Monday, 23 May 2016

A.N.A. was forerunner to modern Health Funds

The Australian Natives’ Association (A.N.A.) was a national organisation that provided sick pay and medical and funeral benefits to its members. In many ways, it was a forerunner to modern health funds and insurance schemes, but the A.N.A. also sought to influence government policy on a range of issues relating to Australian national interests.

Delegates at the Australian Natives’ Association, Biennial State Conference, held at Townsville, Easter 1936. Townsville delegates were A.D. Murgatroyd (top row, second from left) and G.W. Ballment (third row, second from right).
Photo: Courtesy of Roy Murgatroyd.
The organisation, which was initially open only to white Australian-born males, was formed in Victoria in 1871 and was soon actively involved in promoting the cause of federation of the Australian colonies. Australia’s first two Prime Ministers, Sir Edmund Barton and Sir Alfred Deakin, were A.N.A. members.

The first branch outside of Victoria was established at Charters Towers in 1879 and by 1901 more than 200 branches existed throughout Australia.

Joining fees and weekly subscription fees varied according to age. In the 1930s the weekly subscription for a 16 year-old was set at 13 pence per week and this rose to 25 pence per week for a 45 year-old. This ensured a sick pay benefit of £1 per week for six months, and a funeral benefit of £30 upon death, payable to the nearest relative. Once a member reached the age of 65, no further payments were required, but all benefits remained.

The A.N.A. considered itself a “Patriotic and National Association”, and in a 1930s advertising pamphlet, the association’s aims were clearly laid out, declaring:

“The Australian Natives’ Association is a National organisation and has for its main plank the development and maintenance of a united Australia; the recognition and encouragement of high ideals of National life and character, and the stimulation of Australian literature, art, science and industry.”

“The native-born object to any part of Australia – near or remote from the equator – being made the dumping ground for the demoralised, decrepit, lunatic, and destitute populations of old world countries, including Britain or any part of the Empire.”

Immigration was clearly a key area of concern for the A.N.A., and was high on the agenda at the association’s State conference, held in Townsville in 1936.

Townsville delegate, Mr Arthur Murgatroyd, told the conference that he had no objection to “other nationals coming into Australia”, however, he added that he thought it would be “a catastrophe at the present time to bring immigrants to Australia when they could not handle the question of unemployment”.

“If they could make sure that immigrants had sufficient capital to settle them on the land, and not to make them a charge on Australia he would have no objection to them, but if they were going to displace Australians, the A.N.A. would be failing in its duty to Australians if they neglected to protest,” the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported.

This discussion came at a time when Australia was still suffering the effects of the Great Depression, and unemployment levels were high.

Mr Murgatroyd urged the association to oppose “the resumption of immigration to Australia until such time as unemployment had been reduced at least to pre-war figures”.

The conference also heard other ideas for tackling the unemployment problem, including a proposal to move to a shorter working week, which might provide more jobs for a greater number of people; and proposals to push for compulsory superannuation, and compulsory retirement at age 65.

Many of these issues carried over to the federal conference of the A.N.A., which was held in Canberra in November 1936. The Canberra Times noted:

"An important question for discussion was the shorter working week. It could not be disputed that recent inventions tended to swell the ranks of the unemployed and make it more difficult for great numbers of young men to secure employment."

The Commonwealth Government considered holding an inquiry into a shorter working week, in light of agitation from the A.N.A.

Headline from the Canberra Times, 10 November 1936.
Source: Trove
Another issue for the conference was the appointment of Australians as Governors-General. The A.N.A believed that Sir Isaac Isaacs, who was the first Australian to serve as Governor-General (from 1931-1936), was an excellent example of why Australian-born men should be considered for the position.

The Canberra Times reported in some detail:

"The conference of the Federal Council of the Australian Natives Association which opened at Canberra yesterday made constitutional reform a prominent subject of its discussions. A feature of its decisions was a resolution in favour of the appointment of Australians to the office of Governor-General, one
delegate insisting that Australians would fill the office with more
competence and as much dignity as men from overseas."

"I think it is fitting that organisations such as yours should come here for your Federal conference and concentrate upon the Federal Capital as we all have something in common in Canberra. This is yours and ours and we should all do something to make it worthy of the nation," said the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) in opening the meeting of the Federal Council of the Australian Natives' Association, at which delegates from all States were present."

"Mr. Lyons said that the association had done much to foster a Federal spirit in Australia. That had been very important in the past, but he thought it was still more important now. The constitution was established in such a way as to make it possible for us to express ourselves Federally and from the State standpoint. Federation should be a harmonious expression. There should not be lack of harmony for us as between the Commonwealth and States. As a citizen of Tasmania, he did not think that he should be called upon to have any conflict with the Commonwealth."

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