15th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. V. J. Lynch) took the chair at 11.30 a.m., and read prayers.
The. following papers were presented : -
Convention between the United Kingdom and Yugoslavia regarding Legal Proceedings in Civil and Commercial Matters (London, 27th February, 1936).
Exchange of Notes between the United Kingdomand Denmark regarding the Extension of the provisions of the Extradition Treaty of 31st March, 1873, to the Mandated Territories of New Guinea and Nauru in so faras that Treaty applies to Iceland (London, 25th November, 1937).
Exchange of Notes between the Governments of tin: United Kingdom, the Commonwealth of Australia,New- Zealand and India, and the Government of Denmark regarding Documents of Identity for Aircraft Personnel (Copenhagen, 21st July, 1937).
Exchange of Notes between the Governments of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth of Australia, New Zealand and India, and the Government of Norway regarding Documents of Identity for Aircraft Personnel (Oslo, 1 1th October, 1937).
Final Act, Convention and other Documents regarding the Abolition of -the Capitulations inEgypt (Montreux, 8th May, 1937).
International Convention on certain questions relatingto the Conflict of Nationality Laws (The Hague. 12th April, 1930).
Supplementary Convention between the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth of Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa, and Ecuador, to the Treaty of September 20,1880. regarding Extradition (Quito, 4th June, 1934).
– In view of the statement made by the Leader of the Senate (Senator A. J. McLachlan) yesterday, that a measure dealing with national insurance was one of the most important pieces of legislation ever brought before the Commonwealth Parliament, and, in view of the fact that the Labour party fought the last election on a’ policy of non-contributory insurance, and won sixteen of the nineteen vacant
Senate seats on that policy, I ask the Leader of the Senate whether he has considered the propriety of endeavouring to rush the National Health and Pensions Insurance Hill through this chamber with the assistance of honorable senators whose persons and policy were so emphatically rejected by the people of Australia?
– The honorable senator has indulged overmuch in expressions of opinion. I remind him that the purpose of questions is. to elicit information, not to enable opinions to be expressed.
– My question related to the propriety of an important measure being debated by members who have practically been discharged by the people., and are now working out their last period of notice.
– The question is allowed.
– The Government has decided that this legislation is necessary in the interests of the people of Australia. The introduction of a scheme of national insurance was part of the Government’s policy which the electors endorsed at the last election. The Government is still in office, and it considers that this measure should be passed in time for it to become operative at the beginning of next year.
Report No. 2 of the Printing Commit tee brought up by Senator J. B. Hayes, and - by leave - adopted.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce aware that, when I askeda question yesterday, requesting that the Senate should be given an opportunity to discuss the details of any draft amendment of the Ottawa Agreement, before its final acceptance by our delegates in Great Britain, I made no suggestion that the Senate should discuss the subject while negotiations were pending? Is the Minister now prepared to say whether an opportunity will be given to the Senate to discuss the details of any proposed amendment, during the interval between the final drafting of the agreement and its tentative acceptance by Australia’s representatives, while they are still in Great Britain, or is it the intention of the Government, as on a previous occasion, to present to the Parliament an agreement, with a demand that it be either accepted or rejected without amendment?
-I again remind the honorable senator that his question contains statements and expressions of opinion that are not allowable at this stage of the proceedings. I suggest that he withdraw the question, and submit it later in a form which will comply with the Standing Orders.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr. President, but I draw attention to the following reply given to a question which I asked yesterday: -
Such negotiations may be carried on with or without difficulty, but it would be unwise for this or any other dominion Parliament, or the Mother of Parliaments, to discuss the subject involved while negotiations are proceeding.
I did not ask that the subjectbe discussed while negotiations were proceeding. My question to-day has been asked in order to make that point clear.
– The practice of Parliament is that question-time shall be devoted solely to the asking and answering of questions. Should the honorable senator wish to enter upon a discussion of the quality of the answers received to questions, he will have other opportunities to do so. He may not do so at this stage. I suggest that the honorable senator should acquaint himself with the Standing Orders on this subject.
asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate, upon notice -
– The Prime Minister has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions : -
State and Federal geologists covering Yampi Sound and other iron ore deposits.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The matter is being looked into, and a reply will be furnished to the honorable senator as soon as possible.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– Inquiries will be made, and a reply furnished to the honorable senator as early as possible.
Bill received from the House of Representatives, and (on motion by Senator Allan MacDonald) read a first time.
Debate resumed .from the 21st June (vide page 234G), on motion by Senator A. J. McLachlan -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– ‘I agree with the Leader of the Senate (Senator A. J. McLachlan) that this is an important measure. The members of the Opposition in this chamber are placed in a somewhat difficult position, in that if we do not talk we shall be accused of nodding in our beards, and if we do talk we shall be charged by the Canberra Times and other organs of the syndicated press of tedious repetition and talking “bunkum.” In spite of the aspersions cast upon this chamber and upon the Opposition particularly, and of the suggestions that the tactics of the Labour party in the House of Representatives have been obstructive, and that the Opposition in this chamber will also be obstructive, I should like to say at the outset that the Opposition in the Senate does not intend to obstruct the passage of the bill; but we of the Labour party intend, to the extent of our capacity and ability, to debate every propos.il contained in it. I compliment the Leader of the Senate upon his very valiant effort yesterday afternoon to deal with an exceedingly bad cause. He did his best to put up a good case; but I regret that I cannot carry my congratulations further. I do not propose to deal with his second-reading speech beyond making one or two comments which I am entitled to make. I was exceedingly interested when the Minister commenced to quote the statements of Mr. Harold Butler, of the International Labour Office at Geneva. I could hardly believe my ears when I found that a member of this Government should say anything in approval of any remarks made by that gentleman. What does this Government do in regard to the conventions adopted by the International Labour Office? How long will it be in ratifying such conventions? The Leader of the Senate also apologized for the failure of his Government to act earlier in this matter. He knew that he would be charged, as the Government has been charged, with gross negligence in not having submitted earlier a comprehensive scheme of national health and pensions insurance. He tried to avoid that charge by saying apologetically that it is well known that since 1928 there have been financial difficulties in the way of proceeding with the job. But I would remind the Minister and those honorable senators supporting him that this Government and the government which preceded it have remitted annually millions of pounds in taxes, and that had not that sum been so remitted we could have had a better national insurance scheme than that which we are now considering. I was also amused, in fact, I was astounded, when the Minister said that the recent census had made available reliable figures on which to base a satisfactory scheme. The Minister inferred that until the census figures were available the Government did not know exactly where it stood. Since the census was taken five years ago, antiLabour governments have been in absolute control of the national Parliament. I have a habit of quoting those census figures, but whenever I do so the Leader of the Senate shakes his head and says that they do not mean what they suggest. When we say that, according to census figures, there are hundreds of thousands of bread-winners on or below the bread-line, the Minister challenges the accuracy of the census figures; but when it suits his case he adroitly ‘works them into his secondreading speech. My final comment on the Minister’s valiant effort yesterday is to draw attention to his statement that, when this bill becomes law, pensioners will no longer be harassed by a “means” test and other inquisitorial methods. I ask the Minister who embodied a “ means “ test and other inquisitorial methods in our invalid and old-age pensions legislation? Who refused to allow pensioners to sell or to transfer their property until this Government was satisfied with the sale or transfer ?
– If the Minister answers that question, will the honorable senator tell us who reduced the rate of invalid and old-age pensions?
– Before I conclude, I shall tell the honorable senator many things, some of which he will disapprove; but at present I ask him to allow me to proceed with my speech in my own way.
I now wish to deal with the bill itself. It is not my intention to indulge in captious criticism of the measure; but every statement 1 utter in refutation of the principle embodied in the bill will be in the interests of the class which this bill is alleged to benefit. The measure is entitled the National Health and Pensions Insurance Bill. It is neither national nor health insurance, and I contend quite seriously that no good can come out of it. It is not framed on a sound basis. It is based on the belief that poverty is inescapable. I should like honorable senators to remember that, because if the foundation be not properly laid the structure cannot endure.
– Can the Leader of the Opposition name one country in which poverty is escapable?
– Poverty abounds in every country, because the system of government is wrong. No country has yet tackled this problem of poverty in the midst of abundance. Only Labour’s policy can do that.
– The honorable senator believes in getting something for nothing.
– The honorable senator should be silent, particularly on that point, because the taxpayers of this country who pay for his services receive nothing in return. I deny most emphatically the assumption that poverty is inescapable. We do not admit that poverty is a necessary evil. We also deny that unemployment is unavoidable. The sponsors of this bill have neglected to include in it provision for insurance against unemployment, or to introduce another measure, which rightly should have preceded this bill, to protect the workers against unemployment. Of course, Senator Duncan-Hughes., who represents the ultra-conservative mentality of the party constituting the Government, does believe that poverty is an inescapable fact. The members of the Opposition realize that the existing order of society to which we are violently and definitely opposed can lead only to a flaring-up of revolution, caused by want and insecurity. The great masses of the people know that in the midst of plenty there is abject poverty, hence the Government has been forced by public opinion to introduce this bill in a vain endeavour to assist those who are suffering undeserved poverty in a. land of plenty. That is one of the reasons why this conservative Government is making a display of endeavouring to do something for the oppressed section of the community. The present conditions have to be remedied; but they cannot be remedied under a proposal such as this. We admit that under existing conditions a national insurance scheme is essential, and we whole-heartedly favour the introduction of a scheme. We also believe that it is the duty of the Commonwealth to initiate social services by legislation, and that it is within the power of this Parliament to do so constitutionally. But I am not satisfied as to the legality of the methods adopted in this bill. 1 consider that the Government, in attempting to remove the responsibility from its own shoulders and from the shoulders of those best able to bear the burden of meeting the cost of invalid and old-age pensions, has strained its constitutional powers. I will not pose as a legal authority; I am anything but that. But I submit for the consideration of the legal gentlemen in this chamber that there is a probability that under this hill the Government is straining its constitutional powers. Recent experience suggests the desirability of examining closely the validity of all proposed legislation. The legislative process is in itself expensive, but the process of defending the validity of legislation is often more expensive. It is more than probable that the Government will have the responsibility of proving whether or not this proposal is constitutional. This bill imposes liabilities and confers rights., and under social legislation such as this the rights and liabilities involved are vital.
It becomes increasingly obvious that close consideration should be given to the constitutionality of the bill, because, should the scheme break down, not only will those whom it is designed to benefit suffer, but also irreparable losses will have to be borne by those on whom it imposes a burden. The. losses and disappointments will he a double blow in that the burdens and benefits will fall upon the same class. It is obvious that this legislation should he able to withstand an attack upon its validity by thosewho find the measure unsatisfactory, and, according to the public reaction to this bill, such interests are many and varied. That is shown by the task which confronted the Government in passing the bill through the House of Representatives. Whenever a legislative enactment imposes obligations and penalties for nonfulfilment there is ample opportunity for those whom it is sought to punish to resist the purported authority of the enactment, and to overthrow it if any lever to do so is provided by the Constitution. Therefore, Parliament, which is the sole legislative body, should be sure of its own powers. I am not sure of its. power in respect of this measure. It is not sufficient that either the Minister sponsoring the bill, or even that the Government, should be sure of its power to enact the legislation, because neither is responsible for legislation. That fact is too often forgotten in this Parliament. In fact,both the Minister and the Government are responsible to Parliament and have a duty to make clear to the elected representatives of the people the authority on which an enactment is based should any room for doubt in that respect exist. Doubt has already been cast on the constitutional validity of this measure, and the statements of members in the House of Representatives on this point have been met by the Treasurer with a supercilious wave of his hand, or the bare suggestion that this aspect has been considered, and that the highest authorities have been consulted. It might be assumed that such authorities have been consulted in respect of previous cases - in fact, we have received similar assurances in the past - but the law reports of the Commonwealth are filled with pages dealing with the failures of parliaments of both the ‘States and the Commonwealth to achieve their ends because of the invalidity of various enactments. This Parliament has a right to the fullest information in order to enable it to decide for itself its power to enact this measure. I recall that yesterday Senator Ashley was denied full information on a particular point by a snide reply to an honest and sincere question.
– I rise to a point of order, Mr. President. The honorable senator should not be permitted to describe as “ snide “ a reply given by me yesterday to an honorable senator, and I take exception to his remark. If I misunderstood the question asked of me yesterday, I now express regret, and undertake to examine it in order to see whether or not I did misunderstand it. However, I take exception to the term just used by the Leader of the Opposition.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - I have heard the term “ snide “ used on several occasions, but I am not aware of its meaning, and in the absence of any explanation on that point by the honorable senator who has used the term, I must allow it to pass. However, if it be shown that the term is a reflection upon the Government, or upon a Minister, I shall ask that it be withdrawn.
– I do not think that the question to which I referred was addressed to the Leader of the Senate. However, I withdraw the term “ snide “ and substitute for it the word “evasive”.
– Did the honorable senator intend to make any reflection upon the Minister?
SenatorCOLLINGS.- No, Mr. President. Reverting to the question of the legality of this measure, I propose to quote Dr. Kerr, who is well known as an authority on constitutional law in this country. Dealing with the federal powers of legislation, he says -
In Australia the matter seems to resolve itself into a question whether any particular statute of the federal legislature falls within the heads of legislative power granted to such legislature by the Constitution.
The heads of legislative power referred to are, in the main, contained in section 5.1 of the Constitution, which specifies 39 such heads or placita. Section 51 gives to the Parliament of the Commonwealth power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to the matters named. Only two of these placita could possibly be quoted as giving the authority to enact this measure, namely placita xiv and xxiii. Placitum xiv. reads -
Insurance, other than State insurance, also State insurance extending beyond the limits of the State concerned.
Placitum xxiii. refers to invalid and old-age pensions, and for the moment we can rule it out of our consideration. The Government has not told Parliament on which of these two heads it relies for the validity of this legislation. So far as I know it may even rely on both of them,. But in either case, I submit the position is at least doubtful. With regard to this Parliament’s power to legislate in respect of insurance, we should first examine the meaning of the word “ insurance “ as used in this section of the Constitution, and then examine the scope of the power. It can he argued quite convincingly ‘ that “ insurance “ means “ the business of insurance “, which has a well-known connotation to all who use the term. It has been legally defined over and over again, but always in the sense of a contract between one person called the “ insured “ and another person called the “ insurer “, whereby the insurer promises in consideration of the payment known as a premium, to indemnify the insured against some possible, or certain, event whereby the insured may or may not suffer some loss. That is the usual meaning of the term “ insurance “, although it must be admitted that the term is equally well used in a literal sense in its application to national insurance schemes as we know them. However, the intention of the Constitution must be discovered by having regard to the ordinary meaning which the words bore at the date when the , Constitution Act was passed. On this point I refer to the Union Label case (6 C.L.R., 469). No doubt the Leader of the Senate is familiar with that case. The changing meaning of words does not change their scope in the Constitution unless the extended scope of the term could have been foreseen by the framers of the ‘Constitution, and would have been deemed by the framers of the Constitution to be carried by, and embraced in, the given term used by them. It could not, I think, be suggested that in using the term “ insurance “ which then had a definite meaning, the framers of the Constitution could have foreseen the meaning implied in the conception of national insurance.
Another point, which I suggest is of the utmost significance is that the heads of power under section 51 are obviously arranged according to the nature of their subject-matter. The head dealing with insurance immediately follows that dealing with banking, and precedes that dealing with weights and measures. The irresistible conclusion to be drawn from this sequence is that insurance as a commercial subject was contemplated. National insurance is not a commercial matter, and bears no relation to insurance as meant in placitum xiv. The next point which we must inquire into is the scope of the power conferred by the Constitution in respect of insurance. Even if we admit that national insurance comes within the meaning of the term “ insurance “ ,as used in placitum xiv., what is the scope of the Commonwealth’s power with regard to insurance? I submit that no power is given to the Commonwealth to impose on the people, or any section of the people, a levy for compulsory insurance. The authority given is only that of regulating the carrying on of insurance business. Authority for this view is found in the Whybrow (common rule) Case (11 C.L.E. I.), in which Mi1. Justice Barton said -
Even if there could bo arbitration for the prevention of a dispute, how can it bc supposed the Constitution has authorized laws for citing a,nd for making regulations to bind, all the persons engaged in an industry.
According to Mr. M. E. L. Cantor in 2. A.L.J. 219, it may be argued by analogy from this case that the Constitution, in authorizing the legislature te pass laws relating to insurance, cannot be said to have authorized laws to compel a number of persons in the community to insure. That is exactly what this bill does, and if this Parliament has not power to enact legislation of this kind, it will be challenged, and challenged by the people who will be asked to carry the burdens involved. The same writer states -
The federal legislature is by the Constitution empowered to pass laws relating to insurance, i.e., for the regulation of insurance.
It may be argued that such regulation is of little use unless peopleare compelled to insure, but surely there cannot be interred that as an incidental power the legislature has power to compel them to insure.
Secondly, there is the case of Huddart Parker &Co. v. Morehead (8 C.L.R. 330) also referred to by Mr. M. E. L. Cantor in the Australian Law Journal. This case dealt with the power of Parliament to legislate with regard to “ foreign corporations and trading or financial corporations formed within the limits of the Commonwealth “. It was decided that the power of Parliament to legislate in respect of corporations did not confer on the Commonwealth Parliament power to create corporations, and that the power was limited to legislation for regulation of such foreign corporations and trading or financial corporations created by State law as were established from time to time in the ordinary course of trade. The analogy drawn by Mr. Cantor is that the power to legislate in respect of insurance does not confer on the Commonwealth Parliament power to create an insurance fund, but only power to legislate as to such insurance transactions as are in existence or may come into existence from time to time. In that case, it was also pointed out that where power existed for creating corporations, apart from the power of regulating, as in placitum xiii.. which refers to banking, such power was expressly given by the words of the Constitution. Dr. Wynes, in Legislative and Executive Powers in Australia, agrees with these views. On page 144 of that work he states -
In any meaning of the word “ insurance “ it could not include legislationenacting a system of compulsory insurance.
With regard to placitum xxiii. - invalid and old-age pensions - it is submitted that very little of the present bill falls within that power, and, further, the view is expressed by Dr. Wynes, on page 145, that this placitum would not authorize a compulsory levy or tax on the individual. I hope my suggestions will be looked into before a vote is taken on the bill.
I stated in my opening remarks that one of the main motives of the Government was to be found in the relief the bill will afford from the burden of invalid and old-age pensions. Indeed, I am not alone in imputing such a motive, for the
Treasurer (Mr. Casey) said, “ The major consideration is the ever-growing burden of old-age and invalid pensions “. Let me quote a few lines from the Advocate of the 12th May, 1938. In quoting from that paper, I cannot be accused of quoting from a Labour journal. It is a Melbourne Catholic publication,, and is in no way affiliated with the Labour party. These are its exact words -
If the present system of non-contributory pensions were to continue, the ever-increasing burden on the Government would demand increased taxation of surplus wealth and the surplus funds of trusts and combines.
And here I interpolate that that is what we of the Labour party stand for. The Advocate proceeds -
But the new proposals of the national insurance scheme arc designed to make the worker and employer pay two-thirds of the cost of the old-age and invalids’ pensions, and so protect the lords of entrenched wealth. The collective security provided by such a plan is a delusion. The scheme bears all the marks of a conspiracy of the rich against the poor.
Otherwise it would not be brought in by the present Government -
It betrays a false and un-Christian approach to the problems of capital and labour, and provides but a palliative for the evils of our social and economic system, and its only effect will be to confirm the masses in their proletarian status, and to secure power and domination of wealth and big business.
If the Leader of the Government can show me any evidence that the hill is based on social justice, I shall admit that my criticism is not justified. But the Prime Minister himself, has stated that the scheme is “ based strictly on actuarial calculations”, and that the Government is not prepared to adopt suggestions that would have the effect of destroying that basis. There is no question of levelling up the social injustices inflicted on the major portion of the people. The Prime Minister says, in effect, that we must not do anything to vary’ the contributions or to increase the benefits, because that would remove the scheme from its strictly cold, business, actuarial basis, on which there has never been any room for sympathy for the oppressed as against those who oppress them. Behind the motives I have suggested, which I believe are the real, though unseen, forces of which this un-national health insurance bill is the visible effect, is the pressure of migrants from Great Britain. I said on another occasion that Australia had no foreign policy, except the making of telephone calls to No. 10 Downingstreet. I say now that this bill has been introduced because of pressure from the other side of the world. I shall submit my reasons for saying that.
Honorable senators interjecting,
– The Leader of the Government said that in his opinion the bill was one of the most important ever brought before this chamber, and yet the only thing that ministerial supporters can do in reply to my constructive criticism is to sneer and laugh when I am stressing the fact that there is no social justice in the measure, but that it will confirm the wealthy in the power they have and heap oppression on the already oppressed. I do not know what the taxpayers think they will get for their investment, but I do not think much of it. The bill is dictated from Great Britain because it has to got rid of its unemployed . and unemployable. It has a right to do that, but we have an equal right to see that the Old Country does not spring that kind of trap on us. It cannot get rid of its unemployed and unemployable unless conditions in this country are better than those prevailing in Great Britain. There are, in Great Britain, 10,000,000 people whose average income is less than 43. lOd. a week. “ C3 “ men imported into this country will make the bill, if and when it is in operation, dangerously unsound actuarially. In Australia, the full average weekly wage is £2. We have 349,000 persons, with 1,000,000 dependants, receiving less than £3 a week. On this subject of migration, [ am not talking without authority.
– Did Senator Collings say that 10,000,000 people in Great Britain are receiving less than 4s. 10d. a week ?
– Yes ; I am submitting the facts as I know them. Here is a statement published in the Kew Advertiser of the 2nd June, 1938 -
The recent cable news that 15,000,000 of the workers of the United Kingdom are covered by insurance against unemployment, is surely a complete answer to the question why emigrants will not, in large numbers, leave Great Britain for -Australia. Why should they?
During this session of Parliament the question of national defence has loomed large in the minds of every one of us. External enemies, Ave have been told, must be combated, and we have been urged to spend millions of pounds on national defence. In this glorious Commonwealth there are internal enemies far more dangerous than those imaginary ones I have referred to as external. The real internal enemies are poverty, ill health, advancing age, and unemployment, and to all of these must be added the serious disabilities attendant on motherhood. Maternal and infantile mortality form a serious menace to the maintenance of the population, a menace that should be dealt with before the problems of migration. are considered. All these factors cause economic loss. The remedy, therefore, should be a community responsibility. A national insurance scheme should be financed from the Consolidated Revenue. obtained not by confirming the already indecently wealthy in their wealth and power, but by taking some of their wealth away from them by taxation. They should be required to pay for their security against the possibility of revolution springing from undeserved poverty. I am not blaming the actuaries who framed the bill; I have too great a regard for their experience and their wonderful ability; but I am saying that the actuarial basis does not really matter. Anyone can see that the bill is actuarially sound ; but what I want to do is to infuse a reasonable measure of social justice into it and to forget its actuarial basis. We have been told by the Leader of the Government that the bill has been constructed after a careful examination of British experience. I hope that -my criticisms will not be interpreted as showing disrespect to the Old Country from which many of us came. Is the British experience in this matter of social injustice of such a character that we should accept it willy-nilly as a basis for Australia? Do honorable senators know anything about the poor laws of the United Kingdom, or the workhouse system of that country? I am in the happy position of knowing nothing about them by actual contact, but I know that Australia has managed to steer clear of that blot on the legislation of Great Britain. There is a very great difference between British and Australian conditions, and it does not follow that even a scheme which has proved satisfactory in Great Britain will meet Australia’s needs. We have been told that the scheme has been made a contributory one in order to build up the courage, endurance and self-reliance of the people of this nation. This statement is so staggering that words almost fail me to refute it. But imagine this. The scheme has supposedly been framed in the interests of those who have no security; those who never know when they may ‘be out of a job, or when they are going to be ill as the result of the low wages which” they receive and their consequent unsatisfactory economic conditions. If this scheme has been designed in the interests of the poor it is because of their poverty. Yet this Government cannot bring forward a non-contributory pensions proposal. It says to the people most concerned, “Because you are poor we will take another ls. 6d. a week from you and make you poorer by that amount “. Surely it is obvious to every intelligent person that we cannot remedy poverty by increasing the amount of that poverty. I know that the Leader of the Senate (Senator A. J. McLachlan) will tell me that I am looking at one side only of the balance-sheet; that I am ignoring the benefits which the employees who contribute to this scheme will get from it. I shall examine that part of the proposal shortly. I resent, on behalf of that section of the community which members of the Opposition in this Parliament represent
– The honorable gentleman and his party misled the people on this issue at the last election.
