15th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
– It has been announced that the Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen) proposes to visit the Northern Territory and the northwest of Western Australia shortly. I ask the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior if, before the latter returns to Canberra, he will seek an opportunity to confer with the Western Australian Government with a view to the co-operation of Commonwealth and State governments in the development of the north-west.
– I shall bring the honorable senator’s question under the notice of the Minister for the Interior and furnish a reply later.
– I understand that my colleague, the Treasurer, has, under consideration something in the nature of what the right honorable senator suggests. His intention is to prepare a very simple brochure setting out obligations, liabilities and benefits under the scheme. I understand that two or three private firms have also decided to prepare brochures on the subject. The suggestion made by -the right honorable senator is a good one, and I shall bring it under the notice of the Treasurer.
SERVICES of Mr. Inigo Jones.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
In view nf tins outstanding (successes in regard to weather forecasting by Mr. Inigo Jones and tlie public confidence in that gentleman and his work, will the Government take steps to strengthen (lie Commonwealth Meteorological Department by enlisting the services of Mr. Inigo Jones r
– The Minister for the Interior has furnished the following reply : -
Numerous requests by nml on behalf of Sir. Inigo Jones for assistance from the Commonwealth for bis weather forecasting activities at Crohamhurst, Queensland, have’ been received over a long period of years: His claims have been fully investigated by technical officers of the Commonwealth Weather Bureau, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and other scientific bodies, all of whom have been of the opinion that the work Mr. Jones is doing is not of such a nature as to justify support from the Commonwealth Government. In the circumstances, his requests for assistance have been refused, and it is not proposed that hia services be enlisted by the Commonwealth
In committee: Consideration resumed from 24th June, 1038 (vide page 2659).
Clause 102 (Benefits to persons in remote areas).
– The title of; this clause suggests that it should contain one of the most important features of the whole bill, because I am sure that if national insurance is to be a success, tho object of the Government should be to see that greater medical facilities by registered medical practitioners are made available in remote and sparsely populated parts of the Commonwealth. Senator Duncan-Hughes pointed out last night that this clause mainly shows the absence of benefits to the people of the isolated areas of Australia, and it seems to me to have been inserted in the bill mainly for tho purpose of relieving residents of districts iii which no medical practitioner resides of the obligation to contribute to the national insurance fund. That is not what the outback people require. “What they expect from the national health insurance scheme is the provision of greater medical facilities and practitioners in places where there art; not any at the present time, to place them nearer to an equal footing with those who live in more closely settled areas. During my second-reading speech on the bill I read typical samples of telegrams which I had received from hospital associations, roadsboards, branches of the primary producers’ associations, and the Wheat Growers’ Union all of which are closely in touch with those medical officers resident in tho outback parts of Australia. These telegrams stated that if the provisions of the bill as it then stood, were given effect the medical practitioners would be driven from the outback rural areas. I know that that is not the desire of the Government. I give it every credit for tho humanitarian principles which actuated it in the introduction of this scheme; but from the protests I have received it appears that a great many people who at present contribute towards the retention of the medical officers in their towns and districts believe that in this respect the result of this legislation will be contrary to that desired by the Government. Western Australia, with its huge sparsely settled areas, particularly requires more and not fewer medical practitioners in those areas. In many places, the communities arc scarcely rich enough to support a medical practitioner. The leader of the Senate is well aware of this because in this respect conditions in South Australia are somewhat similar to those in Western Australia. The honorable senator knows that in the outback areas of Australia, most medical practitioners are induced to remain only because they receive substantial subsidies from the State governments or local governing bodies. In the mining districts, subsidies are paid to medical practitioners from funds contributed especially for that purpose by miners, and, in almost all instances, are supplemented by grants by the State medical department. In some cases, a. definite salary of £1,000 a year is guaranteed by the local hospital committee and the roads board in conjunction with the State Government. After examination of his books by the secretary of the authority concerned, yearly or half-yearly payments are made to a doctor of any amount he may have earned short of that guarantee. I do not know whether the ratepayers in country districts, or the roads boards or shire councils will continue to show quite tho same enthusiasm to guarantee the salaries of doctors when most employers in the farming areas will have to pay for the insurance of their employees and “will be entitled to no benefits under the scheme. The Government should inform honorable senators quite plainly whether, under this scheme, the Commonwealth intends to relieve State medical departments, shire councils, and hospital committees of their responsibility for subsidizing ibo medical practitioners in remote areas. I say that the Government should do this. With tho continued expansion of federal powers in many directions it will not be long before the responsibility of providing a subsidy for medical “practitioners in the outback parts of Australia will full upon the wide shoulders and overflowing pockets of the Commonwealth Government rather than on the attenuated resources of the struggling State governments. Does the Government expect the ratepayers who are to lie compelled to bear a new burden as the result of this scheme, to continue to pay through the roads boards or shire councils to keep medical practitioners in the outback districts? At least one telegram which I received from the roads board of an important district stated that when this scheme comes into operation, the resident medical practitioner will not remain in that area. In any national insurance scheme the desire of the Government and the wishes of the National Parliament should be to see more, and not fewer, doctors resident in the rural areas of the Commonwealth.
– Some day the honorable senator .will agree with the nationalization of the whole of the medical services of this country.
– The adoption of my suggestion would be, at any rate, a step in that direction. I do not desire the medical services to be nationalized, but I should like the Commonwealth to accept the responsibility of seeing that no district loses its medical officer owing to the introduction of this scheme.
– It is better to organize medical services than to socialize them. One is an antidote to the other.
– Yes, the Minister has clearly expressed the position ; but, since the early days of Western Australia, doctors have remained in isolated country districts only because of the financial assistance rendered by the State government, which, in many cases, cast upon the local doctor the responsibility of being a magistrate, and of performing other functions on behalf of the State. I move -
That thu House of Representatives be requested to make tlie following amendment: - At the end of clause 102 add the following sub-clause : - “ (2.) Where, in the opinion of the commission, it is necessary to make arrangements to ensure the maintenance or extension of medical services in remote or rural areas, the commission shall make such arrangements accordingly, and for the purpose of any such arrangement the commission may grant financial assistance to any person or authority in the provision of those services.”
– It appears to me that clause 116 makes the provision desired by the honorable senator.
– I do not think it does. My proposal, which was drafted in consultation with the legal adviser who assists honorable senators in these matters, includes a reference to rural areas, and is of an obligatory nature, whilst clause 116 is not. The authorities I have in mind are the state medical departments; otherwise payments could be made directly to doctors.
– I doubt whether it is competent for the Committee to impose on the commission a liability that is irrelevant to the health insurance principle of this bill. I think that the Government and the draftsman have gone as far as they can, within the scope of this measure. Clause 116 provides that there shall be kept in the health insurance fund a central administration account to which shall be credited such amounts as are determined from time to time by the commission as being necessary to meet its expenditure - (a) in the administration of health insurance benefits and matters incidental to such administration; and (8) in assisting in the provision of health insurance benefits in remote areas. That is as far as we can go within the scope of this legislation. We cannot employ the moneys supplied by contributors to the fund and by the Government for purposes outside the health insurance scheme. The contributions form the fund out of which all benefits are to be paid. The proposal of the honorable senator would be outside the scope of the measure, but provision is made in the bill for the exemption of persons living in remote areas from the whole or any portion of this legislation. Ultimately the commission will have to provide for medical services in certain remote areas at its own expense. The Government has gone as far as possible within the ambit of the scheme and it cannot give effect to his wish by giving grants to persons who may supply medical services irrespective of health insurance. The officials who are investigating this matter are closely considering the best means of dealing with the difficult problem of catering for those living in remote areas. If the honorable senator will not press his request, he may rest assured that the brand put on this bill by clause 116 will give as much effect as the commission possibly can to the proposal which he has in mind.
