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Friday, 6 October 1911

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - I desire to inflict an injustice upon no section of the community. But merely because certain things are disagreeable to Senator McDougall he is prepared to put a spoke in the wheel of all who are engaged in a particular class of business. I would point out to him that the pawnbroker never comes into contact with the poorer classes until they need relief from their necessitous circumstances. He then steps in and affords them that relief under conditions which are clearly laid down, and strictly regulated. I would suggest to the Minister that the words "out of" in the concluding lines of the clause, should be omitted, and that the words "in or for " should be inserted in lieu thereof. Then this clause will not interfere with the great army of individuals who possess medals at the present time, not awarded for service in or for Australia, and who may wish to. dispose of them.

Senator Pearce - Would not the amendment, suggested by the honorable senator, shut out the South African medals?

Senator GARDINER - 1 take it that those medals were given for services rendered to Australia.

Senator Millen - Let us eliminate the clause in its entirety.

Senator GARDINER - I am inclined to accept the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, and, at a later stage, to ask the Minister to agree to an amendment which will give the present possessors of military medals the right to dispose of them in the ordinary course of business. I have, in my mind's eye, a well-known establishment in Castlereagh-street, Sydney, in the windows of which are to be seen perhaps a hundred military medals. We have no right to inflict a hardship upon the firm which purchased them.

Senator Pearce - Under this Bill they may still sell them to collectors, or to an institution.

Senator GARDINER - Will they still be able to sell them to the relatives of the men who won them? Their present possessors may have purchased them at auction, in a perfectly legitimate way. It may be that one of those medals was the property of a man who would not have parted with it under any consideration. But he may have died, and his property may have been sold by the Government.

Senator Pearce - We do not take anything from the individuals who, at present, own these medals.

Senator GARDINER - But the whole clause is a direct interference with the liberty of a man to do what he chooses with his own property. Let me suppose that another country has presented a medal to a certain individual who afterwards comes to Australia. Upon his arrival here the Government practically say to him, " You may dispose of your watch and clothing, but you must not dispose of the medal which has been bestowed upon you by another Government." I take the strongest exception to such an interference with his liberty, just as I take the strongest exception to the prejudice exhibited by Senator McDougall. The lowest pawnshop in the land is conducted upon the same principle as is our biggest banking institution, and does quite as legitimate a business. I recollect the period when the New South Wales Government made free grants of land to volunteers for services which they had rendered to it. What would be thought of the action of this Senate if it carried a resolution affirming that a man who had received such a grant should not be permitted to dispose of it? What an outcry there would be if we declared that the individual who had purchased it should not be allowed to part with it?

Senator Pearce - We tax it, although we did not give it to him.

Senator GARDINER - I am glad that we tax it. I am in entire agreement with the Minister there. But merely because a pawnship proprietor has conducted his business in a way that is unsatisfactory to Senator McDougall the latter would wipe him out altogether. What about the institutions which have given mortgages over land grants made by the New South Wales Government for voluntary services rendered years ago? Will he put a spoke in their wheel? No. Why will he exempt them? Merely because they are the big gilded pawnshops. The real cause underlying the introduction of this Bill is that, in certain quarters there are persons who hold military medals, and who feel ashamed when they see similar medals exhibited in pawnshop windows for a few shillings. On account of this snobbishness-

Senator Pearce - There is no snobbishness about it.

Senator GARDINER - This legislation is based on snobbishness. The Minister wishes to prevent men from trafficking in what is their own. It is merely the disgust which has been created amongst certain superfine and supersensitive persons which has prompted the introduction of the . Bill. I ask the Minister whether he is prepared to accept an amendment of the clause which will provide that where the owners of military medals bring them to the Government, the latter will inquire into their circumstances, with a view to affording them relief, and whether, if the legitimate owners of such medals are deceased, they will return them to their legitimate heirs ?

Senator Pearce - If I were Minister I would certainly do so.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.30 f.m.

Senator GARDINER - During the adjournment for lunch I have considered other arguments against this clause. I think one of the strongest may be deduced from the speech of the Minister of Defence in moving the second reading of the Electoral Bill;. The honorable senator reminded the Senate that Parliament has invaded the liberty of the individual by compelling the attendance of children at school and the attendance of youths at drill. This clause, and1 the next, involve what may be considered a very slight inroad upon the rights of individuals, but I hope the Committee will not agree to them, because there has been no demand for any such legislation. I suppose that there are not more than 10,000 people in Australia who are in possession of medals of this kind, and the number of these who wish to sell, pledge, or otherwise dispose of them must be so small that it becomes absurd of the Government to utilize the whole machinery of Parliament to prevent them having the right to do so.

Senator Pearce - Very few people commit murder, but there is a law against it.

Senator GARDINER - The honorable senator overlooks the fact that the law against murderers is for the protection of the rest of the community. Surely he will not contend that the rest of the community will be injured if a man who has rightly earned a medal sells or disposes of it in any other way. The medal may have been conferred upon him by the Government of another country, and he may have come here with it in the belief that this was a free country.

