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Thursday, 20 May 1920

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) .- I intend to support the proposal of the Government. . The only questions thatexercised my mind in coming to that decision were: First, Does this country believe in the policy of payment of members ? It has said so, and the principle is contained in the Constitution. ' The next question I asked myself was : Is the present allowance adequate? My answer is "No." What the proposals for increase were I did not know until this Bill was circulated to-night. I do not regard them as excessive, and I propose to support them. We have taken what I believe to be the right and proper and constitutional course to decide the matter. There was first a motion by a private member, which afforded an opportunity to us for indicating to the House and .the country the intentions of honorable members. I had not an opportunity of speaking on it, but a vote was taken, following upon which the Government have acted. It is the ambition of rich and poor alike to enter the Parliament of their country. A fair and free and unfettered chance should be available to them. There has been much criticism of the proposal, but I welcome the fullest opportunity for the discussion of my attitude either by my constituents through the press, or through organized bodies like the Taxpayers Association, or in any other way.

The latest suggestion is that of the honorable member for Franklin, that a Bill should be put through the House in the last session of the Parliament - for what purpose? To make provision for our successors, or possible successors. That is a great test to put upon human nature. One cannot discuss a Bill of this description without feeling that he is discussing something which directly affects himself. The question is delicate in that respect, and in that respect only, but that is no reason why the matter should not be faced and discussed. So far as I am concerned, no fear of consequences will worry or deter me in doing what I believe to be right. In the seven years that I have been in this National Parliament, I have faced four elections and taken part in four referenda. An honorable member, concerning whose reputation and honesty no one has any misgivings, has interpreted what he believes to be the contract made between himself and his constituents. He has declared that it was a contract to serve for a term of three years at £600 per annum. In my judgment there is no such contract. The Parliament takes control of honorable members as soon as they are elected, and by resolution can terminate the political career of any honorable member by sending him back to' his constituents. That being so, no constituency can keep a member here for three years against the will of the Parliament itself. The Parliament is supreme in respect of every matter placed within its jurisdiction by the Constitution, and it is indisputably correct that the determination of what allowance shall be paid to members has been specifically intrusted to the Parliament by section 48 of -the Constitution of the Commonwealth.

I wish to deal with one or two of the criticisms that have been levelled at this proposal. The chief among them is that honorable members should not themselves make increased provision for their own services. I do not think that the people, or members themselves, believe that the allowance granted to members is intended to be a full and complete return for their services. The representatives of five of the States have to journey to Melbourne as the Seat of Government, and many of them come from the most remote parts of the Commonwealth. Their constituents generally insist upon them making their homes in their respective divisions. A member has either to maintain his home in his own electorate, and remain away from it while Parliament is sitting, or he must bring his family to the Seat of Government and set up a second home here. He has to incur the expense of maintaining two homes. There are also a hundred and one expenses to which members are subjected, and of which their constituents know nothing. It is for that reason that I welcome this opportunityof telling the broad constituencies of Australia that the people have not sufficient conception of the responsibilities of a t member of the National Parliament, and know nothing of many of the personal expenses to which a member is put. It has been said that it is indecent for members, in discussing a question of this kind, to refer to their own private affairs. I should like to know in what other way it would be possible to show the sufficiency or otherwise of the allowance we receive. I should have been .very loath to discuss this question from a personal stand-point had not that statement been made. I gave five years of special effort during the war to my constituency, and I have had during that period no return whatever, nor did I look for any, from my Parliamentary allowance. The constituencies have an obligation to discharge to their representatives. They are under a definite obligation to give them an adequate and sufficient remuneration to enable them to provide for themselves and their dependants. The question of personal sacrifices made by many honorable members in entering Parliament might be referred to, but it is not while they are actually in Parliament that the greatest sacrifice is made. When a man's political career is terminated - and it generally happens to be terminated at the most disadvantageous time - the real sacrifice falls upon his family. We have had, unfortunately, too many striking illustrations of that fact, but I shall not refer to them individually. It will be argued that men ought, surely, to be drawn to a proper discharge of their public duties even without an adequate allowance. My answer to that is that members of Parliament are just as human as other members of society, and that the obligations imposed upon them are various and heavy.

I do not regret having entered Parliament, and even if the allowance were not what it is to-day I should still strive to be here. That, however, does not influence my decision on this question. I should like to feel that every honorable' member was dealing with this question on its merits, and was considering it from the viewpoint that the remuneration should be a sufficient living allowance for himself and his family. In dealing with a matter of this kind, individual members ought not to be influenced by considerations of what may be their own private resources. They should view the proposal from a fair basis. They should ask themselves whether the present allowance is an adequate return to be given to members of the Parliament of a continent as wide as this, having regard to the expenses which membership involves. From whateveraspect this proposal may be regarded, I claim that it is not unreasonable. We have been asked what effect this action on our part will have upon those who are contending for increased emoluments in other directions. That is not the real consideration. The provision has been made to enable their claims to be settled. Our critics, wherever they may be, have never at any time suggested that the present allowance is insufficient. No suggestions on that subject have been made by them. A significant fact is that very few of them say to-day that the allowance is adequate. Their chief contention is that we have gone about securing an increased allowance in the wrong way. There were three ways open to us. In the first place, Parliament itself could take the full responsibility; secondly, the question might have been referred by referendum to the people; and, thirdly, it could have been put before the people in connexion with a general election. The allowance to be paid to members of Parliament, however, could not be made the determining factor of any election. To include such a proposal in the policy of a party might "be theoretically right, but. in actual practice, it would lead to a very indecent scramble for return to this Parliament. I think that the Parliament has taken the proper course, and I am prepared, without the slightest fear, to take the responsibility of supporting the Bill.

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