– I agree with the Minister that this is, indeed, a difficult problem. The officials who have done excellent work in advising us with regard to this scheme will find that our outlying areas are very remote, and very wide. I cannot agree to Senator Johnston’s proposal. When the scheme is in operation, great difficulty will be experienced in providing medical and disablement benefits in the out-back country. There should be no trouble, however, in making arrangements for the payment of the oldage pension.
– That involves no difficulty at all.
– I think that I can appeal with confidence to Senator Cooper to support me in. the suggestion which I am now about to make. The Australian Inland Mission is, in my opinion, the best institution of its kind in the world. Its operations cover an area of probably 1,000,000 square miles in the north-east portion of Western Australia, the Northern Territory, the northern part of South Australia, the south-western portion of Queensland, and the north-western portion of New South Wales. Although this body is officially known as the Australian Inland Mission, I can assure honorable senators who have not become acquainted with its good work that it attends to the physical, as well as the spiritual, needs of the people. It has hospitals at Beltana, Maree, Farina, Oodnadatta and Birdsville. It also has a flying doctor.
– -The honorable senator must confine his remarks to the question before the Chair.
– I am offering the Government a suggestion regarding the best way to implement the national health and pensions insurance scheme in the back country of Australia.
– The question before the committee is Senator Johnston’s request.
– Whilst I doubt the competency of the committee to make this request, I find that the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) gave an assurance in the House of Representatives which may satisfy my colleague from South Australia. He undertook that, when the arrangements are being made for medical services in remote areas, the claims of the Australian Inland Mission, the flying doctors and, probably, the bush nurses will be sympathetically considered ; but it should be remembered that the Commonwealth Government now makes contributions to assist in the provision of medical services in the interior of this continent. Payments could not be made from funds provided by the contributors under this scheme. Honorable senators will see bow unjust it would be to persons contributing money to maintain the solvency of the scheme if the funds were used to provide benefits for persons who are not in the scheme. The request seeks to provide assistance in a manner that is distinct and apart from the purpose of the bill. Such payments would be in the nature of grants to certain persons. The Government is sympathetically disposed towards the people in remote areas, and fully realizes the difficulties that surround the administration of medical and health benefits in such localities; but it would not be fair to employ the money subscribed by contributors to this fund for other than the purpose of providing the benefits set out in the bill. In these circumstances perhaps the honorable senator will not press his request.
– I cannot agree with the arguments adduced by the Minister (Senator A. J. McLachlan) because I understand that each doctor is to have from one thousand to two thousand persons on his panel ; but in remote districts there may be only a few hundred persons covered by the scheme.
– I give the honorable senator an assurance that if the scheme is in operation in a particular area the needs of all contributors will be met out of the funds of the scheme.
– At present State governments, roads boards and local governing authorities are subsidizing medical practitioners to keep them in the district, and the ratepayers in such areas will also be contributing heavily in respect of their employees under this scheme. If they are so contributing they will not wish to contribute through shire councils.
– If areas are not exempted the obligation will fall upon the commission to provide medical practitioners and the stipulated benefits.
– That may be so, but I am afraid that under this clause the Government will exempt certain districts and the residents will bc so few that the doctor will not remain.
– Remote districts will be exempted until such time as the commission is able to extend its operations into them. If the power of exemption were not provided’ difficulties would arise.
– Doctors are practising in these districts because the people are paying to keep them there, and they will now be asked to contribute to this scheme in respect of their employees.
– If they contribute a doctor will be provided.
– I am pleased to hear that. The object of my amendment is to retain and increase the number of doctors outback.
– Perhaps I might put the position to the committee briefly: If a district is exempted the residents will be in exactly the same position as they are to-day. If the scheme is extended to such district the obligation will be upon the commis-sion to provide all medical services and benefits, and whatever responsibility has previously been shouldered by shire councils or roads boards will be shouldered by the scheme. There will be neither contributions nor benefits in exempted areas, and such areas will remain exempt until the commission is able to get its machinery in operation there.
– Will not the people still be paying for pension benefits?
– The medical and sickness benefits and pension benefits are in different departments; we cannot ask people to pay for something which we cannot provide. “We can exempt them in whole or in part.- We can exempt them from pension or health insurance benefits until the necessary machinery is in operation. When that is done the responsibility will fall upon the scheme.
– What will be the position .where there are no doctors?
– Persons in such districts will be protected under the undertaking given by the
Treasurer (Mr Casey) and possibly the Australian Inland Mission, the Bush Nursing Association and the Flying Doctor Service may be used. When such services are used they will be paid for.
– I understand the Minister’s statement, but the telegrams I have received from State and local governing authorities in Western Australia are to the effect that they fear that, in consequence of the operations of this scheme, medical practitioners will leave some districts. The people believe that in some instances the burden of keeping medical practitioners will be too heavy.
– The honorable senator does not think that all medical officers in remote areas will leave the district.
– No, but the difficulty of keeping them there will be increased; that is what the local residents believe.
– That is only medical propaganda.
– I do not subscribe to that view at all. Under this bill the Government should accept the obligation of ensuring that the medical services which now exist will not be reduced or withdrawn. The Government should see that the doctors are retained in the areas where they are practising to-day, largely as a result, of the contributions received from the local residents.
.- I can quite understand the claim made by Senator Johnston that if certain persons who are now contributing to keep medical mcn in remote areas, have also to pay contributions under this scheme, there will bc a certain amount of duplication. Do I understand that in districts where the commission will be unable to provide for medical benefits the residents will not have to pay contributions’ under this scheme?
– I can give the honorable senator an unqualified assurance in that respect.
– When speaking previously on this subject I referred to the medical services now provided in remote areas, particularly by the Australian Inland Mission which is one of the most efficient organizations of its kind in. the world. Those connected with that mission are operating over a large area, and have at their disposal a flying doctor maintained by voluntary -contributions.
-HUGHES. - Private enterprise has succeeded where all governments have failed.
– Yes, the organization is carrying on a wonderful work without governmental assistance.
– In recent years the Government has assisted.
Senator JAMES McLACHLAN.When the scheme was found to be operating successfully the governments wished to come in and share in the glory; but what assistance was offered when Flynn was driving through the outback country in a rickety buggy drawn by a skinny horse? Governmental assistance was not offered in those days. Provision is made in the bill for approved societies, and as there is no better organization for carrying out this work in remote areas Flynn’s Australian Inland Mission should be included in the list of approved societies. It would be necessary, however, to make some provision in this bill because the number of members, or subscribers, is not enough to enable them to qualify as an approved society. It would be a gracious act, and would clearly be to the advantage of the Government. The mission has its own flying doctor, and has established hospitals right throughout the back country. The adoption of my suggestion would solve a great many difficulties at present in the way of bringing medical benefits to, the people in remote areas. I do not propose to move an amendment, but merely put the suggestion forward for the consideration of the Government.
– Unless the Government adopts this suggestion in regard to the Australian Inland Mission, there seems to be little prospect that people in remote areas will receive any medical benefit under this scheme at all. At the present time, the Commonwealth makes a grant of £5,000 a year to the Australian Aerial Medical Service, which operates in Central Australia and the Northern Territory, but no Commonwealth assistance is provided for the inland mission in Queensland and Western Australia. Under the national insurance scheme, people living in the more closely settled areas will derive substantial benefit, but those residing in remote areas will obtain no advantage unless the .Government avails itself of the services of the organization which is already operating, and incorporates it in the scheme.
– Of the five members of the Opposition in this chamber, three come from Queensland, and one from Western Australia, so that there is no need to stress the fact that the Opposition is deeply appreciative of the wonderful work being done by the inland mission. That, however, has nothing to do with this bill, which sets out to provide certain services under specified conditions. One of those conditions is that approved societies, with a membership of not less than 2,000 persons, which are prepared to work under the scheme, shall be allowed to do so. Any proposal for assisting the inland mission will have my sympathy, and is deserving of the sympathetic consideration of the Government, but not under this bill.
