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Wednesday, 29 June 1938

Mr BEASLEY (West Sydney) . - I have attempted to ascertain the reasons why the Government insists upon this period of five days. At first, I expected to be told that any shortening of this period might affect the solvency of the scheme, because, whenever it was suggested previously that the benefits under the scheme should be liberalized in any direction, the reply offered was generally along those lines. I expected we would be told that if this period were shortened, the whole basis of the actuarial calculation would be upset and the solvency of the scheme threatened, but thatargument has not been advanced in this instance. The Treasurer (Mr. Casey) really states that, after all, whatever funds are accumulated through the postponement of payment for a period of five days will go back to the approved societies, and through the pooling arrangement provided under this measure, those societies whose members are more liable to disablement, or sickness, as against other classes of contributors, will be enabled to pay special, or extra, benefits after a period of five years. In the first place, I point out that we have no guarantee whatever that any extra benefits will be paid at all, and it is mere assumption on the part of the Treasurer to suggest that this course might be followed. Furthermore, very few honorable members are prepared to accept the possibility that the position assumed by the Treasurer will even eventuate within five years. One of the most prevalent forms of sickness of brief duration is influenza, with which many of us have been affected during the last few weeks. If influenza is attended to promptly, and the patient goes to bed at once, he will probably overcome his illness within three or four days. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr.Holt) touched upon this aspect and stressed its importance. He argued that men who were really sick, and running a temperature with influenza, under the present conditions in the bill would be prone to hold on as long as possible in the belief that they can shake off the attack, although in doing so, they run the extreme danger of developing pneumonia. The Government should seriously consider cases of this kind. It must be remembered that workers generally, including for the most part manual workers, fall victims to complaints which are usually of short duration, and that in many cases failure to deal properly with the complaint in its first stage leads to move serious consequences, if the Government desires to adhere to what it alleges is the primary principle of the scheme, namely, the care of national health, it should be generous enough to conserve the health of the workers right from the commencement of any complaint to which they may fall victims, however slight such a complaint may at first appear. For these reasons, I cannot understand why it insists on retaining this period of five days. The only argument advanced on its behalf in this respect, is that the workers will, later on, be given increased benefits. But when will that time arrive? I have yet to be satisfied that contributors of this class will not have to pay something in addition to their contributions under this scheme in order to qualify for the full benefits offered by approved societies. The Government, I repeat, should be generous enough to enable insured persons to attend properly to their complaints immediately they fall ill. If it insists upon this provision of five days hardships must necessarily be created in the homes of those who are compelled to insure under this scheme. The point of view of the worker on the basic wage in this respect has been argued very fully, and I feel it should be again considered in this matter. I suggest that we who happen to be fortunate enough to enjoy continuity of remuneration, or income,, should try to visualize the actual circumstances of workers of this class and. not allow our ideas on the subject to be fashioned according to our own circumstances. Many honorable members., fail to approach matters of this kind from that viewpoint, and are inclined very often to view them only from their own experience. We are not confronted with the difficulties which arise in the homes of basic wage workers when the wages of the breadwinner are suddenly stopped.

Our salary is continuous and, consequently, should we fall ill for three or four days the circumstances in our homes from a financial point of view are not affected. But I urge honorable members to view this matter as it really applies to the thousands of workers on the basic wage, and to remember, all the time, that to' the last penny the wages of the workers are parcelled out for the payment of rent and the necessaries of their homes. Every penny they earn is required for some necessary expenditure; they have very little to spare at any time. They have no opportunity these, days to save any of their earnings, and consequently, when they fall sick they are hard put to it to find the wherewithal to meet any increased expenditure resulting from their illness. The burden in that respect falls heavily upon the workers' families which, in many cases, consists of boys and girls of tender age. For these reasons, the Government should allow the payment of benefits to commence immediately the breadwinner falls sick. He will then have some consolation in knowing that his income will not be totally cut off immediately misfortune befalls him. I repeat that the solvency of the scheme as a whole is not involved, and, therefore, it cannot be said that a reduction of this period of five days will upset actuarial calculations. The only argument advanced on behalf of the Government is that this arrangement will enable extra benefits to be paid on the expiration of some unspecified period in the future. Perhaps the worker will not need them then ; he may have passed, into the Great Beyond. I appeal to the Government to picture the circumstances of the worker as they really exist; if it does that it will agree, I feel sure, to -reduce this period of five days.

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