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Thursday, 17 November 1938

Mr JAMES (Hunter) . - I listened with interest to the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and other speakers from the Government side of the House trying to justify the increased expenditure involved in this measure. The main argument advanced in justification of the Government's proposal was that Cabinet had an increased amount of work to do at the present time. If. that is so, the Government has, at any rate, plenty of time in which to do it, because it has met Parliament for shorter periods during its term of office than has any other government in the whole history of Australia. During the depth of the depression, when the Scullin Government was in office, Parliament sat 28 days longer during a period of two years than did its predecessor, the Bruce-Page Government, during a period of six years. During the term of the present Government, Parliament has sat on fewer days than did even the Bruce-Page Government. I cannot see any reason for the appoint ment of another Minister, except that the Government desires to placate the Country party. It cannot really be claimed that Ministers are overworked, in view of the fact that so many of them have spent so much of their time on trips overseas. It has even been stated in the press that those who want to see the world should join the "United Australia party. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) expressed the opinion that the action of the Government in appointing another Minister was merely an attempt to pander to the smallest party in this House, namely, the Country party. We know that there was a public demand that the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby), who was Minister for Defence, should be relieved of his office, but members of the Country party refused to have him made a scapegoat. I agree with them in that, because I believe that the Minister for Defence, owing to the international situation, and to. the Government's expanded defence programme, was really overworked. However, if the Government believed that he was not capable of carrying out hisduties, and that he should be replaced by some one with military experience, I cannot see why it has kept him in the Cabinet except that the Country party has demanded it. The Country party has fifteen members in this House, less than one-fifth of the total number of members, yet eight of that fifteen hold positions that carry remuneration over and above their parliamentary allowances. Four of them are full Ministers, two of whom are in the Inner Cabinet group. One is an assistant minister, and one is Chairman of Committees. Another is joint whip, and still another is a member of the Public Works Committee. We all recall the memorable statement of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) in 1934, when he and his party were outside the Government, that they stood for principles before portfolios. What has become of that policy now? At the present time, it seems to be a matter of portfolios and more portfolios, and if there is anything over, then it is still more portfolios. The party seems to have no concern with principles at all. The Country party has always been able, at the expense of the government in office, to get everything it wants, and the public has had to pay, by way of increased taxation, for the satisfaction of its avaricious demands. An example of this was the bread tax that was imposed on the poor people in return for the support of the Country party. That party is always demanding concessions and, although the Prime Minister, as we know, is not pleased with its demands, because of the pressure of the powers that keep him in office he has to accede to them. If he were courageous, he would go to the country rather than acquiesce in the creation of a new portfolio at the cost of ?1,650 a year. The appointment of an additional Minister cannot be justified on the ground that the work of Ministers demands it. Purely and simply, the appointment is being made to placate the Country party. This bill, I say definitely, is an abject surrender to that party.

It is extraordinary that, since the Coalition Government was formed, there have been two increases of the salaries of Ministers. One took place in 1935, when the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Casey), who was then an Assistant Minister, was given the full status of Treasurer. At that time, a bill was brought down for the purpose of increasing the appropriation for the ministerial pool by ?1,329, in . order to pay the honorable gentlemanhis augmented salary. Shortly afterwards, the honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett), who was then Minister directing negotiations for Trade Treaties, resigned from the Ministry. I asked a question to-day - -

Mr Casey - To which I shall reply to-night.

Mr JAMES - The honorable member for Henty resigned shortly after the appointment of the honorable member as Treasurer, thus ending the need for the additional appropriation. Only ?500 was required to bring the honorable member's salary as an Assistant Minister to that paid to a Minister, but the Government looted the Treasury of ?1,300. I asked a question to-day, and I repeat it to-night, as to what became of the surplus money that was left in the ministerial pool after the honorable member for Henty had resigned on the 10th March, 1936.

Mr Casey - I shall tell the honorable gentleman in a moment.

Mr JAMES - It has never been shown in the budget that any refund was made. That money was kept in the Cabinet and divided between the Ministers.

Mr Casey - That is not so.

