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Thursday, 11 May 1939

Mr McHUGH (Wakefield) . - I desire to address myself for a few minutes only to the unfortunate circumstances that have necessitated the introduction of this measure. I speak on behalf of the 50,000 odd electors whom I represent in this Parliament. At the outset, I wish to make it clear to the Government that I am opposed to the .bill. A pension of £20 a week is not my conception of what is right, although I agree largely -with the statements of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) and the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) concerning the dignity and the importance of the office of Prime Minister and the necessity for this Parliament and the people of the Commonwealth always to hold it in the highest regard. Although we pride ourselves on our democratic institutions, and on the character and integrity of those who occupy the office of Prime Minister, that must not sway our consideration of what pension should be paid to the widow of a Prime Minister. Both the Prime Minister and his wife have my wholehearted sympathy because of the arduous nature of the task they have to perform in the discharge of their functions. I am quite satisfied that the late Prime Minister's death was hastened by the severity of the strain imposed upon him in rendering service to this country. The duties of the office would kill any man who remained sufficiently long in it, and for that reason there must be a periodic change in the occupant of it. The right honorable member for 'Cowper (Sir Earle Page) was a near friend and colleague of the late Prime Minister and remained with him to the end. The emotionalism of the* last sad hours must have affected him deeply. I can therefore quite understand his statement that Australia would not forget the widow, and the further statements that he made to the press. I believe with the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) that had an appeal been made to the Australian public for the support of the widow, she would have been amply provided for by those who consider that her late husband had rendered yeoman service to this nation. But to take from the Treasury £20 a week for the support of his dependants is quite another matter. The generosity of the people of this country would have been abundantly demonstrated, and a sufficient sum would have been provided as the result of a public appeal to have made the introduction of this bill unnecessary.

The precedent of making provision for the widows of ex-Prime Ministers has already been established, but in no case has the amount exceeded £3 a week. If that be a reasonable pension, why should a larger amount be provided in this particular case? This proposal to grant a pension or annuity to the widow and children of the late Prime Minister, out of all proportion to that provided for the dependants of ordinary members of Parliament, is wrong. The total amount payable should diminish as each child reaches the age of sixteen years, so that the nation's responsibility in respect of the children would cease entirely when the youngest child attained that age. The contingency of the re-marriage of Dame Enid Lyons is to be provided for in the bill. I know of no reason why the annuity to the late Prime Minister's dependants should not be on all fours with the pension paid to the widow and dependants of any honorable member who has rendered service to this country. The financial circumstances of the late Prime Minister as disclosed to the special committee of honorable members clearly demonstrated to the public generally that members of Parliament give freely of their services to this country in so many cases but are unable to make suitable provision for their dependants. I agree with my leader (Mr. Curtin) that it is a fine thing to be able to say of our democracy that its public men go through all the temptations which public life so often offers to them, and emerge from it poor men. For myself, I can say that I did not come to this Parliament to make money. No decent man does. We come here to give service because wo early caught the disease of endeavouring to render public services in some sphere, and to leave the world better than we found it.

I am prepared, because of precedents established, to support a measure to provide for the widow and children of the late Prime Minister in the same way as widows and dependants of other members of this Parliament have been cared for, and I would also approve of ample provision being made for the large family which the late right honorable gentleman left. But I am opposed to the bill in the present form, and I hope that it will not become law. Let us bold the scales of justice evenly and give to the widow and children of our late Prime Minister the same treatment as that meted out to the widows and dependants of all ex-members of his Parliament.

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