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Wednesday, 16 November 1938

Mr SPEAKER - Order 1 I cannot see the relevancy of the honorable member's remark.

Mr FORDE - This re-arrangement and the consequent additional financial provision would not be necessary if there were cohesion in this Government and its members were working unitedly in the interests of the nation, instead of competing with one another for advantageous positions in the Cabinet. Consequently, the Prime Minister has been at a disadvantage. In reconstructing his Cabinet the right honorable gentleman stated that it was intended to appoint an additional Minister. Members of the Country party, knowing that the ranks of the United

Australia party were disintegrating, seized the opportunity to make further demands for office ; thus this extra hurden is to be imposed upon the taxpayers of Australia merely because the Country party wants more than its pound of flesh, lt is crashing through for additional representation; hence the re-adjustment that is being effected. Owing to public clamour, the former Minister for Defence (Mr. Thorby) was removed from his position. This in itself put the Prime Minister in a difficulty, for he did notwant to exclude the honorable member from the Cabinet altogether, being fearful of the repercussions in the Country party, and of the possibility of it withdrawing its other representatives. He therefore tried to stifle the dissension and to keep inarticulate the rumblings of indignation among his Ministers and would-be Ministers by promoting certain gentlemen to full Cabinet rank, and appointing others to Parliamentary secretaryships, thus encouraging them to expect some higher preferment at the next Cabinet re-shuffle. The Prime Minister has, in fact, surrendered to the Country party in acceding to the request of the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page), who has proved so forceful in his representations on behalf of his own coterie: I regret the abject surrender of the Prime Minister.

Mr Lyons - By appointing another United Australia party member to the Cabinet ?

Mr FORDE - It was the right. honorable gentleman's surrender to the Country party .representations which led to the re-arrangement that has been explained tonight. What has happened brings to my mind a very eloquent speech made by a certain right honorable gentleman who occupied a high position in the councils of this nation for many years. I refer to Mr. S. M. Bruce, who, in 1924, with a full knowledge of political intrigue, said -

New parties spring up, and do not hesitate to admit frankly that their object is to obtain a position where they hold the balance of power, and to gain their ends by a species of political blackmail.

Mr. Bruceknew not only politics, but also human nature. Some honorable gentlemen had crashed through into his Cabinet, just as some have crashed through into this Cabinet, and so made necessary the introduction of the bill now before us.

The portfolios have not been equitably allocated as between the members of the parties supporting the Government in the re-arrangement now made by the Prime Minister. This being so, it cannot be expected that the Parliament will accept without objection the additional expenditure foreshadowed in this bill. Let us examine the facts. The Country party has fifteen members in the House of Representatives, which represents onefifth of the total membership of the House; yet it has eight members in the Cabinet. More than one-half of its total membership in the Parliament hold positions for which extra payment is made. This re-arrangement would not have been necessary had all the members of the Cabinet been pulling their full weight in the interests of the nation, and had there been a fair allocation of portfolios between the members of the Country party and the United Australia party. One1 party which supports the Government has within its membership four Ministers holding full portfolios, two of whom are in the inner group, one Assistant' Minister, the Chairman of Committees, the principal Government Whip, and a member of the Public Works Committee.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member is quite clearly not discussing the bill, which has nothing to do with whether Ministers belong to one party or another.

Mr FORDE - I bow to your ruling, sir. I shall refer now to the statement made by the Prime Minister concerning the responsibilities of various Ministers, and the additional work allotted to them. The right honorable gentleman told us that he had created a major policy committee, better known as the Inner Council. That action has very greatly surprised every one. No doubt, the work of the Inner Council is expected to occupy a good deal of time, and so is one justification for the introduction of this bill. Suggestions were made by a certain Conservative leader as far back as 1924 that an inner group dictatorship should be established. The Prime Minister seems now to have adopted them.

Mr SPEAKER -Order ! I must ask the honorable member to connect his remarks with the bill.

Mr FORDE - I shall do so, Mr. Speaker. I wish now to refer to statements made by certain leading newspapers which, though almost invariably supporting the Government, on this occasion criticize the step that it has taken, and point out that the additional financial burden imposed upon the taxpayers is not justified, particularly at a time like this. The Melbourne Age in a leading article stated -

A group of six (it is now seven) will either usurp the functions of Cabinet, and thereby become an autocracy, or prove too unwieldly for its principal purpose - that of quickening action. Altogether the recent Cabinet " crisis " ends in an anti-climax which is almost grotesque.

