4th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Senator Millen) agreed to -
That two months’ leave of absence be granted to Senator Ll. -Colonel Sir Albert Gould on account of urgent private business.
Bill read a third time.
Bill read a third time.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
This is, in the main, a machinery measure, and many of its provisions are matters for debate in Committee rather than at this stage, but it contains one or two very important principles which are proper subjects for discussion now. Perhaps the chief matters in that category are the proposals to abolish postal voting, to substitute a better and more comprehensive system of absent voting, and to establish compulsory enrolment. It may perhaps be well, before I make any general remarks on the clause, to read a statement which has been prepared by the electoral officers as to the reasons why a system of compulsory enrolment should be adopted. It is as follows : -
In consequence of the abolition of postal voting.
This course is not a matter on which the electoral officers express an opinion, but a matter of policy. It having been decided by the Ministry to abolish postal voting as a matter of policy, the officers point out the following advantages in the inauguration of a system of compulsory enrolment : -
In consequence of the abolition of postal voting provision has been made for the extension of absent voting, so that, subject to the regulations, electors who are within the Commonwealth on polling day will be enabled to vote at any polling place, and that those electors who will not be within a Commonwealth Division, but will be, say, at sea, or in New Zealand, or in a Commonwealth Territory on polling day, will be enabled, prior to leaving their States, to vote before an electoral registrar at any time after the date of the issue of the writ and before polling day.
– I am not quite clear as to whether an elector could vote outside his own electorate and yet in Australia.
– Anywhere in the Commonwealth.
– It seems to refer more to persons going out of Australia.
– The paragraph I have read does, but the Bill provides that an elector may vote anywhere in the Commonwealth, under regulation.
– After the nomination ?
– Under this measure he can vote after the issue of the writ.
– Before he knows who the candidates are?
– Before the nomination ?
– He will know who the candidates are going to be.
– You have great faith in the measure.
– An elector must take the risk of giving an informal vote. The statement continues -
The Act at present permits of a proclamation being issued (section 32) requiring the preparation of a new roll under a system of compulsory enrolment, but does not permit of the adoption of a continuous system of compulsory enrolment.
The provision in the amending Bill places an obligation upon every qualified person to secure enrolment, and thereafter to transfer or change his enrolment whenever such a course is rendered necessary by reason of his having changed his place of living; and is designed, with the aid of the card index system now being established, to secure a clean and continuously effective roll which will, at all times, be free from duplications.
Note. - The new rolls now in course of pre paration in the several States are being prepared under a proclamation, and regulations (copies attached), which impose an obligation on every householder to furnish information and render assistance; and on every qualified person to fill in, sign, and return to the proper officer a properly witnessed claim card if the card has been delivered to him or left at his habitation.
– I doubt if such a regulation would be legal to-day.
– Regarding compulsory enrolment, I will read an extract from a memorandum by the Chief Electoral Officer -
The adoption of a scheme of compulsory enrolment is both practicable and desirable.
– Why should you force a man to enrol if he does not wish to do so?
– I shall presently give reasons why, in our opinion, persons should be forced to enrol.
Il should be the duty of the electoral administration : -
It should be the duty of all qualified persons to enrol within a (reasonable) prescribed period, and to transfer or change their enrolment when they remove from’ place to place.
The existing system of voluntary enrolment during the currency of a roll, supplemented by official action to remedy errors and omissions due to public neglect, carelessness, and apathy, while the most effective that can be devised in the present state of the law is inherently weak, in that it creates something in the nature of a divided responsibility, and leads very many people to believe that it is the duty of the electoral administration to follow them from place to place, and relieve them of the obligation of taking action in the preservation of their electoral rights.
A system of compulsory enrolment would prove to be specially valuable in insuring the correct enrolment of the very large body of persons whose avocations cause them to move frequently from place to place, and who, under present conditions, lose their votes through neglect to comply with the law in relation to enrolment,
– Do you think they will comply with the new law any more readily than they do with the old law ?
– I think that it will be to their advantage to do so.
– You will not inforce the penalty.
– or (if their names have not been removed from the rolls under the processes of the law) claim to vote for divisions in which they have ceased to live.
Note. - The migratory population of Australia is exceptionally large throughout the country, whilst in the cities at least 20 per cent, of electors change their places of living annually.
Here is a very important provision to which I ask the attention, especially, of the Senate. - The use of the same roll for the purposes of both a Senate and House of Representatives’ election forms a very strong argument in favour of compulsory and correct enrolment, on the basis of residence ; thus, if an elector continues an enrolment under the voluntary system for a division in which he has ceased to live, and the law disqualifies him from voting for that division, he is disfranchised as a Senate as well as a House of Representatives’ elector, or, on the other hand, if the law permits an elector to vote for the division for which he is enrolled, and in which he is no longer living, he may be enabled, as a consequence of his neglect to transfer his name when lie changed his place of living, to improperly influence the result of the House of Representatives’ election for a division in which he does not live.
Note. - This difficult position arises from the fact that any attempt to differentiate between Senate and House of Representatives’ elections on one roll in regard to the voting rights of electors would fail in practice.
It seems to me that two very strong reasons are given there for the adoption of this system.
– You can build up a string of reasons, if you will only put the word “ if “ before them.
– There is no “ if “ in this case.
– It starts off with “if.”
– It is a question of fact, as can be proved by the experience of the Electoral Office. As the officers say, 20 per cent, of the electors do migrate from division to division, and therefore these cases are continually occurring. We all know, and Senator Millen himself knows, that when electors go from one constituency to another they do neglect to remove their names from the old roll or to get enrolled afresh.
– You propose to give a bonus on neglect.
– The statement continues -
The provisions of the law relating to the removal of names from the roll by objection incases where electors cease to be entitled to enrolment, by reason of non-residence within the division, when put into practice (as they must be in order to preserve a. proper roll for the House of Representatives’ election) result in the disfranchisement of the electors for the Senate (unless they have again enrolled for another division), although they may not have left the State.
It may be taken that where a single roll isrequired to serve for elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives, and the constituencies are respectively : -
the State; and
Divisions of the State; a thoroughly efficient roll can only be continuously preserved under a system of compulsory enrolment, or bv the employment of an army of electoral inspectors to continuously watch the movements of the people throughout the Commonwealth.
A scheme of compulsory enrolment associated with a card index system for the prevention of duplication of enrolment and fraud would not only be of enormous advantage from an electoral point of view, both in relation to representation and administration, but would be of considerable value for purposes of public administration generally, and in particular might be expected to greatly assist the postal, defence, statistical, police, and other public systems having direct relations with the public.
I put that forward as the official view of this matter.
– Is the statement which the Minister has just read in print ?
– No, but I will have it printed. That is purely the official view - without any regard to the cost of administration - of the advantages which will be conferred by a system of compulsory enrolment.
– If we are to have compulsory enrolment, why should we not have compulsory voting?
– The honorable senator is quite at liberty to place his views upon the question of compulsory voting before the Senate.
– Why should there be compulsion in either case?
