4th September, l!>3». . . . [Leave to continue given.]
Dealing with the resignation of the right honorable member for Kooyong from the Ministry, in protest against the abandonment of national insurance, the Melbourne Age had this to say: -
Within six months of the National Insurance Act being passed, he (Dr. Earle Page) was proposing that its application be indefinitely postponed. That pusillanimous course was avoided owing to Mr. Menzies’ firmness. He threatened to do what he has now done - resign.
Now the same right honorable gentleman comes along with a proposal to postpone national insurance indefinitely, despite all his pronouncements which were hacked up -bv such great metropolitan newspapers as the Melbourne Age, the Argus, and the Sydney Morning Herald. After he had been acclaimed as a fearless statesman because he resigned on a matter of definite principle .and in protest against the departure by the Government from a measure of such gigantic social importance as the National Insurance Act, it was no wonder fh.it, when the unfortunate late right honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Lyons) died, many people thought that it was well nigh impossible for the right honorable member for Kooyong to assume the position of Prime Minister. He had burned all his bridges behind him in regard to national insurance, but it was only those who recognized the capabilities of the right honorable member as a political gymnast who realized the possibility of his completely somersaulting from the attitude which earned him acclaim as a statesman to an attitude which brands him as a compromising politician ready to throw over any principle or policy in order to keep office.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Honorable members will observe that I have allowed, during this debate, reference to Order of the Day No. 2. . It appears that that is necessary as the two matters are related. I have also allowed, in contravention of the Standing Order, which provides that there shall be no allusion to a debate of the same session discussion of what was said in a previous debate on the National Insurance Act. I feel that I should allow this because there is an amendment before the Chair for the repeal of that act.
– Even after ,a number of years of experience of party politics as practised in this House, I cannot refrain from expressing wonderment at the facility with which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) and his Deputy (Mr. Forde) work themselves into ,a fever of indignation on the slightest provocation, or. indeed, without any provocation at all. One can understand a passionate speech when matters of high policy are involved, but I suggest that in this case the issue is so restricted as to exclude any suggestion that the matter is one of high national policy.
– Isn’t national insurance a matter of high national policy?
– I am not referring to the issue of national insurance. I am referring to the issue inherent in my motion. I do not intend to follow the course followed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and to’’ enter into a discussion on the whole of the principle of national insurance. When the Leader of the Opposition moved his amendment. to my request for leave to bring in a bill, he was quite unaware of the extent of the proposed annulment. The motion for leave merely indicated that certain aspects of the proclamation were proposed to be annulled. I cannot refrain from following the Deputy Leader of the Opposition just a little part of the way. The honorable gentleman declared as his reason for desiring the complete repeal of the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act of 1938, that that act was incomplete, that it did not make any provision for medical services to be available to wives and families of contributors, that it made no provision for unemployment, and that it discriminated between males and females. J ustification of that kind comes very strange indeed from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in view of the refusal of the Leader of the Opposition to accept from the Government a proposal which would have made possible every one of these matters to which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has referred. More strange still it is to find the Deputy Leader, of the Opposition, presumably in pursuance of his opposition to the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act and of his wish to have it repealed, quoting the statement of the former Treasurer (Mr. Casey) that Australia could not have adequate national defence and national insurance at the same time. It is strange surely that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition should use an argument of that kind, the force of which will not, I hope, be lost upon his constituents. He cannot have it both ways. The honorable gentleman then blandly referred to some statements that I. am alleged to have made in my speech on this particular matter. Actually, the forms of the House absolutely precluded me from making the second-reading speech which I had proposed to make on the bill involved in this motion for leave. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that he desired the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act 1938 to be repealed, because it converted the present method of non-contributory widows’ pensions into a scheme of contributory widows’ pensions. I ask him to say in which States widows’ pensions are provided at present?.
– In New South Wales.
Sir FREDERICK STEWART.That is the only State in which they are paid. Yet the Deputy Leader of the Opposition talked about converting a non-contributory scheme of widows’ pensions into a contributory scheme 1
– I said that the Labour party wished to see a scheme of widows’ pensions established on a noncontributory basis, and not on the basis set out in the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act.
– The bill that I wish to introduce seeks authority to annul only certain parts of the proclamation. The amendment of the Leader of the Opposition will, if carried, annul the whole proclamation. As the bill was not introduced the Leader of the Opposition was not in the position, when he moved his amendment, to know the nature and extent of the annulments proposed by the Government. Therefore, he did not know what he was proposing to amend. The Leader of the Country party (Sir Earle Page) was quite right when he suggested that the House should be informed of the Government’s intentions as revealed in the bill before those intentions could be adequately discussed. Had the tactics of the Opposition not precluded me from doing as I wished to do, I should have indicated to the House last week the reasons which render necessary the introduction of the new bill.
When this Government came into office only six weeks ago, the national insurance legislation, was in process of coming into force. All that was required was the arrival of the proclamation date, the 4th September. After that time the legislation would have come into full operation. For reasons over which no government, least of all this Government of six weeks’ standing, had any control the preparations necessarily precedent to the operation of the act were not complete and it was, as the Prime Minister himself pointed out, physically impossible to adhere to the date of the proclamation. This applied particularly to the most important question of the remuneration of medical practitioners, a subject which, as honorable members know, has been remitted to a royal commission for consideration and report. It is hardly necessary for me to recall the sequence of tragic events which impeded this inquiry. First, the Kyeema disaster involved the death of a number of important persons actively engaged in the work of the commission. Secondly, the death occurred ofthe chairman, Judge Dethridge. Finally, general delay followed consequent upon the death of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons). The inevitable delay following these events left the Government with several alternatives, one being that suggested in the Opposition amendment, and another that embodied in the hill which I am seeking leave to introduce. I venture to suggest that, had the Leader of the Opposition been more fully aware of the Government’s alternative, he would have preferred it to the one chosen by himself. What are the essential differences between these two proposals? I am afraid that I am not doing any injustice to the Leader of the Opposition when I suggest that his attitude in this matter is but a modern variant of the old story of the Irishman who, on landing in America, inquired whether any government was in being, and on receiving an answer in the affirmative, declared that he was “ agin it !” In this case, apparently, it is sufficient for the Leader of the Opposition to know that a government proposal is on the business paper for him to declare that he is “ agin it!” But I say quite clearly that, if his objective is merely to embarrass the Go- vernment, he is entirely missing the mark. If by any means his amendment should be carried and the act is repealed, it will not be the Government which will suffer most embarrassment; it will be the approved societies, the legal status of which will be immediately terminated.
– Have not those societies ul ready been terminated?
– No. Obviously the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan) does not know the facts of the case. Many of these societies have their roots deeply in the trades halls, and it will be interesting to know how the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition is viewed in those quarters. Indeed, I have already had some indication of this, and I venture to say that, over the week end, honorable members opposite have received communications in similar terms to those which have reached me. Following the enactment of the national health and pensions insurance measure last year 155 approved societies were duly constituted in different parts of the Commonwealth.
– They could be compensated.
– If honorable members desire these societies to be treated equitably they will certainly not support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition.
– That is not so.
– Order ! I must ask the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) not to interject. He has frequently offended in this way although called to order.
– Many of the approved societies have assumed major responsibilities as to personnel and accommodation. If the act is repealed, the societies will, of course, terminate. But what of their financial commitments? If the Leader of the Opposition had been patient enough to wait for the details of the bill for which leave was desired, he would have learned that it was proposed to exempt from the annulment the three: following phases of the act: -
This House has already been informed as the result of a question on. the businesspaper that, although the approved societies have not, up to date, functioned as intended by the act, they have been reimbursed in respect of their initial expenditure. The total expenditure in this way up to date has been . £70,000. Believing, as it does, that the societies will be again required at no distant date, the Government desires that the societies should continue in existence. This, of course, implies that some continuing financial assistance should be provided to enable them to so continue.
It is true that directions have been issued to societies to curtail their activities, particularly in respect of the recruitment of members; but it is part of the
Government’s policy to provide equitable financial assistance to enable the societies 10 meet reasonable continuing expenditure. It is for honorable members to decide whether they will support an amendment involving the complete repeal of the act and the disbandment of the societies, involving financial chaos, or the proposals embodied in the bill, leave to introduce which is now sought by the Government. The bill would at least preserve the skeleton of the organization which has been formed at heavy expense by the societies. It is for the House to decide between the two proposal. All I wish to ensure is that, before making their decision, honorable members are aware of the full implications involved, which, as I have pointed out, extend well beyond governmental circles.
– Before speaking on this subject, I desired to wait until the Government had outlined its proposals, so that we might ascertain whether it was intended to bring forward any propositions worth considering. I wished to do this for the reason that perhaps the greatest volte face that a public man in this country has ever committed has occurred in relation to this matter. I shall first examine that aspect of the subject, then define the Country party’s attitude towards national insurance and the Government’s proposals; and finally state my party’s attitude towards the Labour party’s motion.
I have said that national insurance has been responsible for perhaps the greatest volte face ever made by a public man in the political history of Australia. My reasons for this statement are these: The present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said that he resigned the portfolio of Attorney-General in the Lyons Government on the 14th March last on a matter of principle. That was the day upon which the German troops inarched into Czechoslovakia and occupied Moravia. If honorable members will examine the issue of the Sydney Morning Herald for the 15th March last they will find that its cab’e page is equally divided in dealing with the march of the German troops into Czechoslovakia and their occupation of Moravia, and the resignation of the present Prime Minister as Attorney-General in the Lyons Government. As the present Prime Minister resigned from the previous Government at the time of the infraction of the Munich agreement, and when the world wa3 nearer to war than at any time since September, 193S, I feel justified in saying that he must have considered the national insurance programme of the previous Government up to that time as of overwhelming importance. Yet the Government of which he is the leader is now submitting to Parliament a proposal for the shelving of the whole matter indefinitely by means, first of all, of the introduction of the proposed bill, and secondly, by the appointment of a fishing committee to examine inside -of three months questions the settlement of which involves problems that have worried some of the best minds in Australia and, indeed, in the British Empire, for the last sixteen or eighteen years. The proposed committee is expected to solve these problems by the 30th September next! As the Lyons Government wished to preserve unanimity within the Cabinet and to present a common front at that particular time, because it was realized that ‘the country was in a serious state both internally and internationally, the Treasurer of the day (Mr. Casey), who is now Minister for Supply and Development in this Government, examined every possible proposal which might result in the evolving of an acceptable national insurance scheme that would cover as wide a field as possible and yet remain within the financial compass of the people during a period in which a huge defence expenditure was being incurred. One of the proposals he advanced, but which was turned down by the present Prime Minister, was really on all fours with the present suggestion to be submitted to a select committee, although this proposed select committee is also to be asked to deal with unemployment insurance. That is a bit of salt to put on the tail of the Labour party! As the Leader of the Opposition has said, the results of including such a proposal would be astounding. The statements of the present Prime Minister, made either immediately after his resignation from the Lyons Government or while he was considering the formation of this Government, are sufficient in themselves completely to condemn the proposal which the Government is now submitting to the House. In his letter of resignation from the Lyons Government the right honorable gentleman said -
I frankly do not think that we can he taken seriously if we start off again with conferences and drafting committees at a time when we have so notoriously failed to go on with the act . . . the act which represents two years of labour, a vast amount of organization and a considerable expenditure of public and private funds.
To-day the Government practically dismisses that point by proposing lavish expenditure in connexion with a further inquiry. The Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) said that the select committee is to be given an absolutely free charter. He said that if the committee thought that the benefits should be doubled it would not be prevented from making a recommendation to that effect. It could recommend anything it liked in that direction, and I take it that the Minister would not make a suggestion of that kind if he did not seriously intend to carry out the recommendations of the committee.
– I was simply indicating the scope of the terms of reference
– That is my first point - that the Prime Minister himself has condemned this particular method of dealing with this matter. I do not desire to waste time dealing with the Prime Minister’s various statements on this matter, because all of his statements of two months ago contradict the statements now being made on behalf of the Government. All that I propose to do is to quote his statements on three vital points. In his letter of resignation from the Cabinet in March he said -
It might possibly have afforded me a way out of this impasse if I had been able seriously to state that the carrying out of the defence programme rendered necessary the postponement or abandonment of national insurance. tn his speech in this House in May, however, the right honorable gentleman said -
There have also been financial criticisms of the scheme in the light of our defence com mitments, and it is accordingly desirable that there should be a review of the finances of any scheme of national insurance.
Thus in March the right honorable gentleman was not able to convince himself that there was any necessity to worry about the financial aspect of national insurance in relation to our defence commitments. He was of opinion that those commitments could bc covered. My next point relates to a further statement made by the Prime Minister in his letter of resignation from the Lyons Government that in his view the building up of funds, and especially the building up of reserve funds quickly, would be a very good thing because it would bring about compulsory saving and would enable loans for defence to be more easily taken up. I do not wish to misinterpret his remarks. His exact statement was -
In any event, the funds which are create, under national insurance are not spirited away from the country. The bulk of them, amounting to nearly £10,000,000 in the next few years, would constitute a. community fund which would be Available for investment in public loans or for defence purposes.
That was one reason why he felt it incumbent upon the Government to go forward with national insurance at that time. But in hia speech on the 18th May in thi? House he said -
One matter which has presented itself to my mini relates to the possibility of seeing whether the accumulation of the necessary reserves cannot be graduated in such a fashion as to postpone the peak of accumulations until after the next few years of acute defence expenditure has been survived.
– He was groping for a way out.
– It may be retorted that a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since March, but I draw the attention of honorable members to a statement made by the right honorable gentleman in April, just a month after he resigned from the Lyons Government, in which he expressed practically the same views in regard to this matter as he holds at present. There is no need for any honorable member to put up any argument against the Government’s proposal to appoint a select committee, because the Prime Minister, in his letter of resignation in which he dealt with this matter so fully, has already given a full answer against’ the adoption of such a proposal. The proposal really amounts to a postponement of the general scheme. It has always been recognized that a general postponement of the scheme embodied in the legislation passed last year, must involve a postponement of various important ele ments of national insurance for many years. What the Lyons Government attempted to do was to ensure that some parts at least of the scheme would be implemented at the earliest possible moment, particularly those parts which were of real immediate importance and which could be most readily applied, such as the provisions associated with sick pay and medical family benefits. When he was Treasurer, the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey) left no stone unturned in an endeavour ro secure this objective. He did not resort to a fishing committee composed of twenty persons - the entourage of this committee will resemble Parliament en tour - but went direct with the National Insurance Commission to the people who were fully qualified to deal with the matter, namely the approved societies and the British Medical Association. He called representatives of those bodies into conference. I attended that conference and we brought forward a specific proposition. The other day I asked the Minister for Social Services what the Government had clone about that specific proposition, which had been agreed to by the late Cabinet, ten members of which are members of the present Government, and the Minister replied that the present Government was not worrying any more about that proposition. Yet that proposition was a specific proposition put forward by the ex-Treasurer. In my view it would have got us somewhere in the immediate future, and would have proved of extraordinary value to the people of Australia, r do not think that the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act should be thrown on the scrap-heap, and for that reason I shall not be able to support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin).
– The right honorable gentleman has spoiled a good speech.
– I believe, however, that there are elements in the legislation passed last year which can be implemented in the near future without incurring any great cost to the people of Australia. In fact, they could be implemented in such a way as ultimately to save much expenditure to the people. At any rate their implementation would save a great deal of ill health in this country, and would thus enable us to do something well worth while. Let usexamine the reasons which have been given for the course which the Government proposes to follow at this juncture when, in effect, it declines to go on immediately with a full-blooded scheme of national insurance. It proposes to setup a committee from which we are told we can expect results in three months, when a report will be made by the committee to this House. I ask honorable members to review the history of national insurance in this Parliament. It has been discussed for over twenty years. For five years a royal commission, representative of all parties in this Parliament, examined the subject and brought down a report. I, as Treasurer, appointed three actuaries, the best men we could find for the work in Australia, to go into the matter, and they were occupied on that task in 1927, 1928 and 1929. I brought down a bill for the purpose in 1928.
– Where is it now %
– That was a bill which, as I pointed out at the time, depended for its best results on the cooperation of the States. In order to secure that co-operation the matter was brought up at a Premiers Conference in 1929, when the States arrived at an agreement on it. Subsequently a questionnaire was drawn up, and that questionnaire was under examination by the State governments when the Bruce-Page Government went out of office in 1929. In my budget speech on the 22nd August, 1929, just prior to the election of that year, I said -
This measure provides for compulsory insurance against sickness, accident, permanent disablement, death or old age, and makes provision for widows and orphans and children’s allowances when the bread-winner is removed. The scheme aimed at altering the nature of the present old-age and invalid pension system where poverty, in addition to advanced age or permanent incapacity, is the credential required for the pension. It is obvious that such a test for the pension must discourage thrift and be repugnant to, even if inevitably accepted by, many deserving citizens. The national insurance scheme provides for the removal of this defect in our present system by making old-age and invalid pensions a right of the worker because of contributions during his working life, a right which he will obtain without question as to his other savings or financial position. To superimpose this system - on the present chaotic and wasteful conditions would result in an added burden on industry. Accordingly, When the bill was introduced, it was stated that it was not proposed to proceed with the scheme until the whole question had been discussed with the State governments and other organizations concerned. At the Premiers Conference in May last, the Commonwealth Government therefore asked the States whether they were prepared to assist in co-ordinating or, if necessary, to transfer by legislation the control of this whole field. After discussion, arrangements were made for a questionnaire to be sent to the States to ascertain their present costs and methods of relief, and the most economical means of consolidating them. It is believed that the saving that could be thus effected in administration would very closely approximate, if it did not exceed, the charge on industry that additional benefits of the national insurance scheme proposed by the Government would entail. Until the questionnaire has been replied to and the whole question thoroughly examined, and the best means of co-operation discovered, the Commonwealth Government intends to postpone further dealing with the National Insurance Bill.
