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Friday, 4 November 1938

Mr BLACKBURN (Bourke) .- I wish to raise a matter of some urgency, relating to life insurance. This year, a decision was given by the House of Lords, which laid down the law not only for Great Britain, but also for Australia, in the case Beresford v. the Royal Insurance Company. It was to the effect that, notwithstanding any express provision in a life insurance policy, the personal representatives of an insured person were precluded from recovering any amount due under the policy if the insured had committed suicide. As the House knows, insurancecompanies insert in their policies express provisions to the effect that if suicide takes place within a certain period - generally a year - nothing can be recovered under the policy. The House of Lords decided that, notwithstanding such an express provision, the policy moneys could not be recovered in any case in which the insured person had died by his own hand while sane. The principal insurance companies were perfectly prepared to pay on such policies notwithstanding the suicide, but I understand that they were advised that, even though they desired to pay the widow and children, they could not use in that way the funds of their members. Several insurance companies in New South Wales co-operated in asking the Government of that State to introduce legislation dealing with the subject, and it did so. That legislation is entitled the Life, Fire, and Marine Insurance Amendment Bill, and it provides that an insurance company may not take advantage of the decision of the House of Lords. This Commonwealth Parliament has power to deal with the subjectmatter of insurance, and it should do so. The Parliament of New South Wales has indicated quite clearly that in its opinion this Parliament should deal with the matter. At any rate, the Minister for Justice of New South Wales, speaking on the amending bill on the 21st October (New South Wales Hansard, No. 46, page 2190) said this -

If the Federal Parliament deals with the subject, this bill . will lapse as far as interstate companies are concerned, and I think all the companies are operating interstate.

It is very desirable that any legislation on this subject should have general Aus tralian application, and should not have effect in only one State. As a matter of fact, the subject has already been dealt with by this Parliament, because, in 1930, the Senate sent down a bill to this House dealing with life insurance, clause 80 of which provided that, if an assured person committed suicide after the expiration of thirteen months, the money should be recoverable. The Government has constitutional power to deal with insurance, and I urge that this particular point should be dealt with as soon as possible.

Mr White - I take it that the honorable member wants a uniform law.

Mr BLACKBURN - Yes. If the matter is dealt with only by the Parliament of New South Wales, an invidious position will arise. Companies which are more generous than other companies will probably make payments, but the less generous companies will do nothing. The matter is urgent. Many people are at present seriously affected by the House of Lords decision. Some companies are anxious to pay, but others have declared : "We are advised that we have no right to spend our members' money in this way." Some companies are proposing to make refunds of premiums. I urge the Attorney-General to give favorable consideration to the taking of prompt action in relation to this important subject.

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