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Wednesday, 17 May 1939

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) .- One can well understand the feelings of Dame Enid Lyons as expressed in the letter read by the Prime Minister here lo-day, and possibly that letter might have contained stronger terms had she been forced to listen to the discussion that is now taking place. Many things have been said which would have been better left unsaid, and even the bill contains matter which might perhaps have been better omitted at this time, so shortly after the bereavement. We, in this House, have a duty, not only to Dame Enid Lyons and her family, but also to ourselves, our selfrespect and the self-respect of the nation. In some respects it may he said that democracy is tested in- a matter such as this. If in a democracy a man can attain to the highest . position of power in Australia and die a poor man, it is a tribute both to democracy and to the man. It is a tribute to the way in which he regarded his duties over a long period of years, and because he discharged those duties honestly, while all the time living without extravagance, as we know he did, and so died leaving little or no estate, it is not right that his widow and family should now be allowed to suffer. There is a responsibility upon us and upon the nation to see that the family of a man who carried out his duties in that fashion, who remained free from corruption of the kind that we hear about in other countries, is not now penalized. It will be a sorry thing for our democracy if we set upon a pedestal the man who places the acquisition of wealth before his duty to the nation.

It has been suggested that the plight of the widow of the late Prime Minister is no different from that of any other widow. As far as the actual food requirements of the family are concerned, that may be true, hut it would be a serious thing to drag a family down in one bound from the highest position in the land to the very lowest rung of the ladder. There is a feeling among every section of the community that that sort of thing is not done, if it is possible to prevent it. Particularly is it felt that it should not be done to one who filled her position. with the dignity, and honour and lack of class distinction- that characterized Dame Enid Lyons. Members opposite are, no doubt, in order in referring to the amounts drawn by other widows, but, I ask them : Would the circumstances of any of those persons be bettered if the pension here 'proposed were reduced to such a beggarly sum that the family would hardly be able to subsist on it ? Is it not rather the preferable and decent thing to see that this family, at least, is provided for as it should be? The pension proposed is not unreasonably high. Honorable members with a family of two or three children, or even with no children, know how little can be done with their parliamentary allowances.

Mr Ward - It would be much more difficult if the honorable member were on the basic wage.

Mr ANTHONY - If the honorable member were consistent, then all of us here should be on the basic wage. Let me tell him that I am prepared to work for the basic wage if he is. However, .1 have no wish to drag this discussion down to the level of a backyard fight. Would any honorable member of this House, or any individual throughout the nation, feel one whit better if, in two, three, or five years' time, it was known that the family of the late Prime Minister was in want? Would any other widows in Australia be better off for that? Personally, I am confident that even they feel that the nation should recognize the great, work of a great son in the only practical way possible - not by votes of sympathy, but by looking after those he left behind.

There may be room for genuine dif'ferences of opinions as to the period for which the allowance to the children should continue - whether it should continue until the youngest child is 21, or be reduced at an earlier stage. That is a matter upon which a select committee could give guidance to the House, rather than have us tearing the bill to pieces here in what must be a painful discussion for Dame Enid Lyons and her family. As the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) pointed out, the position of Prime Minister sets a mark upon its occupant, and in this bill it is proposed that the nation should recognize the great work done by the man who was, until his death, Prime Minister. The position of Prime Minister has to be maintained according to a certain standard, and the late Prime Minister found that, in maintaining it even according to his. modest standards, he was not able to do for his family what he otherwise would have liked to do. There is a principle involved in this bill. Members- of the Opposition have directed attention to the needs of other widows and other families. I agree with them that it should be our aim to ensure that adequate provision is made for all of those who may be left in want, but that ideal is not helped forward by reducing this proposed pension to a beggarly amount. I hope this bill will go through without too much dissection - perhaps I should say vivisection. I hope that all honorable members will realize that the late Prime Minister did a great job for his country, that his widow did a great job, too, and that they both set a standard of family life which was an example to the whole of Australia. In approving of this small gratuity - for, after all, £1,000 a year for a widow and . a family of eleven is not a large sum - we shall show that the people of Australia recognize what they owe to the late Prime Minister and his family.

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