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Wednesday, 10 May 1939

Mr BLACKBURN (Bourke) .- I have already seconded formally the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) and shall now give reasons for my support of it. I agree that the widow and children of one who was Prime Minister of Australia should not be in need. I would say that of any Prime Minister of Australia; because I agree with the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition concerning the importance of the office. It would be a reflection on the nation if it left the widow and children of a Prime Minister in want.

I wish to consider this matter without any personal feeling. I had no personal feeling against the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons). I was not a member of this Parliamentwhen he changed his party. My impressions of him were gained at first-hand when I entered this House, and I liked and admired him. But that is no reason whyI should vote on behalf of his widow and children the money of the people of Australia unless I am satisfied that it is right, proper and necessary to do so. It is all very well to talk about this House being generous. If honorable members wish to be generous, they can be generous with their own money. They are asked to be generous with the people's money. It may be right and proper to devote the people's money to this purpose, but I have to be satisfied of that, and I am not. It seems to me that the assurances given to us have been carefully guarded. We have no information as to the means of the family of the late Prime Minister. The greatest surprise is expressed generally - you hear it everywhere, not merely by people who might naturally be suspicious because of their politics, but also by supporters of the party of the late Prime Minister - at the fact that he and his family were without means. Before this House votes any money, honorable members should be satisfied beyond all doubt that the family are in need, and they should also be assured that the sum which they vote is commensurate with that need. In no circumstances would I vote the sum proposed in this measure. At the same time, however, I would be prepared to vote what I consider a reasonable sum, taking into account the resources of the late right honorable gentleman's family.

A good deal is said about the sacrifices which men. make in order to enter parliament. I have spent a good deal of my life in parliament, and am satisfied that a man who remains in parliament continuously year after year must be very unfortunate if he is not better off than the ordinary man outside. He gets rewards which, though they may be intangible, are satisfactory to himself, by rendering service to the people. I believe that we cannot persuade the public that members of parliament are not satisfied with their lot, because the public sees that there is keen competition for seats in parliament. It is absurd to say that members of parliament make tremendous material sacrifices. Some may, but it is not generally the case.' I consider that assistance should be given to the widow and children of a member of parliament who has been unable to make provision for them, because they should not be obliged to suffer. The strength of that argument is increased proportionately in the case of the widow and children of a Minister or a Prime Minister. This matter, in my opinion, has been brought forward, far too hastily. In a very short time it could be established to the satisfaction of the country exactly what are the resources of the widow and family of the late Prime Minister. I say nothing against the unfortunate lady; what I know of her, I admire. I am endeavouring to consider the matter quite impersonally. I would expect others to adopt that attitude were my wife and children in this position, as happily, I suppose, they will never be. I ask the House not to be stampeded or rushed into voting this money by reason of the great respect it had for the late Prime Minister. I hadgreat respect for him, and when I heard of his death I regretted it. I felt that the people of Australia had lost a useful public servant, a man whose demeanour was modest and unobtrusive, and who was an efficient, faithful servant of the people. But that realization does not lead me to the conclusion that I ought to vote the people's money without being satisfied that it is, in fact, needed. May be it is, but we have no assurance on the point. All the assurances given to us have been carefully guarded, and are related to the estate of the late Prime Minister himself. I find it tremendously difficult to believe that the deceased right honorable gentleman held the number of offices that he did, was Prime Minister of this Commonwealth for so long, and was such a devoted husband and father, without having made some provision for his wife and family. It may be that the unexpected happened and that there is none. But this House ought to be satisfied of that by a proper inquiry into the resources and the needs of the members of the family, and it should have no doubt as to what amount, if any, it is proper to give in the circumstances.

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