– I shall reply to that interjection in a few moments. I repeat that I resent, on behalf of the people, whom we on this side represent, the suggestion that the miserable contents of this bill in the way of benefits would sap the courage, manhood and selfreliance of the people if the scheme were non-contributory, and that, therefore, they must pay for these benefits.
– The honorable senator did not say that at the last election.
– In our policy speech we told the people that if returned to power we would introduce a noncontributory pensions scheme. We did not say that we would compel the people to pay for what they would get. In a moment I shall show who will have to pay for this precious proposal. Let honorable senators make no mistake about it - the workers will pay the whole of it.
We have been told that this contributory scheme will build up and strengthen our national character. I deny that absolutely. We have been assured also that the contributory principle will make the benefits safe in times of depression and will protect the fund from budgetary interference. To this claim I apply a word that was given some prominence in , a leading article in to-day’s Canberra Times - bunkum. It is not an argument and it does not move me in the least. It is an easily demonstrable fact that courage, independence and self-reliance among the masses of our people are impossible when the daily fear of unemployment and poverty make social insecurity so much a commonplace that it is regarded as a normal condition. This bill does nothing to remove the cause of insecurity; it does nothing to remove social injustice. Its sponsors claim that it will bring social justice to the people, thereby admitting the existence of social injustice. At the same time, by imposing compulsory contributions on those whose injustice they seek to remedy, the Government does nothing to remove the incidence of the injustice. In this connexion I invite the attention of honorable senators to two compelling statements which have appeared in the- press recently. I take the following from yesterday’s Sydney Daily Telegraph -
Slums in the capital cities of Australia were referred to by the Reverend G. Stuart Watts at the Rockdale Salvation Army Citadel yesterday. “ It is hypocritical to talk about national insurance schemes when people are living in conditions that sap their health and into which children are damned, not born.”
That, I remind the Senate, is not my comment. Here is another statement, taken from the Australian Worker, of the ls( June -
To make it law compelling the poor to pay for the poor, the sick to pay for the sick, the victims of capitalism to pay for the greed, incompetence and callousness of capitalism is a gross violation of every just principle.
That is what this bill does. If time permitted, I could read hundreds of similar published statements exposing serious injustices existent under our present social order. On more than one occasion I have emphasized that even this wonderful city of Canberra is not free from, the stigma of slum areas, yet this Government has done nothing to remedy this dcplorable state of affairs. The housing accommodation at Molonglo -and the Causeway is a disgrace to any civilized community. The rotten houses in which people have to live at Molonglo were erected as temporary dwellings 20 or more years ago, and in spite of repeated protests from members on this side, the Government allows them to remain. It has done nothing whatever to remove this stigma on the capital city of the Commonwealth, yet it brings down this bill and Ministers talk about the removal of social injustices!
As to the argument that the contributory principle makes benefits under this scheme safe from raids by a needy Treasurer, my answer is that the bill contains no such safeguarding provision. We remember what happened to the Commonwealth public service superannuation scheme some years ago.
– I am not concerned -with that. Senator Dein knows that what the Scullin Government did in those disastrous years was endorsed by the members of all parties in the Parliament, because that was the only way out of the economic slough into which this country had dropped. But that is not what I had in mind. My point is that we shall not always be on the sunlit hills of prosperity about which the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) talks so eloquently to members of the Millions Club. Undoubtedly we shall experience once more what some people call a busi ness regression but which I call a new depression. And just as the Government of the day interfered with the payments under the Commonwealth Superannuation Act during the depression, so will a needy Treasurer, when the time comes, raid this fund also. In this connexion I remind honorable senators of the view expressed by Mr. Fadden, a member of the Country party in the Blouse of Representatives, when- this bill was being debated in that House on Friday last.
Tile PRESIDENT.- The honorable senator must not refer to the debates of the current session in the House of Representatives.
– It is not my purpose to do that. I intend to read a brief report that appeared in the Canberra Times.
– It was a report of the debate in the House of Representatives.
– It was a report which caused me to send to the Premier of -Queeusland the following telegram: -
Fadden reported local paper as saying in Representatives last night : .” He came from a State which was famous or infamous for manipulation of trust funds “. Would like statement for refutation in Representatives to-day if possible.
Unfortunately I did not get the reply in time for it to be used during the debate in the House ‘of Representatives, but I give it now to the Senate.
– Mr. Fadden voted with the Labour- party in divisions on this bill in the House of Representatives.
– Sometimes he did and sometimes he did not. In any case Mr. Fadden is not a member of the Labour party, so ‘Senator Pearce and his friends must accept full responsibility for what he may say or do. This is the reply which I received from Mr. ForganSmi’th
Fadden’s statement. - Assertion merely foolish and stupid canard. No expenditure from any fund without parliamentary authority’ and approval of Auditor-General. Fadden would he better employed making study of Commonwealth Government’s own budget.
That is what I think also, and I suggest that Senator Pearce should assist Mr. Fadden, so that they may both get a headache.
I have been dealing hitherto with the contributory principle contained in this bill and I have shown that it will not, in time of depression, prevent interference with the benefits which it is supposed to give. The scheme is unjust because in so many instances it will take out of the inadequate wages of the workers contributions to provide relief made necessary only by the inadequacy of those wages, and in respect of the self-employed and the small farmer or business man, it will impose a heavy burden for which no benefits will be received. It is not a national scheme. On the contrary, it is a distinctly sectional proposal which does not propose to relieve many sections of the community; it will give relief to portions only of a distinct class. Another serious fault in the bill is that it makes no attempt to provide organized medical services for the people. If honorable senators read the bill and the accompanying documents they will discover that it is impossible, at this stage, to say what is intended or what is being attempted in the way of medical services. The whole question is in abeyance pending the result of an inquiry into the full implications of those provision’s in the measure dealing with this matter. Clause 47 reads -
Medical benefit consists of such proper and necessary medical services as are prescribed and the provision of proper and sufficient drugs and medicines and of the prescribed medical and surgical appliances and the supply of such medical certificates as are required for the purposes of this act, but does not include medical services involving the exercise of such special skill or experience as general medical practitioners cannot reasonably be expected to possess or treatment or attendance in respect of a confinement or such other medical services as are prescribed.
What does that mean? I do not know how anybody could sponsor a measure containing such a cruel provision as this. It is one of the most callous that I have ever heard of. It gives to the commission power to make arrangements for the supply of medical services and for the supply of drugs, medicines and appliances. We have been informed that the nature andcost of the medical benefits to be given will be the subject of inquiry by a royal commission soon to be appointed. For more than thirteen years the Government has been inquiring into this business, and now, because of a dispute with the British Medical Association, it proposes to set up another commission of inquiry. [Extension of time granted.]
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.1.5 p.m.
– I repeat that the bill is not national in its scope, nor is it one dealing with health insurance. The Sydney Bulletin aptly described it as a “ national incubus bill “. It is certainly a pensions bill. Its most serious fault is probably its failure to provide for the dependants of workers. In his second-reading speech, the Minister said that there will be a large pensions fund and a smaller health fund. The bill does not help the unemployed who, of all sections of the community, need assistance most.
The scope of the medical benefit is set out in clause 47. It must be admitted that, at its best, the medical service to he provided will be only a first-aid service for trifling ills. A person in a serious condition who requires special treatment, or an operation, must choose between a public hospital or the payment of heavy fees to a specialist, although supposedly insured against health risks. Minor ailments, for which the general medical practitioner would see the patient once and prescribe a bottle of medicine, are within the financial competence of the average man in regular employment. That is practically all that this bill provides for. A sudden serious illness, necessitating special attention or an operation, is something for which he cannot pay. This bill will not meet such cases. Constant doctors’ bills for all the numerous ailments of childhood are a drain on the resources of a married man, although he may be able to cover such small medical expenses as he may infrequently incur on his own behalf. None of the serious risks will be insured against under this measure. No relief will be given to the married man in respect of the illness of his wife or family. No relief will be given to him in respect of serious illnesses involving heavy medical expenses. In fact, nothing is pro- posed by this bill to remove the real burden which a serious illness imposes on the head of a family. Pensioners and unemployed persons will still be the responsibility of the State; they will still form the great bulk of the- patients in our public hospitals. This scheme does not say how they shall provide against sickness. In respect of intermittent relief workers, of whom, unfortunately, there are still large numbers in the community, this burden also will be thrown on the States. In Queensland, that burden will represent a cost of about £150,000 per annum to the revenue of the State. The cost of hospitals will go on just the same. Indeed, they will be less economic to run, because the same organization as operates now will be needed to treat unemployed and indigent persons as well as women and children, and they will be treated practically to the exclusion of those who formerly paid for treatment.
As to the arrangements for the supply of drugs, medicines and appliances, we are again faced with that vagueness which characterizes all the provisions relating to medical benefits. Under clause 53 -
The commission ma)’, as prescribed, enter into contracts or agreements for the supply to insured persons of proper and sufficient drugs and medicines and of such appliances as are prescribed, where such drugs, medicines and appliances are ordered by any medical practitioner attending an insured person under and in accordance with this act.
As such contracts or agreements shall be “ as prescribed “, there is no assurance that the drugs, medicine or appliances will be such as will be necessary adequately to carry out the treatment prescribed by a medical practitioner. There will be no certainty that doctors’ prescriptions can he made up- and supplied free of charge to an insured person, because the drugs required may not be on the contract list. However .necessary they may be, expensive drugs will certainly not be on the contract list. If, as has been suggested, the most common and ordinary drugs are to lie cut out of the list, a doctor may not be able to deal with a case arising from lack of glandular balance, because he will not be permitted to prescribe the glandular substances which alone are curative.” And if he did prescribe them, it might be found that they were not. on the list of medicines which chemists under the scheme had contracted to supply. Thus, much of the boasted free medical service will be valueless, and we shall get what exist” in another country where a national insurance .scheme is in operation - long queues of patients waiting for attention, to be divided later, after an inspection of their tongues, into two groups, one of which will be given a standard white mixture and the other group a standard mixture of a different colour. Povertystricken people in other countries who are accustomed to the extremes of social injustice may be forced to accept that treatment, but Australians will not willingly do so.
– The honorable, senator should be more cheerful.
- Senator Dein -may be cheerful in all circumstances, but it is not so easy for others in this chamber to be cheerful when they reflect on the ills of the dispossessed in the community.
Turning now to the pensions benefits under this scheme, we find that they include old-age, widows’ and orphans’ pensions, and allowances for dependent children. There are several obvious deficiencies in these provisions. One of them is the discrimination between the sexes in respect of the old-age pension : another is the low rate of widows’ pensions ; and a third is the absurdly low allowance of 3s. Gd. a week for a dependent child. In this connexion I propose to read a lettergram which I have just received from Western Australia -
Women of Western Australia emphatically ProteSt against inequality and injustice’s national insurance measure. Strongly urging defeat of bill on grounds sex discrimination, limited application, inadequate benefits mid forgotten mothers.
Chairman, Women’s Campaign Committee, Nestle House, Perth.
– That is a very important organization.
– Any organization of women which essays to speak on public affairs should be regarded as important. More serious, however, than any of the things which I have mentioned, is the fact, which, seems to have escaped those who have calculated the boasted actuarial basis of the bill, that many of those who will make contributions year after year will not eventually benefit under the old-age pensions provisions. Clause 73, which sets out ‘ the conditions under which the old-age pensions will be payable, reads - .
An old-age pension shall, subject to this act, be payable to any person -
I ask honorable senators to study that clause, because in the committee stage the Opposition will propose a -number of amendments to it.
– An examination of the benefits to be provided under the clause will reveal how generous they are.
– The census figures for 1933 show, in part 23, under the heading “ Occupations “, that above the age of 50 years the total number of males still in occupations is only 478,343. The total number of females above 45 still in employment was only 128,692. These figures include many thousands who would never come under the provisions of this scheme - selfemployed persons and those who are outside the income group which qualifies for inclusion. It can safely be said that under the provisions of clause 73, no one who has gone out of industry or employment for three years or more before attaining the age of 60, in the case of males, will be entitled, even by stretching the act to the limits of its generosity, to qualify for an old-age pension. In fact, one might say that few males who a.re not still in employment at 60 will qualify. It, therefore, seems that the Government will be called upon to pay very few oldage pensions, in spite of the fact that it will collect contributions in respect of such benefits, on an average from 32 years of age to at least 50 years of age from all persons who will come under the pro visions of this bill at the outset, and for a longer period as time goes on, and the average age at entry becomes lower.
– It is a case of robbing the old men.
-S.- The more we consider the scheme, the more definite appear the social injustices which it will inflict on the poor.
The financial aspects of this bill invite consideration. The Government has, throughout, emphasized its generosity in the amount of assistance it will give to the fund, a statement supported by some meagre figures. Let us examine first the cost to the Government of the pensions provisions of this measure. It has been claimed that the bill is no money-saving device, and that the cost to the Commonwealth, including the contributions to the insurance scheme and the cost under the present pensions act, will for many years be higher than the high and mounting cost of the system of old-age and invalid pensions at present in operation. An examination of the figures given on pages 9 and 11 of the actuarial reporton the . bill tells a different story. If this scheme had not been introduced, the cost of pensions for the period 1939 to 1978 would be approximately £995,250,000. The cost with this scheme in operation will be £671,450,000. The cost of benefits under this scheme for the same period will be £546,500,000, while the contributions will amount to £359,350,000. An analysis of these figures shows that although the benefits in the next 40 years will exceed the contributions by £187,250,000, the saving of pensions will be £323,800,000; thus the net saving to the Commonwealth budget will be £136,550,000 spread over a period of 40 years, i.e., an average of £3,413,750 a year, approximately. It appears, therefore, that contributors under this scheme will not only pay for their old-age pensions, but will also relieve the Government and the wealthy taxpayers of quite a large share of their burden. This fact, in conjunction with what I have already pointed out, that large numbers who contribute will never benefit under the pension section of this scheme, detracts very seriously from its alleged generosity.
Turning now to the health section of the act, I find the figures supplied by the experts of some significance. Sir Walter Kinnear estimates the number of compulsory contributors at the outset as’ about 1,350,000 males and 465,000 females. The contribution for the health benefits will be1s. 3d. a week for males, and1s. 2d. for females. Thus the total possible maximum receipts for the first year will be £5,798,000. By taking from that a reserve of 23 per cent, which is similar to the reserve provided for under the pensions calculations, according to Sir Walter Kinnear’s figures, the net receipts would be £4,464,460. Page 9 of the actuarial report gives the cash benefits for the first year as £750,000. Under the original clause 115 before it was amended - it is now clause 117 - medical expenses for 1,350,000 male contributors at 16s. and 465,000 female contributors at 17s. 6d. would amount to £1,486,875, thus the total cost on the fund would be £2,236,875 on the first year’s activities. This would leave a surplus of £2,227,585, from which must be deducted the cost of administration. To this must be added £1,000,000 to be paid by the Government under the terms of clause 113. The reserve on that basis in five years would be £11,137,925. The increasing cash benefits, according to page 9 of the actuarial report, will be £5,250,000. Therefore, there would be at the end of five years a surplus of £5,887,925, in addition to the sinking fund provision by the Government pursuant to the terms of clause 113, amounting to £5,000,000. At the end of 1957, -without allowing for any increase of numbers or value of contributions, the surplus contributions would total approximately £12,500,000, to which must be added the sinking fund of £19,000,000, an aggregate of £31,500,000. So generous a surplus leads to the definite conclusion either that benefits could be increased or contributions decreased, and in this respect it is to be hoped that the Government in conducting its inquiry into the arrangements to be made with medical practitioners will give full consideration to providing for more than a 21/2d. per week medical service to contributors.
The administrative side of this scheme presents much difficulty. The scheme is so clumsy in its conception that it is doubtful whether efficient service can be rendered to the contributors in any of its aspects. In the first place, so far as I can see, there will be nine different administrative bodies concerned in the working of this scheme, namely -
– How many bodies would there be under a voluntary scheme advocated by the honorable senator?
– The principles of the scheme which we support have not yet been announced. They will be brought under the notice of the people when they have turned this Government out of power because of the injustice inflicted upon the poor under this proposal.
With regard to the approved societies whose main function will be to provide sickness and disablement benefits to their members, I urge emphatically that no society should be allowed to become an approved society except bodies such as the friendly societies, which have already undertaken services of this nature voluntarily, and such trade unions and industrial organizations as desire to undertake such work, and have the facilities for so doing. I also want to ensure that insurance companies shall not be allowed to enter this field. I understand that as the result of an amendment carried against the Government in the other chamber that insurance companies are not now to be allowed to enter the field of approved societies. I do not know what the Government’s intentions are in that respect, but I read a report in the unreliable Canberra Times to the effect that the Government does not propose to reintroduce proposals that had been defeated in the House of Representatives. I have had a fairly long experience of insurance societies, and have never known one to conduct its work on a philanthropic or benevolent basis. In Queensland the people we’re so incensed concerning the activities of certain insurance companies that the Queensland Government passed legislation compelling them to provide for a reasonable surrender value on policies in respect of which premiums had been paid for two years. If it is proposed to include insurance companies in the list of approved societies, the Opposition will oppose that. Certain features of Part VII. of the bill, which deals with approved societies, appears to require some further consideration. I refer to sub-clause 4 of clause 163., which deals with schemes of additional benefits. That sub-clause reads -
In the event of an amount being available for additional benefits, the society shall submit to the commission a scheme of additional benefits selected from the Fourth Schedule, and, upon the scheme being approved by the commission, the society may grant, in accordance with that scheme, additional benefits to insured members of the society out of the sum declared under the last preceding sub-section.
If I interpret that correctly it seems unfair that whereas all persons will be equally taxed to provide themselves with cover under this bill, some persons merely because they belong to societies which have been fortunate, will obtain additional benefits.
– Some societies hold good risks and others bad risks, and that provision is to balance matters.
– That may be so, but there will be a flood of withdrawals from societies which have not been so fortunate as others.
– That provision is to make the scheme a truly comprehensive national undertaking.
– I shall listen with interest to what the Leader of the Senate hasto say on that point when he replies. I cannot see the justice of imposing a levy on members of a society to make up a deficit in its administrative account, as provided for in clause 160. That clause reads - (1.) Each approved society shall keep a separate account, in the prescribed form, showing the amounts expended by the society on administration. (2.) The maximum amount which may be credited to that account’ shall be ascertained in the prescribed manner. (3.) Any deficiency disclosed at any time in that account shall, if not otherwise provided for to the satisfaction of the commission, be met, as prescribed, by a special levy.
It seems that, on the one hand there will be unequal benefits for equal taxation, and on the other, unequal taxation for equal benefits. I do not presume to state that that will be unconstitutional or illegal, but it will be definitely unjust. To sum up the administrative situation, it seems that in the midst of all the various bodies, the last person to be considered will be the insured contributor. In the lobbies of the House of Representatives, deputations and delegates representing every section of the community affected by this bill, with the exception of representatives of insured contributors, have conferred with members of Parliament. The insured have not attended because they cannot afford to do so, but they have inundated members of the Opposition with telegrams declaring that this bill is a swindle Upon them and that they want none of it. Acting on their request we are opposing this measure unconditionally. There will be no central office with complete control over the various semi-autonomous bodies exercising functions of various natures; consequently, when any doubtful question arises experts and officials will argue and the sick man will probably expire. What a lovely situation we are creating! We could have provided a scheme of national insurance simply by making the people as a whole pay for it, because the nation should provide against the ills which affect the economic welfare of the country as a whole. The number of administrative bodies to be constituted under this scheme will also add to its cost and eat up the funds which should be available for more generous benefits to the insured persons.
– The honorable senator has exhausted his time.
– I intend to discuss only two aspects of this measure because it can be said to have been worn threadbare in debate in the House of Representatives during the last six weeks. In those circumstances, I was rather surprised yesterday that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) should require 24 hours in which to prepare his secondreading speech. I should have thought that everything which possibly could be said about the bill had already been said in the other chamber, and a full record of that debate was available to all honorable senators.
I listened with a great deal of attention to a considerable portion of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. I shall not attempt to debate what he has said, but I propose to deal with two matters which he touched upon. Before doing so, however, I refer to a question asked this morning by Senator Ashley, who sought to obtain from the Minister an expression of opinion as to whether consideration of this measure by this chamber should not be postponed until senators-elect had taken their seats.
– I rise to a point of order. I submit that the honorable senator is not discussing the measure before the Senate.
– The honorable senator is quite in order.
– I point out that, at the last election, the scheme proposed under this measure was embodied in the platforms of the two parties composing the present Government, whilst a noncontributory scheme of national insurance was included in the platform of the Labour party. Senator Ashley, in his question this morning, suggested that this issue was tried by the people and that the Government was defeated in respect of it. If that is so, why is not the Labour party in office to-day?
– The honorable senator was referring to the defeat of Government senators at the last election.
– I am dealing with the position of this chamber. My friend cannot have it both ways. It is improper to suggest that the Government is not acting fairly in submitting this measure- to the Senate as at present constituted. National insurance was an issue at -the last election, and, in respect of the other chamber, the Government was returned with one of the most substantial majorities on record.
– The honorable senator need not apologize.
– It is extraordinary how unwilling some people are to allow anything to be said which they think will not suit their arguments. I point out that, under the Constitution, tlie Senate, as at present composed, is still functioning and, therefore, should consider not only this but any other subject on which the Government decides to legislate before the 30th June next. In any. case, it was not upon the issue of national insurance that the people of Australia decided at the last elections to change the personnel of this Senate. One thing upon which Senator Ashley and myself can agree is that both of us were fortunate in that our names commenced with the letter “A”. That fact had as much to do with our return as had national insurance.
