6th Parliament · 1st Session
The Clerk informed the Senate that the President was still confined to his home and was, therefore, unavoidably absent:
The Deputy President took the chair at 11.1 a.m., and read prayers.
CONTINENTAL TYRE COMPANY.
Senator NEEDHAM (for Senator McDoucall) asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice -
Why has the Continental Tyre Company been given permission to trade while other enemy firms engaged in the rubber business have been absolutely closed up?
Senator GARDINER. - The AttorneyGeneral is not aware what other firms are referred to.
Senator FINDLEY.(for Senator McKissock) asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice - 1.What is the reason for three days’ delay in paying the conduit workers of Victoria their fortnightly wages?
If he will ascertain the increased cost of distribution occasioned by such delay?
Will he take such steps as will prevent a recurrence ofsuch delay?
Senator GARDINER. - Inquiry is being made, and a reply will be furnished as early as possible.
Senator NEEDHAM (for Senator
McDougall) askedthe Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice -
Has the firm of Steffens and Noelle, 40 King-street, Sydney, been declared an enemy firm?
If so, is the Minister aware that Mr. Newell, late secretary of the firm of Steffens and Noelle, is in partnership with Mr. Buckley (a relation to Carl Laband, a director of Steffens and Noelle), trading as Newell and Buckley, at 407 Kent-street, Sydney?
Has inquiry been made to ascertain if the firm of Newell and Buckley is bond fide, or is being financed by Steffens and Noelle until the termination of the war ?
Is it a fact that Newell and Buckley have taken over the trade and agencies formerly held by Steffens and Noelle Limited?
Senator GARDINER. - The answers are -
Yes; it has been gazetted as an enemy company.
An investigation was ordered some days ago (9th August, 1915), and is now proceeding.
It is believed that they have; but, as stated in reply to 3, the matter is being investigated.
SHIPMENTS OF GOLD. PAPER.
Senator TURLEY (for Senator Maughan) asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice - 1.What value is represented by the export shipments of gold from the various Australian States for the year 1914, andalso from 1st January, 1915, to date. 2.To what places was the gold shipped, giving names and amounts in each case?
Senator RUSSELL. - The replies consist of a mass of details and figures which I will lay onthe table.
Senator Turley. - But that means that they will not be recorded in Hansard.
Senator RUSSELL. - No; not unless they are read.
SenatorPearce. - The Minister is going to lay the replies on the table as a return.
Senator Turley. - Then we shall not get a print of the answers. The questions were asked so that the information might become public.
Senator Pearce. - Will Senator Turley be satisfied if the paper is laid on the table and a motion moved that it be printed?
Senator Turley. - Yes.
Senator RUSSELL. - I lay the document on the table, and move -
That the paper be printed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Thefollowingpaperwas presented: -
Regulations amended, &c. - Statutory Rules 1915, No. 144.
Motion (by Senator Pearce) agreed to-
That leave bo given to introduce a Bill for an Act to amend the War Precautions Act 1914-15.
Motion (by Senator Pearce) agreed to-
That standing order No.68 be suspended up to and including 10th September,1915, for the purpose of enabling new business to be commenced after half-past ten o’clock at night.
Motions (by Senator Pearce) agreed to-
That standing order No. 283 be suspended so as to enable a call of the Senate to be made, without the usual twenty-one days’ notice, for the third reading of the Constitution Alteration (Senators’ Term of Service) Bill.
That there be a call of the Senate on Thursday; the 2nd day of September, 1915, at 3 o’clock p.m., for the purpose of considering the third reading of the Constitution Alteration (Senators’ Term of Service) Bill.
Bill presented and (on motion by Senator Pearce) read a first time.
– I move -
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the Bill being passed through its remaining stages without delay.
I do not propose to avail myself to-day of the liberty which a suspension of the rules will give. What I propose to do in order to save time is to move the second reading this morning, and if at the conclusion of my speech any honorable senator wishes to move the adjournment of the debate, I shall be prepared to agree to the motion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
The Government have considered it advisable to amend the War Precautions Act, under circumstances which I will explain. It will be remembered that recently there was before the Supreme Court of Victoria a case in which one Franz Wallach, who had been interned on my warrant under the War Precautions Act, appealed to that Court for release. It held that the regulation under which I acted was ultra vires, and gave an order for the release of Wallach. He was, as honorable senators know, interned subsequently on another warrant. The Government have appealed against the decision of the Supreme Court. We do not know, of course, how tha High Court may decide the appeal, but we had hoped to get its decision before it would become necessary for Parliament to adjourn. But, apparently, it will adjourn before the decision can be given. If the High Court were to uphold what the Supreme Court has laid down, the decision would have a very serious effect in hampering the power of the Commonwealth Government to deal with interned aliens, especially naturalized aliens.
– The object of this measure, then, is to anticipate, possibly, an adverse decision ?
– Yes, it will have that effect. If the High Court should uphold the judgment of the Supreme Court, we shall find ourselves without the power -we think, the absolutely necessary power - to deal with the situations which have arisen in the Commonwealth consequent on the war.
