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Thursday, 20 May 1920


Mr FLEMING (Robertson) (1:27 AM) . - I can see no reason whatever to make this debate personal, nor do I see why we should question any other man's motives in connexion with the proposed increase of the parliamentary allowance. The whole matter resolves itself into a question of the interpretation of the Constitution. The honorable member for Fawkner, as a lawyer, should be able to interpret it better than a mere layman, but I have gone into it as far as a layman can do so, and my interpretation of it is utterly different from that of the honorable and learned member. Not only does the Constitution enact definitely in section 48 that this Parliament shall have power to regulate the amount of the parliamentary allowance, but in section 3 it distinctly provides that the salary of a certain highly-paid gentleman shall not be increased during his tenure of office. There is no such stipulation regarding the allowance to be paid to members of Parliament. All the Constitution says on that point is that, until the Parliament otherwise provides, each senator and each member of the House of Representatives, shall receive an allowance of £400 a year, to be reckoned from the day on which he takes his seat. There is no prohibition there against increasing the allowance during a member's occupancy of his seat. The only inference, therefore, is that it was anticipated that the Parliament would increase, and should increase, its own allowances.


Mr J H Catts - And the matters that are to be the subject of reference to the people are definitely set out.


Mr FLEMING - I do not often agree with the honorable member, but he is perfectly right in that statement. I was not present during the previous debate on this subject, but even if I had been inclined at that stage to vote against the proposal, I believe the absolutely unfair and uncalled for attitude of the press would have made me vote for it on this occasion. It is utterly wrong for the press to try to bully this House into doing what the press thinks fit. If we are not entirely independent of everybody but our own constituents, we have no right to be here at all, and I strongly resent the attitude of those members of the press who are trying to dragoon us into their way of thinking. It has been stated that it is unfair for us to raise our allowances at the beginning of a new Parliament, and that all this trouble could have been avoided by the different parties going before the people, and referring the matter to them. What would have been the position then? I have always told my constituents that members of this House were very much underpaid, but that until they took their courage in their hands I was not going to say anything. But the position would not have been any better if we had submitted this matter to the people, because, if both parties had faced the elections pledged to support the increase in salaries, the electors would still have been obliged to select representatives of one of the parties, and so, in effect, the proposal would have been the same as far as the electors were concerned. Looking at the matter from every point of view, I can see no reason why any honorable member should conscientiously vote against the Bill. Men come here for various reasons. Some because they believe it to be their duty to do what they can for their country; others because they like the prominence which the position gives them; others, again, in order to make a living, and, by the way,- it is a very poor living. These three cases, I think, cover all the reasons that actuate any man in entering politics. Can it be said that any honorable member will not do his parliamentary work better when he knows that, by this proposed increase in salary, all anxiety concerning the comfort of his wife and children is removed? It has been truly said that no man can give undivided attention to his public duties if he is concerned about the welfare of his wife and family. To some members of the House the parliamentary income may mean nothing. They arc in a fortunate position, and because of that very fact they should be careful that other members, who may be dependent upon their parliamentary salary, are placed in a position to discharge their public .duty satisfactorily. Often, if an honorable member loses his seat after a few years in Parliament he is .unfitted, to some extent, for any other work. There are few honorable members who would not have been in a better position after, say, fifteen years' service, if they had devoted that time to the building up of a private business, because in some cases they would have enjoyed the annual increments which come to every prudent business man ; in others they would have been establishing a substantial good-will. There is nothing in the election of an honorable member in the nature of a financial contract, and, because I believe it is essential for the better governing of the country that members should be free of financial worry, I intend' to support the measure.







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