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Wednesday, 10 May 1939

Secondreading. mr. MENZIES (Kooyong- Prime

Ministernd Treasurer) [2.55]. - I move -

That the hill be now read a second time.

I can explain this bill quite briefly. It is one to provide out of the Consolidated Revenue an annuity to the widow of the late Prime Minister, the right honorable J. A. Lyons, at the rate of £500 per annum, and a further annuity at the rate of £500 per annum for the maintenance, education, benefit and advancement of the children of the late Prime Minister until the youngest child attains the age of 21 years. The remaining provisions of the bill are of a machinery character. In order to administer this fund, Dame Enid Lyons is appointed trustee, and there is provision in the bill for the appointment of a new trustee in certain circumstances. The annuities are to be paid in monthly instalments. I should say right away that, attention having been directed to the question of what would happen to the annuity to the widow in the event of her widowhood terminating by remarriage, it is proposed by the Government in the committee stage to introduce an amendment to cover this point.

The reasons for this bill are very well known to honorable members, and, I believe, are such as tocommend themselves to honorable members. The late Prime Minister had a great career of public service in Australia. He died at the age of 59, having in fact occupied no less than 30 years of his life in the service of State and Commonwealth, for some time as a private member, for some time as a Minister and for the last seven years of his life as Prime Minister, carrying a very great burden of responsibility, and discharging that burden, I believe, not only with infinite credit to himself but also to the satisfaction of the Australian people. He died, as no former Prime Minister has done, while still occupying that office. I do not need to say to honorable members that in this country, in spite of some easy criticism to the contrary that is occasionally made, the emoluments of public office are not very high. The fact is that for the greater part of his time as Prime Minister of Australia, while he was carrying a degree of strain which nobody else could have fully understood, the deceased right honorable gentleman was in receipt of a remuneration as Prime Minister which would be regarded as small, and, indeed, almost paltry, when compared with the remuneration paid for any degree of responsibility in outside industry. These facts are wellknown to honorable members, every one of whom, I believe, will agree with me that if, in fact, a man's only source of income is that which he receives by way of parliamentary and ministerial allowances, and he has under such conditions to discharge the manifold responsibilities of the first office in the land, he will not make money by his occupancy of that office. In point of fact, the late Prime Minister did not make money by his occupancy of the office. On the contrary, he died in circumstances which have left his wife and large family in a state of impoverishment. I do not wish to go into any particular detail, but I can inform honorable members that the estate of the late Prime Minister, if it exists at all, will be negligible, and will amount, in the last analysis, to no more than a few hundred pounds. Consequently we have here the ease of a Prime Minister who has died in harness, in the course of doing his great and responsible work on behalf of his country, leaving his widow and numerous family in circumstances which must invoke I believe, the unhesitating activity of this Parliament and people. I say that for a reason, which I believe, will commend itself to honorable members on both sides of the House. The Prime Ministership - and I discuss the office quite irrespective of the fact that I happen at the moment to occupy it myself - of a great country like this is of first importance. I venture to think that if the history of any country is taken over the last quarter or half century and it is found that the men who have reached the Prime Ministership of it, have been, on. the whole, men of decency, honour and conscientious public spirit, then we may say that we have a vivid proof of the success of democracy of that country. I myself attach the greatest possible importance to the character and standards of men who reach the ultimate political positions in democratic countries. More than once, years ago, before any suggestion had arisen that I might occupy this post myself, I have thought what a strange reflection it would be upon us, as a people, if we should ever allow circumstances to arise in which a man can to-da.y occupy the highest popular political post in this country and can to-morrow, through some turn of the political wheel, find himself, in fact, destitute or impoverished. We owe it to the dignity of the institutions of this country, and we have a duty to ensure, that these high offices shall be open to the poorest man in the land. We have an obligation, also, to see that circumstances of the kind that I have hinted at should not be allowed to exist. That is the shortest way in which I can state the whole basis of this bill, and the whole justification for it. When my predecessor, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) announced the decision of his Government on this subject he did not attempt, and I wish to say for my Government that it has not attempted, to measure this thing by some carefully calculated mathematical yardstick. We should not, I believe, try to say how much we would pay to Mrs So-and-so and her children in some entirely different circumstances. We should deal with this subject in a broad and, I trust, a generous and warm-hearted fashion, because it is essential that whatever we do to assist this widow and her family shall be done generously. The widow of our late Prime Minister is a woman who, herself, has rendered immense public service to Australia. Whatever we do for her and for her children we should make it clear that it is done, not only because of the desire of the people of Australia to discharge what they believe to be their duty, and not only because of some sense of obligation, but also because of a real wish to do it. What we do should be sweetened by feelings of warm-heartedness, and it should carry with it the good wishes of the people.

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