– That knocks on the head the statement of the Age that we have absolute power, and can do anything during war time.
– We can do anything subject to the Courts of the land. However we may view the question as towhether the Act gave that power to the Government, I think there is very little doubt that Parliament had that intention.
– If the power wag not given in the Act, this Bill will give it to you?
– I think so.
– The object of this measure is to ask Parliament to give the Executive the fullest power over suspects.
– Assuming the judgment of the Supreme Court to be a correct interpretation of the law, an amendment is needed to give the Government the power which the Parliament thought it had given. Here, for instance, is one of the points. It was stated by the Chief Justice of Victoria in regard to the exercise of the power by me that I as Minister was not included in the term “other persons.” That term was used to indicate certain specified persons who were to exercise power under the War Precautions Act. The Court laid it down that if Parliament intended to give the Minister power, Parliament would have mentioned the Minister, because the Act having mentioned others, such as the Military Board and the Naval Board, it was not conceivable that Parliament intended to include the Minister controlling the Department amongst the other persons. We have met that objection by this amendment, which specifically names the Minister. Then the question also arose as to whether Parliament intended to give’ the power, and whether the Act expressed such intention. The Chief Justice held that it did not express it clearly, and said that if Parliament intended to give such wide power, in view of its conflict with the Act of Habeas Corpus and the Bill of Rights it would have expressed that intention quite clearly. In our judgment Parliament did express it clearly, but that was not the opinion of the learned Judge and the majority of the Court, and so as to clear up the point we are expressing the intention clearly in this amending Bill. There is one other feature of this Bill to which reference might be made. We propose to amend subsection 6 of the principal Act, which deals with trials of offences, by providing that summary prosecutions shall not be instituted without the consent of the Minister or of the Attorney-General. This action, we think, is necessary, because there have been cases instituted by other persons - in some cases the police authorities, and in other cases the States Governments - and we think that, as this is a Commonwealth Act, dealing with a class of offences arising out of the war-
– It is a corollary of our Defence measures.
– Yes; and we think that, as it deals with offences arising out of the war, the instigation of prosecutions under it should be in the hands of the Commonwealth Ministers, otherwise there will be a want of uniformity, and probably we should have a prosecution in some States instituted by the State Law authorities for one class of offence, whereas across the border there would be no prosecutions for the same class of offences. It does not follow that if this Bill is carried there will not be prosecutions for that class of offences, out it will provide that, if a prosecution is instituted in one State, there will be prosecutions in all States for similar offences. Of course, the State legal machinery is available to us. That is to say, the State Courts and the State police are enjoined to enforce the laws of the Commonwealth, and there is no reason why the- same machinery which enables these prosecutions to be taken by the State authorities should not enable the same action to be taken by the Commonwealth authorities. I know that when a case has been lost in one of the Supreme Courts, owing to the fact that a regulation has been declared ultra vires, and there has been an appeal from that judgment to the High Court, it is very questionable whether, in the interim, a Bill should be introduced to effect an amendment of that legislation.
– Nothing but a great necessity would justify that action.
– Yes; and I admit that this Bill is open to that criticism, and nothing but the position in which we find ourselves - the possibility of Parliament rising, and the knowledge that we shall not have that judgment on appeal before u3 - compels us to take this action.
– And the abnormal period we are living in.
– Yes. I can assure honorable senators that I realize it is a most unpleasant thing to deprive any one of his liberty, and that this action ought not to be taken without the fullest consideration and after the most careful inquiry. The love of liberty is inborn in all of us, and a fellow-being should not be deprived of his freedom except after the fullest inquiry into all the circumstances.
– They do not apologize in Germany for that action.
– No. It is one of the most disagreeable tasks imposed on a Minister to deprive any person of his liberty; but, at the same time, in the interests of the Commonwealth it is sometimes essential that this step should be taken. I would point out, however, that the essential difference between the administration of this Act and the administration of the ordinary criminal law is this: It would be against the interests of the Commonwealth if we were to disclose the reasons for everything we do, because that would probably defeat any action taken in the interests of the Commonwealth and of the Realm. Therefore, the various Governments of theEmpire have been compelled to pass this legislation, although it is against the principle of habeas corpus and against the privileges which the British nation has always treasured.
– Which we are fighting now to treasure.
– Yes. This step has really been taken to preserve that privilege, because, if full liberty were given to alien subjects, or even to naturalized aliens, and if they were able to make use of the sources of our information, they would have an immense advantage. Especially would this be the case with those who were disaffected and were trying to do things against the interests of the Commonwealth. They would occupy a privileged position, and, repugnant as this kind of legislation is to us, we recognise it is essential that the interests of the Commonwealth should be safeguarded in this way. I feel that an explanation is needed for the introduction of this legislation in the interim between the judgment of the Supreme Court and the judgment of the High Court on appeal; but I believe honorable senators will see that this is a sufficient explanation, and one which will relieve us of any charge of trying to upset the judgment of the Supreme Court by legislation. We are not trying to do that. We are endeavouring to make good de fects which the Supreme Court has pointed out exist in our legislation, and we are making provision to safeguard our interests in the event of the High Court concurring in the judgment of the Supreme Court. That being so, I feel confident that honorable senators, after considering the Bill, will agree to it, and give us the power which, I am sure, they thought they were conferring upon the Government when they passed the principal Act.
