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Thursday, 20 May 1920

Mr SPEAKER - I ask honorable members to be a little more tolerant of an honorable member who' is addressing the House. I have several times called for order, and I again draw special attention to the fact that to interject immediately after order has been called for, is not only extremely discourteous to the Chair, but an affront to the House itself.

Mr GABB - The old-age pensioners are receiving only what is barely sufficient, and the last increase in the pension does not represent more than 20 per cent.; but, in the case of members of this House, it is proposed to add 60 per cent, to their allowance. Those who are in charge of allowance post-offices are so insufficiently paid that some offices out-back have had to be closed.

Mr Nicholls - Give them some of your increased allowance.

Mr GABB - If the honorable member will mind his own business, I shall mind mine.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member should speak to the question.

Mr Nicholls - Mr. Speaker, I regard that remark of the honorable member as insulting.

Mr SPEAKER - -I have already called the honorable member who is addressing the House to order, but I remind the honorable member who raises the objection that- the retort was the result of a disorderly interjection by himself.

Mr GABB - In my opinion, the proposed increase is, generally speaking, not earned. I have listened to honorable members opposite, and have been much amused by some of their statements. I have .only a short experience of this House, but, generally speaking, I do not think, as I say, that the increase is earned. We can come and go when we like; I have repeatedly counted the House, and found on many occasions not more than fifteen of the seventy-five members in the chamber. We ought to do the work for which we are paid. On occasions I have expressed my desire to call attention to the state of the House, but have been advised not to do so in case I became regarded as a bore. If this increased salary is approved, however, and in the future I find there is not a quorum present, I shall certainly draw Mr. Speaker's attention to the fact. Whether the salary is £600 or £1,000, it is the duty of 'honorable members to be present at least a portion of their time.

Mr SPEAKER - I must ask the honorable member not to cast reflections on other honorable members. I remind him that, if members are absent from the chamber, it does not necessarily follow that they are absent from thenduties. They are probably occupied in other parts of the building. They have a heavy correspondence to attend to, and meetings of various Committees of the House are often in progress in the Library and elsewhere while the House is sitting. Their temporary absence from the chamber in such circumstances is unavoidable in the discharge of their other parliamentary duties.

Mr GABB - I do not wish to cast any reflections. I am merely stating what actually takes place.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member should not accuse other honorable members of having neglected their duties through not attending in the chamber, unless he has knowledge that justifies the accusation.

Mr GABB - Apparently I cannot say all that I think, but as I cannot say what I think, I still can think it. I have noticed that it is possible for an honorable member to get two months' leave of absence on the .ground of urgent private business. I must not say where it has happened, or you, Mr. Speaker, will pull me up.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member is again infringing the rules of the House in reflecting on a decision of the House. Leave of absence is only given by a decision of the House, which is the sole judge of whether the circumstances of each case justify such leave being granted. The statement of the honorable member constitutes a reflection on the votes of the House, which is a breach of the Standing Orders.

Mr GABB - I find that I am hedged in in many directions by the Standing Orders. Here is another reason why I shall not vote f or the increase. I find that £12 per week is sufficient for me to live decently upon. I believe that, with the aid of my good wife, I can put by some savings out of the present allowance. Of course, I speak knowing how short has been my time here, but at some future date, when I give some consideration to what other honorable members have said, I may see that I have been wrong in saying this. However, I am speaking as I find things, and, such being the case, I am able to give the whole of my time to attendance at the House, seeking to do the country's business.

Mr Hughes - We are all very sorry,

Mr GABB - The Prime Minister is just the same to me as any other honorable member, with this exception, that I receive less courtesy from him than I have got from any other member. In the circumstances, it makes no difference to me whether he is sorry or glad. I am also against the increase because of the way it has been brought about. What is behind it? What has made this economy Government prepared' to give an increase of £44,000 a year? It is well known in Parliament that one of the greatest thorns in the side of a Ministry is the number of its supporters who are hungry for office. They are troublesome to the Government, and this Government has recently been in trouble if the Age is to be relied on to give correct information. Seeing that it has helped to put the Government back into power, I can at least quote it upon this subject. On the 13th May last it 6aid -

The position of the Federal Government during the past fortnight has been far from happy. Proposals brought forward by the Ministry with regard to hoth the Repatriation Bill and the Bill to ratify the agreement entered into with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company have not been received with unanimous approval even by the Government's own immediate supporters. A few weeks ago the political atmosphere was comparatively clear, but the happenings of the last two weeks have served to demonstrate how narrow the majority is that the Government can command in the House.

In view of the present unsettled situation, interest attaches to a meeting of the Ministerial party to be held to-day, at which there is likely to be some very plain speaking. Members are likely to be told that unless they are prepared to pull together with the Ministry, it will be useless for the Government to attempt to carry on very much longer.

Thus we have it. Trouble in the Government! Very well, how is it to be got over ? The A ge next morning said -

As foreshadowed in the Age, there was some plain speaking at the meeting of the Ministerial party held at Federal Parliament House yesterday morning. The Prime Minister emphasized the futility of attempting to carry on without the whole-hearted support of all members of the party. As a result of his remarks, a better spirit prevails among the Government's supporters, and the political atmosphere has become much clearer.

And in the very next column it said -

Members of the House of Representatives are about to make another raid on the Treasury, with the object of further increasing their salaries. Quite unexpectedly, Mr. Bamford (Queensland), as "father" of the House, yesterday, on the motion for the House to go into Committee of Supply, moved an amendment to the effect that members' salaries be increased from £600 to £1,000 a year.