– The Treasurer (Mr. Casey) has already promised that assistance will be given to the inland mission.
– If it is proposed to abandon the provision requiring approved societies to have a membership of 2,000, I could suggest many worthy organizations that might be allowed to participate in the scheme. *
– The honorable senator cannot name one such society that covers half the ground that the inland mission does.
– I do not pretend that I can. If the honorable senator wishes us to reconsider the clause which stipulates a minimum membership of 2,000 for approved societies, that is another thing, but I object to its being done at this stage. I do not want my remarks to be misunderstood - not that it really matters much. The Opposition is used to being misrepresented in this chamber and outside, but I want it to be understood that the Opposition is entirely sympathetic towards the work of the Australian Inland Mission. We believe that the mission is deserving of Government assistance, but we do not think that this is the appropriate time for considering the matter.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 103 to 109 agreed to.
Clause 110 (National insurance trust account).
– This clause roads as follows -
For the purposes nf this Act there shall be ii Trust Account, to be called the National Insurance Trust Account, which shall be a trust account within the meaning of section sixty-two a of the Audit Act 1001-1834.
Section 4 of section 62a of the Audit Act 1901-34 is as follows-
The Treasurer may direct that any trust account be closed, and thereupon the money* standing to the credit of the account shall, after all the liabilities of the account have been met, be paid to the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
It will be remembered that, during the second-reading debate, I raised the question of the inviolability of this fund, and I suggested that, just as on a previous occasion a Treasurer wa3 able, under the provisions of the Financial Emergency Act, to reduce the benefits under the Superannuation Act for which Commonwealth public servants had contributed, so there was nothing in this bill to prevent a needy treasurer, during a time of national emergency, from doing the same thing in respect of the insurance fund. Moreover, it could be done in more ways than one. It would not even be necessary to take funds that had been already subscribed ; the Consolidated Revenue Fund could be assisted by cutting down benefits under the scheme. It seems to me that clause 110 makes it possible to close the account under the provisions of the Audit Act.
– If the honorable senator looks at clause 111, he will see that a treasurer would have to violate the law to do as he has suggested.
– My point is that clause 110 provides power to close the. fund, and clause 111 does not .affect that power. I should like the Minister in charge of the bill to assure me thatI am wrong.
– The honorable senator is not wrong in regard to the operation of a trust account under the Audit Act, but that act applies to government trust accounts. Under this scheme, considerable sums of money must be provided by the Crown, and they will be paid into the trust account. Once they are in the trust account clause 111 will operate in respect to them.
– But a government could stop voting the money.
– I have to concede that. If some particular Treasurer be a scoundrel-
– It might be a matter of national need.
– Whatever the excuse, he would, if he withheld from the fund the moneys which this bill stipulates shall be paid, . be violating the law. Once the moneys are placed in the trust account they will become subject to clause 111, and can be applied only for the purposes of this act. Let us consider an analogous situation in regard to an ordinary insurance company. Most companies set aside what is called an assurance fund. It is in the nature of a trust fund, because it is ear-marked for the purpose of maintaining the actuarial solvency of the scheme in order that obligations, which fall due from time to time, may be met. In my opinion, a director who raided that fund for some other purpose, would almost render himself liable to the penalties of the criminal law. Under the old law a Treasurer who attempted to raid that fund-
– My point is that appropriations might he withheld by the Treasurer.
– No ; this bill definitely appropriates the money which, when appropriated, must be placed in this fund. If, notwithstanding the direction of Parliament, the appropriation of the money, and also the provisions of the law, a Treasurer acted in the way the honorable senator has suggested - which is extremely improbable - a charge would, I think,lie against him. I have always felt that a Treasurer who did that sort of thing should be impeached, just as a director of an insurance company would be open to prosecution for a similar act in respect of his company’s funds. The honorable senator will notice that under clause 113, which appropriates government payments to the Trust Fund, a Treasurer who did what the honorable senator contemplates, would be acting in violation of the law.
– I do not want the Leader of the Senate (Senator A. J. McLachlan to misunderstand me. It is not a matter of a rascally Treasurer doing something wrong, for which, under the old system, he could be impeached. My point is that by virtue of the financial emergency legislation introduced into this Parliament some years ago - and I am fully aware of all the circumstances surrounding that legislation - definite contracts with the old-age pensioners, public servants and members of Parliament, in respect of which funds had been appropriated just as definitely as these funds will he appropriated under the measure, were broken; and, I believe, the Leader of the Senate cannot assure the committee that a raid on these funds, in circumstances similar to those surrounding the introduction of the financial emergency legislation, will not be possible.
– I can only give the assurance that special legislation would have to be passed in order to enable a Treasurer to do what the honorable senator suggests might be done.
– That is all right.
– Would not a Treasurer have the right to invest any of the surplus funds belonging to this commission in the interests of the scheme itself, for instance, in any short-dated loan or treasury-bonds ? If that be so, the Treasurer would have access to these funds.
– No; not the Treasurer.
– He would have access to these funds in his position as Treasurer, particularly when the fund showed a surplus. The Leader of the Senate should make perfectly clear just exactly what is the position regarding the management and investment of these surplus funds.
– I point out that clause 107 invests the board of trustees with the control of these funds; therefore, they are completely out of the hands of the Treasurer. Furthermore, clauses 122 and 131 set out the modes of investment permitted to the Board of Trustees, and no mention at all is made of the Treasurer in this respect.I assure honorable senators that we have done our best to keep these funds independent of political control in the sense that they could be manipulated to assist loans in time of stress.
– For the purpose of setting at rest this perennial ghost of raids being made on trust funds, I ask the Leader of the Senate whether he knows of any instance in which a single penny piece which has been “ raided “ has not been repaid in due course? To the credit of honest governments can it not be said that whenever a raid has been made in time of stress the money has been returned in time of plenty?
– Yes, except on rare occasions.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 111 agreed to.
Clause 112 (Contributions to be credited to Trust Fund).
– In respect of this clause will an annual appropriation be necesary?
– I think not. Under clause 113 the appropriation is provided not only in abstract form but also in detail, definite figures and percentages being set out. Thus, I think, the appropriation will be continuous, without any further appropriation being necessary each year.
– In the Minister’s opinion, does clause 112 bind the Government to credit to the national insurance trust account the full amount of all the contributions received? Is the position in that respect sufficiently safeguarded ?
– Under clause 113, Government payments to the trust account are permanently appropriated, and we have been obliged to make special legislative provision in that respect. The funds provided by contributions, which are covered by clause 112, will be collected at the post offices through the sale of stamps - another obligation which will be cast upon my admirable department - and all contributions will be paid over directly to the commission which will put them into the trust account. The position as regards the trust account is then clinched under clause 111, which provides that money can only be taken out of that account for specific purposes. Each year the amounts received and expended in respect of the fund will have to be shown in a separate item in the budget. “I shall make available to the honorable senator a financial diagram which has been prepared in respect of the finances of this scheme, showing how they will be operated.
– Is the Minister satisfied that the position in this respect is watertight?
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 113 and 115 agreed to.
Clause 116 (Central Administration Account) .
. -Representations have been made to me on behalf of pharmacists and friendly societies’ dispensaries in respect of different phases of this measure.
As the result of the debate in the House of Representatives a royal commission is to be appointed to investigate the provisions of this clause. I want to be assured that friendly societies’ dispensaries and pharmacists will have full access to the royal commission.
– The terms of reference are now being drafted, and I assure the honorable senator that the interests of those people whom he has just mentioned will be kept in view.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 117 to 138 agreed to.
The Commission may, by notice in the Gazette, declare -
– I move -
That the words “ (not being a body carrying on life insurance business) “, sub clause 1, paragraph (b) be left out.