Every party holds different views as to the principles upon which a scheme of national insurance can best he based.. The Opposition advocates one form of national insurance and the Government another. I point out to members of the Opposition, however, that honorable senators supporting the Government are actuated just as much as they themselves by humanitarian motives in this matter, and as a responsible leader of a. political party in this chamber, Senator Collings resorted to gross exaggeration when he insinuated more or less th,at there was no desire on the part of any individual member of the United Australia party or the Country party to benefit those people who need our help most. Members of the Opposition should cease to make such intemperate and exaggerated statements whether for the purposes of propaganda or argument. All honorable senators are anxious- to do all in their power to benefit that section which the Leader of the Opposition calk the dispossessed. We realize that the public health depends on the prosperity of the mass of the people. I should be prepared to go just as far as members of the
Opposition in accepting the doctrines of socialism if I thought they would work, but I am not prepared to be .a party to subjecting our present social system to irresponsible and revolutionary changes, which, I believe, would .only throw this country into chaos. I protest against the assumption of members of the Opposition that they are the only individuals in this chamber who have any human kindness, and I. challenge their suggestion that this measure of social reform is just a put-up job in order to relieve the wealthy sections of the community, and to enable this and succeeding governments to avoid increased expenditure in respect of old-age pensions. Such a reference to the old-age pension was indeed unfortunate, when we consider that every action taken in this country to preserve that legislation has been taken by non-Labour governments.
– Supported by the Labour party!
– The only action taken by a Labour government with respect to the pension was to reduce it.
– Be fair.
– I do not blame the Scullin Labour Government for having seduced the pension; it was obliged to do so, but we should recall that fact when we hear the Labour party constantly boasting that it was a Labour government which introduced the old-age pension.
– The oldage pension was introduced by the Deakin Government.
– I should not have referred, to this matter but for the intemperate words used by the Leader of the Opposition. In those circumstances my protest is more than justified.
The scheme of national insurance embodied in this measure has been received by all sections of the community with varying- reactions. Some of its proposals at first alarmed me, as much as they alarmed the ordinary man in the street, and from the point of view of the party to which I have the honor to belong, certain provisions of. the scheme have caused me considerable uneasiness. I was very, seriously perturbed that the small’ employer, including the small farmer, who at present is in a very pre-‘ carious position, was overlooked, and I am pleased that an undertaking was given by the Government during the debate in the House of Representatives that supplementary legislation will be introduced to give protection to that section. I ask the Leader of the Senate to repeat that undertaking very clearly.
– Why was not such a provision included in the bill?
– I think it was an oversight. I agree that such a provision ought to be in the bill, but if the Leader of the Senate can now give an assurance that this omission will be rectified, I shall be satisfied.
– The undertaking was given under pressure of Labour opinion expressed in the House of Representatives.
– The Labour party takes action to give effect to Country party views ! That is seen in what Senator Brown does with regard to tobacco. The Labour party is always taking credit to itself for the things it has not done. I feel considerably relieved by the promise that has been given regarding the small farmer, and I do not anticipate that there will be any serious objection to the bill on his behalf. There are many directions in which one would like to see the bill extended. Social legislation, if it were ideal, would be of the most generous kind, and’ it would absorb all the schemes at present operated by the States. I would impress on honorable senators that we first have to lay the foundations upon which we can erect a substantial structure later. Whatever my objections to the bill may be, I should be slow to reject it merely because I do not like some of its provisions. I am not particularly enamoured of the provision for medical services, and I welcome with delight the promise that a commission will be appointed to give - the members of the medical profession a full opportunity to state their case. We are not concerned with the question of how’ far the scheme Will benefit the medical profession; that is their business. We are concerned with its relation to public health. A large proportion of members of the medical profession contend that’ the’ panel system in Great Britain has not been so satisfactory as the attempts made in the Australian States to promote public health. That and similar contentions ought to be thrashed out. The Government and others concerned must face the situation, and attempt to do whatever is fair in the interests of the public health.
– If the doctors are ruled out of the scheme, what will happen to that part of the bill relating to health?
– Wc must come to a fair arrangement with the doctors, and we cannot lay down dictatorially what that arrangement shall be until we have heard their views.. They are obviously dissatisfied with the agreement purported io have been made by their federal council, and they have practically repudiated it throughout the Commonwealth.
I regret that co-operative insurance companies have been eliminated from participation in the scheme. Although I doubt whether there would be any great “financial gain to them if they were in the- .scheme, they will certainly lose something in prestige by being excluded from a. field of operations in which they have done pioneering work and created efficient machinery. I heard what Senator Collings said about the necessity that arose in Queensland to legislate for the control of certain companies. I admit that there may be black sheep in every fold, but surely when he was speaking, he had not in mind such a society as the Australian Mutual Provident Society. The average value of the policies in that society is’ surprisingly small, and it is one of the strongest societies of its kind in the world.
– What machinery has even that society for the administration of a national insurance scheme?
– It has already had considerable experience in industrial insurance, and it has an Australia-wide organization.
– Industrial insurance is one of the biggest ramps ever put over this country.
– That remark by Senator Collings is worse than the statements he made in the opening part of his speech. There may be companies that abuse their power, but the society I have mentioned, has not abused its power; it is controlled .by people who have proved their fidelity and honesty. We should leave such societies alone.
– Why do not friendly societies do the job?
– They will have the chance to do it under the bill, but why should large mutual societies be excluded ? It seems to me that one -has only to mention the word “ company “ to cause a certain section of the community to think that there is a conspiracy afoot against the people.
– Never mind about us. What about the honorable member’s friends, Eric Campbell and General Lloyd?
– I take a point of order. Senator Collings has referred to a case that is sub judice. The men tq whom he has referred have to stand their trial, and yet the responsible Leader of the Opposition in this Senate commits the grossest breach of privilege we have over heard.
– Although .there is no standing order dealing with the point, it is a long-established parliamentary practice that a case which is sub judice shall not be referred to in debate.
– I have been for too long on a footing of sincere friendship with the Leader of the Opposition to have a foolish quarrel with him about nothing. I wish he would keep a little cooler, and I do not thank him for trying to saddle me with certain friends. During the time that the gentleman to whom he referred was associated with the New Guard he was no friend of mine. This interlude -arose out of the fact that I deplored the omission of mutual societies from the bill, and I 111*1tioned one society of which -every Australian ought to be proud, and which has been held up for admiration as the strongest mutual life insurance society of its kind in the world. No shareholder makes even 3d. profit out of it, and it represents cooperation in its broadest and best sense. 1 would remind those who speak so unthinkingly of companies to consider the history and growth, of joint stock companies. They were started by small .and humble people who individually had little capital, -but who pooled their .resources and co-operated to carry out big ideas. lt was soon found that certain rules were necessary for the administration: of the companies, and over a long period of time the law of joint stock companies has been evolved. In most of these companies the shareholders arc mainly people in humble positions in the community, and the participation of such organizations would not necessarily be detrimental to the scheme. I can quite understand opposition to the participation of some profit-making proprietary companies, but as to the few purely mutual companies in Australia, it would be more generous to remember how they stuck to the Commonwealth in its direst need. Let my honorable friends opposite inquire how much the society I mentioned- put into the last Commonwealth loan.
– Whose money was it? It was not theirs, but ours.
– The money came from the co-operative effort of small people. Over and over again the society has supported Commonwealth loans, and to quite a large extent it has built up Commonwealth credit. Nevertheless, members of the National Parliament are now showing what looks to me like ingratitude towards it. Notwithstanding what has been said, I suggest that the Government should consider the advisability of restoring the provision that enabled mutual insurance societies to participate in the scheme.
Honorable senators have been inundated with what I think’ are sincere and genuine protests from Christian Scientists against their compulsory participation in the medical benefit part of the. scheme. Senator Dein and I have re’ceived about SOO letters from Christian Scientists in different parts of the Commonwealth. I was asked recently to move an amendment to exempt members of that section from the medical benefit clauses of the bill. Of the contribution of ls. 6d. a week, only about 2½d. is in respect of medical benefit, and it may seem to some honorable senators that the Christian Scientists ought not to worry about paying such a small amount. I do not want to discuss the tenets of Christian Science, except to say that the medical benefit clauses do cut right across them. I would resent, and any other senator would resent, any attempt to exert compulsion on us against our religious beliefs. However, I appeal to the Government to treat this request seriously. Although an amendment to exempt members of the Christian Science Church from contributing to the scheme was defeated in the House of Representatives by a small majority, I ask the Senate to affirm the principle that religious conscience should not be compelled, and to give to the Christian Scientists the relief for which they have asked.
– Would the honorable senator approve of exemption of an employer who is a Christian Scientist ?
– There must be some limit. I do not think that the request made goes quite so far as that, but to be logical, it should also apply to Christian Scientists who are employers. I do not want this matter to be treated in a spirit of levity because I respect all religious beliefs. Indeed, I feel that, although I am a member of one church, I can claim to subscribe to every religion. In my opinion they are all golden paths leading in the right direction; there is truth in all of them. I hope that these requests from the Christian Scientist’ssome of the letters were in the form of petitions - will be treated sympathetically by the Senate when we are discussing those provisions in the bill which deal with this matter.
– I was somewhat surprised that a question which I asked this morning with reference to the published opinion of the former Chief Justice and later Governor-General, Sir Isaac Isaacs, regarding the Inter-State Commission Bill, should have caused so much comment, because I wish to make it clear that I was not actuated by vindictiveness towards any honorable senator who is on the eve of retirement from this chamber. Once the smoke of the election battle has blown away my disposition is to forget all that may have been said during the contest and be friends with former political opponents. As a- matter of fact my sympathies are with those honorable gentlemen who are about to leave the Senate in which some of them have served for so many years.
– I never suggested that the honorable senator was vindictive.
– No; but in view of the opinion expressed by Sir Isaac Isaacs, I still think that this bill should not be discussed by the Senate as at present constituted. The sixteen Labour senators who were returned at the last election all declared themselves in favour of a non-contributory social insurance scheme - an entirely different proposal from which is before this chamber. I therefore claim that this Senate has no mandate to pass the bill. However, I am glad that we shall have the advice of experienced senators in the discussion of the many involved problems contained in the bill. But I repeat, in all sincerity, that the measure should not be proceeded with until the newly-elected senators have taken their places.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - Having said so much, the honorable gentleman will be good enough to regard tha subject as closed.
– In view of the fact that, under the constitutional provisions, the defeated senators do not retire until the 30th June, is it not. obvious that the Senate, as at present con situted, has full power to deal with any legislation that comes before it?
– The President bus banned further discussing of the matter. I am opposed to the bill, in the first place, because it has been illconceived, although it was preceded by investigations by royal commissions which have cost this country approximately £60,000. We are told that the scheme is based on the English act. I would point out that conditions in England are entirely different from conditions in this country, and therefore legislation that might be acceptable in Great Britain, may not be approved by the people of Australia. For instance, we have not the same density of population, and this, I suggest, must be an important consideration in the formulation of any proposal for national insurance. Stripped of its complex legal verbiage, the scheme, which has been submitted by an antisocialist government as a measure of State socialism, is really camouflaged taxation. I say this deliberately, and add that it has been designed to remove the tax burden from the shoulders of the wealthy to the shoulders “of the workers.
– Whom does the honorable senator mean when he speaks of the workers?
– The lower-paid wage-earners and small income tax payers. Under this proposal a medical specialist earning £4,000 or £5,000 a year and employing only one attendant, will make a very modest contribution to the scheme. So also, will the large landholder owning terraces of houses and employing one collector, and a large grazier holding land-locked country and living, perhaps, in England. Some of these people will not make a contribution to the Government’s proposal. I, therefore, contend that the scheme is inequitable, aud that it is really disguised class taxation in which the present Government is a pastmaster
– Order !
– The word ‘« taxation” is obnoxious to Ministers in this Government. Accordingly, they have brought in a measure which relieves their friends of much of the tax burden for the payment of invalid and old-age pensions. Friendly societies have been rendering splendid service to the people of Australia for the last 100 years. The benefits which they provide are much better than those to be given under the Government’s proposal. For ls. 6d. a week friendly societies give a full cover to members, their wives and families, as well as funeral benefits. Under this bill male employees will pay ls. 6d. and employers ls. 6d. a week, and the benefits will be restricted to employee contributors. Their wives and dependants must “look to the friendly societies for social protection.
The Leader of the Senate has told us that the scheme will provide benefits for 1,850,000 contributors, whereas friendly societies cater for the social needs of approximately 2,000,000 people in the Commonwealth. The bill is vulnerable in that it does not and cannot bind medical practitioners to servo under the scheme. Strong objection has been taken by the members of the British Medical Association to the proposed capitation fee of lis. for each contributor, as compared with 26s. or 30s. which they receive from the friendly societies. This being so, it is likely that the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) will find that the medical panels will be empty. Under the English act each doctor has a panel pf approximately 2,000 persons, whose contributions ensure to him an income of £1,100 a year, less his personal expenses.
This measure is designated a national insurance scheme. We on this side contend that any proposal which does not provide full cover for contributors and also for the unemployed, is not national in character. As I have said, the bill will simply lift taxes from the shoulders of the wealthy to the shoulders of the poorer sections of the community. Under the existing act, invalid and old-age pensions are paid from revenue, whereas under this scheme the burden will be placed on the contributors and the workers. We have been told that the cost of the invalid and old-age pensions this year will be approximately £15,000,000, and that 40 years hence, assuming that in the meantime a national insurance scheme were not established, the amount would be about £32,000,000. This computation is purely speculative.
Ministers and their supporters have stressed that compulsory contribution to this scheme will remove any stigma of charity that may attach to the payment of invalid and old-age pensions under the existing act, because those who qualify for the old-age pension will not be subject to the means test. The Labour party repudiates entirely any suggestion that an old-age pension savours of charity. We .rightly claim that it is a payment due to the pioneers of this country, from . ihe accumulated wealth of the country, as recompense for services which they have rendered to society. Hitherto all pensions have been paid from revenue and have been based on the capacity of the taxpayer to bear the hurden. This scheme will relieve the wealthy of the taxes necessary to provide the money for pensions, and, regardless of the sacrifices involved, will compel workers in industry to bear the burden. Therefore it is on an inequitable -basis. The statement that contributors will get the old-age pension without being required to pass a means test is so’ much specious pleading, and is intended to make the people believe that the Government is offering contributors an excellent insurance investment. The Government’s attitude is on a par with the action of a confidence man trying to .sell a golden brick to an unsuspecting victim. Every person who has given the most cursory study to industrial conditions in this country knows that comparatively few persons, either male or female, remain in industry to the maximum age of 65 years for males and 60 years for females provided in this measure. Without giving any consideration to the thousands of contributors who will be eliminated by death before reaching the pension age, we know that the exactions of modern industrial development determine that men and women, long before they reach the pension age, are of no further use in industry where profit is the god. As time has passed, this position has been accentuated, until middleage is rapidly becoming the maximum age. What is the value of the Government’s assurance, that the means test will not apply, when most of the contributors to this scheme will be eliminated by long unemployment, and will forfeit its benefits? I have had a table prepared, on the basis of the data gathered in the 1933 census, covering industries and employees who will he covered by the pensions sect-ion of this legislation. The figures show the number of persons, both male and female, employed in industry, and also the number of males between the ages of 60 and 64 years and females between the ages of 55 and 59 years in 1933. I have chosen those groups because they represent the people verging on the pension age. An analysis of the figures destroys the Government’s claim that the payment of the pension will confer a boon on prospective pensioners; it reveals that hundreds of thousands of workers who will he taxed during the whole of their industrial career will, by reason of unemployment, lose’ the possibility of evading the means test when eventually they reach the pension age. I ask for authority to include the table in Hansard. [Leave granted.’)
Of 1,478,040 persons who would be eligible for pensions under this scheme, only 56,553 were between the ages of 60 and 64 years in 1933. Of 527,440 females, only 6,036 were between the ages of 55 and 59. Had this scheme been in full operation in that year, only 3.9 per cent, males and 8.7 per cent, females had a reasonable prospect of receiving old-age pensions without a means test. What was true then is true to-day, and as the mechanization of industry proceeds the position will become worse. The Government and its experts must know that they are plumbing the depths of hypocrisy.
– Order !
– I withdraw the statement. The scheme. upon which this proposed scheme has been based has been in operation in England since 1911, approximately 27 years. It cannot be said that the English scheme is entirely satisfactory, notwithstanding that it provides for greater social services to the people than is proposed in the bill before us. I base my claim that the English scheme is not successful on the fact that 70 per cent, of the eligible men of England are medically unfit for military service. That fact bears out the statement made by the Reverend Eather Dudley, one of the most travelled clerics in the world, who, according to the Sydney Telegraph of the 20th June said - “Modern capitalism creates misery and poverty,” said the Reverend Father Owen Dudley at the Mary Immaculate Church,
Waverley, last night. “ In England, there are 20,000,000 people living in a state of semistarvation of malnutrition,” he said. “ This ‘ is duc not to any shortage of food or shelter, but to a monopoly in finance and the means of producing the nation’s wealth. It is no wonder that England is a nation of C3 people.”
– Does the honorable senator propose to connect his remarks with the subject ‘before .the Chair?
– Yes, Mi-. President. I am showing that in England, where a similar scheme is in operation, the health of the people has not improved. It is reasonable to assume that, if the position in regard to unemployment in Australia does not improve, we can look for nothing better here than the results which have attended the English scheme.
There is grave dissatisfaction on the part of doctors in regard to this scheme; they are greatly perturbed about the capitation fee of lis. proposed to be paid to them. The so-called agreement between representatives of the Government and the Federal Council of the British Medical Association has been repudiated by the rank and file of the medical profession. An experience which I had recently shows what may be expected under this scheme. I developed a severe attack of influenza and arranged for the doctor to call on Monday at 12.30 p.m., but he was unable to visit me until 11 p.m. the following day. Many country doctors frequently make calls involving the travelling of considerable distances, say 20 or 30 miles. Under this scheme, the allowance to them, after the first three miles, will be ls. each way a mile. “With this scheme in operation, insured persons, instead of visiting doctors at their consulting rooms, will expect the doctor to visit them in their homes. The result will be a severe tax on the time of the doctors. Moreover, the scheme allows each insured person to select his own doctor. The result will be that the best doctor in the town will be chosen by all insured persons.
– The number of patients is to be limited.
– That is so, but the effect of allowing freedom of choice will be that everyone will want to he on the panel of the best doctor in the town. The non-inclusion of dependants will be a source of trouble, because for years the doctors have attended to the dependants of members of friendly societies. These societies have rendered valuable service to the people of Australia. The Leader of the Senate, who represents an entirely different class, shed crocodile tears when he spoke of giving security to the workers. Senator Abbott suggested that we on this side claim to be the only members of this chamber in whom flows the milk of human kindness. We do not make that claim, but we do claim to represent the great mass of the people with low incomes. It was noticeable that the honorable senator could not dissociate himself from the interests of those whom he represents, because, towards the conclusion of his speech, he made an earnest plea that insurance companies should be allowed to form approved societies under this legislation.
– Mutual companies only.
– The honorable senator made that “plea, notwithstanding that the Government has accepted the decision of the House of Representatives to exclude such societies.
– The Minister did not say that in his speech yesterday.
– It has been stated in the press.
– It is not wise to believe everything that appears in the press.
– ‘Workers who desire to provide medical benefit for their families will have to make additional contributions to friendly societies in order to obtain it. The medical benefit to be provided under this legislation will be inferior to that now rendered by friendly societies, although it will be paid for at a higher rate. This bill does not provide for dental or specialized medical or surgical treatment. Such services will be extras. A. youth receiving 15s. a week, as well as the basic wage-earner, will be taxed at the same rate as a skilled worker who receives £7 a week. The period of non-payment on account of unemployment will mean the surrender of contributions to the scheme. That applies particularly to women who leave industry to get married, or are displaced by younger women. At present pensions are paid out of Consolidated Revenue, hut under this scheme the Government is compelling the workers to contribute towards the cost of pensions. I protest strongly against such an inequitable scheme, under which the Government proposes to commandeer a portion of a worker’s wages, because if the people are to bc protected by an insurance scheme it should be at the expense of the state. Another unsatisfactory feature of the Government’s proposals is the loss that will be sustained by public hospitals, particularly those in large industrial areas such as Newcastle, Lithgow and the South Coast of New South Wales, where industrialists and others are contributing 6d. a week towards the maintenance of hospitals.
– They will be able to continue those subscriptions.
– Those who have to contribute ls. 6d. a week to this scheme will be unable to afford an additional 6d. weekly for hospital purposes. It is estimated that the New South Wales Government will have to provide from £400,000 to £500,000 annually to make up the loss which will be experienced in consequence of the falling off of subscriptions now paid to public hospitals. This is an important matter, particularly to country centres where hospitals are struggling to meet their commitments. If industrialists and others are compelled to come under a national insurance scheme they will be unable to continue their subscriptions to public hospitals. A case was brought under my notice last week of men who had been paying into two friendly societies for from 26 to 30 years, and who under this scheme will have to be insured at an additional cost of ls. 6d. a week. Under this scheme the Government is reducing the purchasing power of the people, and in effect, lowering wages by an unjust tax. Compulsory contributions under this scheme may cause a majority of those now receiving cover under State schemes to discontinue their contributions to the latter. Another important consideration is the provision for pensions for widows. Under the New South Wales legislation, S,10S widows received in 1937 pensions totalling £539,623, or an average of £72 for each widow. The pension paid to a destitute widow at the age of 50, without children, is £1 a week ; but under this proposal it will be only 12s. 6d. a week. A widow with one child now receives £1 10s. a week, whereas under this scheme she will receive only 16s. a week until 1944, and thereafter 18s. 6d. a week.
– In New South Wales a widow receives a pension only until her youngest child reaches the age of fourteen.
– That is so. The rate in New South Wales for a widow with three children is £2 10s. a week, as against the proposed federal rate of £1 3s. until JL944, when it will be increased to £1 5s. 6d.
Senator Abbott, who referred to the claims of members of the Christian Scientist denomination for exemption under this bill, said that he had received SOO letters on this subject; hut I have received over a thousand, some of which do not give the address of the writer. I intend to reply to all the letters bearing the address of the sender.
– They will be more interested in the honorable senator’s vote than in the reply which he proposes to send.
– Although there are only 2,000 Christian Scientists in New South Wales, the rights of minority should be respected.
– What is the nature of the reply which the honorable senator proposes to send?
– I intend to support their request, and when the measure is in committee- I shall either move or support an amendment to exclude them from this bill. This is one of the letters I have received -
As an elector of this State and an adherent of Christian Science, 1 very courteously desire to draw your attention to an infringement of a leading tenet of my religion, by one of the minor provisions of the insurance bil) shortly to bo discussed by your chamber. This appears in section 40 as a compulsory contribution for the supply of “ medical benefits “ (e.g., the ‘ supply of drugs, medicines and doctor’s services). The amount for medical benefits is payable from au account separated from payments for other benefits received (section 115). A man’s contribution for “ medical benefits “ would appear to be about 2d., as against ls. 4d. for .the other benefits ((6) to (h), section 40) to which we can willingly and conscientiously subscribe. The suggested exemption from “ medical benefits “ will not affect the actuarial calculations on which the scheme rests. You will appreciate the fact that it is a very minor provision financially, but one that runs counter to a fundamental tenet of my religion, for reasons that may be briefly stated as follows: -
Christian Science .’is a religion is recognised and has branches in very country in the world.
The basis of the Christian Science religion is spiritual healing, in consequence of which subscribing to the use of material remedies is opposed to the religious convictions of its members.
The penal clauses of the bill would compel a contribution for the supply of drugs and medicines, which the contributors could neither use, nor offer to others, without infringing the tenets of their religion.
