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Friday, 18 September 1942

Senator COLLINGS - I have seen the report, and with my usual care have armed myself with all the facts. Honorable senators will have noticed recently in Canberra a barrage of press criticism against myself personally. I have never attempted to answer any of it, and do not propose to do so. They will have noticed also that in the statement I have just made with regard to the Allied Works Council, I have not referred to the exceedingly unkind and insulting remarks which were made against me. I am not interested. I am responsible for my character. I am not in any way responsible for my reputation. Other people make that. I do not, and if anybody makes a direct attack on my character, I will take him to the appropriate place for justification. The statement to which Senator Allan MacDonald directs my attention has been made. It is in some respects perfectly true, but in more respects completely untrue. It is true that I signed the eviction order. No man in my department, however highly placed, is asked to take responsibility which rightly belongs to the Minister, and when an eviction order is put in front of me for any reason whatever, I do not sign it until I have made myself acquainted with all the facts and am satisfied that I am acting rightly. I know that I have acted rightly in this case. I have only one personal word to say, and then I shall deal with the questions addressed to me. Honorable senators in this chamber have had long enough to get to know me, both as a senator and personally. If any of them believe that I am capable of what the Canberra Times and Dr. Nott say about me this morning, I am sorry, but I make no apology and no explanation. I never explain personally, because my friends do not need it and my enemies will not believe it in any case. If honorable senators believe that I am capable of that kind of conduct, I am perfectly happy to let them think so, but I assure them that I am not. First of all, I shall give honorable senators a cold record of the facts of the situation, and will ask for complete attention without interruption. These are the facts : -

With reference to the leader in the Canberra. Times of 18th September, the position in regard to H. G. Petty's rent account is as follows : -

1.   He enlisted on 12th July, 1940.

2.   Hisrent prior to enlistment was11s. 3d. a week. On enlistment, and because of a policy inaugurated in my department, by which every employee of ours or tenant of ours - andhe has to be an employee before he can be a tenant - who enlists shall immediately havehis rent reduced by a percentage of. the amount which he sacrifices in his soldier's pay as compared with his pay from us, this was reduced to 9s. a week. Therefore when Mr. Petty enlisted his rent was lowered from11s. 3d. to 9s. a week - a reduction of 20 per cent.

Senator Allan MacDonald - That was in 1940?

Senator COLLINGS - Yes, immediately and automatically on his enlistment -

3.   His wage when employed by my department prior to enlistment was £4 17s.6d. a week.

4.   The compulsory allotment to his wife and children is £411s. a week. In addition, she receives child endowment of 5s. a week, making a total of £4 16s. a week received by her, as against which she was receiving, through her husband's pay, £4 17s.6d. a week when he was in employment in Canberra.

5.   Petty as a private received £11s. a week. He was promoted to sergeant and received an additional 4s.6d. a day. This gives him £2 12s.6d. a week, in addition to the allotment made to his wife. He also receives 2s a day deferred pay.

6.   The department has no knowledge of the fact that he is missing. We have never been advised of anything of that sort. The Canberra Times says I am " penalizing the wife of a soldier who is missing in Malaya." We know nothing of that. Mrs. Pettyhas never told us anything about it.

7.   The amount of rent owing is £34 4s. 8d. In addition £1 16s. 5d. is owing for electricity. The arrears of rent have accumulated with rent at the rate of 9s. a week only. There were no arrears owing when the man went, away.

8.   The departmental rent collector has called time and time again and received no reply. Mrs. Petty later advised the department that she did not want the collector to call. I have here the full file, and can read to honorable senators the dates on which our collector called, on which Mrs. Petty was at home, and refused to acknowledge the call of the collector. He is a very kindly man, who has no interest whatever except to do his job as an officer of my department, and keep calling on people whose rent is falling into arrears.

Senator Allan MacDonald - Did not the collector report that she was sick?

Senator COLLINGS - I shall be glad to answer additional questions, and to deal with that point later. The departmental reply continues -

9.   The wife was approached and asked to make some endeavour to reduce the arrears of rent but all efforts have been futile.

10.   The Minister - that is myself - approved on 17th . June, 1942 of notice to quit being served and subsequent action tobe taken for eviction if she did not pay current rent and something off the arrears.

11.   Since 17th June, 1942, Mrs. Petty has paid£216s. only and even increased the arrears by £3 10s. She paid another £1 when the notice of eviction was served on her yesterday.

