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Wednesday, 17 May 1939

Mr GREEN (Kalgoorlie) .- 1 intend to vote for the amendment. This is the largest amount, so far as I am aware, ever proposed by the Federal Parliament for the widow of an exmember. In the circumstances, it is excessive. In order to produce £1,000 a year, it would be necessary to invest an amount of £20,000 at 5 per cent, for ten years. It is distasteful to me and to other honorable members to discuss this matter, but as it has been brought forward it is our duty to do so. I feel sure that had the amount been what we consider fair and reasonable, ultimately it would have met with practically universal agreement, although many honorable members might with a good deal of justice have directed attention to the serious poverty that exists in this country. The wives of wage-earners in thousands of cases are living on a very small charity allowance which is not sufficient to enable them to make ends meet. We know from computation that the average parliamentary life of a federal member is eight years. Some men are more fortunate in that they secure election in constituencies which undeviatingly support the political beliefs that they espouse. Although an allowance of £1,000 a. year is paid to a member, only a small amount can be saved. It must be recognized that an honorable member has two homes to keep. Then, too, he must .periodically travel through his electorate. During these visits his hotel expenses are only a small proportion of bis outlay. It is only reasonable to say that the average member is not able to save £200 a year. He is likely to be defeated at any election. Members of the Labour party who find themselves in that position experience considerable difficulty in fitting themselves again into industry, because of advancing years, and also because they have become unaccustomed to laborious work. A public servant is in a far different category; so long as lie behaves himself he holds his position for life. Governments which preceded the present Administration, including a government led by the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), refused to discuss an equitable scheme enable members to make fair and reasonable provision for their old-age, or for their widows in the event of their death. If the late Prime Minister had remained with his former colleagues of the Labour party he would long ago have ceased to be a Minister. Like the right honorable member for Yan*(Mr. Scullin), the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) and others he would have been a private member of the Parliament. During the years he was Prime Minister he drew, on the average, £2,500 a year in salaries and allowances, so that he received at least £10,500 more than his former colleagues.

Scores of former members of this Parliament have found great difficulty in making a bare living upon their retirement, for one reason or another, from the Parliament. It may be invidious to mention cases, but I have in mind the late Senator Turley, who rendered yeoman service in the public life of the Commonwealth. After his defeat at an election he endeavoured to resume work in his former calling as a wharf lumper, but because of his age he found it impossible to obtain employment, and he died practically penniless. I have in mind also a former member of the Parliament of Western Australia who, after serving two terms, was defeated at an election. He had been earning a good living as an officer of the State Railway Department, but he found the lure of parliamentary life irresistible. After his defeat he could not rehabilitate himself in his former employment. Three months later his wife had to accept employment as a barmaid in order to maintain the family. There is nothing wrong in that, of course, but when I recall her, as she attended parliamentary functions of one kind and another, and then realize the arduous work she had to perform in a back-country hotel,' it seems to me that her case was pitiable. I think of another former member of the Parliament of Western Australia. He was a non-drinker and an excellent parliamentarian, but when he lost his seat he could not get work anywhere. Finally he died absolutely destitute, by his own hand in a park in Sydney. Numerous other distressing cases could be cited. In those circumstances, surely the Government would be wise to try, with the aid of honorable members of all parties, to evolve some contributory scheme to assist members who, in their old age, or after their defeat at an election, find themselves incapable of providing for themselves and their families.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr Prowse

I must ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the clause.

Mr GREEN - The cases to which I have directed attention are, in my opinion, germane to the subject under discussion. The circumstances that I have outlined are surely such as should oblige us .to think more seriously about the necessity to make some provision to enable members of Parliament, who lose their seats or fall upon evil days, to meet their own needs. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) had no need to wax so eloquent about bringing children up under good conditions and giving them a good education. In dealing with this particular case we are surely under some obligation to keep in mind the position of the widows and families of former members of the Parliament. Honorable members opposite must surely realize that Ave, who represent working-class communities, cannot honestly support a proposal to provide pensions for the widow and family of the late Prime Minister on the liberal scale proposed by the Government when we know that many thousands of widows, whose breadwinners have met with untimely deaths, are in want and unable to provide the bare necessaries of life for their children. I trust that the Government will even now consider adopting the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) for it would be supported almost unanimously. We recognize that this is a special case and we are prepared to go to the extent indicated by the Leader of the Opposition to meet it, but we cannot go further.

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