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Friday, 6 March 1942

Senator FRASER - Rumours are hard to scotch at any time. If any ground at all existed for that suspicion, I am certain that it would have been probed by the Prime Minister, the Minister for the Army, and the General Staff.

Senator Collett - Can the Minister say whether Major-General Bennett has asked for a court of inquiry?

Senator FRASER - I cannot say. I think that the honorable senator will agree that Major-General Bennett did what was right in the interests of this country, because the experience he gained in the Malayan campaign will prove invaluable in respect of any future campaigns.

Senator Collett - I asked my question in the interests of the Army. I should like the Minister to keep that, point in view.

Senator FRASER - I shall do so; but I ann doubtful whether any military court would calm public suspicion if such exists.

Senator Collett - It. would be a court of his peers.

Senator FRASER - I do not think that such a tribunal could obtain any information in addition to that obtained by the Prime Minister.

Senator Collett - The Minister is speaking without knowledge of the subject.

Senator FRASER - It. seems to me that any decision arrived at by this Government in respect of this case will not satisfy the honorable senator unless it is based on an inquiry by a military tribunal. In my view such an inquiry is not preferable to one conducted by the Prime M'inister or directly by the Government.

Senator Collett - The Minister is not justified in making that remark.

Senator FRASER - I am quite sunthat neither the Prime Minister nor any of his colleagues would be easily satisfied in this matter. However, I shall endeavour to obtain the information asked for by the honorable senator. I again assure him that the Government investigated the matter fully, and is satisfied that Major-General Bennett did the right thing.

Senator E.B. JOHNSTON (Western ber last, I -brought before the Government the case of a Mr. F. L. R. Polak, previously of Western Australia, who received a writ for £3,039 12s. lOd. principal and £1,281 Ss. 3d. interest, making a total of £4,321 ls. 6d., in respect of an ancient debt, from one of the trading banks. I then set out the facts fully, but I invite the Minister to look into the case again. This gentleman had a farm in the Western Australian wheat belt. Ho invested a lot of money in the farm on which his sons worked until 1933 when they were obliged to leave the property. They then asked the bank to take it over but the bank refused. I do not think that the property was worth very much at that date; and since that time it has certainly deteriorated. I suppose that in the ordinary course of events the bank, like any other financial institution, would have had to stand its loss. However, Mrs. Polak subsequently came into a little money, and bought a farm in Victoria. The sons also have a place there, and both properties are heavily mortgaged. The bank has not only issued the writ to which I have referred, but has followed it up with a bankruptcy notice. I know that in ordinary circumstances banks and other creditors get their pound of flesh ; but it appears to me that when a family like this is threatened with being driven out of their home and with bankruptcy, this Government, which, like its predecessor, is doing much to protect people in similar circumstances, should take a hand in the matter. It is the duty of the Government to protect innocent debtors in war-time. Mr. Polak was in a business. For a time he worked for me, and his sons worked on his farm. The family put their money into the farm. We have had- quite a lot of regulations lately in order to help people in similar circumstances. Under the Government's economic organization plan, of which a good deal has been heard lately, people have been prevented from selling their land, but an exception is made under that regulation in respect of persons whose land is sold for them under legal process or under the Bankruptcy Act. Such sales can still go merrily on.

Senator Spicer - The. honorable senator will find that that is not the case now.

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