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Thursday, 10 November 1938

Mr FORDE (Capricornia) .- The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that no contract of insurance shall, except with the approval of the Minister, be made by the board with a company or body of persons not carrying on business in Australia. I support the amendment, and I cannot see that there can be any real objection to it. If the Minister believes that the charges of Australian companies are unreasonable he will have power to authorize the board to give the business to an overseas company. The Opposition has invariably stood for preference to Australian companies. They have a prior claim to whatever business can be given by hoards of this kind, consisting mainly of primary producers who are dependent very largely on the Australian market, which returns, on the average, higher prices than are obtainable overseas.

Mr Anthony - But this is an export board.

Mr FORDE - Yes, but it will be handling part of the produce of Australian farms, and the rest of that produce will be sold on the Australian market. There is a sort of homeconsumption price for much of our produce, such as dried fruits, sugar, &c. In the circumstances, we have the right to expect that this insurance business shall be given to companies registered in Australia.

Mr Nock - Would the honorable member apply that to sugar also?

Mr FORDE - I am prepared to apply it to everything. I do not think of one industry only, as the honorable member thinks only of wheat. I am not like him who, as a member of this Parliament, supports the payment of bounties, and then accepts them himself. We must view these matters from an Australian aspect.

The board will have to make a choice between Australian and British companies on the one hand, and groups of underwriters on the other. The Australian and British companies have invested their capital in Australia, they have erected buildings here, employed Australians and paid taxes to the Commonwealth and State Governments, and they employ Australians at Australian award rates. Their policies are also subject to stamp duty, and they support Australian loans. I regard insurance as a necessary service just as banking is, and export boards must make provision for the insurance of produce sent overseas. I am not much impressed by the argument of the honorable member who said that, if we accept this amendent, we may give offence to British insurance companies. The same thing has been said of every step. taken to establish industries in this country. When protective duties were imposed with the object of forcing overseas manufacturers to establish branches in Australia, we were told that we would probably give offence to British manufacturers and consumers, who would refuse to buy our produce. That is an outworn Argument.

Mr Holt - This amendment will protect those British companies which are operating here.

Mr FORDE - That is so. Even the purely British company that has not established a branch here, but works through a broker, will still have an opportunity to participate in the business of the board if the Minister is satisfied that the Australian companies are charging too much. Under the Commonwealth Insurance Act Australian insurance companies, and British companies established in this country, have made deposits approximating £3,000,000 as a guarantee that they will be able to meet their obligations. If, at any time, Parliament is not satisfied with the way in which insurance companies in Australia conduct their business, it has power to impose regulations. Australian companies, and British companies established in Australia, employ about 4,000 Australians, who, with their dependants, constitute a body of approximately 12,000 consumers. One cannot over-emphasize the importance of the local market to the primary producers, especially at this time when overseas markets are so uncertain, and when the producers here have to compete overseas against the produce of low-wage countries.

This is not a matter which should require much debate. No hardship will be inflicted on the primary producers by the acceptance of the amendment. Our first, duty is to Australian companies, or to British companies which have established their businesses in Australia. We do not hesitate to apply this principle to tariff protection, and if it is good in the case of secondary industries, it will be good also in the case of insurance. I believe that the great majority of the primary producers are in favour of giving this business to Australian companies, or to British companies with branch offices in Australia.

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