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Friday, 6 October 1911

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) . - In reply to the arguments used by the Leader of the Opposition and Senator Gardiner, I would point out that naval and military medals are not bestowed upon their recipients because of their intrinsic value. Their value lies in the fact that they are regarded as distinctions. There are many things in this world which possess a value far beyond their intrinsic value. The object which any country has in presenting medals to individuals is to give them something in the shape of a reward or distinction for services rendered. Thus, a medal is intended as a reward to a particular person, and no other person has a right to wear it, or to have it in his possession ; to trade in it, or to make money out of it. The Bill is in- . tended to prevent that. Senator Gardiner has spoken of the hardship which will be inflicted upon men who have earned this distinction if we prohibit them from raising money from the sale of it when they are in necessitous circumstances. I quite agree that it is a hardship when men who have rendered signal service to the community find themselves in necessitous circumstances. But there is a proper way of dealing with such cases. This Parliament has endeavoured, by means of old-age pensions, to meet the cases of many who in other countries are left to starve. Similarly, it has provided, by means of invalid pensions, for those who may become incapacitated. Then section 43 of the Naval Defence Act sets out -

When any member of the Naval Forces -

(a)   is killed on active service or on duty, or

(b)   dies, or becomes incapacitated from earning his living from wounds or disease contracted on active service, provision shall be made for his widow and family or for himself, as the case requires, out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund at the prescribed rates.

We have also made a somewhat similar provision in connexion with our Military

Forces. Section 124 of the Act of 1909 provides -

The Governor-General may make regulations, not inconsistent with this Act, prescribing all matters which, by this Act, are required or permitted to be prescribed, or which are necessary or convenient to be prescribed, for securing the discipline and good government of the Defence Force, or for carrying out or giving effect to this Act, and in particular prescribing matters providing for and in relation to -

(f)   The payment of compensation to wives and families of members of the Defence Forces as provided in Part iii., Division 4, of this Act.

So that these cases are already provided for, and thus the lamentable scenes which are witnessed in other countries cannot very well occur here.

Senator Rae - Has there been any demand for this Bill as the result of any scandals ?

Senator PEARCE - Yes. It is well known that long service and good conduct medals which have been given to the members of our Defence Forces have been paraded in the pawnshops. In my judgment that lowers their value. I have circulated an amendment which will enable bond fide collectors to pursue their calling in regard to these decorations, but I am prepared to strike it out if that be the desire of the Senate. I wish to stop the traffic in these medals.

Senator Mcdougall - How would it bc to allow the Commonwealth to take them back ?

Senator PEARCE - The Common: wealth might take them back at their intrinsic value.

Senator Millen - But they have a market value above that.

Senator PEARCE - I do not see any reason why the Commonwealth should take them back at their market value. If Senator Gardiner could trace the original owners of the medals which appear in pawnshop windows, he would probably find that they were pledged by men who had been drinking. We have often heard that a man who has given way to drink will pawn his boots for a glass of beer early in the morning.

Senator Gardiner - Will a pawnbroker who has 4,000 or 5,000 medals in his possession be prevented from selling them by this Bill?

Senator PEARCE - The measure is not retrospective.

Senator Millen - Yes, it is.

Senator Gardiner - What will a man who has 1,000 medals in his possession dp with them?

Senator PEARCE - He will have to keep them.

Senator Millen - Surely clause 6 would be operative to-morrow?

Senator PEARCE - Not unless the medals were sold or pledged after the commencement of the Act.

Senator Millen - How are the police to know ?

Senator PEARCE - They will have to prove that in their prosecution. They can easily ascertain when a medal was pledged, and no policeman would render himself liable to an action for vexatious prosecution. I would ask honorable senators to allow the Bill to get into Committee. Then, if any desire be exhibited to empower the Commonwealth to purchase these medals at their intrinsic value, I am quite willing that a provision to that effect shall be inserted in the Bill.

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