THE POSITION OF FRIENDLY SOCIETIES.
[From Our Parliamentary Reporter.] WELLINGTON, July 12, With a view of continuing the investigations started locally by the Evening Stab as to the feeling concerning Registrar Mason’s recent strictures of the financial position of friendly societies, I arranged for an interview with Mr Fish, member for Dunedin South, who is an Oddfellow of many years standing, and a P.P.G.M. for the Otago District. His views are given at some length below:—
Reporter: Have you read Registrar Mason’s report?
Mr Fish: Yes, carefully. Do you consider his strictures justified by the knowledge of the finance of friendly societies that your long connection with them has enabled you to gain?— Yes; for his strictures only apply to those societies and branches that have been shown to have a real deficiency after having been valued. His remarks are but an epitome or echo of what the valuers have stated in their reports to the various societies year after year, and I think that neither the Registrar nor the valuers can be too severe on those societies who persistently reject all the warnings given them. 1 notice that in the case of two societies—namely, the New Zealand central district of the Reohabites and the Sons and Daughters of Temperance—not only has nothing been done by them to remove the large deficiencies brought out at the first valuation, but they have actually largely increased spine of their benefits. Any person who takes the trouble to consult the last column of Table I. of the Registrar’s report, as well as the appendix, will see that he was perfectly justified in the remarks be made, and that he would have failed in his duty as a public officer if he had not in this, as in former reports, drawn particular attention to the results disclosed by the valuations received daring the year. To what causes do you consider the state of affairs disclosed in the report to be due ?—The present state of things in societies showing deficiencies is due to various causes, but the want of knowledge on the part of the founders of what contributions were really necessary to provide the benefits promised may be regarded as the main cause. Another cause is the unwillingness of members to believe in the valuers’ reports when a deficiency is exhibited, 1 have never heard, however, of a valuer’s report declaring a surplus ever having had any doubt cast upon it, and in consequence of this they refuse to raise their rates. The average member thinks that if the receipts are a little over the expenditure all is well, but he forgets that he is growing older, and that with age comes the heavy claims for sickness. Another cause of the deficiencies is want of due care in the management and investment of the funds. I know of several lodges—Ravensbourae, Albany street, Rattray street, and a large number in Canterbury—who have invested their sick and funeral fund capital in halls, and have never been able to get anything like a fair return for the money. The trustees have also been very remiss in the matter of investing the funds closely and at market rates of interest on good securities. Again, previous to the passing of the Act, the capital or interest of the sick and funeral fund was often trespassed upon for management and medical expenses, and the Registrar in hia efforts to stop it encountered no small amount of odium and opposition. I understand that such misappropriations are now few and far between. But the consequences of these past errors remain, and will not be got over without an effort.
What step has jour Order taken to improve its financial position?—An agitation was started in the Otago district about 1875 for financial reform, the main points aimed at being a graduated scale of contributions (after the manner of the parent society in England), the profitable investment of the funds, and the stoppage of all borrowing from the sick and funeral fund by the management. The agitation was kept up tor some years, but it was not till during my term of office as Grand Master in 1879 that a graduated scale was adopted, and it became law in July of that year. Even then, after all the agitation, the scale finally adopted, though a great improvement on the old, fell considerably short of the scale recommended by Messrs 6. Leslie and P. Black. But it was agreed that the new scale should have a fair trial, and the district is still working under it. A valuation of the society was made at the end of 1879, and a large deficiency was shown; but at the next valuation after 1884 the deficiency was found to have been reduced by about L 7,000. I think the third valuation will soon be due, and I am inclined to think that onr society—the M.U.I 0.0. F. —as a whole will be found to have a surplus, although some of the lodges may be deficient. But in any case I am certain we have some amongst us who will not rest satisfied till not only the society, bat every lodge under oar jurisdiction is solvent. What, in your opinion, should be Iks course of action in order to bring lodges that are financially weak to what we may call a safe position ? The canse or causes that have led to the financial weakness should be inquired Into by some competent person and explained to the members, and if they are in earnest to preserve their society or lodge the advice given to them will be acted on. The central bodies of the affiliated orders might also do much to bring abont improvement in weak lodges. This question is engaging the attention of the Oddfellows, Foresters, and other societies at Home at the present time, and the subject is found to be a very difficult one to settle, I may say, however, that 1 am deoidedly opposed to any kind of Government coercion in this matter. The members mast be educated, and conviction must go before legislation, otherwise I ain sure more harm will be done than good. Should the Government appoint independent auditors to inspect the boohs of lodges? —No. I do not think that mnch good would be gained by the appointment of Government auditors, and it would put the country to considerable expense, which, speaking from the way business is conducted in the Otago district, and the careful manner in which the district secretary examines the returns of the lodges, would be unwarranted. At the present time there are auditors appointed by the Government for auditing the accounts of friendly societies, bat their employment is optional, and, as a matter of fact, I believe their services are very seldom availed of. Mr Thomas Burton and Mr Alexandsr Sligo are the auditors for Otago. It is a