Mr JAMES - Ministers were not satisfied, as other honorable members had to be satisfied, with a complete restoration of salaries and ministerial allowances to the pre-depression level ; in addition to this restoration, each Minister received an extra ?200 a year by way of parliamentary allowance. That is wrong, especially when we take into consideration the fact that most honorable Ministers have no work to do. Some Ministers are overworked. The Treasurer, to whom I desire to be fair, has too much to do, but the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Menzies), a man of outstanding ability, is just rusting in Cabinet waiting for work to do. Consider, too, the Assistant Minister (Mr. Thompson), who never does anything except sit in the front bench and sleep, or, when he is not asleep, smile.

Mr Blain - That is unfair. The honorable member for Hunter has no right to say that. The Assistant Minister has done more for the economic regions of New South "Wales than has the honorable member.

Mr JAMES - What is the matter with you? Go back to the buffaloes.

Mr. Blain risingin his place and interjecting,

Mr. SPEAKER(Hon.G. J. Bell).Order ! The honorable member for the Northern Territory should remember that he is in a House of Parliament. By standing in his place and interjecting while another honorable gentleman has the call is distinctly out of order and I ask him not to offend again.

Mr JAMES - In 1935, the appropriation for the ministerial pool was increased by ?1,329, whereas only ?500 was required to pay the honorable member for Corio the difference between his salary as an Assistant Minister and his salary as a full-fledged Treasurer. Then we had an increase of the Prime Minis- ter's salary by £1,500 a year. Now, in this bill, it is proposed to increase the amount of the pool by £1,650. Parliament, when the Scullin Government was in power, sat for 2S days more in two years than it sat for the previous six and a half years when the Bruce-Page Government was in office. The Lyons Government has set an all-time record for a Commonwealth government by having Parliament sit on fewer days than any other Commonwealth parliament. The Scullin Government's performance in work was overwhelmingly greater than that of the present Government. I concede that the difficulties which confronted it were greater than those which confront this Government, but Ministers in the Scullin Government did work hard. The amount of the pool from which Ministers drew their emoluments during the Scullin regime amounted to £11,858, compared with £18,450, which is appropriated under the budget for Ministers this year. That amount is to be augmented by £1,650, which will bring the amount in the pool to £20,000. Ministers also draw the allowance paid to private members, and, as the result, they will share this year £33,450. The reason for the huge increase is the continual demands made by the Country party. Are those demands to go on and on? What will happen if another Minister goes from the treasury bench to the back benches, where we can see to-day about nine former Ministers? Will what happened when the honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett) resigned from the Cabinet occur again? Will the extra money which is sought in this bill for the payment of an additional Minister be kept in the pool if a Minister resigns and is not replaced? If there was a surplus which was not refunded in 1935, there will bc a surplus that will not he refunded this year if another Minister resigns and is not replaced. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) never knows when he is going to lose Ministers. They seem to be deserting the ship, and if my judgment is correct, we shall soon be facing our masters because of the discontent which exists in the United Australia party. That discontent is due to the fact that honorable members who have been loyal supporters of the United Australia party in this chamber since 1929 - I refer in particular to the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn), than whom there has been no honorable member more loyal or more capable - have been passed over because the Country party members, some of them " Johnny-come-latelys ", havebeen pushed into the Ministry for political expedience. It is a tragedy that the Prime Minister is not fair to Western Australia in not having a representative of that State in Cabinet and to an honorable gentleman who has been loyal to him. The honorable member for Perth should have been in the Cabinet long ago and probably would have been had it not been for the influx from the Country party.

Honorable members generally have, on the one hand, had their salaries restored, and on the other hand, been robbed of the restoration by a new tax, whereas Ministers made provision to meet the outlay for that new tax by increasing their salaries still further by augmenting the amount paid into the ministerial pool. In effect, Ministers are robbing private members in order to pay themselves enhanced salaries. If the work of Cabinet were so arduous as to warrant the appointment of an extra Minister, no honorable gentleman would cavil against his appointment, but honorable members who know the little work that Cabinet does, and recall the trips abroad that Ministers undertake, know that there is no justification for this hill.

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