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Thursday, 12 October 1911

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) - - I confess that once or twice when 1 have intervened in this discussion I felt that I was taking part in a farce. If there is one man in this Chamber who, more than another, must know that we are taking part in a farce in dealing with this Bill it is the Minister of Defence.

Senator Pearce - No, I. am only a spectator on this occasion.

Senator ST LEDGER - It was the honorable senator who pulled the strings which set the figures to work. He did so with a certain amount of enjoyment at first, but as the criticism of the Bill has proceeded, especially from his own side, his face has been gradually growing longer and longer. If there is anything more farcical than this measure, with the exception of clauses 1 and 5, it is that men who have any business, private or public, to give their attention to, should be wasting their time in exposing the farce in which the Minister of Defence is consciously or unconsciously the most conspicuous figure. I understand that when the first portion of the amendment is dealt with, it is the intention of Senator Chataway to move that the words " or otherwise " be left out, and I should like to know whether the Minister will assist the Committee to strike out those words? If they are not left out of this clause, it will be in conflict with the proposed new clause 7, which has been circulated by the Minister. In that clause it is proposed to allow certain persons to dispose of these decorations.

Senator Vardon - They cannot do so, if we forbid the right of any one to purchase them.

Senator ST LEDGER - We shall have to assume that the Commonwealth has complete control over all medals and decorations conferred even under an Imperial Act.

Senator Rae - I doubt it.

Senator ST LEDGER - I hare expressed my doubt. I should not mind being on either side to argue the matter. We must, I suppose, take it as good law that the Commonwealth has absolute control of the King's decorations in the Commonwealth. That is probably the view taken by the Commonwealth law authorities. Personally, I have my doubts. But proposed new clause 7 certainly involves a contradiction. It suggests that the Minister is going to allow medals to be purchased by collectors, whilst clause 4 contains the all-embracing words "or otherwise." It is generally accepted by honorable senators that curio dealers and collectors should be allowed to exercise their tastes despite this measure. Nevertheless, the words " or otherwise" will stand in their way. Although, therefore, I intend to vote against clause 4, I suggest to the Minister that even if it does go through, he should do something to remove the contradiction contained in the words to which I have drawn attention. It is a monstrous thing, to my mind, that a man who, at the risk of his life, has won a decoration should not be permitted to do what he likes with it. But even if that contention be not upheld, the legislation which prevents the sale or pledging of medals should be consistent with itself. To impose this restriction in the present early stage of development of our Defence Forces seems to me to be one of the most awful farces that has ever been proposed to Parliament. It is brought before us simply because some more or less mythical association of veterans demand it.

Senator de Largie - Can the honorable senator suggest any class of people who should be more interested than the veterans, who have won the honours?

Senator ST LEDGER - I wish to say nothing disrespectful of age.

Senator de Largie - It is not a question of age, but of not wishing to see honours disgraced or degraded.

Senator ST LEDGER - I quite understand that the Minister has introduced this Bill with the very best of intentions, but, as the great French writer, Montesquieu, has pointed out, it takes more than the wisdom of the wise to repair all the errors of the good.

Senator Barker - It is a pity that the honorable member does not follow out that precept.

Senator ST LEDGER - I always take pleasure in throwing a bait on to the surface of debate, knowing that some gudgeon will immediately rise and snap it. When that occurs, one always has the pleasure of pointing out that some honorable senator opposite is a conspicuous example to the contrary. This Bill illustrates the precept which I have cited. The good intentions of the Minister have resulted in one of those stupid, things which it behoves us to be warned against. Furthermore, the Bill itself is full of inconsistencies. Even at this stage, I ask the Minister again what he intends to do with the words " or otherwise " ? Does he propose to strike them out, or will he support an amendment to do so, or does he wish to leave them in?

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