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Tuesday, 1 October 1935

Mr WARD (East Sydney) . - I am not satisfied with the explanation given by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White). This measure has been framed in such a way that it would lead an inexperienced member of this House to believe that the amount asked for is needed merely to cover the additional salary following the appointment of an additional Minister. The bill itself, in my opinion, has been given a wrong title. On the admission of the Minister for Trade and Customs, the appropriation of the sum asked for will allow approximately an additional £100 to go into the pockets of full Ministers already in Cabinet. This measure could therefore be better described as a bill for the increasing of Ministers' salaries. Only for the queries raised by honorable members on this side of the House, no one would have been aware of the fact that Ministers are not fighting for their colleague, the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey), as they try to make out, but are really putting up a fight for themselves. Honorable members are being asked to agree that at this particular period Ministers are warranted in increasing each of their salaries by £100; but they view the claims of invalid and old-age pensioners on a different basis altogether. These are left to the mercy of the Commonwealth Statistician, because changes in the amounts of pensions arc made only on the basis of cost of living figures which are compiled by the Statistician, and in the opinion of many honorable members are more often wrong than right. The cost of living index figure must rise 100 points before pensioners become entitled to an increase of 6d. a week. Yet Ministers who .oppose the restoration of social services and who quote data with the object of showing that pensioners are better off to-day than they were previously on a higher pension, because of the alleged drop in the cost of living, are prepared to use what might be described as questionable methods in increasing their own salaries.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.

Mr WARD - The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) has informed the committee that Assistant Ministers are paid from a common pool provided by those who hold portfolios. If the Assistant Treasurer is raised to full ministerial rank, the number of Assistant Ministers will be reduced from five to four, and that will necessarily lighten the burden of providing for their remuneration. Ministers will have an additional £100 per annum, with which to pay four instead of five Assistant Ministers. The Minister for Trade and Customs quoted figures dating back to the dawn of federation, and dilated upon the increasing burden of the duties which Ministers have to discharge. He stressed the fact that members of the Cabinet are overworked. I hope when replying to the debate he will make some reference to the additional burden placed on' the general community who pay for the upkeep of Parliament, and will furnish particulars of increases of Ministers' allowances. The honorable gentleman referred to the rapidly increasing national debt, which, I understand, has mounted by over £57,000,000 in the last three years. But the most important point to be considered is the method employed by the Cabinet in this matter. I remember well the press criticism of the partial restoration of members' allowances. One newspaper made the caustic comment that members had behaved as " thieves in the night, dipping their hands into the public treasury ". The Cabinet has endeavoured to avoid similar criticism on this occasion by bringing down an apparently harmless measure, designed to raise the status of the Assistant Treasurer. The Prime Minister's colleagues have rushed into the fray to justify the proposed appointment by explaining that the Assistant Treasurer performs a number of important duties which warrant his elevation to full Cabinet rank. Not one word, however, have they said of the benefit which they are to derive. But for the vigilance of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), who has ascertained that an amount out of all proportion to the increased expenditure necessary to raise the Assistant Treasurer to full Ministerial status is being provided, this Parliament and the public would not have been aware of the snide tactics that have been adopted by Ministers to increase their allowances at the expense of the general community. Evidently the Prime Minister did not welcome the invitation to explain this point to honorable members. After a very brief introduction he found business elsewhere and left the measure in charge of his Ministerial colleagues.

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member's time has expired.

Motion (by Mr. James) put -

That the honorable member ha,ve leave to continue his speech.

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