It will not be necessary for me to detain the committee at any length, because I referred to this matter in my second reading speech. Under this clause, the excellent work which has been clone by the friendly societies in the past is recognized, as is the work of the trade unions, of which I cannot speak because. I am not sufficiently acquainted with it; but as the bill is drawn at present, the commission may not declare a life insurance company to be an approved society, even though it may consider such a company, whether it be mutual or proprietary, or partly mutual and partly proprietary, to be the most suitable approved society that exists. Why is this? Is there something discreditable in the work of insurance companies in the past, that they should thus be singled out? My duty, and I think I may say the duty of Parliament, in a. matter of this sort, is to see that, as far as possible, everybody is given a fair chance and the bill is made in the highest degree efficient. The decision in relation to approved societies should rest with the commission. That is not the case under the measure in its present form, because the commission is specifically debarred from declaring a life insurance company to be an ap proved society. Clause 5 of the bill states in the most emphatic terms that “ There shall be a National Insurance Commission which shall, subject to the control of the Minister, be charged with the general administration of this act.” Yet in this most important matter of approved societies the commission is to have no power to declare that a life insurance company shall be an approved society! It is a bad way in which to inaugurate a scheme of national insurance. Were I in the position of one of the influential insurance companies, I should regard as a public insult the inclusion of such a clause in the measure, detracting as it does from the good work done by these societies in the past. That the measure should make a distinct breach between the commission which is to initiate this national insurance scheme, and -the great insurance companies which have operated in the past and will continue to operate in the future, is an exceedingly bad omen. It is likely enough that insurance companies are not the most popular bodies in our society. For that matter, neither are the banking institutions nor, so far as I am aware, the tax gatherers, in each case substantially for the same reason, namely, that the community has to pay its dues to them - an operation that is not always pleasant. I suggest that it is not a function of the Federal Parliament to endorse such spiteful prejudice as would be implied by the enactment of this provision.
– I amrather interested in this amendment, although I would not have moved for the inclusion of the whole of the insurance companies, because, during my second-reading speech, I appealed for consideration only on behalf of the purely mutual companies. I want the National Parliament to recognize fairly and without prejudice the spirit of mutuality and co-operation which underlies the various social efforts of all classes and bodies in the community. There have been built up over a period of years some societies - not many - which under their constitution are purely mutual. The society of which I am best able to speak from personal knowledge is the Australian Mutual Provident Society, but there are others which are also doing good work ona purely mutual basis. I greatly admire the spirit of co-operation which brought into existence the friendly societies. It was that spirit which led to the formation of the wonderful Starr
Bowkett societies which, in, earlier years, were of tremendous assistance to poor people. I admire, too, that identical spirit of mutuality and co-operation which is to be found in the ranks of the trade unions of this country, and hope that in the years that are ahead it will more and more pervade the whole of the community. I have no instructions from anybody to hold a brief for the society that I have mentioned as an example of the spirit of co-operation and mutuality on which I take my stand. One member of the Opposition asked, “ Whose money are these societies using?” and answered himself by saying, “ It is our money “. I maintain that it is not, and never has been; it is the money of those who have made the co-operative effort. The Australian Mutual Provident Society, in common with other societies which are perhaps as strong, or nearly so, has won the admiration of the whole world in the life insurance field. It has been held up in Great Britain and the United States of America as one of the best conducted life insurance societies and one of the foremost examples of pure mutuality of this character ever conceived for human benefit. Speaking to a friend outside the chamber last night, I reminded him of the wonderfully staunch support which these societies have given to the nation in the hour of its direst need. I instanced the manner in which they had stood by this country during the crucial war period; and even throughout the recent depression, when it was so difficult to raise a loan of any amount, and they “ scraped “ and “ screwed “ in order to assist the Commonwealth. In the -loan recently floated, they made a magnificent effort in support of the needs of the nation. The example that they have set, and the great success they have achieved, have led to the inauguration of many other co-operative efforts, one of which in New South Wales is the National Roads and Motorists’ Association. That organization, at a charge of £11s. a member, has grown into a huge concern which to-day is giving real service to motorists throughout New South Wales. This spirit of co-operation stands as a light of encouragement to all these social efforts, and this Parliament would act unworthily if it were to discourage such efforts by the exclusion of these mutual associations from the bill.
I wish to impress upon my friends the fact that, even if Senator DuncanHughes’s amendment be carried - and I believe that it will be - mutual societies - which, for the purposes of the act are the most desirable bodies in the community - will not necessarily be brought within the scope of the measure, and thus an even greater insult will be offered to them, for the reason that they are operating under either an act of Parliament of a State, or some charter which would bind them unless they were here given legislative authority to enable them to take advantage of this scheme. On that account, with the indulgence of honorable senators, I give notice of a further amendment that I shall move. If the amendment moved by Senator Duncan-Hughes is carried I shall move for the insertion of the following new sub-clause at the end of clause 139.
Notwithstanding anything contained in any act, State act, charter, deed of settlement or other instrument, defining the powers and obligations of any corporation or society -
– The Opposition is strongly opposed to both of the suggested amendments for a variety of reasons, the most cogent reason of which is the fact that clause 139 was carried in its present form in the House ofRepresentatives.
– We are not bound by decisions of the House ofRepresentatives.
SenatorCOLLINGS - I know that we are not. But at last and at least some sense of political decency should guide us. The verdict of the House ofRepresentatives was the result of the coalition of members of all parties everyone of whom has a definite mandate from the people to carry out the decisions of that House.
In this chamber the sponsors of the amendments are asking that that decision be reversed by-
– Dying senators.
– Politically dying. In this Australian democracy is it right, within a few hours of the change of the Senate, for the old Senate, ten members of which were rejected by the people in October last, to reverse a decision made by the popular House that has a direct mandate from the people?
– In what sense is the House of Representatives more popular than the Senate?
– Sometimes things happen in the Senate that make it very unpopular. Some of the things that I have in mind are of very recent occurrence. Senator Lynch will understand that to which I refer. I use the term “ popular “ not in the sense in which it is used by the honorable senator. The House of Representatives is the most numerical chamber and it has come direct from the electorates with a mandate, whereas ten of the members of this chamber were rejected by the people. Every senator is still a senator and has the right to carry on his duties as a senator until the end of this month, but in political decency those honorable senators who are about to retire should not attempt to reverse a verdict which was given by the House of Representatives only a day or so ago. When the new Senate is constituted on Friday ten honorable gentlemen who are now senators will no longer be senators. Yet within a short space of time of their retirement they are attempting to do something that will bind the Parliament for years ahead - at any rate, for at least two years ahead - with votes which, in mv opinion, they have no right to cast on a measure of this sort.
Apart altogether from that, I have no sympathy with either of the proposals. Much as it hurts me to say so, I do not agree with the attempt of Senator Abbott to sway the Senate with a lot of sentiment to support his proposed amendment. I do riot know whether he was attempting to cajole the Opposition when he spoke about the wonderful work done by the trades unions.
Previously I had never heard anything but anathema of trade unions from honorable senators who support the Government. I deprecate the honorable senator’s attempt to cajole the Opposition in that way. He went on about the wonderful support that the mutual societies have given to the nation and to the Government in the matter of war loans and government loans and so forth. No greater nonsense was ever spoken. I wonder if the honorable senator knows that even the great Australian Mutual Provident Society, which is one of the finest organizations of its kind in the world, is faced within the next 40 years, if it is unable to make satisfactory, investments, with hopeless insolvency which will destroy all hope of its fulfilment of its promises to its policy-holders.
– The same applies to the Commonwealth itself.
– Of course it does, but the Commonwealth is not running around and talking about its patriotism and its wonderful services just because it invests its funds properly. 1 expected Senator Abbott at any moment to wave the Union Jack. These mutual societies are a business proposition. As such they must invest their funds, and they find that Commonwealth securities are the safest form of investment for them. I am glad that they do invest their funds in Commonwealth loans. I give this credit to Senator Abbott. He is doing the nice thing in taking up a stand on behalf of the mutual life societies. But Senator DuncanHughes is running true to form, as he always does - at least he is consistent - and is moving on behalf of those proprietary companies which pay dividends and have shareholders.