– I have given the official reason for the exercise of compulsion, and I will now put forward my own reasons for the change. In my opinionthe right to vote is a duty as well as a privilege. Too often it is looked upon merely as a privilege, because people throughout the world have had to fight for it - in some instances under distressing conditions - for many years, and because it has at last been granted as a concession to popular clamour, or has been the result of pressure brought to bear upon the Governments of the day. But I venture to say that in a country like Australia, where we recognise that every man and woman should have the right to vote, that right becomes more than a privilege - it becomes a duty. Hence we declare that the law should compel every citizen to discharge his duty in this connexion. In doing so we are by no means breaking new ground. There are many persons who still believe that it is a mistake to educate the masses, and who declare that the acquisition of knowledge beyond the three “ R’s “ has the effect of making them dissatisfied with their position in life. We have all heard the argument that educated persons become discontented with their lot.
– Are those persons still at large?
– They are. I am comparatively a young man, and I have heard the statement made upon the floor of a Parliament House. I am glad to say that I have never heard it made here, because the Senate is elected upon too wide a franchise to permit of it, but I have heard it in the Legislative Council of Western Australia.
– In Victoria the Legislative Council has just had an important discussion upon the question of whether or not a shearer is entitled to a bath.
– If a shearer has been engaged in shearing greasy sheep he certainly will require one. The community long ago decided that education is not merely a privilege, but a duty - that it is in the interests of the State itself that its people should be educated - and consequently parents are compelled to send their children to school for a certain number of years. The same remark is. applicable to the much more debatable question of vaccination. There are many individuals who refuse to have their children vaccinated because they do not believe in it. But in most of the States the law is that they must have them vaccinated. Again, in regard to the question of defence, we have affirmed within the last two years that it is the duty of our citizens to defend the country. There are many who urge that it is not, who declare that the principle of military training outrages their conscientious opinions and religious beliefs, but nevertheless we compel them to undergo military training. Therefore, when we come to regard the duty of electing repre sentatives to our Legislatures - a duty which affects the very foundation of our national life-
– The Government dp not propose to make voting compulsory.
– We propose to provide for compulsory enrolment.
– If there be any logic in the Minister’s argument, the Government should introduce compulsory voting.
– I am sure that if there are any illogical points in my speech they will not be overlooked by the Leader of the Opposition. It seems to me that the duty of voting carries with it an obligation on the part of every elector to enrol himself. Passing away from that phase of the question, a distinct advantage will be conferred by the method which is laid down in the Bill, because we shall, by coupling the system of absent voting, under which electors will have to sign their names for the purposes of identification, with thf card system, obtain the signature of every elector throughout the Commonwealth. Thus we shall have a ready means of defeating all attempts at impersonation. Another advantage of these proposals is that they will apply to voters who move from one electoral division to another, and who fail to obtain electoral transfers. The Bill will stop the immense leakage from the rolls which exists in this connexion, by overcoming the failure of 20 per cent, of the electors who move from one electoral division to another to secure transfers. It will, therefore, assist the Electoral Office to maintain a thoroughly up-to-date and pure roll. When an elector moves from one division to another, although he will be disqualified from voting in his old division, he will not be disqualified as an elector for the Senate.
– The Minister stated that it would be obligatory upon an elector to secure a transfer. What is the penalty provided for his failure to do so?
– The penalty is £2. I do not wish to labour this point, but it seems to me that I have said enough’ to show that there is a justification for this rather big alteration in our electoral law. If honorable senators will look at clause 32 of the measure, they will see there another very important feature of the amending law, and one which is novel. Proposed new sub-section 172 (a) provides that a return shall be furnished of expenses incurred by political organizations or persons on behalf of any candidate. Then trie proposed new sub-section 172 (*) reads -
The proprietor or publisher of a newspaper published in the Commonwealth shall, in accordance with this section, make or cause to be made a return setting out the amount of electoral matter in connexion with the election inserted in his newspaper in respect of which payment was or is to be made, the space occupied by such electoral matter, the amount of money paid or owing to him in respect of such electoral matter, and the names and addresses of the organizations, leagues, bodies of persons, or persons authorizing the insertion thereof.
– Is the term “ political organization “ denned in the Bill?
– No; but if the honorable senator’s legal knowledge tells him that it is necessary to define it, we have no objection to doing so.
– Will the term cover unions ?
– Certainly, if they are political. My own acquaintance with trade unions has taught me that they have nothing to conceal. They will willingly comply with this provision.
– But it is so easy to send out an organizer of a union who is a political canvasser.
– We are not afraid to show from where our pennies come.
– Why not define “ political organization “ ?
– We will do so if it be necessary. I wish now to deal with the filing of a return of the expenses incurred by political organizations. First of all, we have to recollect that, under our Electoral Act, we compel all candidates for Parliament to make a return of their election expenses. What is the object of that compulsion? Simply to insure that each candidate has complied with the conditions imposed by the law, with a view to preventing corruption, bribery, and fraudulent practices for the purpose of securing his return. But we know that to-day the candidate plays a very small part in the conduct of an election. Under our party system, especially on account of the extent to which it has grown in Australia, party organizations have become more and more the factors which conduct and finance elections. Consequently, a candidate can furnish a return of his election expenses which is absolutely bond fide, and which shows that he has complied with the law in every respect, notwithstanding that in his election corruption, bribery, and fraudulent practices may have l-een ram pant. That must be patent to everybody. Therefore, in this Bill the Government say that if the candidate should be obliged to furnish a return of the expenses incurred by him, so also should every organization which takes part in an election, and thus the people will know exactly how an election has been conducted. It seems to me that this proposal is merely the complement of the section in the existing Act which requires each candidate to furnish a return of his election expenses. In the absence of such a provision, the section of the Act to which I refer must be a dead letter.
– The proposal of the Government assumes that a large number of the electors of Australia are corrupt.
– Nothing of the sort.
– It means that the Government desire the right to do, by means of their unions, what they will not allow others to do by means of their organizations.
– I can assure the honorable senator that the Government have no such intention.
– That will be the effect of the clause.
– If the honorable senator can show me that I can assure him that every union which spends money on an election-
– A man is sometimes sent out as a canvasser for a union when he is really a canvasser for a political party.
– The honorable senator will be able in Committee to suggest means of strengthening this clause, if he thinks it necessary. I have already said that it is the intention of the Government that this provision shall apply to unions as well as to other organizations.
– Will it apply to the Employers’ Federation?
– Yes, and to every organization that takes any part at all in connexion with an election.
– If a union is affiliated with a political organization, is it not obliged to file returns as a political organization?
– Of course it is. I come now to another clause, which deals with a form of electoral expenditure which is the most powerful of all, and that is press expenditure. Honorable senators will see that we propose to provide that the proprietors of newspapers shall publish a return showing exactly what they have been paid for in connexion with any election. I venture to say that this form of electoral expenditure is the most insidious of all.
– Is there any limit to the expenditure which may be incurred in this way?
– All that is required is the information concerning it.
– Yes, that is all. The object is that people shall be informed of the nature of atricles and reports published in the newspapers in connexion with an election. They will under this provision be informed, for instance, that what purports to be a report of facts is really a political opinion that has been paid for. We say that people should have an opportunity of knowing that many of the statements published in the press in connexion with elections are not reports of facts or circumstances, but opinions paid for with the deliberate object of influencing the election.
– What about leading articles?
– If they are paid for they will have to be included.
