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Thursday, 11 May 1939

Mr POLLARD (Ballarat) .- I realize that nothing I can say in this Parliament will influence the intention of the Government to make provision under this bill for the widow and family of our late Prime Minister. I realize also how difficult it is to speak on a measure of this sort without, perhaps, creating the impression that one is actuated by some bias, conscious or unconscious, against the individual concerned. I have no conscious bias against the late Prime Minister or his widow and family. On the contrary, I have the highest respect for them. My relations with the late right honorable gentleman, although I am of different political thought, were of the happiest. On the occasions I had to approach him on matters which required sympathetic handling, I found that sympathy always forthcoming. But I realize that in a discussion of this sort one must put a point of view or express one's feelings eliminating entirely the personal element. To the extent that I am capable of doing that, I intend to do it. In view of the knowledge that honorable members of all sides of this House propose to support some pension for the widow and children of the late right honorable gentleman, I feel it is a case in which ministers and honorable members are inclined to put themselves upon a pedestal, and unconsciously make themselves believe that they are of greater service to the community than other people who serve the Commonwealth, the common people outside this Parliament.

Mr Blain - The honorable gentleman should have a high conceit of himself.

Mr POLLARD - This subject is a painful one, and I ask the honorable member not to interject. In ordinary circumstances I do not ask for that. When I say that I do not exclude honorable members from the wide range of people in this community who have a humane outlook. I cannot refrain from illustrating this situation by citing supposititious cares. In case " A ", we have a citizen outside this Parliament in the industrial, professional, clerical, or primary producing sphere, giving of his best to the Commonwealth, and the common good. He dies, leaving his widow and children unprovided for. That means that his widow has no other recourse to aid than to social laws and institutions of this community. I need not name the particular institutions or social laws from which aid can be sought. In case " B ", the son of a worthy individual cited in case " A " is elected to this Parliament by virtue of the confidence which the electors have in him. He might have special gifts to serve, but Providence provides them. He is no more a worthy citizen than his father. He may be Prime Minister or he may be an honorable member of the rank and file of this Parliament. He dies. This Parliament then passes a special act to provide a special pension for his widow and children. The widow in case " A " is no less worthy than the widow in case " B ". I cannot view this matter in any other way than by drawing this analogy.

The honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) interjected whilst the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) was speaking on this measure, and asked how could the honorable gentleman justify the higher salaries for members of this Parliament than for people outside. My retort to that interjection is that honorable members, after they pay various travelling expenses, very often are in receipt of no more than the basic wage, or the wage of artisans. That fact must be taken into consideration. It is because of it that a Prime Minister and many members of this Parliament leave their widows and children unprovided for. But that is another question. It is a possible case for more adequate remuneration of the Prime Ministers and honorable members,- but that can be argued on its merits at the right time and place. When it comes to providing for widows and children, however, I cannot see my. way clear to support a proposal which creates class privilege in this community, and puts one widow in a more worthy position than another widow.

Mr Blain - This is a special case.

Mr POLLARD - The honorable gentleman says that this is a special case. There are many grand women in this community who have rendered of their best in the service of this Commonwealth. The best that we can give them is the invalid pension, the old-age pension, the soldiers' widows' pension, or to propose, as was proposed in a measure which passed this Parliament last year, that, for the subscription of ls. 6d. a week, the payment of £1 a week should be made after a certain age. This illustrates, perhaps, the conceit that we have of ourselves. It is said, when an honorable gentleman dies, that he dies because of strain of office, overwork, or because of extra service unselfishly given to this country. There is not the slightest doubt that, in many cases, that is correct in every particular, but that applies to many men in every other walk of life. It applies to primary producers, who are harassed by debts, mortgages, long hours of labour and inadequate remuneration. These men come to an early grave because of the services that they render to their country. It applies also to the artisan, to the unskilled worker, to the professional worker in medicine or law. In these circumstances, how can we say that we should regard this as a special case deserving of special consideration ? The onus of proving that any disability from which he suffers is due to his war service is thrown on the returned soldier. It has been said that the strain imposed on the late Prime Minister was the cause of his early death. That may or may not have been the case. This problem troubles me, and I feel deeply the obligation to speak as I have spoken. But the electors of my constituency sent me here not to grant privileges or to raise distinctions between one worthy member and another of our community, but to endeavour to place every member of the community on the same basis. Even-handed justice should be meted out to all. I realize that this measure, in some form or other, will have the support of honorable members of all parties. That speaks volumes for their humanity, and I pay tribute to them for it. But I ask them not to forget that I and many other honorable members will use this case as a precedent in the future in support of any case of a widow and children who are equally worthy and entitled to assistance. Only a month or two ago a worthy citizen of Williamstown, Victoria, with a wife and twelve children, could not secure a roof under which to house them, although he was prepared to pay rent for it. In the following week, a family of eight children in Malvern, because of its size, could not obtain shelter. Were those special cases, or were they not? Neither this nor any other parliament in Australia lifted a finger to provide housing accommodation for those people.

I conclude by expressing the hope that this House will accept my contribution to the debate in the spirit in which it is made; it is not actuated by bias, nor have personal considerations consciously intruded into it. I feel that I should do wrong were I to assist this Parliament in any way to take out of the pockets of those who are less fortunately situated, such as widows who are receiving a pension of £1 a week, money with which to pay a much more handsome pension to others who occupy a similar position. In the circumstances, I am opposed to the bill.

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