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Thursday, 11 May 1939

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Leader of the Opposition) . - I move -

That the following words be added to the clause - . . for the maintenance and benefit of herself and for the maintenance, education, benefit and advancement of thechildren of the late the Right Honorable Joseph Aloysius Lyons.

The purpose of my amendment is to. provide an annuity at the rate of £500 per annum to Dame Enid Lyons, and, during her lifetime, to oblige her to make provision for her own maintenance and also for the maintenance, education, benefit and advancement of her children. The proposal of the Government, having, regard to the next clause, is to give Dame-

Enid Lyons a sum of £1,000 per annum, to be used for the purposes of her own needs and for the responsibilities which she will have in the care and nurture of the dependent children of the late Prime Minister. In substance, I propose that the combined annuity of £1,000 be reduced to £500 for the whole of the life of Dame Enid.

Mr Spender - And what provision would be made for the children in the event of Dame Enid's death ?

Mr CURTIN - In the event of this: amendment being agreed to, I propose to move certain amendments that would provide for that contingency. In order that honorable members may gain a proper appreciation of what is involved in this amendment, I point out that my subsequent amendments will be designed to provide for an appropriation of £100 per annum to be payable to a trustee to be appointed by the GovernorGeneral for the maintenance, education, benefit and advancement of the children of the late Prime Minister until such children attain the age of eighteen years. It could easily happen - I hope it will not-*-that within a year, for instance, my proposal would mean that £700 would have to be paid to the trustee as against the annual appropriation of £500 which 1 now suggest, because the trustee would have to engage a person to have custody of the children, and would, therefore, have to pay wages to such a person. These contingencies, I hope, will never arise, but provision must be made for them. The needs .mid circumstances of the family of the late Prime Minister demand that this Parliament shall make adequate provision for the maintenance and care of the widow and dependants of the late Prime Minister. I believe that an annual amount of £1,000 is too great a provision to be made. Such provision will set a precedent which, in years to come, will be discovered to be unfortunate. An annuity of £500 would represent a provision by this Parliament in accordance with the dignity of the status of the widow of the . late Prime Minister, and it should be reasonable provision for the responsibilities which now devolve upon her.

Before the right honorable gentleman became Prime Minister he was a private member of this House. Normally, honorable members expect to remain private members. Ministerial office, in the very nature of things, is usually for a much shorter period than representation of constituencies in a private capacity. I said sufficient yesterday to indicate my view of the emoluments paid to the Prime Minister. I agree that the late right honorable gentleman was not paid a sum which enabled him to make very great provision for his wife and children. The salary of a private member is £1,000 a year. It is fair to say, I think, that had the late right honorable member retired from the office of Prime Minister and continued as a private member of the House for, say, five or seven years - one former Prime Minister has in actual fact remained a private member for about seven years - the amount that he would have been able to make available to his- wife for her own and her household responsibilities, and for the education of the children, would have been approximately £600 in each year. I do not think any honorable member of the Parliament finds himself able to do much more than that. I have tried to look at this subject in a common-sense way. If my estimate in this respect is in error, the degree of error is very little one way or the other. In view of the calls made upon the salaries of private members for political and public expenses in connexion with their position it is unlikely that any of them are able to make more than £600 of their salary available each year for private purposes. I feel that an amount of £1,000 a year for the purpose proposed in this bill is out of proportion. What I have proposed would be reasonable and proper. The amount is far higher than that provided for widows of other former Ministers of State, and the like. I take into account that seven of the late Prime Minister's children are under the age of eighteen years, and that some of his family who are over that age will need to undergo a period of training before they will be able to engage usefully in the ordinary business of life. We have, I believe, to avoid making a provision which is out of harmony altogether with what would be the normal expectations of the family had the right honorable gentleman continued to be a private member of the Parliament for some years to come, yet the provision should not be entirely disregardful of the high office which he filled at the time of his death. A grant of £500 for the widow and another grant for the children of £500 for two years and at a lesser rate on a sliding scale for ten years is too much. My proposed provision of £500 a year represents the earnings of capital of approximately £10,000. If it had been suggested at the committee meeting last evening that the former Prime Minister had left an estate of a capital value of £10,000 the committee would have been reluctant to come to a conclusion that the family was in need. Therefore, if we make an allowance of an amount which a capital of £10,000 could be expected to yield we cannot be accused of being regardless of the dignity associated with the high office of Prime Minister, or of being mean-spirited. At any rate I should not feel that way. My proposal can bejustified, having in mind the significance of the office of Prime Minister and also the number of children dependent upon the widow. This is an embarrassing and difficult subject to discuss. I have approached it as temperately as I am capable of doing. I cannot do more than say that, having regard to what I believe to be my duty, as a citizen of Australia, to the widow and family of the late Prime Minister, and also to my duty, as a representative of the people in this Parliament, to the taxpayers, to safeguard reasonably the funds of the Commonwealth, the provision I now propose is reasonable and proper. I therefore submit it confidently to the committee.

Progress reported.

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