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Wednesday, 29 June 1938

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - Ring the bells.

Mr JAMES - As I was saying before I asked for an audience, when a man is ill and is unable to get sustenance for five days, he is more than likely to become dangerously ill. Storekeepers will not give credit if they know that there is no money to come into the household, but, if they know that money will be paid by the national insurance fund from the day on which the illness starts, they will readily give the needed credit. If the Treasurer is so hard-hearted, as he appears to be, as to be unconvinced by the arguments that I have advanced on behalf of the ill persons themselves, regarding the need to eliminate the waiting period,I directhis attention to the needs of the families of people who become ill. If the breadwinner falls ill his children will not be able to have anything to eat for five days. That fact must awaken the sympathies of the Treasurer. The fiveday waiting period means that all the members of the family of the sick breadwinner will have to tighten their belts until the insurance money arrives. Australians are not used to tightening their belts and we do not welcome people coming to Australia from abroad and telling us that, we must tighten them. In 1931, we were told by one man from overseas that we should tighten our belts, but some of us refused to do so. The then Premier of New South Wales, Mr. Lang, refused to ask the people of thatState to tighten their belts.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member will not introduce Mr. Lang into this discussion.

Mr Lane - What about Scullin?

Mr JAMES - We shall leave Mr. Scullin out of it, too. The people of Australia want advice from nobody to tighten their belts. The Senate is to be congratulated on its attempt to reduce the waiting time, but I think that this House should go further and eliminate all reference to a waiting time. Reference has been made to members of theSenate drowsing in their beards, but, at least, the Senate showed more sense than did the Government when it forced this bill through this chamber by means of the guillotine.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - Order ! The honorable member's time has expired.

Mr. DRAKEFORD(Maribyrnong) sitehas risen to oppose the request of the Senate, it would appear that all supporters of the Government believe that contributors to the national insurance scheme who become sick should wait at least five days before being entitled to sickness benefit. I suppose that honorable members opposite have already expressed their views at, caucus meetings and know that the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) will not accede to the wishes of honorable members on this side of the chamber. I regret that the Minister declines to allow humanitarian instincts to override financial considerations.For years I have been associated with men receiving low rates of pay, many of whom are members of friendly societies or benefit funds formed by themselves which provide sickness benefit immediately their members are compelled to cease work through ill health. One . can readily realize that if sickness benefits are not available to the lower-paid workers it will be exceedingly difficult for them to maintain themselves or their families. Immediately men in receipt of low wages are compelled to be absent from their employment they begin to get into debt; and as they may be absent from work, owing to sickness, several times during the year, it is not long before they are verging on insolvency. Sonic time ago the Government appointeda nutrition committee with the object of ascertaining the quantity and quality of food necessary to improve the health of the community, but under this national health and pensions insurance scheme, which is supposed to improve the conditions of the people, the Government proposes to deprive contributors of any sickness payment for five days. I am wondering whether that committee will be asked to determine how long men can live without any food at all. Apparently they have to live five days without any sustenance whatever. I cannot understand why honorable members opposite have not expressed their views on the proposal, because, when the bill was under consideration in this chamber, they endeavoured to convince the Treasurer that, a period of less than the five days now proposed is desirable. The Treasurer promised to compromise between seven days and the first day, which we sug gested, and if this proposal embodies the best that the Government can do it is clear that it is not anxious to assist the lower-paid contributors to the scheme. It is a waste of time to. endeavour to persuade a hard-hearted Treasurer to do that which ought to be done. Honorable members opposite know as well as I do that the period before which a contributor is entitled to payment is too long, and that the Government's proposal is unnecessarily harsh.I suppose it will be said that the actuarial basis of the scheme will be affected if the period be further reduced.

Mr Beasley - The Minister has not made that suggestion.

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