The point I wish to make is that in respect even of health insurance I desired at that time to secure the co-operation of the States, with a view to reducing the costs of hospitalization and other medical and health charges as far as possible. However, the general elections ensued, and, subsequently, the economic depression descended on this country, with the result that the scheme was not proceeded with. Honorable members will remember that in 1932 the Lyons Government, at the instance of the Minister for Supply and Development, who was then Treasurer, appointed a parliamentary committee of the United Australia party to examine this matter, and that Sir Walter Kinnear and Messrs. Ince and McKay, together with actuaries, worked for two years preparing the measure passed last year. All of these experts agreed that the co-operation of the States was necessary if the best results were to be secured. Last year, as honorable members well know, this matter was very fully discussed in this House. When the National Health and Pensions Insurance
Bill was before us a deadlock arose, and it was only overcome when definite promises were given on the floor of this chamber that the points involved would be dealt with before the act came into force. These difficulties, however, have proved to be almost insuperable. A royal commission was appointed to inquire into the remuneration of medical practitioners in connexion with the scheme, and it was engaged on that inquiry for seven months. Despite the magnitude of these difficulties as exemplified by the prolonged discussions and inquiries which I have mentioned, it is now suggested that this select committee, which will not have the powers of a royal commission, will be able to solve them within three months. I regard it as a waste of money to appoint a committee of this kind, and, consequently, I shall not support the proposal. The constitution of the committee from the point of view of numbers will make it unwieldy, and one point alone - ‘how to provide for the voluntary contributor the self -employer and the small farmer - is so knotty that we can expect as many reports upon it as there are members of the committee. Yet, as if the committee’s task was not already big enough, the Minister now proposes to ask it to report on the provision of unemployment insurance. He will do so, he says, because the Leader of the Opposition has promised that be will give an “ astonishing response “ - whatever that may mean - to the Government if it includes unemployment. What is the position in regard to unemployment insurance? Whatever may be said about the competence of the Commonwealth to deal with national health insurance, there is no sane man in Australia who thinks that the Federal Government can deal, by itself, with unemployment insurance. The problem of unemployment insurance must be solved by the States, or by the States in association with the Commonwealth. By itself the Commonwealth can do nothing. That is shown by the fact that, as soon as the Lyons Government received the Ince report in August, 1937, it called a conference of State Premiers to discuss it. At that conference the present Prime Minister, the Minister for Supply and Development, the late Prime Minister and I were present. I asked every State Premier as he spoke whether he thought it possible for a Commonwealthwide insurance scheme to be implemented without the co-operation of the States, and all of them agreed that it was not. The following extract from the report of that conference indicates clearly the belief of Mr. Stevens: -
Mr. Stevens. New South Wales is prepared to join with the Commonwealth in investigating the present position, and in ascertaining the facts, in an endeavour to evolve an unemployment insurance scheme on a Commonwealth-wide basis. We do not think that purely State schemes should bc encouraged.
– Can a Commonwealth scheme operate successfully without State agencies?
Mr. Stevens. Mo.
Subsequently, when Mr. Dunstan, the Premier of Victoria, was speaking, I put the same question to him. He referred to the advantages of a Commonwealthwide scheme, and then the following dialogue took place: -
– You have referred to a Commonwealth-wide scheme. Can you suggest how such a scheme could be administered, apart from State agencies?
Mr. Dunstan. No; the full co operation of the States would be necessary. We have the machinery in Victoria and would be prepared to co-operate fully.
– “Was that the opinion of the other State Premiers, also?
– They were all in agreement on that point. Now it is proposed that a committee of twenty persons should inquire into the matter. Admitted !y, the number might be reduced by eight for the inquiry into unemployment insurance, because eight of the representatives are to deal with the health side of the matter, but on this aspect there should be at least as many State representatives. What sort of chance has a committee possessing no executive power, a peripatetic body wandering about the country interviewing the various State governments, of bringing in a hard-and-fast scheme that would be acceptable to Parliament? Any negotiations on this matter must be between governments. Decisions must bc made by the Executive, and no useful purpose can be served by a committee. The Government cannot abdicate its respon sibility. My complaint is that we already had a definite and specific scheme put before the friendly societies, the approved societies and doctors, and yet, at a certain stage when good progress was being made, the whole thing was suddenly dropped by the present Government as soon as it assumed office.
The attitude of the Country party to national insurance has always been consistent. Our position has been the same position from 1928 to 1939, and it was re-stated in the following resolution carried last March: -
The Country party is in favour of the principles of national insurance, but feels that until such time as all the States arc prepared to fully co-operate with the Federal Government in order to eliminate duplication and overlapping, it is not possible to implement a satisfactory, complete and equitable scheme of social services for the Commonwealth which will impose the smallest possible financial burden on the community, and urges that consideration be given to the preparation of a family medical service scheme with sick pay and provision for dependent children, to replace the present act, and that with this end in view the State governments, friendly societies and the British Medical Association bc invited to co-operate with the Commonwealth Government and assist in the formulation of such a measure, and that pending the’ enactment of these proposals the present National Insurance and Health Act be inoperative.
I have always maintained that, if we did not attempt to bite off too much at first, the scheme would have a better chance of success.
– What was the attitude of the right honorable member at those Cabinet meetings in Melbourne?
– I cannot discuss what took place at those Cabinet meetings, or any others. I have referred only to the published statements of the Prime Minister and other members of the Government. It is not my place to reveal Cabinet discussions; it is my endeavour to secure, as soon as possible, some form of contributory national insurance, for which the country has stood all the time. I believe that there is a first-class chance still of doing something in that direction if the Minister will only go ahead. In the meantime, it would be suicidal to destroy completely the legislative- fabric that has been built up for the provision of medical benefits. There was not much difference in regard to the clauses dealing with medical benefits and sick pay between the British act, the bill which I introduced, and the act which was passed through this Parliament. Every party is committed to national insurance. The Leader of the Opposition has said that, regarding medical benefits and sick pay, he recognizes the reasonableness of the contributory system.
– That is quite correct.
– I put it to the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister that if we have in this House, as is apparently the case, agreement between the parties on the principle of a contributory form of national insurance for health and sickness benefits, we should get on with that side of the scheme immediately without bothering to inquire into the wide range of subjects suggested by the Minister.
– I regret that I did not hear the whole of the speech of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), but I gathered that he is opposed to the motion for the appointment of a select committee, and I also gathered that he honoured me with his attention by suggesting that there is grave inconsistency in my attitude.
Mr.Ward. - He used stronger words than that.
– “ Contemptible volte face “ was the expression.
– Is that so? I knew that it would be a strong expression, and I was merely bowdlerizing it so as to bring it within my own compass. I do not want to rehearse the statements made on this matter by my colleague who presented the two motions to the House, but I want to say something about the particular aspect in which I, personally am apparently involved. It is quite true that I am a very warm supporter of the idea of national insurance, although I gather that in that respect I am on common ground with the right honorable member for Cowper, who has told us that he and his party have, right through the piece, been extremely anxious to have some effective system of national insurance brought into operation. My Government has submitted to this House a motion that there should be an examination of this matter - not de novo, but an examination starting with the existing reports and the existing legislation. It is now said that I have executed what I have translated into English as a somersault. Early in December of last year, as Parliament was about to go into the Christmas recess, the question of national insurance cropped* up. It is well known, not only to members of this House, but also to members of the public generally, that there was a considerable controversy about national insurance.
– In the Cabinet?
– And outside it.
– In that controversy, the Opposition, as such, was not involved.
– I can assure the honorable gentleman that I am not at present defending myself against him. I am performing a not unaccustomed part - I am defending myself against the right honorable member for Cowper. In December of last year, as every body knows, the fate of national insurance hung in the balance, so to speak, although, at. that time, the necessary legislation had been passed, the national insurance commission had been set up, offices had been obtained, officers had been appointed, and all the machinery was in forward gear. The questions that arose at that time concerned themselves with two matters; first, whether we should go on with national insurance in the face of our defence commitments; and, secondly, whether the insurance scheme itself should be modified. As for the first question, all I need say is this: Before that controversy about national insurance arose, this Parliament had itself received the details of the plan for the expenditure of £63,000,000 on defence, and had actually approved of it. At the time the controversy began, the defence programme had risen through its various successive stages until it stood at the grand prospective total of £63,000,000 for three years. I knew that that was so, as did all other honorable members. Subsequently, proposals were evolved that the scheme of national insurance, as it stood, should have added to it what it was stated had been promised, in effect, during the passage of the bill through Parliament, namely, some extension of medical benefits to include the family, and also some provision for what was called the self-employed man, in particular, the small farmer.
Lt is quite clear that the addition of these two matters to the existing national insurance scheme could not have reduced that cost, but could only have increased it. That was where we stood in December of last year. After that there were discussions which, of course, I am not in a position to reproduce, though some of them took place coram populo
– None of them took place in the Parliament.
– Very likely not. As the result of these discussions a statement was made - indeed, I think it. was made in Parliament - that the national insurance scheme would be proceeded with. I was a party to the making of that statement, as was the right honor- it bie member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page). It was a pronouncement that the national insurance scheme would be proceeded with although at that time the defence programme stood, as I have said, at £63,000,000. What happened next was that I communicated with my electors - not an undemocratic practice.
– Where did the right honorable member meet his electors?
– I wrote to them.
– All of them?
– I selected a few thousand of them who were so well advised as to be my supporters. I spoke to them about national insurance through the medium of a circular. And why? Because, as honorable members know, a very considerable campaign against national insurance was being waged in the constituencies.
– A very successful one too.
– I am afraid the honorable gentleman is right.
– It had my assistance.
– I am sure of that. At any rate I am sure that the honorable gentleman is right in saying that the campaign was not unsuccessful. It seemed to me, therefore, to be a proper thing that any body in Parliament who believed that national insurance was right, should lift his voice and say so, and give reasons, because I have never believed it is the duty of members of Parliament simply to translate- into parliamentary expression what some people in their electorates might be thinking. So I communicated with thousands of persons, not merely because I was their representative in this Parliament, but also because, in fact, I could state positively, on behalf of the Government of which I was a member, that we stood for national insurance, and proposed to go forward with it. That, mark you, was at that time, the decision of Cabinet, including the right honorable member for Cowper. I have yet to learn it is wrong for a Minister to say something to his constituents, or to pledge himself to his constituents on a matter which represents the considered policy of the Government to which he belongs. That was after the Cabinet pronouncement. What happened next? At the end of January or the beginning of February, this matter once more came up for consideration by the Government. I do not need to say anything about the Cabinet discussions because a few days later the right honorable member for Cowper made a public pronouncement at a time when no pronouncement had otherwise been made on behalf of the Government. That pronouncement, according to reports, was made at a place called Kempsey, in New South Wales. According to a newspaper report, the right honorable gentleman said -
It is worth asking whether the whole or a part of the £3,000,000 of direct taxation, which in must be contributed by the Government to establish national insurance and the £0,000,000 or £7,000,000 annual contribution by industry through employers and employees might in this desperate emergency be more wisely used to make us more self-contained by helping along developmental works of a fundamental nature, than in this immediate social reform. If we provide more basic facilities, more sustained employment and an invincible basis of defence, we can still give ourselves at a later stage national insurance and other social benefits; but if we lose our country nothing else will matter. For this reason the parties behind the Government are meeting on March 1 to discuss the matter and indicate their views on its order of priority in national expenditure.
I do not wish to make any offensive or hard comments, but I do say that, when the people of Australia read that pronouncement by the then Deputy Prime Minister, they regarded it - and not unreasonably - as an announcement of the death of the national insurance scheme. They could extract no inference from it other than that this scheme was to be abandoned, or, at any rate, so substantially postponed that its postponement might be indistinguishable from abandonment. The next thing that happened was that further party and Cabinet discussions took place, as the result of which, as all honorable members know, an indication was given that the scheme, as itstood, was not to be proceeded with, but that discussions with interested and affected parties were to be resumed in order to evolve a different scheme of family medical benefit. In these circumstances, what was my position ?
– Very difficult.
– It was, as the honorable member has mentioned, extremely difficult, and one from which there was no escape, having regard to my commitments to my electors, other than by my resignation. At the time of my resignation, I wrote a letter to the late Prime Minister. I have not the letter with me, ‘because I did not expect to be speaking on this matter, but I suggest that the whole of it would bear study.
– The material parts of that letter have already been cited in this debate.
– I wonder if they Iia ve? At any rate, I would commend the. whole of the document for the study of honorable members opposite. In the course of that letter I indicated, and I repeat now, that whatever might be said about defence expenditure excluding the possibility of national insurance, I was in no position to say it, because when I 3ent that circular to my electors I knew what, the defence commitments were. So did all other honorable members know that. If other members of the Cabinet, were sufficiently well advised or sufficiently cautious on that matter to avoid any specific commitments, I do not criticize them; but, wisely or unwisely, I took up my stand with full knowledge of what our defence commitments were. In the letter to which I have referred, I said, in effect, to the late Prime Minister, “ What is going to be said about us if, at this juncture, with a National Insurance Commission in existence, with the act on our statute-book, with the officers appointed, proclamations already in existence, and everything ready to go forward, we proceed to go back into the committee stage ? “. That letter was written at a time when circumstances were entirely different from those in existence to-day. The fact is that, at a’bout the end of January, the national insurance scheme was virtually abandoned, and during every day, every week and every month that passed after that, time, it was slowly bleeding to death. Because I come into office and find what may be described as a corpse instead of a living organism, somebody stands up and says, as the right honorable member for Cowper has said, in effect, “It is dead, but why don’t you bring it back to life? What is all this about having a select committee of Parliament to conduct an investigation? Why not wave your magic wand over it?”
– Why not bury it ?
– The right honorable member for Cowper says that he does not want to bury it. He is, in effect, the best friend of the corpse. I may, perhaps, be permitted to ask, if this scheme has been reduced to the condition of a corpse : Who did it ? Did I do it ?
– “Who killed Cock Robin?”
– Yes, that is what it amounts to, “ Who killed Cock Robin ? “ I am perfectly certain that I did not. I am also perfectly certain that if there is to be an adjudging of the responsibility for the death of the national insurance scheme, then judgment must be given in my favour and against the right honorable member for Cowper. It is one thing when a statute is on the statute-book, and the whole organization under it is a livingthing, to propose that we should once more go into committee, but it was an entirely different matter to suggest a parliamentary committee at a time when’ this statute on the statute-book had virtually been abandoned, the National Insurance Commission and staff were in process of breaking up, and the Royal Commission on Doctors’ Remuneration had not been in existence since January of this year. The choice with which I was confronted was of saying, “ Well, it is a corpse, I will just forget, all about it”, or, on the other hand, of saying, as 1 Lave said, through my colleague, the Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart), “ We must take all of this material, and invite all of the people of this Parliament who say that they believe in national insurance to put their ideas into a pool, in order to see whether or not they can put any breath or any life into this body, or at any rate, provide a new organism which will give it some chance of existence “. It is a new thing for me to be told that, in circumstances of this kind, some injustice is being done to Parliament or to national insurance by inviting honorable members of this House to participate in the production of a really workable scheme that will have, in the broad, the support of all honorable members of Parliament.
– In view of the constitution of the House, would a select committee bc likely to reach an agreement?
– If the honorable member is referring to the possibility of obtaining a unanimous report, I do not think that it could. I do not suppose that we could hope to obtain a unanimous report from a select committee of this House on any subject; but I know that there are many honorable members in this chamber - there are two or three of them sitting opposite me at present - who have said, in effect, “We believe in national insurance, but we do not like your present proposals “. There are one or two honorable members, and perhaps more, who, as recently as the end of last year, said, “ We would support this scheme if you would include in it family medical benefits, provision for the selfemployed, some provision for small farmers, and certain unemployed, benefits “. If all of these things were added to the cost of a national health and pensions insurance scheme - not subtracted from it - those honorable members at present opposed to the scheme because of the defence needs, could hardly favour a scheme which might cost perhaps several millions more. Therefore, I said to myself and to my colleagues, that those honorable members who believe in national insurance will be only too glad if a select committee is appointed, and they can then contribute their ideas, constructively I hope, to this problem, and see how far they can reconcile their opinions with those honorable members who say that national insurance should be a reality and not something only in the nature of rhetoric. It is for the House to determine if the scheme shall be rejected; but it is strange indeed to be told by a former Minister - that is my only reason for speaking - that I am responsible, when he is responsible to a considerable degree for the present state in which national insurance finds itself. Because I said months ago, in circumstances entirely different, that I did not want a committee, I am guilty of a contemptible somersault, or whatever expression was used, when I now say to this House, “Very well; we all want national insurance; let us get together and produce a. scheme acceptable to every one “.
.- Two proposals before the House bring to my mind very forcibly the following wellknown quatrain from Omar Khayyam -
Oh love! Could thou and I with fate conspire To grasp the sorry scheme of things entire, Would not we shatter it to bits - and then “Remould it nearer to the heart’s desire.
So far as I can gather, those words appear to cover the proposals now before us. If the two motions be carried, we are to destroy the national health and pensions insurance scheme, and upon its foundation bring in new proposals; but I do not believe that any good can possibly come out of the existing act. I favour the complete repeal of the existing legislation, because I regard it as a real obstacle to any just and equitable system of national insurance. A great deal of our confusion arises from the sense in which we use the words “ national insurance “ and contributory “. The Government speaks of national insurance as a scheme in which individuals are compelled to insure themselves, just as a man may take out a policy of insurance on his own life. But even in life insurance the law recognizes that one person may have an insurable interest in the life of another and may, therefore, be permitted to take out a policy of insurance on the life of that other. Husbands may insure their wives and parents may insure their children. It is a simple extension of the idea to treat the nation as having an insurable interest in the lives and wellbeing of its citizens. It is thus that we see national insurance. Invalid and oldage pensions, which are a form of national or social insurance, embody the provision which a nation makes to insure certain members of the community against suffering, incapacity or old age. A system of national insurance does not necessarily involve the payment of contributions by the immediate beneficiary. A contributory pensions scheme is, in a sense, one to which every one has to contribute. We may have a scheme under which every one is compelled to contribute and yet it may pay benefits according to needs. In the scheme now under discussion, not only is practically every employee compelled to contribute, but stringent conditions are also imposed to deprive of benefit contributors who have become unfinancial. The scheme is good for the small minority of employed persons happy enough to be in permanent employment and with the certain prospect of remaining in employment until in- capacitated or too old to work any longer. That happy few are the only ones to which the act passed by this House offers any prospect at all. Differing opinions have been expressed by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) and the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). We can readily see that these right honorable gentlemen wanted a scheme for different reasons. The right honorable member for Cowper believed in a health insurance scheme; he was not interested in the other benefits to be provided.
– The right honorable member for Cowper did not embody health insurance in the 1928 bill.
– The Prime Minister, speaking to a few thousand well-to-do citizens in the electorate of Kooyong, supported a national health and pensions insurance scheme because he thought it would reduce the cost of the nation’s pensions bill.
– What did the right honorable gentleman say?
– His circular, which is dated the 17th December, 1938, stated -
The central feature of national insurance is, of course, that it is insurance, and, therefore, involves the payment of premiums or contributions by the insured people. If your view is that the Government should provide all our social benefits for us, without contribution by anybody except the taxpayers, you will, of course, be opposed ‘to national insurance. But,I cannot believe that such an attitude would reflect the true spirit of Australians. Surely our instinct is to be against the receipt of charity, whether from individuals or from the organized community. Surely we would all prefer to be able to draw medical benefits, sick pay, widows’ pensions, and old-age pensions as a matter of right, because we have helped to pay for them, rather than as a matter of Government benevolence. . . . During the last electionI repeatedly pointed out that if we did not adopt national insurance, and simply allowed matters to drift, with the old-age pensions being made a play-thing of politics at every general election, the day would come, in about 30 years time, when the pensions bill of the Commonwealth would be twice what it is now, with only the same number of taxpayers to provide it. Such a state of affairs would ultimately mean either national bankruptcy or a drastic cutting down of benefits in order to avoid bankruptcy. We all remember what happened (unavoidably) to pensions in 1931; it could easily happen again.
My own views on this great subject would, perhaps, besummed up in a few succinct paragraphs : -
The enormous burden of free pensions in Australia cannot be definitely increased.
There is a great moral principle in the proposition that, if we desire to obtain benefits from the community, we must be prepared to contribute towards the cost of those benefits. This is the very definition of citizenship.
Wo have a great opportunity to-day, by putting national insurance into operation, to arrest the trend towards pauperization in Australia, and to strike a real blow for that rugged spirit of independence which characterized the Australian pioneers.
