Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 12 October 1911

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - I do not know whether the carrying of this amendment may not make the Bill a little worse than it otherwise would be. I scarcely feel inclined to support an amendment which may have that effect. I prefer to take the risk of the amendment not improving the measure and voting for it. Any difference which it may make to the measure is a matter of indifference to me. Not only am I surprised at the Minister bringing forward this kind of legislation, but I am surprised at the persistency with which he adheres to the measure, notwithstanding the strong opposition which it has received from both sides of the Chamber. I thought that the last division would have been a sufficiently strong indication to the honorable senator that it was not advisable on his part to press this clause. I do not know exactly what will be the effect of the clause if the amendment is carried, as compared with the last clause which we passed. I am not quite sure, but I suppose that this Bill will be put in the forefront of our list of the great measures which we pass during the session. I expect that it will be published in big, black letters. Perhaps it would be well to publish the clauses in black letters too.

Senator Millen - Black letters would be very appropriate.

Senator GARDINER - I mean large, block letters, so that we might be in a position to point out how the Senate was called together to grapple with such an important measure as this is.

Senator Chataway - Would you put a black border round the black letters?

Senator GARDINER - We might have a border made of the different medals which have been given. For instance, this clause might be specially marked out to be bordered with medals given in connexion with the Peninsular War, at the beginning of the nineteenth century. That would bring great credit not only to our party, but also to Senator Walker, who has consistently supported the Government. I shall not put myself out of order by suggesting that he is acting in this way in the hope of securing a smooth passage for his own Bill through the other House. One regret I have in discussing this measure is that it did not come from the other side. If it had been introduced by Senator Walker or Senator Millen, who has adduced good reasons for its rejection, I would have had a great deal more pleasure in opposing its passage than I have.

The CHAIRMAN - I would remind the honorable senator that he is now discussing the measure as a whole, and not the question before the Committee.

Senator GARDINER - Not only has the amendment a very wide scope, sir, but in view of the great importance of the Bill, I think that a little latitude may well be allowed in discussing the amendment and the clause. If youwere to restrict a speaker to the actual question under consideration, it might be necessary for him to rise more frequently than he desires to do. I hope that I have pointed out clearly the essential wickedness of this measure in making offenders of persons who at present are not offenders in the eye of the law. When we have before us a clause which creates a new offence it is very easy indeed to overstep the strict rule of debate. But the whole principle of the measure is involved in clause 4. It is theonly provision which affects the liberties of persons other than medalholders. The previous clause deals with the holders of medals, but this clause deals with the rest of the community. It affects the right of a citizen to purchase, if need be, a medal, and it relates to medals, the original owners of which have been dead for years, perhaps for centuries. When the Minister drafted the Bill had he in his mind a desire to prevent a free exchange or disposal of such medals? If he had no such intention, what good purpose can be served by legislating in this direction? I do not believe that, if we could take a poll of the veterans tomorrow, they would desire this alteration in the present order of things. Even if they were claiming to have the gifts of their Sovereignexempt from the ordinary laws of commerce, can any good purpose be served by restricting the sale of medals, the original owners of which have been dead for years, perhaps for centuries? I do not believe that there is one honorable senator who desires to interfere with the sale of medals which were given in connexion with the Peninsular War. If the Minister desires to pass legislation of that kind, he might perhaps allow the clause to remain as it is. But if, on the other hand, he merely wishes to act in accordance with the expressed desire of the veterans now living, he might assent to an amendment. Surely he must realize now that a strong distinction can be drawn between medals given to troops for services rendered to the King, and medals given for wars which took place at any period, or for other purposes. Take the case of an individual who secured from his King a Victoria Cross for saving life; if he wanted to raise money, there might be a person who, knowing the high value which he placed on the medal, would deem it the best pledge which he could take for the loan of a large sum. There would probably not be many occasions on which these medals would be so' pledged, but why should we attempt to restrict free and fair dealing in medals, the recipients of which have been dead for a considerable time ? I suppose there are not many men alive to-day who obtained medals for services rendered at the battle of Waterloo, and yet, under this Bill, people may be penalized for selling by public auction such medals, or medals of the Peninsular War, which may have come into their possession many years ago. The Leader of the Opposition has pointed out that people are not allowed under this Bill to dispose of these medals in any way whatever. A person might be arrested and brought before the magistrate for throwing one of these medals into Sydney harbor or into the Yarra.

