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Thursday, 11 May 1939

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- I rise to criticize the bill before the House. At the outset I say that I favoured the proposal of the Opposition that adequate inquiries should first be made into the need for such >a bill to be brought before this Parliament. It is true that a committee met, and that certain information was supplied to it; it was for the members of that committee to be satisfied that adequate inquiry a3 to the circumstances of the' family had been made. I am of the opinion that whatever inquiries were instituted were carried out too hurriedly to obtain sufficient information to guide this House. However, we must accept the assurances of the committee on this point. I regard this bill not so much as a proposal to give an annuity to the widow of the late Prime Minister, and another annuity for the maintenance and education of his dependent children, as a measure designed to provide a pension for one widow in the community. I support the view that this Parliament is justified in making adequate provision for any widow who finds herself in a position similar to that of Dame Enid Lyons, but I have never yet supported a policy which grants privileges to a few. I believe in justice for all, and for. that reason I am of the opinion that this subject must be approached from an angle different from that indicated in this measure. We must satisfy ourselves as to the real position. A good deal of extraneous matter has been introduced into this discussion, particularly by members supporting the Government. Much has been said about the sacrifice made by men occupying public positions. I shall not discuss that point other than to say that my membership of this Parliament has not entailed any great sacrifice on my part. On the contrary, I am grateful that the electors of East Sydney felt disposed to send me here as their representative. On other occasions when social legislation has been before this Parliament, honorable members opposite have insisted that the most careful inquiries should be made into the circumstances of applicants for relief. In this instance, however, we are .told that the means test should not be applied. One Government supporter said that the idea of a close inquiry into the circumstances of the family was repugnant to him. I recognize no privileged section of the community. If it is repugnant to the honorable member to ask the widow of the late Prime Minister to indicate what her circumstances are, in order that Parliament may determine what measure of assistance should be rendered to her and her family, it should be equally repugnant to him to ask other members of the community for similar information. Honorable members are aware of the procedure which is usually adopted in dealing with applications for relief.

Although the Government explains that the object of this bill is to provide an annuity of £500 for the widow of the late Prime Minister, and a similar annuity for the maintenance of certain of her children, the fact is that it is intended to grant to one widow in the community a pension of £1,000 a year. I have frequently heard honorable members say that the laws of this country should apply equally to all of its citizens. If a pension of £20 a week is to be granted to one widow, I should like supporters of the proposal to indicate how they justify their attitude in respect of the granting of assistance to other widows in the community.

Sitting suspended from 1245 to 2.15 p.m. [Quorum formed."]

Mr WARD - Prior to the suspension of the sitting I objected very strongly to the proposal to give preferential treatment to an individual widow. In endeavouring to justify this preposterous proposal - it is preposterous, in the circumstances, to give a widow a pension of £20 a week - honorable members opposite stressed the fact that the late Mr. Lyons was unable to make any provision during his lifetime for his survivors. I have already expressed my dissatisfaction with the cursory nature of the examination made by the committee which has considered this matter since the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) moved the second reading of this measure. On many occasions, when matters have been brought before this Parliament concerning the circumstances of other unfortunates in the community, honorable members opposite have argued that those who do not exercise sufficient care in the management of their affairs cannot expect the Government to give them more assistance than is required for their mere existence. The late Mr. Lyons was a member of the Tasmanian parliament for many years; he then became a member of this Parliament, eventually assuming the highest position within the gift of this Parliament. Honorable members opposite have spoken of the sacrifices which occupancy of the office of Prime Minister entails, and have suggested thai a man does not put himself in that position but is voted into it by the people, and the supporters of his party. It is likewise true, however, that men are under no compulsion to run as a candidate either for parliament or for th, position of Prime Minister. Vs :i member of this Parliament, and as Prime

Minister of this country the late Mr. Lyons received in salary a total amount of approximately £20,000, and, in addition, was paid a liberal travelling allowance of £3 a day. It might be said, therefore, that while he was Prime Minister, the late Mr. Lyons had greater opportunities to provide for the future wellbeing of his family than the great majority of other citizens enjoy. I am not suggesting that if the late right honorable gentleman did not make sufficient provision for his family, that this Parliament should refuse to give any assistance to his widow and family because of his failure to provide for them. However, let us be consistent in our treatment of matters of this kind. This is a proposal to give a pension of £20 a week to one widow, because she happens to be the widow of a Prime Minister. Let us examine the attitude adopted by honorable members opposite when other cases of this kind have come before the House. In speaking to this measure, the Prime Minister said, " We must deal with this question in a warm and generous spirit ". Is it not reasonable to ask members of this Parliament to approach every case of this kind that comes before them in a warm and generous spirit? Are members of the Government to exercise such a spirit only in particular cases? To-day, the Commonwealth Government makes no provision for the payment of pensions to widows generally. Under the Repatriation Act pensions are paid to only 4,000 out of 9,000 war widows in this country, and, in many cases, the amount is so small that it stands as a living monument to the incapacity of this Government and the unsympathetic treatment meted out by it to that section of the community.