I take the liberty of attaching a proposed amendment, which has the endorsement of the authorities’ in Australia, dealing with this section of Christian Science activity.
If the reasons given appear just in your judgment, and the amendment should be submitted. I trust it will receive your support.
Please do not trouble to reply to this letter; 1 am quite satisfied to leave the matter entirely in your h’ands.
The amendment which I propose to move reads -
Where an employee, otherwise within the scope of this act, makes an application for exemption, and establishes to the satisfaction of the commission, by certificate from a dulyconstituted Christian Science branch church or society, the commission shall grant him a certificate of exemption from those provision’s of this act which relate to medical benefits, but such certificate may be cancelled at the request of the said grantee.
– I have already foreshadowed a similar amendment.
– If the honorable senator moves it I shall second it. Had the bill contained a provision whereby professional men and others earning £2,000 or £3,000 a year were to be taxed on their income, or in some other way, to provide the funds to finance this scheme, instead of placing that responsibility upon the wage-earners, I should have supported it, but I am totally opposed to a measure which imposes an unjust tax upon people who are unable to bear it. Moreover, I was elected to this chamber pledged to a noncontributory scheme, and I cannot, therefore, support the unfair proposal which the Government has submitted for our approval. I. suggest in all sincerity to the Leader of the Senate that the Government should hold over the discussion of this measure until the Senate is reconstituted on the 1st July, when the new senators will be able to express their opinion of the Government’s proposal. I do not say that in a spirit of vindictiveness towards those honorable senators who were defeated at the last general election, because I realize that they have rendered good service to their country, and must be leaving public life with some regret. I trust that a majority of honorable senators will oppose the second reading of the bill.
– This bill introduces into our social structure a commendable principle which is long overdue, and its passage through Parliament will bring with it a greater degree of social amelioration than we have ever experienced. It is remarkable that we have waited 28 years for a beneficial measure such as this to be introduced into this Parliament. National insurance was discussed in Australia as far back as 1910, when the late. Sir George Knibbs, who was then the Commonwealth Statistician, was asked to inquire into the practicability of a scheme of national insurance for the Australian people. He was requested to inquire more particularly into the German scheme, which he subsequently com mended, and he expressed the hope that the introduction of a comprehensivenational insurance scheme in Australia would soon follow. In 1913, Sir Joseph Cook, who was then Prime Minister, said that he hoped that in the near future a scheme of national insurance would be introduced in Australia; but, unfortunately, the Great War intervened, and the whole project was shelved. In 1923 the BrucePage Government appointed a royal commission to inquire into the subject, and the commission, after sitting for two years and taking evidence in every State, submitted a comprehensive report, in which the introduction of a scheme “was recommended. In 1927, national insurance on a contributory basis was discussed at the International Labour Conference at Geneva, and a resolution favoring schemes on a contributory basis was carried by 75 votes to two. In 1928, a national insurance bill was introduced into the. Federal Parliament, but, owing to the defeat of the Government, the project was again shelved. Nothing was done until 1935, when the Government requested the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart), when in London, to investigate the operations of the British scheme, and to furnish a report to the Commonwealth Parliament. Sir Frederick Stewart carried out a thorough investigation, and in doing so drew largely on his private resources; he . returned to Australia firmly convinced that a comprehensive national insurance scheme should be provided in the interests of the Australian people. Soon afterwards the Government became so impressed with the proposal, that it invited two British experts to Australia to investigate and report on it, and this measure is the result of that investigation. In examining the various discussions on national insurance which have taken place during the last 28 years, we find that it was not until a few months ago that any scheme on other than a contributory basis was suggested. The report of the commission which inquired into national insurance in 1925, and which was signed by members of the Labour party, agreed that the contributory principle was best, and it was not until the end of last year that wc heard anything about a noncontributory scheme. In advocating a non-contributory scheme the present Labour party is .merely adopting, for political reasons, cheap-jack methods which are repugnant to the majority of our people. What is the reason for this sudden and violent change? Why is it that instead of national insurance on a contributory basis, that party now prefers a scheme which amounts to nothing more than a glorified dole? Has it lost its soul, and now finds itself floundering in si morass of bewilderment? Or, has it been so long in Opposition that it has lost all scn.se of responsibility? In respect of social services in Australia, payments are made on the one hand as benefits in return for contributions,* and on the other, as straight-out charity. Dealing with payments of benefits as a matter of right, I point out that 700,000 people are at present members of friendly societies. In return for their contributions they receive very good benefits. Then again, public servants throughout Australia, make compulsory contributions to superannuation funds. We have heard no complaint in that respect from members of the Opposition, but in view of the objections they have raised to this measure to-day, I suggest that they should, to be logical, object to the principle of compulsory contributions in respect of these superannuation funds. Again, thousands of people contribute to insurance companies in order that, as a matter of right, they may receive some benefit at a given time; and in New South Wales tens of thousands of people pay a contribution of 6d. a week towards a hospital fund. We have heard no complaint raised by the Opposition in respect of any of these systems, although judging from the views which they have expressed, they would abolish friendly societies because they do not believe in the contributory principle in respect of benefit schemes.
– I rise to a point of order. The honorable senator said that the utterances of members of the Opposition in this chamber disclose the fact that we are opposed to friendly societies and -that if we could do so, we would abolish them. I object to that statement, not only because we did not say that, and also because no honorable senator has greater admiration for the work of friendly societies than have members of the Opposition.
– The honorable senator must withdraw the remark to which exception has been taken.
– I withdraw anything I have said that is offensive to members of the Opposition, but I am very surprised to know that they regard any of my remarks as offensive.
– The honorable senator said that the members of the Opposition would ‘ abolish friendly societies.
– That is a lie!
– I ask Senator Brown to withdraw that remark.
– No member of this Opposition has ever stated that the Labour- party would abolish friendly societies ; if anybody says so, he is telling an untruth.
– I ask the honorable senator to withdraw his remark.
– Very well, Mr. President, I withdraw it-
– I do not wish to be unfair to any honorable senator, but I still contend that I was not unfair to members of the Opposition. I merely said that as they advocated only a noncontributory scheme of insurance, in my opinion they would, were they in a position to do so, because of their hatred of the principle of compulsory contribution, abolish friendly societies.
– I submit that that is not a withdrawal, but an aggravation of the honorable senator’s original off en en.
– I ask the honorable senator to withdraw the remarks complained of.
– I withdraw them. In doing so, I ask, although I do not expect an answer, whether the members of the Opposition would carry their bitterness towards the contributory principle to its logical conclusion and abolish friendly societies? If they did not abolish friendly societies, how could they achieve their objective in this respect?
– Is the honorable senator in order in describing the attitude of members of the Opposition as one of “ bitterness “ towards friendly societies? No member of the Opposition has exhibited any bitterness towards friendly societies.
-The term “bitterness “ is not unparliamentary.
– I did not say that members of the Opposition were bitter towards friendly societies; I said that they exhibited bitterness towards the contributory principle in respect of benefit schemes, and from such an attitude on their part one was entitled to draw the inference that if they could do so, they would abolish friendly societies.
In respect of public service superannuation schemes, I point out that compulsory contributions are deducted from the wages or salaries of public servants. Without being given any choice, they are compelledto provide for their old age. Would the Opposition, in its hatred of the principle of compulsory contribution, abolish existing superannuation schemes ?
SenatorCollings. - No, and the honorable senator knows that very well.
– Again, what would be the attitude of members of the Opposition towards hospital contributory schemes? Would they say to me, as a contributor to a hospital fund, “ We hate the contributory principle; you need not make any contributions to that fund, because we shall provide all the money that is necessary?”
I propose now to deal with schemes which illustrate the granting of straightout charity, and in this respect I mention first of all, the old-age pension which, unfortunately, I cannot regard as anything but charity.
– The old-age pension is paid as a right.
– Why is it that thousands of old-age pensioners prefer to collect their pension at a distant suburban post office rather than at the post office nearest to where they reside? Undoubtedly many of the pensioners themselves regard the pension as a charity. The Australian people do not want charity; they want only a fair go and this bill is designed to give them that. The widows’ pension scheme which operates in New South Wales is also a charity, because only those persons in impoverished circumstances can qualify for it. In that scheme, a pension of as low as1s. 6d. a week is paid.
– Would the honorable senator abolish it?
– No; I am as much actuated by human kindness as is the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings), although I realize that, because I am a member of the United Australia party, no member of the Opposition will concede that. I repeat that the widows’ pension paid in New South Wales is a charity. I object to charity because our people are worthy of something better. Throughout all the States, however, considerable sums of money have been paid out as charity during the last few years. Of such payments perhaps the dole is the most repugnant. Most of the recipients are compelled to take it against their grain and some people are so scrupulous in this respect, that they prefer to go without things rather than ask for something for nothing. This is the sort of problem which this measure is designed to overcome, and for that reason it is welcome to the majority of our people. They prefer to make contributions in order that they may get something in return, rather than be obliged in time of want to accept charity. Unfortunately, however, the Labour party wishes to perpetuate a condition of affairs under which charitable payments will be continued. In order to show that the old-age pension is generally regarded as charity, I point out that at the 30th June) 1936, of 219,901 men who were qualified by age for. the pension, only 88,000, or 40 per cent., actually received it. The remainder were debarred from receiving the pension, not because they were wealthy but because they had been thrifty, had saved a few pounds, or had purchased a cottage. I have objected to such discrimination ever since I became a member of this Parliament. At the date which I have mentioned, of 347,015 women who were qualified by age for the pension, only 118,630 or 34 per cent, received it. In view of these figures, honorable senators must admit that the old-age pension, generally speaking; cannot be regarded as other than a charity. If the old-age pension were paid to every one in Australia who was qualified by age, the pension bill would increase from £15,S00,000 to £43,000,000. I ask the Leader of ‘ the Opposition to consider what the cost would be of a noncontributory pension scheme for men at 65 and women at 60 years of age. He would find that we should need an additional £27,000,000, without providing anything for people below the pension age. That is the system that members of the Opposition wish to perpetuate, but to which I am strongly opposed. The Leader of the Opposition spent about half an hour in expressing his doubts as to the constitutionality of the bill, and then he proceeded to criticize the Government for introducing the bill without ascertaining whether it would be valid. I interjected, quite politely, and asked him what he would propose. His answer was an offensive one. I do not resent it, because I know my man. It is usual to receive an offensive answer when there is nothing logical or reasonable to take its place.
– I did not say that the bill is unconstitutional. I said that the Government’s methods are unconstitutional.
– Consider the procedure adopted by the Government before introducing the bill. Following the return of Sir Frederick Stewart in 1935, the Government soon afterwards invited two British experts to come to Australia and prepare a report. The experts said that a scheme was possible and advisable in Australia. What did the Government do then ? It went to the country, and as recently as October of last year, it espoused this reform from every platform. Members on this side of the House declared that they believed in national insurance on a compulsory contributory basis. Members of the Opposition, in furtherance of their cheap-jack methods, advocated a g1” rifled dole without contributions. The Government wOn the day.
– Not in the Senate.
– That is an interjection I wanted very badly. In the House of Representatives, the Government lost one seat. The party alignment is not defined in this chamber, but in the House of Representatives. I wish it were defined here.
– It will be shortly.
– Hearing that interjection, one would think that the Labour party will be in a majority next month. It will still be in a minority. Government supporters who fought the campaign in New South Wales on the issue of national insurance, among other things, won 17 seats out of 28 in the1 House of Representatives. The vote was 76,000 more than the vote recorded for the Labour party. Notwithstanding our enormous majority in the House of Representatives, Labour candidates won four seats in the Senate while we won none. The result of the Senate election in that State, as in some of the other States, was a mere fluke; the Labour party, in fact, expected a fluke victory. Senator Ashley ought not to be retiring three years hence, but he will do so because alphabetics played him a nasty trick. Because the second letter of his name is an “ s “ he must be content with three years instead of six years as a senator. In the face of such facts, how can it be contended that the Government has no right to go on with the bill because of the result of the Senate election? The people of New South Wales were surprised and disgusted that four Labour candidates were elected, as the vote throughout the State was strongly in favour of the Lyons Government. The Government actually did receive a mandate to introduce this most important piece of legislation foreshadowed during the election campaign. When the Leader of the Opposition challenged the constitutionality of the bill, I inquired as to what would bo his methods of introducing a scheme of national insurance. I suppose that the first thing he would do would be to go to a court and find out whether the bill was legal. He might then go to the electors - he would not do so unless he had to - and later introduce a bill. That procedure, however, cannot be followed under the law. The only practical course is for Parliament to pass a bill and wait to see if any dissatisfied person appeals to the court. Members of the Opposition appear to he alarmed because this great social legislation has emanated from the United Australia party, which they said on every platform was a party devoid of the milk of human kindness, had no consideration for the workers, gave everything to the rich, and took everything from the poor. That is always the Labour propaganda burden at election time. The people however,: took no notice of them, as is shown by the vote for the House of Representatives.
The Leader of the Opposition also objects to the actuarial basis of the scheme. To some extent I do also,” but I agree that there must be an actuarial basis, preferably conservative basis. The first duty of the Government is to see that the bill is financially sound, so that those who make contributions will be certain beyond the possibility of doubt to receive the benefits which the scheme contracts to give. I believe that to some extent that requirement has been overdone. The Leader of the Opposition went on to say that .the bill will take ls. 6d. a head from the poorest people and give them nothing in return.
– I did not say anything of the kind. .1 said the very opposite.
– The bill will “ take “ nothing. It asks the people to contribute ls. 6d., for which, in some instances, they will receive benefits amounting to 22 times the value of their contributions. Members of the Opposition referred to the contributions as a “ tax “. A tax is a payment for which taxpayers receive nothing directly in return. Under this scheme, contributors will pay in the same way as they pay to friendly societies. There are 700,000 members of friendly societies who voluntarily tax themselves, and there are hundreds of thousands also who tax themselves for hospitals and insurance. Those who refer to such contributions as a “ tax “, when they know that the contributors will receive more than they pay, are misrepresenting the position, and doing the working man a disservice. I have never been associated with any one but working men, and I know that they want something like this scheme, and are prepared to pay ls. 6d. a week for it. They are ready to accept the bill. Let me detail some of the benefits which the contributor will receive. Of the ls. 6d. contribution, 10$d. will provide benefits for the man and his wife, and allowances for his children, and when he roaches the retiring age he will receive a pension for life. I rather object to the expression “ old-age pension “ ; this is really a superannuation scheme. There is a superannuation scheme in the Public Service, and the term superannuation should be used in the bill. The benefits I have enumerated will be received by the contributor in return for a contribution of 10jd. The value of the benefits will vary at different ages. At the age of 32, a contributor’s benefits will be worth 5s. 9d. a week. At the age of 42 - and many thousands of men now in work will come under the scheme at that age - the benefits will be valued at 9s. lOd. Many thousands of workmen will come into the scheme immediately at the age of 52, and their benefits will be worth £1 a week, or 22 times the value of their contributions. I would ask the Leader of the Opposition when he is explaining the bill to make his criticism as strong as he likes in regard to young people, but to point out to those over 25 years of age that, in return for a payment of 10-Jd., they may receive something worth up to £1 a week.
– I could tell them that, but it would not be true.
– I am not sure that the honorable senator wants to tell them the truth when he is on the soap-box. A man who conies into the scheme at 52 years of age will pay 10£d. a week until he is 65, when he will receive £1 a week for the rest of his life. The older the contributors are, the greater the benefits they will receive. In order to provide those benefits the Government will make a heavy contribution; they could not be provided out of the contribution of 10£d. a week. When the scheme is in full operation, the Government’s contribution will amount to about £5 a year for each insured person.
– Who will pay that?
– Professional men. graziers and other wealthy sections of the community.
– This is a fine bedtime story !
– It is a story to which the electors listened’ with approval when last we appealed to them. The widow’s pension payable under this scheme will have a capital value of £700. I regard this, as a very fair contribution to social security. Naturally I would like to see still more generous provision, hut we must not stretch the insurance fund to breaking point. It would be unwise to make greater provision for benefits and find, later, that the fund would not stand the strain. I believe that actuarily the scheme is on a conservative basis. It is, however, important that its foundation should bc sound because in the near future, so we hope, the scheme will be widened to include a larger proportion of the population.
We have been told that this is the first instalment of the Government’s proposal for national insurance. In its present form the bill is not my conception pf a national scheme because it does not go far enough. I admit this readily, but I also acknowledge that it is a very important step in the right direction. I cannot say that I am 100 per cent, behind the scheme in its present form, but as a first instalment it has ray support for I am convinced that soon we shall bo considering proposals to widen its scope.
– What about improving this bill?
– I have said that it is not my conception of what a national insurance scheme should be, because it docs not make provision for the unemployed or self-employed persons in the community. I admit that there is some difficulty in the way of including the unemployed, because the co-operation of the various States will lie necessary. But I do not intend to vote against the bill on the ground that it does not provide for the unemployed, even if our friends of the Opposition are prepared to do that. I accept the bill on the understanding that we shall have an opportunity soon to consider another measure to widen and improve the scheme. Why should I vote against the bill and destroy this scheme in its infancy merely because of defects which can be remedied ? The measure is designed to give protection and benefits to employees. My objection to it is that it covers only 25 per cent, of the people, whereas my idea of a national insurance scheme is one that will provide for all the people. There should have been, in the bill, provision for the insurance of the unemployed, because that is the one section of the community which is in definite need of medical attention and other social benefits; but I am not prepared to destroy the measure on that account because, as I have said, the proposal is a foundation upon which we shall be able to erect a truly national scheme of insurance in the near future.
– It does not provide for the wives and children of contributors.
– That is true, but we have had a definite promise from the Prime Minister that, as soon as possible, another measure to make good this omission will be introduced, and I have no hesitation in accepting that assurance. The record of the Prime Minister i3 such that when he makes a promise, the people may rest assured that it will be honored. I am content to leave the matter in his hands.
I turn now to the actuarial calculations upon which the scheme has been based. I believe that, if anything, they are unduly conservative. That is a habit of actuaries. So far as I can. judge, their calculations in connexion with the British scheme were very conservative with the result that in recent years the benefits payable under it have been increased and the contributions reduced without in any way impairing its soundness. I believe that we shall have the same experience in connexion with this proposal, because I think that the actuaries who advised the Treasurer have been even more conservative than the Treasurer has been in his budget forecasts for the last six years, and we know to what extent he underestimated the total Commonwealth revenue from all sources.
-Hughes. - In England, the contributions’ will be increased in 1940 up to the end of 1956.
– Yes; but they were reduced recently and the benefit.3 were substantially increased.
Amendments made to the bill in the House of Repr esentatives, we -are told, will throw an increased burden on the fund. I take no objection to those amendments, because I believe the fund will stand the additional strain imposed upon it. The bill now is a very much better one than it was when it was introduced in the House of Representatives. Nevertheless, the scheme is not yet wide enough wholly to satisfy me. I would like to see provision made for unemployed and self-employed persons, also for the insurance of clerical employees - persons whose salaries may exceed £365 a year. There is no valid reason why people in this category should not be included either as compulsory contributors or on a voluntary basis, because, as we all know, some persons in this higher salary range are reckless in regard to personal expenditure. Some arc spendthrifts, with the result that when they reach the retiring age they apply for and get the old-age pension, without having made any contribution to the fund from which it is drawn. That, to my mind, is entirely wrong. If there is one person in the community who can afford to contribute to this scheme it is the man in receipt of a salary of £365 a year or over. All persons in that category should bc included in a scheme qf national insurance. It is not fair to compel employees on the basic” wage to contribute to the fluid for their pension, whilst higher paid clerical workers, some of whom may be spendthrifts, obtain the old-age pension free. This omission of clerical workers is a serious defect in the bill, and I do not think that it can be defended. I have personal knowledge of many persons who squandered fortunes, and towards the end of their lives, received the old-age pension. I do not want my remarks under this head to be misunderstood or mis-interpreted, but I repeat that it, is unfair that people who spend so large a proportion of their comfortable incomes on drink and gambling should get the old-age pension without having paid anything towards it, whilst other persons, including employees on the basic wage, are required to pay for this social benefit.
– The same old story - Pensioners drink and gamble!
– I especially asked the Leader of the Opposition not to misinterpret my remarks. I do not imply that persons who get the old-age pension have been thriftless.
– We have never heard any other story from the honorable senator’s party on this subject.
– This bill is the last piece of legislation which the Leader of the Opposition wants to see placed on the statute-book, because it has been so readily accepted by the working classes throughout Australia. Despite what the honorable senator and his supporters may say about the exploitation of the working classes, it is a fact that they do want this scheme. They realize that it gives to them a degree of security to which they are entitled, a security which they cannot get in any other way. They will he glad of the opportunity to contribute a. few pence each week in order to get the benefits that will come to them under this proposal. This is the spirit which has actuated 700,000 persons to become members of friendly societies, and which has induced hundreds of thousands of persons throughout Australia to pay premiums on insurance policies. I resent the implication contained in the interjection of the Leader of the Opposition. It does not dispose of our claim that the people of Australia do not want any social benefit as a charity. The working classes hail this bill with delight, because they know that for ls. 6d. a week they will be relieved of all worry about doctors’ or chemists’ bills; and that in the event of disablement they will get benefits; or should they die, there will be pensions for their widows or dependants. The scheme should also provide a pension or allowance foi1 the wives of an insured sick person. An insured person will get sickness and disablement benefit of 15s. a week plus 3s. Gd. a week for each dependent child, but there will be nothing for the unfortunate wife who may be charged with the responsibility of keeping the home going and also caring for a sick husband and dependent children. Still another serious omission is the absence of provision for funeral benefit. Every problematical contingency is provided for, but death, the one and only certain happening, has been overlooked. Friendly societies, as we know, provide funeral benefits to members. There should be similar provision in this bill. That is one of the most pleasing aspects of friendly society benefits; every member of such a body knows that, even if without assets at the time of his death, his remains will be decently interred. The omission of a funeral benefit from this bill -is serious. I believe that an actuarial calculation would reveal that not a large sum would be required to pay a funeral benefit of £10. The financial stability of the scheme would not, I think, be impaired by such a concession. In committee, I shall move that a funeral benefit be provided.
In conclusion, I repeat that this bill is not my conception of a national insurance scheme. I accept it only as a good first instalment of a complete scheme, relying on the promise of the Prime Minister that another instalment is already on its way. If, however, I can do anything to improve the present hill, without upsetting the stability of the scheme, I shall do so. I ask honorable senators to regard, this bill as something designed to give to the workers- in industry a greater degree of security than they now have. If they regard it in that light, and judge the bill on its merits, they will, I believe, vote for it… I appeal to honorable senators of all parties to support this proposal further to ameliorate the conditions of the workers.