– I presume the Government have been legally advised, and, that being so, can the Minister say if the passing of this measure will interrupt the process of the appeal before the High Court?
– Not at all.
– That is all right. I presume it will not interfere with the course of judgment or the pronouncement of the High Court.
– It cannot affect that in the slightest degree. The judgment” on that appeal will be based on the legislation then existing, irrespective of anything we are doing in this Bill.
– This Bill is intended to strengthen the previous legislation.
– That is so. If the Senate can see its way to pass the Bill, I shall be pleased ; but, if not, I recognise that it is of an important character, and if any honorable senator wishes to adjourn the debate I will not object.
Debate (on motion by Senator Keating) adjourned.
.- I move. -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn until Tuesday next, at 3 p.m.
As honorable senators know, it is hoped to adjourn Parliament on Thursday next, and if we are to pass legislation that is coming up to us from the other House, an extra day will be necessary next week.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 26th August, vide page 6145) :
Clauses 49 to 52 agreed to.
Clause 53 -
Every form of proposal and form of policy. . . . shall be submitted by the company to the Commissioner for approval . . .
The Commissioner shall not decide wholly or partly against any form until he has given the company an opportunity of being heard by him on the matter.
– This clause is a very important one, dealing as it does with the forms of proposal and of policy. We are clothing the Commissioner with uncommonly great powers. The forms have to be submitted to him, and he has to satisfy himself that they are in compliance with the Act, and are not calculated to mislead proponents. One knows that in connexion with policies it is a somewhat difficult matter for the proponent to understand clearly the whole scope of the provisions made therein, and the only advantage I can see in this clause is that it will lead to a generalization of the different forms of policy. This may have the effect of bringing about the use of the same form for the same class of business throughout the Commonwealth. In that respect, the clause may be of decided advantage. Under sub-clause 5, a company dissatisfied with the decision of the Commissioner may appeal therefrom to the Court. Honorable senators should bear in mind that in this Bill the reference to the Court does not mean a reference merely to the local inferior Courts where the Commissioner may reside, but tothe Supreme Court, and by appeal from that Court to the High Court. This clause may lead to a suit in a Supreme Court to decide whether the Commissioner’s interpretation or rejection of a form of proposal, or a form of policy, should be concurred in.
– What does the honorable senator suggest as an alternative ?
– I think that these matters might be heard and decided in the inferior Courts. If the Supreme Court of a State, or the High Court, is to be appealed to for the settlement of these small matters, the insurance companies may he involved quite unnecessarily in expensive litigation.
– Does the honorable senator propose to do away with the right of appeal to the High Court?
– No, I do not. My point is that the policy of this measure seems to be to plunge insurance companies objecting to a decision of the Commissioner into the most expensive Courts for the settlement, it may be, of very trivial questions. These differences of opinion with the Commissioner should not be made the subject of appeal to the most expensive Courts in the Commonwealth. I regard this . as one of the most useful clauses in the Bill, but I think it may have the effect of plunging insurance companies into expensive litigation in the higher Courts. I called attention to this objection on the second reading of the Bill. I have no doubt that the Minister has looked into the matter since, and he may have some proposal to make which will be not less effective, while at the same time making appeals from the decisions of the Commissioner a less expensive matter for the companies concerned.
– I have given some attention to this clause, and a careful reading of it will show that, instead of plunging insurance companies into heavy legal expenses in connexion with appeals to the Courts from decisions of the Commissioner, that is just the kind of thing it is calculated to avoid. It is not a question here of dealing with every policy, but with forms of proposals and forms of policies used by insurance companies. Set forms will be used by various companies, and if after they have been submitted to the Commissioner he is of opinion that, in any case, the form of proposal, or the form of policy, adopted is calculated to mislead the proponent or policy-holder, he may reject it, or he may approve of it subject to such alterations as he thinks necessary. The companies are safeguarded by being given an opportunity to be heard by the Commissioner. That, I take it, means that they will be given an opportunity to reply to his objections, and if they are still dissatisfied with his decision, they will have the right of appeal to the Court. Generally, these questions will be matters for mutual arrangement. The Commissioner will be an officer selected because of his ability, capacity, and attainments; and the companies will probably come to regard him as a person to whom they can look for advice and assistance in the management of their business. It will be only upon rare occasions that under this clause, there will be an appeal to the Court ; and I venture to say that a company that will be so sure of its ground as to go the length of appealing against a decision of the Commissioner under this clause, will not fear having to pay costs. Tlie Commissioner will have to pay the costs if he is shown to be wrong. On the other hand, if lie is right, and a company has desired to force the use of a form of proposal, or a form of policy, that would be misleading to the public, it is only reasonable that it should be prevented from doing so by the Commissioner; and that if it persists in an appeal in such a case, it should have to pay costs. Senator Senior seems to be of opinion that the costs will be such as may be likely to cripple an insurance company; but I do “not think that that need be feared, because if there is one thing in this country upon which we can congratulate ourselves, I think it is the cheapness with which justice can be obtained.
