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Wednesday, 29 June 1938

Mr BARNARD (Bass) . - In view of the fact that this national insurance scheme has been moulded on the British national insurance legislation by experts experienced in the British scheme, and that under that scheme sickness benefits are payable upon four days' incapacity, it is extraordinary that this bill, as originally drafted, provided that seven days must elapse before sick benefits become payable, and that, under the amendment now proposed by the Treasurer, five days must still elapse before insured persons become entitled to such payments. Although medical health insurance has been in operation in England for more than 25 years, this scheme is less generous than the British scheme in one of its most important aspects. I agree with the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) that the Government's proposals will not be accepted by the people of this country as even fair, let alone generous. People who are now entitled to friendly society benefits will not be affected by this clause to the same degree as those who are not covered during the five days which must elapse before they become eligible for sickness benefits under the national insurance scheme, as such payments would be made to them by the friendly societies. After the five days had expired, they would also receive the national insurance benefits. It is true, as the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) said, that, the people on the lower income scales will feel the adverse effects of this provision most. Similarly, should the provisions be liberalized, such people would be the first to benefit. The salaried man whose income will not cease immediately he becomes sick, will not be vitally affected, but the very people whom the Treasurer claims that this proposal is designed to benefit, will suffer because they will not receive any sickness benefit until the expiry of the qualifying period. While, disagreeing with many provisions of the bill, I submit that this particular clause is absolutely inhuman. The Treasurer may calmly sit back and feel satisfied that he has done an excellent job by reducing the period by two days, but. as one who knows what hard times arc and who has had experience of rearing a family on low wages, I know something of the distressing effects of sickness when the breadwinner is laid aside and his salary ceases. It, is totally unfair to provide that a period of fivedaysmust elapse before sickness benefits become payable under this scheme.

Mr Bernard Corser - The payments may be made on the fifth clay of sickness.

Mr BARNARD - Why attempt to beggar the question? We all know perfectly well that the benefits are provided on the fifth day. The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) is only trying to side-track the issue. We must face the facts. The proposal to pay sickness benefits only after a man has been sick for five days is inhuman, but it is the kind of gesture we might reasonably expect the Treasurer to make to people on low wages. As persuasion and reasoning are of no avail, I shall content myself with registering an emphatic protest against meting out to our people treatment which compares very unfavorably with that given by the scheme on which our legislation is modelled.

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