– It is scarcely necessary to discuss this bill at length, for it has already been thoroughly debated in the House of Representatives, and, in .addition, it has been given sufficient publicity in the press for the public to understand it. There are., however, certain features of the Government’s proposals which will bear emphasis, and, perhaps, further examination. In the first place, the measure as a whole should be welcomed because the keystone of the future of this country, with all its wealth of climate, and resources, and the additional advantage of a homogeneous race, is a sound policy for social betterment. The introduction of a system of invalid and old-age pensions was an important step in that direction. That legislation has already ameliorated acute distress resulting from impoverished old age and chronic ill health, but it has not been without some cost to the community. On a per capita basis that cost can be reckoned at approximately lOd. a week, or an annual outlay which has grown from £1,500,000 ‘ in 1909-10 to approximately £16,000,000 during this financial year. Having regard to the slow rate at which the population of Australia is increasing, it is obvious that, without some other provision to assist the needy, the invalid and old-age pensions fund, must, within a few years, break down under the weight which will be imposed upon it. It has been said that to-day each 100 workers support 25 pensioners. In time, unless something i3 done, the number of pensioners to every 100 workers will be 50. Two alternatives to risking that breakdown are, first, a reduction of the amount of the pension, and, secondly, the hardening of the conditions which entitle a person to a pension. Neither of these steps is desirable; nor is it difficult to foresee the fate of any government that resorted to either expedient. The national health and pensions insurance fund which it is now sought to establish, will supply a backing for the scheme already in force, and, in addition, will provide assistance, on a joint contributory basis, for those in employment, both youths and adults, who may be temporarily incapacitated through accident or illness. Further there is the valuable right to a pension for a man, and his wife or widow, free from the indignity of a means test or the odium generally associated with a dole. We have been assured that the scheme now before us is only a part of a plan to cover unemployment and those sections of the community whose circumstances call for further special investigation and pro- vision. But another and, perhaps, even greater value is set on the present instalment of legislation, when we view it as a contribution towards the improvement of the standard of national health. In my opinion, it is futile to endeavour to improve social conditions, unless, at the same time, there is some guarantee that there will be corresponding improvements of the minds and bodies of the people t so that they may adequately enjoy the added amenities. The means suggested in this measure by which persons from fourteen years of age onwards may gain easy and inexpensive access to doctors and medical treatment, must have not only a strong humanitarian appeal, but also a far-reaching and favorable re-action upon the nation generally. The bill now before us, being national and general in its application, has necessarily, and rightly, come in for a good deal of criticism. Much of that criticism has been constructive, but, on the other hand, its alleged defects have been so unduly stressed as temporarily to obscure the real purposes and the numerous benefits which the measure will confer, as well as the inescapable difficulties confronting the Government in the initial stages of the project. Fault has been found with the bill chiefly on the ground of the insufficiency of the cover that it will offer. That unemployment insurance is not now being dealt with it, is, I understand, due, first to the inability of the governments of the States to agree to co-operate with the Commonwealth Government in a common scheme; secondly, to the fact that extensive relief measures for the workless are still in force; and thirdly, to the additional fact, and obstacle, that insurance against unemployment will not relieve the present unemployed who are still far too numerous. Moreover, there have been grave complaints from the medical profession in regard to the inadequacy of the proposed remuneration for the services of ite members. The Government’s desire to do the fair thing is exemplified in the announcement of the intention to appoint a royal commission to ascertain the truth in regard to the point at issue. The same commission will, no doubt, also deal with the points which have been raised by the dispensing chemists.
Friendly societies, which have rendered such magnificent service along similar but more modest lines during the last 100 years, are still apprehensive as to the effect of the impact of this scheme upon their functions and well-being. I have spoken to some leaders of the friendly societies in Western Australia and have been gratified to discover that they regard the principles of this measure with a friendly eye. I feel certain that the bill, as now worded, will, when it has the force of law, afford the protection and encouragement which the friendly societies both desire and. need.
My greatest concern is in respect of small employers, more especially those en- gaged in rural industries, and the uncertain position of country doctors. In these respects, I cannot view the bill with equanimity. I admit, however, that the difficulties that confront the Government in attempting to meet the situation adequately are severe. However, I take comfort in the promise of the Prime Minister that a further measure, covering these points and those important sections of the community, will be introduced in the near future.
As to the position of women under this measure, a great, deal of activity has been displayed by organized bodies in claiming equal recognition for men and women in all phases of the scheme. Seeing that women have now equal political status with men, there is some logic in their claim. But the question of whether that claim can be recognized from an economic point of view gives rise to .strong differences of opinion, which are, perhaps, most noticeable among women themselves. The economic aspect is, however, a matter primarily for the States, and need not concern us at the moment; but, seeing how far along the road of emancipation women have already progressed, it is only right to assume that the major issue must be faced in the not distant future. It is to be hoped that in the solution to be reached neither side will be unnecessarily despoiled. The Government has made some concessions in the direction of increasing sickness benefits and pensions, but these increases have by uo means satisfied all the demands of the women. The main points of these demands have been set out pithily in the following resolutions of organized bodies of women in Western Australia -
Further, this conference is not prepared to accept the proposed amendment of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) as announced inthe House, namely, that an employed woman after she has been a contributor before marriage, shall have the option to . contribute1s.6d. a week in order that she may qualify for an old-age pension of 20s. pur week at the age of60 years. We object to the optional character embodied in this suggestion and to the further anomaly it creates by not covering the woman for sickness and disablement as an equal contribution covers the man. Also, we would point out that there is no provision made in the bill for that proportion of the widows of to-day who at the last census numbered 89,000, who are unemployed.
The concluding paragraph appears to be more reasonable than righteous. In the matter of equality in respect of pensions, they pin their faith to the views expressed by Miss Eleanor Rathbone, a member of the British House of Commons. Following is an extract from a report of a discussion in the British Parliament on unemployment insurance and women contributors, in which Miss Rathbone participated -
Miss Kathbone went on to say that although an increased benefit for adult dependants was excellent, it nevertheless increased the injustice of the whole system in regard to women contributors . . .
When told that “ there are about twice as many ladies drawing old-age pensions as there are gentlemen “, Miss Kathbone declared that that did not prove the case, as a great many of them were drawing old-age pensions under a non-contributory scheme. What she wanted to show, however, was that women were not getting a fair deal, but were helping to build up a fund out of which men benefited, and that this anomaly was being intensified by giving larger allowances to adult dependants because - there were few adult dependants belonging to women contributors. The vast majority were wives, and very few husbands were economically dependent on their wives in the sense recognized by the act. Vast numbers of women workers were partly or wholly responsible for aged parents, because so often the burden fell on the daughter rather than the son, the latter having a family to keep, but these women would not get any benefit for their parents under this draft order.
I leave this phase of the main question in the hope that it will be possible to adjust legitimate claims without destroying the balance of the scheme. The charge of “ rush tactics “ can hardly be sustained. The subject has been under consideration for many years, during which Australia has lagged behind other nations. National insurance was a plank of the Government’s platform at the last general elections. Up to the present no one appears to have taken much interest in national insurance and I have yet to learn that the Government was approached as to any special lines that this legislation should follow. The recent discussion in the House of Representatives has been of the fullest character and the public by now should be conversant with the very liberal provisions of the proposed law, favorably affecting as it does, 52 per cent, of the total population.
It would not be fitting to overlook the bill of costs which this scheme of national health and pensions insurance will involve. First, there will be a heavy charge upon the taxpayer who may not directly benefit, and, secondly, a burden is being imposed which industry may find it difficult to carry. Particularly will this be the case in Western Australia, where the Arbitration Court has recently increased the basic wage by5s. a week, and thereby committed employers to a further annual outlay of £500,000. The Western Australian Government, too, as an employer, is confronted with another bill of £240,000 a year, and with its straitened finances cannot face with equanimity the further threatened addition to its budget. Doubtless all sections of the community will loyally respond to the call, because of the great national benefit that will be increasingly appreciated as time progresses. Before concluding. I should like to cite some figures which should not be overlooked. The initial annual cost of the health and pensions scheme will be £11,000,000 to contributors and £2,000,000 to the Treasury. At the maximum development of the pensions scheme the contributors will be paying £9,600,000, the Treasury £10,000,000, and the interest earned by the accumulated fund will be £10,000,000, thus bringing the total up to £30,000,000, which will equal the pension benefits then payable. Should this or any similar scheme fail to gain parliamentary approval, the actuaries estimate that in 1978, the cost of the invalid and old-age pensions will be a charge on revenue of over £32,000,000, whereas under this legislation the charge should not exceed £17,800,000; nevertheless, the total expenditure under both measures in that year will be £47,000,000 for pensions alone. Had the exemptions and additional benefits sought been conceded, the increased levy on public funds would have amounted ultimately to about £8,000,000 annually. Finally, it is anticipated that 50 years hence the number of persons benefited in respect of pensions will be three times the present number. I trust that the bill, which I believe will confer great benefits upon the community, will receive the support of a majority of the Senate.
.- I do not propose to delay the passage of the bill, simply because it is not perfect in its present form. Parliament has now embarked on an exceedingly difficult experiment, but the present proposals can be adjusted from time to time in the direction which experience shows to be necessary. If we provide a solid foundation we can always improve upon it. When the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill was introduced in 1920 some considered that it was insufficiently comprehensive; but that measure has since been amended several times to widen its benefits, and this bill may also have to be amended for the same purpose. This is a pioneering effort to establish a great national humanitarian scheme, which should be above party politics and sectional quibbles. It is satisfactory to know that provision is made for a board of trustees - a special independent body beyond political influence - to control subscribers’ contributions. The funds raised will not be operated upon as are governmental trust fronds; the contributions received from year to year will, after commitments have been met, be wisely invested, and in that way a substantial reserve will be built up. No government will have the power to raid the funds. Certain social services will thus be removed from the political arena, and stability will be given to social legislation. There will be no repetition of pensioncutting, as the Scullin Government was unfortunately obliged to do during the depression, because of a depicted treasury and the inability to borrow. Moreover, future governments will not be able to treat contributors under this scheme as public servants were treated in 1931-33. The Government morally guaranteed their superannuation payments, but, under the Financial Emergency Act in 1931 its contributions to the pensions of superannuated public servants were reduced by 20 per cent., and of those affected 67 per cent, were in the lower-paid category. Twice I have sought the complete restoration of the deductions made, but without success.
I regret that provision is not made in the bill for unemployment insurance, but for that omission State governments are not altogether blameless., because the Commonwealth Government has made repeated but unsuccessful overtures to the State authorities in an endeavour to come to a satisfactory understanding. This scheme cannot be .extended to include unemployment benefits without the goodwill and co-operation of all State governments. “ Passing the buck “ tactics must eventually cease. It must be obvious that only those who have continuous employment and are able to make their contributions to the fund will be provided for, and that those whose employment is irregular and subject to the vicissitudes of industry will suffer. It is for such persons that an unemployment insurance scheme must cater. The genuine “ wouldbe worker “ type, and not the “ don’t want work” section, have my sympathy. The latter are well labelled in the State employment bureaux. To ensure that unemployment insurance can be successfully embodied later in a national insurance scheme, it is essential that this scheme be launched on a sound financial basis ; otherwise relief for a very deserving section of the community will be as far off as ever. Contributions by employees, employers, and the Government - the last-mentioned representing the taxpayer - will enable this scheme to be launched with the prospect of success. The Opposition advocates a noncontributory scheme.
– Not altogether.
– Such a scheme is impracticable; the bottom would fall out of it in five years. I believe that the working man is not averse from contributing to any project which will remove the terror of ill-health and consequent unemployment. This is proved by the big membership of friendly societies and kindred -bodies. Whether a contributory or a non-contributory basis is adopted, the cost must come out of production, primary and secondary. Under a non-contributory scheme the persons, whom it is sought to benefit, would eventually be worse off, because such a scheme would necessitate excessive taxation. An analysis of federal income taxpayers shows that the bulk of the nation’s revenue from this source comes, not from the idle rich, but from individuals and companies associated with production. Excessive taxation prevents the building up of production reserve funds, but if business concerns are well-conducted and progressive, they must provide for expansion, through the enlargement of premises oi1 land holdings, and the installation of additional up-to-date equipment. Thus, more employment results and more money is distributed in the form of “wages and salaries in both the primary and secondary spheres of production. Excessive taxation, therefore, is an obstacle to the continuity and stability of employment. Let us do nothing which will tend to increase unemployment and its attendant miseries.
This scheme of national insurance provides greater benefits than do the friendly societies. It is merely a compulsory extension of the work they have been carrying out voluntarily for nearly a century, and is backed by employers and the nation. To illustrate my point as to the independence of the average Australian, I might mention that I visited a Victorian country town some months ago, and with the shire president and two others, I had a drink at the local hotel. As we were about to leave, a dozen or so men strolled in. Several of these were obviously wages men, including four diggers. I said, “ What will you have ?” The reply was, “ Nothing doing, let us have a bob in.”
I have referred to the fact that a large percentage of wages men and lower salaried persons are in lodges. But many are not, and it will be an advantage to them to be insured under this scheme. Non-lodge nien as a rule refrain from calling in a doctor when ill-health threatens. They hang on, first, because they cannot afford medical attention ; and, secondly, because of the fear of losing their job through a complete breakdown. All medical men agree that the. majority of cases of serious illhealth, even including those arising from tuberculosis, and cancer, could be cured if they were treated in the early stages. Under this scheme there will be no reluctance on the part, of insured persons to call in their doctor. Indirectly the health benefits will minimize unemployment and increase the national standard of health. I shall address myself to some of the details of the bill in committee.
– I was not in a particular hurry to speak on this measure, because it was a pleasure to listen, on the one hand, to the almost complete approbation of the bill and, on the other, to the rather drastic criticism of it. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) was good enough to say that I was typical mentally of the Government of this country. That is a compliment of which I am quite unworthy; I as little aspire to such a comparison as does the Government. Then, Senator Ashley said that his sympathies were with those honorable senators who will retire at the end of this month. On my own behalf, I may say that I am quite as sympathetic towards some of those honorable senators who will remain in this chamber after the 30th June, as I am towards myself. As to the contention that the Senate as ut present constituted should not take part in the consideration of this measure, T point out that by the provisions of the Constitution, senators do not retire until the 30th June following an election. The date on which they go out of office does not correspond to the date on which members of the House of Representatives relinquish office, which is election day. Thus, all of the present senators retain their powers as members of this chamber until the 30th June next, and no just criticism can be levelled against them for exercising those powers to the full. Honorable senators who are about to retire have a further reason for expressing their views on anything which may come up for consideration before the end of June, in the fact that Parliament sat so very little cither last year or this year. Are we not to do what work we can when it is put before us? This would appear to be an occasion on which the Leader of the Senate (Senator A. J. McLachlan) might offer his long postponed explanation of why Parliament did not meet in February but stayed in recess until the end of April.
I approach this measure with a great deal of interest. I have been interested in the subject of national insurance ever since I entered this Parliament fifteen years ago, and on looking up the report of my first speech on the subject in 1923, I find that I said -
I am glad that the Government intends to appoint a royal commission to investigate the subject of pensions and national insurance. Whilst J do not commit myself in regard to any proposal, I have thought for some time past that the best means of placing the social, conditions of the community on a better basis would be some form of contributory insurance. Such provisions can take many forms, and any proposition which may be brought forward as the result of the proposed inquiry is sure to be highly debatable. I understand that national insurance is a plank in the platform of the Socialist party, but although I am not a Socialist, I shall support it, if I consider it right. The royal commission will collect data and place Parliament in the possession of the most complete information before it is called upon to embark upon this very important venture.
I have nothing to withdraw from that speech. I was sufficiently interested in this subject ‘to work at it at the time, mainly because I had to explain to other people what national insurance meant. That i3 a very useful way of acquiring elementary understanding of any subject, and I commend it. to honorable senators. I have still in my possession a long statement which I then prepared setting out my conclusions. The two main ones were : first, that such a scheme. must be properly contributory, and secondly, it would be best if the question of employment or unemployment . were left out of such a scheme for Australia. It seemed to me that in such a scheme we should be primarily concerned with the question of health. Thus I have no reason to criticize the Government so far as the principle ‘of this measure is concerned because it embodies the two points which then struck me as being essential. As I said then, national insurance schemes may differ, as, in fact, they do differ. For instance, this scheme in its present form is not exactly the scheme which I or anybody else would have selected. One must look at the merits and demerits of a scheme, weighing one with the other in order to see whether on the whole the merits outweigh the defects. I predicted in my first parliamentary speech, to’ the fury of a great number of people of all political parties, that our bill for old-age pensions would rise to an appalling extent, if wo went on voting money for that purpose* until it might, become a veritable menace to the whole of the finances of this country. Actually* of course, that has happened, and I may be pardoned for quoting what I said in this chamber about a year ago. However, my remarks will not meet with so much derision on this occasion as they did then, because the fact has been brought home to members very strongly that what I predicted was right; our annual pensions bill has “risen year by year with every prospect of its continuing to do so in the future. A year ago I said -
I have always said that we should take note of what is done in other parts of the British Empire. The pensions bill has trebled in fifteen years; if it continues to increase at the same rate - and there is nothing to show why we should stop at a pension of £1 a week - why not make it £2 a week? - invalid pensions will cost this country something like £50.000,000 a. year. “ -
I was, of course, referring to invalid and old-age pensions, and I should have said that the annual bill would grow to £50,000,000 in fifteen or twenty years. Those remarks may be largely surmise, but I adhere to the view, which I expressed last year, that twenty years hence our pensions bill, provided no alteration is made in the present system, and the country has not gone bankrupt in the meantime, will probably amount to £50,000,000 a year. It has trebled in fifteen years, and in the last year it has increased by nearly £2,000,000. If honorable senators work out the figures on either of those bases, they will see that should there be sufficient people to become old-age pensioners, no reason exists why our pensions bill ‘ fifteen or twenty years hence should not amount to £50,000,000 annually, particularly if the possibility is .admitted that the rate of pension might be increased to £1 5s., £1 10s., or £2. I feel sure the Senate will not begrudge me the consolation of pointing out that my prediction on this matter has been, proved hitherto correct. However, it is a very poor consolation, and I would have preferred that I had had no reason to make that prediction fifteen years ago. Unfortunately, the truth of that prediction has been made increasingly evident, year by year.
This measure has been brought down by the Treasurer (Mr. Casey), so we are told, at the earliest possible moment, yet fifteen years has elapsed since a royal commission, was appointed to investigate the subject. The commission produced several reports, and I regret that no reference has been made by a Minister in either the Senate or the House of Representatives to the work of that body. It worked very hard for two years under its chairman, Senator J. D. Millen, and produced much valuable informal ion on the subject. That commission, therefore, was ‘deserving of some mention by the Government. I was glad to hear Senator Dein refer to it this afternoon, but I think that his was !he first reference made in this debate to that body. It deserves as much mention as the fact that Sir Earle Page introduced some years ago a bill that never got beyond the second-reading stage. I want to pay my tribute to the Treasurer, Mr. Casey, for the hard work he has done in connexion with this bill. He is a man of extraordinary industry, great courtesy, and much ability, and whether one agrees with him in detail or not, one must give credit to him for what he has done. Australia has been extremely fortunate in having the help of a leading expert from Great Britain. It is obviously desirable that we should base our scheme on one that has been shown to bc workable elsewhere. The fact that Sir Walter Kinnear has advised the Treasurer is a guarantee not only that the scheme is workable and is sound actuarially, but also that there is every reason to expect that it will be put into operation with the maximum of efficiency possible. It is, of course, not for the visiting expert to advise us whether this is a suitable time for the Government to embark on such a large scheme. Some people say that, in view of the great dangers in the world at the present time, and of the menace that confronts Australia - a. menace involving a large expenditure on defence preparations too long poStponed - it. is an unhappy moment to put into operation also a big national insurance scheme. It is not for Sir Walter Kinnear to advise on that. It is also not for him to say, although he can advise on the point, at what age the pension shall be drawn or what the amount of it shall be. He has, in fact, made recommendations on those details - recommendations which, I imagine, are largely on the basis of the old-age pensions legisla-tion already in existence in Australia. Without any idea of criticizing this great overseas expert, I feel that his real difficulty - and I do not think that he has entirely surmounted it - has been in adapting the scheme existing in Great Britain to Australian conditions. As far as the cities are concerned, there is no great difficulty. Ami there is very little difference between a country town in England and a country town in Australia; but when we consider the great expanse of country covered by the scheme, and the sparse population outside the cities, we come up against an entirely different problem. I shall have something to say about that later. It appears to me that the scheme is admirably designed for the cities, but that it cannot attempt to cover, or even commence to cover Australian country districts at the present time. There are large areas in South Australia, and, I imagine, Western Australia where there is not a doctor within scores and sometimes hundreds of miles. How can medical benefits be supplied where doctors and medicines are not available, where the roads are bad, or where the only rapid means of communication is by aeroplane? I know that these things have not been ignored by Sir Walter Kinnear in framing his report; the first schedule is an instance. There is every indication that it is the intention to start the scheme in the big centres, and gradually to extend it outwards. On Eyre’s Peninsula, in my State, there is not a town with more than two doctors, and only a few have a doctor at all. If the scheme does not secure the co-operation of the doctors in such a district, how can it be worked ? Will the Government send other doctors to compete with the local doctors? If that were done the Government doctors would be regarded as blacklegs.
– The nationalization of the medical profession is the way out of that difficulty.
-HUGHES. -It is not the way out of that or any other difficulty. What we need to do is to develop the personal initiative of independent people, who will think for themselves when they are promised actual or fanciful benefits.
It is, I think, a drawback that the bill appears to be very largely for the benefit of the supporters of the Labour party. When members of the Opposition are in office they are, quite properly, not unmindful of their supporters, and they see to it that their supporters receive something from them. I equally like to see, and I think it is also proper, that this side of the House, which does not represent quite the same persons, should not bring in bills which are antagonistic to many people who support them. Those who are hit and coerced by the scheme - the medical practitioners, the insurance houses, the employers, and the self-employed persons - who, in the majority of instances, I suppose, support the Government, do not receive much of the benefit conferred on employed persons. There is also the question looming in the background - hardly noticeable now, but it will become more noticeable in the future - of how the taxpayer can meet the bill, not only for defence, but also for the cost of this national insurance scheme. To me the scheme appears too grandiose. I feel that it would have been better to start it on a smaller scale.
I do not believe in starting on a lavish scale.
– Do you call this a lavish scale?
– I do. The wage limit is to be £365, whereas in Great Britain it is £250, which in Australian money is £312 10s. Thus our wage limit is over £50 more than the limit in the British scheme. Are we so much better off than the people of Great Britain thatwe can afford to give conditions which they, with their immense wealth and power, cannot give? I cannot see that we are. We have to go to them constantly to borrow money for the development of this country, but we never hear of them coining to Australia to borrow money. I have been saying for the last fifteen years that in these matters Ave ought to try to keep our schemes in some sort of relation to the schemes in other parts of the Empire and in countries with standards similar to our own. We ought not, in a spirit of impetuosity, to take on more than we can accomplish. In Great Britain the amount ofpension is 10s.; in Australia it is to be £1. The contributions in Australia are to be almost double those in Great Britain, and they will hit both employers and employees. Australian contributions at the start will be 3s. for men and 2s. for women, against British contributions of1s.8d. for men, and 1s. 2d. for women. When the schemes are in full operation the contributions in Australia will be 4s. for men, and 2s. 6d. for women, as against 2s. for men, and 1s. 4d. for women in Great Britain. Are the people of Australia so wealthy, whether they be employers or employees, that they can afford to pay double contributions? Migration has been excluded from all the calculations. Obviously its effect cannot be assessed, and it is equally obvious that unlesswe obtain migrants we may not be able to continue to hold this continent. That is putting it bluntly. A further fact is that foreigners are included in the scheme. No one who has heard my speeches in this chamber will suspect me of having any animosity to foreign races. If there be any onewho suspects me of that, I shall disillusion him at once by saying that I have as little animosity to people who happen to be not of my own race as has any other honorable senator. I can find no suggestion that foreigners should be excluded from the scheme, and in fact, they are not. In England, also, they are included. I suggest that there are very good reasons why the Senate should carefully consider this question. I have jotted down what I consider might be advanced in argument in favour of their inclusion, apart from the fact that they are so included in other parts of the world. The first is that it might conduce towards a better international feeling which is certainly needed in this country at least. The second, which will appeal to honorable senators opposite, is that, if we excluded aliens from the operations of thi 8 bill, a certain type of employer would probably discriminate in favour of foreigners and give them employment which he would not give to Australians, because he would be able to do so without having to make a contribution. The third point is that the insured person, whether alien or Australian, pays some contribution for, as Senator Dein said, an insurance, and not a charity.
