Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 20 May 1920

Mr HUGHES (Bendigo) (Prime Minister and Attorney-General) . - I move -

That this Bill be now read a second time.

It will be within the recollection of honorable members - that last week the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Bamford) submitted a motion in this House in relation to the matter which is set out in this Bill. The question was discussed, various views were put forward, and a division was taken. That division showed an overwhelming majority of members of this Chamber in favour of the honorable member's motion, which, in substance, was that the salary of honorable members should be raised to an amount not exceeding £1,000.

I said, when speaking on the motion of the honorable member for Herbert; - which I did as a private member of this House - that I agreed in the main with his contentions, and I promised to give the House an opportunity to register its opinion in constitutional fashion. That I now do, but I think it only proper that 1 should explain the circumstances under which the Bill is introduced. As honorable members are well aware, it is not competent for any private member to introduce a measure relating to appropriation of moneys, and it is obvious that, in order that the House shall have an opportunity to express and register its opinion on the statute-book of the country, any such measure must be introduced by. the Government. I introduce this Bill, because I am satisfied that it is the desire of a very considerable majority of members of this Chamber, and, I believe, of the other Chamber, that such an opportunity should be afforded them, and because I myself believe that the change in economic and other circumstances justifies an increase in salary. I introduce the Bill, not as a Government measure, and certainly not as a party measure. I wish to make it perfectly clear that every member, both of the Government, and of the party which I have the honour to lead, is perfectly free to express his opinion and register his vote in any way he pleases. My own . opinion I shall express in terms which I hope will be perfectly clear to everybody, and I take full responsibility for my own action. Honorable members will notice that the Bill is drafted in such a way - the proposed two amounts being enclosed in brackets - that it is competent for honorable members to move that either be reduced. If no amounts had been set out, I am assured by the authorities of the House that the Bill would not be in order.

So much by way of preface; I now come to the Bill itself. First of all, I deal with what may be termed the principal objection to this measure which has been urged by the press, and by our old and esteemed friends, " Pro Bono Publico," and persons of that ilk, whose names, by the way, although I have made diligent search, I have not been able to find inscribed on the electoral rolls of this country. As compulsory enrolment is a law of this land, I must, therefore, assume that those persons are law-breakers. But let that pass. "We have been told that it is not competent or proper for this Parliament to deal with this question. Let me direct my remarks to that point f or a moment or two. Section 48 of the Constitution provides -

Until the Parliament otherwise provides, each senator and each member of the House of Representatives shall receive an allowance of Pour hundred pounds a year, to be reckoned from the day on which he takes his seat.

Section 51 of the Constitution provides -

That Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to: -

(xxxvi)   Matters in respect of which this Constitution makes provision until the Parliament otherwise provides:

That is to say, the Constitution establishes the principle that members are to be paid, and deliberately confers on Parliament the right and duty of determining the rate of pay. Obviously, Parliament is the only body to which such a duty could be intrusted. Not only Parliament's right, but its duty to determine the matter is undoubted. So much for the constitutional basis of this measure.

Now, as to precedent. Those honorable members who have been in the House for some years will remember that in 1907 this Parliament dealt with this matter in exactly the same way as is now proposed, and deliberately exercised the powers with which it is clothed by the Constitution, by raising the allowance of members from £400 to £600 per annum. At that time Mr. Deakin was Prime Minister, by whom the measure was introduced, and it was supported by the late Sir George Reid, who, in doing so, expressed regret that -he had been a party to fixing the allowances to members at £400 in the Convention. Then, in the British Parliament, the Mother of Parliaments, to which we look as the very model of what is proper, the same course as we are pursuing "to-night was followed. That Parliament, which until then had been, an unpaid Legislature, deliberately passed a Bill for the- payment of members. The same course was followed in Canada. And every State Legislature of the Commonwealth has followed the same course. In the State of New South Wales payment of members was agreed to many years ago, and the allowance fixed at £300 per annum. This was increased in 1912 to £500 by a Parliament which applied the increase to members of the existing Parliament. In the State of Queensland the salary which originally had been fixed at £300 was increased in 1919 to £500. In Western Australia the salary which was fixed by Parliament at £200 was increased in 1911 to £300. In Tasmania an increase was made by the Legislature from £100 to £150, and subsequently to £250. In the United States of America the salary, which was originally $5,000, waa increased in 1907 to $7,500; that is to say, the salary was increased from £l,p00 to £1,500. These precedents, to which we may add those of South Africa and New Zealand, are amply sufficient to show that the procedure we are following has been the practice all over the Empire and in other countries. Indeed, the onus is thrown on. those who criticise the right of Parliament to deal with the allowances paid to members to point out one example where this course has been departed from. Those gentlemen whose reading, perhaps through unwise or illdirected tuition in childhood, is confined to the press - who, in short, find at once a source of solace and satisfaction in. reading newspapers, will have noticed that during the last few days we have been favoured by lengthy lucubrations allegedly from indignant taxpayers who are for the most part on the pay-roll of the newspapers in which we find their statements. I have my suspicion that, although we cannot find "Pro Bono Publico" on the electoral roll, we may find him very easily in the office which issues the newspapers in which his letters appear. We have, as I have said, recently been privileged to read some very stirring statements in the columns of a section of the press; but it is to be regretted - because the occasion is not without its possibilities - that the vocabulary and the imagination of the writers are alike most limited, for, curiously enough, all they say now they said in 1907. I have gone to the trouble to rummage among those ponderous tomes in the Library - which for a man of my frail physique shows, at any rate, a spirit of earnest endeavour - in order to refresh my memory with the statements made by our old friend " Pro Bono Publico " and others in those days. The Age on 16th August, 1907, said-