He went on to say that he regarded the matter of such importance that he did not feel that he was representing the people of Kooyong aright, or words to that effect, unless he made his position clear. The right honorable gentleman and those who have advocated the present scheme appear to think that a National Health and Pensions Insurance Act would be financed from money obtained outside Australia; but it would be financed in the same way as noncontributory pensions are financed, and that is out of the product of the labour of the Australian people. It does not matter whether it is a contributory or a noncontributory scheme, because the noncontributory invalid and old-age pensions scheme which has been in operation since 1908 has been financed mainly by the taxes paid by the people according to their capacity. The proposals adopted by this House embodied in the National Insurance Act, providing for the payment of contributions will be paid by those least able to pay. Under the existing act, a boy or girl of sixteen years of age earning a few shillings a week would have to contribute. The only funds to finance a national insurance or any other scheme are provided by labour. We cannot produce money from Mars, or we cannot expect to locate an inexhaustible gold mine in New Guinea. The contributory scheme adopted by this Parliament is based on making those pay who cannot afford to pay, and in that way departing from the principle that those who can pay should pay according to their capacity. The Prime Minister nd others have told us that a great moral principle is involved and that those who desire to obtain benefits from the community must contribute towards the cost. Some have said that those who benefit by our invalid and old-age pensions legislation do not contribute towards the pensions they receive, but the principle upon which such pensions are paid is that the old men and old women have made their contributions towards the community by becoming the parents of children and Tearing and caring for them and, so far as possible, educating them. In that way they have made a great contribution to the community and in many instances have thereby prevented themselves from providing for their old age. That is the basis upon which we should work. That principle was laid down by Seddon in New Zealand, and by the Lyne Government in New South Wales.
– There are some ugly exclusions from it.
– Yes, but there aire some ugly exclusions from the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act. For instance, if a person has not been a contributor for five years since the last time that he had come into insurance, or if he has not paid threequarters of the premiums in the three years before he becomes 65 years of age, he loses the benefits, and receives the noncontributory pension on the ugly conditions to which the Minister has referred.
– An outrageous scheme!
-h-Come in and help us make a good one.
– The act is too bad to be made better. In any scheme of insurance this Parliament should take heed of the great institutions created by voluntary effort of the people, the trade unions on the one hand and the friendly societies on the other. They should not be ignored. They should be worked through. The fault that I find with the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act is that it attempts to supersede the work of the friendly societies and trade unions. In this country the friendly societies are powerful and have large membership; in that respect, the position here is different from the position which existed in England in 1911, when the British national insurance legislation was passed. A parliament is foolish when it attempts to create new machinery to replace machinery worked by experienced men which is already at hand. We are told that there are constitutional difficulties in a scheme of unemployment insurance. I agree; but there are great constitutional difficulties in this scheme. There are constitutional difficulties in compelling employers, as part of the machinery, to collect the premiums or contributions from their employees. The High. Court may say, “ What insurable interest has the employer in the health of an employee? in just the same way ‘ as it would ask. “ What insurable interest has an employer in whether a person is employed or not ? “ The employer as employer has no material interest, although as a citizen he may have a moral social interest, in the wellbeing of his employees. If the employer fell ill and could not carry on his work he would be replaced. The vital fault, of this act is that it proposes to place upon a contributory basis the provision which this country has made, and is making, for the old-age and incapacity of its people. New South W ales has made provision on a non-contributory basis for widows’ pensions. Provision of pensions for the aged, infirm, and widows should be the task of the community and the people concerned should not be compelled to contribute. The people should not be told, “ You shall not get a pension unless you make contributions “. That objection applies to this act. Another point, is that we do not say in the legislation to the contributors, “ So long as you were able you made payments and you will benefit “. We say, instead, “ You must make all payments and comply with all conditions or you will not benefit “. The New Zealand system is based on the principle of a fiat rate paid by everybody, and when a person becomes incapacitated, unemployed or widowed the pension is payable. Wo one says “ You have not made any contributions for some time and you are outside the scheme “. I do not believe in invalid and old-age pensions being in any sense on a contributory basis. I invite the attention of the House to the fact that most countries have their pension schemes on a noncontributory basis. Denmark is one. South Africa and Canada, which have comparatively recently adopted invalid and old-age pensions, have adopted the non-contributory basis. Most of the States of the United States of America pay pensions on a noncontributory basis, although I believe that there is a move away from that now. The Free State of Eire pays pensions on a non-contributory basis. It cannot be forgotten by honorable members that the people who now benefit from the old-age pensions system do not make contributions in money alone; they make contributions by their lives, by raising families in penurious and selfsacrificing circumstances, thus ensuring the continuation of the race. They pay for their pensions by service. Their inability to provide for their old age is due not to un worthiness or thriftlessness, but to the fact that in serving this nation they are npt able to do so. This country, [ believe, will never adopt any proposal for the basing of the pensions system on contributions by the people affected. I became satisfied, when I heard the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden) analyse the financial basis of the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act, that that act was designed to remove part of the burden from the general taxpayer to the shoulders of the people concerned.
– The representative of the honorable gentleman’s party at Geneva supported a convention urging the adoption of this principle.
– I am not responsible for the opinion of any one Other than myself. The opinion that I hold, is held by the vast number of people. At Geneva, the attempt is to lay down an international code for countries, some of which are a long way behind Australasia and Canada, and it would be better for. such a. country to have a pensions system on a contributory basis than no system at all. In England, from 1908 before the British contributory scheme was introduced, old-age pensions were payable at the age of 70- years. The act under which the new system was established did not say to thepeople “ You shall still have pensions al 70, but you shall have to pay for them “. It said “ Having to pay for pensions, you shall have them at 65 “. We do not propose to make the contributory pensionspayable at an earlier age than is thecase under the present system.
I am delighted that we have had theopportunity in this House to vote for the repeal of the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act. I had never expected that in the life of this Parliament we should have that opportunity. The National Health and Pensions Insurance Act is an entirely bad measure. I formed that opinion at the outset, but it was impressed upon me more forcibly as the debate on the bill proceeded. If” it had not been for the application of the guillotine on that debate, the Government might have been forced to a different conclusion about it from that which it held. It would have been able to learn the opinions expressed through the representatives of the people. No scheme everhad a better press than the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act. The scheme was blazoned forth as something that would give the people, in Lloyd George’s words, “ a rare and delicious fruit “, but, when the hill was examined by this House and the people outside, it was found that all that it did was compel people to pay for that which they had previously enjoyed without payment. ‘I agree with everything that the Ministerfor Social Services has said about the faults of the existing pensions scheme, but that scheme would not be improved by this legislation, because the bulk of the people under this scheme would not get the contributory pensions. They would be left to the other scheme. We should improve that other scheme, but we cannot improve it by the method which this House passed last year. The noncontributory scheme provides a meagre £1 a week as reward for the services rendered to the country by the people who draw the pension, but it has the virtue of being a reward, whereas the pension payable under the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act would have to be paid for by those who drew it.
.- I listened with a great deal of interest to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in his attempt to justify the altered attitude of himself in particular towards national insurance. Honorable members on all sides of the House must have been greatly interested in the acrobatic way in which the right honorable gentleman sought to get over some of the difficult problems that presented themselves to him in explaining his reversal of form. The Prime Minister laid a great deal of stress on the alleged fact that circumstances had altered between when he resigned his portfolio in March and when he became Prime Minister. He said in effect that, whenhe became Prime Minister and had opportunity to do the things which he condemned the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) for not doing, national insurance waa a corpse and he was asked to do the impossible in attempting to revive it. National insurance is not a corpse. The only organization which could make it a corpse in the real sense is this Parliament and this Parliament had never done so. The Prime Minister had exactly the same opportunity as his predecessor to decide whether or not national insurance should be proceeded with. In December, the Prime Minister said that national insurance was marching. Cabinet had debated, it and decided that it should go on. He sent out thousands of letters to his constituents. I remind the House that the press, which is solidly behind the Prime Minister, disclosed that Cabinet then decided to go on with national insurance because the right, honorable member for
Kooyong had threatened to resign if it did not do so. The honorable gentleman was held up as a strong man for having forced Cabinet to his way of thinking. The conditions in December were almost the same as they are to-day, if anything, they were worse. We then had before us a proposal to expend an additional £20,000,000 on defence.
– That was decided before the proclamation which it is now proposed to annul was made.
– It was subsequent to a lot of things. The position, from the point of view of the country, was that in December we were faced with the need to make a quick determination. At that time the present Prime Minister had the opportunity of his life to do as he desired in connexion with national insurance. He was principally responsible for the continuance of the scheme as a live issue. In December bush fires broke out all over the country, a drought was devastating the length and breadth of Australia, our wool cheque for the twelve months was known to have been £15,000,000 less than that received for the previous twelve months, and the price of wheat had fallen to less than 2s. a bushel. Notwithstanding these conditions the present. Prime Minister said in effect, “I am a man of principle. The National Health and Pensions Insurance Act is on the statute-book, and it must be put into operation”. Because on the 15th March last Cabinet decided that the scheme could not be put into operation the right honorable gentleman: resigned. Three weeks later the then Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) died, and almost within a month of his resignation from the Lyons Cabinet, the right honorable member for Kooyong became Prime Minister. The important fact is that in- the time intervening between his resignation from the Cabinet and his assumption of office as Prime Minister, no material change had occurred in the circumstances of the nation. A careful analysis of the facte will show that no foundation in substance exists for the very fine speech that the Prime Minister delivered this afternoon. He based his case on an absolutely false foundation. Speaking for myself - I do not 3peak for the Country 2 party as a whole, and in any case we are not altogether dragooned into the attitude that we should adopt - I believe that, although it is not possible to .give effect to the national insurance scheme embodied in the act passed last year, the ideal of national insurance is good. I believe that, in connexion with it, we should do one thing at a time and do it well. Perhaps the most urgent requirement of this country is an adequate health and medical benefits scheme. I am therefore favorable to the retention of those parts of the present act -which provide medical and family benefits. The Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) has been an enthusiastic advocate of national insurance for a number of years, and I believe that he could make a good, workable scheme out of the portion of the act now on the statute-book relating to health and family benefits. After that has been done, the next step could be taken. It might relate to unemployment insurance or to some other aspect of the subject.
– Stand in and help me.
– If I believed the Government sincerely desired to do the job, I should do so, but I am doubtful about it. Business is sometimes introduced into this House with the hope that honorable members will reject the proposals made and so justify a government in saying, “ We did our best, and we are not responsible for what has happened “. The full scheme of national insurance set out in the act now on the statute-book cannot be put into operation at present. Even when it was being considered by this House last year honorable members of the Country party protested that adequate provision had not been made for self-employed persons, small shopkeepers, and other persons similarly situated. We agreed to the proposals of the bill, however, on the distinct understanding that a measure would be introduced to provide a scheme of national insurance for such persons as those to whom* I have referred. In December, it was discovered that such a scheme could not be put into operation except by incurring the expenditure of an additional several million pounds in a budget which had already been enlarged to breaking point. That being so, I formed the opinion that the general scheme already agreed to should be curtailed to provide medical and health benefits only. I adhere to that attitude. When the full scheme was under discussion in this Parliament, the present Prime Minister was in England. I do not* criticize him on that account, for obviously he could not be in two places at once. But the fact that he was abroad deprived him of the opportunity to inform his mind fully on the attitude of honorable members of the Parliament on this subject by listening to the debates. Surely the right honorable gentleman must have been informed, however, that the scheme as then passed was contingent upon the passing of a complementary measure to provide insurance for selfemployed persons, small shopkeepers, and the like. The whole situation has changed since that time, as the Prime Minister himself recognizes. His effort this afternoon to repudiate the suggestion that he had been guilty of a volte face, or somersault, or whatever it may be called, will not stand much examination. In all the circumstances, the Government would be well advised not to insist upon the acceptance of its proposal. It would also be well advised to drop the proposal that further inquiries should be made by a select committee. Experts of all kinds have examined this subject during the last ten years. First of all, the Royal Commission on National Insurance inquired into and reported upon it; then Sir Walter Kinnear made his recommendations to the Government; and subsequently the present National Insurance Commission inquired into almost every phase of the subject that could be suggested. All of the information that could possibly be of any value to the Government has been accumulated, and I can see no justification whatever for authorizing further inquiries. The best thing for the Government to do would be to consider the information it has at its disposal, formulate its policy, and accept full responsibility for it. If it submits a definite proposal to the House, honorable members would doubtless consider it and a determination would be made upon it. For myself, I make it clear that I shall support a reasonable proposal to provide medical and health benefits for the people.
– I do not take strong exception to the attitude of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) or the Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) on this subject. They are acting, in this connexion, in accordance with the high traditions of political expediency that have been established in Australia. I shall not. be hypercritical and say that the Government, with several of the members of which I was associated in a previous Government, is doing something politically unclean or politically reprehensible. On certain plain facts, it simply is asking Parliament .to take a specific action. I do not. wish to throw stones at the Minister for Social Services because, having been an enthusiastic exponent of national insurance, like several other honorable members of the House, and having joined a government which he sincerely believed intended to allow him to proceed with the scheme of national insurance, he now finds that the Government is not able to do so. I do not think that he should therefore resign from the Government and so weaken it in preference to making the best of a bad job.
– I give an undertaking that I will not stay in the Government one week if that position is reached.
– How often has the honorable member resigned from a government?
– I do not wish to hang on to office, as the honorable member has done.
– I very much regret any suggestion that the Minister for Social Services should resign from the Government over an issue that, in my opinion, is dead. I should disagree with any honorable member who suggested that the national insurance issue provided a justifiable reason for wrecking this Government. Consequently, I approve of the attitude of the Prime Minister and the Minister for Social Services in facing the realities of the situation and asking Parliament to put the whole scheme into cold storage by the process of annulment of the proclamation. It could, of course, be put on one side for ever by the process of repeal. Speaking as a friendly supporter of the Government, I can see no justification for its resignation or for that of the Minister for Social Services whatever decision Parliament may reach on this subject. I believe that, national insurance was killed stone dead Iiic day the present Prime Minister walked out of the Lyons Cabinet because it re-affirmed a previous decision not to proceed at that time with the scheme that had been placed upon the statute-book.
– I do not think that was the reason by any means; it was because the Government was on its last, legs.
– The honorable member for Batman ,(Mr. Brennan) always suspects sinister motives behind any action taken by the Prime Minister, or any o’ther honorable member, not belonging to his own party. [Quorum formed.]
National insurance was killed the day the Prime Minister resigned from the Lyons Government, after that Government had re-affirmed its decision not to proceed with the scheme in the form in. which it stands on the statute-book. To-day, national insurance is dead as a political issue, simply because the people of Australia know, as every honorable member knows, that it is utterly impracticable to proceed with it in view of the tremendous commitments which Australia has entered into in connexion with defence. We are all aware of that fact, and any honorable member who argues against it is simply pulling his own leg. We know very well that Australia cannot carry the burden of £12,000,000 a year involved in national insurance as well as the additional burden of £20,000,000 annually in respect of our defence programme. If we propose to accuse any one of having killed national insurance, that charge must be made against the ex-Treasurer, now the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr.’ Casey), who, after an examination of the financial position of this country, and after securing a report from his experts upon the cost of certain demands made upon the Government by members of the Country party, decided that it was utterly impossible to proceed with the national insurance scheme in its present form on the statute-book and with outnew defence programme at the same time.
I admire the right honorable gentleman for his courage and frankness in putting the true position before the Government before any further damage had been done. He killed national insurance as we know it, but he did the right thing. I know that he came to that decision reluctantly. However, by his action, he saved this country from a major financial and economical disaster. If, in spite of his knowledge, he had forced national insurance on the people of Australia, as I think he could have done, we should now be heading for a worse depression than we experienced ten years ago.
– He killed national insurance because he loved it.
– That is unfair. When this scheme was being debated in this House last year, all of us paid tributes to the magnificent work which the ex-Treasurer did in handling the measure. He did that work practically singlehanded. Consequently, it would not be fair or sportsmanlike for any honorable member now to throw mud at him simply because he has since been obliged to face realities and repose the scheme in its coffin. Unlike honorable members opposite, I am not opposed to national insurance on a contributory basis. Therefore, I am not the least bit. influenced by any of their statements. With that characteristic candour which assists honorable members on this side to” detect the real intentions of the Labour party in respect of many important issues which come before this House, the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) has made it clear that nothing short of a non-contributory national insurance scheme will suit the Opposition. Honorable members opposite claim that last year they did not have an opportunity to put their views fully before the House. On the contrary, we discussed that measure continuously for one month, and no measure in recent years has received so much consideration by this Parliament. Some 65 members spoke on it, many of them securing an extension of time. Thus it is rather late in the day to say that insufficient attention was given to that measure. It would not have mattered had the final scheme agreed upon been vastly different, because it would not have suited the
Opposition, except on a non-contributory basis. That is a fundamental feature of the Labour party’s policy in this matter. In proposing that the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act, which will ordinarily come into operation on the 4th September, should be repealed, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) has not been influenced by recent developments; his party simply will not have national insurance except on a noncontributory basis. I am opposed to the repeal of the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act. I was a member of the Government which introduced that legislation, and I was one of the few Ministers - I think there were only three of us - who spoke in support of the measure. I do not retract anything I said then, but I am now prepared to put this scheme into cold storage for an indefinite period - I hope for not longer than three, years - until we can see where the country is heading, and until we can be assured that Australia is safe economically. We must abandon, temporarily at least, social schemes of this kind until the perils which now confront the country have passed. In any case, such schemes will be of no assistance in helping us to hold this country in a time of emergency. Furthermore, we cannot afford them at present. There is no need for speculation or prophecy on this matter. The plain fact is that we cannot afford, as a nation, any expensive social experiment while we are carrying our present preliminary defence expenditure of £63,000,000, to be spread over the next three years. We know what the economic and financial position of Australia is to-day - our national income ls shrinking, our trade balance is retrogressing, and our London funds are decreasing, whilst it is becoming increasingly difficult for governments to raise loans on the Australian market. For these reasons, the Government is doing the right thing, irrespective of anything that has happened in the recent past, in proposing that this expensive national insurance scheme, which does not meet with the approval of one section in this House, should not be proceeded with for the present. I strongly support the proposal that the proclamation of the act should be postponed, and I hope that there wil! be sufficient honorable members with a sense of the fitness of things to support the Government in that direction. On the other hand, it would be a confession of political bankruptcy on the part of this Parliament if we repealed this legislation. We know that the people of Australia were forcibly educated on the issue of national insurance, that they never really asked for the scheme, and that whatever enthusiasm or interest they displayed in it was the result of a campaign of propaganda inspired, not only by the Government, but also by friendly societies and other interested bodies which have always been more or less keen on a scheme of national insurance in which they would play a part. We know very well that if the international situation had not developed as it did after September of last year, there would be no question to-day of the postponement of the scheme, but that it would automatically come into operation on the 4th September next. Our sole justification for putting this scheme into cold storage for an indefinite period is the unsettled international situation which compels us to shoulder financial burdens in respect of defence that we cannot comfortably carry. That expenditure will be spread over the next three years. If in that period, the international situation should become worse, that burden will be increased enormously, in which case there will be no suggestion whatever about reviving national insurance. If, however, the international situation returns to normal within the next three years, and on reviewing our economic position, we should find it desirable to take the scheme out of its coffin, we should readily do so if any life at all is left in it. Furthermore, if the scheme in its present form is then deemed to be unsuitable, the way will be clear to devise an entirely new one which would meet the altered conditions. Australia is one of the few countries of the world which has not yet some form of national insurance. Out of 32 countries which have national insurance of some kind or another, none has a scheme of a non-contributory character. Even in New Zealand, in which country we are repeatedly asked to study the greatest social reforms of the Labour movement, national insurance is on a contributory basis. The workers of New Zealand do not receive benefits under that scheme gratis. Australia, by abandoning national insurance for all time - and that is what repeal would amount to - would show that it was completely out of step with the movement for social reform throughout the world. Even Japan, a country .that has been involved in war for the last four or five years, has put into operation a scheme of social insurance which is stated to possess features worthy of imitation. Therefore Australia, if it is to maintain its reputation for keeping in the vanguard oi social progress, dare not turn its back upon the principle of national insurance. There has grown up in this Parliament, and indeed outside it, a practice of swearing allegiance to principles, and letting it go at that. If an honorable member wishes to get himself out of a particularly tight political corner, he does so by saying that he favours the principle, but that the scheme designed to give effect to that principle is anathema to him. If we favour the principle of national insurance we should be untrue to ourselves if we took action now to kill the whole scheme - to destroy it so effectively that it can never be resurrected. I urge honorable members of the Opposition, and those members of my own party who favour the repeal of the act, not to press their point too far. Having regard to the present financial state of the country, and to its commitments, there is no danger that national insurance will be forced upon unwilling taxpayers. The rational thing to say is that, in spite of the good features possessed by the scheme, it is impossible to put it into operation at the present time. We have a bigger job on hand. Therefore, let us forget it for at least three years, or possibly longer.
