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Wednesday, 16 November 1938

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), in supporting this measure, said that he was anxious to lift the burden from the present members of the Cabinet, but I suggest to the Prime Minister that it is due time that he gave consideration to lifting the burden from the general community. Anybody who makes an analysis of the situation must recognize that this country at the moment is not in a position to afford an extravagant increase of the emoluments of Ministers, because while the Prime Minister and his Ministers are attempting to make this country believe that all is well honorable members know full well that there are thousands of workers who recently have been thrown out of employment and thousands who have been evicted from their homes. Honorable members are anxious that the Government should busy itself not in increasing the salaries of its members, but in immediately relieving the burdens that press on the general community.

Since this Parliament has met, one of its features has been the lack of interest displayed by Ministers in its work and business. On practically every measure the ministerial bench has been empty during discussions, but it is remarkable that to-night, when this House is dealing with a measure which concerns the financial interests of Ministers, it should be filled to capacity. Ministers have displayed an undue interest in this measure which will benefit nobody but themselves. Honorable members must recognize that portents show us that we are on the eve of a probably more severe depression than that which began in 1929. I have a clear recollection of another measure which sought to give the Prime Minister an additional £1500 a year, £30 a week, in addition to his salary, on the ground that he had been paying the money out of his own pocket for entertainment. I do not know how many people believed that, but I did not.

Mr Holt - The honorable member's Leader supported the proposal.

Mr WARD - If the honorable member will read Hansard he will see that I criticized it. Prior to the depression, the amount of money received by members of the Cabinet collectively was £26,500 a year, and at the lowest ebb of the depression when parliamentary salaries and allowances had been reduced, the amount, of money paid into the ministerial pool from which Ministers receive their emoluments was £19,500. Yet, to-day, we find that in this extraordinary proposal, the Government not merely proposes to go back to the pre-depression level, but also asks for £35,100, a,n amount almost twice as much as the whole of the Ministry received in the depression. There is no justification for it. On every possible pretext, the Ministers close the proceedings of Parliament and trip abroad at public expense. If they could prove that they were engaged on work of national importance and that they had obtained some material benefits for the people, they would probably have some justification for the expenditure; but there is no honorable member who could point to one thing done by this Government's delegations abroad, particularly in recent years, which has been of benefit to the Australian community. This Parliament cannot even get reports about the activities in which Ministers are engaged whilst abroad. All we read in the press is that they are having a good time, and that one of them is attending all the test matches !

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member is not discussing the bill.

Mr WARD - The principal argument advanced by the Prime Minister in justification of the measure is that the Cabinet is overworked. If I can show that Ministers have not attended to their duties to such a degree that they may be considered to have been overworked, I think that I shall be giving reasonable support to the contention of the Opposition that the measure is unwarranted. A certain ex-Minister was given a trip abroad. I refer to this matter to show how ridiculous it is for members of this Parliament to endeavour to induce an intelligent community to believe that the members of the Cabinet are overworked. This ex-Minister was sent overseas to attend a Postal Congress at Cairo. When questions were asked in the House concerning his visit, honorable members were told that he would secure valuable information for his department, hut, on his return to Australia, he was immediately made Minister for Defence, with the result that the information which he was said to have secured, was entirely lost to his department. When another Minister went abroad, the conference which he was to attend was called off before he left Australia; but his trip was not abandoned. The Government found another excuse for his visit overseas. This was the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page). Much talk has been heard lately about this Parliament falling into public disrepute, but it is not surprising that the Parliament and the present Government are spoken of in contemptuous terms by the people when they know that the Government has not. tackled one real problem during the present sittings. Can any honorable member name one measure which has been passed and which- could be said to have been of benefit to the community as a whole ?

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! I again remind the honorable member that he is not discussing the bill.

Mr WARD - The additional ministerial salary is not the only extra expenditure that will be. entailed by the increase of the number of Ministers. In the years before -the depression, works were administered, under a separate department, but in the early years of the depression the Government decided, as part of its economy scheme, to amalgamate the Works Department with the Department of the Interior. Now, however, tlie Minister for Works will have a separate department and a separate staff. He will have separate offices and this will entail considerable public expenditure which is unwarranted. It may be possible for the Government to force this measure through the Parliament, because it has the numbers necessary to do so; but, when the people are made aware of the facts, they will be shocked to find that the Government is receiving twice as much as it drew during the depression years, without any addition to its duties or responsibilities. When it is possible for Ministers to be absent from Australia frequently, it is idle to say that they are overworked. I hope that the House will not accept the bill. I know what judgment the people will pass upon it when they have an opportunity to do so.

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