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Thursday, 20 May 1920


Mr BELL (Darling) .- On Thursday last I made my attitude towards this proposal quite clear by recording my vote, against the amendment moved by the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Bamford), and I should not have risen to-night but for a reply which the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) gave to a question that I asked a day or two ago, and but for certain interjections that have been made. I asked the Prime Minister whether, if he introduced a Bill to increase the allowance paid to members of Parliament, he would -sanction a similar increase in the allowance paid to soldiers incapacitated during the war.


Mr Hector Lamond - You should be ashamed of dragging the soldiers into a matter like this. They have been played with by those who have opposed their interests, and it is a pity that a returned man should use them.


Mr BELL - I think it is necessary to do what I have done. I intend to tell the House why I put that question to the Prime Minister.


Mr Blakeley - Will the honorable member take the increase if it is agreed to?


Mr BELL - Certainly. I was saying that a great deal of prominence had been given to a question which I put to the Prime Minister regarding increased pensions for incapacitated soldiers. It has been stated in one quarter that I put that question with " obvious sarcasm." I assure the House that I had no intention of being sarcastic. I put it for the sole reason that I thought a suggestion of the kind to the Prime Minister might be beneficial, and lead him to think of the case of those men before he brought in this proposal.


Mr Poynton - He did think of them.


Mr BELL - I am pleased to hear it. My object was not to bring the soldier unduly into the debate or to be sarcastic at the Prime Minister's expense. It appears quite obvious that if we, as members, increase our allowance, the incapacitated soldiers, who are now receiving pensions to the extent of only 303. per week, should receive consideration also.


Mr Poynton - The Repatriation Bill which has just been passed provides for a pension of £4 per week.


Mr BELL - Yes, for totally incapacitated soldiers, but there are many who are maimed, although they are not regarded as totally incapacitated, and who receive only 30s. per week. We, as members, will be open to criticism by those soldiers when they see that we have increased our own allowance, while they are not receiving a pension sufficient to keep them in reasonable comfort according to their circumstances. That is a good enough reason for rae, at any rate, to oppose a- proposal such as this. It will be conceded that whilst the Repatriation Bill was before the House the members on this side who have been soldiers were at least moderate in their demands. I recognised to the full the truth of the plea put forward by the Treasurer, or Acting Treasurer, when applications for increases in the payments made to soldiers have been placed before the House, that the state of the finances of the country would not permit of them being granted. That being the case - and no one believes in it more than I do - if we, as members, increase our allowance now, we can scarcely justify our refusal to pay incapacitated soldiers a sum adequate to keep them in reasonable comfort. We should remember that these men have served their country and bought the freedom that we hare to-day. In spite of what my honorable friend on my right says, I am determined to bring up this matter. They bought our freedom and paid for it in blood and tears. I have to answer to them, and I consider the inadequacy of their allowances a good and sufficient reason for not voting for an increase in my own allowance.

Many reasons have been given in the debate last Thursday and to-day to show why it is necessary and proper that the allowance of members should be increased, but I reiterate what I said on the former occasion, and what has been said by others to-night, that the Bill is not a proper one to introduce in the first session of a Parliament. I think I was the first to voice in this House the opinion that such a question should, in some form or other, have been 'first put before the people.

It has been said that- if we do not pay members of Parliament properly we shall not get the best men for the positions, and my reply is that at the last election the choice was limited, because the people supposed that the allowance of members would continue at £600 a year. If £1,000 a year had been decided on there would probably have been much more competition, and a number of members, perhaps myself among them, would not be here to-night.


Mr Nicholls - May I suggest that you should go before your electors and ask them for permission to accept the increase? You can take that as a form of referendum.


Mr BELL - I have heard the suggestion, and, as Ministers often say, it will receive consideration. Some honorable members have given as a reason for increasing the allowance that their election expenses are very great, and that they find after expending about £200 per election that there is little more than that left for themselves. I cannot understand why a member should spend hundreds of pounds to win an election if the remuneration he is to receive is inadequate. I can quite understand men having an ambition to serve their country and even wanting no return for it when they are elected. In certain Parliaments in the past no allowance has been paid to members. I can also quite understand men spending a great deal of money for the honour and fame attached to the position - I do not say that in any sarcastic sense - but I cannot understand any honorable member putting forward the plea that his allowance should be increased because his election expenses leave him very little for himself.

I am not one of those who consider that the most successful man, as the word " successful " is generally used, in nrl.vate life or in business or in the profes sions, would make the best member of Parliament., It is very easy for a man to make money if that is his sole aim in life, but many men who are successful in business or professional capacities have concentrated on one department or branch only, and their outlook on life is necessarily narrower than that of other men who have had no ambition to make money, but have mixed with their fellows and made themselves acquainted with their wishes and needs. I do not claim that the man who can make a big salary in private life must be paid a correspondingly large allowance if he is expected to become a candidate for the National Parliament.

I have been surprised that certain honorable members have thought it necessary to tell the House that they have not accepted a bribe since they have been in Parliament. I cannot command language to express exactly what I think of that statement. Of course they do not accept bribes. Who said they did ? They do not pick pockets either. Surely we are not going to pay a member an increased allowance so that he shall not be in a position to need to take a bribe? Is a man's honesty measured by the amount of his income ? I think not. The argument was a very poor one in the first place, and should never have been advanced in this Chamber. .

I wish to refer, in. conclusion, to the question which has been put to me, of whether I would accept the increased allowance df the Bill was passed, with the amendment suggested by the honorable members for Gook (Mr. Catts). I have already said that I would accept it. Interjections and epithets such as " despicable " and " cowardly " have been thrown across at us.


Mr Fenton - Those came from your own side.


Mr BELL - It has already been Droclaimed from both sides of the House that this is not a party question. When the matter was first canvassed, a member said to me that a man who would take the extra allowance after voting against it would be nothing but a hypocrite. I replied that if they thought I was going tr» come over because of a threat of that kind they had picked the' wrong man, and J say it again now. Never before has the word " cowardly " been used to me, and no suggestion of that sort will deter m«* from recording my vote in the way 7. think right. Honorable members who speak in that way will at least understand that I have sufficient courage to tell them now plainly and clearly that I shall take the money if it is voted.

With regard to the proposed allowance to the Leader of the Opposition, I am not in a position to say what the work attached to the position is, but I have no objection to the payment of such an allowance. The Opposition has become recognised, as the Prime Minister says, as ? necessary institution in Parliament. I am not in the habit of throwing bouquets about, but I can say honestly that there is no member of this House for whom I have greater respect than the Leader of the Opposition. However, the honorable member and myself may differ on questions of policy, I believe that the Opposition is well led. The tone which the honorable member adopts when criticising Government proposals might well be followed by all members. There is no question about his ability, and he has given a great deal of time to his duties. I am sure that he has earned every penny he has received, and will do so in the future. But there are other members besides the Leader of the Opposition, and we cannot decide what allowance is due to a member because of his ability, or what remuneration he would be receiving outside if he had given all 'his attention to business instead of devoting himself to politics.







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