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Thursday, 17 June 1915

Senator TURLEY - It has been on the stocks for about four years, I think.

Senator GARDINER - There has been no hurry, and the only thing which is wrong with Senator Senior is that, instead of anticipating a good useful measure, which would bring into existence one Commonwealth Act and put out of existence quite a number of State Acts, and be of immense benefit to the whole of the people of the community, he was anticipating a system of legislation which would confer some benefit on the maimed and the poor. I am sorry that he made the mistake.

Senator Senior - It excludes many mutual offices, which are doing useful work to-day, because of the provision requiring a deposit.

Senator GARDINER - I venture to say that there never was a Bill introduced yet in which the mind of man could not suggest some huge improvement. But this is a real hard, practical business measure, to bring all those insurance companies whose business comes so much in touch with the daily life of the people of Australia under the control of whom ? Of one Parliament, elected by the people of Australia on the broadest franchise imaginable. If that is not progress, I do not know what progress is. Senator Senior said that " the Bill would- benefit not one soul in Australia." I see an immediate benefit to the insurance companies; I see a great improvement in the practice of the companies, and a great advantage to the policy-holders in them, and, above all that, I see an Insurance Bill that will be controlled by a Government which is controlled by the Democracy of Australia. That may be no benefit or no gain at present, in the opinion of Senator Senior. Then, as regards national insurance, or matters of that kind, I venture to say that when this Bill is passed, and all matters of insurance are placed in the hands of this Parliament, its business, when the time is ripe, will, be to take whatever steps it desires, and let it go so far as it will, it will not go further than I am willing to go, in the direction of improving the conditions of insurance, making it much cheaper, more profitable, and more beneficial to the citizens of this country. But even if it is desired to do that, the foundation work has to be done first. The complaints of Senator Senior remind me of the complaint of the man who went to look at a house to be built, and who, when he saw the men taking out the foundation, said, " Instead of building a house, they are digging a hole." That, I think, sums up the criticism of the honorable senator. This is constructive legislation. I venture to say that when the honorable senator has time to read Hansard, he will find that his was a most interesting speech on national insurance.

Senator Senior - That is what I wanted ; and once more I say that there is a tide even in the affairs of a Government which, taken at its flood, leads on to fortune.

Senator GARDINER - I am not saying that the honorable senator does not want national insurance, or that he cannot find a majority of the Senate, or of this Parliament who favour national insurance; but, even so, surely he is not going to take exception to my conduct because I introduce a measure to bring under one control the whole business of insurance in Australia! I am not complaining of his criticism, except that it was levelled in a wrong direction. Instead of dealing with the principles of the Bill, he dealt with something not in the measure, and something, to my mind, which is better left out of it. The introduction, of national insurance would not be expedited by dealing with the subject in a Bill of this kind.

Senator Keating - This is foundational legislation.

Senator GARDINER - Yes. I am digging for the foundation upon which the edifice of a National Insurance Act will be reared, and I hope that before we are through Committee we shall have erected a structure that will prove exceedingly valuable. I have no objection to honorable senators airing their views on national insurance, but I do ask them not to too closely connect me with their criticisms.

Senator Senior - I never charged the Minister with being opposed to national insurance.

Senator GARDINER - The Government are not opposed to any suggestions for improvement of the measure. Only yesterday a deputation from the fire insurance companies waited on the Government in connexion with this matter, and I recognise that some of their suggestions must receive consideration. The Bill has not been hurried. It is more than six weeks since it was introduced, and the debate was adjourned to suit the convenience of honorable senators, and also 'to give those people who are deeply interested in the measure an opportunity of considering the legislation we are introducing. I know from what has occurred that they have taken an intelligent interest in the matter, and, just as we have had the views of the fire insurance companies placed before us, I venture to say we will have the views of the life insurance societies. When the measure becomes law, I feel sure we shall have a first-class Act, consolidating for the first time in our history the whole of our insurance laws, and also providing for control by this Parliament and this Government. Of the criticism of the measure itself by Senator Millen, Senator Senior, and Senator de Largie, I think Senator de Largie was the first to point out the indefiniteness of the clause dealing with what was a just and reasonable rate. With a larger experience of the matter, I think we shall have to be more definite, and say what we mean by what is just and reasonable. Wherever improvements can be made, I will not be backward in accepting them if convinced that they are improvements.I can assure honorable senators that I will not refuse to accept amendments simply for the sake of standing to the Bill as it has "been printed ; but if I am satisfied that an improvement can be made I will accept it from whatever quarter it may come. I have endeavoured to make myself acquainted with the Bill, and to see how the amendments will work in. IfI have omitted to mention any matters referred to by honorable senators in the debate, I hope, when we come to the clauses in the Bill, they will call my attention to them - because this is one of those Bills which we can best deal with in Committee - and they will be carefully discussed . I thank honorable senators - even Senator Senior for his criticism, severe as it was - for the manner in which they have received this Bill, and I hope, when it goes into Committee in a pro formd manner, we will adjourn it in order to allow another measure to be dealt with. I hope, also, that when we get to the Bill again we shall so deal with it that eventually we will have a very valuable measure placed on the statute-books of the country.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read asecond time.

In Committee:

Clause 1 agreed to.

Progress reported.

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