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Friday, 14 September 1928

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Does this scheme apply to State and Federal public servants?

Dr EARLE PAGE - Federal public servants are under a scheme which, taking it by and large, provides more benefits than are to be conferred by this scheme. Consequently, they will be exempt.

The scheme is necessarily dependent on a sound system of medical certification. In order to make certain that we shall have the benefit of the best advice possible, provision is made that the medical officers will deal directly with the board and not with the societies. They will also be paid by the board. There will be a panel of medical men. Every reputable medical practitioner will be available. Every person will be able to choose his own doctor, unless there is some sound reason why that doctor, either through giving too frequent certificates or for a similar reason, ought to be disciplined or penalized. I have discussed the question of certification with the medical profession, and they have given me many valuable suggestions with regard to the tightening up of the system. Provision is made in the bill that any one who knowingly makes a false statement in a certificate of incapacity shall be liable to a fine of £50 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months.

There are numerous provisions in the bill of a miscellaneous character relating to such matters as disputes, exemption from taxation, powers of inspectors, offences, the making of regulations, and others.

Mr Maxwell - Supposing that a workman, after contributing for some years under the act, is unfortunate enough to get five years hard labour, how would his rights be safeguarded ?

Dr EARLE PAGE - His rights would cease if he did not contribute inside six months.

Mr Maxwell - He would receive no wages in gaol.

Dr EARLE PAGE - The fact that be is not contributing would place him outside the act. He would be kept in suspense for six months. After serving five years in gaol lie could re-purchase his status for that period by paying an additional levy. Where, under the act, the amount of a person's income affects his eligibility for benefit or the amount of benefit payable to him, income arising in respect of war service is not to be taken into account. It is also provided that all benefits under the act are to be inalienable and that any assignment or charge on a benefit is to be void. Another provision of some importance is that no person is to be entitled to receive benefit under this measure and at the same time to receive a pension under the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act. It will not be possible for a person to join two or three friendly societies and also to come under this scheme, and thereby receive more money when he is ill than he received when well. The sum of £3 10s. has been agreed upon as the maximum that a man can receive from these various sources at one time, but in no case must the amount so receivable exceed two-thirds of the average weekly earnings during the previous twelve months.

It has also been decided that workmen's compensation and the benefits' under this scheme shall be mutually exclusive. The higher benefit will obtain; but not both benefits at the same time.

Regarding the number of persons who will come under the scheme when fully established, an estimate, which it is believed will be reasonably close, has been made in respect of the number of employed contributors.

Taking into account the exceptions and exemptions provided for in the bill, it is estimated that, if the scheme comes into force on 1st July, 1929, the number of employed contributors for the year ended 30th June, 1930, will be 1,600,000- persons, comprising 1,240,000 males and 360,000 females. It has also been estimated that 25 years later ' this number will have grown to a total of 2,400,000 persons, comprising 1,850,000 males and 550,000 females. Those figures relate to the compulsorily insured.

In respect of the number of voluntary contributors there is no satisfactory basis for estimation, since so much in this case depends upon the operations of the human will. The persons who will be eligible for voluntary contribution are the persons who are working on their own account without employing others, and small employers, the stipulation being made in all cases that the total annual income must not exceed £416. From experience under the English act, it appears improbable that a large number will take advantage of the benefit provided, and this experience suggests that a total of as many as 50,000 persons at the commencement of the scheme would be quite an outside estimate.

Mr J FRANCIS (MORETON, QUEENSLAND) - What would be the position of a person who to-day receives less than the maximum income under the scheme, but later exceeds it?

Dr EARLE PAGE - If he is compulsorily insured, he could carry on under the scheme as a voluntary contributor. The nature of these proposals is such that the additional costs to be borne by the Government will not be heavy during the next few years. In fact, owing to the relief which the scheme will effect in the matter of invalid pensions, it is estimated that for the first six years under the scheme the demands on the Treasury under . the scheme, and the consequently modified working of oldage and invalid pensions, will not be any heavier than those which would be made under the old-age and invalid pensions if allowed to function alone without the interference of any such scheme.

After that the relative charges on the Treasury will commence to grow, and it is estimated that in ten years the combination of benefits under contributory and non-contributory pensions will somewhat exceed what would have been payable if the old-age and invalid pensions had continued in operation alone.

I have given in short space an impressionist picture, perhaps something more, of the measure which I have the honour to introduce. I have shown honorable members that in the provisions made for its control an endeavour has been made to ensure that all interested parties shall be represented, and that there shall be appropriate technical assistance to maintain its soundness.

This measure has been made possible by the painstaking work of the royal commission which investigated the question, and which was so ably presided over by Senator Millen, to whom this Parliament is greatly indebted for his untiring efforts, extending over a lengthy period.

I am appending to my address, as a guarantee of the soundness of the scheme presented, the report on the bill by three fully qualified actuaries, who have assisted in its preparation, for it must be recognized that in a matter of this sort the actuary necessarily plays as important a part as an architect in connexion with the erection of a house, a public building, or a monument, or an engineer in connexion with the construction of a bridge, a reservoir or a railway. These three experts have certified to the soundness of the scheme put forward.

All of these gentlemen have the highest actuarial qualification, the Fellowship of the Institute of Actuaries of Great Britain and Ireland. One of them, Mr. C. H. Wickens, is the Commonwealth Statistician and Actuary; another, Mr. A. W. Sneddon, is a prominent actuary of lengthy and extensive experience in one of our leading life offices; and the third, Mr. S. Bennett, is the Government Statistician and Actuary of Western Australia, and is an expert in friendly society practice and finance.

A perusal of their report indicates that the actuaries have not merely analysed the financial side of this great question, but also contributed materially to the construction of the bill itself, and to the elaboration ofthe machinery necessary for setting the scheme in motion. In fact, the distinctive character of the solutions furnished by them to the numerous difficulties which the workings of the English act has rendered apparent has been mainly due to the intimate knowledge of the details of the British scheme which these three distinguished gentlemen have brought to the discussion, and has been quite as valuable in the preparation of the scheme as the strictly actuarial side of their work. In addition, I wish to thank the leaders of the friendly societies and other organizations who discussed with us the various features of this bill. They gave us freely of their experience, and were instrumental in enabling us to avoid possible mistakes.

Mr J FRANCIS (MORETON, QUEENSLAND) - Did they approve of the bill?

Dr EARLE PAGE - That is scarcely for me to say ; but many of their suggestions have been adopted in toto.

I have outlined as briefly as possible the basis on which the Government's proposals rest, the scope of the measure which we have brought down to put them into operation, the comprehensive benefits for which provision has been made, and the widespread nature of their application. Having done this, I feel that I can leave the matter with the House with every confidence that members will recognize and appreciate the honest effort of the Government to contribute a practical proposal for the banishment of that grim spectre of want and misery that has too long haunted our sick and our aged.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Fenton) adjourned.

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