The arguments - those that I can think of; there may be others - against the inclusion of aliens seem to be« stronger. First, unnaturalized aliens in Australia have no vote. In some of the States they are not permitted to own land. But to me a very strong point is the fact that the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act deliberately lays it down that the unnaturalized alien is not qualified to receive either the invalid or the old-age pension. The present bill is a departure entirely from that. I hope that if this matter is to be discussed it will be discussed temperately, but it seems to be very hard to justify logically - I suppose one cannot be altogether logical in a bill like this - the argument that the alien who, up to the present, has never even thought of coming to Australia, if he did come, from the very start should he in a better position than the self-employed man in Australia of the third and fourth generation who has never been out of the country. The latter has no rights to benefit under this hill, whereas the former is given such rights. That may be putting an extreme case, but it is an extremely difficult case to justify to the people of this country. An employer or a self-employed man will say : “ Are we to be despised ? Are we not even up to the level of an employee who has not even become naturalized ? “ Of course, if aliens become naturalized, there could be no objection to their insuring, but I should think that the best thing to have done was to have this scheme on all-fours with the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act.
– The honorable senator will recognize the great dangers that would arise in the industrial areas if that were done.
– We have been able to surmount most of that sort of thing in Australia. It might be an inducement for a foreigner in Australia to become’ naturalized if he knew that he would thereby derive benefit. A foreigner would not resent having to be naturalized before being able to participate in national insurance, because he would not expect to step into such a beneficial scheme immediately on his arrival in Australia. He would naturally expect to work his way.
The reason why, in this question of migration, I make a distinction between Australia and Great Britain is because Great Britain is a small country with an immense population and there is a constant fluctuation between it and foreign countries. No such condition operates as in respect of the dominions, and the population remains substantially the same except for the natural increase and increases due to migration. In spite of the fact that migrants are not considered in the national insurance reports, the Australian population, if we do as we ought, should expand rapidly in the course of the next twenty years as the result of migration. That will make the problem even more acute, not only from the viewpoint of numbers, but also from the financial point of view, before the actuarial scheme is under way.
My third objection is that there can be no question that this proposal shifts from the Commonwealth a considerable amount of the expenditure that has been incurred as the result of governmental action in the past. The Government is passing it on to some one else. The party in power to-day took on the increase of the pensions voluntarily, and now when the lion is approaching full growth, it wants to pass some share of the lion’s upkeep on to other sections of the general public - the employer and the employee. As one who has, in no sense, to answer for the sins of the Government, I cannot say that I like that. The shifting of responsibility for expenditure created by the Government in the past on to the people who have no desire to share it has often been a cause for criticism of governments in the past-
This bill maybe fair to the insured persons, but it is definitelyunfair to certain sections who have been for a long period in the field which the Commonwealth Government now invades. It invades that field exceedingly late, but, owing to the power of its legislation, it can destroy if it chooses - if honorable members of this Parliament are prepared to back it -every other form of voluntary effort that has been developed in the past. There are people who say that the Commonwealth Bank should be supreme in this country, that it should be the only trading bank, that it should be the bank of issue, and so forth. Those people forget that for 100 years before the Commonwealth Bank came into existence, this country was carried by the private banks.
– That cuts both ways. The country carried the private banks.
– It may have carried those that it thought were worth carrying. A number of private banks, I remind the honorable senator, closed their doors and went out of existence. They were operating as a private entity in the community and were not able to carry on successfully. It was the more efficient banks that were able to carry on. The honorable senator says : “ Commonwealth Bank, Commonwealth Bank ! “ I ask : What did we do in the nineteenth century when there was no Commonwealth Bank? Was Australia to stand still all of that time?
– What will Australia do a century ahead when the honorable senator is no longer here?
-BUGHES.- I expect it will put up with that quite as well as it will put up with the loss of the honorable senator. I think, even more than those who have developed voluntary schemes, we should consider those who have founded life insurance schemes. It cannot be suggested that they have done so entirely for their own benefit. Friendly societies, everybody agrees, have done valuable work, but so have others. I do not look, as Senator Collings apparently does, upon the insurance companies as being a lot of rogues. They have served a most valuable purpose in this community and their work has been done on strictly economic and actuarial lines. It seems to me that they have been a most valuable asset. I do not hesitate to say, with all respect to the friendly societies and to the trade unions, about which I know little, although I venture to take them in too, that of all groups which are, by personnel, suited to become approved societies under this bill, the insurance companies are the best equipped. I do not say that they have equal knowledge with the friendly societies on the chemical side, but, on the question of figures, staff and expert advisers, with their financial standing as a background, there can be no question about it.
Private providential schemes are going to be knocked right and left by this new scheme. I would urge that every possible tenderness be shown to them. These are things built up by most humane employers who have attempted in advance of any Commonwealth scheme to do this work. Every effort should be made not to make their schemes dovetail into the Commonwealth scheme, but, as far as possible, to make the Commonwealth scheme fit into their schemes.
– The financial backing of insurance companies would be immaterial to their position as approved societies.
– That is not in the mind of the ordinary person going into insurance. If Senator Dein wished to insure, he would naturally go to the friendly societies. I make that assertion because of the way in which he spoke on their behalf. There are many people, particularly in the rural districts, who would do the same thing, and I do not suggest that they are wrong. But there are a great many people who feel greater security when they are dealing with an immensely strong structure with great assets and with a great name for integrity, such as some insurance companies. I do not happen to be insured, but if I desired to be I should go to an insurance company.
– They will not be allowed to have any wonderful assets under this proposal.
– No ; as I understand it, it would be a completely separate concern, but they would bring in knowledge and directorship in the widest sense. It seems to me that the amendment carried in the lower House will permit practically any group except an insurance company to become an approved society. That is unheard of. It is a smack in the face for the people who have been engaged in insurance work for many years - as a business proposition, and not for their own benefit. They have opened up the industrial side of their work. It seems a dreadful action to cut out the insurance companies after their years of work and to specify that they shall be the only people who shall not he allowed to become approved societies.
– The only effect of the amendment is to shut out the mutual life societies. The proprietary life companies will have just as much right as friendly societies to establish themselves as approved societies.
– I would include both. In addition to the mutual societies, in some cases the life companies are extremely capable of doing good work. Some people might prefer to go to them. My idea is to give every section an opportunity to qualify for this kind of service. I may mention in passing that it was reported the other day that insurance companies had given an undertaking that if they were allowed to establish approved societies under this scheme, they would not take on their books any person who was at present a member of a friendly society. Surely that disposes of the suggestion that insurance companies intended to “ rope in “ everybody and that the friendly societies would be put out of business. I should like to say apropos of this, that, in a letter which I have received from
Adelaide district of the Ancient Order of Foresters, this point is emphasized. The letter states -
Contributions under national insurance scheme by wage-earners in this State will leave no margin for insured persons to contribute to health schemes .even if they wished to.
This question of provident schemes of private institutions is one point which, I think, is worthy of thorough consideration.
I turn now to say a few words about the position of hospitals under this scheme. According to the Treasurer, Mr. Casey, hospitals will be much better off following the inauguration of this insurance scheme; and some relief may be expected in the out-patients department of hospitals. The figures for last year indicated that 1,000,0*00 persons attended the out-patients departments of hospitals throughout Australia. I have been a member of the board of the Children’s Hospital in Adelaide for very many years, and I know that the opinion expressed by the Treasurer is not shared by all hospital authorities. The number of out-patients attending that hospital since the depression has increased, I think, from about S,000 to over 50.000 a year, and the opinion of many people who are associated with hospitals and of some doctors who are not directly associated with them is that, if anything, there will be an increase of patients attending hospitals, because the people will become more medical-minded. Therefore the tendency to seek hospital treatment will be more marked in the future than it has been hitherto. Even now many patients who are being attended by lodge doctors in Adelaide are sent to the Children’s Hospital or some other hospital, because the lodge doctor feels that he is not able to do all that he would like to do for the patient.
I said earlier in my speech that the scheme appeared to have been drafted to meet city and suburban industrial conditions rather than conditions in country districts. To support my contention, I have mentioned a sparsely populated area, such as Eyre’s Peninsula, in South Australia. For people living in the north of the State, the nearest practising doctor is at Hawker.
Under this scheme the whole of the huge northern area of South Australia, including the greater part of the old division of Grey, will not be served by a doctor except that provided by the flying medical service. Even the most sanguine person could not expect the flying doctor to be available for ordinary consultations to decide whether or not a child had a cold or an attack of influenza or was really ill. The flying doctor service is for emergency calls only. The difficulties encountered by people living in that sparsely populated part of South Australia have been to some degree met by the aerial medical services inaugurated by the Australian Inland Mission, but so far only the fringe of that great area is being served. That is why I say that this scheme will apply particularly to the cities and suburbs and will not be of much benefit to the more remote country districts.
I have already made brief reference to the position of medical practitioners under the scheme. In my opinion the attitude of medical practitioners will determine the success or otherwise of the proposal. If the doctors do not come into the scheme, as regards sickness benefits it will be useless, because there will be no medical practitioners to service it. I know that some people say that doctors are out to get as much as they can from the people. Of course a doctor likes to get as much as he can, but it is a most undeserved insult to say of doctors as a group that they take up this attitudeto people whom they serve. In my view doctors are the most generous of all persons in the community in the giving of their valuable knowledge to the curing of the sick. But it is quite natural that they should want to say something about the proposed capitation fee of lis. as against 24s., which they get in South Australia from the friendly societies. They are quite entitled to say whether or not they will come into the scheme on those terms. I do not think that they have had a proper chance to consider whether this scheme is going to be beneficial to them or not. They cannot very well express an opinion until the regulations under which they will be required to work are divulged, until they know what they will be expected to do, and what fee will be paid to them. “We cannot, at this stage, say whether or not the doctors will be paid adequately under this scheme; but I think it is grossly unfair to suggest that doctors, as a class, do all they can to fill their pockets. Ve all know that, with few exceptions, they did all they could to ease the burden on their patients during the trying years of the depression.
– No one has said otherwise.
– There has been some criticism of the attitude of doctors generally, and as a layman I take the strongest possible exception to it, because it is unfair and untrue. “We are not told either whether the doctors who will be forced to accept a panel will get any holidays. Apparently such a question has not occurred to the framers of the measure.
– No doctor will be forced to come under the scheme.
– As the doctors appear to be almost unanimously against the present scheme, chiefly for the reason that they regard the capitation fee as inadequate. I do not think that there is the slightest chance of their being forced into it. 1 should say that nine-tenths or nineteentwentieths of the doctors in Australia will not look at the scheme unless the capitation fee is increased. I imagine that that will probably happen; also that the conditions will be made more reasonable, and that eventually the scheme will begin to work.
Let us consider this proposal from the point of view of the medical profession, and let us take the case of a doctor who has been practising in an industrial community for 20 or 30 years. In that time he will have built up a very good practice, and will have secured the affection, or at all events, the close attachment, of a very large circle of patients who have the utmost confidence in him. It will probably be true to say that nearly the whole of his patients have incomes of less than £365 a year. His problem under this scheme will be a very grave one, because probably 90 per cent, of his patients will be contributors, and he will lose a tremendous amount of private practice which ought not to be taken away from him. His income will drop alarmingly. He must decide whether to come in or stay out of the scheme. If lie stays out, all the expenditure which he incurred in establishing his practice will have gone in a day. It has always been my idea of liberalism that if something is taken from an individual citizen by legal means, reasonable compensation should be paid.
– Will not a doctor get a quid pro quo in the form of contributions from patients who, under existing circumstances, pay nothing for his services?
– That, I suggest, is a matter for the doctor himself to determine. In the circumstances I have mentioned, a doctor will have the alternative of coming under the scheme or remaining outside and starting again, thus losing the goodwill which he has built up over the years in which he has been practising. .1. think that doctors, like everybody else, require holidays. Many doctors like to do post-graduate work in order to bring themselves into line with advanced and scientific medical and surgical knowledge. There i3 no provision iu the bill for holidays or postgraduate study. The English capitation fee of 9s. expressed in Australian currency is Ils. 3d., so the amount -suggested in the bill is even below the stun paid to doctors under the English scheme. Then there is the question of mileage. It has been suggested that doctors in the country should receive 2s. a mile for over three miles; but they will get this for only one visit, and they may have to attend a patient many times without further payment on account of mileage. I have heard it argued, and it docs not seem to me to be unreasonable, that the doctors should get 6d. a mile for every visit which they make to a patient. Another interesting point is the selection of doctors. The scheme claims to allow contributors to make, a choice of doctors; in practice, there will be no choice worth while unless the whole of the doctors are brought into it. It is a frequent practice for people living in suburbs to consult doctors and specialists in the cities, instead of calling in suburban doctors. Similarly, people living in country districts do not always call in the doctor who is nearest to them. Not infrequently they prefer a doctor who may be living 10 miles away. Under this scheme they will probably have to pay mileage if, in the exercise of their right of selection, they call in a doctor who lives several miles further from their homes. In this matter propinquity is not always the deciding factor. A person may not know, or he may dislike the doctor who lives nearest to him. This is not an imaginary problem. These things happen every day, and they give some indication of the difficulties that will be encountered in the administration of those provisions in the bill relating to the choice of doctors. I am not criticizing the Ministry or its advisers for these tilings in which the measure falls short. They may be removed by the regulations that, will he made under the act. I do not think that any harm would have been done if draft regulations had_ been made available for those who may be affected by the scheme, and who desire to get. some idea of the probable terms under which they will be expected to work. Up to the present time so much has been hidden from them. Silt in q suspended from 6.1.5 to S p.m.
– I am afraid that in what I said this afternoon I was hopelessly inadequate in the expression of my feelings in regard to the medical practitioners, the insurance companies, and various other matters. As the bill stands at present, it appears to me to constitute something approaching an attack, particularly on those two sections of the community. I give notice that when the bill is in committee I propose to move that the wage limit shall be £315 instead of £365, so as to ensure that an undue number of people who can afford to pay doctors are hot withdrawn from their private practice and that an undue number of people who can afford to insure through ordinary methods shall not bo compulsorily forced away from the insurance companies. That would be a slightly higher figure than the Australian equivalent of the English figure, and I believe that it would be a very good basis on which to work. What the actuarial effect would be I cannot say, but I have little doubt that the Postmaster-General (Senator A. J. McLachlan) will assure me that actuarially it will be impossible. However, in view of the fact that the Treasurer, Mr. Casey, has stated in another place that there could not be. additional benefits without additional contributions, and that the PostmasterGeneral has assured us that there is to be no increase of the contributions in spite df the additional benefits already conferred, I am hopeful that it may not make any difference actuarially.
This measure constitutes a tightening up against various sections. It is a tightening up, if one cares to regard it in that way, in the interests of the general community against a number of people who have what may be called prescriptive rights. No approved society is to have the right to make any profit; it is to be entirely of a mutual nature. The facts that we have had placed before us in the columns of the press make it clear that at present there is a prescribed figure in respect of doctors, to which they are not agreeable. Clause 53 lays down terms in respect of chemists, but there is a strange absence of any reference to perhaps one of the most important sections concerned, namely, the wholesale manufacture and distributor of chemicals. Why is there no provision as to the figure at which he is to supply chemicals to chemists? He also ought to be part of the scheme if the other sections are to be brought into it. _ In saying that, I am speaking not to this chamber, which I know perfectly well is predominantly, manufacturing in its interests, but to the people of the country as a whole, and I believe that they will take notice of what I say. [Extension of time granted.] I thank the Senate. I am glad to have the opportunity to complete what I intended to say. on the second reading. Surely if there is to be rigid) control of the means of health restoration it is essential, not only that the chemist shall supply his wares at wholesale prices plus a prescription fee, but also that we should go right back to the supply of the goods wholesale. In saying that, my attitude is consistent with the attitude that I adopted when the tariff was before this chamber in 1933. At that time we had been passing through a general state of depression’. I am not actuated by animus against the people concerned, but it seems to me perfectly scandalous that, at a time of really great depression, when many persons could not afford the services of doctors or chemists, and when payment for whatever treatment was given was sometimes not made until months or years later, the cost of the very essentials for recovery was raised so greatly by our exorbitant tariff, which was then higher than it is now. We had a very interesting debate,, and an exceedingly close vote, on a motion that 1 moved that the British preferential tariff of 30 per cent, and the foreign tariff of 40 per cent, should be reduced, as to the British rate, by 10 per cent, in the interests of people who could not. afford to pay. I regret to say that that was defeated by one vote, the voting being thirteen in favour of it and fourteen against it. I think that one should take into account certain facts. It is perfectly obvious to the intelligence of any sensible man that if you are going to prescribe for the distribution of prescriptions at a certain figure it is only right that you should consider what will be the cost of the goods wholesale and where they are to go. Never, so far as I know, has there been a Tariff Board report on medicines and pharmaceutical preparations throughout the history of the Commonwealth. In the debate to which I have referred, the Minister told, us that he thought there would be one shortly, and that he looked forward to hearing what the Tariff Board had to say. Five years have since elapsed, but I know of no report having since been made. It is obvious that under this scheme there will be an expansion of the sale of chemicals. That would be anticipated in any case; but many people who previously were not in a position to have chemicals dispensed to them will be able to do so under this scheme. If there is to be a check on all sides, we should see that there is an agreement between the wholesaler and the commission, as well as between the retailer and the commission, to ensure that the retailer does not have to pay too high a price- at the source of supply.” The present tariff is 30 per cent., plus roughly 10 per cent, by virtue of exchange and 5 per cent, in respect of primage. There is no sales tax; it was wiped out subsequently, partly owing to what some of us said at that time. If we add another 10 per cent, to this amount, we find that the impost on British medicines imported into Australia is something like 50 per cent. I imagine that on foreign chemicals it is nearer to 65 per cent. I do not think it would be proper for this Senate to countenance a position under which the wholesale manufacturers or distributors of these goods, by raising their prices to just below the import level, could get a very large amount out of this national insurance scheme.
There are a few other points from which, with all humility, I should like to express my dissent. There is the matter of migration, on which I need not expound unnecessarily, because I have already made some remarks in regard to it. Apparently, no provision has been made in this scheme in respect of migration. In one way or another, migration must affect the actuarial working of the scheme to a considerable extent. I raised this point when discussing the question as to whether British people only, or all persons in Australia, should come in as insurers. The Treasurer, Mr. Casey, has said that he spoke on the assumption that there will be no material alteration of the rate of migration which has prevailed in recent years. Everybody knows that we are only just emerging from a period of depression, and that the rate of migration has been extraordinarily low. I am certain I am right in saying that for some years there was a bigger outflow of British people to Great Britain than there was migration of British people to Australia.
– There was a bigger influx of southern Europeans into this country.
– We cannot be too rigid in our views on these matters. Naturally, we prefer our own people ; but we ought to have people who are decent, who are substantially of the same type, and who hold the same genera] points of view. We have not the very desirable power which is exercisable by the United States of America, of laying down a quota and saying that, in our opinion, certain Europeans are preferable to certain other Europeans, and that, therefore., we exclude the latter more rigidly than the former. Therefore, I am not prepared to jibe at the southern European. As to whether he should come under the benefits of a scheme of this sort seems to me a question of economics, but still more, perhaps, of general policy. The point to be considered is, whether we can risk having shoals of migrants who may immediately come under the scheme without becoming members of our community, while many of our own people cannot do so. The Treasurer has made his calculations on the basis that there will be no material alteration from the rate of migration during the last five years. That, I think, is obviously fallacious. The actuaries sa.y “In these assumptions the effect of migration has been ignored”. On the basis of what has happened during recent years, that might be a correct view, but it is dangerous to prophesy that there will be no migration in the future and that, therefore, it is not a matter to be taken into account. Sir Walter Kinnear made a somewhat similar statement in his report. The actuaries would be the first to make an exception, and, indeed, they do so, because they say that they cannot guarantee what the effect of migration would be. But the wiping-out of the possibility of increased migration from our calculations means that, however accurate those calculations may be on existing facts, they ignore other almost obvious certainties.
I regard as ridiculous the pooling of half of the disposable surpluses of approved societies. That is not a feature of the British system ; it is an excrescence that has been put in here. I think that it is something to be deprecated. All the approved societies will start practically on scratch; none of them will have any particular advantage over the others. The Treasurer said -
The second point upon which we are departing from the position in Great Britain is that we are going to put into a pool one-half of the disposable surpluses of the societies, and then to redistribute the pool among all the societies in proportion to their membership. By this means, the strong will help the weak and we shall avoid the wide disparities in the benefits given by the various societies which have been the cause of some criticism in Great Britain.
The remaining’ half of the disposable surplus will be left with the society which earned it. This will preserve the incentive to good administration and the careful supervision of claims - essential features in a sickness scheme.
The last sentence, which I think is sound, practically wipes out the previous contention. “With societies all starting on an even basis, if half of the disposable surpluses are to be pooled, the inducement to exercise conservative and prudent management will disappear, because each society will seek to benefit from the prudence displayed by other societies.
– There may be a difference in the sickness claims.
– We do not want to give any incentive to lax administration by these approved societies. They ought all to be keen to make their disposable surpluses’ as great -as possible. But, if all the surpluses are to bp pooled and distributed, the incentive to prudent and economical administration must be reduced.
– There may be an epidemic.
– I think that the bill makes provision for such an event. .
– It does.
– That is a matter of which the commission will take notice. I am not arguing in this way because I have a general objection to pools. My objection to pooling is that it fiends to make the efficient pay for the inefficient. We should be careful not to encourage people to be liberal, even to the point of extravagance, in their distribution of benefits, merely because they will have a chance to benefit from the prudence displayed by others. It is all right to speak of the strong helping the weak, but that rule will not work as between these approved societies.
– -Although their contributions are the same, the employees iu some societies in Great Britain constitute a better risk, with the result that they have been given greater benefits.
– I am in favour of societies making their surpluses as big as possible, and giving additional benefits to their members. We should do our utmost to stimulate societies to earn a good name, and thereby increase their membership. That is the only way to give additional benefits. We should level up to the highest, rather than level down to the lowest.
– Does not the honorable senator believe in the strong helping the weak?
