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Thursday, 12 October 1911

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - I intend to fight every word of this Bill. The more one looks at it, the more ridiculous it becomes, notwithstanding all that has been done by Senator Millen and Senator Chataway to help the Minister, and by honorable members opposite to thwart him.

Senator Gardiner - I rise to order. Is Senator St. Ledger in order in inferring that honorable senators on this side of the chamber are endeavouring to thwart the Minister ?

The CHAIRMAN - I do not think that anything that Senator St. Ledger has said was out of order.

Senator ST LEDGER - Point after point arises as we scrutinize the Bill more carefully. I wish to raise a new one. Is the Minister going to make this legislation retrospective? Is he prepared to say that those who have acquired medals honestly in the way of business are to be struck at? I am not sure how far we are entitled, under our Constitution, to make Commonwealth legislation retrospective. We have been continually warning the Minister that this Bill will bring him and the Government into the Law Courts, and this is a point upon which a good deal of argument might turn. There are persons who have accumulated stocks of medals for the purpose of trade. As the Bill now stands, the Commonwealth Government could lay its hands on every one of them. It is true that the Minister says that the Government would give to the possessors what they had paid for the medals, but we know that sometimes articles of this kind acquire a sentimental value far above their price in the market. There may be collectors in Melbourne and Sydney who have given enormous prices for medals in their possession. But when this Bill is passed, they will be exposed to the risk of having their property taken away from them, and of receiving only its intrinsic value for it. The Minister seems to be under the impression that he will be able to seize every medal in the Commonwealth corresponding to the description contained in the Bill. I cannot, however, see how a retrospective effect can be given to legislation of this kind. Can the Minister even stop the sale of medals purchased before the passage of the Bill? I doubt it. But penalties are imposed. The penalty provided under this clause is £20, and in that respect it is analogous to the penalty which was attached to a breach of clause 3. Senator Rae and Senator Gardiner have no doubt frequently heard that the receiver is worse than the thief. It is generally recognised that if we could get at the receivers of stolen goods we should, to a large extent, abolish the thieves. As a matter of fact, our criminal law provides for the imposition of a heavier penalty in the case of a receiver than is provided in the case of a thief. If we have to consider this question again, I intend to urge some pretty cogent reasons why the receiver of a naval or military decoration should be punished far more severely than the person who disposes of it. The Minister has declared that this Bill was introduced to uphold the honour attaching to the King's medals, which, very often, represent big achievements. Upon some future occasion I may use the ridiculous position into which we have now got against the honorable gentleman. I need scarcely point out that any foreign Power may confer a medal or decoration upon a British subject, and within he Empire that subject may do just what he chooses with such medal or decoration. He may sell it, or exchange it, and neither the Minister nor the Commonwealth has any control over his action. But themoment he pledged or disposed of a decoration from his own Sovereign he would at once become subject to the penal provisions of this Bill. This is another illustration of how the Bill seeks to interfere with the liberty of the subject. I was very glad to hear Senator Gardiner dwell upon that aspect of the* matter. In conclusion, I merely desire to give the Minister notice that when the penalty comes to be considered I shall resist it to the very utmost of my powers.

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