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Wednesday, 29 June 1938

Mr JAMES (Hunter) . Honorable members opposite who, when the bill was first before the committee, championed the cause of the friendly societies, have been discreetly silent to-night. Apparently, the Government steam-roller has been at work again. The Treasurer (Mr. Casey) doesnot realize the trouble and anxiety that this clause is causing among friendly societies and other organizations that have a far better health benefit scheme - far better by a long shot - than is provided in this bill. The friendly societies and other organizations, particularly the Miners Federation, immediately the member becomes ill, make twice as much money available in sick pay, in addition to medical and hospital benefits, as to be made available under this bill. How does the Treasurer expect these societies to fit in their rules with the half-baked measure which is before the committee, The Treasurer smiles, but it is no smiling matter.I shall have to explain this measure in the coal-fields, and I am not looking forward to doing so. How would I be able to tell the people about what Parliament has done when they know that a far better measure could have been introduced. That it would have been possible for the Government to bring clown a better bill is evidenced by the fact that its scheme will cover hundreds of thousandsof people, whereas the Miners Federation with a membership of only about 14,000. is able to carry out a scheme of voluntary insurance which is far more generous to its subscribers than will be the compul- sory insurance of the Commonwealth Government. I have invited the experts from Great Britain who have advised the Government on national insurance to give in the coal-fields districts one of the explanatory lectures that they are to give in Canberra. I thought that they might he able to explain to the people why it was that, a compulsory scheme involving millions of pounds could not provide benefits equal to the benefits provided by organizations which cater for only a few hundred subscribers. I also thought that they might be able to tell those persons who conduct the voluntary insurance schemes just how they will be able to fit in their schemes with the Government scheme. How will they be able to make their extra benefits fit in with the fewer benefits of national insurance? Perhaps the Treasurer will be able to answer that question, but I do not think so. As a matter of fact, it will be impossible for him to do so. The passage of this legislation will mean that the whole of the organization of friendly societies and other mutual benefit organizations will have tobe re-cast.

Mr Casey - Certainly, one will have to be fitted in to the other.

Mr JAMES - One will run foul of the other. They will take some straightening out. The benefits of this bill are a mere bagatelle compared with the benefits of voluntary insurance. This bill provides for a quinquennial review of the funds of approved societies, and surpluses will have to be distributed. I assure the Treasurer that those societies are not seeking to swell their funds at the expense of the contributors so that they will be able to make a distribution of profits every five years. They do not desire to force people who are ill to wait for five days before they can qualify to draw the sickness benefit; they desire to make these payments immediately a man falls ill, because that is what they arc used to doing. The Treasurer, if he ever belonged toa friendly society and had occasion to draw such a benefit, would know that that is so. Those societies are humane, and they recognize that side by side with medical treatment it is necessary for people who are ill to have nourishing food. People who are in poor circumstances and who, therefore, have no credit at stores, cannot buy food if they have no income. This bill wall prevent them from having any money for five days after the breadwinner has been stricken with illness. Honorable members opposite know nothing of the circumstances in which the poor people of Australia live. They never go to the coal-fields, and, accordingly, they can never know the conditions under which thousands of Australians have to subsist. They are content to deceive themselves by travelling among the better-circumstanced people of Australia and telling them that the problem of unemployment has been solved, which they well know is a lie. In those places where them is actual distress, the greatest sacrifice is made by the poor to help the poor. Honorable members opposite never try to help the poor. They never even give them an encouraging word or offer them a helping hand.

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