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Wednesday, 29 June 1938

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) .- The Treasurer (Mr. Casey) claims that we should not select particular features of other health insurance schemes and attempt to compare them with certain provisions of this bill. The Opposition admits that, but it suggests that it has every right to draw attention to the present practice of the friendly societies in Australia, which is to commence the payment of sick benefit from the first day of sickness.

Mr Casey - What about invalidity?

Mr CURTIN - The Opposition is talking of sickness.

Mr Casey - That is a small point.

Mr CURTIN - I am surprised that the Treasurer does not view this matter in its true perspective. Sickness is a much more prevalent trouble than invalidity, and causes much greater interruption of the continuity of employment. We are now dealing with the sickness, not of the wife or the children, but of the breadwinner. When the income of the breadwinner ceases, because sickness prevents him from working, the Treasurer suggests that it is asking too much to say that sick pay should commence on the day when the employee ceases work. Under the Government's proposal, a worker who is off for a week through sickness will receive only two days' sick pay, and,if absent for five days, he will get nothing. At the outset the Opposition claimed that sick pay should commence on the first day, but the Treasurer was adamant and would not accept that proposal. We then suggested as a compromise that sick pay should begin on the fourth day, and when that was refused we asked that the word " fifth " be inserted. We are now in the unfortunate predicament that we cannot move for a reduction of the period which must elapse before sick pay commences, because such an amendment would be ruled out of order on the ground that it would increase the appropriation; and we cannot reject the Senate's request without restoring the word " seventh ", to the insertion of which we are opposed. The procedure adopted by the Government has placed the Opposition in a cleft stick. Even if the insured person gets sick pay from the fifth day after the commencement, of his sickness, he will not receive hospital or dental treatment. If he is a casual worker, it is doubtful whether he will be covered by the scheme at all, and, if he is unemployed, he will be definitely beyond the scope of the scheme.

The Treasurer remarked that in Great Britain Sunday is not counted as a day in calculating the time for the commencement of sickness benefit, but I remind him that the British scheme provides for unemployment insurance, and that fact should be taken into account in measuring up the benefits received under the British scheme. Yet the Treasurer claims that this bill is one of the most beneficent pieces of legislation in the world. The practice of the friendly societies, which will, no doubt, become approved societies under this measure, with respect to the payment of sick benefit to insured persons, will be very different from its present practice in that regard. The Treasurer tells us, when he considers this bill as a whole, that, if an insured person works one day a week, it is fair that he should make a full week's contribution of1s. 6d. to the insurance fund, but that unless he is off for five days he cannot receive any sickness benefit at all. If he is off for seven days through sickness, his sick pay will amount to only two-sevenths of £1, therefore, he will never receive sick benefit at the average rate of £1 a week during the period when, on account of illness, he is unable to earn his usual wages. I challenge the Treasurer to be at least logical in this matter. I say to him that if it is a fair thing that a man who works only one or two days a week should have to pay a full week's contribution to the insurance fund, then it is equally fair that if he is sick for one or two days he should be given sickness benefit for those days. The honorable gentleman wants it all the way. He says that, after the quinquennial investigation, approved societies will be able to extend their benefits. No doubt the term " quinquennial investigation " is supposed to have a charm about it, like the term " abracadabra," and the insured person is to regard the quinquennial valuation as the equivalent for sick pay in the first five years. The larger the word, the less the reality of the benefit. The honorable gentleman contemplates that, after the quinquennial investigation, approved societies will be accumulating reserves, and he proposes that these reserves shall be re-allocated a nd that one-half of them shall be pooled among the whole of the approved societies, with the result that they will then be able to extend their benefits. If it be true that they will be able to extend their benefits, I do not believe that the statute will allow thorn to pay sickness benefit to any person even under that computation until he has been incapacitated for more than five days, because an approved society cannot vary legislation passed by this Parliament. If this Parliament says that sickness benefit shall not be paid until an insured person has been incapacitated for five days or longer, not even an approved society can pay an insured person at any earlier day.

Mr Casey -i invite the honorable gentleman to look at the fourth schedule.

Mr.CURTIN.- My point is that if the approved societies can do it after the quinquennial investigation, they should be able to do it now.

Mr Casey - The fourth schedule provides as an additional benefit " the payment of sickness benefit from an earlier day than that upon which it would otherwise commence."

Mr CURTIN - That is, after the first revaluation. If an insured person can keep alive for five years, ho may enter into his heritage and he entitled to sickpay benefit for the first few days of illness. I put it to the Treasurer that, if he had a sense of what is appropriate, he would make this bill as acceptable as he could to the immediate generation, because, after all, the immediate generation will have to contribute for two years before it willbe entitled to any benefits of a material kind under this bill. Failing to be impressed with what the Opposition has said upon this matter, the honorable gentleman makes it clear that this is a governmentbill. He has been inflexible in his bearing towards the suggestions of honorable members on all sides of the chamber, and the rigidity of his attitude towards this bill is out of proportion to what is a reasonable way to launch a measure of this kind.

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