I know that the Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) has set his heart on putting a scheme of national insurance into operation, and I trust that he will not deprive the country of his services because he cannot get his way on this occasion. He is a recognized authority on the subject, and if he wishes to justify his political existence, and to assist the cause he has at heart, he will devote himself as Minister to collecting all relevant information on the matter so that he may put a scheme up to Parliament again in due course. As a member of the Government which put this scheme through, I say that the Government and those who supported it were entirely sincere at that time. Every member who supported the proposal oast his vote with a full sense of responsibility. A promise was given to certain Government, supporters that an attempt would be made to bring in another bill dealing with self-employed persons, and in other respects broadening and improving the scheme. That undertaking was given, but it went no further than <i promise to make the attempt to introduce those further reforms, and everything depended upon whether an arrangement could be come to that would be acceptable to Parliament. When, however, it was found that the cost of the suggested improvements would run into more than £1,000,000, and would perhaps be as much as £3,000,000, it became evident that the country could not afford it. We recognized that it was best to be frank with Parliament and with the people, and to say that” we could not go on with the scheme.
There is no reason why the House should not accept the Government’s proposal for the annulment of the proclamation. That would satisfy the Opposition, as well as those Government supporters who are really in favour of repealing the act. Once the proclamation is annulled, it will be a long time before this or any other Government will be able to bring in another scheme of national insurance. The last lingering doubts of the people, if they still retain any, as to whether national insurance is a thing of the past, for the next few years at any rate, would thereby be removed. If, however, we repealed the act, we should stultify ourselves. It would bo tantamount to saying that, while we favour the principle of national insurance, we are determined that it will never be put into operation by this Parliament, and national insurance would cease to be a political issue for a generation .to come. I ask honorable members not to do anything that would shock those who earnestly believe in the principle of national insurance. It is not true that every one is pleased at the decease of the scheme. There are 150 approved societies interested in it, and a great many other people would be sorry to see it abandoned. The people of Australia know in their hearts that national insurance must come eventually, if not at the hands of this Government, then at those of some other government. Perhaps the Labour party will have an opportunity at some later time to try out its noncontributory scheme. It seems to me that there are considerable advantages in leaving the present act on the statutebook, if only as a guide to future governments and parliaments.
Sitting suspended from 6.13 to 8 p.m.
– In the history of the Commonwealth, Parliament has passed few measures of a more far-reaching character, or fraught with more vital consequences for good or ill to the people of this community, than the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act, which is now the subject of two motions standing in the name of the Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart). As one of those who were closely associated with the former Treasurer, the right honorable member for Corio (Mr. Casey), I say that no man could have put into the passage of a bill more industry and energy than that which he devoted to the national insurance scheme. If any criticism is to be levelled at him as a result of the position in which we find ourselves to-day, it can be based only on the fact that ho succeeded too well. There are some people who, with a certain amount of justification, may rightly argue that the Commonwealth Parliament tried to achieve too much last year by placing on the statute-book that measure which is now the subject of repeal, review, or annulment. The very magnitude of the achievement of the honorable member for Corio becomes, in some measure, ‘the difficulty of the Government with which he was associated. It is not my intention to cite what various members of this chamber said when the measure was being passed through this House, or to cite letters written by honorable members to their constituents, or letters of resignation, although, no doubt, some of these things would make very interesting reading. However, I cannot overlook the fact that the Minister for Social Services in moving the first of the two motions standing in his name, was good enough to pay some special attention to myself, and to my admonition to the Country party in this chamber, that on account of the policy which we were advocating in the country districts, we should be solid supporters of national insurance. I am in the fortunate position now of being able to say that I have not deviated from those views. ,
– I said that.
– Other members of this chamber, however, are not in the same position. It reminds me of the old saying that when things are different they are never the same. The test of true statesmanship must be capacity to fix an objective, to formulate a policy to achieve that objective; and to maintain that objective. In ‘this instance,’ my grievance with the present Government is that very early in its ministerial career it has fallen from grace and brought before this chamber proposals which I, in my wildest moments, never dreamt of hearing made by the Minister for Social Services or the Prime Minister. I have no doubt that a good deal of the warfare which is being waged to-night, and a good deal of the struggle in the country - if this is to be a struggle in the country, and on that question we are not sure that some of us care very much - must range around the position of the Country party with regard to this legislation. Let us examine how this legislation got on the statute-book. There are members of the Country party and the United Australia party who today, on account of changes of circumstances and fortune, may choose to remain silent, but who had the same views as I had, feeling that there was a certain self-employed section of this community - consisting of farmers, shopkeepers, artisans and like employers of labour - who were being asked to contribute to a national insurance scheme from which they would receive no benefit. It was the desire of many members of this chamber that something should be done at a later stage, if not during the passage of the original bill, to rectify that error. It was only because a definite undertaking, given to members of the Country party, that the second and third readings of this bill were ever carried. Whilst I, personally, will stick out for the greatest possible measure of national insurance that can be got out of this present act, I do say that, if that point is to be raised, there are many things which could be said in extenuation of the position in which some of- my colleagues may be placed, and many things which could be said to their complete exculpation in this respect. Their votes were obtained by promises which were never fulfilled, and which no attempt has been made to fulfil. Whether circumstances prevented the Minister of the day from fulfilling these promises or not, the fact remains that they were not fulfilled, and no attempt has been made to fulfil them. Consequently, I say that there are members in this chamber - I am not one of them - who have a very just case to put before this House and the country, if that is to be an issue. The failure of any government to cash its promises is always of vital importance, and the reputation of a government must bear some relation to whether or not it has carried out its public pronouncements in regard to policy. The fact that these amending measures were to be introduced was common to the knowledge of .every member in this chamber, and the fact that they were not introduced is also common knowledge to honorable members. Consequently, a good deal might be said about the attitude of the Government in this connexion. A new government has, of course, come into existence, but a majority of its members were also members of the old government. The Prime Minister dealt at some length this afternoon with different events which occurred between December and March last. The right honorable gentleman’s contribution to the debate was a very able defence from his point of view, but there was much more that the right honorable gentleman could have said that would have been more to the point than the issues which he raised this afternoon. I ask him, or in his unavoidable absence, his colleague “the Minister for Social Services, what are these new circumstances which render it necessary at this late hour, after the statements made by the Prime .Minister bo his electors, after statements’ made by that right honorable gentleman in his resignation, after certain public statements subsequently made, which render it necessary that there shall be this repeal of the national insurance legislation? o What are the circumstances which after the laborious collection and meticulous compilation of information over a period of years, that now make it necessary that the Government should appoint a select committee, which in size is about as big as a decent public meeting, to collect more information? The Government already has at its disposal all necessary information - probably a lot more than it could possibly use. I believe in parliamentary action being based on detailed and accurate information, but I submit that there is such a thing as being smothered by information, and virtually not being able to see the wood for the trees. One honorable member asked this afternoon, “Who killed Cock Robin?”
I think that the debate has rather devolved itself around the question, “ Who is burying Cock Robin ?” On that question I may say that I have one or two thoughts - those things that possibly come to me i nffrequently and 1 suggest that the proposals which honorable members have before them to-night remind me a good deal of what goes on in government circles, not incapacity, but rather unwillingness to face the facts. When faced with a difficult situation it often happens that, instead of falling back on the good, old, well-tried conservative but successful British principle of the responsibility of the Ministers of the Crown, Governments attempt to find a smooth and easy way out of their difficulties by appointing some committee or commission to conduct an investigation. Experience has shown that when a Government has wanted to give a state funeral to a measure it has appointed a royal commission to deal with the act, and when a select committee is asked to deal with it it is generally an indication that the act is worth only a pauper’s funeral.” That is apparently true of the present motion for the appointment of this unwieldy, expensive, and entirely unnecessary select committee. If I were in the position of the Minister for Social Services, holding the office that be does, after having put my signature to the reports which he has signed and made the speeches in and out of this Parliament which he has made, I should very seriously reconsider my position before coming to Parliament with a proposition of the type that the honorable gentleman has presented, to us to-day. The speeches made by the right honorable gentleman were, as usual, couched in terms of courtesy, good taste and good fellowship, but nevertheless from my point of view were very unconvincing.
I believe that there are three great necessities for this country to-day. In mentioning these I am not trespassing on the good nature of honorable members. They are national security, national development and social security. I look upon some measure of national insurance as one of the first necessities for social security. I believe that a country like ours, or for that matter any country, if it is to succeed, must be based on a form of economy under which the people are not for ever thinking of want and famine. They must have good wages. I believe that industries must have decent returns. I believe that the workers in industry, whether primary or secondary, or transport, are entitled to certain amenities and securities, one of the most important of which is health and sick pay, another being the position of unfortunate widows of the community. On that point I say that I look with fairly serene content upon the attitude of the Commonwealth - I am not speaking of this Government but of the law of the country. Honorable members will no doubt not be unmindful of my views with regard to women generally, but I point out that, if a woman marries and brings a family into the world, as a certain percentage of them must, and then loses her husband, and asks the Commonwealth Public Service Board for work she is immediately told that, as she is a married woman with dependants, it does not pay the Public Service Board to employ her, because they would have to pay childhood endowment. That is one branch of social legislation which I feel sure the Minister will consider. Should he do so, he will find in the records in the office of the Public Service Board some fairly understandable comments on the subject made by me when PostmasterGeneral, and I can assure him that I meant every word I then uttered. The matter to which I refer which should be cleared up by the Government to prevent what I believe is a gross miscarriage of justice. While that system operates it is very difficult for us to get ourselves to believe that we support the payment of widows’ pensions. There are old sayings that charity begins at home, and that to cure a disease we have to seek the power controlling it. In this case the power is in this Parliament, the initiative rests with the Executive, and I trust that a careful review of the whole situation will be made before the end of the year.
I say quite frankly that I disagree with the Leader of the Opposition in his endeavour to force the Government - that is what it amounts to - to introduce a bill to repeal the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act. I know that national insurance is unpopular in Australia. It is not popular inmy own electorate, but when I study the history of political reform I am unable to recall any worth-while reform which at its initiation was not condemned, unpopular, misunderstood, and usually misrepresented. That I believe is the position to-day in respect of national insurance. If the Government is to be charged with failure, that charge is on the ground that it succeeded to too great a degree, and endeavoured to supply this country at one fell swoop with a scheme of national insurance in regard to health and pensions for which the country is unprepared. A great deal of time and money has been expended on the perfection of the legislation, and even some of its greatest protagonists have lost the faith they had in the scheme. But that does not justify us in wiping it off the statute-book for ever, because it may be remodelled in such a way as to be beneficial to a large section of the community.
– Is the honorable member satisfied with the present act ?
– Is the honorable member agreeable to the amended proposals?
– The better method - the more I think over it the more I am inclined to believe that I am right - is to start off with a scheme for health and sick pay to include families, and the next most deserving to be included are widows. After that I am quite prepared to listen to reason. If we can get such a scheme established we shall bring into existence societies which will gain experience, point out the pitfalls which we have to avoid, and be a very helpful guide to the Government in taking the next step towards a more comprehensive scheme of national insurance. Last year this House worked under a most unlucky star. The calamity at that time was that two senior members of the Government, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) and the present ‘Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) were overseas. Had those right honorable gentlemen been present, they might have brought their medical and legal knowledge to bear on the whole problem, and in that way decisions could have been reached which would have had a vital and beneficial effect on the legislation. We cannot alter the position now, but personally I am still committed fully, because I believe that this country sadly needs a scheme of national insurance. I am still of the opinion that a man or a woman who hopes to collect an old-age pension at 60 or 65 should contribute towards its cost. That may not be a wise thing to say, but it is my belief. I know of men who, during their working life, had similar opportunities. One spent his money as fast as it came into his possession, and the other scraped and saved in order to provide himself with a competence. On reaching a pensionable age one who has been thrifty is asked to live on his savings, but to the other who has spent everything the Government says, “You are a good fellow ; from now on we shall give you £1 a week “. That is unjust. We should institute a condition of affairs under which young men are taught that they should pay for all that they get out of life. There is no fairy fund in this community out of which benefits can be obtained without exertion. That was what prompted me to increase the contributions to the Canberra Community Hospital. I believe that those who are to obtain treatment from that institution should pay something, if only 3d. a week towards the cost. I have always had a definite feeling that many People do not appreciate that for which they do not have to pay. In these circumstances my considered opinion - an opinion on which I” am prepared to contest my seat at any time - is that neither this nor any government should turn its back on national insurance. In studying the motions moved by the Minister I am inclined to think that the inclination of the present Government is to turn its back on the whole scheme. In view of the industry and talent which the right honorable the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey) put into this work, there is now in the hands of the National Insurance Commission sufficient material to enable this or any other Government to reach a decision. My fear in regard to the appointment of a select committee, apart from the expense, is that it would be unworkable unless it were divided into about ten sub-committees. “ Such a committee could not possibly travel all over the Commonwealth and report to Parliament within three -months. It would not be able to roach any decision of value unless the subject of unemploy– ment were added to an already fairly long list of problems. Unemployment could not be discussed effectively without collaboration with the States, and the States would each require a representative of the employers, the employees and the Government. That being so, the personnel of the committee would be increased from 20 to 38. , In time that number might be added to and the expense and delay would be tremendous. I cannot support the appointment of a select committee. Neither can I vote for the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition. I still believe that good can come out of national insurance, notwithstanding the fact that some honorable members opposite ask “ Can any good thing come out of Nazareth ? “. I would deeply regret having to vote for the repeal of the legislation now on the statute-book. I realize, with some degree of concern, the difficulties with which the present Government is faced and I feel that no member of the party in this corner has any desire to place in the way of the Government any obstacle towards attaining what we believe to be the achievable and worth-while objective of some form or measure of national insurance, but realizing the obstacles, I am prepared to give the Government time and to agree to the motion that the Minister for Social Services has introduced for the introduction of a bill to annul certain proclamations in the hope that in the fulness of time and when the flowers bloom in the spring - cock robins and corpses have been mentioned to-day, and I hope that there will be less of that spirit here next spring - the Government will bring down concrete proposals to which a “ Yes “ or a “No “ can be given by this House. Initiative must rest in the Executive and if we appoint one select committee or . twenty select committees, one royal commission or twenty royal commissions, the deliberations, and recommendations will be of no value or avail unless there is on the treasury bench an Executive willing to bring down measures based on those recommendations, and there are in this Parliament parties, working either singly or in collaboration, tb give effect to them.
.- I agree entirely with the honorable gentleman who has just spoken (Mr. Archie Cameron) ‘ in his opinion that to make any scheme of national insurance or, for that matter, any other scheme of political importance, a success, it is necessary that there should be a sense of responsibility, cohesion, and force of character, in the Executive. I take leave to say that one cardinal reason why national insurance, as a positive proposal, cannot succeed in this Parliament as it is constituted at present is that we are afflicted with a hesitant minority Government which has never .had the confidence of the majority, of this Parliament and, it is suggested behind me, probably never will have. »I have said already” that this Government is a usurping Government. Perhaps that was a crude expression, but it is a fact, which I repeat and let go at that. The Ministry has never had a mandate to govern or commanded a majority in the Parliament which it seeks to control and therefore cannot initiate or mature an important national matter, such as national insurance. I was vastly intrigued when the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) was speaking to hear him wave aside my leader, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), intimating to him politely that he was not in the ring and that this was a private fight between himself and the Leader of the Country party (Sir Earle Page). He did not even say “Country party “, because it suits the Prime Ministers, as it does the editorial press clackers, to make it appear that the Leader of the Country party is a person apart who is, if I may Bay so without offence, nobody’s dog. The press shows a tremendous determination that the right honorable gentleman should resign and be dead as a political force, but he continues to lead the Country party and to represent its views in this chamber. It is true that some rather hesitant and timid members of the Country party have moved away a little. They are watching proceedings from the outside, but, doubtless, they will go back to the fold in good time when the weather clears. The question before the House, stated in common form, is whether national insurance is dead or in a state of coma. I am gratified to know that the Leader of the Country party, in proposing to support the motion moved by the Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) in respect of the introduction of a bill which we have not yet seen evidently combines the qualities of physician, jurist, and publicist, and has decided that there are signs of life in national insurance; that, as with persons who have been immersed in water for a considerable time, national insurance is apparently drowned but not quite dead.
– So fine a point I think is hardly worth discussing. I leave national insurance in that doubtful position which experts agree it occupies. The present position is that we are discussing, by your leave, Mr. Speaker, two substantive matters. One is a motion for leave to introduce a bill for an act to annul certain proclamations made under the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act 1938 and certain acts with which that act is incorporated, whatever that may mean. The other is a motion for the appointment of a joint committee to examine the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act 1938 in relation to a vast number of matters which the Minister has set out, including unemployment. Unemployment is thought to be a very useful palliative in a difficult political situation.
– Suggested by the honorable gentleman’s own leader.
