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Thursday, 12 October 1911

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - The Minister of Defence has reminded us that we have already passed clause 3, but he is aware that he experienced considerable difficulty before he. succeeded in getting it through. In regard to the clause now: before us, I point out that no limit is imposed as to the time when the service for which the medal was conferred was performed. A man may own a medal given to his grandfather for participating in the Battle of Waterloo. Such a medal would be worth a considerable amount of money. But under this clause he could not pledge it for 5s., because the pawnbroker who accepted it as a pledge would by so doing break the law. We are face to face with the fact that the alleged evils which this Bill is intended to prevent are merely imaginary. The measure does not aim at preventing any real evil. No one is crying out for legislation on this subject, as far as I can learn. There may be a few interested persons who desire to see the Bill passed, but they are very few, because in this country, fortunately, there are not very many who are interested in this kind of thing. I believe that the constitutional point is a good one, and that we have not the power to enforce these penalties. It was urged, in reference to the previous clause, that only those who were under the influence of drink would desire to dispose of their medals. If that be so, why not legislate to prevent persons with medals being served at hotel bars ? We should then soon find ourselves in a most absurd position.

Senator Pearce - Hear, hear ! It would be an absurd position.

Senator GARDINER - And it is equally absurd for us to interfere with businesses which have been licensed by the State Governments, in a way that will inflict injustice upon a great number. The operation of this clause will render almost valueless the entire stock of medals upon which a section of the community has advanced money, or which it has purchased for disposal to collectors. We all know that just as there are numerous collectors of curios, so there are numerous collectors of medals. Why the Bill should make no distinction between medals which have been granted since Australia became inhabited by white men, and medals which were granted, perhaps, 200 years ago, and to which a very great value may attach today, I cannot understand. Why should we make it an offence for a person to traffic in medals which were bestowed upon their recipients perhaps 200 years ago? The Minister has stated that these naval and military decorations are not the private property of the individuals to whom they have been granted. But anybody who chooses to read carefully the statement which he made last week must be convinced that they are their private property. Unless they dispose of them voluntarily they cannot be taken from them, either for debt or otherwise. When the Minister states that because we have affirmed in clause 3 that a member of the Naval or Military Forces shall not pledge or sell one of these medals, therefore a person shall not buy or receive one, he is upon sound ground. But the wrong was committed in introducing such a Bill.

Senator Givens - The measure contains one good principle which ought to be ap; proved.

Senator GARDINER - I admit that the principle embodied in clause 5, which will prevent persons who are not lawfully entitled to naval or military medals, or other decorations, from wearing them, is a good one. But that provision stands upon an entirely different footing from clause 4. Had clauses 3 and 4 been omitted from the Bill no great exception could have been urged against it. But why should our time be occupied in considering trivial measures of this description when important legislation is awaiting our attention? I wish to place on record my opposition to the Bill, but beyond that I do not .propose to go.

Senator Givens - What is the use of moving an amendment if the honorable senator is not going to fight for it?

Senator GARDINER - I did not submit the amendment, and as far as fighting is concerned, I think 1 have reached the limit of my capacity in that direction. I have no desire to unduly prolong debate, and thus to waste valuable time. But I recognise that measures of this character are so unimportant that, unless strong exception were taken to them, the general feeling would be, " Oh, let it pass. The Bill is sure to become a dead letter." I dare say that that estimate of this Bill is as correct a one as it is possible to get. But if we allow clauses like that under discussion to pass through Committee without making the Minister aware that there, is a good deal to be said against them, the Senate will not appear to very great advantage when the Bill comes to be considered elsewhere. I venture to say that the measure will not have such an easy passage through the House of Representatives which contains seventy-four members, as it has had through the Senate which contains only thirty-six members. I intend' to vote for the amendment, and

I shall also register my vote against' the clause, irrespective of whether or not it is amended. I think that' the Minister told us on Friday last that the veterans were interested in this Bill. Nobody has a greater respect lor the veterans than I have, but I feel con,vinced that this measure casts an unwarrantable imputation upon them.

Senator Pearce - They asked for it.

Senator GARDINER - A section of them may have asked for it.

Senator Pearce - The Veterans Association asked for it.

