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Thursday, 11 May 1939

Mr JAMES (Hunter) .- I should have thought that the committee which was appointed yesterday to confer "with the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) would have had power, and would have used that power, to make a more thorough inquiry than it made. I understand that the committee accepted an assurance by the Prime Minister that the submission of the estate of the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) to the Public Trustee in Tasmania had disclosed an estate of about £100. I can hardly credit that, and I am not yet satisfied that the estate of the deceased right honorable gentleman is in such a bad way as is indicated. If what has been told us is correct, it is a tragedy. Irrespective of the condition of the estate, I feel that I cannot support the bill. The only source of enlightenment for honorable members about this matter is the daily press. We find from the newspapers, that apart from the conference of representatives of the parties, the United Australia party also met yesterday to discuss this measure. In view of the fact that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) obtained leave to make a statement and to withdraw, his amendment, it would have been appropriate for the Prime Minister also to make a statement. As it is, we are in the dark as to what is proposed. We do not know whether the bill is to stand in its present form or is to be amended.

Mr Menzies - I entirely concurred with the statement made by the Leader pf the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), which accurately reported what had taken place, and therefore I had nothing to add.

Mr JAMES - The Canberra Times published a report that there is a likelihood of an alteration of the bill as a result of the meeting of the United Australia party.

Mr Menzies - I noticed that report and was most interested in- its contents because they seemed to be completely imaginary.

Mr JAMES - Oh ! Then I must confine my remarks to the bill as it stands. I cannot support it, because I know that many thousands of widows in this country are in distressed circumstances. They are fighting an unequal battle in .trying to maintain a home for "their children. I and other honorable members have seen them struggling for an existence in the district from which I come to sit in this chamber. As the result of the introduction of a widows' pension in New South Wales their position in that State, bad though it is, is not so bad as it was. But New South Wales is the only State in the Commonwealth where there is a widows' pension. The high rate of casualties in coal mining means the. death of many breadwinners, whose families are left in destitute circumstances, .as the result of which . the widowed mothers, so difficult is their struggle, soon find their way to either mental hospitals or the cemetery. These women and their departed husbands have played their -part in this country to their full capacity, and it is wrong for us to vote the money of the taxpayers to the widow of one whom we knew in this chamber, while they are in dire want, misery, and despair.

The Government thinks that the only inquiry necessary in this case relates to the circumstances in which Dame Enid Lyons and her family should live. If an honorable member on this side of the House dies, his dependants, before being granted financial relief, have to undergo the rigid examination of what is known as the " means test ". That has happened. 1 do not want to mention names, because I do not think that it is right to bring names into this chamber, but when a member of the Labour party died recently, leaving a widow and two little babies, younger than any member of the family of the late Prime Minister, it was suggested that the widow, being a young woman, might again marry and that she had near relatives to whom she could look for support. When another honorable member from this side of the House died it was suggested that because his nephew had taken his place, the deceased member's widow should look to her relative for the support of herself and her children. Absolutely no provision has been made by this Parliament for the widows and children whom I have cited. None whatever! Let us analyze the position a little more closely. Legislation has been passed for the assistance of widows of some exmembers of this House who were in dire distress, but in no case has the grant exceeded £3 a week nor has there been any provision for children. Those members rendered service to the community to the limit of their capacity. What is the difference between their widows and the widow of a Prime Minister? In what different category is the widow of a soldier who made the supreme sacrifice for his country on the field of battle or died subsequent to his return to Australia, it being obvious to all except the Entitlement Tribunal that his death was due to war service? What becomes of the orphaned children of returned soldiers? Has any provision been made for them after the age of sixteen years? Certainly not. Yet this bill makes provision for the payment of £500 a year to Dame Enid Lyons for the maintenance of her children until the youngest of them reaches the age of 21 years.

Mr Lane - It is now proposed to make the age sixteen years.