Federal members have raided the Treasury. And that journal asked for a referendum, as the only honest way. The Argus on 22nd August, 1907, said-

The people came to the Town Hall to declare their indignation at what they believed to be a contract broken, a trust betrayed. In the attempt to move faster than the' breath of criticism, Parliament drew on its head a storm.

A few phrases will show the tone of the speeches which were delivered -

A measure rushed through behind our backs. The abuse of a position of trust. An imposition put upon ns. A policy not of increase, but of grab. No man shall be the judge in his own case.

Turning to the press reports of the debate in the House of Commons in Canada, I find in the Canadian newspapers almost the same words. So after a lapse of some thirteen years we find the same criticisms expressed in the same way, and through the same channels.

I was one of those who voted for the increase in the allowance in 1907, and since then I have fought I do not know how many elections - they seem like millions to me - but at only one of those meetings has one gentleman asked me one question on the matter; and I am glad to say he was howled down by an indignant people. So I put these manufactured press criticisms on one side. They emanate from a source which contributes nothing but destructive criticism to the solution of any great' public question. I do not remember one measure I ever introduced into this Parliament, whether I led the Labour or the National party, that the press has not denounced. I recall, for example when, greatly daring, I bought up the fleet of Commonwealth steam-ships, the storm of hostile criticism a.nd denunciation with which I .was assailed from these very quarters. I am sorry I have not the Argus and Age criticisms of my action at that time, because I could have contrasted them with substantial results of the policy they denounced, and put them to confusion by presenting the balance-sheet. In all the circumstances, therefore, it can hardly be wondered at that I do not bother very much about what they say, and what is more to the point, neither do the people. We are to consider this question on its merits. This Parliament is to be overawed neither by mobs nor by the press.

Now let me point out what the Bill does. It provides for an increased allowance to senators and members of the House of Representatives, and that increase will be what Parliament determines. The amount of the allowance set out in the Bill is £1,000, amd a proviso brings up the allowance which Ministers of State, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Chairmen of Committees in the Senate and House of Representatives are " to receive. They are to receive an increased allowance equal to that of ordinary members. In clause 7 the Bill provides that the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives is to receive an allowance, in addition to his salary, of £400 a year, and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate is to receive an allowance of £200 a year, in addition to his salary. This matter was mentioned when the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Bamford) was under discussion last week. The Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives has a difficult position to fill. While, perhaps, his correspondence is not .equal in volume to that with which the Leader of the Government has to deal, it is most extensive. A very large number of the electors look to him, write to him, and express their opinions to him, desiring, through him, to express them to Parliament. He occupies an office which is well recognised. He is the Leader of His Majesty's Opposition. Parliamentary government has long recognised the necessity for an Opposition, and it is about time we gave statutory authority for the office. It should have been done long ago. We will do it how. The Bill does not deal with the salaries of Ministers as members, but leaves them still £200 less than the allowance to other honorable members. Honorable members must not think that I consider that the Prime Minister of this Commonwealth or other Ministers will be adequately paid by the increase in their allowance as members of the Parliament. I believe that they and the overwhelming mass of the people will agree with me that whoever occupies the position of Prime Minister is entitled' to a salary comparable at least with that of a departmental manager in a large wholesale house. It is not to the advantage of the Commonwealth that Ministers or members should be paid a salary inadequate to the services they perform and to the dignity of the office they fill. We are glad to think that we belong to an institution whose honour is untarnished. Democracy knows no better, safer, and certainly no more convenient form of popular government than through Parliaments. It is not proper that those chosen by the people to determine matters vitally affecting their material and social welfare should be underpaid. Contrast the position of a member to-day with his position in 1907, when this Parliament increased the allowance of its members from £400 to £600 per annum. Compare the functions of Parliament now with those it exercised then, and consider, too, the depreciation in the value of money which has occurred in the interval. In 1907, as I know well, because I was then practising in the Arbitration Court, the basic wage of the labourer was £2 Ss. a week; it is now £3 12s., and in New South Wales £3 17s. 6d. a week; an increase of 50 per cent, or more. But the allowance of members has not increased. We are expected to maintain some sort of position, to pay regard to appearances. The calls upon us are numerous. Last year my income taxation was over £100, whereas in 1907 it was only about £14, and in 1910, when I was a Minister of State and receiving practically as much as I receive now, it was about £25. In every direction expenses and the general cost of living have increased.