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Order! The honorable member is not in order in reflecting upon an Act of Parliament.

Mr WARD - I am endeavouring to draw a comparison between the amount proposed to be paid as a pension to the widow and family of the late Prime Minister under this bill, and that now paid under existing legislation to a particular class of widows. No provision is made under Commonwealth law to-day for the payment of pensions to widows generally. Consequently, it is only natural that we should ask ourselves why the Government proposes to be over-generous in its treatment of this particular case. For this proposal is over-generous ; we are being asked to vote an annuity of £500 per annum to the widow of the late Prime Minister, and also an annuity of £500 for the maintenance, education and support of his family. Evidently some honorable members opposite have already expressed a good deal of dissatisfaction, otherwise we should not have certain amendments before us. The original proposal was to continue the payment of the annuity to the children until such time as the youngest child had reached the age of 21. Then it was indicated, by way of interjection by the Prime Minister, that the annuity would terminate when the youngest child reached the age of 18 years. Now, following further discussions among honorable gentlemen opposite, amendments which have been circulated by the Government propose that the annuity shall be paid until the youngest child is 16 years of age. Surely honorable members opposite cannot justify the payment of £10 a week as a family allowance, because that is what the proposal really amounts to. I am informed that the difference between the ages of the youngest and the second youngest child is four years, so even under the Government's latest proposal a pension of £10 a week will be paid for the maintenance of one child.

Mr Spender - It is not for the maintenance of one child, but for the maintenance, advancement and education of all of them.

Mr WARD - Does the honorable gentleman subscribe to the view that we should vote the people's money to support any one until he or she reaches the age of 33 years? He says that this money is being voted for the maintenance of all of the late Mr. Lyons's children, and, I am informed, the eldest will be 33 years old when the youngest attains the age of sixteen. Surely no one will suggest that it is the responsibility of this Government ' to continue maintaining any dependant of an ex-member of this House until he or she reaches the age of 33. Yet that is to be the case, because this bill makes no , provision for any periodic review of the circumstances of the family of the late Prime Minister. How are wc to know what changes may take place in the family's circ at any time in the future? It is difficult to' discuss many aspects of a matter of this kind in public, but 1 understand that there is a possibility in the future of a considerable legacy being left to this family. Do honorable members opposite suggest that if the family should, as a consequence of that legacy, find themselves in comfortable circumstances, when they would no longer require assistance from this Parliament, there should be no review of the circumstances? Should not Parliament be enabled to reexamine the matter when some of these children grow to manhood and womanhood and commence to earn their own livelihood? As I said previously, 1 believe in the principle of just treatment to all, but privilege to none. In this case the Government is giving preferential treatment to one particular widow. I do not propose to go into the details of similar cases which have come before this Parliament, but I point out that when members of the Opposition, in the last few years, have brought under the notice of the Government claims for assistance on behalf of dependants of certain ex-members of this Parliament who found themselves in impoverished circumstances, we were unable to secure any sympathetic treatment at all. Our requests that allowances bc granted in such cases were refused until the Government found it necessary to grant concessions in an endeavour to ensure an easy passage for this measure. This explains why the Government has conceded as much as it has in this connexion. Under this measure it is proposed that the payment of the annuities he retrospective, whereas in respect of previous cases no such provision was applied. How can the Government justify the granting of a pension of only £3 a week to the widow of one ex-member of this Parliament with a young family dependent upon her, and contend that it is sufficient for her to rear and. educate her children, whereas it proposes to grant an amount seven times as great to the widow of another exmember for an exactly similar purpose? The one widow would be just as anxious as the other to give her children the best possible education. I said earlier that this Government had never introduced, nor has the Parliament ever passed, legislation to provide allowances for widows. I was wrong to the extent that the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act made some provision of thatkind, but in such cases certain outside contributions were to be made and the pension was to be only 12s. 6d. a week for widows and 3s. 6d. a -week for each dependent child. How can it bo expected that the one widow will be able to rear and educate her children as she would wish to do under such conditions, whereas it is argued that Mrs. Lyons must have a very much larger sum for the purpose? Surely it is not right that a pension which it is proposed to grant in one case should be denied to other members of die community similarly situated. I can see no justification whatever for the granting of a widow's pension of £10 a. week and a family allowance of £10 a week, making £20 a week in all, in the case of the widow and family of the ex-Prime Minister, whereas legislation already passed by this Parliament, based upon a contributory scheme, provides for only 32s. 6d. a week for widows and 3s. 6d. a week for each dependent child.

Mr Hutchinson - How does the honorable member, justify his salary in comparison with the salaries of ordinary working men?