– Suggested by my leader! The Minister rolls it off the tongue with unction. So that is the explanation of the delay and the proposed inquiry - to accommodate the Leader of the Opposition in- a discussion of unemployment insurance. I say, in the language of my electorate, “Much too thin”. I do not propose to debate the National Health, and Pensions Insurance Act. We discuss here bills, not acts. The act has ceased to be a bill. It has become a law of the country and it has been well discussed in this Parliament. My friend, the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn), took occasion to discuss with his usual capacity and skill the merits of national insurance, but I do not propose to do that. I say that the bill, as a bill, was discussed very thoroughly in this chamber. It is true, as the honorable member for Bourke points out, it was not discussed so thoroughly as it might have been had it not been for the introduction of that lethal weapon the guillotine which was applied at the time the Opposition was bending its best efforts, which are very good efforts, to improve the measure. Still the measure had the advantage of many hours and days of thorough discussion in this Parliament, and I pay tribute at all events to the former Treasurer and the present Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey), who had charge of the bill, for the patience and considerable measure of ability and courtesy with which he applied himself to the measure during those long sittings. I point out, however, that, in addition to the .fact that the bill was well and thoroughly discussed from every point of view we had the advantage of the opinions of experts. We had before us voluminous reports from various commissions upon the subject. We had the model of the English act expounded to us and we had in addition visitors from overseas, purporting to know at least more about national insurance than we do ourselves. Probably they do. At all events I am not churlish about the assistance” that they gave.
– They were well paid for it.
– I did not know that they were paid, but that is in accordance with Labour principles. The labourer is worthy of his hire, and I am glad they were paid. They were so lavishly praised for what they had done, however, that I really thought they were volunteers. I thank them, even though they were paid.
There must be an end to preconsiderati on. I think that the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) is right in that. I remember that when I was a student, it was a question before examinations, whether it were wiser to keep on studying up to the very day of the examination, or to go into the meadows and pick daisies for two or three days. There comes a time when one must “case accumulating matter. In our younger days the honorable member for-
Barker and I used to spend too much time in preparation of our speeches. All of that is changed now. We condemned the hill because it disregarded, amongst other things, I remind the Country party, the position of the small farmer, and the claims of the selfemployed, because there was no adequate scheme of hospital treatment for sufferers and because it made no levy on the people of big incomes who should be taxed to make the various contributions by way of pensions and services of other kinds, instead of taking the means for payment out of the basic wage of the worker. We voted against the bill for all of these reasons, and, amongst others, because it made no provision for the wives and families of insured persons, and because it was inadequate and bad in principle. I dispose of the hill in those terms, because long speeches havealready been made about it in this House.
I am aware, of course, that much confusion and loss arise from the failure of national insurance. That is inevitable. It is just two” years since the Ministry brought down the National Health and Pensions Insurance Bill to this House. Prior to that time. I remember hearing the then Treasurer (Mr. Casey) expound to a conference of the Australian Natives Association at Sorrento the Government’s policy in this connexion. The press which supports this Government had also been declaring for some years that the Ministry would introduce a comprehensive scheme of national insurance. In spite of all these considerations, however, the proper course to pursue is that suggested in the slashing speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) this afternoon. He said that the slate must be wiped clean.
Losses will be suffered, of course, and the Government will be involved in the payment of compensation. It is true, as the Minister for Social Services says, that the work of the trade unions has been disorganized and the minds of trade union leaders unbalanced by the intrusion of this futile measure which has been foisted upon them. It is true, also, that the friendly societies which, undisturbed, were discharging a great function in this country, have been upset and mulcted in substantial losses and their organization disarranged. It is true, too, that individuals have been committed to heavy expenditure and that many have lost their employment in consequence of the placing of this useless law upon the statute-book. Our citizens are obedient to the law, and as the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act had been placed on the statute-book they naturally believed that the Government responsible for putting it there would see that it was put into, and continued in, operation. It is equally true, however, that the Government has fallen down on its job and that, having initiated this thing in futility and carried it forward iri petty Cabinet quarrels in which disorganization was manifested and exacerbated, it now finds thai it can go no further. The Minister for Social Services was an unfriendly critic of the Government which placed this measure on the statute-book. On frequent occasions he addressed himself in harsh terms to the Government of the day for its attitude on national insurance. But he seems content now that, having been invited, he has returned to the fold and become completely reconciled to setting off again on the long, long trail. In Victoria there lives a man whom I shall call “ W. “ who engages in the curious business of wrecking old buildings to make way for the construction of new buildings. “ W. the Wrecker “ discharges a very useful function. He ruthlessly pulls down the old structures and carts away the old mortar, bricks and timber. In fact he completely clears the ground in order that others may construct new buildings where the old, futile, dangerous, vermin-infested and infected, unsatisfactory old buildings had stood. That is what the Labour party desires to do in regard to national insurance.
The former Treasurer prior to the adjournment of Parliament at the end of last year made certain statements, with the concurrence of his leader, in regard to national insurance. No doubt honorable members have heard of Macdonald, who made an intrepid and a memorable ascent of the Alps with Napoleon. “Macdonald pressed on.” That was the position of the ex-
Treasurer just prior to Christmas. At that time the honorable gentleman, his voice weakened and his strength failing, made a public declaration to this effect: “ I stand for national insurance. It is the law, and the law will be carried out “. Then we made our adieus to you, Mr. Speaker, and told you how thoroughly pleased we were with the work you had done. So the Parliament went into recess ! But at the very moment the exTreasurer was making that speech he knew, and the Prime Minister knew, that national insurance was doomed. Every ‘honorable member of the House knew that it was doomed. ‘The present Prime Minister, then the AttorneyGeneral, sat cheek by jowl with the present Minister for Social Services on a back bench with a look of gloom on his face. Hu knew, as we all knew, that national insurance was done for. It was not buried, but it was dead. At least, no one could see any sign of life i’n it. But although the right honorable gentleman knew this he .now, with much subtlety, calls the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) the evil genius of national insurance. It is a great pity that we cannot at this time hold the kind of session of this Parliament to which, generally speaking. I am entirely unfavorable - that is, a secret session, during which the members of the previous Government would feel free to tell us just exactly what took place between the ‘Country party members and the United Australia party members of the Cabinet. But every honorable member knows that before the House rose prior to last Christmas the Country party had stitched national insurance.
The Labour party very honestly and openly opposed national insurance as it was conceived by the Lyons Government; but the Country party, with its conflicting and dual allegiance to its constituents and also to the Government which it was supposed to support, occupied an impossible position, which members who hold opposing views always occupy when they agree to form a composite government.
– They are not in a much better position now.
– At least their position is logical and independent. The present Prime Minister knew before he left the Lyons Government that national insurance was doomed. He knew also that the newspapers which had supported the Government had not only withdrawn their support, but had actually chosen him as the new leader and given him his marching orders from the Cabinet. Big business in this country had informed the right honorable gentleman that his position was inconsistent with membership of the Lyons Government. He knew that very well, and signs that he knew it are not wanting. He knew, as we knew, that the Lyons Government must very shortly fall. It was because of that knowledge, and not because of his adherence lo the principle of national insurance, that, in a time of tribulation and danger lo this country, according to the crisismongers, he left the Government. He would have us believe that his allegiance to the principle of national insurance was unpurchaseable. Actually, of course, his resignation was dictated by quite other considerations.
The honorable member for Corio (Mr. Casey) made a broadcast shortly after the present Prime Minister left the Lyons Government. He said -
Neither the Government nor the people could afford to embark on the full national insurance scheme. *
He said many other things. Among them were these -
At the present time the Government cannot afford to divert from the vital necessity of national defence large sums of money for any other purpose however necessary or desirable they may be.
He added -
The Government has no apology to make, and I have no apology to make, for the decision not to introduce the full scheme.
Behind him stood the present Minister for External Affairs (Sir Henry Gullett; and also some other members of the United Australia party who are now members of this Ministry. I wish to know why the Prime Minister this afternoon turned all his guns upon the Leader of the Country party, and none of them upon those who hastened with him to form a new Ministry, but who hold precisely the same views as the Leader of the Country party on this emaciated new scheme of national insurance? 1 do not accept the excuses that the exTreasurer has given for his actions. I certainly do not accept the view that the national insurance scheme was jettisoned because of increased expenditure on defence. On that point at any rate the Prime Minister was correct when he declared that the defence commitments had already been made. The September crisis was past. Of course, other crises were looming up. But it was well known quite early in the spring of last year that our defence expenditure would involve an aggregate amount of between £60,000,000 and £70,000,000.
– Yet the Government suggests that the proposed committee shall investigate an even more expensive scheme .’
– Yes. It proposes that the possibility of introducing some scheme to cover unemployment shall be considered. I cannot understand why it should do so unless it desires, but does not dare, to say : “ Inquire about unemployment but understand clearly that w> have no money to expend on any proposals that may be made “. The only other possible explanation of the inclusion of unemployment insurance within the scope of the reference to the proposed committee is that it is an attempt to secure the support of the Labour party or to put it in an apparently illogical position. But the Government will nol gain the support of the Labour party by this patent manoeuvring.
The speech delivered this afternoon by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) is interesting in the same connexion. It was what I would call a conciliatory, Christian, address if ever there was one. The honorable member intimated that he intended to vote against the Government but he hoped that the Christian gentlemen who form the Cabinet would not take that as a broad hint to resign. He even went so far as to say that he did not invite them to do so. He did not want them to do anything that might bring about a general election.
– That was sound advice.
– The Prime Minister says that he went out . of the Government because national insurance was a vital thing; he had pledged himself to his electors, and bc could not go back on that pledge; but it is also curious that, although it drove him out of the Cabinet at this time of grave national danger, when so many other things required doing by strong men for the safety of the nation - and he remained passive, tendering no help to the nation because he was so completely married to national insurance - it. is current gossip to-night, and the Prime Minister does not deny it, that the carrying of this vote against the Government on this vita] matter is not to be regarded as vita] to the existence of the Government.
– That is very assuring.
– 1 know that, the honorable member is re-assured, but 1 do not think that his eloquent appeal has been without effect. The right honorable member for Cowper said that on the day the Prime Minister tendered his resignation one other almost equally important event occurred, namely, the entry of the Germans into Czechoslovakia. The international situation became extremely tense. And the right, honorable gentleman said that the newspaper with which he was familiar gave equal prominence to one event as to the other. I wish to tell him that we are more advanced in Melbourne. The newspaper which I hold in my hand and which is not quite the worst of the editorial warmongers, divided space between the resignation of the Prime Minister and the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Germans in the ratio of two to one in favour of the resignation. The stream-lined headings gave even greater prominence to the resignation of the Prime Minister. The newspaper stated -
The right honorable gentleman called for a typist and immediately drafted a letter to the Prime Minister tendering his resignation.
He did not want a typist; he wanted a doctor. But it would be useless for him to send for the right honorable member for Cowper, because that right honorable gentleman would have told the Prime Minister that the honorable member for Kooyong was not the patient, but was the growth, and that as such he had been cut out. The letter which the Prime Minister dictated after calling for a typist throws a flood of light upon his attitude towards national insurance ana! other matters. Immediately the Government’s decision was made public, the right honorable gentleman made a statement to the press. At this time he was the subject-matter of intense -press adulation, because, as I have already said, he has been selected by big business and has to run the show. He said to the press -
Since last September 1 have more than once had the misfortune to mid myself at variance with a majority of the Cabinet, on matters of moment, and in particular upon important aspects of defence preparedness.
This, with reported speeches of his shows that he had instructions to scuttle the Government of which he was a member.
To which I say : “ Beware of the man who deserts a cabinet and enumerates the times he thought of resigning, but did not “. The right honorable gentleman continued -
On each occasion I refrained from resigning, feeling that at a period like this a common front should be observed if possible, and that the difficulties of the Government, already great enough, should not be increased.
The decision of the Cabinet regarding national insurance, however, is the last but weighty straw. 1 frankly do not think we can expect to be taken seriously if we start off ag;ii;i with conferences and drafting committees at a time when we have already so notoriously failed to go on with the act, which represents two years of labour, a vast amount of organization, and considerable expenditure of public and private funds.
In effect, therefore, the decision means the end of the important contributory pensions side of insurance and a precarious existence for the balance. I have, therefore, been forced to the conclusion that Cabinet’s decision virtually either cripples or destroys national insurance for years to come.
The passing of the National Insurance Act was. in my opinion, our greatest legislative achievement as a government.
As a matter of fact, this very newspaper stated that it was the only achievement of the Government, showing the Government up as one with rather a barren record -
What does he propose to do with it now? To put it in cold storage?
Its institution was a large part of our mandate at the last election, and was a most prominent clement in the programme which I personally advocated before my own electors. It is true that there has been, and is, some unpopularity attaching to the measure -
He was right there, too -
But if we believe our policy to be wise and just, criticism should prove a stimulant rather than a deterrent.
On this matter, unlike some others upon which I have differed with my colleagues, 1 had commitments of a positive kind to my electors from which I could not honorably escape.
The position is that members of the Cabinet should not make commitments to their electors from which they cannot honorably escape; they should escape from Cabinet first or, otherwise, should declare the policy of the Government. [ Leave to continue given.] I propose now to refer to the circular which was disclosed to-night by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) and which constitutes the contract between the Prime Minister and his electors and the reason, so he states, why he left the Ministry when national insurance was making heavy weather in the Government. The Prime Minister resigned on the 14th March and this circular was sent out on the 17th December to his constituents. It was sent out at the very time that Parliament rose when, as I have stated, the then Treasurer announced that he and the Government intended to stand by national insurance. The Prime Minister said that it was because of that declaration by the Treasurer, in which the Country party concurred, that he sent this circular to his electors. I take a different view. I have already said that I am satisfied that at Christmas he knew that the Government was doomed, and that he was to lead the new United Australia party Government. In that circular which has been quoted in another connexion by the honorable member for Bourke he said -
Surely our instinct is to be against the receipt of charity, whether from individuals or from the organized community. Surely we would all prefer to be able to draw medical benefits, sick pay, widows’ pensions and oldage pensions as a matter of right because we have helped to pay for them rather than as a matter of government benevolence. . .
My own views on this great subject would perhaps, be summed up in a few succinct paragraphs -
1 ) The enormous burden of free pensions in Australia cannot be definitely increased.
There is a great moral principle in the proposition that if we desire to obtain benefits from the community, we must be prepared to contribute towards the cost of those benefits. This is the very definition of citizenship.
I shall not go beyond that, but I go so far for the purpose of declaring that I am quite satisfied that in that circular the Prime Minister, who had been enjoying this unearned adulation at the hands of the press, and had been chosen to implement the policy of big business in this country, was making an attack on the non-contributory system, which had been previously attacked by the then Treasurer. I am satisfied that the Treasurer’s speech was suggested in the first place by the Prime Minister himself for the reason that I have mentioned, namely, that he was the spokesman of big business and that big business had determined to make its attack upon the non-contributory pensions. Pensioners should note this. Furthermore, this proposal is part of the whole scheme to undermine the present pension system and, ultimately, to do away with it. The Prime Minister is the man chosen for that purpose. In conclusion, I say that no person other than one chosen and subsidized from such sources and given such a commission could have foisted himself on this Parliament against the will of the majority in this Parliament and obtained a commission to form a government to rule over this Parliament. No man other than one commissioned from such high and powerful sources could have embarked upon this enterprise and carried it through, so far as he has ingloriously carried it. Now the whole scheme of national insurance is in the melting pot, and no one will take this proposal seriously as an ameliorative social measure in any way whatever. All of us realize that the scheme is being shelved in order to give the Government breathing time and a longer lease of its precarious life. No practical measure is contemplated by this Government at all, but we who believe in national insurance and widows’ pensions and who hold the view that the way to reduce the pensions bill in this country is by making the conditions of the wage earners and workers better so that they will require less pension - we who believe that in every civilized community there will always be the old and the invalid for whom that community must make just and proper provision without any contribution from them, for they have already made their contribution - are against this proposal lock, stock and barrel, this political patchwork of this minority Government. We shall be prepared if given the power by the electors to rid national insurance of the stigma that now attaches to it because it has been dragged in the dust, and the name of social legislation besmirched by this Government, which is now seeking not social amelioration, but a continuance of its political existence.
.- If a review is to be made of the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act, either by a special committee or by the Minister, a complete survey should first be made of the social services provided by the State governments. When the act was before the House as a bill, I emphasized the necessity for uniform social service schemes throughout Australia in order to prevent overlapping. In response to a question that I asked recently in the House, the Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) has prepared a return showing the various social services provided in the States. Conditions vary widely. For instance, widows’ pensions are provided by three governments, motherhood and child welfare allowances by two, children’s welfare allowances by four, unemployment insurance by one, unemployment sustenance and relief by all, and medical services by three. The report is very illuminating, and would be of interest to every honorable member.
– It emphasizes the urgency of a consolidated programme for Australia.
– An examination of expenditure on social services in each of the States is very interesting. For New South Wales it is £3,335,000 a year; Victoria, £2,244,000; Queensland, £3,366,000; South Australia, £544,000;
Western Australia, £52,000; and Tasmania, £233,000. The cost per capita of the population in each State provides a better comparison, however. For New South Wales and Victoria it is £1 5s.; Queensland, £3 7s.; South Australia, 18s. 6d. ; Western Australia, 2s. 6d. ; and Tasmania, £1.
– The Queensland Labour Government heads the list.
– I am not concerned with what government is in power, but with the importance of considering these facts in connexion with any further review of national insurance. In addition to those I have mentioned, hospital services are provided by the State governments. The cost of hospital services in New South Wales is 15s. per capita; Victoria, 10s.; Queensland, £1; South Australia, 13s.; Western Australia, £2 ; Tasmania, 10s. It will be seen that Western Australia, which is on a very low scale for the other branches of social service, provides a large amount for hospital services. The New South Wales widows’ pension is £1 a week; in Victoria, it varies from 6s. to 10s. a week; Tasmania also provides something for widows, but Queensland pays nothing. Other questions which should be considered are the provision of superannuation and workers’ compensation insurance. I do not wish to weary honorable members by repeating what I said during the second-reading debate on the National Health and Pensions Insurance Bill, but the importance of the sub”ject merits emphasis.
– It is very difficult to break new ground in connexion with the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act, because it was discussed in a debate of record length on the second reading of the measure in this Parliament. I am impressed by the perseverance of the Government in again bringing this matter forward, particularly in view of the present economic position of Australia. I have opposed national insurancc persistently and consistently, not because I disagree with its ethics, or desirability, but because I consider that, in view of the need for national security, the time is not yet ripe for this idealistic plan of social service. The advocates of national insurance make it appear as something new in the social life of Australia. One might think that nothing else had been done in regard to social services, hut I remind honorable members that Queensland has had for years past a range of social services which has not been approached by other States. Taxation per capita is higher in Queensland than in any other State, but it is justified, according to those who impose it, by the value of its social services. 1 advise representatives of other States that, before they impose additional costs upon the people, they should use every effort to have their own social services extended. Because it would add to the cost of industry throughout the Commonwealth, I have criticized and condemned the national insurance scheme whenever opportunity has offered. When the bill was introduced in this House in June of last year, I said -
A careful study of this bill emphasizes its magnitude, complexity and profound importance. Exhaustive and careful consideration and study is necessary before a bill of this sort, which is to be enduring and workable, can be brought in. Most honorable members believe in the principle of national insurance. I believe that national insurance is not only ethical and desirable, but also possible of achievement. The subject, therefore, resolves itself into a discussion of ways and means rather than of principle or policy, and it is from the mathematical aspect that I approach it.
There are two salient difficulties in the way of the establishment of national insurance in this country. The first is the existence of an unusually great development of noncontributory social services, and the second the obstacle presented to efficient and cheap administration by the existence of sovereign States and the vast areas that have to be covered.
