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Wednesday, 10 May 1939

Sir EARLE PAGE (Cowper) (Leader of the Country party) . - I thank the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) for giving me the opportunity to speak at this stage. I desired to do so because I felt that I had some definite responsibility in regard to the matter. Because of my length of service in this Parliament, and the nature of that service, possibly no other honorable member can speak with more experience of the necessity for doing what is now proposed to be done. In the first broadcast that I made to the people of Australia on the night of the Prime Minister's death I amd-

Need I say that Australia will not forget Dame Enid Lyons or her family of young boys and girls. They have become a household name in this country and their future will be a matter of personal interest to all people who held the late Prime Minister in such high regard.

Subsequently the Government considered the position of the late Prime Minister's family, and, after discussing the matter with the Leader of the Opposition, I made a statement at Devonport on the 13th April to the following effect : -

There can be no doubt that the people of Australia would wish that adequate provision should be made that would ensure that Dame Enid should' have no anxieties as to the future and, as to her ability to educate and bring up her family of young boys and girls. Although no actual figure can be stated at the moment, it has been decided that adequate provision will bc made that will take into account the necessities of Dame Enid herself and also of her family, the youngest of whom is six years of age, and legislation will be prepared for this purpose.

When the matter was discussed with the Leader of the Opposition, he was in full agreement with the Government that the nation had substantial obligations to the widow and family of the late Prime Minister, though he made it clear that, while he agreed generally with the principle involved, he did not commit himself or his party to any method or amount. He also raised the question of widows of other honorable members of the Parliament who had fallen upon evil days, and referred to the position of former members of Parliament who might have found themselves, by reason of a sudden defeat at an election, in very difficult circumstances. I assured the honorable gentleman that the particular cases to which he referred would be considered by the Government which would also make an investigation of the general position of former members of Parliament. The right honorable member for Corio (Mr. Casey), who was then Treasurer, discussed with the Leader of the Opposition the details of certain urgent cases; and the Government, after hearing his report, agreed to deal with them sympathetically. It also said that it would take into consideration the provision of a superannuation scheme for members. I understand the present Prime Minister also has agreed to do so, and that a sub-committee has been appointed for the purpose. Before dealing with that subject I wish to say a few words regarding the late Prime Minister. There is no need for me to repeat the Prime Minister's eulogy of the late Prime Minister, or of Dame Enid Lyons and her public work. Nor is it necessary that I should speak at length on the necessity for ensuring that the first citizen of the Commonwealth shall be placed in such a financial position as to enable him adequately to discharge the duties of his high office without the constant dread of pecuniary embarrassment. The late Mr. Lyons occupied a special position in the Commonwealth. When he entered the public life of Australia as a member of the parliament of Tasmania, he already was a public servant; for many years he had been a school teacher in that State. Had he continued in that capacity there is little doubt that he would have been alive to-day; the heavy burdens placed upon him during recent years brought about his untimely end. But even had he died while in the Education Department of Tasmania, his dependants would have been provided for under the superannuation scheme for public servants in that State, such provision bearing some relation to the salary that he would have received. For the last 30 years of his life the late Mr. Lyons gave of his best in the service of his country. Between the ages of 30 and 50 years most men make for themselves positions in which they can provide for their families in the event of their death. At that period of his life the late Mr. Lyons was leading either a government or an opposition in either a State or the Commonwealth Parliament. I am sure that the leaders of other parties in this House will agree with me when I say that the leadership of a party is a full-time position, requiring the undivided attention of its occupant. Men holding such positions have to set aside practically all personal business interests; they have not time to consider how to make investments to improve their financial position, or provide for their f amilies in the event of their death. Moreover, some of the investments which a public man could make might easily become sources of political embarrassment. When I entered public life I had to dispose of certain investments which I had made lest they would have political repercussions. Many public men are poor because of the exigencies of office. For 30 years Mr. Lyons did not consider himself, and his death at the helm of state was largely attributable to the strain of these difficult times. In the early years of his Prime