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Wednesday, 10 May 1939

Mr WHITE (Balaclava) .- In my opinion, the bill before the House raises the whole principle of the payment of pensions to ex-members of Parliament, and is not merely a matter of an allowance. I agree with the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) that the whole subject of insurance for the provision of an allowance for exmembers of Parliament should be considered. Some three years ago I placed before the Government the proposal that there should be some such system of insurance. The matter was taken up by a committee consisting of the present Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart), the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock), and the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), but the proposal .was not closely examined. I feel that something of the kind is definitely necessary,' so that should the widow of a member need assistance the matter would not be dealt with on an emotional basis, or involve a means test - which is very repugnant - but should operate automatically. From time to time cases have been brought before the Government of the widow or the family of a deceased member being in indigent circumstances, and a. number of pensions have been granted. I submit that not one-third of the members of this House are aware of the pensions that are being paid to the dependants of exmembers of Parliament. In certain cases, where the need seemed greatest, a pension was refused, whilst in other cases, in which it was acknowledged that the need was not great, pensions were paid. Pensions have been paid to the widows of all deceased ex-Prime Ministers except the widow of the Honorable Alfred Deakin. There are five ex-Prime Ministers who are still living. The whole matter needs to be considered, but not on this one basis. For that reason, the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) appeals to me. I speak quite impersonally. I pay tribute - as the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), the Leader of the Opposition, and the right honorable member # for Cowper have done - to that great leader whose loss we now so sadly deplore. He was a great man, a modest man, a courageous man, and one who did much for Australia. His life partner is an outstanding woman, who has rendered considerable service tothe benefit of the Commonwealth. All of these matters have to be considered, and they could be taken into account by a select committee. I consider that the proposal of the Government was hastily conceived; but that is natural. Various proposals were advanced before this measure was brought down. I suggest that even within the Government itself the matter has not been properly considered. The Prime Minister has indicated that in committee he proposes to move an amendment in relation to subsequent marriage by the widow. It is not desirable that matters of this kind should be discussed in Parliament. Honorable members may feel that it is advisable that any allowance for the children should be on a basis comparable with pensions paid under other schemes, such as repatriation benefits, which cease when the children reach the age of sixteen years. There are good and pertinent reasons for the discussion of the matter by a select committee. As one who was privileged to be a Minister in the Government of the late lamented Prime Minister for nearly six years, and one who, perhaps, gave him some trouble but who, at the same time, assisted him when he was attacked by other people and who gave him loyal service, I feel that the right thing should now be done, but that the correct procedure is the appointment of a select committee to investigate the matter before legislation in regard to it is dealt with by this House.

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