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Wednesday, 29 June 1938

Mr HOLLOWAY (Melbourne Ports) . - During the discussion of this measure, members of all parties have been made aware of the careful calculations that have been made, and the data obtained, in order to guide the experts and the Government in determining the cost of the benefits to be provided under this scheme. No phase of this legislation has been given more careful consideration than its cost. I suggest that the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) already has the information which the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) suggested might be obtained by consultation with the friendly societies. Indeed, it was because the Government knew the cost of paying sickness benefits to employed people that this hill provided for a period of seven days from the commencement of the illness.. If the experience of the friendly societies shows that sick pay is necessary from the commencement of the sickness, it should be paid. According to the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) the average period for which sick pay is paid to members of friendly societies is less than fourteen days a year. That shows that many workers are on sick leave for a few days at a time. The bill should be amended to meet the needs of the great majority of workers who lose pay because of sickness. I ask honorable members to imagine the position of a man on the basic wage who loses three or four days' pay. 1 remind them that the average basic wageworker does not receive the basic wage for more than six or seven months each year.. The loss of a few days' pay means a great deal to him. Benefits which will not cost much have been provided for in the bill, but others which would confer some real benefit on the workers have not been included. The outstanding feature of this bill is the careful actuarial calculations underlying it, the studied omission of benefits of real value, and the inclusion of others which will not cost much. Throughout Australia there are many voluntary provident schemes which, for a payment of a few pence each week, provide sick pay at the rate of £1 a week from the commencement of the sickness. I have been associated with some of these schemes, and I know that sick pay dates from the signing of the doctor's certificate. I cannot understand how the Treasurer can think that this scheme will appeal to the workers of this country, who are accustomed to receiving sick pay from the benefit societies immediately they cease work through sickness. I predict that many employees who will be forced to join this scheme will cease their membership of the other societies and lodges to which they now contribute. They will find ls. 6d. a week demanded of them under this legislation all that they can pay for sickness and pension benefits. They will be disappointed to find that, whereas they now obtain sickness benefits immediately they become ill, they will have to wait several days before obtaining any benefit under a national health insurance scheme. The Treasurer claims that -the sick pay under this bill will be £1 a week, but I submit that a. man who will lose his pay for five days will not really get £1 a week sick pay. I go so far as to say that 90 per cent, of the workers will not draw £1 a week sick pay, no matter how long they are ill, because they will receive no sick pay unless their sickness extends over seven days. It is not. truly a national health scheme which will give to employees benefits below those which they now derive from societies which they join voluntarily. It is useless to say that these persons will be storing up a benefit for themselves in the future. Men and women who return to work too soon in order that they may not lose wages, which they cannot do without, will not draw much from the fund 20 or 30 years hence.

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