Ministership he had to deal with the after effects of the depression, and, more recently, international complications pressed heavily upon him. In this Parliament honorable members have seen a former Prime Minister age rapidly because of the heavy burden of responsibility which he bore. At the same time, the position of chief citizen of the Commonwealth necessitates a certain standard of living, both for its occupant and his family, with the result that there is no chance to save money. Many years ago I realized the difficulties of the situation. In 1927, when the then Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) was forced to dip into his private resources to carry out his duties as Prime Minister, I, as Commonwealth Treasurer, incorporated in the estimates of that year a sum of £1,500 for the purpose of providing an extra allowance for the Prime Minister. The then right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) and I spoke to the then Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) and, later, when the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) became Prime Minister, we approached him, and said that we web prepared to support the Government if it placed a similar sum on the Estimates as an additional allowance for the Prime Minister. Mr. Scullin did not agree to the proposal, because at the time the country was feeling the effects of the depression, and there was much unemployment. Later, Mr. Lyons became Prime Minister. For several years his parliamentary allowance was subject to the percentage reductions provided for in the financial emergency legislation. Last year, however, the principle which I enunciated in 1927 was approved; the then Treasurer (Mr. Casey) placed £1,500 on the Estimates as .an additional allowance for the Prime Minister. There is no doubt that during the first six and a half years in which Mr. Lyons was Prime Minister, that additional £1,500 a year was just as necessary as it is now. Consequently, he should have received £10,000 more than he did. At 5 per cent, per annum, that sum would provide approximately the annuity suggested in this bill for Dame Enid Lyons. No one will cavil at the suggested annuity for the widow of the late Prime Minister, for Dame Enid herself has rendered conspicuous public- service sufficient to justify it. I am sure, however, that there is no need for me to argue her claim to consideration. There remains, therefore, only the matter of providing for the family of the late Prime Minister. Mr. Lyons left a family of eleven children, most of them under 21 years of age, and not yet settled in life. Although at one time fairly common, such large families are most unusual in these days. It would be a public disgrace if the children of the late Prime Minister were not given a chance at least equal to what they would have been given had Mr. Lyons remained in the public service of Tasmania, where his undoubted abilities would have carried him to the highest point of the teaching profession in that State. In that event, his family would have been provided for, and I am confident that the Australian nation is prepared to do as much far them as they would have received in such circumstances. I therefore urge the House to support this bill. Honorable members may be interested to know that in Great Britain the office of Prime Minister carries with it a salary of £10,000 a year, with a pension of £2,000 on retirement. Those emoluments are considered necessary in order to provide against the contingency of the first citizen of the land having to face destitution. I hope that the House will agree to this measure as it stands. It seems to me that the time has arrived when we should consider on their merits, and as an act of justice rather than as an act of grace, the position of the widows of all who have given valuable service to their country as members of this Parliament. We should deal also with the position of members of Parliament who, as the result of party defeat suddenly, in some instances, find their former avocations closed to them and sometimes are in difficult financial circumstances. It seems to me a disgrace that the public servants of this country - that, in effect, is what members of Parliament are - who deliberately and for the public good cut themselves off from their ordinary business avocations, should, when political reverses overtake them, find themselves at a loose end. Many, as we know, experience extraordinary difficulty in getting back to remunerative occupations when their service in Parliament is terminated. Every one also must know that because of the calls made on the pockets of a member of Parlia- ment representing a constituency of 120,000 people, spread in some instances over an area as great as one-third of Europe, he has no possible chance of ensuring his future financial security. Elections occur frequently and often are very costly. When a member loses his seat he may be in possession of a great mass of useful information but often he finds it impossible to get back to his former occupation. I urge the Government to give this matter its earnest consideration and see if it is possible to make provision along the lines of this scheme suggested some time ago by the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock), and the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart). In this way it will be possible to ensure the future of the dependants of those public men whose services deserve so well of this country. I support the bill.

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