– I thought the honorable senator said yesterday that the law is a very costly matter.
– It is sometimes, and it has been to me. It may be costly in individual cases; but I say that in Australia we can congratulate ourselves that justice can be obtained from tlie Courts without extraordinary cost.
– The honorable senator means to say “ legal decisions.”
– No ; I prefer to say that justice can be obtained cheaply. It is well for us, I think, that the administration of justice in our Courts is such that any one who pleases may make a joke upon it. I say this because it is based upon such a firm foundation of equity and right, and our Courts have such a high reputation that these jokes fall from them as water falls off a duck’s back. If it were felt that these jokes had a substantial foundation, there would be a general outcry against our Courts. It is like the case of the mother-in-law. Most of the jokes against the mother-in-law fall harmlessly, because it is known that, instead of being the person depicted by the humorists, she is usually the guardian angel of the household. Insurance companies do not frequently alter their forms of proposal or forms of policy. In many cases, the forms adopted have been used satisfactorily for years. I. admit that we give the Commissioner power under this clause, at his discretion, to insist upon the alteration of a form that has been successfully used for twenty or thirty years; but he is not likely to do anything of the kind, as he would very probably render himself liable to costs if he insisted upon the alteration of a form which could be shown to have been in successful operation for a number of years.
– I agree with the Minister as to the principle of this clause, which is one that should find a place in our insurance code. I direct attention, however, to sub-clause 3, and suggest that, with regard to that sub-clause, we should follow the course we adopted in dealing with sub-clause 2 of clause 24, where we decided that the opportunity to be given to a company to be heard in a matter should be an opportunity “ in the manner prescribed,” leaving it to regulations to prescribe some particular way in which the opportunity should be given. That would be a relief to the Commissioner, and satisfactory to the companies. I suggest that we should provide in this clause, also, that the opportunity given to the companies to be heard should be an opportunity in a prescribed way. The companies would then have no complaint that the opportunity afforded was not adequate.
– I accept the honorable senator’s suggestion, and accordingly move -
That the words “ in the prescribed manner” be inserted after the word “ given “ in subclause 3.
Amendment agreed to.
– I approve of the clause as a whole, but my mind is not yet free of the impression that the Bill may have the effect of making a sort of military drive that will force all the smaller insurance companies into the larger ones, even though the smaller bodies may be perfectly sound and solvent within their own ambit. That is the reason why I directed the Minister’s attention to the costliness of a disagreement with the Commissioner over the form of proposal or policy. It would be easy to devise a standard proposal for life or endowment policies acceptable to all; but, as the Bill is apparently constructed to apply to all conditions of insurance, I want sound insurance companies of all sizes to have fair consideration. The Commissioner will possibly have a predilection to take the viewpoint of the offices doing a big general business rather than that of the offices doing smaller and more specialized business, and, under this clause, a dispute as to the form of proposal or policy may ultimately be forced into the Supreme Court. As a layman, I cannot put forward an amendment on the spur of the moment, but possibly the procedure would be cheaper if it were provided in the last sub-clause that the appeal from the Commissioner’s decision should be to a Judge of the Supreme Court instead of to the Court itself. With that alteration the clause might be regarded as exceedingly useful, but much’ less likely to lead to costly law suits, which, by absorbing the funds of a society, would injure its members.
– I have already given an assurance, and now repeat it, that before the Bill finally passes, smaller mutual companies, and companies formed by municipalities and among business men to protect certain interests under Employers’ Liability Acts, will be exempt from its operations, except that they will have to furnish returns. That class of insurance will, therefore, not be affected by such provisions as this. I still prefer an appeal to the Court to an appeal to a single Judge. We understand and know the Court, but I feel it would not be in the best interests of the people to provide for an appeal from one man - the Commissioner - who has been given great powers, to another man - the Judge - who is given still greater powers. Nothing was further from the minds of the framers of the Bill than to crowd the smaller companies out in favour of the larger ones, and nothing in the Bill is calculated to have that effect. Its main effect will be to take the control of insurance from the six different States and vest it in the Commonwealth, but it in no way curtails the liberties of the individual companies, or interfere with their present legitimate methods of business expansion. Bearing in mind Senator Senior’s previous criticism regarding the amount of ‘deposit to be required from the smaller companies, I consulted with the author of the Bill, and the result was the promise I referred to at the opening of my remarks. The whole measure is drafted with a view not to alter, except for the better, the conditions under which the companies now carry on their business. A Commissioner with great powers will be something new in the insurance world, but every imaginable safeguard is pro vided in every clause dealing with that; officer. That is true of this clause in particular. He is given power, in order toprotect the public interests, to inspect and investigate forms of proposal and policy, and to refuse them if unsatisfactory; but. the companies are given the right to be heard before him, and, if still aggrieved, to appeal to the Court. If we get an able and competent man as Commissioner, it may be years beforean appeal to the Court is made, I recognise that the way in which the powers conferred by this Bill are exercised will depend very largely upon the ability of the gentleman who is appointed to that office. Of course, if he is of a fussy and self-satisfied disposition, it isquite conceivable that his functions may be abused. But we have already provided safeguards in that connexion. Before he will be able to veto any form of policy adopted by an insurance company, that company will have a right to be heard before him. It may be heard in accordance with the manner prescribed by regulations.
