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Friday, 6 October 1911

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - I rise because the Minister answered one of the unimportant points which I raised, but skipped over the others. In his attempt to prove that medals are not private property, he quoted from the military law that a medal can be taken from a soldier; but he quoted no authority for the assertion that a medal can be taken from an ex-soldier. I take it that a medal can be removed from a man while he is in the service of his country. If after a medal is awarded to a soldier, he does anything to degrade the service, it is right that it should be taken from him.

Senator Pearce - Under the law, the right continues as long as the recipient holds the medal.

Senator GARDINER - The Minister, in attempting to prove his case, proved too much. He proved that a soldier in service might lose his medal for misconduct; but I do not think that the quotation he made proves that the military authorities can interfere with a man after he has served his time. I venture to think that it would not be as easy as the Minister suggests for them to take from a man what is rightfully his property. In the case of debt, almost everything that a man possesses can be taken, but you cannot interfere with his medals, which are his personal property, and pass to his heirs on his death. That is a very strong reason why we should oppose the measure. The Minister has stated that the time which we are occupying on this question is out of proportion to its importance, and that more than justifies my opinion. It must be very objectionable to the Minister to find that we have time in which to try to prevent him from passing a piece of legislation which very few persons have asked for. We will admit that the veterans who are wearing their medals with honour and credit are rightly annoyed that some men who have served their country equally well, and have been rewarded, are not valuing their medals at the same high price, but have disposed of them. But how many persons in the community are annoyed by the way in which men conduct themselves? If ten times as many persons as the veterans went to the Minister and asked for legislation of this character, would he consent to introduce it? No. I agree with Senator Millen that there are probably only one or two active spirits, who feel somewhat incensed at the way in which medals have been disposed of as cheap trinkets, behind this matter. The Minister, I repeat, has proved that the medals are considered so sacred as individual property, that they cannot, under the law of the Old Country, be taken for debt or other purpose. Another statement he made was that we have wasted too much time on this matter. Now, is it a waste of time to discuss a clause of this character, which perhaps was put into the Bill without even the Minister reading it? Is it a waste of time to consider at this stage all the grounds which can be urged for or against the enactment of the measure? I think that, instead of being anxious to get to a vote, the Minister should, seeing that there is a reasonably strong objection to the principle of the cuause, consent to an adjournment at an earlier hour than usual.

Senator Pearce - When I offered to do that before, you said, "No, go on."

Senator GARDINER - Yes; I was in favour of going on if it was not the intention of the Minister to reconsider the clause. Whether a vote is taken now or an hour later will make no difference to me. I suggest that perhaps an adjournment at this hour might help him to get the Bill put through more quickly. Even if this clause, on which there has been a lengthy discussion, is passed, the next clause is still more objectionable, and so on right through the measure. I think that the honorable senator might be generous enough to the opponents of the clause to agree to an adjournment. I ask him as a favour to accede to my request.

Senator Pearce - Seeing that my offer to adjourn was declined, I think it is only fair to take a vote on the clause, and if the Committee should desire an adjournment when the next clause is called on, I shall consent.

Senator GARDINER - On the understanding that the Minister will consent to an adjournment as soon as the clause has been disposed of, I resume my seat.

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