Expenditure by the States on social services also tends to prevent the successful working of the Government’s scheme. The co-operation of the States is necessary in’ order to lighten the oppressive1 load of taxation on industry and in order to eliminate the possibility of overlapping. Touching on the question of States’ social services, the total payments out of revenue in 1910 in this direction amounted to £4,523,000, or 12J per cent, of the total expenditure, whereas, in 1!)37, the expenditure had mounted to £24,952,000, or 20 per cent, of the’ total expenditure.
While I have not the latest figures available, I venture the opinion that the £30,000,000 mark has been reached since then. Again, when I spoke on the budget in November of last year, I stated -
I believe that there are abundant grounds for criticizing the budget. The Government should postpone, if not repeal, the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act, at least until there is some evidence of the recovery of commodity prices, and improved economic conditions. Apart from the financial aspect, the scheme is misunderstood throughout the Commonwealth. This is proved by the fact that most newspapers publish explanations by the Insurance Commission in the form of answers to questions. Any one who studies those answers, and compares them with the speeches delivered in this House during the debate on the insurance bill, will appreciate the numerous inconsistencies, and variations from, the original statements, that have developed in regard to this most important measure. There are far too many questions to be answered. Then, the question of the remuneration of doctors is as far from being settled as ever, and it is not likely to be satisfactorily settled for some considerable time. The measure is admittedly an experimental one, and it is an expensive experiment. It is admittedly defective, and it is anticipated that it will have to be amended in the near future in many important respects. The most cogent objection to it, however, is the cost. According to the budget, public contributions for the first six months will be £:>,500,000, and the charge on the Treasury during the ensuing financial year is stated iii the budget speech to be £1,100,000.
Bad as the position was then, it must have become worse since. Production pays for everything and, unfortunately, the greater part of our production has to be exported, and sold in the open market overseas. The Australian commodity export index figure in November, 1938, was 71.4. The latest available figure, which is published in the Statistical Bulletin of May, is 63.4.” That means that the value of commodities exported, including gold, has declined from £154,000,000 in 1937-38 to £136,000,000. The last available figures also show that the Consolidated Revenue deficits of the six States, plus the Commonwealth, amount to £14,700,000. For the States alone, the total deficit is £11,600,000, while expenditure has increased to over £137,000,000. Thus we are faced with an aggregate deficit of approximately £14,000,000, and a reduced export cheque of £18,000,000. These facts cannot be treated lightly. When- the then Treasurer (Mr. Casey) associated himself with the postponement, or what was then regarded as the abandonment, of national insurance, he said -
The factors which influenced me are to bc found in the economic situation, the more serious international outlook, and the effects of both these developments on our budgetary prospects. For some time past our economy as been balanced on a knife-edge. We have been fighting to hold our position in the face of low export prices, which largely determine internal economic conditions, for well over eighteen months. The export price index for 1931 was 1001, i.e., almost exactly at the level of 1928-29. In June, 1938 (when the National Insurance Act was passed) it was 755. In February, 1939, it was down to 705.
According to the last available figures issued in April last, the index number had fallen to 630. Therefore, great as the necessity to postpone the scheme was in March of this year, when the decision which caused the Prime Minister to resign from the Cabinet was made, it is much greater to-day when we recognize that the index figure has .fallen from 755, when the scheme was introduced, to 630 in April of this year. In the light of that information, and having regard to the international outlook and to all salient and important facts, I say definitely that a continuance of the national insurance scheme cannot be contemplated. I will not associate myself with that scheme, because, in addition, it is too imperfect and has too many anomalies. I said that when the National Insurance Bill was before the House, and I backed up my views by voting against the third reading. I consider there was ample justification for my action then, and not one word which would justify me in changing my opinion has been uttered in this House. There has been no consideration of economic circumstances and the capacity of the nation to pay for this scheme. Why lias not the assistance of the Commonwealth Government’s economic adviser been enlisted to advise the Government, and honorable members, on the most important feature of this scheme, namely, the financing of it? Even though this scheme were perfect in all of its aspects, and were capable of equitable administration, Australia could not carry it at the present time. The economic outlook to-day is none too pleasant. For evidence of that, one has only to examine effortswhich have been made to raise money by way of loans. In March last the £8,500,000 loan floated by the Commonwealth was under-subscribed. To what extent it was under-subscribed we do not know, but the fact remains that the full amount of money required was not forthcoming. The loan recently floated in London was also a failure, and the current loan is not being enthusiastically received. In view of these things, we should recognize our responsibilities as elected representatives of the people, and realize that it is nearly time we had some regard to the virtue of economy. A thorough survey of economic conditions should have been carried out before the decision to inflict the burden of a national insurance scheme upon the community was made. If it is not now the intention to persevere with the national insurance scheme, then why fool around with it and attempt to pass the buck to a select committee? Why not face the facts, which stand out like a lighthouse in the night, and repeal the act? I am not in favour of merely burying this scheme, because if it is buried it may be dug up. In my opinion, it should be cremated; then it could not come back. The whole scheme was badly conceived, badly presented to this House, badly received by the people of Australia, and its operation would involve an expenditure which, having regard to our financial outlook, could not be undertaken without very serious economic repercussions throughout the entire community.
– Why try to pass the buck of financing our defence scheme on to the widows and the aged people of the community?
– That interjection presupposes, as I stated at the outset, that there are no social services in Australia. If the Minister for .Social Services lived in Queensland he would realize, particularly when he received his income tax assessments, just what social services arc undertaken by ‘ that State. Other States of the Commonwealth which are not prepared to tax their people for social services to the same extent as the people of Queensland are taxed, point with pride to their low taxation, and say that they want this national insurance scheme. I suggest that they should first of all put their own house? in order. I agree with the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly) that in the passing of legislation of this character, the Commonwealth Government should first of all secure the co-operation of the States. That applies, not merely to national insurance, unemployment insurance, and other such activities, but also particularly to hospital administration and the means of financing it. For many years, Queensland has had a hospital tax for the upkeep of its hospitals, and also many other forms of taxation which do not exist in the other States. For that reason, we in that State, are not prepared to submit to further taxation in order to finance a national insurance scheme, unless a sensible arrangement can be arrived at with the State governments., whereby they would be relieved of part of their social service obligations, and would thus be able to reduce their own taxation. I am in favour of national insurance, but only in the right form, and at the right time, just as I am in favour of playing cricket, but would not play it during the football season. This national insura.net; scheme is inopportune and ill-considered. Its operation would have serious effects on the economic stability of the community, and would be a big disadvantage to our export industries particularly.
.- I think that all honorable members agree with the principle of national insurance. I expressed myself in favour of national insurance to my constituents, but my idea of a national insurance scheme is one that is truly national in character, and confers even justice on all sections of the community. When I first examined this measure I approached it sympathetically. I think that Sir Walter. Kinnear, who is probably the world’s leading authority on national insurance, visited all party rooms in this House and explained the scheme which it was proposed should be introduced into this country. .By crossquestioning that gentleman, I, and some of my colleagues, discovered very grave omissions in the scheme which, in our opinion, would inflict injustices upon certain people in the community. The outstanding omission was lack of provision for self-employed persons, such as small farmers who, in many cases arc poorer and less solvent than their employees for whom they would be obliged to pay contributions. In Western: Australia, during the last few years, 6,000 farmers have left the land in a state of bankruptcy, and many of those who are still hanging on are insolvent. Yet, under this scheme, small farmers would have to pay insurance premiums in respect of people whom they employed while they themselves and their families would not be eligible for benefits. That, I deem to be a great injustice and, at the outset, both Sir Walter Kinnear and the former Treasurer (Mr. Casey) promised that additional measures would be introduced to eliminate anomalies such as that. On these promises being given, the Country party voted for the second reading of the bill so that all aspects of the measure could be discussed in committee. The promise to introduce amending measures to meet the views of honorable members was not fulfilled and, therefore, the second reading of the bill was carried on what might be called false pretences.
– That promise was not * made in this House. It must have been made in some cavern.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) knows well that that promise was made. The bill also made no provision for unemployment insurance, or insurance against certain sicknesses. It is by no means a comprehensive national insurance scheme from whatever point of view we look at it. As a matter of fact, I think that the former Treasurer was set an impossible task. A close examination of the proposals contained in the bill has convinced me that it is impossible to bringdown in Australia a comprehensivenational insurance scheme such as those in operation in New Zealand and Great Britain. In the first place, in Australia there are seven governments. The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly) and the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden) told us of the taxes levied upon the people of Queeusland in order to provide social services in that State. I remind honorable members that the Dominion of New Zealand has a unitary government and when it brought down its national insurance scheme last year, it repealed no less than seventeen acts then in existence. If the Commonwealth Government could do that or collaborate with the State governments to that end and so- take over the whole field, then a comprehensive scheme could be introduced. Despite the desire of the Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) to give effect to a scheme of’ national insurance, the financial aspect of any such proposal must be considered. We cannot continue to permit the present overlapping of Commonwealth and State activities. Last year the Commonwealth and States contributed approximately £19,000,000 towards unemployment, and the Commonwealth paid approximately £16,000,000 in pensions. An examination of State expenditure would disclose many other ways in which money is expended on social services; but if there were complete co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States the money now used in a more or< less haphazard way could be employed to give effect to a comprehensive scheme such as operates in New Zealand, where a satisfactory return is now being obtained for the money expended. I opposed the scheme when it was first brought before the House.
– The honorable member supported it.
– I voted against it, and 1 intend to oppose the motion moved by the Minister and to support the amendment moved by the. Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin).
– It is worth while living in Western Australia for twenty years to find that the honorable member intends to support an amendment moved by me.
– I thought that 3 made my position quite clear when the bill was before this .chamber. If effect were given to the Government’s original proposal, it would necessitate the establishment of a department almost as large as the Postmaster-General’s Department, and there is no justification whatever for such a heavy outlay, particularly in view of the restricted character of the benefits to be provided. If a comprehensive system were adopted, the income tax department could make the necessary collections; the invalid and old-age pensions department could, with little extra assistance, administer the pensions section; and, with a very small outlay, the friendly societies, which have been in existence for over a century, could administer sickness payments. All that would be needed would be the co-operation of the States and a few inspectors and auditors to see that the who.e system was efficiently and economically worked. Although I believe in national insurance, I intend to vote for the repeal of the act, because in doing so we shall be leaving the way clear for the States to co-operate with the Commonwealth on this very important project.
– I vigorously opposed the socalled national insurance legislation when it was before the House, .and I am still definitely opposed to it. When the original bill was introduced, I stated that the Commonwealth could not attempt to provide an effective national insurance scheme until it had the constitutional power to deal with unemployment, or until the States were prepared to work in conjunction with it in order to prevent overlapping in the matter of social services, and taxation for the same. As I have stated previously this is another striking illustration of the necessity to a’bolish State parliaments, and to have only one Parliament and one Constitution. I trust that something will soon be done in that direction in order to overcome many of the difficulties with which the Commonwealth is now confronted. The scheme is the most illconsidered that has ever been placed before this Parliament, and although thu whips on the Government side were cracking almost continuously, the Government was able to secure the passage of the measure with only a slight majority. I give credit to the Minister who moved this motion for the gigantic task he undertook in endeavouring to convince the House of the value of the proposals.
– I will bring forward others.
– Tb* Minister is to be admired for the work which he performed against almost insurmountable odds. When the scheme was first introduced our defence expenditure was comparatively small, but with the enormous commitments which the Government has now to face we are not justified in supporting any proposal which will involve the people and the- Government in further huge expenditure. Under the scheme, noi only the employees, but also the employers would have to bear a burden heavier than they should be expected to carry.- Moreover, large and important sections of the community have been excluded. How could it be regarded as a national health and pensions insurance scheme when it did not provide pensions for farmers and others who had to contribute towards a pension for their employees working in orchards or farms? No benefits are provided for wives oi children, or for the unfortunate unemployed who should receive first consideration in any national scheme. Widows and orphans are disregarded, but within twenty years the payments would amount to about £30,000,000 annually. The scheme would assist, and only to a limited degree, a very small proportion of those who desired and required assistance. Moreover, it did not meet with the approval of the medical fraternity whose willing co-operation would be essential if it were to be a success. Despite the blunders that have occurred in the past, the Minister is now attempting to resurrect the scheme, but the community would benefit to. a greater degree if attention were given to a system of child endowment, in that way assisting parents who have great difficulty in feeding and clothing their children. Benefit could also be conferred upon mothers, particularly in country districts, by increasing the maternity allowance, in that way assisting them to rear their children during the first tender weeks. Child endowment would also be a factor in increasing the birth-rate which is so essential m a young country. I opposed the second and third readings of the bill, hut opposition to it has now increased.
– The honorable member is the only non-Labour member who opposed the second reading of the bill.
– Yes, but four Government supporters opposed the third reading. I intend to support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) which provides for the repeal of the act, and in doing so I shall be consistent. When our defence expenditure can be reduced and other commitments are not so pressing, I shall be willing to consider a comprehensive national insurance scheme. Such a scheme would be no greater tax on the workers and the taxpayers because the States would be relieved of the expenditure on the provision of social services. I envisage a scheme embracing all phases of social services and including unemployment, widows’ and orphans’ pensions as well as the services covered by the existing statute. The National Health and Pensions Insurance Act increases the burden on the workers and we are justified in doing our best to have it repealed.
.- Customarily leave to introduce a bill is granted without debate, but in this case there has been a great deal of talk. 1 suppose that honorable members are wary and they feel that’ they must talk about the matter before deciding. The issue is simple enough. The Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) has asked leave to introduce a bill to annul certain proclamations made under the National Health and Pensions Act and certain other acts incorporated with that act, but I am chary about leaving the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act on the statute-book, because the Government has neither the opportunity nor the wherewithal to put it into effect. It is a newprocedure to take the course which the Ministry is advocating, and I do not think that it is good business. It would be far better to repeal the present act until such time as the finances of the Commonwealth are in a position to stand the strain and the Government can go ahead with national insurance.
I am opposed to the suggested appointment of a select committee to examine all aspects pf national insurance. All of the data connected with national insurancemust have been gathered in the last two years, because we have been collecting information from all parts of the world. It- has been said in this House that nearly every country has adopted national insurance; we have been confronted with details of the national insurance acts in operation in Great Britain, Germany and other countries. I am afraid not only that a body of men from this House or any other place would be unable to obtain any fresh information, but also that if a select committee were appointed the state of affairs which now exists would be worsened. The history of national insurance in this Parliament represents one of the worst pieces of bungling ever perpetrated. The Minister for Social Services smiles at that. I give the Minister credit for his persistence. I remember that when I left school my master said to 11 ie. “I shall give you a motto. Your name is Price. I shall give you one in P V., ‘ Persistent pleading permanently prosecuted produces permanent pros- perity ‘ “. I do not know whether the Minister thinks that his persistency will get him anywhere.
– My motto is “ S for success “.
– Well, then let us have ti measure that is all-embracing, one that we could accept. I believe in unemployment insurance.
– The honorable member is stonewalling; let us have a vote.
– I am not stonewalling. I wish to take an intelligent interest in the proceedings in this House and explain what I think should or should not be done. I feel that a select committee would be a waste of time. No two honorable members of this Parliament can agree on what should be done about national insurance. They have a hundred and one different schemes. How then could a select committee of twenty honorable members reach agreement? I venture the opinion that there would never be agreement. I am against the appointment of a select committee.
On the question of national insurance generally, I hope that some day this country will be in a position to have put into operation a scheme that will be acceptable to the whole of the people, but now that we have to find so much money for defence- about £63,000,000, I believe - the time is not ripe for any such scheme and consequently I would like to see the act repealed.
– The proposals that we are discussing are divided into two parts. The first deals with the question of the annulment of certain questions under the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act and the second with the .setting ‘up -of a parliamentary committee to examine various aspects of national insurance which have been outlined by the Minister for Social
Services (Sir Frederick Stewart). Honorable members are not yet aware of what the Minister proposes should be annulled, although the Minister did indicate briefly to-day that it was proposed to exempt from annulment certain proclamations affecting approved societies, which I understand are to be the subject of special consideration in the bill for the introduction of which leave is sought by the Minister. Honorable members are justified in assuming that the two proposals made by the Minister for Social Services germinated in the letter which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) wrote to his constituents and which eventually led to his resignation from the Lyons Ministry. The attitude of the Labour party to the annulment of the proclamations is summarized in the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) which in itself is a complete endorsement of the attitude taken up by the Opposition when the National Health and Pensions Insurance Bill was brought before Parliament last year. We objected to the measure then and we seek its repeal now. We object to the further appointment of a select committee because nothing could be. gained from further inquiry. The Minister has declared that the scope of the proposed inquiry would be wide, but he is unable, of course, to say that the Government would accept the reports that would eventually be made. That can he understood,’ because the question of finance would necessarily arise.. The committee’s recommendations would: not be governed by financial considerations, but finance would necessarily enter into the Government’s consideration of any report. In view of that aspect of the matter, it is hard to understand how the Minister -for Social Services could seriously attempt to justify the setting, up of the proposed committee by a declaration that its powers of inquiry would be practically unlimited. It would be wrong to mislead this country, this Parliament and the committee itself into the belief that it could make investigations over a wide field when the Ministry was aware that it could not overreach itself financially by giving effect to the committee’s reports. If we had been inclined in the first place to accept the idea of a committee, the Minister’s statement would have decided us against the committee rather than in favour of it.
Reverting to the annulment of proclamations, I repeat that the view taken by the Labour party now is the view that it . took when the National Health and Pensions Insurance Bill was introduced last year, namely, that it was strongly opposed to the legislation on several grounds, but particularly on account of the proposal to place widows’, old-age and invalid pensions on a contributory basis. The Labour party concentrated its attack upon the bill on this issue.
– Three Labour members of the royal commission of 1923 recommended contributory pensions.
– I cannot speak from 1923. But, in any case, people of all walks of life alter their attitude, change their views and adopt different principles with the lapse of years.
– Yes; we grow older, whiter and wiser.
– That is so ! I think the Minister will not deny that our main attack on the national health and pensions scheme was directed to the contributory pensions provisions of it.
– That is so.
– We maintained that the aged and infirm people of this country were entitled to a pension without any contribution. They had earned it by reason of their services to the country through the years. For that reason we believed the scheme agreed to last year to be unsound and unsatisfactory. We have no reason to assume that government supporters have changed their attitude on this subject. The silence of the Prime Minister and also of the Minister for Social Services, as well as of honorable gentlemen opposite, on this point confirms our opinion that they still hold the view on this subject that they held last year. Ample justification is forthcoming of the soundness of our position. It is not proposed that the contributory basis fixed in the act for old-age pensions shall be altered. The Prime Minister has certainly not suggested any alteration in that respect. In the circular which he issued to his constituents subsequent to his resignation from the Cabinet, in March, he declared that a contributory pensions scheme should be brought into force. He also stated, in effect, that it would be impossible in the course of, say 30 years, for the Government to pay pensions on the existing basis. For that reason he intimated that he remained firmly and solidly in favour of the scheme in the act that had been already put upon the statute-book. The attitude of the Labour party in opposing the present proposals of the right honorable gentleman’s Government is therefore consistent and logical. We believe that the act should be repealed.