But quite apart from the increase in expenses and the depreciation in the purchasing power of money, the point I stress is that the services of those who speak and act for the people in regard to matters of vital importance are not fairly remunerated with an allowance of £600 a year. Last week the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Catts) and the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) staged the position very clearly. Members who travel weekly between Melbourne and other State capitals are forced to incur heavy expenditure. For ten years I travelled constantly between Sydney and Melbourne, and there was not a week of that time in which I had not to spend between £2 and £2 10s. for living and travelling expenses, in addition to the maintenance of my home in Sydney. For many years after I became a Minister, I kept up a home in Sydney and another in Melbourne. It must not be forgotten that a member of Parliament cannot effectively look after his private business and the business of the people as well. I have had the honour of occupying the office of Attorney-General of the Commonwealth longer than any other man, and during the whole of my occupancy of the office I have not earned a penny at the Bar. Like the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor), and many other honorable members, the whole of my time has been devoted to the service of the country. When the people think that some other man can represent them better, they will, no doubt, elect him in my place. But while I give the whole of my time to the service of the country, I expect something like an adequate salary. Although the Commonwealth parliamentary allowance has remained unchanged since 1907, the remuneration of the members of the Parliaments of New South Wales and Queensland has since been increased from £300 to £500 per annum. The reasons which justified these increases justify the increase of the Commonwealth parliamentary allowance. The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Bamford) told us the other afternoon that a member of the Queensland Parliament is much better off at £500 a year than is a member of this Parliament at £600 a year. I know that in the old days, when a member of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, with a parliamentary allowance of £300 a year, I was better off than I was subsequently, as a member of this Parliament, with an allowance of £600 a year. The electors do not realize the many calls on members, the cost of elections, the donations that are expected from them; yet these are fixed factors in parliamentary . life. It has been said that the proposal to increase our allowance should be referred to the people. The only precedent for such a reference that I know of occurred in South Australia, where members of Parliament are paid £200 a year. In that State those who make the laws on which the welfare of the country depends are paid a few shillings more per diem than the men who work on the roads. They are charged with most important duties, and with the control and disposal of great public revenues, and they receive for the discharge of these most important public duties only £200 a year ! Some years ago, finding it impossible to live on this sum, the matter was referred to the people. They were asked to increase the allowance, not to £1,000, nor even to £500, a year,, but merely to assent to an increase of £100 ger annum, yet the people rejected this most moderate proposal by a majority of two to one. Had a private employer done a thing like that, what would have been said of him? This is clearly a matter to be decided by Parliament. As I have said, the argument which justified the increasing of our allowance in 1907 from £400 to £600 justifies the further increase now to £1,000 per annum. To-day that amount will not buy more land, or houses, or clothes, or goods than £600 would purchase in 1907, so greatly has the value of money depreciated. It is in the interest of the Commonwealth that the members of this Parliament should be in an absolutely independent position, and able to cast their votes without fear of consequences. I have been here for a long time, and, without casting reflection on any one, I say that many times have I known votes turned this way and that by fear of consequences. Some members have means, and it is well for them that they have; but for those who have only their salaries, adequate remuneration is a matter of life or death. This matter goes to the bedrock of Democracy. Are we to have a Parliament composed only of wealthy men, or of men who give only the fag end of their day and strength to the service of their country ? The people should have freedom of choice, . and the representatives they elect should feel free to vote as they please, without fear of consequences.

I repeat that this is not a Government measure. I have introduced it in pursuance of a promise made to the House, and I shall vote for it. I have left no one in doubt as to my attitude in this matter, and my friends on the press, who occasionally fill their columns by writing about me, will not lack petroleum for to-morrow. The measure is non-party, and the Government as a Government is no more responsible for it than is any one else; it belongs to the House. I hope that it will be carried by an overwhelming majority.

Suggest corrections