– Will this cover a misreport of a speech by a candidate paid for by an opponent? Senator PEARCE.- I think I shall have to ask for notice of some of these questions. I need not labour the matter, because it is obvious that organizations and the authorities of newspapers should be called upon to disclose what they have been paid to do in connexion with an election. I give honorable senators notice that it is intended, when we get into Committee, to negative clause 34. The clause was inserted in the Bill to strengthen the provision governing the use of vehicles at elections, but, on reconsideration, we have decided to stand by the Act at present in force.
– Do not the Government intend to deal with the abuse of the army of motor cars used by their friends at the last election?
– It is our privilege at elections to have the satisfaction of seeing our voters go to the polls in the motor cars of our opponents. One of the chief amusements we get out of elections is to witness the trouble taken by our opponents to convey our electors to the polls.
By clause 35 it is proposed to insert in the Act a new section, 181 (a), which reads as follows : -
The proprietor of every newspaper shall cause the word “ advertisement “ to be printed as a head-line in letters not smaller than long primer tj each article or paragraph in his newspaper containing electoral matter, the insertion of which is or is to be paid for or for which any reward or compensation or promise of reward or compensation is or is to be made.
Penalty : ^500.
– Why “ long primer “ ?
– In order that public attention may be directed to the matter. I think this is a perfectly fair proposal. I do not see why the press should be utilized to enable people to put forward party statements under the guise of the statement of the publicist or the opinion of the press. We all know that considerable importance attaches to statements appearing in the press, especially if they are not plainly associated with the work of candidates or political parties at an election. We all have absolute knowledge that many statements published under the guise of expressions of public opinion are really advertisements inserted by political parties. We say that the people should be informed of the real nature of these statements, and’ should know that they are merely advertisements inserted by political parties or candidates with the object of influencing an election, . and that they are published in this insidious way in order to mislead. When people can see for themselves that these statements are merely advertisements, they will be informed of the source from’ which they come, and will be able to estimate their value. By clause. 35 also we propose the insertion in the Act of a new section 181c to the following effect : -
The object of that provision is clear. It is to prohibit the payment of persons to act as canvassers which, after all, is an indirect form of political bribery. We prohibit a man from paying another to vote for him, yet we permit him to pay that man to canvass for votes for him.
– There will be a lot of unemployed in Adelaide if this is carried.
– Will this cover the work of an organizer soliciting persons to join a union in order to secure their votes for a particular candidate?
– It will, unless the expense incurred could be lawfully incurred by the candidate under Part XIV. of the existing Act. That part of the Act deals with the limitation upon election expenses. Honorable senators will find that section 170 of the existing Act provides that-
No electoral expense shall be incurred or authorized except in respect of the following matters : - (i.) Purchasing electoral rolls; (ii.) Printing, advertising, publishing, issuing, and distributing addresses by the candidate, and notices of meetings; (iii.) Stationery, messages, postages, and telegrams ; (iv.) Committee rooms; (v.) Public meetings and hall therefor; (vi.) Scrutineers.
If a candidate makes use of the services of a canvasser the expense incurred must come within the expenditure set out in the section I have quoted. This, I think, is a necessary complement to the prohibition we have provided in the principal Act against bribery and corruption. I have now dealt with the principal clauses of the Bill, and shall skim through some of the less important clauses. Clause 5 provides for the appointment of a divisional returning officer or assistant returning officer in case of emergency. It has happened that at a time very close to the date of an election a divisional returning officer has been taken suddenly ill or has died. Under the existing law a fresh appointment can be made only by the Governor-General by an Order in Council. What has had to be done in such cases has been to permit the Electoral Officer for the State to make an appointment, which was afterwards validated by an Order in Council. This clause makes provision for such appointments by the Commonwealth Electoral Officer. Clause 6 is intended to simplify the process of reconsidering the adjustment of electoral boundaries. Under the existing law, commissioners have to prepare a map, which has to be exhibited, and a certain time must elapse within which the proposals made may be objected to. They have then to come before Parliament, and if Parliament should disagree to any of them the whole process has to be gone over again.
– It is proposed to eliminate that.
– Yes, to simplify the process and secure the readjustment of boundaries within a reasonable time. Clause 9 provides facilities to prevent names being on more than one roll. Power is given to the Chief Electoral Officer in each State to rectify these anomalies. Clause 10 gives power to returning officers or registrars to add to a roll the names of persons he is satisfied are entitled to be enrolled. If honorable senators will look at sub-section 2 of section 62 of the principal Act, they will see that it is clearly intended that that should be done, but under the law as it stands the power is not actually given to the Chief Electoral Officer to rectify obvious errors in the rollsThis clause will make it clear that in future that can be done. Clause 12 extends the time for the return of a writ from sixty to ninety days. This is necessary to amend an obviously unworkable provision of the present Act. There has never been a general election since the inauguration of the Commonwealth when the writs have been returned within sixty days. It will not follow on the adoption of this clause that in all cases the full ninety days will be taken. In the case of a by-election, where it is practicable to return a writ in thirty days, that will be done. But the clause will give power to the Electoral Officer to fix ninety days for the return of writs. Clause 13 provides for a merely administrative alteration in the nomination form which has been found necessary in practice. Clause 11 fixes Saturday as the day for polling.
– What about Hebrew electors? Saturday is a strict Sabbathday with them.
– I understand that the Hebrew Sabbath lasts until 6 o’clock on Saturday evening. The hours for polling will be extended until 8 o’clock, so that adherents of the Hebrew religion will be able to vote. The reason for choosing Saturday for polling day is that in the great majority of cases it is the most convenient day. In the country districts the farming class usually make their visits to the town on Saturdays. In many towns market day is Saturday, and Saturday afternoon is also usually a holiday for the working class.
– There will be art awful suspense on Saturday if the Government shuts up the telegraph offices.
– I quite admit that that is rather a painful proposition for the candidates. But on the other hand, it may sometimes be a blessing, because candidates will not know the evil” fate that awaits them. Many of the questions arising under the Bill are rather suitable for discussion in Committee. We believe that though some of the proposals may be revolutionary as compared with what has been the practice in the past, they are nevertheless the result of the observation of certain abuses which have gradually been growing. These amendments are intended to remove those abuses. It is believed that they will secure to the people a better means of registering their opinion, and of coming to a decision on fair grounds. We also believe that the amendments will give every political party and every candidate a chance of having a fair straight-out fight, and of laying his views before the people.
Debate (on motion by Senator Millen) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 1st September, 1910 (vide Vol. LVI, page 2379), on motion by Senator McGregor -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
– I remind the Senate that this Bill was before us during the last session of Parliament, when Senator Gould moved the adjournment of the debate. As he is not present, it is quite competent for any other honorable senator to discuss the subject.
Senator WALKER (New South Wales). (11.19]. - As a member of the Library Committee, I have much pleasure in supporting the second reading of this Bill. It requires only to be glanced through for the object of it to be understood. The members of the Library Committee believe it to be important that the measure should be passed as soon as possible, because if any-‘ thing happened to Mr. Petherick, and the measure were not on the statute-book, his collection might go to his heirs. We wish to secure it for the Commonwealth for all time, in accordance with an agreement entered into, under which we have given to Mr. Petherick a life engagement. He desires to be called the “ Archivist,” It is a matter which rests with the Library Committee as to what the title “ Archivist “ means. Practically, in this case, it means that Mr. Petherick will look after the archives in connexion with his collection. The subject being of considerable interest, I have much pleasure in supporting the Bill.
