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Wednesday, 17 May 1939

Mr ROSEVEAR (Dalley) . - I should not have risen to participate further in this discussion except for the rather remarkable attitude adopted by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) this afternoon. The right honorable gentleman did not attempt to justify either the Government's original proposal or its amended plan; nor did he discuss the alternative advanced by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). In what, to my mind, was singularly bad taste, he read a private letter written by Dame Enid Lyons to himself, in which she set out her feelings regarding the discussion that this bill has evoked.

Mr Spender - It was not a private letter. It was intended for the information of honorable members.

Mr ROSEVEAR - In my opinion the only purpose that could have been served by the reading of the letter was the stifling of discussion. If that were not the Prime Minister's object in intruding the letter into the discussion I cannot think what end he wished to serve.

Mr Spender - He acted at the request of Dame Enid, so that her view would be made clear.

Mr ROSEVEAR - If any feeling has been displayed in this discussion it is due entirely to the clumsy and haphazard way in which this bill was drafted and presented to the House. The measure, in its original form, was criticized, not only by the Opposition, but also by honorable members opposite. Of four Government supporters who spoke during the second-reading debate three asserted that the case demanded some investigation and that therefore the bill should be temporarily withdrawn. It was at that stage that the Prime Minister, realizing that a blunder had been made, suggested that the matter should be referred to a committee. The debate was thereupon adjourned and the committee deliberated. I was somewhat involuntarily a member of the committee in that I was nominated without my knowledge. The extent of the investigation made by the committee would not have satisfied any government department, the officers of which are called upon to investigate pension claims and social service payments. The only information made available to the committee was that which the Prime Minister had at his disposal at the moment. The committee made no recommendation to the House or to the respective political parties. All that its members did was to report to their respective parties the exact information made available to them. After considering that information the several parties reached certain decisions. Since that time both the United Australia party and the Country party have been guilty of a remarkable volte face. The Government's original proposal was that Dame Enid Lyons should receive a pension of £500 a year for life, and that the children should receive a pension of £500 a year until the youngest of them attained the age of 2! years. It is quite apparent that the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) committed his Government on this matter. It is equallyapparent that he made the commitment before he could possibly have had any detailed information of the circumstances of Dame Enid Lyons and her family. He committed himself at a time when sentiment wholly swayed him and when, because of the surrounding circumstances, considered judgment on the matters at issue was impossible.

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