We can see no justification for the appointment of a select committee to investigate the whole subject again. I do not intend to say very much on this aspect for the speeches delivered by honorable members to-day have led me to believe that that proposal will be overwhelmingly defeated when the division is called. In view of what I have said, the Government should now reflect upon the methods adopted last year to force the national health and pensions legislation through this Parliament. The guillotine should not have been applied to such an important measure.
– Sixty-four different members of this House addressed themselves to the bill.
– It is proper that honorable members should speak to a measure which seeks to introduce an entirely new principle into the life of the community. Even the most humble member of the House should express his views on a measure of that description. Had the Government of the day been wise, it would have listened carefully to the wide range of opinions expressed and would have offered facilities for the fullest possible discussion. Had that been done it is possible that we should not now find ourselves in this position. No possible good could now follow the appointment of a select committee. All of the information that it is humanly possible to accumulate on this subject is available to the Government. If the purpose of .the Government in the early part of last year was to force this House to reach a determination on that bill, so that it could be sent to another place before the senators elected at the last general election took their seats, the policy has proved to be a blunder of the first magnitude. What has happened should.be a lesson to the Ministry to proceed according to the proper parliamentary practice. The Prime Minister resigned his portfolio as Attorney-General in the Lyons Government because he said that it would make the Government a laughing stock if it referred the subject of national insurance to committees of any kind for further investigation. That is our view to-day. I do not believe that Parliament will agree to the adoption of that course.
I do not wish .to speak harshly of the Minister for Social Services, but I feel impelled to say that, in my opinion, the proposal of the Government to refer this subject to a select committee for investigation and report is- being put forward in order that the whole scheme may be shelved, and the responsibility for the shelving of it placed upon other shoulders than those of the members of the Government. In view of the numerous Cabinet meetings and party meetings held by Government supporters early this year to discuss this subject, it seems ridiculous to suggest further investigations. We were informed by press reports that a party meeting held in Canberra in March instructed the Cabinet to make further investigations. Doubtless those investigations have been made. The whole range of inquiry has been covered again and again, and any select committee would find it impossible to read and digest, within six months, the great mass of information now available to the Government, let alone make any further investigations.
The Government was returned at the last general elections with a mandate to introduce a scheme of national insurance. The Labour party in its campaign emphasized the paramount importance of unemployment insurance. It declared that one of the major troubles from which the community at large was suffering at that time was unemployment. That is still true. We held the view that an invaluable health service was being provided through the friendly societies and we felt that their work should be allowed to go on unimpeded. ‘Overseas visitors well informed on friendly society work abroad have paid the highest tributes to the work of the friendly societies of Aus- tralia, and have led us to believe that our services of this kind are better than those of the older countries overseas. The Labour party had no desire to disturb the work of the friendly societies. It felt that anything that could be done in the way of national insurance should first have relation to unemployment and not health benefits. As our national financial commitments were considerable, we submitted to the people a policy which was practicable even if somewhat limited in scope. It would be better, we declared, to implement an effective scheme of unemployment insurance than to attempt to deal with other insurance measures that were less important. However, the people endorsed the policy of our opponents. The Government should accept the responsibilities of its position. The testing time will come when the next general elections are held. We shall then be able to convince the people that our policy was sounder than that of our opponents. We .shall have no difficulty at all in showing that the Government has bungled the whole matter from beginning to end. We shall emphasize that the main purpose of the Government parties in introducing the present scheme of national insurance was to shift the burden of the payment of pensions from the taxpayers at large to the aged and infirm people of the community. We shall make full use of the statements of the Prime Minister in his circular to his constituents to substantiate our case on this issue. The road we travelled prior to the last election we shall travel again ; but on the next occasion we fully expect that a majority of the electors will follow us. As a matter of fact a majority followed us on the last occasion in respect of the Senate, but in order to implement our policy we need a majority in both Houses of the Parliament. We shall focus public opinion upon the serious failure of the Government to give effect to its policy. We shall indicate the extent to which it has endeavoured to place the burden for the payment of pensions upon the poorer sections of the people. Finally, we shall again emphasize the overwhelming necessity to put into operation an effective form of unemployment insurance.
.- As I- was a Minister of the Government which introduced the National Health and Pensions Insurance Bill, and was out of Australia when it was brought down, I propose to recapitulate a few of . the reasons why I supported that legislation, and also to explain briefly why I am opposed to its repeal. There was a time when Australia was a pioneer of social legislation among the countries of the world, but that time has passed. To-day, in this respect, we lag behind not only other parts of the Empire, but also the world generally. This legislation which was the bright child of the Lyons Government, and for which such high hopes were held, has become very debilitated as the result of the delay which has occurred in putting it into operation. To-day it is almost a political foundling.
– Nobody wants it.
– Some honorable members indicate that they would prefer it to expire altogether, whilst others describe it as a corpse, which only needs embalming. I hope that the motion will be carried, and that the Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) will be given the opportunity to administer to this legislative child, life-giving vitamins which will enable it to become a robust part of our legislation. I hope that it will not be kept in a state of suspended animation for much longer. In a public statement, the Minister said, “ There are some things on which compromise is inconsistent with integrity, and among them I class national insurance “. I hope that he will adhere to that, and I hope that the bill which will be brought down will make provision for unemployment insurance, because unemployment insurance was part of the election policy of the Government. That policy was, “ social security and national security”; and I should add, economic security. However, so much delay has occurred that not even a modicum of what was intended has yet been brought into operation. Various excuses have been made in this respect. Dealing with this delay in the Melbourne Herald, Professor Copland has stated -
In these circumstances, it is difficult to follow the argument that national insurance and adequate defences are competing activi ties and that the more urgent needs of defence should take precedence. We are spending at present less than 5 per cent, of our national income on defence, while Britain’s direct contribution is £580,000,000 on a national income of less than £5,000,000,000, about 12 per cent. She is able to maintain her much wider insurance scheme and to proceed much further with defence than we are contemplating.
It is not an encouraging outlook for Australian democracy if it is to falter at its first trial in many years nf important, social legislation and to postpone indefinitely, or render ineffective a reform that has long since been recognized as elementary social justice in most democratic communities. It is only special pleading “to argue that the reform will seriously impede our preparations for defence.
The Age, Melbourne, states - :
Free use is being made of the specious plea that national insurance should be deferred while Australia strengthens her defences. It is, however, unthinkable that the Government will be a consenting pawn in the strategy of any members of the federal ministerial parties who attempt to use an affectedly patriotic solicitude as a smoke-screen under cover of which to destroy ihe national insurance scheme.
Honorable members generally believe in the principle of national insurance. Differences of opinion, of course, exist as to how it should be introduced and financed. As was pointed out in leaflets issued by the National Insurance Commission, national insurance represents thrift, not charity. This is so, and is one reason why the scheme should be implemented as soon as possible in order that that habit of saving might be encouraged. After all, it involves only a trifling subscription if in return we can improve the health of the community and provide against the worst evils of unemployment. Nevertheless, those who have devoutly believed in this scheme have been greatly disappointed with the delay which has occurred. This scheme has been described as a £140,000 experi-ment.
– I wish that that was the final cost in that respect.
– The rising expenditure indicates that as little further delay as possible should be incurred in bringing the plan into operation. I hope that the repeal of the proclamation merely means that the Government will bring down a bill’ very quickly.
– That is a correct assumption.
– I agree with the motion, and am opposed to the repeal of the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act.
.- I strenuously opposed the National Health and Pensions Insurance Bill, because I thought it was unfair in its general incidence and unjust to a very big section of . the community. I am not opposed to the principle of national insurance, but I wish to see some scheme devised which will be fair to the community as a whole. Some honorable members have said that any scheme of this kind would be incomplete unless it provided for unemployment insurance. Any national insurance scheme will be incomplete unless it embraces unemployment, but we must recognize that, at the present time, it is impossible for us to make such provision as we have no constitutional power to do so. I feel sure that had a proper appeal been made to the States for their co-operation in connexion with the legislation passed last year, such co-operation would have been forthcoming and that Ave should have been able to cover unemployment. Some honorable members, including the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser), spoke of the demand for unification. He suggested that the smaller States must be destroyed by placing complete power in the hands of Melbourne and Sydney interests. I believe that if the States were approached in anything like a decent spirit for their co-operation in enacting legislation to enable schemes of this character to be implemented for the benefit of the ‘ whole of the cpmm unity, the States would readily respond. But it is hopeless to expect such cooperation when the States are approached in the domineering spirit adopted by the majority of honorable members who represent city interests in this Parliament. The National Health and Pensions Insurance Bill was unfair and unjust. The arrangement whereby contributions were to be made in equal parts by the Government, the employer and the employee looked very pretty on paper. However, if a scheme is to be national in name, it should be national in regard to the obligations involved under it. In the old days, when the employer paid onethird of the cost of schemes of this kind, he did not pass on that cost. There did not exist then the restrictions on trade, or the possibilities of being able to pass on the costs, as exist to-day. Indeed, it has been pointed ou.t by the royal commission now inquiring into the price of bricks in Sydney that, if a certain charge was put on to the price of bricks, that charge must be passed on to the consumers. We know, therefore, that if employers are obliged to pay one-third of the cost of any scheme of national insurance, they will be enabled to pass that cost on to the community owing to the trade restrictions preventing any competition. Furthermore, many wealthy people will not be obliged to make their- just contribution towards the cost of such a scheme. For instance, in my constituency, there are many farmers who, although they are almost bankrupt, would be compelled under this scheme to pay contributions in respect of their employees, whereas other, persons enjoying far bigger incomes will not be obliged to contribute anything to the scheme. It is just that the employee who is to be guaranteed certain benefits under this scheme should contribute towards its cost, but the remainder of the cost should be borne by the community as a whole and not by any section which will not receive any benefits under the scheme. I do not want to destroy this legislation ; I shall support the motion, provided the Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) gives me an assurance that the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act will not be brought into force until Parliament is given a further opportunity to amend it.. That is all that I ask.
– It is certainly not intended to put the act into operation in its present form.
– That assurance satisfies me. I need hardly say that I am opposed to the appointment of a select committee.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. CURTIN’S amendment) stand part of tin* question.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Majority . . 4
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill brought up by Sir Frederick Stewart, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
In view of the Government’s intention to proceed with national insurance as soon as possible, the hill does not pro vide for the annulment of the proclamations of those parts of the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act which deal with administration, and are now in force. Clause 4 of the bill is divided into three sub-clauses. The first annuls the proclamations which were to come into force in September. The parts of the act which are excluded from this annulment are Parts I. and II. which provide for administration, Division 1 of Part 7, which provides for the establishment and administration of approved societies, and section 192, which provides the power to make regulations, and which may be necessary in connexion with administration. Sub-clause 2 annuls the proclamations for the contributions acts. Sub-clause 3 is formal, and merely declares that the power of proclamation is retained.
Later in the year it will be necessary to submit proposals for the appropriation of funds in connexion with administration. In the meantime, I assure honorable members that the work involved, both by the commission and by the approved societies, has been reduced to a minimum. I greatly regret the disturbances which the suspensions have caused to individuals and to societies, and I am anxious that all interests should receive equitable treatment.The bill itself is merely a machinery measure, and a preliminary to a happier line of action which, I trust, will follow the reconstruction of the scheme.
– The Opposition would be prepared to give this bill a formal passage because it is consequential upon the. unwillingness of the House to repeal the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act, but we believe that the Government, having annulled certain parts of the act, should not retain power to put them into force again merely by the issue of a new proclamation. In view of all that has been said by members of the Government about this legislation, it seems to me that it would be quite wrong for the Executive to retain power to put the act into operation without further reference to Parliament.
– We have received a definite assurance on that point.
– Do I understand the honorable member to say that he has received an assurance?
– He received it publicly five minutes ago.
– I was not in the chamber at the time. That assurance should be made irrevocable, and the way to do so is to insert a specific provision in the bill. I have no doubt that the Minister gives the assurance in good faith, and with every intention of honouring it, but next week or next month, or in six months’ time, the Governor-General in Council may proclaim these parts of the act again, and thereupon they would have all the force of law, and the taxing provisions of the act- providing for contributions would immediately be enforceable.
– I am prepared to repeat the assurance that the Government does not intend merely to post-date the time of proclamation.
– That assurance, though given in good faith, may be like the other assurances which the Government found itself unable to honour ;- hence the turmoil that developed at the end of last year and the beginning of this year between the Government and those who professed to support the scheme because they had been given, either publicly or in private, assurances that certain things would he done which eventually were not done.
– They were all given publicly.
– “When the AttorneyGeneral discovered an astute way to overcome the difficulties that had arisen, no public statement was made to this House regarding it. The Minister owes it to Parliament to put into statutory form the assurance he has just given. Next month he may not be Minister for Social Services.
– If tnt assurances I have given are not respected I certainly will not be the Minister.
– That is beside the point. The only way in which a subsequent Executive can be bound is by legislation, so that it will inherit, not merely a promise, but also the statute. “We all know of the political manoeuvres that go to the making of governments, and no one can say whether the promises of one government will be honoured by its successor. If the Minister is unwilling or unable to give statutory form to his assurance he will not obtain a formal passage for his bill.
.. - It is proposed, I understand, to leave the organization of the approved societies as it is.
– It willremain on a restricted basis, pending the taking of the next step in the insurance scheme. The societies will be kept in being.
– Who will pay for that?
– The Government will help.
– That will involve expenditure on top of the £140,000 which the scheme has already cost. Inevitably, further grants will have to be made to the societies by the Government from time to time in addition to the- compensation that it has already agreed to pay. That being so, Parliament is entitled to know what are the intentions of the Government in this regard. It is only proper that the Government should do the right thing by the societies, but we should like to know for how long they are to be kept in this state of suspended animation. I am not in a position to advise the approved societies as to the possibility of this scheme going on, but at least we should give some indication with regard to this matter, even if only from the point of view of our rights in preserving our own finances as well as the approved societies.
Mr. LAZZARINI (Werriwa) (11.1] .- The Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) said earlier to-day that the proclamation would affect only the administrative clauses of the bill. Two or three weeks ago I asked the hon’orable gentleman a question on notice with regard to the weekly amount the national insurance scheme was costing the Government, and his reply was that, apart from payments to approved societies and such expenses, the weekly cost was £80 for administrative expenses and £460 for wages. That makes a total of £54.0 a week or about £30,000 a year apart from other payments. How long is this expenditure going to continue? We are told that a committee of inquiry is to be appointed, but the likelihood is that that committee will not be appointed. Is this matter simply going to continue as it is at present, with expenditure being piled up every week and no advantage accruing to anybody? It is an extraordinary state of affairs. I should also like to know whether or not the National Insurance Commission is going to continue its stupid advertising campaign, which is reminiscent of the efforts of American advertising agencies. Advertisements of various types are continually being issued, apparently in an endeavour to convince people that something will come of this measure after all.
I also asked the Minister a question upon notice with regard to a journal which had been published. The Minister said that he had nothing to do with it. He said in plain terms that the Government was not responsible for that journal, and was not associated in any way with it, yet I point out that it was sent out from the Government Printing Office in an official wrapper bearing the Treasury insignia.
– It was a mass of m misrepresentations.
– Tha t is- so. Is that sort of thing to be permitted to continue? The continuance of expenditure upon the national insurance, scheme is becoming a public scandal. Is it to be continued indefinitely ?
– The Minister for Social Services says “ No “, but the history of this Administration shows that Ministers are in and out of office like a “ Jack in the box “, and what one Minister says “ Yes “ to to-day, another Minister will say “ No “ to to-morrow.
.- This bill deals with proclamations that have been made for the bringing into operation of parts of the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act and of the two accompanying taxation bills. It is proposed that the proclamations with regard to the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act be partly annulled, and that the proclamations with regard to the taxation acts are to be annulled altogether. This ‘bill contains a provision which seems to me to run completely counter to the promise given by the Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) who, I understand, gave an undertaking that fresh proclamations reviving these provisions would not be made without the authority of Parliament. Sub-clause 3 of clause 4 of this bill provides that the power of proclaiming can be exercised in the future as fully and independently as if it had not been already exercised. The bill proposes to annul the exercises which have already been made of the power to proclaim; under section 2 of the act and the corresponding sections of the taxation acts. It also goes on to say that the power of proclaiming can be exercised as fully in the future as if there never had been any proclamations at all. The result is that if this bill is carried it will be competent for the Minister to make fresh proclamations during the forthcoming recess without the authority of Parliament. That seems to me to be inconsistent with the promise given by the Minister. If that promise is to be adhered to then sub-clause 3 of this bill should be eliminated and there should be a distinct provision against the making of proclamations.
– What the honorable member suggests might have the result of bringing the act into operation immediately.
– It might have that effect, but the sub-clause is undoubtedly inconsistent with the Minister’s statement.
– There is no objection whatever to the honorable member’s suggestion. It is a question of finding the most suitable formula for carrying it into effect.
.- I think it is necessary that there should be something in this bill to make certain that if, by any chance, the Minister should die. or the Government should go out of office, the promises which have been made will be honoured. I take it from the discussion which has taken place to-day that any national insurance scheme which might be proclaimed in the future would be different from the one which is on our statute-book to-day. That would necessarily involve the bringing down of new legislation, and in my opinion the Government should evolve the exact form necessary to make certain that before any fresh proclamation is made, this House will have an’ opportunity to examine it.
.- The Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) made a statement to the effect that he would see that those people who were thrown out of employment by the postponement of the national insurance scheme would be compensated or provided for in some way.
– That is a very generous interpretation of my remarks.
– Considerable expenditure has been incurred by at least one approved society - I refer to the Queensland’ branch of the Australian Workers Union. That organization secured the services of a very competent young woman of long experience, who, believing that this Government was in earnest in its endeavours to introduce a national insurance scheme, left a good job to handle the very considerable correspondence between the approved society and the department. Mr. Fallon, the secretary of the Queensland Branch of the Australian Workers Union, was told that as the woman had high qualifications she would have no difficulty in securing employment elsewhere. No doubt she would be able to get work, but the difficulty is to get a job as good as the one which she formerly occupied. In cases of this kind the Government should do something for those societies who have secured the services of competent staffs.
.- I do not think that the Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) ls being quite fair to the approved societies and particularly to the friendly societies. It must be borne in mind that the people covered by the original national insurance scheme were those in receipt of less than £7 a week. These people were largely catered for by friendly societies because of the protection which the organizations gave them. In view of the introduction of a compulsory national insurance scheme many people who would otherwise have joined friendly societies did not do so because they would have been unable to pay two lots of contributions. As the result during the last twelve months there has been a great falling off in the applicants for membership of friendly societies, and the longer this bill is held in suspense the longer these societies will operate under difficulties. It is easy for the Minister to say that he hopes that approved societies will remain in operation, but in doing so, such societies must incur expense. Under the original bill the Government fixed a date upon which it would cease to have any financial responsibility for new members, or any expenditure entailed in enrolling additional members of approved societies. Does the Government propose to keep these societies in a state of suspense? The Government says that there is a possibility that they will still be needed, but if the bill does not come into operation, what provision is the Government making to assist these societies to meet their expenditure between the date originally decided on and that on which the Government decides to carry out the scheme or drop it altogether ? Apart from the approved societies formed by friendly societies, many unions and groups of unions have formed approved societies, and naturally their representatives wish to know whether the Government proposes to shoulder some of the financial responsibility which they undertake to incur up to the time the Government decides what it intends, to do. The Minister should be able to say whether they will be compensated, and, if so, to what extent.