– When this Bill was before the Senate last session, I moved the second reading, and the debate was adjourned on the motion of Senator Gould. It was quite within the province of any other honorable senator to resume the debate this morning. If I had risen to make an explanation, the President would have taken my speech as a reply upon the whole debate, which would thus have been closed. As there seems to be no inclination to prolong the discussion, I may explain that the Bill is of considerable importance to the Commonwealth Library. The members of the Library Committee have long since recognised the value of the Petherick Collection, and have no desire that by any circumstance they should lose this accession to the knowledge which is at the disposal of the members of this Parliament at all times. Consequently, it is thought desirable that expedition should be exercised, and that we should give effect to the agreement arrived at which can only be ratified by the passage of this short measure. Last session some doubt seemed to exist in the minds of some honorable senators as to the wisdom of ratifying the agreement, but, from what I can learn from members of the Library Committee, and from both Mr. Speaker and the President of the Senate, it appears clear that all difficulties have been removed, and that the Committee are unanimously of opinion that the best thing we can do is to ratify the agreement, which is attached to the Bill. The ratification is included in three clauses. When they are passed into law, the agreement entered into in 1909 between Mr. Petherick and the Commonwealth Parliament will take effect, and all danger of losing this valuable collertion will have been avoided. We shall be in continuous possession of it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill rend a second time, and passed through Committee without amendment.
– I beg to lay upon the table -
Paper prepared by the Chief Electoral Officer on compulsory enrolment.
I wish to explain that arrangements have been made to have this paper circulated, and also to provide honorable senators with a copy of the principal Act, with the amendments now proposed to be made printed in block type. That document will be circulated amongst honorable senators as soon as possible. I move -
That the paper be printed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time. This is a comparatively unimportant measure, though we believe it to be a very necessary one. The object of it is to prohibit traffic in naval and military decorations. These decorations are given to the members of the Defence Forces for services rendered. As long as the bestowal of these decorations is continued as a military and naval custom, we think that precautions should be taken that they are not used for the purpose of obtaining money or in any such way. This Bill penalizes both the seller and the buyer ; but I have circulated an amendment, which I shall move in Committee, by which the Minister may grant permits to public institutions, or bond fide collectors to acquire and retain decorations, and, further, that the Act shall not prevent the disposition by will of any decoration. I think it is desirable that we should keep up the value of these things.
– Would that permission allow the representatives of a deceased person to dispose of a medal ?
– Well, what are they to do with the medal? Why should they not be allowed to sell it?
-Because I think that it would lessen the value of medals. Of course they could always sell to a bond fide collector.
– Why should not I as an individual, as well as a bond fide collector, be entitled to buy a medal ?
– I do not think it is desirable that it should be allowed. If traffic in them be permitted, what will be the value of these decorations?
– You are permitting traffic, because I have only to call myself a collector to be able to buy a medal.
– The honorable senator will have to do something more than that. He will have to get a permit from the Minister. The main principle of the Bill is to stop the traffic which goes on mainly with pawnbrokers, to whom medals are often sold for the intrinsic value of the silver or gold of which they are composed.
– I do not see any reason why a man who has served his country well and earned a medal, and who, possibly owing to the disregard paid to his claims, has fallen upon evil days, should have another injustice heaped upon him, namely, that he should not be allowed to dispose of his medal when and where he liked in order to buy bread for himself. If the Minister of Defence had presented to him by this country a medal, which is well deserved, if only for the action which he has taken in military matters, and if, owing to unforeseen circumstances, which we hope will not occur, he were reduced to such a position that the disposal of the medal would relieve him from pressure, why should he not be able to do what he liked with the medal ? Many persons have received medal!* because of the services which they have rendered to their country, but owing to the disregard of those services afterwards bv the country they have been reduced to the unfortunate position of having to dispose of the medals. Why should they not be allowed to sell them in the best possible market ?
– To buy a pot of beer, for instance?
– I do not care what they buy with the money. I know that I would not buy beer, because I do not use it.
– That would not relieve a pressure, but an aching void.
– Any man whohas seen the victims of the beer traffic isaware tha); there is no craving so painful’ as the craving of a man the first thing in> the morning for a drop of beer. I havebeen such a strenuous advocate of temperance that I have tried to abolish beer from the community, but I do not know whether a pot of beer would not be more valuableto a man than a silver medal hanging on tohis breast when the latter has ceased to bean advantage to him ; when, in fact, it hay come to he regarded as a thing of which’ he is not at all proud. Take the case of a man who fought against an oppressed people, but who in his more mature judgment recognised that he simply fought on the side of a wealthy class wishing to enslave a poorer class, and wished in his better moments to get rid of the medal. Are you going to deprive him of the right to sell it? If the Minister will put in a clause that the Government shall take these medals at their intrinsic or a reasonable value, so that men may be able to pass them across the counter as readily as they can pass a sovereign, or a shilling, or a bank note- - -
– I would be quite prepared to accept that amendment.
– Why should not a man be tree to pawn his medal ? Pawnbroking is a legitimate business in this country, from the banks downwards. Therefore, why should we interfere with one small class in the community? Why should the time of the Senate be taken up in considering a measure of this kind? I suppose it is because it jars upon the sensitive feelings of some persons to see in a window a string of medals which have been won in wars. One thing which they suggest to my mind is the unfortunate fact that the Governments which availed themselves of the services of the winners of the medals allowed them to drift into such a position that they were obliged, perhaps, to pawn them to get food.
-35j: - I think that the set of conditions referred to by Senator Gardiner is one which we need not bother about very much in Australia. Whilst there may have been veterans “who have been brought to sore straits and have parted with their medals to pawnbrokers for small sums, I think that such a position is not likely to arise in Australia. When any member of our Defence Force who has earned a medal is no longer able to make a living, he will be provided with an old-age pension.
– A man may get a medal long before he is entitled to an oldage pension.
– These men are not likely to be in such straits before they are entitled to old-age pensions that they cannot earn a living. We have already made provision to meet cases of the kind referred to, and, therefore, I see no force in the contention of Senator Gardiner. But I think that we ought to have some means to prevent the trafficking in these medals which goes on simply because they are curios, or because some vain per son wants to purchase a medal and use it for his self-glorification, and pretend that he is the rightful owner of it.
– You can prevent the wearing of such medals without stopping the sale of them.
– This is one of the methods by which you will prevent the improper wearing of medals. If a man cannot purchase medals, how can he wear them?
– There is a sep’arate clause dealing with that.
– I think that both clauses are absolutely necessary. In my judgment, the Bill is framed on right lines. I could quite understand the contention of Senator Gardiner if we had not made provision to prevent the sort of thing to which he has referred, namely, that a man should be reduced to such straits that he might find it necessary to sell a medal or other decoration which he possessed to buy food.
– I differ very much from my somewhat conservative friend, Senator de Largie, in this matter. I see no use for this measure. I do not think that we want any of this padding legislation. I find it quite difficult enough to observe all the laws which we have passed.