– We do not know what they may be.
– That is quitetrue. But we must pass the Bill beforeregulations can be framed under it. Those regulations, however, will be based upon the clear intention of the Legislature, and will be designed to make the means by which any interested company may appear before the Commissioner as easy as possible. If the honorable senator will consider the clause in all its bearings,he will, recognise that we have been careful toprovide efficient safeguards against the arbitrary abuse of power by the Commissioner.
– It seems to me that the tendency of all legislation during recent years is to take out of the hands of Parliament the powers which it has previously exercised, and to vest them in individuals who are practically irresponsible. Under this Bill we shall surrender very large powers to the Commissioner. We shall practically constitute him an irresponsible autocrat in matters connected with insurance. We shall make him the sole judge of the form of policy which any insurance company coming into existence in the future may adopt. He will, indeed, be; king in his own realm. As a result, he will be in a position to make it exceedingly difficult for any insurance company to strike out upon novel lines of business. Whilst the Vice-President of the Executive Council was speaking, I did not fail to observe thathe recognises the dangers which are looming ahead. Under this provision the Commissioner will have power to force any insurance company with which he may be in disagreement into costly litigation. It is all very well to say that that contingency will arise very rarely. But we must recollect that, under this clause, it will be chiefly the smaller insurance societies which will be adversely affected. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has said that in the particular matter to which I have directed attention he prefers the determination to vest in a Court rather than in a Judge. I differ from him. It is not in the initial stages of the existence of any insurance company that I anticipate difficulty will arise. My point is that a small society may, in the future, be compelled to adopt a standard form of policy when it is desirous of transacting business on lines outside that standard form. We have not yet seen the last of adventures into new fields of business. Under this clause the Commissioner will be able to force into Court any company which may disagree with his decision upon a matter which I venture to say would be settled by a Judge in a very few minutes. Many of the provisions of the Bill exhibit the utmost conservatism. In the insurance world, as elsewhere, companies must be prepared to embark upon new projects. We ought to recognise that, and to make provision for it. I would urge upon the Vice-President of the Executive Council the advisableness of favorably considering my suggestion.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 54 -
After a period of six months fromthe commencement of this Act, a company shall not accept any proposal or issue any policy unless the proposal or policy is in a form approved by the Commissioner or, on appeal, by the Court.
Penalty: Five hundred pounds.
– This clause provides for a penalty of £500 in the case of any insurance company which may issue a form of policy that has not been approved by the Commissioner.
– That does not follow. Five hundred pounds is the maximum penalty.
– Quite so. But the Commissioner will naturally seek to uphold his dignity by pressing for the imposition of the maximum penalty. I would further point out that, whilst the penalties provided for in this Bill will be recoverable in a lower Court, the determination of a question involving the form of any policy issued by an insurance company will rest in the hands of a higher tribunal.
– This clause may operate for the protection of a company, because any looseness in the drafting of a form of policy may conceivably involve it in litigation.
– To me, it is a strange anomaly that, whilst the penalty of £500 will be recoverable in a lower Court, any difference as to the form of an insurance policy must be settled in a higher Court.
– I would point out to the honorable senator that, although a penalty of £500 is provided for in this clause, the Court in its discretion may impose merely a nominal fine. Five hundred pounds is the maximum penalty which can be inflicted under the provision. After the Act has been in force for six months, a company is forbidden to accept a proposal or issue a policy unless it is in a form approved by the Commissioner, or on appeal by the Court. There is no hurry imposed upon insurance companies. It is not a case of rushing companies into Court and trying to get an advantage over them because a breach of the law has been committed unwittingly. A definite period is laid down in which the forms in use by a company shall be submitted to the Commissioner. If, however, a company persists in ignoring a recommendation or suggestion from the Commissioner to alter a form, and exercises its legal right to have the form decided by a Court, the responsibility will be that of the company. The measure is going through Committee in a leisurely way, which is a great advantage to insurance companies, because ample time is afforded to them in which to formulate objections. I have received from deputations and other persons very valuable information, which, I venture to think, will lead to an improvement of the Bill as regards smaller companies, and that is in the direction of not asking for tlie production of returns from fire companies as well as from life companies. That leisurely progress, although it has been somewhat irritating to myself, may prove of great advantage indeed to the companies. I suggest to Senator Senior that if an insurance company defies the Commissioner, and, in spite of the law, persists in using an unauthorized form of proposal or policy, the maximum penalty of £500 is not an exorbitant amount in the circumstances. If the penalty were fixed at a small amount, it might pay a company with a big business to put before the country forms that would bring in large profits which would be altogether in excess of the penalty of £500. In cases where large interests are involved, the Court must have the power to impose a heavy penalty; but. as regards trivial or small breaches of the law, any penalty can be inflicted up to the amount of £500. The clause does not proscribe a hardandfast penalty which is to be inflicted in every case, and, in view of that fact, I think that it might be allowed to pass.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 55 and 56 agreed to.