– An individual has a soul of his own, but, as an eminent jurist once said, “a corporation has neither a soul to be damned, nor a. body to be kicked.” T do not go so far as that; it is not a fair statement of the case, because the directors who control these concerns are usually men with human feelings. Nevertheless, they are often less inclined to exercise their humanitarian principles when they are dealing with other people’s money than when they are dealing with their own. I thought that Senator Dein made as good a speech as I have ever heard him make in this chamber, but he expressed only one view; he dealt only with the distribution of the money. The money must come from somewhere. The honorable senator wanted to expand this, and that, and the other - and that on top of a scheme which already involves an enormous expenditure to begin with. I think that we must strive to get some relation between expenditure and income. The honorable senator would be well advised not to press too soon for all sorts of additional benefits: he should wait to see the effect of the scheme as it now is.
With diffidence, I have said that 1 cannot follow the assumption of the actuaries that the old-age pensions under the existing scheme would amount to £21,000,000 in 194S, £25,500,000 in 195S, and to under £29,000,000 in 1968. What with the chance of liberalization of benefits, increased pensions, and the example of experience, I am of the opinion that the amount is more .likely to be nearly £50,000,000 twenty years’ bence. In view of all the benefits to be given under this legislation, I cannot understand why we are to assess the old-age pension from now on for at least 40 years at a minimum of from £16,000,000 to £18,000,000 a year. Assuming that so many people under the old scheme will automatically come under this scheme, it is reasonable to assume that the cost of the existing scheme will have fallen in 40 years’ time. It may be that the estimate has been made on a conservative basis; that the actuaries have kept the figure high so that there shall be no doubt of the soundness of the scheme. If their figures are right, it is astonishing that from now onwards, old-age pensions, apart from the new scheme, will be higher than now. I remember the late Senator Kingsmill saying that in some earlier matter the government of the time was like a man holding a lion by the tail; it was difficult to hang on, and impossible to let go. Or again, one might say that the problem is like a porcupine, which may disclose all sorts of dangers and hostilities and inflict all sorts of wounds before we are finished with it. Much of the bill will not appeal to supporters of the Government, but, on the contrary, will antagonize them. On the other hand, much of it will appeal to supporters of the Opposition who will, nevertheless, continue to oppose the Government. The taxpayers are not yet in the field, but they will be, there later. I urge the Senate to remember that legislation involves not only the distribution of benefits, but also the ways by which the sinews of war are to be supplied. I find in this bill a great deal of which I thoroughly disapprove. I am not a socialist, and I do not like socialism. Nevertheless, I feel that this is not entirely a matter of socialism. Although this scheme will make inroads into the established order of things, we must also bear in mind that it provides for a contributory system of insurance which, in my opinion, is most valuable. In these matters I do not indulge in sentimental language; but, in my opinion, it is most desirable that people should be encouraged to maintain their self-respect by contributing to a pensions’ scheme rather than that they should rely on the dole as a means of subsistence.
– It is impossible to develop self-respect in the slums.
– This platitude has been enunciated by almost every one who has spoken to this bill. Therefore, whilst I do not commend the Government for introducing this measure, I certainly agree that it is long overdue. I propose to vote for the second reading of the bill, and shall then wait to see whether or not it is improved in committee. If it be not changed there, I shall hold myself free to exercise my final vote on the third reading as I see fit. The contributory system, which gets us away from the hopeless system of paying out to people who have no ground for receiving payment, is so desirable that I am prepared to concede a certain amount on the side of interference with established habit; but not too much. In my opinion the Government, by going too far, has added to the difficulties’ of sections which deserve better under this bill. It is in regard to such matters that I shall be curious in committee to see what the Government proposes to do.
– Practically everything that can be said about this bill has been said either here on in the House of Representatives, a nd it does not seem to me that any useful purpose can be served by saying it over again. I should like to congratulate the Government on having brought in the bill. There has been an insistent demand for a national insurance scheme for many years past. Attempts were made to bring one in before, but no progress was made until the present measure was introduced. A glance at the bill will show that a vast amount of work has been put into its preparation by the Treasurer (Mr. Casey), and by the experts who have advised him. Naturally, a bill dealing with so important and novel a subject cannot be perfect, but the first thing to do is to get it on the statute-book. Then, after it has been working for a time, such amendments as may be found to be necessary can be made. During the years to come, not one, but a whole series of amendments, will, no doubt, be required. That has been the experience in regard to all such legislation. It would be too much to expect that the Government would be able to- bring down a measure that would suit everybody, but, taking it all round, it is a good bill, and particularly good to the working people who will be insured under it.
The scheme provides medical and sickness benefit worth 20s. a week to males, 15s. a week to females, and 5s. a week to juveniles. The disablement benefit will bo 15s. a week for males, and 12s. 6d. a week for females. The widows’ pension will be 12s. 6d. a week, and the orphan’s pension 7s. 6d. a week, while the old-age pension for males will be fi and for females 15s., with a provision that, for the payment of an extra 6d. a week, females may qualify for the full pension of 20s. For these benefits, insured persons will be required to pay a premium which has been worked out on an actuarial basis, and which will be supplemented by payments from -the Government abd the employers. The result will be that insured persons will receive the benefits of the scheme for premiums which probably will be less than half those which any private insurance company would be prepared to accept.
Of course, there are obvious defects in the bill at the present time, and I hope that some of them will be remedied in the Senate or in the House of Representatives before the measure becomes law. One of the gravest defects, which I beieve the Government is making an attempt to remedy, is in regard to the position of small farmers under the scheme. I know the farmers. I live among them, and I know how poor very many of them are. They are living on small areas, and many of them have themselves to go out to work. They milk a few cows, and a large number of them are not earning as much as the basic wage. I cannot bring myself to think that it is fair to ask such men to pay half the insurance premium for somebody else who is probably better off than they are. I admit that men of that kind are not, as a rule, considerable- employers of labour. Probably they do most of the work on the farm themselves, with the assistance of their wives and children, but many of them do employ a boy in addition. If they employ a. boy of sixteen years of age or more for a few shillings a week - and the wage is not usually more than that because the boy lives with the family - there will exist an obligation to pay 8s. a week in respect of his insurance. It must be paid either wholly or partly by the employer; generally it would not be practicable to deduct the employee’s contribution from the small wage he would bo receiving. If the employer pays the whole of it, it will cost him £7 16s. a year. As a result, many lads may not be employed. Recently, public men have been much concerned over the problem of finding employment for youths. I have been frequently approached by parents with a request that I should suggest some avenue of employment foi- their boys, and it has been extremely difficult to help them. The problem of finding employment for youths will be accentuated if it becomes necessary for both them and their employers to pay an extra £7 16s. a year to insure the youths. I hope that the Government will be able to amend the bill to overcome this difficulty.
I am also concerned about the position of apprentices under the scheme. One of the greatest social evils in Australia, at the present time is that young men are growing up without learning how to do anything properly. It takes a good deal of courage for a boy of sixteen or seventeen years of age to bind himself as an apprentice to a trade. Five years are nothing to look back upon, but to a youth the five years ahead seem an eternity. During the period of his apprenticeship, particularly the first year or two, hp receives only a few shillings a week, probably no more than enough to provide himself with clothing and pocket money. His parents must provide the rest. Nevertheless, he will he obliged to find ls. 6d. a week for insurance, and his employer will have to pay a similar amount. This will tend still further to reduce the number of apprentices, and something should be done to meet the situation. As for the small farmers whose average income is less than £4 a week, it would merely be in keeping with government policy for the Government to pay insurance premiums for them. The manufacturers benefit greatly as the result of our industrial and fiscal policies, whereas the small fanners do not gain very much from them. Therefore, the Government might very well pay insurance contributions for the small farmers, and for the apprentices also. I hope that when the bill is in committee the Government will introduce amendments that will enable us to support the measure, because I am very anxious that it should be passed.
I hope that nothing will be done under the scheme to prejudice the position of the friendly societies. For generations past, these societies have led the way in providing medical benefits for the people of the community who are less able to provide for themselves. Much of the work in connexion with the societies has been voluntary. We know that the secretaries and officials have sometimes been mildly criticized for the way they have conducted affairs1, but Ave should remember that many of them were not qualified accountants or trained business men. They gave their services gratuitously, and performed, on the whole excellent work. Everything possible should be done to protect the interests of the societies. If it came to a choice between the friendly societies and some other organizations, my vote would be cast in favour of the friendly societies. I am convinced that this national insurance scheme will be the beginning of better times for a great many people. It will supply a long-felt need. It is not perfect, but I hope that the Government Will accept amendments designed to improve it.
– I rise with diffidence to address myself to this measure, because I believe that -already over 70 speeches - a record number - have been delivered, and a man would need to be a political genius to discover some new criticism to offer at this stage of the debate. Nearly all speakers in the House of Representatives, and quite a number in this chamber, have criticized the measure. The attitude of some of them has been that the bill is weak, but, at any rate, it is a start. In several speeches delivered by honorable senators on the other side, the Opposition in this chamber Avas grossly maligned, as Avas our party generally. I point out for the benefit of Senator
Abbott, and other Government supporters, that we do not assert that they are without any of the milk of human kindness.
However. Ave make one exception, Senator Dein, who Avas apparently nurtured on political vinegar. From one point of view, his speech was a good one, but he fell from grace when he attacked us in the way he did, and made certain statements which I said at the time were lies. Of course,’ I had to withdraw that statement, but I still maintain that the statements were untrue.
– .’Nobody takes any notice of the honorable senator.
– At any rate, quite a good many persons are listening to me. I have their attention, but I do not know whether I have their interest. There is a psychological difference, of course. Regarding what was said by Senator Dein, we - I had an uncharitable thought in my mind, but I shall not utter it.
– What I said evidently got under the honorable senator’s skin.
– I am the most equable man in the chamber, and it would take more than the honorable senator’s barbs of criticism to destroy my equanimity. The honorable senator grossly alb used his privileges when he accused the members of the Labour party of wishing to destroy the friendlysocieties. When the measure Avas under discussion in the House of Representatives an amendment was moved by a member of the Labour party to prevent the inclusion of insurance companies in the list of approved societies. That action Avas taken to enable friendly societies, which have already rendered a very valuable service to the community, and trade union organizations conducting medical benefit funds, to have complete control of that section of the work. I remind Senator Dein, who spoke so much of our vindictiveness, bitterness and hatred, that the members of the Labour party are anxious to give the friendly societies every opportunity to continue their good work. How can the honorable senator have the audacity to assert that the members of the Labour party are opposed to friendly societies ! If he persists in making that assertion I can only regard him as a political “nit-wit”
SenatorDein. - I said that under a non-contributory scheme such as that supported by the Labour party, the friendly societies would be destroyed.
– That was not the statement of the honorable senator. The Labour party believe in national insurance because under such a system the strong can help the weak. We approach the consideration of this proposal from an angle different from that of honorable senators opposite ; but when we offer constructive, and, if necessary, destructive criticism, we draw the wrath of Government supporters.
– But have not the members of the Labour party done their best to defeat this bill?
– The honorable senator is entirely wrong. All that the members of that party have done has been to endeavour to remove many of the anomalies which the bill contains.
– Did not the members of the honorable senator’s party oppose the second-reading of the bill in the House of Representatives?
– Yes, but for a specific purpose.
– With the object of defeating it.
– No, with an earnest desire to improve it.
– Had the motion for second-reading been defeated, how could the bill have been improved?
– The action taken by the Labour party was with the object of improving the bill. Senator Dein can be cited as a witness in that respect because he said that the bill in its present form is a better measure than that introduced into the House of Representatives. When I interjected that that was in consequence of the Labour party’s action, he repeated that it is a better measure than that originally introduced. In consequence of the amendments supported by a majority of members’ of the House of Representatives, the measure is more attractive than it was when first submitted to Parliament, and if the amendments to be moved from this side of the chamber are agreed to, it may be even better when it leaves this chamber. It is interesting to note the mental development of the crusted Tories opposite. Only a few years ago, honorable senators opposite would have held up their hands in holy horror at the introduction of a measure embodying a form of socialism. As a result of the propaganda and the agitation of members of the Labour party, even the most pronounced reactionaries are compelled to support a form of socialism.
– And the Labour party is opposing it.
– I have already explained that the endeavour of the Labour party was to improve the bill. To improve it is not to destroy it.
– To what school of logic does the honorable senator belong?
– I have been trained in the hard school of experience, and in that school have learned to appreciate the difficulties and hardships of the workers. I attended a university for a week, but only to carry bricks for the building job on which I was employed. The Prime Minister, in his policy speech, said -
The general scheme in contemplation by theGovernment will represent the greatest contribution to the social welfare that has everbeen attempted in Australia. Experience inGreat Britain and other countries has provedthat much can be done towards solvingthe problems of the workers in the matter of health and unemployment.
The members of the Labour party: naturally, expected that the Government would have embodied in this scheme a system of unemployment insurance, and’ had it done so it would have been makinga greater contribution to the health of theAustralian people than it is doing by introducing this “ bottle of medicine “’ legislation.
– The State governments would not approve of the Commonwealth dealing with unemployment..
– I knew that that argument would be brought forward.
– It is not argument; it is a fact.
– That does not disprove the statement that the Federal Government, led by Joseph Aloysius Lyons, has failed to introduce an unemployment insurance scheme. Senator Dein said that in matters of this kind the power rests with the- House of Representatives. The Government has the- power in that chamber, and one of the first measures to be introduced after the last general election should have been an unemployment insurance bill.
– That omission does not damn this bill.
– I know that it does not; but why does not the Government honour its pledge to the people. There is considerable opposition to this measure, as is evidenced by the utterances of Senator Duncan-Hughes, who said that employers are opposed to it. The rentier class, the supporters of the reactionaries, and the newspapers are opposed to it. The newspaper Truth said that “ It is a shameless political sham, and should be replaced by a measure containing fewer “tricks, fewer contradictious, and fewer rank injustices The Leader of the Opposition said that the Sydney Bulletin referred to the bill as a. national incubus. Apart from the pensions portion of the bill it can be regarded as “bottle of medicine” legislation. I do not wish to utter one word against the doctors, who are doing their work according to their lights. There may be black sheep in their flock, as there are in all flocks - men who are mere “guinea-chasers” and who will do almost anything in order to make money - but the doctors, as a class, are rendering an admirable service to the people. I am not convinced that the distribution of bottles of medicine and drugs will provide a sound foundation for a healthy population. I cannot support a measure which, generally speaking, merely provides for .filling the stomachs of the people with all kinds of drugs and medicines.
– Is the honorable senator a ‘Christian Scientist?
– I am not, but I hope that 1 am a Christian. I do not claim to be a scientist and particularly a “ sugar scientist “, such as the honorable senator. The Australian Medical Journal, the official organ of the British Medical Association, said “ The real basis of a health measure should, from the community viewpoint, be to prevent illness as far as possible, wherever it occurred “. I give the Government credit for endeavouring to improve the health of the Australian people, as is shown by the establishment of a national health and medical research council, an organization which will have a spendid opportunity to perform valuable work for Australia by’ proving to the people that there are ways in which to secure a healthy community other than by consuming drugs. The British Medical Association also says that the Government has slavishly followed the English scheme, not only in connexion with national insurance, but also in connexion with many other matters. It must be the influence of the tory blood that causes the Government to follow Great Britain in almost everything. The British Medical Association points out that one of the weaknesses of the bill is that it makes no provision for specialist or institutional treatment of any kind. An insured person may go to his general practitioner, who may have 500 to 2,000 contributors on his panel; the doctor will examine him, and prescribe certain medicines, and the patient will then go to a chemist and get his prescription dispensed. That is all he will be entitled to. The British Medical Association tells us that there is no provision in the bill for the treatment of illnesses that require specialist attention.
– The working classes do not need specialist treatment, according to the doctrine of honorable senators opposite.
– I agree with the British Medical Association that this measure does not provide for either national or real insurance. The association says that no measure can be called national which does not provide complete services, and which excludes from its provisions not only the dependants of insured persons, but also the unemployed and unemployable. That is one of the worst features of this measure. The poor devil who wants assistance - the unemployed, the unemployable, or the man on relief work - is completely left out of its provisions. This Government, composed largely of rich men, sponsors a measure that will take ls. 6d. a week from the pockets of a relief worker who may be receiving only 12s. 6d. a week. It is quite possible that a basic wage worker will be called upon to pay a total contribution for his home of from 7s. to 10s. a week. The worker himself will pay ls. 6d., his wife will pay ls. 6d., and one or” two apprentices will each have to pay ls. 6d. Thus, out of a total income into the home of not more than £4 or £5 a week, 7s. 6d. will have to be paid in contributions to the fund. The British Medical Association goes on to say -
It is passing strange that, in this modern and enlightened world, poverty should be a bar to medical benefits, and that many persons should still have to depend on the charity of the community.
– That does not make the bill worse, even if it does not go as far as the honorable senator would like.
– I am not worrying about that. It is all very well to sound paeans of praise in respect of a national health insurance scheme which provides for nothing more than the distribution of bottles of drugs. I commend to honorable senators the statements made by the Bureau of Medical Economics of the American Medical Association. After an exhaustive survey of the working of the national health insurance scheme in England, which has been so slavishly followed by this Government, that body said -
The British system provides only a “ general practitioner service”. It has no provision for hospital or laboratory services; and the insurance physician is inclined to send all serious cases to hospital, causing overcrowding.
Though it had been thought that national insurance would “ deplete the out-patient department,” this has not occurred, and at present nearly four million and a half now out-patients attend during the year at hospitals in England and Wales.
The same thing might happen here. One of the arguments in favour of the bill is that it will reduce the number of hospital out-patients, but, judging by that statement of the British experience, we cannot expect the Government’s prediction to be verified. The bureau quotes the following statement of an English doctor writing in the British Medical Journal : -
What is the general practitioner in England to-day but a glorified first-aid man? Quack patients beget quack doctors.
Another English doctor, writing to the British Medical Journal, said -
My surgery hours are cluttered up with people who certainly would not come so often or drink so much medicine if they had to pay even JA. a visit. T cannot do otherwise than rush them through. Those who are obviously ill, or who fail to regain good health after a. reasonable lapse of time, are examined move carefully at home or out of .surgery hours; but this method is only a makeshift, and 1 remember with dissatisfaction two carcinomate of the stomach recently diagnosed too late and a latent pulmonary tuberculosis labelled neurotic.
A Canadian doctor, after experience in England, wrote as follows: -
The busy panel practice resolves itself into a “ clearing station.” The only major decision made is whether the patient is really ill or not. If he is really ill, lie is sent to a hospital.
Another criticism is that medicines are too often prescribed; the average annual number of prescriptions issued in respect of each insured person is about 4.72. That shows that a person who contributes to the scheme wants to get his money’s worth. We heard recently of a patient who entered the Canberra hospital on account of toothache, and remained there for several weeks. He had paid 9d. a week hospital tax and obviously wanted to get his money’s worth. I would not say that every person who will come under the bill is a potential malingerer; I do say, however, that most people will want their money’s worth and their bottle of medicine. It is a peculiar trait in human nature that- many people suffering from a minor disorder expect a doctor to prescribe a bottle of medicine to cure it. A doctor in Brisbane some months ago informed me that if he told the truth to quite a number of people who came to his clinic they would think he was not a good doctor. He said that many people with minor ailments needed only exercise, a change of diet and a few weeks at the seaside, or to avoid drinking or smoking, to be well in a few weeks, but if he told them that, they would think he was not worthy of the position he held. Because of that, he invariably wrote out prescriptions, and those patients went away satisfied. This is an interesting sidelight on human psychology. We should not mislead people into believing that the health of the community generally can be greatly improved merely by providing medicines and drugs to insured persons. In this connexion, it is rather interesting to read what Stuart Chase and F. J. Schlink have to say in their book entitled Your Money’s Worth, which is a frank criticism and exposure of what is happening in the United States of America. It bears out my argument with respect to the psychological effect of the prescription of simple medicines, sometimes containing nothing more than salts or bicarbonate of soda, upon persons who need only a change of diet or environment, or rest. Chase and Schlink say :-
Albert Mathieu, a French physician, years ago conducted an experiment. He had a number of patients suffering from tuberculosis, and he gave them to understand that he had discovered a wonderful cure, a serum that he named Antiphymose. He injected his patients with the serum, which was nothing but n solution of common table salt, and carefully noted their condition. A remarkable change was observed; appetite improved, temperature diminished, the cough, expectoration and night-sweats were mitigated, the patients began to gain in weight. Hut, of course, no cure was effected. What he proved by this experiment was the curious psychological effect of hope on physical condition, particularly in thu caac of consumptives. And it is on precisely this phenomenon that the” vendor of consumption cures grow rich. The credulous who swallow first his advertising and then thu contents of his bottles - and -lucky are they if there is nothing more harmful in them than common salt - do feel better for a time. They tell their friends, they write enthusiastic letters to the manufacturer - thus adding weapons to his testimonial armory; they order, with tears of gratitude, another halfdozen bottles. The American Medical Association has found an almost unlimited number of consumption cures on the market. Without a. single exception, all are bare-faced and unmitigated frauds. No medicine has ever been devised that will cure consumption.
I make no apology for making this quotation. I contend that the truth, in regard to medicine should be told. I contend, too, that a man, whether he comes under this bill or not, who goes to a doctor for advice and medicine should have the right to know the constituents of the medicine prescribed. The day is not far distant when even panel doctors will be compelled by the law to state in English actually what is in the bottles of medicine prescribed for their patients. It is not right that a prescription should be written by a doctor in a foreign language, and that the patient should not know what he is taking.
– Is not that done by friendly society doctors in Australia?
– It is, and I have no desire to impute any base motives to them. I realize that the practice of writing prescriptions in Latin is part of the present system; but, in my opinion, if it is right that every bottle of patent medicine sold on the market should have plainly stated on the label what it contains, it is equally right that patients who go to a doctor for a prescription should know exactly what they are to take. The public should know that, if the right thing were done, some of those who are responsible for the false . advertisements in regard to the curative powers of certain medicines sold in this country would be in gaol.
– If the medicines were sold in Great Britain, the formula would have to be stated on the label.
– That is so. Recently, in Brisbane, a chemist named Roush who opened a clinic and advised patients, was struck off the roll by the Pharmacy Board because he had been held guilty of unprofessional conduct. He appealed to the court against the finding of the board, and the judge ordered his name to be restored to the register.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - Can the honorable senator show how this is relevant to the bill?
– It is related to the bill because, under it, a doctor is to be paid a capitation fee in respect of each patient »on his panel, and, in addition, chemists are to be paid a certain amount for medicines and drugs. I think it is essential that the fullest light should be thrown on matters of this kind and that the public should be safeguarded. If that were done, doctors would be able to carry out much good work in the future. I visualize the time when the medical fraternity will be organised to speak frankly of human ills, disclose the truth to the people, and tell them honestly how to keep well, and how to get well if they are ill. If doctors were made economically free to preach the truth, they would render a far better service to the community.
– Remedies are provided in the bill for dealing with doctors guilty of unethical conduct.
– I hope, Mr. President, that yon will not be harsh but will allow me to continue my argument in my own way.
– I should be better pleased if the honorable senator would connect his remarks with the bill.
– I hope to do that. During the hearing of Mr. Roush’s appeal Mr. A. D. McGill addressed a number of questions to Mr. Rutter, President of the Pharmaceutical Society in Brisbane, with reference to a certain salve being sold as a cure for i nf ant i le paralysis. One question and the answer given were as follows: -
Do you not think it is an .advertisement which grossly exaggerates the value and efficiency of the medicine? - We have been endeavouring for some time to have the Commonwealth Government appoint a committee of investigation to go into the claims of secret remedies.