– Why should the Senate laugh at that declaration?
– In my opinion, we should always avoid manufacturing crimes. There are some real crimes which we have laws to provide against, as far as is practicable. But I contend .that nearly every crime is law-created, and that the more laws we pile up the more criminals we manufacture, instead of doing anything to wipe out criminality.
– Crime is the natural result of law.
– Yes, and that is why I have no respect for law. It only creates crime; it does not prevent it.
– You have been learning a few points from Fleming lately.
– No, I formed these ideas twenty years ago. I am just as conservative as is my honorable friend. I have not altered my opinions on these matters very much. We should not, under existing conditions, go out of our way to pass a law imposing penalties unless some considerable demand for it has been shown by an evil having grown up. Do we find any great evil arising from the want of a law of this kind? If a law is needed at all, I would have only one clause of this measure, and that is clause 5, providing that a person shall not, unless lawfully entitled so to do, wear or make use of a decoration belonging to another person. I think that all our laws should be aimed at penalizing dishonesty and fraud. Undoubtedly if a person tries to secure an advantage to himself by wearing a decoration which he has not earned, it is fair to punish him. But it appears to me that to attempt in any other way to limit the right of an individual who has gained a decoration to do with it as he pleases, is just stepping out of our way, for the sake of finding ourselves a job, to manufacture a law, and thereby create a new phase of criminality which certainly does not exist to any extent at present. Senator Gardiner has talked of the pawning or disposal of these decorations by persons, in order to buy bread or other necessaries of life. We know that that has frequently happened in regard to decorations bestowed by the British Government on military or naval heroes. It is a common thing to hear or read of men who have gained the Victoria Cross dying in a workhouse in England. Senator de Largie said, or I understood him to say, that our old-age pension system will avert that disaster from Australian heroes who may be decorated, but I do not think that it will.
– If he is incapacitated the invalid pension will. He will be eligible for either an old-age or an invalid pension.
– Just so. lt may to a considerable extent minimize the possibility, but an old-age or invalid pension only gives a bare subsistence to the recipient.
– There is nothing to prevent a lad of eighteen years of age from getting a medal, but he cannot obtain an old-age pension.
– I thank the honorable senator for reminding me that persons who may be neither old nor disabled may be in dire want or necessitous circumstances.
– Whether a man is in want or not, is it not his personal property, and has he not the right to do what he likes with it?
– I should take it that he has. I am merely replying to the suggestion that because of the provision of an old age pension a man will not want bread in this community. I suppose that some of us, even with our salaries, find our selves at times tightly pressed. I am just as hard up now as when I got 10s. a week.
– Oh, but you are a big land speculator.
– No. An old-age or invalid pension would not relieve a man, especially if he had family cares, from dire necessity. I maintain that a man’s decoration should be his property to use as he likes, provided that no one shall commit a fraud by wearing an article which he is not entitled to wear. Either I would enact one clause, if that is necessary, to prevent a person from wearing a decoration which he is not entitled to use, in order to impose upon the community, or I would abolish decorations, and then nobody could use them, for, after all, they are only a bit of flam, like this measure.
– It seems to me that, by an amendment which he has outlined, the Minister has recognised the weakness of this measure. The measure as drafted contained an absolute prohibition against the sale of these decorations, but, at the last moment, the Minister recognised that the enactment of that provision would probably do some injustice. So he circulated an amendment which will destroy the Bill itself, because it will allow the sale of these articles to a limited number of persons. If the possessor of a decoration is entitled to sell it, I contend that he ought to have the widest possible market at his disposal. As it is the Minister says, “ No, we will limit the business to a few favoured individuals who are bond fide collectors.” Who would purchase these things? It could not be the public collectors who keep shops, because, although they are bond fide collectors, they only buy the articles to sell them. They would not buy these things, because they could not re-sell them. The only individuals who would be purchasers for the articles would be a few wealthy men who make a hobby of collecting such things. If an individual possessor of a decoration is entitled to sell it he ought to be allowed to do so in the widest possible market.
– Is he entitled to sell ?
– Personally, I think that he is. It is his private property just as much as a watch presented to him by his constituents would be the private property of the Minister. Senator Rae has pointed out the only portion of this Bill which is entitled to consideration. I repeat that a naval or military decoration in the form of a medal is the private property of the recipient. The Minister proposes to restrict the sale of such medals so that their possessors are bound to get the minimum price for them. Personally, I see no reason why the owners of medals should not be allowed to do just what they choose with them ; but there is an objection to flaunting such decorations in public, because that practice may lead to fraud, and it seems to me that that is the only point upon which we may advantageously legislate.
– 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 -
is killed on active service or on duty, or
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 -
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.
– Has there been any demand for this Bill as the result of any scandals ?
– 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.
– How would it bc to allow the Commonwealth to take them back ?
– The Common: wealth might take them back at their intrinsic value.
– But they have a market value above that.
– 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.
– Will a pawnbroker who has 4,000 or 5,000 medals in his possession be prevented from selling them by this Bill?
– The measure is not retrospective.
– Yes, it is.
– What will a man who has 1,000 medals in his possession dp with them?
– He will have to keep them.
– Surely clause 6 would be operative to-morrow?
– Not unless the medals were sold or pledged after the commencement of the Act.
– How are the police to know ?
– 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.
Question - That this Bill be now. read a second time - -put. The Senate divided.
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a second time. In Committee :
Clauses i and 2 agreed to. Clause 3 -
A person being or having been a member of the King’s Naval or Military Forces or of the Defence Force shall not sell, exchange, pledge, or otherwise dispose of any decoration conof Australia. ferred on him for service performed in or out Penalty : Twenty pounds.
– I would suggest to honorable senators that it may be desirable on this clause to take a vote as to whether we shall maintain the Bill in its present form, or limit it to the question of the illegal wearing of naval and military decorations. U we strike out clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill, and retain clause 5, the measure will impost a prohibition upon the unlawful use of these decorations.
– If a man has legally purchased a medal, why should he not wear it?
– Because it is a certificate that the wearer has done something which entitles him to wear it. If I were a mere collector, there is no reason why I should not include it in my collection ; but there is a reason why I should not pin it on my breast and parade the streets to excite the wild admiration of Senator Givens. If I did that I should be committing a fraud. 1 ask honorable senators to agree with me and take a division on this and the next clause, in order that they may be negatived.
. - Whenever I am on the same side as Senator Millen I am rather suspicious as to whether I am right or not. In this case, however, I have no doubt that I am right, and I trust that the Committee will negative clauses 3 and 4. As I stated on the second reading of this Bill, we should not create crimes, but prevent their commission. ‘, Under the general tenor of this Bill we shall be creating artificial crimes; but I think we are entitled, as is proposed in clause 5.. to say that a man shall not lay himself open to commit a fraud on any member of the community by wearing as his own a decoration he never earned. If a man chooses to make use of such a decoration for any other purpose I should give him the utmost freedom to do so. I hope we shall confine this Bill to the prevention of the fraudulent use of these decorations, and not prohibit their sale or exchange.