– My amendment takes in both classes of insurance companies.
– If Senator Duncan-Hughes knows the meaning of words he should know that his amendment would definitely exclude mutual societies because they operate under the State laws, and, unless a Commonwealth law is passed .to supersede those State laws, they cannot come into the picture. The honorable senator is extremely adroit. So was the Treasurer, Mr.
Casey, in the House of Representatives. He immediately proceeded to do the same thing as Senator Abbott has done this morning, when this matter arose there. I say “a plague o’ both of your houses ! “ as far as the amendments are concerned.
Allowing insurance companies to set up separate sections to become approved societies under this bill, would have, the important result of enabling them to make contact with possibly valuable prospects without the need to employ canvassers. They would be able to dispense with the services of hundreds of canvassers who now make those contacts for them. The Labour party is definitely opposed to the amendments and it will test the feeling of the Senate out to the last ditch on both.
– It is only a few days since the Loader of the Opposition (Senator Collings “1 asked “ Do you want this Senate closed down?” He would have been wiser had he allowed that remark to fade from memory before saying, in effect, this morning “ Close up the Senate because what has been done by tlie House of Representatives should not be undone.”
– I did not say that at all. I rise to a point of order, Mr. Chairman. I object, as I have always objected, to wilful misrepresentation of what I have said. I made no such remark as the honorable senator has attributed to me. I did not say that this chamber should not pass amendments because the House of Representatives has decided otherwise.
– That is not a point of order.
– I did not say that the amendments should not be carried because the House of Representatives had made a certain decision. I said that, because ten honorable senators were on the point of retiring, the Senate should not attempt to undo what the House of Representatives, on its mandate, had done.
– Order ! If words have any meaning, the clear impression which the Chair derived from the honorable senator’s statement was that this chamber should follow the lead of the other chamber in this matter. I take it that that is exactly what Senator Lynch meant.
– I was quite prepared to withdraw whatever supposedly offensive words I had used, and, in order to save time, I take this opportunity to withdraw in advance the next offensive words I may be guilty of using. ‘
Language has been given to man, as one authority has said, “ to conceal his thoughts “. I leave it at that. Surely we are expected to use the intelligence that Almighty God has given us ! We should be able to understand the clear, fair, and just opinion of any person who uses the English language to express his thoughts. Undoubtedly, the Leader of the Opposition expressed the view that I have attributed to him.
– What about coming to the clause and the amendment?
– If I understood the intention of the mover of the amendment, and also the view of the honorable gentleman who has suggested a further amendment, it is that certain insurance companies, which have carried on business in Australia for a very long while, shall be permitted to form approved societies under the provisions of this bill. It has been said that these societies are chiefly concerned to make profits for their shareholders; but we all know very well that, again and again in the history of Australia, they have been instrumental in preventing unwarranted increases of interest rates on loans. Memory is a good thing, but some honorable senators seem to think that forgetfulness is equally as good - as it may be on occasions, but not on this occasion. ‘ We also all know very well that one big insurance company to which reference has been made this morning set a good example some years ago. not only to Australia, but also to the whole world, by reducing interest rates and preventing other financial institutions from extracting a bone-grinding rate of interest from the persons indebted to it. We remember, too, that a certain law-maker of New South Wales, whose name I shall not mention, though it is well known to every honorable senator, made an agreement with the Labor Daily newspaper by means of which he extracted from that enterprise, which was struggling for its very lite, not 3 per cent., which, his own Government had said was a fair thing, hut 5 per cent ! In doing so, he defied his own laws. That gentleman was a Labour Premier of New South Wales. In spite of these facts, certain honorable senators of the Labour party are not willing to treat equitably this insurance company and others like it.
– What about the bill?
– The honorable senator does not like this criticism; but I shall proceed. I shall rub in the salt; I do not care how raw the wounds are.
– Ah !
– That “ ah “ is the sound the old crows make from every laughter-yard fence in every part of Australia, and it is about up to Senator Brown’s standard. However, I must not be deflected from asserting that these insurance companies are not, metaphorically speaking, “ grinding the faces of the poor “. Our experience of them over many years must entirely contradict any such idea. Surely we are statesmen enough to admit the fairness of the claim that is being made on their behalf. Or are some of us blind and so impervious to every consideration of fair-mindedness as to refuse to admit facts which are patent even to the school girls of this country ?
The question is: shall the insurance companies be in or out? I cannot see any particular advantage in them being in. We are all well aware that when this scheme was first introduced the friendly societies of Australia were critical of it. There was, indeed, speculation whether they would come into the scheme or not. Since then they have gone so far as to ask that they shall be given the monopoly of certain administrative work. At one stage, it was questionable whether the friendly societies were friendly or unfriendly to the proposition, but after having examined tho situation with a critical eye, they have now decided to seek a monopoly. That is no reason why we should deal unjustly with’ the big insurance companies of this country which, in days past, have done a great deal to help primary producers and others who were almost down and out. In good times and bad times, these institutions have acted as a check upon the grinding and grasping proclivities of other financial institutions, which, had they had a free hand, would have extracted far heavier interest rates from their customers than was actually possible, owing to the corrective influences of the insurance companies. I hope Senator Collings is listening carefully to these remarks. I know what I am talking about. I have had my neck in the collar. Had it npt been for these insurance companies, I should have been coIn:pelled at times to pay a far higher rate of interest than I had to pay. Are we to pretend blindness to these facts? Fair play is bonny play. I believe in giving credit where credit is due. Even the devil, we are told, should be given his due. So much for that point.
I now come to a consideration of the position of employers. Do we propose to continue in this country, the motheaten and cannibalistic notion that seems to persist even now, in certain quarters, that because a man has a certain amount of capital at his disposal, he is an enemy of society? If we want our country to make progress it is about time we called a truce in this matter. We should regard employers of labour as fellow citizens. It is true that at one time employers treated their employees very badly and paid very little regard to their welfare, but those days, are gone. The Leader of the Opposition knows very well that to-day there is not an employer of labour anywhere on this continent, from the Cape York to the Leeuwin, who can please himself what wages he pays to his employees. He is obliged to pay lie wages stipulated by properly constituted tribunals.
– What about saying something on the amendment?
– The Leader of the Opposition is again protesting against taking his gruel. It is something new for him to have to take gruel of this kind ; but I shall oblige him to take it.
– I heard the sam« kind of tirade thirty years ago.
– The employer of to-day is in a totally different position from that which he occupied 25, 40, or 50 years ago. He is not now able to please himself what he does. He is under control. I regret, however, that some people in this community still have the antiquated outlook of the old lady who saw a railway train for the first time. She was quite convinced that no vehicle could possibly move unless it had a horse attached to it and when she saw the locomotive in actual motion she declared that horses were somehow mysteriously hidden inside it and were pulling the train. I do not suggest that Senator Collings is exactly in that position. I remind him, however, of another old saying, that when things are different they are not the same. It is time that we dropped some of our old notions a thoussand fathoms into the sea.
I shall vote for this amendment because I believe that we should modify our views to conform with the more favorable circumstances in which we find ourselves. I am not at all sure, though, that the adoption of the amendment will confer any particular benefit upon the insurance companies. I doubt whether even the weight of the proverbial feather would measure the difference that is likely to be made if this amendment is carried, for, as I understand it, even if the bill be passed in its present form, the employees of the insurance companies will be at liberty to form approved societies the morning after this measure, if it be passed, is proclaimed. Yet, if we wish to act fairly towards these great institutions, and if we wish to be regarded as men of broad minds and good sound principles, who desire to assure the real progress of our country, we should support the amendment. We should show to the world at large that We are not muddling about in a stagnant pool, but that we harbour in our breasts a real desire for progress. Unless we enter a new era of good will, good affection, and good rule in our industrial, economic, social, and domestic life - unless, in effect, we are full-blooded men who are not prepared to perpetuate worn-out practices - we shall hinder the progress of our country.