Mr JAMES - I questioned the Prime Minister on that point, and he said that we should take no notice of press reports as they were completely imaginary. The age stated in the bill is 21 years. Seeing that the eldest child is now 23 years of age and the youngest six years of age, the former will be 38 when the latter reaches 21. If the maximum age be sixteen years, the eldest will be 33 when the youngest ceases to participate. We cannot know what income the eldest child may have at that age. I believe that all honorable members should be entitled to contribute to a superannuation scheme similar to that of the Public Service, and thus be enabled to make provision for their dependants. We should not then have repeated appeals to set something aside out of the money of the taxpayers for the assistance of their widows and children while no provision whatever is made by six out of the seven governments in this country for the poorer and more destitute widows. I sympathize with the widow and family of the late Prime Minister, but at the same time I realize that there are thousands of these widows whose interests we should first consider. A little more justice .and equity should be meted out under our social service legislation, "including the Repatriation Act.

Let me again review the position from the standpoint of the widow and children of a returned soldier. The widow gets, at the most, £2 a week for herself and 10s. a week for each child under the age of 16 years. The Government of the day told the members of the A.I.J7. before they left Australia that this country would be ever grateful for their action and would always recognize its responsibility to them. How many sons of deceased soldiers have reached the age of 21 years, and even 25 years, without having been able to secure employment? Yet under this measure, even if the maximum age be fixed at 16 years, the eldest children will participate in the payment until they are more than 30 years of age, irrespective of the amount of their income from other sources. Under the

Repatriation Act, the widow of.a deceased soldier loses her pension within twelve months after .re-marriage. This bill makes no provision in respect of the remarriage of the widow.

Mr Spender - An amendment in respect of that matter has been foreshadowed.

Mr JAMES - The Prime Minister said at the beginning of my speech that we should take no notice of amendments foreshadowed in the press. Such contemplated amendments should be circulated. I accept the assurance of the Assistant Minister (Mr. Spender) that it is intended to incorporate in the bill a provision in relation to re-marriage. That is only fair. But I cannot agree that all the children should participate in the payment until the youngest child reaches the age of sixteen years if that is to be proposed in lieu of twenty-one years. That would be grossly unfair. Has the Government ever attempted to appoint a guardian or a trustee to brighten the lives of the orphaned children of returned soldiers? Unfortunately, many of these children are left to the mercy of State schools, and miss the affection and guidance which they would probably receive from a trustee or a guardian as is proposed in this measure. The fathers laid down their lives in the service of their country; surely, then, everything possible should be done for the offspring! I appreciate the fact that members of Parliament have to meet many calls on their purse. I have been a member of this Parliament for almost eleven years. I had £20 iu my pocket before I commenced my parliamentary career, and I am £200 in debt to-day. If I were to pass out to-morrow, under the "Widows' Pensions Act of New South "Wales my unfortunate widow would have to pass a means test; the whole of her circumstances would be inquired into. "Whatever may be the earnings of any unmarried child living in the home of a widow, 50 per cent, of the gross sum is deemed to be the income of the widowed mother, whilst if the child is not living in the home, the rate is 25 per cent. That is supposed to be, and it is, a very humane piece of legislation, which other States might well copy.

I believe that we are going beyond the bounds of decency and humanity in making such, provision that the eldest child of the late Prime Minister can participate in this grant until after passing the age of 33 years, irrespective of the amount of her income.

Dr Maloney - It is a mis-use of public money.

Mr JAMES - It definitely is a misuse of public money. It is not fair. Unfortunately, these matters have to be ventilated in the interests of the many thousands of persons who have never had the privilege of having their cause pleaded in this House. A widowed woman who visits my home has reared fourteen children. A fortnight after her husband died, her eldest son was accidentally shot in the bush. She had to pass a means test, and her pension was reduced because one of her children, aged fourteen years, had obtained employment.

Mr Lane - There would be no reduction in that case.

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Order! It appears to the Chair that the honorable member is criticizing State legislation. That may not be done.

Mr JAMES - I am endeavouring to show the difference between the provision here proposed, and that made under a widows' pension scheme in one part of the Commonwealth. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) knows full well that 50 per cent, of the income of any child living in the home of a widowed mother is regarded as the income of that mother.

Mr Lane - A boy of fourteen years is not taken into account.

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