Clause 57 -
A company carrying on industrial insurance business shall submit, for the approval of the Commissioner, its rates of premium and proposed rates of dividend or bonus, and, subject to a right of appeal to the Court against the Commissioner’s decision, shall make such amendments therein as the Commissioner directs.
– In this provision we are on the verge of giving immense power to the Commissioner, especially in connexion with industrial insurance, which, we know, often sweeps in the very poorest citizen.
– It gives the Commissioner almost absolute power.
– Exactly. It is the most autocratic provision I have found in the Bill from beginning to end. It may be described as its “Achi Baba,” or highest point of autocracy. It is couched in such language that the Commissioner will become the Czar of all insurance societies.
– Can you see any other way out of the position ?
– How are you going to secure the end iu view without the clause ?
– The point I have been leading up to is that, in a case of this kind, just as in the case of a proposal or policy form, the right of appeal should be given to a less costly Court than the Supreme Court. Under this provision, every time a difference of opinion arises with an insurance company as to a branch of insurance, and an adverse decision is given by the Commissioner, the company will be forced to carry its trouble into the Supreme Court or the High Court. That policy is carried altogether too far. If we invest the Commissioner with mandatory power to say that insurance companies shall do this or that, an angel from Heaven will be needed to fill the position if we expect the measure to work smoothly; and I question whether even an angel would possess enough business capacity to attain that object.
– How else can we secure the control of the companies ?
– The first mistake was made in selecting the highest Court in the land to hear an appeal from a decision of the Commissioner. I repeatthat a less costly Court could be employed for that purpose. I can see the position looming up as regards large insurance companies. They do not mind the expense of an appeal to the Supreme Court or the High Court, because they have had so much experience of insurance business, and are in command of so much money, that they can afford to run a risk.
– On the other hand, the public need to be protected against some of the smaller insurance societies which’ are not sound.
– I do not think that the honorable senator can point to many insurance offices which are not doing a very careful line of business.
– I have heard of them in Australia.
– A questio.ii which is very often involved in that matter is that, owing to the competition with each other, the cost of doing business is excessively large. It is not what will be under the purview of the Commissioner which is likely to render any companies insolvent, but the fact that they are involved in heavy costs to get business. Under this measure that element is going to be largely destroyed, and in the course of a. few years we shall hear of the smaller’’ companies in Australia going out of business, and insurance work will be absolutely in the hands of a few men. Through the various entanglements we are now building up we shall then have reached a position when we shall have a few insurance companies which, with one or two exceptions, will be mutual offices; the smaller offices will have disappeared. I ask the Minister to again read this clause carefully, and to remember that the dividend or the bonus which the smaller companies can pay will largely depend upon the amount of business done. I am insured in an insurance office, but it will not tell me what my dividend or bonus is going to be ‘next year. I have never met an insurance officer who could furnish that information. It is only supplied six or twelve months after the close of the year. Does the Minister insist that the industrial insurance companies shall submit to the determination of the Commissioner the amount of the dividend or the bonus which it intends to pay? Insurance business is not like a banking transaction, iu which a man can invest a certain sum, and know that he will get a return of 4£ per cent. The financial position of a company depends entirely on the mass of business which it does, and, of course, its lucrative nature. In some years the business may be slack and the dividend small. How can a company go to the Commissioner and say that it intends to give 4£ per cent, for the year? Suppose, for instance, that, owing to business being slack during 1915, an insurance company goes to the Commissioner in 1916 and says that it can give only % or 3-J per cent., and he insists that it shall pay 4^ per cent. It will imperil its solvency. Whilst the Bill gives power to the Commissioner, it really makes it more difficult for insurance offices to carry on business. I ask the Minister to again look at the clause, and I believe that if he does he will see that it goes beyond the scope of what he intends.
– I am unable to reply now to all the excellent arguments brought forward by Senator Senior, and, therefore, I desire the Committee to report progress.
Bill received from the House of Representatives, and (on motion by Senator Gardiner) read a first time.
.- I move -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
I am sorry that the Supply Bill, which we thought would have been here to-day, has not been sent up, but we are hoping it will be before the Senate on Tuesday.
