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Friday, 6 May 1921

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) .- The Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) has come to the conclusion that my amendment goes beyond the provisions of the original Act.

Senator Senior - So it does.

Senator GARDINER - No doubt ; but, to my mind, the Defence Act is designed to regulate and control the Defence Forces, not the civilian population of the Commonwealth. Why should the authority of this Act be extended to the community generally in this way by interfering and preventing some one from wearing military decorations? A decoration won at the battle of Waterloo will come under this provision. In fact, by means of this provision, .the military authorities will be able to regulate the conduct of the general community to such an extent that people will not be able to hang on their watch chains decorations won by some friends of theirs. I can imagine what a dreadful thing it would be, according to some honorable senators, if some person who was opposed to the war dared to wear on his watch chain a Victoria Cross won by one of our soldiers, since deceased. What a dreadful thing! In what sense would it be dreadful? It would be dreadful only if the wearer pretended that he was the winner of the'decoration. My point is that we cannot, restrict the wearing of these decorations in the manner proposed without inflicting an injury upon a large section of the community. To reserve this privilege for a soldier's widow or mother is altogether too narrow. It may be that the amendment which I have submitted is too wide to meet honorable senators' views. But I deliberately moved it, because my view of the position is that the Defence Act should deal with defence matters only, and not provide penalties for those who wear military decorations. We cannot prevent people from wearing these distinctions, and if we attempt to do so, the only result will be to cause more of them to be worn. The fact that a .case comes before the Courts opens to me immense possibilities of prospective advantage in organizing. Let the sister of a soldier Who gained a. distinction, and lost his life in the war, be fined for wearing a decoration conferred on her brother under a law passed by this National Government which says that these things must be kept out of sight, that they are too sacred for eyes to behold, and, as an organizer, I can see possibilities of future advantage.

Senator Duncan - Perhaps the honorable senator would advocate replica3 being made of all military decorations, so that every member of a family could wear them.

Senator GARDINER - No. I leave absurd suggestions to the honorable senator. No doubt he is quite capable of giving effect to them. It is not absurd on my part to ask the Committee to agree to my amendment, which, after all, would merely entitle people to do as they like with their own property. Does not the honorable senator know that the greatest distinction a soldier can gain, the Victoria Cross, is often conferred after his death? And does he say that this decoration must be hidden away somewhere, and that this bit of gun-metal, which may be all that the father has left to remind him of his lad, may not be- worn by a proud old man upon State occasions? I have made it as clear as I possibly can that drastic punishment should be meted out to those who improperly display these decorations; but the proposal of the Government will go a long way towards crushing out the sentiment that is in the heart of the community in regard to these military distinctions. Honorable senators will make themselves absurd if they assent to this provision. I shall stick to my amendment, and if I can get another honorable senator to call for a division we shall have it. I want the father of a deceased soldier to have the right to display any distinction that may have been conferred upon his son.

Senator Duncan - 'That is not your proposition. You propose to allow anybody, even some one who may have stolen a decoration, to wear it.

Senator GARDINER - The distinction is that my proposition would permit the wearing of these decorations, whereas the Government proposal makes it an offence.

Senator PEARCE - The present Act makes it an offence.

Senator GARDINER - And here is an opportunity to amend .the Act. It should not be an offence.

Senator Senior - The honorable senator was here when that provision was placed in the Act.

Senator GARDINER - And on Senator Senior's reasoning I suppose I must be charged with the responsibility for the present position. I do not know what is in honorable senators' minds with reference to this particular matter, but I shall

Welcome any reasonable amendment "upon my amendment if it meets with the views of those who cannot go the distance I am prepared to go. The Government proposal is more limiting in its scope than the provisions of the 1917 Act. The question of wearing these military decorations is no new thing with me. When a Labour Government came into power in 1910 I was then a new member, and I very much worried and harassed the pre- sent Minister for Defence by trying to prevent him from legislating in connexion with the wearing of these decorations. For a fortnight Senator Rae and I held the breach pretty effectively; but after the war came, the persistent Minister got his opportunity, and, supported by the war feeling, he placed upon out statute-book this most absurd proposal. It is false sentiment to say that a mother or widow may wear a soldier's distinction, but that no one else may do so. I would certainly seek to prevent the fraudulent wearing of a decoration; but if the Government were to provide the death penalty in the case, for example, of a sister wearing her dead brother's medal, the practice would still go on.

Senator PRATTEN(New South Wales) r3.17"|. - If the.clause had not been in the' Bill the law would have stood as hitherto, and any female relative of a soldier, either before or after his decease, would have been permitted to wear his decoration. The Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) now proposes to prevent any female relative, other than the mother or widow, from wearing a decoration. I understand that Senator Gardiner desires to make the privilege absolutely free. ' In my view, it 'would be well to let the section stand as it was.

Senator Pearce - After the words which my amendment proposes to delete have been left out, the Committee can decidewhether to insert what I have further proposed, or what Senator Gardiner desires, or what airy other honorable . senator may suggest.

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