The Opposition does not believe that an additional minister is necessary. Prior to the reconstruction of the Cabinet, the Minister for Commerce had two Assistant Ministers to help him in his department. Probably the only justification for this was the fact that the Minister was away on the other side of the world for most of the time since he was appointed to the last Lyons Government. The cost of the Commerce Department has increased enormously, and probably that was put forward as a reason for the appointment of the two Assistant Ministers. I contend that this department, instead of doing a useful job, has become very largely a propaganda factory for the Country party.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member must address his remarks to the bill.

Mr FORDE - I contend that one of the Ministers assisting the Minister for Commerce could long ago have been appointed to assist the Minister for Defence. I, myself, made the suggestion some time ago that the Minister for Defence was overworked, and that he should have another Minister to help him. The then Minister for Defence said that the suggestion to divide control of the Defence Department was absurd, but now he has accepted it. I realize that he had too much to do, and that there was some justification for a division of his department.

In the first Lyons-Page Government of 1932, the Attorney-General, Sir John Latham, was also Minister for External Affairs and Minister for Industry. Without turning a hair he discharged those duties in a very capable manner. In the last Ministry the Minister for External Affairs was also in charge of Territories. This branch has now been taken away from him, and he has only the very small Department of External Affairs to administer. Can any one say that he is overworked? The Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies), who is in the prime of life, and undoubtedly possesses a good deal of natural ability, cannot claim that he is overworked. Surely he would be able to carry out the duties . that Sir John Latham carried out, besides helping every other member of the Cabinet. There is no reason why the AttorneyGeneral should not also administer the Departments of External Affairs and Industry. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen), we are told, has had half his department taken away from him and added to the department of another Minister. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has no administrative duties to perform, and it is hard to see how the Government can, in the circumstances, justify the appointment of an additional Minister. When we realize also that since this Government has been in office the total period that Ministers have been abroad has amounted to approximately eight years for one Minister, the appointment of another Minister is quite unjustifiable.

Let us examine the present cost of Ministers in this Government. This is to the point, because the Prime Minister quoted, certain figures on the same subject. I find that ministerial and parliamentary allowances in the pre-depression year of 1928- 29 amounted to £26,500. In 1932-33, they amounted to £19,500, but for 1938- 39, when the Government's present proposal is in operation, the cost will be £35,100, an increase of £8,600 compared with 1928-29. Allowances to private members have not increased compared with those of the pre-depression years, and there is no justification for an increase of the allowance to Ministers. I do not make a comparison between the low figure for 1932-33, which was in the depth of the depression, with the figure for the current year. We have all agreed that the cuts in parliamentary and ministerial allowances should be restored, but the Opposition does not agree that Ministers should be receiving more this year than was paid to them during the boom years before the depression. In the past, I have joined with other honorable members in protesting against exaggerated criticism by people outside Parliament every time it was proposed to restore parliamentary allowances, but I warn the Government that it should not, in a measure of this kind, provide grounds for criticism of the parliamentary machine. How can the Government justify its proposal? According to the Treasurer, we are facing a critical period. In his budget statement, he said that the value of the wool clip for 1937-38 was £11,000,000 less than that for 1936-37, and that the wheatgrowers have been heavily hit by falling prices, and by the devastating droughts which prevail in certain States. He also pointed out that our income from exports was reduced by £3,600,000. The budget figures showed that indirect taxation had been increased by £20,000,000 for 1937- 38 compared with 1931-32, and that last year there had been a record return from taxation of all kinds. Ministers are now drawing approximately £2,200 a year each, while private members are still receiving only £1,000 a year, the same as in pre-depression times. I remind honorable members that the Treasurer, in his budget speech, pointed out that enormous sums were to be expended this year on defence. Increased taxation, he said, would have to hp imposed for this purpose, and yet this is the time chosen by the Government to bring in a measure of this kind, not because there is any real need for it, not because there is any dire necessity to man 'all the ministerial posts, but in order to satisfy the clamouring of sectional interests. The Government has enough Ministers already to do the work if only they could be induced to pull together instead of trying to cut one another's throats. If further assistance were really required the amount of money available for ministerial allowances is sufficient to provide the remuneration of another Minister. The Opposition contends that the recent re-arrangement of ministerial posts was not made with the idea of achieving efficiency, but was for the purpose of placating certain members so that this Government, which is already crumbling, might be able to carry on a little longer. The reconstruction took place in order to placate some of those who might attack the Government if they were not included in the Ministry. The whole purpose was to secure the support of a group which has asked for more than its pound of flesh. For these reasons, we oppose the measure.

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