.- I desire to bring under the notice of the Minister of Defence a matter which I think requires looking into, and I am sure it will only be necessary to mention it to insure prompt action by the Minister. I refer to the treatment that is being meted out to returned invalided and wounded soldiers. Last night, at the Victoria Coffee Palace, two soldiers, in a very crippled condition, learned that I was a member of the Federal Parliament, and they asked to speak to rr.e. 1 went across to them, and they told me that, at the hands of the pay staff, they had received treatment which I could hardly credit. One of these men gave me his name and number, and said that he was prepared to make a written statement of the complaint which he made to me verbally. He landed in Melbourne without a shilling in his pocket, and told me that the Defence Department owed him, approximately, £100. He said that he and his crippled comrade attended at the Pay Office, St. Kilda-road, and waited there almost three hours to get attention. Private Woodrow, for that is the man’s name, said when he was able to make his way to the Pay Office the pay officer - I think his name is Mr. Mortimer - said, when he made application for an advance of £3. that he could not have it. Private Woodrow replied that any sum less than that would not carry him over his stay in Melbourne, and Mortimer then threw him £1 and said, “ You take- that, or you will get nothing.” It seems incredible that these men, in such a condition, should have to visit a place like that at all to get the necessary financial accommodation, or an advance on a sum of money due to them. Both of these men are in a very serious condition, and probably will never be really “fit” again. They also complained that while coming out on board the transport there was no provision for attention to and attendance upon invalid and crippled soldiers. They said there was no staff, and that those who were able to hobble about or do anything at all were compelled to wait upon those who were unable to help themselves. They added that, in the circumstances, they were only too glad to render whatever assistance they could to their incapacitated comrades, but they felt that they should not have been called upon, in their condition, to undertake duties which ought to have been performed by a regular and properlyequipped staff of the Army Medical Corps. I notice that the Minister, in reply to a question yesterday, said that a cable message had been received from the High Commissioner to the effect that there had been some confusion about the purchase of Red Cross goods in Egypt. These two men informed me that at the Mena Red Cross camp they were charged ls. for a pair of socks, 2s. 6d. for a flannel shirt, from 2s. to 3s. 6d. for mufflers according to quality, and ls. 6d. for gloves. There can be no hearsay about the complaint at all. Private Woodrow, whose regimental number is 261, informed me that he had made those purchases, and his statement was supported by Private Hartnett, his companion. Both of these men come from New South Wales. Without casting any reflection upon the statement which was the result of the inquiry by the High Commissioner-
– No. It was a cable from the High Commissioner in Egypt to Her Excellency Lady Munro Ferguson, as head of the Red Cross Society.
– I thank the Minister for the correction. I am referring to tlie cablegram which the Minister quoted in the Senate, and I say that, without casting any reflection on the accuracy of that statement, I think that something more needs to be explained. I am sure, also, that the Minister will take an early opportunity to communicate with some responsible official in Egypt, with the object of ascertaining definitely if there is any truth in the statements that have been circulated. These men informed me that when coming out on board the troopship Hororata boxes of chocolate, containing notes, which seemed to indicate that they had been contributed by a generous public in Australia for the benefit of the soldiers, were being sold to wounded soldiers on board the transport.
– By whom were they sold ?
– I presume they were sold by somebody in charge of them on board the ship. These matters, I think, require to be looked into. I might add, for the information of the Senate, that I have communicated these complaints in writing to the Minister, and I am quite certain that he will have inquiries made at the very earliest opportunity convenient to himself, more particularly into the complaints regarding the pay officer, for the inconvenience, to say nothing of the suffering, inflicted upon our returned wounded heroes - I can use no other term - and that if the complaints be true,’ an example will be made of those responsible for this state of affairs.
.- Senator Long was good enough to supply me with a statement of tlie complaints to which he has just referred, with the exception of the sale of boxes of chocolates on board the troopship, and I am now having inquiries made. I think, however, that there are one or two points that need a little explanation. Private Woodrow, to whom it is stated the Defence Department owes something like £100, comes from New South Wales, and, in order to carry him over his stay in Melbourne, he applied to the Pay Office here for an advance of £3. For the information of the Senate I may explain that the arrangement with regard to any troopship returning with sick and wounded soldiers is that, on arrival in Melbourne, Victorian sick and wounded are taken off and sent direct to the base hospital. Their pay accounts are kept in Victoria, and they get paid within a short time of their arrival, if the troopship is going on to Sydney, but is remaining in Melbourne for any length of time, those soldiers belonging to New South Wales are given leave to go ashore; but it is obvious they cannot be paid at the first port of call, because they belong to another State, where their records are kept.
– But they have their pay-books in their possession all the time.
– Yes; but the paybook is only the soldier’s record showing what amount he is entitled to. It is obvious that each military district must be responsible for the payment of the men it carries on its books. For instance, the Victorian paymaster has no record of those who are on the books of the New South Wales paymaster, and, therefore, it is easy to understand that some delay, at any rate, and perhaps some little difficulty, must be occasioned to the Victorian paymaster if he is called upon to pay men from the other States. He must, first of all, assure himself that the men making such applications have a legitimate claim. For instance, it might be necessary to get in touch with the officer in command of the troopship to find out if a man was actually one of the returned soldiers or not, because it is obvious the paymaster here would have no knowledge of the fact.
– But this man had a letter from the officer.
– I am assuming that the paymaster would find it necessary to make due inquiries to ascertain if a man making an application was really entitled to the pay, and in those circumstances I can quite understand that there might be delay. In this case the man was not a Victorian, and, therefore, was not on the roll of the Victorian office, so that the Victorian paymaster would have no knowledge of him any more than would Senator Long or myself. It is conceivable in these circumstances that the paymaster, in the due performance of his duties, might have to make certain inquiries.
