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Wednesday, 10 May 1939

Mr NAIRN (Perth) .- I am glad to see that this House recognizes the obligation which the nation owes to the 'late Joseph Aloysius Lyons, but we, in this House, have a responsibility to the public to see that the amount to be granted to his widow accords with our reason, and not purely with our sympathy. I was very dissatisfied with the method adopted by the late Cabinet when it announced its decision through the press immediately at the conclusion of the funeral of the late Prime Minister. A meeting was held on the same afternoon, and a public announcement made which was intended to commit this Parliament and the country to the payment of a fixed amount. In my opinion, there did not exist immediately after the conclusion of the funeral ceremony a - proper atmosphere in which to consider dispassionately a matter of this kind. If we desire to .be generous, we should be generous with our own funds, but members of Parliament are obliged not to be overgenerous at the public expense. I believe that Mr. Lyons did a great public service to this country, particularly when he took the risk of leaving his own party. I believe that his action on that occasion saved this country from financial disaster. I believe that his worth was fully recognized by the public, and that if subscriptions were invited immediately after his death, there would have been a very generous response, and there would have been no need for this bill to be introduced ; but the action of the Cabinet in rushing forward with its proposal lest it be anticipated by the press, or by some one else, destroyed the opportunity to invite public subscriptions. I approve of the amount which it is proposed shall be voted to Dame Enid Lyons, but in considering the amount to be voted to the children, we should have regard to the length of time that the payment is likely to continue, and to the commitments that will be necessary for the purpose of bringing up the family. I notice that it is proposed to continue the payment of £500 a year in respect of the children until the youngest is 21 years of age. I point out that the responsibility in regard to that family is a decreasing one. The payments in respect to the family should either be terminated at an earlier period, say when the youngest reaches the age of sixteen years, or they should be on a graduated scale, so that the amount provided for them may be in reasonable proportion to the requirements of bringing them up.

It is difficult, of course, to raise any objections in regard to a proposed vote of this kind. I believe, however, that if Cabinet had taken a little time for consideration, if it had taken honorable members into its confidence 'before making a declaration, we should have been spared the rather painful discussion which has been forced upon the House. We all wish to be generous, but I remind honorable members that there are many other people who have great claims on public sympathy. There are in Australia thousands of women, widows of men who gave their lives for the defence of the country, who have never received anything by way of bounty from the country, though some, to my knowledge, are- in very straitened circumstances. I fully appreciate the value of the work done by the late Prime Minister, and I wish to see adequate provision made for his widow,' but we should consider the claims of all classes of people when we are fixing the amount proper for any particular person. Therefore, I agree that the circumstances of the family of the late Prime Minister " should be investigated. When that is done, I have no doubt that the amount recommended will be approved by all sections of the House.

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