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Thursday, 11 May 1939

Mr HOLLOWAY (Melbourne Ports) . - I should like to make my position in this matter quite clear. While. I favour some provision being made for the wife and children of the late Prime Minister, I protest against what I consider almost indecent haste in dealing with this matter. Had we adopted the usual practice, we should have waited until a calmer atmosphere prevailed. Then, I think, the measure introduced by the Government would have been different from the one now before the House. This bill makes certain that for at least ten years the income of Dame Enid Lyons will be equal to that which her husband would have received as an ordinary member of Parliament, without the necessity to maintain- two homes. Although I am anxious to do something for the family, I believe that 1 should not be justified in voting for the measure because, in my opinion, it proposes a misuse of public money. At a conservative estimate, even taking into consideration the proposed amendments, the sum to bc appropriated under this measure will amount to £15,000 or £16,000. There is not in this Parliament any man who has a guarantee of the permanent occupation of his seat for a term sufficient to entitle him to that sum. Before the death of Mr. Lyons, every one in Australia who could feel the pulse of political events, felt certain that a change of leadership of the Government was almost daily imminent. Some people who claim to know the facts have gone so far as to say that it was definitely agreed that such a change would have taken place within a month or two of the death of the late Prime Minister. But even if we do not take that point into consideration at all, and deal only with the principle underlying the bill, I claim that there is no justification for such an unfair proposal. We have had other instances of ex-Ministers of this Parliament, who gave long and faithful service to the country, dying and leaving their widows and families in almost destitute circumstances - I know of several such cases personally - 'but in no case was the widow of the deceased member granted an annuity exceeding £156 per annum. Why there should be such an elaborate margin between their cases and that of the late Prime Minister I cannot imagine. I should be prepared to double the amount given in other instances because of the size and youthfulness of the family of the late Prime Minister, but that I should vote for the expenditure of from £15,000 to £20,000 of public money - and I do not think that the Minister can make it much less, even when the proposed amendments are taken into account - is something which I believe I have no right to do. The principle underlying the bill is wrong. How can I face any section of the people of Australia and attempt logically to justify my vote for this measure in its present form? The bill was conceived in a moment of great emotion, and is the outcome of the sentiment attaching to the dramatic termination of the late Prime Minister's life. The fact that he died while actually in harness as Prime Minister is the reason for the great difference between the proposals in this case and the amounts granted on other occasions. I am aware that this is the first time that Parliament has been called upon to consider a grant to the widow of a Prime Minister who died in office, but, when other men who served in the Commonwealth Ministry for long periods, and held high portfolios, such as that of the Minister for Trade and Customs, died, their widows were granted only £3 a week. I admit that in no other instance was the family so large, and, in my opinion, that does make a difference. That difference can be met by increasing the amount paid in other instances. But why the amount should be larger just because the Prime Minister died while holding office, rather than six months later or a few years earlier, I cannot imagine. Had he relinquished his post through illhealth as was probable, or had the change which many people consider was imminent actually taken place, the proposals contained in this bill would never have been submitted to us. I suggest that the great difference between this case and others is the outcome of sentimental emotion rather than common sense. For the reasons that I have stated, I shall support the second reading in order to enable a more reasonable scheme to be evolved in committee. I shall oppose the proposals of the Government and also that of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) in the hope that we shall arrive at something equitable. Unless a reasonable compromise is agreed to, I shall be forced to vote against the bill altogether.

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