question, however, whether the Registrar should not have the power to order an audit of a lodge or society’s books by a public auditor in any case where he has reason to suspect that anything is wrong, or where the secretary, through incompetence, has got his books into a muddle and cannot give correct returns. How far has the Registrar's Department assisted the improvement of matters relating to friendly societies, and in what way could it be made of farther use in that direction *— Previous to the establishment of the registry office there was not a general knowledge of the number or position-of the several societies in the colony. We knew all about ourselves, but very little about the others. Now, by means of the Registrar’s office and his annual reports to Parliament, not only members of societies but the general public know all about the societies, their membership, funds, and actuarial position. In this way a vast amount of useful information has been disseminated. Beyond all question great good has been effected by the registry office in its examinations of the accounts and investments of the societies, and by keeping them within the provisions of the law it has saved the benefit funds from many a loss, I cannot think of any way that the office could be made of further use to societies than it is at present, unless by increasing the Registrar’s powers to prosecute the defaulting officers and lodges for breaches of the Act. The publication of the accounts and the distribution of the valuation reports are things that should be insisted upon, and it is a question whether, seeing that the Government pay |bp yqluationg, (hey should not all te done in. ona office,, and the reports of societies printed and circulated by the department. Is there any other phase of the subject on which you could give, information ? So much attention has been drawn to the subject of friendly societies this session that the
Government have promised to Introduce a Bill, or else to appoint a committee to Inquire into the working of the Act. I favor the latter course; but I do not think this committee should consist of members of the House. It should be composed of two or three prominent members of friendly societies, who should generally inquire into the working of the Act, and whose chief doty should be to interview the prominent mem-, hers of the societies in each district, and by pointing ont what should be a proper contribution to ensure safety, induce them by moral suasion to set their respective houses in order. A report from such a committee or Commission to the Government woulu, I feel convinced, be of the utmost value. registrar mason’s views. At Wellington on Monday night (writes our Parliamentary correspondent) the Registrar of Friendly Societies lectured on the subject before a very large audience. The chair was taken by the Premier, whe said that be was desirous of identifying himself as far as he possibly could with the task of ameliorating the condition of friendly societies. In the conrse of his address Mr Mason might feel compelled to say some hard things, but he (Sir Harry Atkinson) felt sure that if he did so they would only be for the benefit of the societies themselves, and would not be made in any antagonistic spirit. Attention hmi been directed in Parliament to the condition of these institutions, and the object of everyone should be to put them on the best possible footing. The object of himself and tha members of his Government was to set the societies on a sound financial basis, and he hoped to have the assietance of the experienced members of the several societies in doing so. Mr Mason spoke as follows :
Although it is more than a year sines I addressed the members of the Wellington friendly societies in the Oddfellows’ Hall, 1 wish to refer to some criticisms passed upon tha paper which I read on that occasion—subsequent criticisms, I mean, by persons who were not present, bat who saw a printed copy. I may say that I received from many correspondents throughoot the colony very complimentary expressions of their appreciation of my treatment of the subject, bat I propose to refer only to those criticisms which were adverse, in order thatl may reply to them. One friend eaid to me: “X see that yon have been delivering an address to friendly societies. Rather full of padding, wasn’t it?” I did not think it necessary to defend myself to my critic, who doubtless alluded to the numerous quotations with which 1 bad supported and enforced my arguments. Now, those quotations were in every instance from the writings of actuarial experts and others, whose position entitles their words to the greateit possible respect; and if, in support of what 1 consider to be sound advice, 1 find passages in the works of recognised authorities setting forth in forcible language the views which 1 desire to advocate, I unhesitatingly say that, instead of restricting myself to words and arguments of my own selecting, 1 think it far better to ask my hearers, as I shall ask yon to-night, to weigh well the statements of those who are manifestly and admittedly competent te speak on the subject. I readily acknowledge that the question should not bs “ Who says this or that ? ” but “ Are the allegations trne, and are the deductions logical ?” And if the authorities appealed to in support of my contention on any point can be shown to be illogical as to their reasoning or mistaken as to their facts, then my critics are welcome to include both them and myself in a well-merited condemnation. Another comment that was passed on my humble effort to convey instruction and information was that It was not sufficiently entertaining. Now, gentlemen, lam quite wi'ling to be entertained, and if any of the friendly societies will arrange a social gathering and include me in the list of guests (as my friends of the Southern Cross Lodge did the other night), I will come and enjoy the evening with yon. We will, for that night, forget that there are snob words in the English language as inadequate contributions and deficiencies. All our thoughts shall be of surpluses and of long life without a pain, but, on occasions like the present, when the questions under review ee clearly belong to the serions side of life, I take it for granted that you will approve el my determination to treat our subject in a serious manner. Another objection that what I said contained nothing new, and that it was but the repetition of an oft-told tale, I had anticipated, disclaiming originality. The methods of conducting a friendly society which I recommended