His Honour..- And. you deliberately sell them.
All chemists sell these so-called remedies for certain diseases, hut every thinking person knows that - the claims made regarding them are grossly exaggerated. I contend that, in introducing a. national health scheme, the Government should insist on a full investigation of such claims. If all the absurd statements made in newspaper advertisements with regard to the value of certain, medicines could be substantiated, nobody need be sick, because every ill which afflicts humanity could be cured.
– I must again ask the honorable senator to connect his remarks with the measure before the Chair.
– I claim that in dealing with a bill relating to health insurance, I have a right to speak about the health of the community, and to urge the Government to take action to safeguard the people against imposition of the kind to which I have referred. As patent medicine advertisements published in the press mislead the people, the truth should he told. If these claims were genuine there need be no sickness at all. I deny emphatically that the people of Australia can be made healthy by the scheme proposed in this measure. Nevertheless, I admit frankly that, when I become sick, I go to a doctor, and take his medicine. I shall quote a passage from The Citadel, a novel written by Dr. A. J. Cronin
– The question before the Chair i3 whether this bill should, or should not, be passed.
– Surely I am entitled to indicate my attitude’ to the . bill. In some respects I may applaud the measure, but to part of it I may be opposed.
– The Chair must see that the debate is conducted on proper lines.
– I claim the right to discuss the subject of national health from every aspect. However, I shall not press my right to quote from Dr. Cronin’s book.
The Opposition seeks to improve the pensions system contemplated in this bill. When the old-age pension was first introduced in Great Britain, it was granted at the age of 70 years, and the amount paid was 5s. a week, provided the total income of the pensioner did not exceed 18s. a week. Throughout England, the noble lords condemned the measure on the ground that it would destroy the morale of the people. Before the pension was introduced, many elderly folk were compelled to go into the work-houses. This was one of the most diabolical systems ever invented for the housing of elderly men and women who, after years of married life, were forced to live apart, being permitted to see one another only once a month. In Australia, the old-age pensioner, for whom the Labour party had fought valiantly, receives £1 a week; but a government which Senator Dein supported, reduced the pension to 15s. a week at a time when it had a surplus of £1,000,000. One of the reasons why this bill provides for pensions o.u a contributory basis, is that the financial medicine men in the party supporting the . Government are trying to ease the pain of those who suffer when their pocket-books are drawn upon in order to enable the pension to be paid for.
The Government hopes, by means of the contributory system, to make the workers pay for the pension, and to safeguard the bank balances of their political friends.
The argument has been advanced that the present system of invalid and oldage pensions is too costly. One of the richest members of this chamber, and the richest members of the House of Representatives, have spoken heatedly about the tremendous increase of the cost of these pensions, and they have declared that if we do not force the workers to contribute1s. 6d.. a week - even the poor devils on relief work, who get only 12s. 6d. a week - the Commonwealth will be financially embarrassed! This country couldeasily support, not merely 590,000, but 2,000,000 old-age pensioners. The average old-age pensioner requires only tea and coffee, bread and cheese, a little meat and butter, and a bed to lie on. Practically everything he requires, except tea and coffee, is produced in Australia. And the pension could be paid at the age of 60 years instead of 65 years. Yet, in order to safeguard the rich, the poor are to be calledupon to bear the cost of the scheme contemplated in this bill.
– Why did not the Labour party set an example, and produce a national health and pensions insurance scheme ?
– The honorable senator is the greatest nit-wit in this Parliament. I called his fellow-worker, Senator Arkins, a barnyard cockerel, and, if the honorable senator continues to provoke me, I shall call him something worse, even at the risk of being thrown out. Thirty years ago the cost of the invalid and old-age pensions was £1,400,000, and this year it amounts to approximately £15,800,000. We are told by Senator Duncan-Hughes that in another 40 years, the cost will have mounted to £32,000,000. Yet we are asked to believe that this will bring Australia to the verge of bankruptcy. Speaking in the House of Representatives, the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden) pointed out that in 1915-16, Federal and State taxes amounted to £32,000,000, and the value of the production of this country was £250,000,000, the difference being £218,000,000. Despite the fact that the pension was raised in 1936-37, the value of our production in that year was £400,000,000,- and taxes amounted to £108,000,000, the difference being £292,000,000, or £74,000,000 more than it was in 1915-16. Yet in order to justify their argument that the poor should be forced to pay for their pensions these gentleman say that Australia would be ruined by a non-contributory scheme. I cannot see why we should compel people to pay for what should be given to them as a right, and the Labour party has always contended that the benefits to be made available under this scheme are rights to which the people affected are fully entitled. If a man has worked for his country, he is fully entitled to a pension of £1 a week when he reaches the age of 65 years. What is the difference between giving a labourer a pension in those circumstances and giving a pension to a judge of the High Court on his retirement? Although the latter draws a salary of thousands of pounds a year, the payment to him of a retiring pension is applauded generally by the community. His morale is not undermined by a pension of £1,000 a year, but it is argued that the morale of the unfortunate worker who has laboured all his life will be destroyed if he is paid a pension of £1 a. week in his old age. That is bunkum.
Sen ator DuncanH ug hes. - Suppose he has not worked?
– As the honorable senator well knows there are plenty of people in this country who do not do a tap of work, yet draw an income of thousands of pounds annually. If a few impoverished men manage to secure a pension of £1 a week in their old age, although they had not worked as younger men, I say good luck to them. Questioned about this scheme by one particular worker, I informed him that he would have to pay a contribution of1s. 6d. a week. He said that he was already a member of a friendly society, and by reason of that was entitled to draw medical benefit. I told him that nevertheless he would still have to pay a contribution of1s. 6d. a week under this scheme, and, when he asked me what he would get in ‘return for that contribution I informed him that he would receive a ‘ pension when he reached the age of 65. That is the way in which we shall encourage thrift in the community under this scheme. We propose to pay a pension of fi a week to a man who has paid contributions from. sixteen years to 65 years, whilst to another man who may have earned £1,000 a year for the greater part of his life, the same amount of pension will also be paid, although he has made no contribution, if the pensioner happens to be a woman who works from the age of sixteen to 60, she will receive under this wonderful scheme,
A pension of 15s., but if she is a woman who has not worked and has paid no contributions, she will receive a pension of £1 a week. That anomaly was pointed out .by the Opposition in the House of Representatives, with the result that the Government decided that, in return for the payment of an extra 6d. a week, a woman who works from sixteen to 60 and pays contributions will receive a pension of £1. The other woman who does not work and does not pay will also get a pension of £1. What an anomaly! Should this Tory Government continue much longer in office, a raid will be made under this scheme upon tile present pensions system, and the principle of a non-contributory pension will be abolished.
– Does the honorable senator believe in a worker becoming a member of a friendly society at the present time?
– I certainly do, because our friendly societies are doing splendid work, but the honorable senator U one of those who want to take away some of their rights by giving part of their business to insurance companies. The Opposition in the other chamber certainly did right in forcing the Government to limit approved societies to friendly societies and trade unions. This scheme is based on class distinction. Undoubtedly the employer will endeavour to pass on the burden of his contribution to the workers, and under the present economic system, he can easily do that. The poor farmer, however, cannot follow that course because his prices are dictated by conditions ruling on world markets; it is impossible for him “to pass the buck.” Neither can the worker pass on his bur den, because, under this measure, the Arbitration Court is deliberately prevented from taking into consideration his contribution of ls. 6d. On the other hand, the rentier class, which practically employs nobody, will get off scot free. It would be a good thing to make that class pay contributions in order to enable the unemployed and relief workers to come under the scheme. Why should such a distinction be allowed? Production and distribution under the modern economic system are social problems. Much sickness is directly attributable to industry, and if this be a social matter, why should any class distinctions be made in regard to the contributions to be made to the scheme? Why should any distinction be made between the entrepreneur class, which is doing a useful service in the community in building up businesses and employing hundreds of men, and the rentier class, which employs nobody? At the end of the year an employer who provides work for, say, 1,000 men, may show no profit at all, but he will be forced to pay weekly one thousand contributions of ls. 6d. each, whilst another man who is drawing £.1,000 a year interest on Government bonds will not be required to pay one penny towards the scheme except as a general taxpayer. Do honorable senators opposite agree with such distinctions? We of the Opposition contend that under the scheme a distinction is made between employers and those gentlemen who merely invest money in interest-bearing bonds.
– They are the people who are encouraged nowadays; the wise man invests his money in Government bonds and does not do anything.
– Admittedly, because our present economic system is moulded to fit the financial system. That explains to a large extent many of the provisions of this bill. The Government is endeavouring to satisfy the interestmongering system, without paying due regard to the interests of the employers and the workers.
– This measure has to be moulded in accordance with the legislative powers of the Commonwealth.
– The financial system is dominant, and the economic side of industry which produces the real wealth is hardly considered. The Government is pandering to the rentier class when it declares that only employers and workers must pay. Why should these two sections of the community have to carry the whole of this burden? I challenge the Leader of the Senate to give a reasonable explanation on that point. We know that in industry many a man falls sick because of his occupation. He has to keep his nose to the grindstone year in and year out, yet if he were given a chance to take a holiday like some of his rich friends, his health would soon be restored. On this point 1 stress the vital importance of proper diet for our people. In his book, Man the Unknown, Dr. Alexis Carrel says that if the people were provided with good food, half of the present day sicknesses would disappear. Another medical authority, Sir John Orr, speaking two years ago in England, said that if the people of England were properly fed their average stature would be increased and such diseases as consumption and rickets would practically disappear within a few years. The question of diet is undoubtedly bound up with a scheme of this nature.
– The honorable senator has exhausted his time.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [9.42]. - I heartily support this measure. My abject in rising is not to go over ground which has already been covered, but to draw attention to a matter which I believe will require serious consideration by the various governments in Australia. Senator Brown deplored the fact that no provision was made for unemployment insurance under this scheme, and one honorable senator interjected, quite rightly, that that was because agreement could not be arrived at on that point among the States. It is all very well to say that we can go on piling up taxes and increasing the payments of employers and others under the scheme, but if we do not pay due regard to the payments which these people are already obliged to make in respect of various State schemes, this country will soon be faced with bankruptcy. The fact is that in nearly all of the States special taxes are levied in respect of unemployment relief, and the object of the conference between representatives of the State governments and the Commonwealth Government was to see whether the Commonwealth Government could deal with unemployment insurance without duplicating this class of taxation. It was suggested that the States should either join with the Commonwealth Government in an unemployment insurance scheme, using the money they now raise through employment taxes for that purpose, or withdraw altogether from that field of taxation and leave it solely to the Commonwealth Government. It is obvious that if agreement cannot be reached on that point the Commonwealth Government can provide for unemployment insurance only by levying a special tax and collecting dues from the employers and employees, concurrently with the present heavy State taxes for unemployment relief. It was to obviate this duplication that the conference to which I have alluded was held, and disagreement on that point explains why the Commonwealth has been unable so far to deal with unemployment insurance. Just as it was desirable to confer with the States in order to reach agreement on the subject of unemployment insurance, so, I suggest, it is equally important to confer with them with the object of inducing them to bring in. legislation in line with this bill. During the criticism of this bill in this chamber, and ako in the House of Representatives, it has been pointed out that inequalities exist in State legislation on health matters, which will be accentuated if this measure be passed in its present form. In no State is that more evident than in Western Australia. That State has one of the most liberal workmen’s compensation acts in Australia. I do not object to that, but I point out that it makes necessary the payment of very heavy premiums by the employers. This, in turn, means that the employers take the money out of the pockets of other people, for the community has to pay in the long run. The national health and pensions insurance scheme now before us will cover cases similar to those already covered by the workmen’s compensation acts; therefore, at least in respect of disablement benefits duplication will occur. Then again, every employer in Western Australia has to pay a hospital tax, which adds heavily to the general expenditure on health. I therefore suggest that some attempt should be made by the Commonwealth Government before January next to convene a conference with State authorities to endeavour by agreement to adjust these benefits so that unnecessary additional burdens may not be placed upon certain classes of the community. I am glad that the Prime Minister has given an indication that an effort to arrange for such a conference will be made.
It is all very well for honorable senators to speak as though the employers’ payments will be confined to wealthy classes of the community. I know of many employers, such as small building contractors, who will have to pay this tax. I venture to say that at the end of their year’s work many of these men have a net income lower than that of numerous skilled workers whom they employ. Yet, unless some readjustment is made, they will be obliged to continue to pay the contributions required under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, and the various hospital taxing measures, and also those imposed by this bill. In the circumstances, a conference could undoubtedly do good work in co-ordinating these various activities. .As far as possible, Commonwealth and State legislation on these matters should be brought into line and duplication avoided.
I congratulate Senator Dein on the speech he made this afternoon. He stripped the mask from the Labour party iu connexion with non-contributory pensions. Senator Brown Said this afternoon that the Labour party is the champion of the friendly societies; but, if by any chance, the Labour party should come into power in this Parliament and repeal this legislation in order to bring in a noncontributory scheme, it would absolutely destroy the friendly society movement in this country, for no person would join a friendly society nor remain a member of one if he knew that he could obtain the same benefits in the form of a dole from the Government. Senator Dein’s sta.te- ments on this point were apt and to the point. The Opposition of the Labour party to this bill has astonished me. I cannot understand it.
– We are not opposed to the whole of the bill.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The Labour party i3 opposed to it lock, stock, and barrel. That is inescapable. I have read a great deal on this subject, for I was a member of the first sub-committee of Cabinet which dealt with the matter prior to the introduction of the previous national insurance bill by Sir Earle Page. In studying the legislation on the subject in other countries I found that in Germany it was the Social Democratic party which agitated for the introduction of such a system. In every country was the advanced thinkers, and the Labour party were the driving forces. The Labour party of Great Britain has never opposed national insurance, but has supported it. After the first national insurance bill was put into operation in Great Britain a Labour government, led by Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, came into office, but it did not seek to repeal or to limit the scheme then in force.
– But it liberalized the scheme.
-That is so; but it liberalized it on a contributory basis. The Labour party of Australia is the only Labour party in the world - and the only so-called advanced party - which has opposed national insurance on a contributory basis.
– We do not oppose a contributory scheme for health benefits.
-Every honorable senator of the Labour party who has spoken in this debate has opposed the bill.
A system of benefits on a noncontributory basis is not insurance at all. The word “ insurance “, applied to such a scheme, is a misnomer. How can a scheme be described as “ insurance “ which does not require premium payments from the person who is being covered? Only the person who pays a premium can bo said to be insured. If the obligation to pay premiums is lifted from the employees the insurance” becomes a dole.
– Does the right honorable senator believe in a contributory system for pensions as well as for health ?
– I believe that this is a better system than our existing invalid and old-age pensions system. Any self-respecting man would rather accept a pension for which be has contributed than one for which he has not contributed. I am not talking with my tongue in my cheek, for I joined a friendly society as soon as I was old enough to do so; and 1 also joined a trade union. I am not talking “hot air “.
In my judgment, the opposition of the Labour party of Australia to this bill is based on political motives, and not principles. Every advanced political party in the world has agitated for legislation of the description we are now seeking to place on the statute-book.
Debate (on motion by Senator Leckie) adjourned.
– I move -
That the billbe now read a second time.
The intention of this bill is to terminate, in respect of raw cotton produced after the 31st December, 1937, the financial emergency reduction of bounty. In other words, if the bill be passed, the full rate of bounty specified in the principal act of 1934 will be payable on all raw cotton produced from the 1938 and 1939 crops. Section 15 of that act, which the bill proposes so to amend, reads as follows : -
Any amount of bounty payable under the foregoing provisions of this act shall be subject to the reduction specified in section 52 of the Financial Emergency Act 1931.
The Raw Cotton Bounty Act 1934 provided for the payment of a sliding-scale bounty on a quantity of ray cotton, in respect of each of the seasons from 1935 to 1939 inclusive, to be determined by the Minister before each season opened on the basis of the Australian users’ require ments, plus 20 per cent. The rates of bounty provided in the act were -
These rates were intended to assure to growers a minimum average net return of 33/4d. per lb. of seed cotton, and it was contemplated that the financial emergency reduction would be restored when Commonwealth finances permitted, if the growers’ position at the time warranted such action. The average net returns to growers for the first three seasons of the scheme were : -
Latterly, cotton-growers, in common with other sections of the Australian community, have experienced higher costs in producing their crops, and also increased living costs. For example, the harvesting or picking rate has advanced from11/4d. per lb. of seed cotton to l1/2d. per lb. Other costs have also increased. Yet, by 1937, the average net return to growers had fallen by approximately one-third of1d. per lb. Moreover, 300 farmers had ceased to grow cotton. So the total production in terms of raw cotton fell from 14,515 to 8,519 bales. However, as my colleagues from Queensland are well aware, adverse climatic conditions were substantially responsible for the low yield in 1937.
The prospects for the 1938 Australian crop now being harvested, and also for next year’s crop, would be much worse but for the bill now before the Senate. Owing to record crops in America, India and Egypt last year, tremendous excess world stocks exist, and the standard price of raw cotton in the open market at Liverpool is now under 5d. per lb. as against from 6d. to 71/2d. during recent years. Consequently, the average net return for the 193S crop may be as low as 3½d. per lb. of seed cotton, unless the bounty be restored to its full rate. This restoration will benefit growers by three- tenths of Id. per lb. of seed cotton, equivalent to .Sod. per lb. of raw cotton. This will give an average price ranging between 3.8d. and 4d. per lb. of seed cotton, or practically the same price as that obtained in 1936 and 1937.
The basic principle of our raw cotton bounty legislation is that the rate of bounty fluctuates according to the spot price of American middling raw cotton in Liverpool each week. If this bill be passed by Parliament, the full rate of bounty will be 4£d. per lb. of raw cotton when the Liverpool spot price is 6d. per lb. As one point equals a one-hundredth of a Id. per lb. for every point by which the Liverpool spot price is more or less than 6d. per lb., the Australian bounty automatically becomes one point less or more than 4£d. per lb. Under this system the total return to our cottongrowers - that is the market value plus bounty - is thus stabilized at 10¼d. per lb. of raw cotton, which is equivalent, after allowing foi1 profits on sales of cotton-seed oil and certain cattle feeds, to a net return on seed cotton of from 3.8d. to 4d. per lb. This arrangement was devised by the Tariff Board, so’ that all raw cotton, whether Australian or foreign, required by the spinning industry - that is, the manufacturers of cotton yarns - would always be available at Australian import parity prices, free of customs duty or primage. Reduced duties to protect all manufactured cotton goods were then feasible, thus rendering such goods cheaper to consumers. The substantial bounty on raw cotton is the means whereby the import parity price paid by local spinners is increased to an amount deemed necessary to enable local cottongrowers to earn a reasonable living.
It is important to remember that most other primary producers have in recent years enjoyed the benefit of prices appreciably higher than depression values, whereas world cotton prices have not recovered, but have actually fallen, thus diminishing the income of cotton-growers during a period when their costs of pro- duction have risen’. As the Liverpool price falls, Australian growers lose a small amount equivalent to exchange on the reduction of sterling prices in England. It was hoped that under government policy local growers would supply all the needs of Australian spinners, but, due to bad seasons and rising costs, coupled with falling net returns, the annual production of Australian raw cotton since 1935 has fluctuated between 8,500 and 14,500 bales. The spinning mills now require approximately 24,000 bales per annum, and there are indications that their requirements will increase still further.” 1 need scarcely mention that cotton is a. very important commodity for military purposes. It is used in the manufacture of high explosives, tents, clothes, motor tyres and other equipment, A war in the Pacific might cut off overseas cotton supplies, which would gravely handicap military and civil activities. A healthy cotton-growing industry, capable of supplying the whole of the market created by protected cotton manufacfactures, is therefore essential. In view of all the existing circumstances, the Government is satisfied that there is every justification for a restoration of. the 20 per cent, by which the bounty on raw cotton was reduced as a financial emergency measure. The cost of the restoration’ will be about £32,000 on a 15,000- bale crop. The Government’s announcement of its proposal to submit to Parliament a bill providing for restoration of the bounty has already given much satisfaction in the cotton districts. This year there are approximately 3,000 growers in the industry and 5,000 field-workers and pickers employed, and about 60,000 acres is under crop. Production could easily be doubled, and a remunerative market still be found in Australia. I, therefore, commend the bill to the Senate as a measure designed to afford well-merited relief to cottongrowers, and I hope that it will result in greatly increased production and employment in this important industry.
– The Opposition finds itself in the unusual but happy position of being able to support a Government measure. I hope that will not be held against us. I wish to thank the Minister in charge of thebill for the complete information he has, given to us relating not only to the provisions of- thebill, but also to the- history of the cotton-growing industry: He knows, as I and my twoQueensland colleagues know, that the industry is being carried on to a greater extent in that State than in the rest of Australia. Queensland grows practically all the cotton produced in Australia. Although I am glad that the bill hasbeen introduced, I wish to make it clear that the Labour party here, and in the House of Representatives, was strongly opposed to the reduction by the present Government of the cotton bounty in 1934-35. I know from personal contact with the growers that for ten or twelve years they have suffered grievously from droughts, low prices, and uncertainty as to the future. We are glad that the fullbounty is being restored to them. We support the bill with considerable pleasure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Kill read a second time.
Clause . 1 agreed to.
I move -
That the following new clause be inserted - “ 1a. This act shall come into operation on the day on which it receives theRoyal Assent “. “
The proposed new clause is required so that payments may be made as soon as practicable. As a result of the amendment made by the -Acts Interpretation Act 1937, the date of the commencement of the bill would not be until a month after the date of assent. In view of the desirability of making the payments at an early date, it is proposed that the act shall come into operation as soon as it is assented to.
– Ido not wish to oppose the proposed new clause, but I point out that it may be regarded in future as a precedent. The Acts Interpretation Act 1937 was carried by very strong Government action against great opposition, and now, within a few months, the Government is seeking to insert in a bill a special clause to override its effect.
SenatorFoll - It is being done to suit the convenience of all parties.
– That argument may be applied on future occasions.The Government, a year or two ago, was insistent about the outstanding merits of the Acts Interpretation Act, and now, afterthis short interval, it is seeking to omit the month’s, delay. It is perfectly obvious that once the principle is conceded there will be an inducement to do the same thing on every possible occasion. Every one wants to. get his money as soon as he can. That would apply even to members of Parliament. It will apply much more, shall we say, to the cotton-growers. I. ought really to oppose this departure as I probably shall not have an opportunity to oppose the next one, but I shall content myself with directing attention to the fact that this will probably be regarded as a precedent. I hope that it will not be. No doubt the provision in the Acts Interpretation Act was put there for a specific reason. The difficulty, which the clause is- designed to overcome,, might have been avoided if Parliament had met two months earlier; the necessary time would haveclapsed after the passing of the bill, and the growers would have been able to get their money. By Parliament not coming together sooner the cotton-growers have been delayed in getting their bounty and it has been necessary to move this proposed new clause in order that they may get it now.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
Clause 2 agreed to.
Preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended; report adopted.
Bill read a thirdtime.
Bill received from the Honso of
Representativesand (on motion by Senator A. J. McLachlan), read a first time.
Motion (by Senator A. J. McLachlan) agreed to -
That the Senate at its rising adjourn till 11.30a.m. to-morrow..
Senate adjourned at 10.15 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 22 June 1938, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1938/19380622_senate_15_156/>.