Senator GARDINER - What is the inference to be drawn from this measure?. It is that the veterans are so little to be trusted that we have to legislate to prevent them from pledging or otherwise raising money upon their decorations. We are told in effect that they have so little regard for their decorations that Parliament must step in and prevent them from disposing of them, and must also prevent other individuals from purchasing them. It seems to me that a section of the Military Forces, to whom the exhibition of these medals in. the shop-window or a curio hunter or of a pawnbroker, is distasteful, has been able to exert sufficient influence to get this measure drafted and brought forward by the Government.

Senator Pearce - I have not been approached by any one of those individuals. Whether the honorable senator chooses to believe me or not, 1 have been approached only by the Veterans Association.

Senator GARDINER - I never entertain a doubt of the truthfulness of any statement which is made by the Minister, and I only wish that I was sufficiently in the confidence of the Government "to induce them to bring forward labour legislation as promptly as this Bill has been brought forward. I am very pleased to know that the Minister is so approachable. In its present form, the clause will perhaps prevent one or two sales a year from being effected by individual owners of medals, but what effect will it have upon those persons who are in possession of 100 or 1,000 medals? I understand that a new clause is to be introduced, with the object of modifying the provision under consideration, by providing that clause 4 shall not apply to dealers or bond fide collectors.

Senator Vardon - Is a pawnbroker a bond fide collector?

Senator GARDINER - Under the Bill a pawnbroker will, before he can buy a medal, have to satisfy the Minister that he is a bond fide collector. To my mind, the proposed exemption from the operation of clause 4 will open the door to the favoured few, and any man who is in possession of a stock of medals will have to send them to other parts of the world where, perhaps, he can dispose of them at a small profit. Persons who are iona fide collectors, however, will be able to get the permission of the Minister, and to purchase medals cheaply, because then they will have no great value. When the measure has been debated at great length, perhaps for a week or two, and passed, a similar debate will probably take place elsewhere, and most likely it will come back to this Chamber. If honorable senators generally are satisfied that this legislation should pass, I am content with the endeavour I have made to make the position quite clear to every one. I have been influenced by an object-lesson which I once had from a great statesman who has passed away. I can remember Sir Henry Parkes conversing in the lobby one afternoon with a number of the younger members of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales about the legislation which had been passed, and telling them that never during a long career had he voted for a measure to restrict the liberties of the people. That is not a bad rule for honorable senators to follow. Suppose that this measure restricts the liberties of even a few persons. It behoves us not to pass legislation which will hamper business and restrict individual liberty. In New South Wales a free Parliament has legislated for nearly sixty years, and I do not believe that on its statute-book you will find legislation similar to this measure.

Senator Findley - That is no reason why you should oppose the Bill.

Senator GARDINER - It shows that there has been no great outcry for such legislation. I recognise, of course, that it is not necessary for this Parliament to wait until the State Parliaments have moved in a particular direction. If the clause were drafted in such a way that it would extend the rights, privileges, and liberties of the people, that would be a good reason why it should be passed.

Senator Givens - You do not mean to say that you would extend privileges to any one, do you?

Senator GARDINER - I might be prepared to extend a privilege to everybody. For instance, I would allow the decisions of every Parliament to lie submitted to the people by way of a referendum, and so give them the privilege of "outing" any legislation of this character, instead of that right being confined to a privileged few. I did hope, on Friday afternoon, when the hour of 4 o'clock was reached, that we had seen the last of this measure.

Senator Chataway - It is now put in front of electoral reform.

Senator GARDINER - Possibly the Minister of Defence is anxious to give the other House sufficient time in which to fully consider a. clause of this kind, and, therefore, he desires to get this important measure forwarded there early in the session. If that be the case, I recognise that there may be some' reason for me to hold my strong opinions in abeyance. The Bill might be allowed to pass if clauses 3 and 4 were struck out. I trust that every honorable senator will consider the clause before the Committee on its merits. I do not want any notice taken of anything I have said about it.

Senator Givens - Why are you saying it, then ?

Senator GARDINER - Because if I did not say something about the clause a faithful follower of the Government like Senator Givens, who never questions or cavils at their legislation, might not take the trouble to read the clause. What I am urging is not intended as an argument to convince honorable senators ; I wish to prolong the discussion in the hope that, wearying of my voice, honorable senators may be induced to read the clause, and deal with it on its merits. I promise any honorable senator who votes for the clause with his eyes open that I shall try to secure a medal from a pawnshop and have him decorated. I do not think that I could speak at further length without being accused of endeavouring to " stone- wall " the measure. I am glad to have had this opportunity of entering a protest against clause 4.

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