– I quite agree with what has been said about this and the next clause. I do not think that this Bill can be of much use, but what is desired is to prevent a person displaying a decoration which he did not win in order, it may be, to excite the sympathy of people around him. Why should a man be prohibited from selling a medal or decoration because of some sentimental value attaching to it ? A collector of such articles may be willing to give for one of these decorations very much more than its intrinsic value, and if the owner would be very glad to get more than its intrinsic value for it in order to relieve his necessities, I do not see why he should be prevented from disposing in that way of .what is his own property, given to him for services rendered to the State. We should strike out clauses 3 and 4, and it will be sufficient if we pass clause 5, which will prevent a person, not entitled to do so, wearing any of these decorations.
– 1 move -
That the following words be inserted after the word “Australia”: - “Provided that nothing in this section shall prevent the disposal of such medal to the Commonwealth Government.”
I am very much in favour of this Bill. I have always considered it very objectionable to have medals or decorations gained for military services, or in sports, hanging up in a pawnbroker’s shop. I hold that when a man receives a decoration of this kind it is of value only to himself, and should be of value to no one else. To meet the feat of some of my honorable friends that the owner of a decoration, if in dire necessity, may require to exchange it for some earthly comfort, I propose to give him the privilege of returning it to the Commonwealth Government, who will give him value for it. I have no objection to men who are hungry or bootless or sockless, disposing of these decorations to relieve their necessities. They may be of no more use to them in such circumstances than the possession of gold is to a man who is lost in the bush. But I think that in such a case the Government might be willing to purchase such decorations at whatever value they thought proper to place upon them.
– I think that the owners of these decorations who are in necessitous circumstances might be entitled to say to Senator McDougall, “ Thank you for nothing.” If these decorations are to be returned to the Government they will not give any more than their intrinsic value for them. What is the intrinsic value, for instance, of the Victoria Cross?
– About twopence.
– The holder of such a decoration might be able to dispose of it for a sentimental value very much in excess of its intrinsic value.
– An old coin or medal worth only 5s. may be sold for as much as -Of.
– There are collectors of medals and decorations as well as collectors of old coins, and if such a collector is prepared to give to the owner of one of these decorations a good deal more than its intrinsic value, why should not the owner, if he is in need, be at liberty to dispose of it?
– I should like, sir, to take your ruling as to whether the amendment moved by Senator McDougall is in order. Have the Commonwealth Government power to start in the business of buying up medals ? I think you will admit that there is more in the amendment than appears at first sight.
– The principle of the amendment is in order, but I was going to suggest to Senator McDougall that the word “ decoration “ should be substituted for the word “ medal.”
– I have no objection to that.
– If that alteration be made, I rule the amendment in order.
Amendment amended accordingly.
– I appeal to the Minister to agree to clauses 3 and 4 being negatived. The honorable senator must see that great difficulties will arise if they are agreed to. They must be considered together, because clause 3 is proposed to prevent the holder of a decoration from disposing of it, and clause 4 to prevent any one buying such a decoration. There are a great many people in our cities who, from time to time, purchase medals and decorations, which they dispose of subsequently to collectors of such things. If these clauses are passed a serious injustice will be done to persons who have been engaged in a bond fide and legitimate business under the law.
– I did not think the honorable senator sympathized with that class of persons.
– I sympathize with any man who is engaged in a perfectly legitimate business.
– Does Senator McDougall mean to say that a dealer in curios is not as much entitled to justice as any other person in the community.
– We shall not get any nearer to fair dealing by appealing to prejudice against persons engaged in any particular line of business. We know that the demand for old coins, medals, decorations, and stamps is very widespread in every country in the world. A medal which may be of no value, because of his necessitous condition, to the man who won it, may be of very great value to persons who are making collections of such things. This Bill would put a severe handicap upon such collectors, since it would do away with the middleman between the original holder and the collector by declaring his business illegal. I hope that in the circumstances the Minister will see the wisdom of postponing the further consideration of this Bill. In the meantime, the honorable senator may see that in trying to overcome one evil he may be perpetrating another. I agree that it is rather objectionable to have in the window of a pawnshop a medal or decoration given for military services. We all know of the enthusiasm over Mafeking and the report of the victory at Elands River, but the heroes of those occasions may have been driven by stress of circumstances to dispose of the decorations they received for their services.
– By too much whisky, in some cases.
– I can sympathize with a man who is the victim of too much whisky as well as with the man who is the victim of anything else. I find that the only means I can adopt to prevent myself becoming the victim of whisky is to drink none at all.
– The honorable senator must lose a lot of fun.
– I have no more respect for the man whom whisky does not affect than for the man who is affected by it. Some men who have acquired trie habit of whisky drinking are disposed to point with contempt and scorn at the man whose mental make-up is such that one glass of whisky will throw him off his balance.
– I ask the honorable senator to confine his remarks to the question.
– I bow to your ruling, sir. I was drawn aside by Senator de Largie’s interjection. In all seriousness I ask the Minister to postpone these clauses for more lengthy consideration. By rushing this Bill through a number of interests may be affected, to which most of us have not given much consideration. It will be admitted that it is a desirable thing to encourage the collection of medals and decorations which may represent steps and stages in our naval and military history. A man may have gained a medal in the Indian Rebellion of 1857. He may have had to wait, as some have had to do, for thirty or forty years before the War Office authorities sent his medal on to him. After thirty or forty years he may receive a medal for services he has rendered, the intrinsic value of which may not be more than 5s. ; but there may be a sentimental value attaching to it of £5. That medal may have come into the man’s possession through participation in actions which the British people will be proud of as long as there is any one left to speak the language. Suppose that that man sees an opportunity of disposing of his medal to relieve some physical difficulty which, if not relieved, may end his life altogether. Why should the Government step in, and say, “ Although you won this medal in another country, nevertheless, having come to Australia, you cannot do what you like with your own here”? I quite understand the sentimental value that attaches to decorations of this kind. There are men who would sacrifice everything before they would part with a medal. The sum of .£500 would not purchase from them a piece of metal intrinsically worth only a few pence. But that is no reason why we should debar them from disposing of their property as they please. I also see that grave injustice may be done to curio dealers if the Bill passes as it stands. No matter what a man’s occupation may be, we ought, in passing legislation, to see that no injury is done to him without compensation. Why should we pass a Bill the effect of which will be to say that articles in the possession of curio dealers which have a commercial value to-day shall have no such value tomorrow? I would ask the Minister to adjourn the further consideration of the Bill until we have had more time to scrutinize its provisions, and to insure that we do not do great harm by interfering with legitimate business.
– I do not see that any grievous harm can be done if the clause, amended as Senator McDougall proposes, is carried. If dealers in curios want to dispose of their stock of medals, the Government, under this provision, will be able to purchase them if it thinks proper.
– They will form the nucleus of a State pawnshop !
– If need be, I do not see why not. At all events, I see no great harm in the amendment, which will not affect medals purchased before the passage of this measure.
– It will affect their future sale.
– Very little. The Government are taking power to pur- chase medals which dealers may wish to sell. I have had probably greater experience amongst old soldiers than Senator Gardiner has. As one reared in the Old Country, I was frequently brought into contact with men who had served in the Army, and I can say that I never met an old Army man who was worth his salt who would part with his medals on any consideration. No drink and no food would purchase than.