Senator Rae - This is mere meddlesome legislation.

Senator GARDINER - Interjections of that kind ought certainly be put down. The argument that a justifiable interference with the liberty of the individual in one case may be used as an excuse for such interference in another case, is pressed to the breaking point when it is proposed to interfere with the right of a very few people to do something which can injure no one. I should like to know who has demanded legislation of this kind. I never heard any one ask for it from a public platform or anywhere else in the State I come from. If this Bill should become the law of the land about the only result that is likely to follow from it will be that the Commonwealth will be put to considerable expense to prosecute some unfortunate fellow who has sold a medal, and some other unfortunate person who has purchased it from him. Senator Vardon has very rightly asked whether it is really worth while to impose a penalty of £20 upon a man who, to relieve his necessities, sells a medal which is not worth 20s.

Senator McGregor - Is there a coalition between Senator Vardon and the honorable senator?

Senator GARDINER - I hope there will always be a natural coalition between people who value liberty and resent any inroads upon it. I can understand the Minister of Defence and the Vice-President of the Executive Council endeavouring to excite party spirit in this matter by suggesting a coalition between honorable senators opposite and myself.

Senator Vardon - The Vice-President of the Executive Council will not weep if we knock out this clause.

Senator GARDINER - If I thought we had the voting power on this side to do so, I should resume my seat at once. It is because I do not think we have the numbers that I am determined to clear myself in the eyes of the country from any charge of participation in idiotic legislation of this kind, for I can find no other term for it. It has never been asked for, and the time of the Senate should not be taken up with it when the people are anxiously waiting for legislation which they have demanded.

Senator Vardon - Is there any such legislation in any other country?

Senator GARDINER - I am not aware that there is. The owner of one of these medals should be the best judge of its value.

Senator Pearce - Has a man any right to sell that which does not belong to him?

Senator GARDINER - I will answer that question by asking the Minister another: Has a man a right to sell that which does belong to him ?

Senator Pearce - If the honorable senator will permit me, I can show him that these medals do not belong to the recipients of them.

Senator Millen - If so, this Bill is unnecessary, because they are held on trust, and cannot be sold.

Senator GARDINER - I think we should have some enlightenment on the point. It is up to the Minister to make his case good. The Government propose to say to the owners of these medals, " We shall not permit you to part with them on any consideration whatever. We shall make it an offence on your part if you do dispose of them, and an offence also on the part of any person who may buy them from you." I should like to hear the Minister explain that these medals are not the private property of those who have honestly won them. I claim that they are as much their private property as if they were sovereigns.

Senator St Ledger - They are often transmitted to other persons as personal property.

Senator GARDINER - They are the valued personal property of those who have honorably won them, and rightly prize them. To propose such legislation to impose penalties upon the comparatively few people who, driven by stress of circumstances, may be obliged to pledge, exchange, or sell these medals, is like setting up the most uptodate and expensive machinery in order to crack eggshells. I am at a loss to understand the anxiety of the Minister of Defence to press on with this measure. I fail to understand why the time of the draftsman should have been taken up in drafting it. I look upon it as pernicious legislation. I do not remember the worst of our opponents when in power going out of their way to interfere with the individual liberty of persons, who were doing no injury to the community, when there was no call or occasion for that interference.

Senator Pearce - That will make a good quotation at the next election.

Senator GARDINER - I shall be most pleased if my opponents will quote it against me. I do not think that any other Government in this or in any other country ever tried to make it an offence to do something which injures nobody. The Government propose to make it an offence for a man to sell a medal worth a few shillings in order to tide him over a difficulty, and though its sale would not injure in the slightest degree any one in the community. It will be the duty of the Minister of Defence, before this clause passes, to show the necessity for it. I hope, if I have done nothing else, that I have made it clear that there is no reason for the proposed interference with' the individual liberty of the rightful owners of these medals. There might be something to be said for the proposal if we were dealing solely with Australian medals presented by a Commonwealth Government. It might be contended that they were not given with any idea that they would be parted with again, or would be traded with indiscriminately. But this Bill will deal also with medals presented by Governments with whom we have no power whatever to interfere; yet it is proposed in free Australia to treat them differently from any other valuable possession. I may have a trinket of some kind that is of value to me. If I want to dispose of it, I am able to do so to whomsoever will buy it from me. But when a nian comes to this country with a medal which he has won, perhaps in one of the great wars of the last half-century, why should we, by our legislation, say to him that he shall not dispose of it as he pleases, even though he may be in distress, and the sale of the medal may be the means of tiding him over a difficulty for a. considerable time? Without attempting to prolong this discussion further, I express the hope that we shall heed the warning given by the Minister - because we must take it as a warning - that we have already interfered with individual liberty in many directions. We have interfered with individual liberty in the matter of compulsory training ; we propose to interfere with it by compelling people to enroll for electoral purposes ; and we have interfered with it under the Education Acts. Surely we have reached the limit of interference with- individual liberty when a measure of this kind is introduced.

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