have been by a consensus of opinion pronounced by experts te he sound. New views can he originated, therefore, only by the condemnation ef those methods,'and of the foundations mb which they rest; and, as 1 am convinced that the wisdom of those methods cannot be impugned, I do not know how te avoid the charge of repetition, as from time to time 1 am called upon to offer advice or to urge reform. No great advance is likely to be effected by oac appeal. The settled conviction that resnlts in continuous action is of slow growth in the minds of men, I ask your forbearance, therefore, if in my desire to see New Zealand societies occupy the front rank ia respect both of their organisation and their success I keep on repeating, as occasion serves, established truths. I beg, too, that you will banish from your minds the idea that, because in the conrse of ny official duties I find it inenmhent on me to point ont errors and defects in your system, I do not fully recognise the fact that the highest praise is due to those whe have done so much and faced so many difficulties in the establishment and development of these institutions. Nor do I seek to detract from the value of the work ia which yon are engaged. While pauperism and kindred social subjects were continnally presenting overwhelming difficulties to the mind of the statesman and the philanthropist, a section of the class most nearly affected solved tor themselves and for those who joined their voluntary Association the anxious and complicated problem. Without financial influence, without the leadership of men of mark, without, in fact, any of those advantages which are generally thought to be necessary to the suocessof great enterprises, straggling even far a time nnder the ban of public opinion, the pioneers and organisers of the affiliated friendly societies in England fought a noble battle. There were, undoubtedly, at first, mistakes and defects, and consequent loss and partial failure; but the history of'the moyemenf proves that the men who devised the scheme of mutual insurance for the masses knew what in the main was suited to their nheds, and exhibits them persisting through good report and evil report in their efforts te carry forward the work irhieh to-day is sc important a feature in the social life of the community, with reference to' the mistakes and ' losses made by ’ fnepdfy societies, are there no other institutions which also exhibit failure ? To mention one class only: what a lamentable array of life insurance offices have collapsed utterly daring the present centnry. There is not, I admit, any satisfaction to be derived to yon from this fact, but it certainly shonld serve as a warning, for those failures were dne te the very same errors which I urge you te correct. A recent utterance by Professor Seeley seems to me so appropriate to yonr founders and reformers that I will quote it, and 1 think that we, too, may flatter onrselves that onr presence here to-night ia a proof that, although we may not be able to claim that we have done very much for the cause, we are ready at least to approve and follow the counsel and guidance of the wisest and the most far-seeing. Professor Seeley was addressing a society whose purpose is the cultivation of a higher standard in all social and ethical relations; but his words have a general application, and as such we will venture to appropriate then to ourselves. His words are these:—
I know no way in which a nation can acquire clear view* except by the influence of the clearer minds upon the rest. In every generation somo men can see their way even when the multitude is most bewilderedt some men can grasp principles even when the most are without pole star or compass. These men must influence the rest, and the utmost that can be tried in such an extremity is to bring to bear upon the mass the greatest amount and the best quality of influence from the better gifted and tpe better informed. • , .1
I have one more objection to deal with. I was charged with taking too gloomy *a view of' those societies whose financial position has, upon investigation, bbfea
declared, and that more than once, to be unsound. From the facts, as they are stated, it does not seem to me possible to evade the conclusions that I drew. I should greatly rejoice if either the facts or the conclusions could be disproved or gainsaid. A very long time may elapse before an unsound society goes utterly to the wall, but even within the short experience of this colony, commencing from tlfe passing of the Act of 1877, several societies and branches have dropped out of existence ; and there is not, nor can there be, any tangible record of the individual suffering which has resulted from such imperfect thrift. And I should not like it to be possible that men should say—whether or i.o I be alive to hear it—that 1 had helped, even by my silence, to deceive them to their rum. I am glad that public atteution has been at length aroused to the insufficiency of the contributions of many of the societies. Hitherto there has been evinced by the majority an utter indifference to those warnings which the Registrar and the Public Valuers have given to societies whose rates of contribution are inadequate to provide the benefits ofiered. I have had conversations with members who did not even know that a report showing the unsouudness of their lodge’s financial position bad ever been issued. But 1 would deprecate any attempt at compulsory legislation. My opinion is that education is the only possible means whereby to cure the evils that exist, and that a system of coercion would necessarily and lamentably fail. Existing members, and those also who are about to join their ranks, must be persuaded not to begrudge a few shillings a year for the sake of securing a safe insurance. I refuse to believe that the members of friendly societies in this •olony will persistently remain blind to their true interests. Your Victorian brethren were face to face with the same difficulties, and they have done much to amend their position. New Zealanders will, I am satisfied, become not less alive to the necessity of action. Already some societies have taken steps in the right direction, and the present shaking among the dry bones is, 1 take it, a hopeful sign of coming improvement. (To be continued.)
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THE POSITION OF FRIENDLY SOCIETIES., Evening Star, Issue 7958, 13 July 1889
THE POSITION OF FRIENDLY SOCIETIES. Evening Star, Issue 7958, 13 July 1889
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