This is the position. First of all, we have trouble in the Ministerial camp. There is a hungering after office. How is the difficulty, to be overcome? An increase of salary ought to have some effect in this direction.

Mr SPEAKER - I must really ask the honorable member not to continue in that strain. He must' see that he is imputing unworthy motives to other honorable members by indirectly accusing them of being amenable to bribery. He may state his arguments from his point of view as forcibly and vigorously as he chooses within the limits of fair and decent debate, but he must not make insulting insinuations that other honorable members who take another view do so from base and dishonorable motives.

The imputation of unworthy motives is expressly forbidden by our Standing Orders.

Mr GABB - I am told that everything is fair in politics, and from what I have seen of political strife it seems to be a rule that it is quite fair for a member of one party to attack the party he is opposing. That is what I am seeking to do at the present time. How is it that the Economy Government has brought down this increase of £44,000? How is it that men like the Prime Minister or the Minister for the Navy, who went out and said that honorable members on this side were Sinn Feiners, pro-Germans, disloyalists, and traitors to their country are now giving those traitors this increase unless there is something behind it? That is what I want to get at.

Honorable members laughing. .

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! This is not a subject for levity. Very serious insinuations of bribery have been levelled against honorable members, and the House cannot but suffer in reputation if such remarks are allowed to pass in a jocular spirit. The honorable member has cast a very distinct and odious reflection onother honorable members, and unless he is prepared in a regular way to make specific charges he cannot be permitted to continue a speech on such offensive lines. I have cautioned him more than once already that he is transgressing the rules of the House.

Mr Hector Lamond - As I would like to move a motion that an inquiry should be made into the allegation which the honorable member is making, I move -

That the honorable member's words be taken down.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Do not exalt him.

Mr Hector Lamond - Very well, I withdraw the motion.

Mr SPEAKER - I must ask the honorable member for Angas to conform to the rules of the House, and not indulge in offensive insinuations.

Mr GABB - Here is the point I was trying to make, and at least I can say this without being pulled up.

Mr SPEAKER - I want the honorable member to understand that it is not my desire to intervene for the sake of preventing him from speaking. My desire is to secure for him the utmost freedom in making his speech in conformity with legitimate debate and the rules of the House, but the honorable member may only speak by conforming to the Standing Orders, which are equally binding upon other honorable members. I try to prevent interruptions, but I realize how difficult it is for other honorable members to keep silence under circumstances of such provocation as he gives them.

Mr GABB - I thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am glad that there is at least one man in the House who feels that this is a serious matter. I am not saying these things because I want to say them. I have spoken what I believe to be right and as the position appeals to me; But seeing that I am on dangerous ground, and because what I am saying is apparently becoming very offensive to some honorable members, I leave that aspect of the matter to say that there are one or two things which have been mentioned during the debate which I would like to answer, and which I think I will be safe in answering.

Mr Fleming - On a point of order I ask if the honorable member is not aggravating his offence by saying that he has only said what he believes.

Mr SPEAKER - It must be remembered that the honorable member is a new member, and is perhaps not as familiar with the forms of the House as older members may be. In such circumstances certain allowances, I think, should be made for inexperience, but I would ask the honorable member to keep on the track of legitimate criticism and adhere to the Standing Orders. He may express his objections to the Bill in as forceful parliamentary language as he choos s to employ so long as he does not cast reflections on or impute unworthy motives to other honorable members.

Mr GABB - I am surprised at the honorable member for Robertson taking exception to another honorable member saying that he believes in what he is saying. I made the remark without any intention of aggravating my offence.

Mr SPEAKER - That matter has already been disposed of.

Mr GABB - I shall answer one or two of the statements made in the course of the debate. The Prime Minister made use of words to the effect that if honorable members were not sufficiently remunerated it would be possible for only wealthy men to enter this Parliament. If every man in this Chamber went out of it because he thought £12 per week an insufficient remuneration, men quite as capable 'would enter it and carry on the legislation of the country. It has been pointed out that the Constitution to -the Parliament to fix the remuneration of members; but it must not be forgotten that the Convention that drew up the Constitution was composed almost entirely of politicians, who naturally had confidence in the wisdom and judgment of politicians, and sympathized with them. It was also stated that a higher remuneration would have the tendency to keep men honest, but I contend that a man who would be dishonest on £600 a year would be dishonest on £1,000 a year : that if a man is inclined to be dishonest it is a matter of opportunity whether he succumbs to temptation or not. No doubt some honorable members sincerely believe that . they should be paid more than £12 per week, but others who hold a contrary view are equally sincere.

Mr Blundell - Though they are going to give the money that they get to a German Club.

Mr GABB - The honorable member seems to be much offended because I intend to give some of my allowance to the widow of a man who was interned, and to whom this Government, I think, owed six months' salary. She cannot get hexjust dues in any other way. I do not accept him as the judge of my actions. There are others to whom I would rather go than to one who has changed his political coat, and has betrayed those who put him into Parliament.'

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member's remarks are distinctly offensive, and I ask him to withdraw them.

Mr GABB - If it is by using the word "betrayed" that I have erred, I withdraw it. I would not go to a man who, having been elected to a public position bv the workers, left them in their hour ox need to battle as they best could, and turned in his hour of success to a party that has never fought in the interests of those who lifted him up.

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