– The honorable senator has exhausted his time.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [11.58]. - I do not propose to attempt to follow the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) in discussing whether certain honorable senators have any right to be sitting in this chamber. Personally, I am entitled to be here until the 30th June, and while I am here I intend to exercise my voice and vote as I see fit.
-That is admitted.
– In connexion with the matter immediately under notice, we should remember that it is possible that the members of the other place may have made a mistake. I propose to examine the subject having that point in mind. In common with other honorable senators, I have, during the last few weeks, received numerous telegrams and letters from various friendly societies. I am a lifelong member of a friendly society and a great believer in the movement. Therefore, I studied with considerable care the representations made by them to me. I have come to the conclusion that they amount to a request that the friendly societies, and certain trade unions, shall be given a monopoly in the field of approved societies. But I have looked in vain in the telegrams and letters for anything to justify the request. The splendid record of the friendly societies was referred to, but even that splendid record is not a reason for giving them a monopoly.
– We are not giving them a monopoly.
– I had hoped to hear from the Leader of the Opposition the reasons for the decision of the House of Representatives, but he did not enlighten us. The only argument that he used in favour of the clause in its present form was the allegation - and after all it was only an allegation - that, if these insurance societies were allowed to form approved societies under this legislation, a number of canvassers would be discharged.
– That was only one reason.
– It was the only reason given by the honorable senator, as I think he will admit -when he reads the Hansard record of his speech. The rest of his utterance was froth and declamation. That is not an adequate reason for keeping these societies out. The allegation may not be true. It may be the honest opinion of the honorable senator, but I cannot see any reason why those societies which now employ canvassers, should discharge them. On the contrary, I should imagine that one of the objections of the friendly societies would be that these other societies would not discharge their canvassers whose activities give to them an advantage over the friendly societies. But that is not the chief reason why I rose. I have read the arguments advanced in the House of Representatives, but I have not seen in them any adequate reason for the exclusion of the insurance societies. I can, however, give good reasons why they should bc included, in addition to those which have already been mentioned. Clause 187 deals with reciprocal arrangements. Sub-clause 4 reads -
For the purposes of giving effect to any arrangements made under this section this act shall, subject to SUCh modifications and adaptations (if any) as are prescribed, apply to any persons in Australia who are affected by the arrangement, nml the commission may make such financial adjustments as are necessary to give effect to the arrangement and may take such steps as it thinks desirable to enable persons, who are members of a society outside Australia which provides any benefit to which the arrangement relates, becoming members of an approved society under this act.
I draw special attention to the words “ may take such steps as it thinks desirable to enable persons, who are members of a. society outside Australia which provides any benefits to which the arrangement relates, becoming members of an approved society under this act”. When I. read that provision, I naturally asked myself what country was most likely to enter into reciprocal arrangements with the Commonwealth, and I immediately concluded that Great Britain was mo3t likely to do so. I then sought to ascertain whether insurance societies in Great Britain arc allowed to form approved societies under the English act.. Inquiry showed that not only the mutual life societies, but also the proprietary companies, are allowed to do so. Therefore, if the bill bc passed in its present form, -in anomaly will exist, in that although we shall have a reciprocal arrangement with Great Britain, should a person who is a member of an approved society in Great Britain come to Australia, he will not, by reason of that membership, be entitled to qualify under the Australian scheme, but will have to join another, approved society in Australia.
– That would not be an insuperable difficulty.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Under tho reciprocal arrangement he can continue to be a member of the approved society of which he was a member iu England. That is my point. It is almost certain that before long we shall have a reciprocal arrangement with Great Britain, in which event, this clause will be out of step, for it will call upon a man who has had a lifelong membership of an insurance society in Great Britain to break his association with that society and to enter an approved society here. If the clause, as worded, remains in the bill, he will not be qualified to join the Australian scheme.
– Has any person been hurt in the Old Country by reason of the legislation in force there?
– Of course not. I suggest that the point which I have raised was not contemplated by members of the House of Representatives when they agreed to amend the clause as originally introduced. I do not believe that some honorable members of the other chamber who voted for the amendment realized that its effect ‘would be what I have set out this morning. If the Senate were to amend the clause possibly the other chamber would reverse its decision, realizing that, by “ insisting on this provision, a blow would be struck at the completion of a satisfactory reciprocal arrangement with Great Britain in relation to national insurance.
– The first consideration to which we should address ourselves is what is best in the interests of the scheme of national insurance which is being embodied in legislation. In this country there are only two bodies of people who really have experience of this class of insurance, namely, the friendly societies and certain bodies controlling small provident funds, and the industrial branches of the great insurance companies of Australia. It appears to me that, animated either by some objection to the principle of insurance or by some mistrust of insurance societies, a majority of members in the House of Representatives determined to put a brand on this bill; but they have merely excluded in principle an insurance society, as such, from taking any active part in the formation of an approved society. I do not wish to particularize, but one insurance society which has been mentioned this morning - I refer to the Australian Mutual Provident Society - holds 50 per cent. of the industrial policies which have been issued in Australia. Even if the amendment of Senator Duncan-Hughes be carried, unless the amendment foreshadowed by Senator Abbott be carried also, the Australian Mutual Provident Society will still be excluded, because of the terms of its charter and the statute in force in New South Wales. I had prepared an amendment to overcome that difficulty. In England it has been found that the difficulty of administration is indeed great. On one occasion when I was there I learned that the imminent possibility of trouble was obviated only by the greatest insurance company in the world - the Prudential - taking upa unit and helping the scheme out. “Whether or not it made some incidental profit is unimportant. We must see that every assistance is given in administering what is admittedly a difficult piece of legislation. The bill as introduced into the House of Representatives did not include the words which Senator Duncan-Hughes now proposes shall be eliminated. The elimination of those words will still not bring into the scheme those mutual societies whose powers are limited either by their charter or by statute. The other chamber placed on the bill a placard that “ no society carrying on life assurance could become an approved society “. Let us examine the position from the point of view of practicability and fair play. Apparently an effort was made to strike a blow at proprietary companies, but the bill, as it now stands, simply prevents, in effect, mutual societies from coming under the scheme. Mutual societies may not employ their funds for purposes other than those allowed by their charter, but as proprietary companies have funds which have not been ear-marked for specific purposes they could embark upon this wider enterprise with the machinery at their disposal. They could form approved societies. I ask honorable senators whether they think that is desirable, in the interests of the scheme, that the proprietary companies, but not the mutual societies, should be allowed to participate in it. It is competent for any organization, which has sufficient numbers to comply with the rules, to form an approved society. A memorandum has been handed to me this morning in which it is stated that some influential organizations in Australia, not at present connected with insurance at all, are proceeding to form approved societies. They are already in the field.
-no one can stop them.
