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Thursday, 10 November 1938

Mr GREGORY (Swan) .- This is one of the most extraordinary proposals ever submitted to this Parliament. It seems something in the nal are of a ramp and I am opposed to it.

Mr Holt - That statement is decidedly offensive to me and I ask that it be withdrawn and that the honorable member apologize.

Mr GREGORY - I withdraw the remark to which exception has been taken but the honorable member can ask in vain for an apology. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) has very glibly cited the small difference between the rates charged by Australian companies and those charged by British companies. I remind honorable members that before Lloyds began to operate in Australia insurance rates were unduly high and that as a result of competition rates were reduced by about 50 per cent. Prior to that organization entering the insurance business in Australia, the Australian companies had a complete monopoly, and I am surprised that some honorable members, particularly members of the Labour party, should support an amendment to assist a monopoly which must add to the export costs. Many Australian insurance companies charged unnecessarily high premiums which enabled them to make enormous profits. If the amendment were adopted a combine would be established and rates would soon increase appreciably. It is suggested that this provision shall apply only to apples and pears, but if it be agreed to similar provision will soon be made in respect of all exports. As the honorable member for Fawkner has said, large sums of money have been paid by way of bounties to assist some of our exporting industries because of the difficulties associated with exporting at profitable prices. Had it been possible to export fruit or other commodities at profitable prices bounties would not have been sought from or granted .by this Parliament. Surely no action should be taken to place additional business in the hands of Australian insurance companies, and thus enable them to create a monopoly similar to that which obtained before Lloyds commenced to operate in Australia. If this proposal be adopted it is only reasonable to assume that an effort will soon be made to compel exporters of wheat and wool and other primary products to insure with Australian companies. Is it suggested that because Australian companies pay Australian rates of wages and observe Australian conditions all insurance business in respect of exports should be placed with them? As Parliament has granted rebates on sugar used in the processing of fruit for export, rendered assistance in respect of cases, and done everything possible to assist the canned fruit industry, it should not now endeavour to impose this condition which will have a detrimental effect upon exports. At present it is difficult to find profitable markets for apples, pears and other primary products, and we should not do anything to restrict our export trade. As the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Fairbairn) said, if this amendment be agreed to letters will he published in the British press concerning the attitude adopted by Australia. The feeling in Great Britain will be similar to that which prevailed a couple of years ago in connexion with our butter, when the people in many industrial centres in Great Britain suggested that Australian butter should bc boycotted simply because of the tariff which Australia imposed. Moreover, there is a most decided duty preference granted to our fruit in England, and America is asking to be placed on equal terms with us. This is one of the most suici- dal proposals that could be submitted. I imagine the influence which must have been brought to bear in order to get such an amendment brought before this Parliament. Very little consideration has been given to it, and it is difficult to realize the damaging effect it may have on the industry if it is agreed to. It may be the forerunner of other imposts on exports which assist materially not only in developing Australia but also in providing employment. We should not do anything that will be detrimental to Australia's interests. The Government should realize that if this restriction is imposed it will soon be faced with difficulties in other directions. I shall do my best to see that the amendment is defeated, because I am opposed to legislation of this description.

Mr Rosevear - Will not the honorable member admit that most of the insurance companies involved are British companies ?

Mr GREGORY - I do not care whether they are or whether they are not. When Lloyds became established in Australia, a friend of mine in Western Australia informed me that insurance premiums were reduced by 50 per cent. The honorable member for Fawkner, who compared the premiums charged by the Australian companies with those charged by the British companies, should remember that the rates are now competitive, and that if the competition were removed the Australian companies would increase their rates to an alarming degree. I urge the Government, which may be influenced by a desire to give this business to Australian companies, that if the amendment is agreed to it will be assisting to create an insurance monopoly such as was in operation before Lloyds started business in Australia.

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