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Thursday, 13 May 1920

Mr HUGHES (Bendigo) (Prune Minister and Attorney-General) . - I come to the discussion of this.question as one who, for the time being at any rate, is not pecuniarily interested. I speak, too, as one who has had almost as long an experience of parliamentary life as any member of this House. I have been chastened, as most men have, by that experience, and sometimes a little saddened by it. I am perfectly confident that what the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) has said is right in his case is right in mine. Had I given my energies to law, or to the making of money, I should have been a very wealthy man today. Nay, if to-morrow I walked out of this House, and turned my energies into some other channels, I could earn more money in one year than here in three, even occupying my present position.

So much by way of preface. I am a Minister, and the motion relates to the salaries of members. As most honorable members know, Ministers receive as members a salary of only £400 a year. Why that is so I have never been able to understand. The motion says, in effect, that the salai-y of members is inadequate. I quite agree with that. There is one principle that holds good the world over in relation to labour and everything else: if you want the best thing you must pay the best price. The price of a man's labour and a man's service differs from tin-e to time. It includes as the irreducible minimum the cost of subsistence. Six hundred pounds a year was considered a fair salary for members of Parliament in 1907. If that is so, it is certainly not a fair salary to-day.

Something has been said of the position of members who" devote their entire lives to the service of their country. Speaking for myself, I have found it a very thankless business. I see around me men who have been my friends and colleagues for many years, many of whom are as poor as, and some poorer than, myself. They have so slipped into the rut of political life that once they are driven out they are utterly undone. They are unfit for anything. 1 have seen men hang round the portals of this place when the public, fickleminded as it is, has rejected them, miserable beings, seeming, as it were, like those who were cast out of Eden. I have even known an ex-Federal Minister to be reduced to such straits that, walking down Bourke-street, I saw no man so miserably dressed or looking such an outcast. Such cases are, no doubt, exceptional; but I speak of the general rule. Why should the public expect those upon whose honesty and ability their welfare and the safety of the nation depends to work for less than a fair return for their services? What right have they to expect anything of the kind ? The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) said that he offered himself to the electors for £600 a year. I certainly did not. I consider myself under no obligation to work for the same salary now as in 1907 any more than I consider my messenger is for ever compelled to work for the salary paid him when he first entered upon his duties. He has a right to ask for more money when circumstances change, the cost of living increases, or his services become of more value. "

I have had a very long experience of public life, and, like the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), I have not known a man to be turned out of Parliament because he asked for more salary, and took it. I have, however, lived to see, both here and in the New South Wales Parliament, men who, having refused a higher salary, have later on come back and taken it. I remember there was in our old party one man who would not take the increased salary of £600 a year. He was the only member of the party rejected at the next election.

Mr Watkins - And then he took it.

Mr HUGHES - That is so. I make no pretence whatever to work for nothing. I give to my country the very best that is in me. In return I expect fair payment for my services. But I do not get it. If I take up a job, I try to do it to the best of my ability. It is a striking tribute to Australian legislative institutions that, although they have been in existence now for at least half-a-century, it cannot be said that any instance of bribery or corruption on the part of a member of Parliament has ever been raised. In this Parliament, of which 1 have been a member, together with some of my honorable friends, for nineteen years, no man has ever sold his vote. No man has trafficked his influence for money. No man has profited by it. On the wisdom, foresight, and regular attendance of honorable members at this place depends the welfare of the people. If we say to the people outside, " You shall not have a wide choice; that is to say, you shall not select any men you like but only men who are well-to-do," then Democracy is a farce. If I were in the position of an ordinary honorable member, having to live on £600 a year, I do not think I would offer myself to the people upon the understanding that I should not be allowed any increase of salary. I am the Leader of the Government, and, knowing that I am the Leader, I speak in my capacity as a member of this Parliament, although I know what construction will be placed on my words. I agree with the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Bamford) that the press will denounce this proposal ; yet there is no writer who writes as he is told to write, but who seeks an increase in his own salary, and few, if any, who have not received one. These gentlemen, indeed, are now going to the Court to ask for more. Nor is there a journal in the country railing against profiteering that has not increased their prices by 50 per cent, or even 100 per cent. Amongst those who cry out for economy there is not one who does not demand his pound of flesh for what he sells. Economy with such people begins with the " other fellow." The labourer is worthy of his hire ; but it is the custom, of the press to belittle parliamentary institutions. Although the press, perhaps, does not realize it, it is by its persistent denunciation of Parliament doing the work of those who seek to overturn Parliament and substitute direct action. Some of those connected with the press of the country seek to propagate the idea, that directly a man becomes a member of- Parliament he becomes either a fool or a rogue - that there is no man outside Parliament so poor or so insignificant but that his counsel can be taken before one chosen of the people. We are those whom the people have deliberately chosen to rule over them. The salary paid is either a fair salary or is not ; let us take the proposal on its merits. If it is not a fair salary, let us raise it. I have heard from those who oppose the motion their reasons for doing so, and those reasons do not convince me : they do not appeal to me, because they do not approach the question from the proper, angle.

Like ray honorable friend the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), 1 have given my life to this business - my whole life. I did not take it up, and have never pursued it, as a pastime or a recreation - I did not enter Parliament to take my place in a debating society. I have, as I say, devoted ( my whole life to the service of my country. In turn, the people owe me something. When they have chosen me as their representative they have intrusted me with infinitely greater powers than that of deciding what is a fair salary for myself and my fellow-members. I do not intend to consider for a moment what the press happens to say. As everybody knows who reads the press, what it says to-day it unsays to-morrow; and it does not bother me. I lived for twenty-five years a member of a party that flourished despite the press; and now, although I am a member of a party that sometimes takes a great deal of notice of the press, I never do. I owe nothing to the press - the press has endeavoured persistently to pull me down. It has not succeeded, and it is little likely to affect me by its diatribes, whether on this or any other question. Perhaps I ought not to have said this; however, it will give the press a chance for an extra leader, and so to earn an honest penny. All I ask from the press, or anybody else, is a fair field and no favour.

I am not going to commit the Government; the matter has not been considered by us; but I am going to say what I think, and that is that an increase of salary is warranted by the circumstances. I am not going to commit myself to any particular amount, nor am I going to commit the Government; but I am, if the House approves the motion, going to bring this matter before the Cabinet, and I shall recommend that a Bill be brought down in order that the House may have an opportunity to express its opinion.

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