– It would be a positive virtue to sell a medal under certain circumstances, if a man had a wife and family dependent upon him.
– It is idle to assume that a man would want to sell a piece of metal, the intrinsic value of which was very little, to get food for his wife and children. I know an old man living in Newcastle, New South Wales, who is possessed of two medals. He has lived for thirty years in Australia, and has worked as a coal miner. Mr. Watkins, a member of another place, ascertained that a pension was payable on account of one of these medals, and induced the old gentleman to apply for it. He then found that he had two, to both of which pensions were attached. Now, I am glad to say, he not only enjoys his old-age pension, but the two pensions which pertain to his medals.
– He did not know the value of them himself.
– Intrinsically, their value was very little, but he attached a great value to them, and nothing would ever buy them from him. Senator Gardiner waxed so eloquent upon the drink argument that it is difficult to believe that he spoke as a total abstainer. I am rather inclined to doubt his declarations on the point. His knowledge seemed much more comprehensive than he gave us to understand. I am quite satisfied, however, that no man who has been in the Army, and has won a medal, would part with it for drink, or anything else, except under exceptional circumstances.
– Except he was very thirsty.
– Exceptional circumstances are dealt with by Senator McDougall’s amendment. Indeed, they are more than met, because, if a man who has a medal is reduced to severe straits, he will know that he can go to the Defence Department, and bring his case under the notice of the authorities, who can then relieve him.
– They will give him 6d. for his medal - its intrinsic value.
– In my opinion, they will give him a great deal mote.
– The honorable senator’s opinion would not earn the man a feed.
– He will be able to bring his case under the notice of those who will give consideration to it, and who, I am satisfied, will pay him far more for his medal than a collector or dealer in curios would. I hope that the amendment will be carried.
– The amendment is absolutely useless, as I am sure Senator McDougall himself will see when he reflects. It merely lays it down that this clause shall not prevent the Government from buying medals. It imposes absolutely no obligation.
– Because we could not impose such an obligation upon the Government.
– Then the amendment will be useless. I defy any man who has an atom of political honesty in his composition to assert that a direction to do a thing casts any obligation to do it. If the amendment laid it down that any person who wished to dispose of a medal could get market value for it from the Government, there might be something to be said for it. But as no obligation is cast upon the Government to buy, there can be no guarantee that the possessor of the medal can sell. Consequently, this is a useless concession. In fact, the amendment is one of those efforts frequently made by legislative bodies to try and please all sides by making an alteration which means nothing. If Senator McDougall is in earnest in wanting to dispose of the objection raised by Senator Gardiner and others, let him propose an amendment that would not throw dust in our eyes, but would be of real value. In my opinion, if the Senate were possessed of a keen sense of humour, it would ridicule this kind of legislation out of existence, and make it impossible to bring such political trash before a deliberative body again. Because this Bill is nothing better than that. If I Had ever deserved, or had won, any decoration, I should have to be reduced to the last straits before I would part with it.
– The point is, however, that the owner has a right to do with it what he likes.
– Just so. There is no reason why, if I had won a medal, I should be debarred from parting with it for- what might appear to me to be of more value than the decoration itself. I would also impress upon those who have a keen regard for that sentiment which looks upon a thing as almost sacred if it has been won in a great cause, that you cannot more effectively kill such a feeling than by trying to make its retention compulsory. What value will be attached to a medal if the owner of it is compelled to keep it even against his will? What will become of the sentiment if you lay it down by law that he may not dispose of a medal? I have the utmost respect for a person who would suffer great hardships before he would part with an article to which a sentimental value attached, whether it were a family photograph or a medal, or anything else. But I venture to think that, however much inclined a man may be to reverence such articles, and however much he might be prepared to make sacrifices before parting with one of them, he would cease to attach any sentimental value to them if he were compelled by law to keep them.
– I told Senator Gardiner earlier in the discussion that if there were any desire to adjourn the further consideration of the Bill, I was quite prepared to assent. I have no desire to rush the measure through. I wish to have that clearly understood. If I consent to an adjournment, therefore, it must not be supposed that I am in any way weakening in my view that this Bill ought to pass, with the amendment suggested by Senator McDougall.
– I merely asked for an adjournment in the hope that the Minister would see reason for consenting to further amendments. If there is no such hope, let us get on with the Bill.
– Let us look at the objections, and see what they amount to. Senator Rae has objected that the Bill casts no obligation upon the Government to buy medals. That is so, but he must be aware that we, in the Senate, cannot constitutionally initiate a Bill imposing financial responsibilities upon the Government. If we were- to insert in this Bill a provision imposing an obligation of the kind, the measure would be rendered unconstitutional.
– Would that be so it we simply provided that the Government should pay market value?
– We cannot in a Bill initiated in the Senate insert any provision imposing an obligation to purchase. If we did, the Bill would be brought within the limits of the constitutional prohibition. If it is desired to tighten up the amendment of Senator McDougall in the direction suggested, I shall be quite prepared to see that it is tightened up in another place, where such an amendment can be introduced. Let us examine the objections which have been raised. In the first place, honorable senators bring in two classes, namely, the persons to whom medals have been issued, and the persons who are now in possession of the medals. With the first class I have every sympathy, as I think we all have. We have every right to sympathise with a man who is in possession of his medal, but have we any right to consider a man who is in possession of a medal not awarded to him, but which was given for a specific purpose? The bona fide collector who, for historical or other purposes, desires to make a collection of ancient coins or medals is provided for in the amendment which I have circulated.
– That will give a medal a market value at once.
– As a curio, it will. I take it that if a person were to satisfy the Government of the day that he desired to purchase these medals for historic purposes only, he would be allowed every facility to do so. I have no sympathy for those who simply purchase medals from persons who have disposed of them for one of two reasons, either because they have ceased to value the medals, and sold them for whatever they would fetch, or because, as happens in the majority of cases, while suffering a recovery from the effects of drink, they sold the medals in order to get more liquor. It is idle to talk about these medals being sold by the winners because of necessitous circumstances. I have already disposed of that argument. The aged soldier is provided for in the Old-age Pensions Act, the decrepit or incapacitated soldier is provided for in the Invalid Pensions Act, while the disabled soldier is provided for in the Defence Act.
– Can the pension be con-* sidered enough to stave off poverty?
– It is considered by Parliament to-be enough.
– As much as we can afford at present.
– If the honorable senator will make an inquiry, he will find that the majority of the medals are purchased because of the material of which they are composed, namely, silver or gold.
– If that were so, the medals would not be displayed in the windows, but would be melted down.
– -I think that very often medals are melted down. In their observations, honorable senators mix up two classes of individuals so much that they do not see that, while they are pleading for compassion for one class, they are stating the case for the other class. Senator Gardiner, for instance, stated that a man’s efforts alone entitled him to a medal, yet, on the other hand, he pleaded for consideration, not for that man, but for the man who took advantage of the necessities of the other, and purchased his property.
– That is not the right way to put it.
– I think it is. It is said that this clause, if passed, will render of no value the present stocks of medals and decorations. Now, either it is desirable that the practice should be continued, or it is not. I think that it should be stopped. At one time in this country there was a legal traffic in opium, and persons acquired large stocks. Public opinion declared that it was not desirable that opium should be sold, and suddenly a measure was passed to stop its sale.