12.   It will he seen that Mrs. Petty receives payment of £4 l1s. a week from the military authorities, plus 5s. child endowment, making £4 His. a week, which is only1s.6d. a week less than her husband received as wages prior to enlistment. She docs not now have to keep and feed him, nevertheless she has incurred a debt of £34 4s. 8d. for rent, and ignores the efforts of the departmental collector to collect current rent.

13.   The" husband, H. G. Petty. retains £ 2 12s.d. a week.

That is the cold matter of fact statement.

The Canberra Times and Dr. Nott - they are all mixed up in it - say that -

Hiswife has suffered continual ill health since his enlistment, and has two dependent children, one of whom has had to receive considerable hospital treatment.

In this Territory, if the wife and children of any man who has joined the fighting services require hospital treatment, they are not charged for it. That statement is therefore wiped out. I have not been penalizing this woman nor can I be accused of ignoring the fact that she has been ill.We do not know that she has been ill. We have only the authority of the statement in the newspaper, and we are not told who makes it. Apparently, it is made by the editor of the paper. The article in the Canberra Times continues -

Mrs. Pettyhas been in ill health and has been both an indoor and outdoor patient at Canberra Community Hospital intermittently for some time past. When health has permitted, she has been working.

If she has been working, that means additional income. We do not know anything about that, and have not taken it into consideration. We are only asking that, on the facts, this woman shall not allow the arrears of rent to increase. All we request her to do is to go on paying her rent and, if possible, to give to the department something off the arrears.

She does not come to us or "write to us, or ask for any concession. She does not tell us that her husband is missing in Malaya, that she has been ill or in hospiral, or that she has children who have been sick and in hospital. We are acting only on the facts before us, which cannot be denied. Let me give to the Senate another phase of the question. I do not know how many tenants we have in Canberra, whose husbands have enlisted in the services. I can obtain that information, but I have not had time to do so this morning. At a guess, I will say that there are twenty - there may be 40 or less - but I can tell honorable senators truthfully that if there are twenty, at least fifteen of those women are standing up splendidly to their obligations and doing their best to see that when their men return, they do not have a millstone of debt around their neck. The other five are continually going around and telling tenants that they are so-and-so fools to be paying any rent at , all. I know of one case in which a woman bitterly attacked the rent collector who, after all, is a decent, civil and decorous man who has no interest in the money that he collects from these people.He is not the one who is responsible for the preparation of notice to quit. The position is that when the officer in charge of this department considers that action should be taken, he refers the matter tome, and all the relevant facts are placed before me. It is then my responsibility to decide whether or not action should be taken. After prefacing his remarks with the statement that he was unaware of the merits or demerits of the case, Dr. Nott proceeded to pass judgment upon me, and his friend, the editor of the Canberra Times, published this scurrilous attack -

Commenting on the case, the chairman of the AustralianCapital Territory Advisory Council. Dr. L. W. Nott, said test nightthat whilst he was unaware at the moment of the merits or demerits of the case, he was aghast at the attitude of the Minister for the Interior inpersonally signing an eviction orderagainst a member of the Australian Imperial Force at present missing in Malaya. "Itseems to me ",he said, " a horrible left-handed method of evicting tenants 'by sending notices to missing soldiers- "

We did not send a notice to a missing soldier; we sent a notice to Mrs, Petty. The report continues - " if this method is going to be employed against all Canberra men now reported missing, one shudders to think what will become of their wives and children. " I feel certain that the members of the Cabinet will see that Senator Collings is not allowed to create a record in the Territory for evicting the wives and families of men missing on service."

Iam informed that only one eviction has taken place, yet Dr. Nott uses the words " to create a record in the Territory ".

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - What is the exact amount of money that this woman receives from the military authorities?

Senator COLLINGS - The compulsory allotment is £4 l1s. a week, and in addition she receives child endowment amounting to 5s. a week, making a total of £4 16s. a week. Those are the facts of the ease and I am prepared to answer any questions in relation to them. I am anxious that this matter be cleared up. I say very definitely - and I hope that it will be reported in the Canberra Times - that no press barrage or hostile criticism from either side of this chamber will deflect me from the course which I, as a Minister of the Crown, consider to be honest and proper. If, with the effluxion of time, and themachinations of my political friends opposite, I return to the cold shades of Opposition, I shall at least relinquish office knowing that no one can say: "Joe, while you were Minister for the Interior, you did things that were dishonest." I will not be a party to such actions.; I am not purchasable either by the press or the Opposition, nor will I be influenced by unfair and untruthful criticism voiced by my friends or my foes.

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