Mr WARD - I am glad to hear the honorable member's interjection. I can always justify my salary on the ground of the work that I do for my constituents. I can quite understand, though, that the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) would find difficulty in explaining his ease in his electorate if a similar question were directed to him. Moreover, on every occasion in this Parliament when a proposal has been under discussion for an increase of social service allowances I have voted in favour of it. but the honorable member for Deakin has voted consistently against such increases. It is surprising also that while in the case of the children of the late Prime Minister it is proposed that sustenance shall be provided until they reach the age of 33 years, as the Minister admits-

Mr Spender - I did not admit anything of the kind. I have been trying to explain the matter to the honorable member but he will not let me do so.

Mr WARD - Under the National Health and Pensions Insurance act cognizance is taken of the position of dependent children only until they reach the age of fifteen years. No allowance whatever is provided for them after they reach that age. Why should there be preferential treatment in this case? Another factor that should be borne in mind is that it is proposed that the education of the children of the late Prime Minister should be extended over a great many years. Evidently honorable gentlemen opposite are unmindful of the position of the dependent children of many other persons in the community. According to the latest figures that I have been able to obtain, 15,267 children under the age of sixteen years were working in our factories in 1931-32. The number had increased by almost 17,000, or about 100 per cent, .to 32,144 in 1936-37. Not very long ago in Victoria 2,000 girls under the age of fourteen years applied, in one year, for work in factories in order to augment the family income. The salary range for such employment varied from 8s. to 14s. 6d. a week. No action was taken by this Parliament to remedy that state of affairs. Where is the warm and sympathetic treatment, to he found in the case of these girls? Whenever any suggestion has been made by members of the Opposition that something should be done in such cases, the reply is a bald statement that it is not a matter for this Parliament. We have been told that various tribunals have been established to deal with it and that, in any case, it is the function of the State parliaments to regulate employment and to make provision -for these unfortunate people. I do not agree that this Parliament should be excused from its responsibility to legislate for the benefit of every section of the Australian community.

Let us look at the subject from another point of view. In New South Wales to-day a man, with a wife and eleven children, who is on relief work, receives only 5Ss. 3d. to maintain his household. When he is in work his pay is £4 0s. 9d. a week. Although this Government may allege that it has no responsibility in respect of unemployment within State boundaries, it cannot escape responsibility for the unemployment that exists in the Australian Capital Territory and for the totally inadequate scale of sustenance it provides for unemployed persons. It is interesting to notice that a man, with a wife and family of eight children, who is on sustenance in the Australian Capital Territory receives only £1 10s. 2d. a week. Will it be suggested that that is sufficient to maintain a family of ten? I ask once' more: "Where is the warm and generous treatment for this section of the community?"

I do not think any honorable member can justify setting up a special standard for the widow and family of a man who for years occupied the highest position in the land and denying the same standard to the widows and families of other men who were less favorably situated. If warm and generous consideration is to be given to the case of this widow and family it should also be given to other widows and families. For the reason that that is not proposed, I cannot support the bill ; nor can I support a proposal which I understand is to be made later that the amount to be provided for the purposes of this bill shall be reduced by about onehalf. The original proposal of the Government was preposterous. I also think that, in the circumstances which face us, a proposal that the amount of pension shall be £10 a week is also unthinkable. I shall not, by my voice or vote, assist to pass a bill which will give privileges to some which are denied to others. If the Government would place before us a bill to provide pensions for all widows and dependent children, I should be prepared to give it very careful consideration ; but I am not prepared to vote for this measure.

I quite appreciate the difficulties of dealing with this case. I do not desire that the circumstances of the Prime Minister's widow and children should he brought before the Parliament in detail; but if it should be necessary to take that step, I should not regard it as being any more repugnant or obnoxious than it is for applicants for invalid and old-age pensions to be obliged to supply .the detailed questionnaires which they must furnish before their claims can receive consideration. I believe that the private circumstances of families should be kept from public examination. Some other way of dealing with such matters should be devised, so that any necessary investigations could be made without hurting the feelings of any one in the community. 5fet, as things ,are, a warm and generous approach to these subjects in the case of pensioners and others does not seem to concern the Government very much.

I have still another reason to give why I cannot support either the bill or the foreshadowed amendment. For the year ended the 30th June, 1938, 5,000 persons were evicted from their homes in New South Wales alone.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member may not discuss that subject under this bill.

Mr WARD - My purpose in mentioning it is to indicate to honorable members opposite who wish to make nice speeches, and to deal with the problems of the community in a warm and generous spirit, that plenty of scope exists for such activities.

Finally, I ask honorable members to consider very carefully how they cast their votes on this measure. I assert definitely that it is unjust to propose to pay a pension of £20 a week to this widow and family, when even the bare necessities of life are denied to many other widows and families. I reiterate that, for the reasons I have given, I shall vote against the bill and also the foreshadowed amendment, which is designed to reduce the amount of pension by half.

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