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Wednesday, 16 November 1938


Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- I have no hesitation whatever in giving full support to this measure. The two main questions which arise for decision are whether the work which must be done by the Cabinet is such that the appointment of an extra Minister is warranted, and, if so, whether the remuneration proposed in this bill is reasonable for the work and responsibilities which the additional Minister must undertake. There is good ground for argument as to the necessity for more Ministers to carry the responsibilities of national government in the Commonwealth at the present time. One of the features of post-war years has been the phenomenal growth of the activities of governments in relation to business, commercial and social life, as well as the life of the community generally. We have seen a steady and apparently inevitable growth of the degree of interference by national governments with the life of the people and with that growth has come an increase of ministerial work and responsibility. Despite this wide expansion of governmental activities, the number of Commonwealth Ministers has not increased to the same degree. When the Commonwealth Parliament was established, the population of Australia was 3,773,000. There were then seven full Ministers and two honorary Ministers. In 1915, during the war period, the number of full portfolios was increased to eight, and, in 1917, the number was further increased to nine. Et was not until 1935, when the present Treasurer (Mr. Casey) was promoted, that the number of full portfolios was increased to ten. Now it is proposed to increase the number of Ministers with portfolios from ten to eleven, at a time when the population has grown from under 4,000,000 to just under 7,000,000, and when the volume of ministerial work has increased enormously.

I do not think that anybody with personal experience of governmental administration in the Commonwealth would be prepared to deny that the majority of men who accept ministerial office pay a heavy toll financially, as well as in regard to their personal health. One has only to glance around this chamber, even in the ranks of the Opposition, at men who have, in their turn, exercised ministerial responsibility, to be reminded of the toll taken of their health through shouldering the heavy responsibilities which ministerial office involves. If I have any criticism to offer, I direct it against the present arrangement under which, whilst those Ministers with full portfolios are, undoubtedly, overworked, they are, perhaps, not prepared to pass on to Assistant Ministers as much responsibility and active participation in the work of their departments as is possible and as would materially lighten the burden they now have to carry. That, however, is a matter for the Cabinet itself to determine, but it does not detract from my argument that there is plenty of work for the present personnel. In fact, even with the present expansion of the Cabinet, some Ministers will carry a burden which is too heavy for them. For instance with the recent growth of social services, there is one department, the Treasury, that cries out for some division of ministerial responsibility. In my opinion, the creation of a ministry of social services would be justified to administer invalid and old-age pensions, war pensions, war service homes and the new department created under the national insurance legislation. Until then, any Minister holding the Treasury portfolio will have too heavy a burden for one man to bear.

As to whether the rate of remuneration is reasonable, I suggest in all seriousness that the Ministry, individually and collectively, are grossly underpaid. Men employed in private business and carrying corresponding responsibilities -would be paid twice or three times as much as is now received by Ministers of the Crown. If we compare Australia with Great Britain we notice the contrast in this respect, for whilst the salaries of private members in Great Britain are very much lower than they are in the Commonwealth, the salary of the Prime Minister of Great Britain is £10,000 sterling, and of the other senior Ministers £5,000 sterling. Some portfolios - I believe those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Attorney-General - carry a very much higher remuneration,


Mr James - But the British Ministers never take trips to Australia.


Mr HOLT - The very fact that they, are in the centre of industry and finance and of world politics makes such voyages unnecessary for them, and it does not remove the necessity recognized by the Opposition itself for ensuring that responsible Commonwealth Ministers have regular contact with statesmen in other parts of the world. Compared with other democracies, the rate of remuneration of Commonwealth Ministers is not high. The expense involved in connexion with their office is, however, extremely high. Many Ministers have to maintain virtually two establishments - one at Canberra and one in their home city. Even private members find a heavy burden on their allowance in this regard. I cite the case which will be familiar to most honorable members of a member staying with his wife at the Hotel Canberra who had to pay in recent years about thirteen guineas a week. _ That was at a time when the financial emergency legislation was in operation, and the parliamentary allowance was only £775 per annum. The expenses associated with parliamentary duties, as all private members know, are high in proportion to the remuneration received to-day, and, as far as .Ministers are concerned, their expenses are even greater. They have virtually to accept office as a full-time position, and must practically sever their connexion with the business world or whatever private occupations they may have. At the same time, they have no corresponding advantage of any certainty as far as the future goes. Tenure of ministerial office is necessarily limited, but they must submit to interruption of their normal life when they accept that responsibility. For these reasons I feel sure that the House is fully justified in giving its wholehearted support to this proposal.







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