– That would not justify him throwing £1 at the man.
– Certainly not. No officer is entitled to be insolent to men, or to treat them in an offhand manner. We know from experience that some officers are able to treat men decently, and that others, who have not the same happy disposition, lose their tempers and act otherwise. I will have the necessary in quiries made into this matter. I understand that these men, who belonged to New South Wales, were staying at the Victoria Coffee Palace.
– They stayed there last night.
– Seeing that they belonged to New South Wales, they should have been on board ship last night, unless they had obtained leave.
– Ithink they had.
– Senator Long also mentioned that on the return journey these men had to wait on others on board a troopship. That matter came under my notice in connexion with the Ballarat, and I think such a condition of things should not have been allowed. The officer commanding the troops on board the Ballarat, Lieut. -Colonel Bolton, informed me that in Egypt an officer might be told to go down and take charge of a certain troopship. He might get that order the day before he went on board, and when he took charge he might find there were 300 or 400 wounded men, with nobody whose duty it was to wait on the soldiers at the dining table. He then had to call for volunteers or allot the duties. Immediately I read Lieut. -Colonel Bolton’s report, I saw that that was not right, and I gave instructions to cable to Egypt that that sort of thing must be stopped, and that men in good health must he put on board every ship carrying wounded soldiers to attend to their wants. The fact that the men on board the Hororata had to perform those duties has been very properly brought under notice by Senator Long, and it confirms what Lieut.-Colonel Bolton reported concerning the arrangements on the Ballarat. As regards the much vexed question of the alleged sale of Red Cross goods, I can only say that I would welcome any assistance to get to the bottom of that matter. A number of assertions have been made that Red Cross goods have been sold to our troops; but what would help us to get to close quarters in dealing with the complaints would be that we should be told who sold them.
– They were sold at the Red Cross Camp at Mena.
– That is still very vague. If some one reported that Colonel Smith, or Captain Jones, or Captain Brown sold these goods, and took payment for them, we should be able to get at the truth of the matter.
-the men do not suggest that any of the military authorities sold them.
– Well, if they said that Mr. Jones, or Mr. Brown, or Mr. Smith, of the Red Cross Society, sold them certain goods, that would help us to put an end to the complaint. We have the statement here that a man paid ls. for a pair of socks, 2s. 6d. for a flannel shirt, ls. 6d. for gloves, and from 2s. to 3s; for Balaclava caps, according to quality. Surely the man who paid these prices is able to say to whom he paid them.
– Or the establishment at which he bought them.
– There is only the one establishment - the Red Cross Camp at Mena.
– Soldiers who have had Red Cross goods given to them sell them to other soldiers.
– That statement is also made. The question is, were these goods bought at a Red Cross store, or from some other soldier?
– I suggest to the Minister that if he sends his secretary on board the ship now, he can make the necessary inquiries at once.
– We can make the inquiries in this case, because the man Woodrow gives his name, and supplies information as to goods said to have been bought, and he ought to be able to say from whom he bought them. That is the only way in which we can get definite information upon which action can be taken. In regard to the purchase of chocolates on the ship, I do not know that the Red Cross Society put such goods on board the ship. I have not heard of it before. I do know that on transports leaving Australia we have established dry canteens, at which chocolates, amongst . other things, arc sold. These goods are not supplied by the Red Cross Society, but are bought by us and sold to the troops, and the profit on the sale is distributed for the benefit of the troops.
– The same complaint is made that cigarettes supplied by the Red Cross Society are also sold.
– As theHororata was one of the first transports that went away, she may not have had a canteen on board. In cases where a canteen was not established, the ship-owners supplying the transport were allowed to have the equivalent of a canteen, that is a store, from which they sold extra goods to the men.
– They were trading on board.
– That is so. The question in this case is, whether the chocolates were part of the stores of a canteen, or of stores supplied by the shipowner, or were supplied by the Red Cross Society. That could easily be found out by inquiry. We should be able to discover whether any such goods were put on board the Hororata by the Red Cross Society. My secretary has been in communication with Mr. Mortimer, who has been accused of insolence, and he says that he did not see either of the men who have been mentioned. Referring to the rule which is followed in regard to men who are given leave, he says that if the circumstances are shown to warrant it, more than £1 is given ; and that in the case of some of the Hororata men, as much as £4 has been given. The books of men getting leave must, of course, be produced ; but, according to the statement made by Mr. Mortimer, he did not see either of themen who have been referred to.
– How did they get the £1?
– I do not know. Mr. Mortimer says that in the case of the Hororata some of the men received £4.
– It ought to be an easy matter to confirm Mr. Mortimer’s statement.
– The honorable senator will remember that I have only just received the statement. It has been received over the telephone. I thought that, in justice to Mr. Mortimer, he should be given an opportunity to explain. I have given his statement in re- ply, and the matter will be still further pursued. I undertake to have inquiries made into the various statements made by Senator Long.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 12.51 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 27 August 1915, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1915/19150827_senate_6_78/>.