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Wednesday, 10 May 1939

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Leader of the Opposition) . - I think it will be acknowledged universally throughout the Commonwealth not only that the office of Prime Minister is the most responsible in the gift of this nation, but also that the dignity of that office is inseparable from the character of democracy. As the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has said, humble men without any of the advantages perhaps of education and with none of the advantages that come from being members of families well circumstanced, have in the history of Australia risen to the highest office. This achievement is a tribute to the innate genius of the human race. No man has made himself Prime Minister of this country. He has ultimately come to that position by the continuous process of selection by his fellowmen and women, and as the result of the decision of the people registered not once but several times in respect of his personal fitness to occupy lesser offices of service. Having thus won for himself the acknowledgment of members of his own party and the public generally, it is possible for such a man to be raised to office the equivalent of that of the President of the United States of America, or even, the Prime Minister of Great Britain. The quality of this nation is, in part, demonstrated by the character, the fitness and the probity of the men who become Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth. I should deeply deplore the circumstance, should it come to pass, in which a man having come to the office of Prime Minister at a time when, from the viewpoint of the possession of this world's goods, he was humbly circumstanced, would be able, after a few years' occupancy of that office, to lift his family above the average circumstances of other sections of the community. The greatness and the honour of the office of Prime Minister might well be suspect if, after a short period of its occupancy, any man was able to say that he was richer after he left the office than he was when he came first to it.

I am not at all surprised that the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) should, in the tragic circumstances of his passing, have not been able to make that provision for his widow and children which, had he followed other walks of life, his natural gifts and experience would perhaps have enabled him to do. I say to the country at large that the occupations customarily followed by the ordinary citizen who does not engage in public service are not more important to the goodwill of the nation or the welfare of its people than the services rendered by those who give up, as it were, the concentration upon their own personal affairs and devote themselves to the representation of their fellow citizens in Parliament. I also say, having regard to the nature of work to be done, and the qualifications required for its efficient performance, that the standard of remuneration of those engaged in the service of corporations, joint stock companies and such like bodies, is far higher than that which is paid to men of corresponding ability engaged in the service of the nation. But I make no complaint about that. I merely state the fact. I believe that the feeling of satisfaction which can be experienced by the man who devotes himself to the service of the nation is included as part of the remuneration which he receives. Therefore, whatever sacrifice is required of him he makes willingly because he feels that he will leave some footprints upon the sands of time and that his name may endure in the. history of his country. I believe this is true of men who have served Australia in the past and, I would say, to men who will serve it in the future, that in the service which they give to this country, they will play really a great part in what I am sure will become a great nation.

These generalizations bring me to the bill itself. For the first time this Parliament is called upon to make provision for the widow and family of a deceased Prime Minister. I agree that the provisions of the measure should be on a scale commensurate with the dignity of the office which the deceased gentleman held. I make no comparison of the services that he or anybody else who preceded him rendered to the Commonwealth. That appears to be beside the point. I feel that, in view of all that has been said, and without disagreeing with the general principle stated by the right honorable the Prime Minister, it would be proper for this bill to be referred to a select committee of the House, not that there is any justification on my part for doubting the position as stated by the right honorable gentleman, but so that the country will know that the circumstances of the family of the late Prime Minister are as stated, and we shall be assured that the proposed annuity for the widow and children of the deceased gentleman squares with our conception of what is due to them. This Parliament is called upon to undertake responsibility on a scale greater than has hitherto been undertaken by it, and in the very nature of things the decision that we make to-day will influence the decision in future cares of the kind. Therefore, reaffirming my declaration that this nation has substantial obligations to the widow and family of the deceased Prime Minister, I move -

That all the words after "That" be omitted with a view to insert in lien thereof the following words: - "this House, being desirous of being completely assured as to the needs and resource* of the widow and children of the late Prime Minister (the beneficiaries of this proposal ) refuses to accord a second reading to a hill proposing a grant of such magnitude until the needs and resources of the said beneficiaries, as well sis the amount of the grant (if any) which may be properly made by this Houfe, have been examined and reported on by a committee representing all parties in this House."

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