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Thursday, 12 October 1911

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - I rose some time ago to ask the Minister whether he had decided to make the Bill applicable to those medals the original possessors of which have been dead for some years. But I find that this clause applies only to naval and military decorations. Why should it not also apply to decorations which have been received for services rendered in the public life of this country? Let us suppose, for example, that a gentleman like Sir John Forrest fell upon evil days and wished to raise money upon the decorations which he has received from the King.

Senator Millen - This is rather harrowing !

Senator GARDINER - It is, though I would be the last to wish evil to my political opponents. Senator Sir Albert Gould has also received a decoration at the hands of His Majesty, and we all know that no man has rendered greater service to the Empire than has the Minister of Defence. At any time he may be the recipient of a mark of His Majesty's favour, and if he were so honoured nobody would rejoice more than I would. It would be the best-deserved decoration that had ever been conferred on an Australian statesman, although I know that good service, well rendered to a great Empire, is a sufficient reward for the Minister. He is a comparatively young man, and we cannot tell what the future has in store for us. In such circumstances why should he not be subject to the same disabilities as are the holders of naval and military decorations under this Bill? Why are the stars and garters and other civil distinctions not brought within the scope of this clause? I think that it should be made so far-reaching that even the decorations conferred in high places should be brought within its purview. The holders of these distinctions should be prevented from hawking them round to the highest bidder or to the person who will advance most money upon them, in just the same way as the members of our Naval and Military Forces are prevented from disposing of their decorations. I say that men who have risked their lives in fighting the battles of the Empire are being held up to public ridicule, because the ill-advisers of the Minister have prevailed upon him to introduce a measure to prevent them from dealing with their medals in any way that they may deem fit. The only inference which we can draw from the amendment which has been foreshadowed by Senator Chataway is that the evil of trafficking in these medals has grown to such an extent that it is necessary for Parliament to declare that trafficking an offence. That is a libel on the men who won the medals. It is unfair to them to say that the evil of trafficking in medals is so great that it has become necessary to pass special legislation. I cannot understand why this clause was inserted, or why the Minister is so bent upon having the measure passed, when the only thing it can do will be to lead the public to believe that men think so little of the decorations they have received from the King that they are in the habit of selling them; or pledging them, or raising money on them by some means. If that has not grown to be a noticeable evil, and, to some extent, a scandal, there is no reason for legislation at all. Even though there may be a small traffic in medals, I would much prefer to see the time of Parliament occupied in finding suitable employment for every wearer of a medal. I would far rather see the Parliament engaged in discussing ways and means by which the Commonwealth Government could provide for those who, perhaps, are not suited to participate in the battle for a livelihood, and, if need be, making the possession of a medal a recommendation for employment. By sodoing our time would be spent much more effectively and usefully, and certainly in a manner which would reflect far more credit on the Senate. Why should it be made an offence for a man to sell a medal which is his rightful property?If a medal has been acquired by a man for services rendered to his King, and if by the law of England, and, I venture to say, by the law of Australia, it is in his rightful possession, it is not only absurd, but wicked, for the Government to ask us to enact that it shall be an offence for that man to sell or dispose of or pledge the medal. It will be remembered that a number of medals were issued in connexion with the South African War. Immediately after the war was concluded it was recognised by many persons that it was undertaken because the mineowners wanted to fill their mines with coolie labour. Suppose that the holder of a medal, who thought that he was fighting for the Empire, became disgusted at the discovery that the war merely resulted in giving power to the mine-owners to reduce the pay of white miners. Instead of wearing his South African medal with pleasure and pride, he may have got rid of it, feeling that it was a reminder that he had fought on the wrong side. The occurrence of that feeling may account for the iarge number of South African medals which are exhibited for sale at present, and if it does, why should it be made an offence for a man to get rid of a thing which he does not now value? No law will be effective which has not behind it the weight of the common sense of the community. If we feel that the people are not even interested in this measure, that is one of the best reasons we can have for refusing to allow it to pass. Of course, after the recent recess we are naturally anxious to get on with important legislation. I am not quite clear as to the effect of this amendment if adopted. I do not know whether it might not be advisable for the Minister to report progress to enable the amendment to be printed and circulated. If that course is taken we might be able to fit the amendment into the place where Senator Chataway intends to fit it in, and also to see how it affects the reading of the clause. Senator Millen has shown very clearly that the amendment, if carried, will necessitate the recommittal of clause 3, that is, unless the Minister wishes to have an absolute inconsistency in the measure, which I do not think he desires. Under the previous clause a nerson with a medal is not permitted to dispose of it by any means, but is required to retain possession of it. Under this clause, however, a person can receive a medal, provided that he gives no valuable consideration for it. What is there to prevent a person who wishes to break the law from declining to give a valuable consideration, but expressing his willingness to accept a medal as a gift. Instead of advancing 5s. or£500or £5,000 - I do not know the value of these medals-

Senator Chataway - 4½d.

Senator GARDINER - That may be the intrinsic value of the material of which a medal is composed. If, however, only a few medals are struck in connexion with an event, the value of one may run into thousands of pounds. A clause Which makes it an offence for a respectable c'tizen to transact a legitimate piece of business should not only be repugnant to honorable senators generally, but should be resisted by a free people.

Senator Chataway - Medals are valuable, according to the number of them, and not according to their age.

Senator GARDINER - Senator St. Ledger may have in his possession a medal as old as the ideas which he generally puts before the Senate. Perhaps I ought to withdraw that remark without being asked to do so.

Senator Pearce - I think that you have had a fair run.

Senator GARDINER - If the Minister had thought it worth his while to tell me whether he intended theBill to affect medals, the original owners of which have been dead for years, I would not be speaking now.

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