Senator Findley - Such a person should be arrested for his own protection, because he could have no sense if he. wished to throw such a medal into the harbor.

Senator Millen - If a man, wearing one of these medals, threw himself into theharbor he would be liable under this Bill.

Senator GARDINER - The longer this matter is under discussion the greater the number of evils which are likely to follow from it is shown to be. Such legislation should not be passed in a reckless and flippant way, or without full discussion. It will not be my fault if there is not full discussion of every clause and every line of this Bill, so that the public may be informed of what is proposed. Some one in a remote country town may quite innocently put up for' sale by auction a number of these medals, and should this Bill become law, Senator Pearce, or those instrumental in the passing of this legislation, may desire to know what steps the Attorney-General is going to take to bring such a man to justice. The whole machinery of the law may be brought into force, and though the person prosecuted may plead that he was not aware of the existence of such a law, he will be liable to the penalties provided for. I should like the further consideration of the Bill to be postponed until Senator Chataway's amendment is printed, and we have an opportunity to consider what its effect will really be. I noticed the readiness with which the Minister accepted the amendment, as he generally accepts proposals from the other side.

Senator Pearce - As a matter of fact, this amendment did not come from the other side, but from Senator E. J. Russell. -Senator GARDINER.- I admit that it was scarcely fair to make such a reflection upon the Minister. It is not justified by his previous conduct of affairs in the Senate; I withdraw it as one of those slips which I am always sorry for after I have made them. I should, however, very much like to know whether the Minister really desires to make it an offence under this Bill to sell or otherwise dispose of medals, the original recipients of which have been dead for centuries. Surely the honorable senai tor does not propose to destroy the present market value of medals issued hundreds of years ago? The Bill will affect quite a number of people I represent in the Senate, and if the Minister is not prepared to limit its operation to medals at present in the possession of the original recipients there will be ample justification for the time I have taken up in discussing it. Though I confess I do not know what the effect of Senator Chataway's amendment will be, I am prepared to vote for it, and then to vote against the clause as amended.

Senator MILLEN(New South Wales} [4.35]. - The Minister of Defence was not present when I pointed out the effect of this amendment. The honorable senator can have no desire to agree to an amendment which will reduce the Bill to a nullity. If we adopt this amendment it will be necessary to recommit clause 3. Under that clause we prohibit the disposal of these medals in any way. The possessor may not even give them away, but under clause 4, if the amendment be adopted, and theMinister has notified his willingness to accept it, a person may receive one of these medals as a gift. That is distinctly in conflict with clause 3, and I ask the Minister whether he has considered that aspect of the case. Whatever view I may have of the Bill as a whole, I feel that I am under some obligation to see that the Senate does not pass a measure which is ridiculous on the face of it, and it would be ridiculous to affirm in one clause that a person shall not give away one of these medals, and then set out in the following clause that a person may receive one of them as a gift. How can I receive anything as a gift if every other person in the community is prohibited from giving it? If this amendment be accepted it will be necessary to introduce the words " for valuable consideration," in clause 3. I wish the Minister of Defence to understand that I am dissociating in my opinion of the Bill from the suggestion I now make with a view to its improvement. It is little to the credit of the Federal Par- liament that it should be asked to deal wilh legislation of this kind, and to manufacture paltry crimes on the mere transfer from one person to another of an article which, after all is said and done, may not be worth one shilling.

Suggest corrections