– That is so. Should the commission, when appointed, attempt to stop them a writ of mandamus could be issued. So long as they comply with the regulations and rules, these organizations cannot be deprived of their right to form approved societies. The people best qualified to administer this legislation are the friendly societies, the trade unions and the industrial branches of the life insurance companies. In my opinion, the implementation of this legislation should be left to them. As the bill stands, no insurance company, as such, can be appointed by the commission as an approved society. But if the company has collectors or canvassers, and can get together 2,000 people, it is open to them to form an approved society. Yet the mutual life societies, whose methods of business appeal to us, are excluded from any participation in the scheme because they cannot employ their funds for that purpose. I venture the opinion that the mutual societies would not make any attempt to do surreptitiously what this legislation prevents them from doing openly. Under the bill as it now stands, they are deprived of an advantage which other companies will enjoy. The Treasurer - I think with wise foresight in the interests of the peaceful administration of this legislation - approached the friendly societies and various other organizations, including the mutual insurance companies, in order to ascertain if they would fall into line in assisting in the administration. I point” out a real danger that might arise. I have here some figures relating to the number of industrial policies which have been issued in Australia. The number is large indeed. Is it not likely that when the benefits that are to be conferred by this legislation ‘ become known, and an insured man sees what he can obtain under it, he may say to himself “I cannot pay ls. 8d. or 2s. a week to the national insurance scheme, and also continue to pay ls., 2s. or 3s. a week in respect of industrial insurance policies, and therefore I shall get rid of my existing policies.” Realizing that possibility the Treasurer told the mutual societies that, unless they were prepared to give to such a man a paid-up policy for some properly calculated proportion of its face value, they would not be allowed to form approved societies. When the position was put before them the mutual societies, without exception, came to an agreement with the Treasurer, under which they undertook to issue a paid-up policy to any industrial insurance policyholder who applied to surrender it in order to join the national insurance scheme. There are about 1,500,000 industrial insurance policies in force, about half of ‘which are held by the Australian Mutual Provident Society. Under the bill as at present worded, the holders of these policies will be left without any protection at all. Some years ago I made an effort, as a private member, to bring about some amelioration of the conditions of industrial policy-holders. The bill passed through this chamber but did not reach the stage when it had the force of law.
– Are industrial policies the same as life policies?
– No ; industrial policies generally provide for insurance in respect of sickness, accident, and funeral benefits. I realize that if the amendment be agreed to, the bill as amended may be rejected by the other chamber, but it is the duty of the Senate to decide this . question in the light of the information that has been placed before it.
– I have had considerable experience as a worker in the insurance world.
I was not dismissed from my employment, but had I not relinquished the job, I should have been given the sack because my superintendent told me that I would never make a’ sucessful insurance agent as I was unwilling to mislead people in respect of the benefits which they would derive from their policies. ‘ I was hauled over the coals because I said that I would tell the workers the truth. I make bold to say that thousands of Australians have been robbed by insurance companies because of the policy adopted by them in regard to industrial insurance. Thousands of holders of industrial policies have had to forfeit them on account of unemployment, and they have lost their equity in those policies. If insurance companies act vindictively, because they have been excluded from the category of approved societies, they should be forced by law to pay the surrender value of forfeited policies. An inquiry is being conducted into this matter in Victoria, and, no doubt, certain action will be taken in that State. The friendly societies and the trade unions are well qualified to become approved societies under this measure, and nothing should be done that would tend to undermine them.
– The Treasurer received an undertaking from the mutual societies that they would not take one member from the friendly societies.
– I am familiar with the methods adopted in the insurance world. Despite what the -managers and the leading officials of those organizations may say, I know what is done by the agents and the superintendents, and there is no doubt that these companies will adopt any and every measure possible to profit by this bill. Many a worker holding an industrial policy has been cruelly robbed. When a claim is made against a company, the insured person is taken before a superintendent and, before he knows where he is, he is shown out of the office, and no money is available for him. I am aware of the means adopted to impose upon policy-holder?. The friendly societies fall within an entirely different category. They are well able to continue to do the job which they have done in the past, and they should have every opportunity under this measure to carry on their excellent work.
The argument submitted by Senator Sir George Pearce raises only a minor matter. If a few thousand people migrate to Australia from overseas in the course of a year, any little difficulty that may arise in that regard can easily be overcome. Many of the newcomers will be pleased to have an opportunity to leave a profit-making institution like a private insurance company, and join an organization like an industrial union, which is conducted for social benefit alone.
– That might involve them in financial loss.
– I cannot conceive of any great loss. Coming to Australia they would improve their position considerably, because the benefits to be received under this measure will be greater than those afforded under the British scheme. What is the reason for the anxiety exhibited by Senator Duncan-Hughes, who is a rich man? He knows that the insurance companies control, for their own benefit, the money contributed by policy-holders. They have power to invest it in various directions. Those in control of the mutual companies arc often closely associated with the commercial and banking world, and their positions in those companies give them a great deal of power. That is why they aspire to the higher positions in the societies. Thousands of people merely pay their premiums regularly, and take no further interest in the work of the societies. I have paid premiums on insurance policies for many years, and have lost a good deal of money, because at times I have been unable to pay the premiums on the due dates; but I have never been invited to any of the meetings of the societies, although it is claimed that the control of their affairs lies in the hands of the rank and file. The Minister has said that these profit-making companies already have their agents out, and are trying to devise means of forming approved societies, irrespective of any legislative provision this Parliament may make to prevent it. If any insurance company attempts such action, steps should be taken to prevent it.
.- Opposition senators argue that since the
House of Representatives made a decision in respect of this clause the Senate should not interfere with it. To be logical they should not take this stand because during the last two or three days they have been taking advantage of every opportunity to amend various provisions in the bill.
I followed closely the argument of the Leader of the Senate and understood him to say that even if the amendment were carried the mutual life societies would not be able to form approved societies.
-greene. - He said that if both amendments were carried they would be.
– My impulse is to see that no harm is done to the administration of the benefits under this bill. 1 fail to see how the exclusion of insurance companies will do injury either to the scheme or to insured persons. Nor do I think that their exclusion will do a business any injury, because it is expressly provided in the bill that approved societies must not be conducted for profit. . I would not make the bill a means for anybody to make money out of the scheme ; the only person whom I wish to see benefit is the insured person.
– What does the honorable senator think of the point raised by Senator Pearce? .
– I understood the right honorable gentleman to say that under an arrangement for reciprocity members of an approved society in Great Britain would, if they came to Australia, be able to join an approved society here and enjoy all the benefits of this scheme. It is not necessary that they should join a branch of the same society; it will be sufficient if they become members of any one of the approved societies that may be established. I do not think that we should interfere with the decision of the House of Representatives in this matter.
– My reason for opposing the amendment is not that which actuates Senator Collings or his supporters. It is based on more logical grounds. I realize fully the part which these insurance companies have taken in the development of Australia, but I remember also that they have never been actually interested in social insurance which is the essence of t his proposal. Why are they now interesting themselves in this matter? The only logical conclusion is that they wish to share in theadministration of the scheme for publicity and business purposes, but at the present time they have no machinery to operate as approved societies. I had intended to offer a few comments with reference to the reciprocal phase of the scheme mentioned by Senator Sir George Pearce, but Senator Leckie has dealt most effectively with that matter so I shall not delay the committee, except to say that to me reciprocity means a mutually satisfactory arrangement between the Commonwealth and Great Britain or the other dominions of the British Empire. Under such an arrangement an Australian citizen who goes to England to live, if he happens to be a contributor to this scheme, will be permitted to join any approved society in Great Britain and participate in the benefits of the British insurance system. In the same way a person insured under the British scheme and coming to Australia will be able to join an approved society in this country and have a full cover. For over 50 years friendly societies have been doing this class of work in Australia. So far as I know they are the only organizations that have interested themselves in this kind of social work,” and I feel sure that the success which has attended their efforts in catering for the needs of 1,250,000 persons was largely responsible for the introduction of this measure, which so greatly widens the field of social insurance. The manner in which the societies have carried on their work reflects the highest credit upon the management. At the end of 1936 there were in the Commonwealth no fewer than 5,881 lodges which in that year distributed in sick pay over £750,000, and provided medical services costing . £771,000. There has been a substantial development of friendly societies’activities since then. I am not suggesting that they should have a monopoly of control, and the bill does not give them that. My chief desire is to protect them, and I am afraid that the carrying of the amendment would seriously injure them in the work which they have been doing for so long.
– Have friendly societies in England been injured under the British scheme?