. -I am particularly anxious to know what the Government proposes to do for approved societies affected by the passage of this bill. Is it- intended that they shall continue with a nucleus staff, and is the Government going to share in the added cost which they have incurred in not being able to carry on as originally intended? These societies have incurred additional expenditure in providing larger staffs and in other ways. What is the basis of the Minister’s proposals to friendly societies? Has he discussed the matter with the societies, and have they accepted the basis proposed? Is there any agreement, or does the Minister propose to commence negotiations after this measure has been passed
.- It would appear that this measure has been drafted in anticipation of the adoption of the motion which we have been discussing foi’ the appointment of a select committee. I do not know why the Minister did not sense the feeling of the House on the select committee before asking us to make a decision on this bill.
– This bill is not at all contingent upon the motion mentioned.
– If it is not, I am bound to ask what safeguards are provided for the taxpayers, approved societies, friendly societies and other interested bodies? We are asked to decide that approved societies shall be permitted to continue; but it is common knowledge that their continuation means the expenditure of large sums of public money by way of compensation to keep them in operation. That means the taxpayers will be mulcted in considerable sums of money. ‘ We have not been given any information on the subject.
– I have asked a question on that point.
– Honorable members on both sides have asked questions. The Government, owing to its ineptitude and general mismanagement of national insurance, has failed to give the information which should have been supplied. The taxpayers are asked to foot the bill for this mismanagement, and the deplorable position in which the matter now stands. To what degree are the taxpayers involved or the friendly societies guaranteed ? We should have some idea of the manner in which protection is to be afforded. I do not propose to support the bill until I have more information on the subject.
– in reply - Earlier in the evening I was sufficiently generous to suggest that the opposition of honorable members opposite to the bill was due to the fact that owing to the forms of the House I was unable to tell them what -the bill contains, but T am surprised to learn that since the terms of the measure have become known, some honorable members, particularly the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), are not so seriously concerned with the approved societies and their employees as they ave with the cost to the taxpayers.
– The honorable member cannot, have it both ways.
– Yes, I can.
– The best service which any honorable member can render to the taxpayers and to approved societies and their employees will be to place as little impediment as is possible in the way of the Government re-instituting the whole principle of national .insurance and re-establishing approved societies. I venture to suggest that the societies themselves have very little complaint to make against the attitude of the Government and the Federal Treasury, and it is my intention to see that they have very little about which to complain or upon which to make a charge of inconsiderate treatment in the future. It has been suggested that I should be in a. position to indicate the exact extent of the responsibility likely to be assumed by the Government. That is impossible for this reason if for no other; the replies to the questionnaire asking for certain information have not yet ,all been received. But I assure’ the House - I know some honorable members opposite will accept it as worth something - that the sympathetic consideration which has marked the attitude of the Government and the Treasury towards approved societies will be continued. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) reiterated the charge made a few days ago concerning a journal published by a proprietary company. The National Insurance Commission had no responsibility in that matter*
– The journal was sent, out by the commission.
Sir FREDERICK STEWART Some copies were obtained and distributed by the commission because they contained information likely to be of use. The journal was published only once. I am glad that the Government has been able to give to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) the requisite assurance he desires, which will be supported by & statutory provision, and I trust that will justify me in asking him to assist the Government in passing this measure without further delay.
.- Mr. Speaker-
– The Minister having replied, the debate on the second reading is now closed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 - (1.) The proclamation issued prior to the commencement of this act fixing the date of commencement of the provisions of the act, other than the provisions of Parts I. and II., Division 1 of Fart VII. and section one hundred and ninety-two, is hereby annulled. (2.) The proclamations issued prior to the commencement of this act fixing the date of commencement of the National Health and Tensions Insurance (Employers’ Contributions) Act 1938 and the National Health and Pensions Insurance (Employees’ Contributions) Act 1038 are hereby annulled. (3.) The power conferred by section two of the act shall, in respect of the provisions of the act which have not come into operation, and the power conferred by section two of each of the acts specified in sub-section (2.) of this section shall, be exercisable as fully and effectually as if the powers had not been exer cised prior to the commencement of this act.
.- On behalf of the people- in my electorate, particularly the sons and daughters of members of the Miners Federation who are being incorporated in an approved, society established under the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act, namely, the Miners Federation, which has been complimented by the national insurance auditors on its organization, I seek certain information. I want to be able to tell the people with the authority of the Minister, whether or not they should join a friendly society and receive medical and health benefits, or await action by this Parliament to put a scheme of national insurance into operation. Personally, I favour their taking the former course, because I am beginning to believe that the action which the Government is taking now is merely designed to enable it to cling to office. I am reminded that the Prime Minister (Mr.
Menzies), in reply to a twit by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), that the right honorable gentleman was like a sorely-tried mouse said that he may turn out to be a sorely-tried cat. The Opposition is anxious to see the right honor.able gentleman take up that role. Let us consult the people upon this question and let us not have a minority of this Parliament governing us.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse).Order !
– The Minister should clearly state the position. Is it worth while for people to enrol with approved societies in the hope of national insurance or should they join friendly societies ?
.- I regret that the Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) has not so far given an assurance that the interests of the approved societies will be safeguarded. Although he has appealed to them to continue in existence and has said that at some future date national insurance will come into operation, he has not given an assurance that the Government will provide financial means by which those organizations can be’ kept in existence.
– They will ‘ have no income-
– Exactly. The Minister has asked them to go on as usual, but is the Ministry “ going on as usual “ with its national insurance plan? The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has described his administration as a “ full steam ahead “ government, but it is a “ full steam backwards “ government. Originally,, the former Treasurer (Mr. Casey), in piloting the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act through Parliament, said that the approved societies would be compensated for expenditure that they incurred in enrolling members, but the position now is that that compensation will be continued only up to a certain date, whereas the societies have been asked to continue in existence indefinitely. The Minister roust assure the committee that the Government has the capacity or the desire ultimately to carry national insurance into operation. The uncertainty does an injury to the friendly societies because the men who would otherwise join the friendly societies in order to get the benefits that the societies give, are, in the expectation of being compelled to join approved societies, refraining from enrolling as members of those friendly societies. I suggest that between the time when the subventions to the approved societies end and the time the Government goes ahead with or finally abandons national insurance, the approved societies should be reimbursed for the expenditure entailed in their remaining organized.
– I am sorry that the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) was absent when I answered a similar question a few minutes earlier. It is inexplicable that any honorable gentleman opposite, such as the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), should make a cynical reference to this “ full steam ahead “ Government in respect of its continuing interest in the approved societies, when, by his vote a few minutes ago, he would have put a dead stop to the operations of those societies. At least the approved societies will be infinitely better off under the Government’s proposals than they would have been had the Government’s proposals been defeated. I can do nothing more than indicate that the claims of the approved societies to sympathetic financial consideration at the hands of the Government will receive the fullest consideration of the Government. I move -
That at the end of the clause the following proviso be added -
Provided that the powers shall not be exercised unless and until a resolution approving the exercise of the powers has been passed by both Houses of the Parliament.
.- It is my belief that the Government is not honest in its intentions in respect of national insurance. As the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) pointed out, the Government is expending about £540 a week to meet wages and administrative costs under the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act. Under the proposals now before honorable members, that expenditure will continue. It is my opinion that, rather than have to pay in one lump a great amount of money in compensation to the approved societies, the Government is maintaining the pretence that it intends to go on with national insurance, lt would prefer to keep on paying out money in comparatively small amounts every week in the hope that with the effluxion of time, the approved societies would become nonexistent with a consequent lessening of the obligation on the Government to compensate them.
– There is no mention of compensation in the clause.
– No, but the approved societies will continue in existence and the power to make regulations in respect of them is undisturbed. There is no justification for the approved societies to be kept in existence if the Government does not intend to put national insurance into operation. The Government should not continue indefinitely the expenditure which it proposes to incur in respect of the approved societies. The friendly societies should be told exactly where they stand. At present .prospective members are not willing to join either the friendly societies or the approved societies because of uncertainty as to the immediate future. The taxpayers also are entitled to consideration. Their interests should be conserved. I ask the Minister to say clearly what functions the approved societies will perform in return for the money they will get.
.- Will the Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) give me an assurance that the interests of public servants transferred from other departments to the National Insurance Department and who now have to return to their former positions, or accept other positions that may be offering, will be fully protected? Some of these individuals have been treated harshly. I know of a man who, upon returning to his former department, found the officer who was junior to him had become his senior.
– He took that risk when he accepted the position with the National Insurance Department. His hope was that he would greatly outdistance his junior.
. -The Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) has misunderstood the point that we are tryingto make. We desire to do justice to both the approved societies and the taxpayers. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) said that the passage of this clause should be contingent upon the fate of the motion on the business-paper relating to the appointment of the proposed select committee. The Minister said that that was not so. What then is the honorable gentleman’s policy? We are entitled to a clear answer to that question. The friendly societies should not remain “ on the hook “ indefinitely. If the continuance of the approved societies is not contingent upon the appointment of the select committee and, at a later stage, upon the nature of its report, upon what does it depend ? If the present position is allowed to continue indefinitely the progress of the friendly societies of this country will be seriously affected.
– I can hardly believe that the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) is serious in suggesting that I should be able to say at this moment how long the approved societies will be required to function under the conditions now being laid down. I assure him, however, that immediately Parliament has decided the issues now before it, the friendly societies will be informed of their position. This is not contingent upon whether Parliament adopts or rejects the motion for the appointment of a select committee. Even if that motion be defeated, the Government intends to proceed with national insurance. At this moment I cannot say more than that. The annulments now proposed are necessary whether the future of national insurance is referred to a select committee for consideration, or whether it remains with the Minister to determine the next step.
– Is the Minister prepared to say that compensation will be paid up to the date when a decision is reached?
– I cannot say more than I have said.
– The officers of friendly societies and approved societies are appealing to us week after week to try to ascertain where they stand. The position is hopeless.
– I repeat that immediately the issues now before Parliament are determined, the friendly societies and the approved societies will cease to be in suspense.
.- I want an assurance from the Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) on the point just raised by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), because a number of bodies are already heavily involved as the result of organizing approved societies.
– And the honorable member attempted to-night to crash them.
– No. All I want to know is whether the Minister is prepared to give an assurance similar to that given by his predecessor last year that if the approved societies carry on under this suspended bill they will be compensated for any expense which they incur in connexion with this proposal. Has the Minister the sanction of the Government to give such an assurance?
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 8th June (vide page 1525), on motion by Sir Frederick Stewart (vide page 1515).
Question put -
That the motion be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker. - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Majority . . 23
Question so resolved in the negative.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Spender) agreed to -
That there bo granted to His Majesty for or towards defraying the servicesof the year 1939-40 a sum not exceeding £10,477,100.
Standing Orders suspended ; resolution adopted.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
– I move -
That towards making good the supply granted to His Majesty for the services of the year 1939-40 there be granted out of the Consolidated Revenue fund a sum not exceeding £10,477,100.
The bill now submitted to the House makes provision for an amount of £10,477,100 for ordinary services for the period of the first three months of the financial year 1939-40. The amount includes the following sums : -
Provision is made in this bill only for the amount which is estimated to be sufficient to carry on the essential services on the basis of the appropriations passed by the Parliament for the present year 1938-39. The items making up this total represent approximately one-quarter of those appropriations except in a few cases where expenditure is heavy in the early months of the financial year. The usual provisions are made in thebill for “ Refunds of Revenue “ and “ Advance to the Treasurer “, the amounts being £500,000 and £2,500,000 respectively. This latter amount is mainly required to carry on uncompleted works in progress at the 30th June, and also to cover unforeseen and miscellaneous expenditure. It will also temporarily finance the special grants to South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania on the same basis as that approved by Parliament for the present financial year.
For the current financial year, 1938-39, £2,000,000 was made available for Treasurer’s Advance prior to the beginning of the year, and a further £500,000 in September, 1938. Provision for the full amount is the more necessary for the coming year, because the Government proposes that there shall be a full budget debate before passing any of the individual appropriations bills, works, States’ grants, &c, which will ultimately relieve the charges to Treasurer’s Advance. No provision is made for any new expenditure or for any departure from existing policy.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Bankruptcy Act - Rules amended - Statutory Rules 1939, No. 41.
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointment of F. A. Murray, Department of the Interior.
Judiciary Act - Rule of Court - Dated 22nd May, 1939 (Statutory Rules 1939, No. 43).
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for Administrative purposes at Darwin, Northern Territory.
House adjourned at 12.10 a.m. (Thursday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
k asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
In determining the Australian price of sugar, (a) what wage allowance was made for the grower, and (b) what rate of interest was allowed for the capital employed in the industry?
– The present home-consumption price of Australian sugar was determined in 1932 by voluntary agreement between representatives of the Commonwealth Government and the sugar producers and represented a reduction of the previous price of sugar. This reduction was based on the principle of financial emergency reductions then applied widely throughout the Commonwealth. The previous homeconsumption price of sugar included provision for efficient cane-growers receiving an allowance of their own labour equal to wages then paid to field workers in the industry, and also 7 per cent, interest on their capital investment. This provision, however, was subject to the effect which the volume of exports at world prices might have on the average return to producers on all their output. In actual fact, owing to increased exports, the average return did not enable producers generally to obtain the wages allowance plus 7 per cent, interest on their capital.
Postal Workers: Award by Public Service Arbitrator.
s. - On the 7th June, the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr.
Beasley) asked whether I would lay upon the table of the House the depositions and evidence submitted to the Public Service Arbitrator in the case of the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union - Mail Officers.
I now desire to inform the honorable member that a complete set of the transcript of evidence and of the exhibits in the matter has been laid on the table of the Library.
Oil in Gippsland.
– On the 7th June, the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Pater son) asked the following question, without notice: -
Has the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior made himself familiar with the contents of the report of the Oil Advisory Committee tabled in this House last December, with particular reference to the estimate that there must be at least 150,000,000 gallons of oil in the Lakes Entrance field? If hehas done so, does he consider that the departmental reply given last Friday in answer to a question is in keeping with the contentions of that report?
It appears that the honorable member refers to the following portion of the reply : -
Oil has been found in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia, although not so far in commercial quantities.
It is true that in its report tabled in the House in December last, the Oil Advisory Committee stated -
On a conservative estimate it may be stated that the total oil content of the sand within the area containing the oil-producing bore holes is not less than 150,000,000 gallons - a quantity sufficiently great to make imperative the full testing of the field in accordance with the best practice in use to-day.
The mere fact that oil is known to be present in an area does not make the oil of any value until it becomes recoverable on a commercially profitable basis. There is no certainty that oil can be profitably produced from the oil-bearing sands at Lakes Entrance by the repressuring method suggested by the committee until a very considerable sum of money has been expended on repairs and experimental work. I am advised that in other parts of the world there are vastly larger areas than Lakes Entrance, impregnated with oil, in which oil is not economically recoverable by any known method. A recent United States of America Government publication states that even in oil fields well equipped and operated with efficiency, recoverable oil ranges from 10 per cent, to 40 per cent, of the oil present. Whether and to what degree the oil at Lakes Entrance can be classed as economically recoverable has yet to be established. In the circumstances it is considered that the terms of the reply given to the honorable member on the 2nd June, do not conflict with the contentions of the report of the Oil Advisory Committee.
n asked the Minister for
Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
t. - On the 8th June, the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) asked the following question, without notice : -
Will the Minister for Defence state whether the press report is correct that prominent United Australia party supporters at Moree made strenuous efforts to obtain the sanction of the military authorities for a military escort for Mr. Bruxner, M.L.A., on the occasion of his visit to that town? If the report is correct, will he take steps to ensure that the military forces are not used for the purpose of boosting political personages? ‘
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that the army authorities report that no request for such an escort was received. I may add, however, that the Australian Military Regulations do not permit escorts in such a case.
Militia Forces: Information Obtained from Recruits - Conditions at Enog- gera Camp - Uniforms.
– On the 8th June, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) asked certain questions, without notice, regarding militia recruits and militia. I am how in a position to inform the honorable member that the attestation form which is required to be completed by all recruits in the Militia Forces requires the following questions to be answered : -
Place of birth. .
If British subject or naturalized British subject. (If latter, papers are required.) .
Date of birth and age.
Trade or occupation.
Previous naval, military or air force service.
If now belonging to any of the three defence services.
Ever previously been rejected as unfit for His Majesty’s services.
Residential and business address.
If willing to enlist under the conditions contained in the Defence Act and Regulations made thereunder.
The particulars shown on the attestation form are kept on record. ‘ The approximate number of men discharged from the Militia Forces who did not complete their three years’ engagement during the period from1st July, 1931, to 31st December, 1938, was 49,677.
On the 5th June, the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) referred to certain complaints he had received concerning the conditions at Enoggera camp of the 15th/26th Battalion. I promised to have inquiries made, and have now received reports from the Commander of the 11th Mixed Brigade in regard to the allegations made. The following is a summary of these reports: -
The messing arrangements for this unit were entirely satisfactory. Meals were provided in accordance with the menu, with the exception thaton two days a variation was made to permit midday meals to beserved in the field. On the first day of camp, owing to the attendance exceeding the number estimated, there was a slight shortage of meat, which was, however, compensated for by an additional issue of bread and vegetables; otherwise meals were adequate and general satisfaction was expressed by the troops. On numerous occasions during the camp the Brigade Commander personally asked members of the battalion how they were enjoying camp, and whether the food was good and adequate. On each occasion the reply was an emphatic affirmative. A similar reply was. given bya party of men to a similar question put by His Excellency the Governor-General when he visited the camp.
Sanitary accommodation was adequate and of the usual type, and the sanitary contract was satisfactorily carried out.
Clean boiling water was providedfor the purpose of washing cooking and eating utensils. The supply on the first day was somewhat inadequate, but this was immediately remedied and no further shortage occurred thereafter.
On the 15th May, thatis, three days before the end of the camp, an outbreak of diarrhoea occurred. In all, approximately 250 cases were reported, most, however, being of a minor nature, and clearing up within a few hours. Approximately 50 cases were admitted to the camp hospital, all but three being returned to duty within 24 to 36 hours. The three severe cases were returned to duty after 48 hours. All cases were ultimately fit for duty after 48 hours. No cases of diarrhoea from this battalion were evacuated from camp to general hospital. The State Health Department, after investigation, reports that there was no evidence of dysentery.
A thorough inspection of the camp was made by the senior staff officer of the formation, and the senior medical officer, immediately the outbreak was reported. No causes of probable Infection were discovered, and although the standard of hygiene and sanitation in all units was similar, the main outbreak was confined to the one battalion.
On the 8th June, the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) asked the following question, without notice: -
Is it a fact that all military uniforms made up in Sydney are previously cut out in Melbourne; if so, what is the reason?
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that, to ensure uniformity of cut and make-up, certain cotton drill working dress was cut out at the Clothing Factory, Melbourne, and issued to contractors in New South Wales and other States for machining and finishing. As patterns were issued in connexion with the woollen cloth service dress uniforms which formed the bulk of the requirements, the practice of issuing materials in a cut-out state was not necessary. These uniforms are being completely made up by various contractors throughout Australia.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 June 1939, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1939/19390614_reps_15_160/>.