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Wednesday, 17 May 1939

Mr THORBY (CALARE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - He knew all the details of the case.

Mr ROSEVEAR - He knew very little. A good deal of humbug and sentimentality has been evinced in relation to this subject. If the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) is satisfied that his leader was able to sum up the position at the time he made his first declaration on this subject, I certainly am not satisfied that he had sufficient information to guide him to a. decision. His first declaration was made before the late Prime Minister was even buried.

Mr Thorby - He had all the details in his 'possession.

Mr ROSEVEAR - The Opposition is not alone in seeking to place some sort of a means test on this case. The Government itself has done so. "When the committee considered the whole situation the. representatives of both the United Australia party and the Country party decided that it would be unwise to provide maintenance for the children of the late Prime Minister after they reached a certain age. Therefore they agreed that the pension for the children should diminish by about £71 a year as each child reached the age of 18 years. In other words, as each child attained capacity to maintain itself, either wholly or partially, the pension was to be reduced. Under the original proposal of the Government the pension of £500 a year for the children until the youngest of them reached 21 years of age would have involved an expenditure of £8,000:- Under the amended proposal, which the representatives of the United Australia party and Country party on the committee agreed to, the amount involved would be £3,800, or less than half the original amount. Now that the party steamroller has been over them, we find honorable gentlemen opposite supporting an entirely different proposal costing £5,000. The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition has the approval of the majority of his supporters, and I shall therefore vote for it. That amendment provides for a pension of £500 a year to the widow and family, the widow to handle the whole of it and to accept the responsibility of maintaining the family. If the late Prime Minister had been a private member dependent upon his parliamentary allowance, after meeting all of the usual calls and expenses attendant on a member's calling, the amount of £500 a year would have been a reasonable sum for him to apply from his salary to the maintenance of his home. It cannot be claimed that the Opposition is niggardly in suggesting that the late Prime "Minister's family should be placed in almost precisely the same position as that in which the families of most honorable gentlemen who are still living and doing their work are placed. I challenge any Government member to satisfy public opinion as well as his own conscience that it is not equitable that, as the children of the late right honorable gentleman grow older and become partially able or completely able to maintain themselves, the allowance made to them by this Parliament should be reduced. The amendment contains a further provision to ensure that should anything happen to the widow, the children will be adequately maintained until such time as they are able to maintain themselves. This is not a time when we should concern ourselves about whether the late Prime Minister drew an adequate salary while he was alive. The question we have to consider is whether his widow is in any worse or more difficult position in the maintenance of her family than the widow of any other deceased member of this Parliament; yet the Government's proposal is that for the next ten years we shall pay to the widow and her family a pension which is seven times greater than any pension that has ever been paid to the dependants of any other deceased member of this Parliament. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) said " We must make some special provision because of the rank that the late right honorable gentleman held in Cabinet." I should remind the honorable gentleman, if he were here, that a former Minister of the Crown died in the poor-house in Adelaide, his only possession being the gold pass that he received for having served as a Minister for more than three years. No provision was made for his family. Where was the sentimental talk of the honorable member for Gippsland in those days? The honorable member can justify, because of the eminence of the position of the late right honorable gentleman, the payment to his family of a pension which is seven times greater than any pension similarly voted by this Parliament. Well, I cannot. I find it difficult even to support the amendment moved by my leader, but it is a party decision and I intend to stand by it. The committee of honorable members which met the Prime Minister on this matter came to no decision as to the amount of the annuity that should be paid, but there certainly has been a change of face on the part of those who represented the 'Country party and the United Australia party on that committee. We stand by the proposition that was made by the leader of this party. It is before the committee and I hope that it will be accepted. I feel sure that it is the opinion of all honorable gentlemen and the public at large that if we do what the Opposition wants to be done we shall do justice to the widow and children of the late Prime Minister. [Quorum formed.]

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