– I cannot say. I do know, however, something of the activities of these bodies in Australia, because I have been a member of a friendly society for very many years and I acknowledge thankfully that it has served me faithfully. I joined that society for the reason which impels so many other young men to do so, because I had a young family and I was anxious to give them protection. Did the insurance companies offer that form of social insurance to me? Not at all. I therefore turned to a friendly society which gave me and my family medical and other benefits which the Government is now extending to all employees in the Commonwealth under this scheme. If we err at all in this matterwe should err on the side of the friendly societies, even if in so doing we gave them a monopoly. I have heard sufficient of the manner in which industrial insurance business is sought to be totally opposed to this class of insurance. One is safe in assuming that a large majority of the 1,500,000 persons who take out industrial policies do so merely to provide funeral expenses, and in the end I am sure that they do not get a fair deal. Contributions vary from1s. to 2s. a week, and although payments extend over 30 or 40 years, the value of a policy at maturity is only about £35. I scarcely regard industrial insurance as insurance, and my opinion in that respect was confirmed some time ago when I read the evidence given before a royal commission sitting in Victoria which disclosed the extent to which canvassers go in order to secure business. During the depression thousands of persons were compelled to forfeit industrial policies, and I believe it would be better if a majority of industrial policies now in operation were allowed to lapse. I have yet to learn that insurance companies conducting industrial business assisted their policyholders during the depression. What have the friendly societies done?
– The insurance companies have invested large sums in Commonwealth bonds.
– Such investments are made because they were regarded as a good deal; the companies were not actuated by patriotic motives. During the depression the friendly societies carried the contributions of fully 20 per cent, of their members and at the same time provided medical and funeral benefits. These are the organizations which we wish to protect; but if either of the amendments be agreed to, insurance companies will be in a position to “ put it over “ friendly societies. We know that they already have their canvassers out, and although they have not enrolled members, they have their plans prepared for handling a section of this work. The friendly societies necessarily have to make numerous adjustments before they can tell their members and prospective members what their fees will lie, hut the insurance companies are in a position to give information to prospective members because they know -that there will be a flat rate contribution of ls. 6d. weekly. I do not wish to penalize insurance companies; but they will not bo penalized if they are excluded, because they have never handled this class of business before. I do not intend to do anything which will injure in the slightest degree, the magnificent work that tho friendly societies are doing for the Australian people.
– I wish to reply to some of the remarks made by honorable senators supporting either of the amendments which have been moved. We have been informed that the inclusion of insurance companies has not been detrimental to the friendly societies operating in Great Britain. Let us study the figures in that respect. There are 16,000,000 members of approved societies in Great Britain, and of that number 7,000,000 are members of approved societies conducted by insurance companies, 3,000,000 are members of approved societies controlled by trade union organizations, 5,000,000 are members of friendly societies and 1,000,000 are members of rural societies. It is only reasonable to assume that had the insurance companies not been in the field, a majority of the 7,000,000 who are members of approved societies conducted by insurance companies would have been members of approved societies controlled by friendly societies or trade union organizations. We know what will happen if insurance companies are allowed to come under this scheme. If we agree to either of the amendments moved we shall be imposing a very severe hardship upon friendly societies, which are entitled to the benefits that accompany increased development in Australia. It is easy for managers of insurance companies to inform the Government that they will not interfere with the work of friendly societies. They may not do so personally, but they will immediately instruct their agents to get on with the job and if these agents do not secure sufficient business their services will be dispensed with. If insurance companies are given the right to form approved societies, they will be serious competitors with friendly societies, and there will be a good deal of unnecessary cut-throat competition. The friendly societies have carried out the work successfully for half a century, and although the insurance companies had every opportunity to participate in the business offering, they did not consider it worthwhile to enter the field. The insurance companies are out to make profits, but that is not the objective of friendly societies. Moreover, the insurance companies have the assistance of large highly-paid staffs whilst most of the work of friendly societies is done by their secretaries, who are the only paid officials. The friendly societies and some trade union organizations are the only bodies that have ever attempted to render this form of service to the people. In provincial towns and country areas, the agents of insurance companies act in numerous other capacities and generally speaking are “go-getters”. Agents and canvassers are paid on a commission basis, and are prepared to go to any length to secure business. Members of the Opposition are glad to have a measure of support from other honorable senators; we shall not be a party to any act likely to prejudice the continued successful operation of the friendly societies of Australia which, in the last 50 years, have set such a splendid example of thrift and economical management.
– I admire courage, whether it be physical, moral or mental - we have all heard of the gentleman who tilted at windmills - but in seeking to carry the amendment before the Senate this morning honorable senators are merely in a courageous way attempting to achieve the impossible. I can quite understand the desire of the mover of the amendment to test the views of the committee in regard to it. At the general elections in October last the Government was given a mandate from the people to bring down a national insurance scheme and it had a sufficient majority in the House of Representatives to pass the measure through that chamber.
– The Government had a mandate to introduce such a measure six years ago.
Senator JAMES McLACHLAN.While we may all agree in principle with the scheme of national insurance, at the same time we may differ as to its details. That is what has happened on this occasion. I have no doubt that the majority of members in both Houses of this Parliament are anxious to place a scheme of national insurance on the statute-book, but those who have been privileged to represent the people for a number of years know that compromise is the very life-blood of politics; if we desire consideration of our opinions by others, we must be prepared to extend equal consideration to theirs. The objective of the amendment now before the committee is simply to include insurance companies in the category of approved societies. When a similar proposal was submitted in the House of Representatives it was rejected, and if the committee passes this amendment now, the whole matter will again have to be debated in another place. In my opinion, however, those who believe that the members of another place may have changed their minds since they recorded their vote on this matter, are optimists.
References have been made this morning to the reciprocity which exists between English and Australian authorities with regard to the national insurance scheme. I take it that there is very little wrong with the working of the English scheme at present, despite the figures cited by the Leader of the Opposition, which would seem to refute that statement.
– Those figures were supplied by the English advisers.
Senator JAMES McLACHLAN.Senator Sir George Pearce pointed out that when an Englishman, who was a member of one of the English industrial insurance societies, comes to Australia, he may be placed in an inconvenient position because there may be no branch of that industrial society established in this country. There are many friendly societies operating in England which are affiliated with friendly societies in this country, and I have no doubt that if such a man had to tranfer to another society on his arrival in Australia, very little hardship would be imposed on him. Because I may be accused of having political reasons for my opposition to the amendment I wish to make it quite clear now that I am anxious to see thi3 national insurance bill placed on the statute-book of Australia and for that reason I have no desire to make it more contentious than it is at present.
– The Minister in charge of the bill has told us that the Treasurer approached the insurance companies and received from them an assurance that a large number of policies, running, I am told, into millions, would be adjusted so that the policy-holders could enjoy the benefits conferred by this measure. I should like to know if any relief will be given to those people who have made such a bad bargain if these companies are excluded.
– A compact such as that could not be insisted upon.
– Then no relief will be given?
Question put -
That the amendment (Senator DuNCANHughes’s) bo agreed to.
The committee divided.
(CHAIRMAN - SENATOR SAMPSON.)
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clauses 139 to 149 agreed to.
Clause 150 (Consultative Council).
– Can the Minister give the committee some information regarding the method by which the council will be appointed by the Minister? When industrial and social bodies of this kind are being appointed, it is usual to have some system of election, or at least, of nomination by the bodies concerned. In this case, however, it appears that the societies will have no say whatever. Ican understand that a Minister will exercise great care in the selection, but it appears to me that the societies should be permitted to nominate or elect members of the council.
– I am informed that a certain number of representatives will come from the friendly societies, a certain number from the trade unions, and a certain number from other classes of societies. For instance, some trades may form approved societies among themselves. They will have to be represented, and a selection will be made by the Minister from the nominations submitted.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 151 to 162 agreed to.
Motion (by Senator A. J. McLachlan) agreed to -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till Tuesday, the 28th June, next, at 2.30 p.m.
Senate adjourned at 1.12 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 25 June 1938, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1938/19380625_senate_15_156/>.