– Not suddenly.
– This Bill is brought in in the ordinary course.
– In the Department there is a long series of letters on the subject. For years there has been an agitation for this legislation on the part of those who are entitled to wear medals and decorations. When Parliament intervened and stopped the sale of opium, did it compensate those who had stocks of opium ? No ; the holders had to lose the value of the stocks which they had acquired quite legally.
– Do you think that they lost by that legislation?
– That is another matter. Senator Rae has stated that the effect of this provision will be to cheapen the value of medals. If he were in possession of a medal which had been awarded to him because of his conduct in battle or for long service or for good conduct - I am rather doubtful about him getting a medal for good conduct - nothing could cheapen the sentimental value of that medal in his mind more than for a person to come along and tell him that he could go round to a certain pawnshop and buy half-a-dozen such medals for 5s. The intrinsic value of the medals is small, and the parading of them in pawnshops destroys any sentimental value which is attached to them. The winners of medals are, after all, the only persons whom we should consider. So long as the Commonwealth gives or recognises medals, we ought, by our legislation, to preserve the real value of them, and that is the value arising from the fact that the wearer has won them.
– Then why allow them to pass into collections ?
– Because there is some value in having collections of medals of various generations. I do not attach’ much importance to them myself, but there is an historic value attached to old medals.
– If you stop the wearing of them, the only sale will be to and from collectors.
– Yes; and that is the only sale which should be allowed. If the Committee desires further time in which to consider the provision, I am prepared, to ask the Chairman to report progress, but, personally, I think that we might proceed.
Senator VARDON (South Australia) [12.40!. - I do not wish the consideration of the clause to be postponed. I think that it had better be disposed of straight away. I would point out to the Minister that a man who has won a medal does not want to dispose of it unless he is absolutely bound to do so. The winner of a medal may become penniless, either through misfortune or because of his indulgence in intemperate habits, and what is the use of enacting that if he disposes of his medal he shall be liable to a fine of £20? Where could he get the money if he were fined ?
– Under the Acts Interpretation Act there is always an alternative.
– What satisfaction would it be to the Government to keep a man in prison after he had sold his medal ? In the first place, they could not get any money out of him, and then if they put him in gaol, they would perhaps keep him there for a week or for a month at the expense of the State, instead of making him maintain himself.
– That applies to every penalty. There is also a penalty imposed upon the buyer of a medal.
– It is utterly futile to provide for the imposition of a penalty upon a man who sells his medal. I think that the clause is quite useless, and I hope that it will be negatived.
– The longer this discussion proceeds the more apparent does it become that the Bill is likely to be more or less futile. We might retain clause 5, because it strikes at what is a fraud. Why is it that the Minister gives such attention to military and naval decorations, and brings in a measure to prevent the sale or misuse of them? I regard many scholastic and literary decorations as quite as honorable as, if not more honorable than, the medals which are obtained for good service or for good conduct or for valour in war, military or naval. It is regrettable indeed to see these medals sometimes in the hands of,, unfortunately, pawnbrokers, and at other times legitimately in the hands of’ dealers. But, notwithstanding that, no Government in the world has attempted to prevent the sale or pawning of decorations and distinctions.
– Does the honorable senator wish us to go in for another constitutional alteration ?
– The Minister is becoming excessively petulant under criticism. If we are going to prevent naval and military decorations from being degraded by the traffic in them, we should also include civil distinctions in the same category.
– Why not include military titles?
– Because a military title is purely a personal matter, and has no value whatever in the sense in which we are now using that term. For the reasons which I have advanced I shall vote against clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill.
– I am surprised at the sympathy which has been exhibited by Senator Gardiner for a certain class of legal traffickers in articles of this description. I have no sympathy for them. I have lived in a very poor neighbourhood all my life, and I fully recognise what a curse pawnbrokers are. In my capacity, as a justice of the peace, I have frequently had occasion to attest the affidavits of persons who have lost the tickets of articles which they have pledged. From my own personal knowledge I can say that these legal traffickers make paltry advances, even upon men and women’s clothing. These articles are pawned at the beginning of the week and released at the end of it. The less that a community has to do with such a class the better. I would like to see the pawnbrokers wiped out entirely. I hope that the Bill will be passed, and that, at least, one spoke will be put in the wheel of these legal traffickers for whom Senator Gardiner has so much sympathy.
– 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.
– Would not the amendment, suggested by the honorable senator, shut out the South African medals?
– 1 take it that those medals were given for services rendered to Australia.
– Let us eliminate the clause in its entirety.
– 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.
– Under this Bill they may still sell them to bona-fi.de collectors, or to an institution.
– 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.
– We do not take anything from the individuals who, at present, own these medals.
– 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?
– We tax it, although we did not give it to him.
– 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-
– There is no snobbishness about it.
– 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 ?
– If I were Minister I would certainly do so.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.30 f.m.
– 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.
– Very few people commit murder, but there is a law against it.
– 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.
– This is mere meddlesome legislation.
– 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.
– Is there a coalition between Senator Vardon and the honorable senator?
– 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.
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council will not weep if we knock out this clause.
– 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.
– Is there any such legislation in any other country?
– I am not aware that there is. The owner of one of these medals should be the best judge of its value.
– Has a man any right to sell that which does not belong to him?
– I will answer that question by asking the Minister another: Has a man a right to sell that which does belong to him ?
– If the honorable senator will permit me, I can show him that these medals do not belong to the recipients of them.
– If so, this Bill is unnecessary, because they are held on trust, and cannot be sold.
– 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.
– They are often transmitted to other persons as personal property.
– 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.
– That will make a good quotation at the next election.
– 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.
– A question has been raised by Senator Gardiner’s somewhat heated speech-
– No; forceful speech’.
– A speech which, I venture to think, transcended the importance of the poor little subject to which it was directed. That question is my justification for rising again. Since we dealt with this subject this morning, I have had an opportunity of ascertaining the legal position in which recipients of military and naval medals stand. The bulk of such medals are conferred by the King, either personally, or by delegated authority. For all practical purposes, such decorations are, in the Imperial service, considered to be the property of the Sovereign.
– Considered by whom ?
– I shall show that immediately. They are granted by the King, with permission for the retention thereof by the grantee or his next of kin. Under the Army Act, section 156, subsection 1, any person’ who buys, takes in pawn, &c, any such medal or decoration, is liable to a fine not exceeding £20 for the first offence, and for a second offence, to a similar fine or imprisonment up to six months, with hard labour. Sections 2 and 4 of the same Act provide that any person found in possession of such a medal or decoration may be arrested without warrant. Under sub-section 5, the medals and decorations may be dealt with by Order of a Court - that is to say, by court-martial. The Regimental Debts Act 1893, section 11, provides that medals are not part of a man’s estate with respect to creditors or administration. They cannot be sold in bankruptcy ; and in cases of intestacy, are allotted to .the next of kin in order of seniority, as shown by King’s Regulation 1759. Under the Army Act, and the Pay Warrant Act, a soldier may forfeit his medals for misconduct - which again shows that they are not his personal property. Otherwise, they could not be taken away from him in that manner.
– Under extreme military law, a man may forfeit his head, but it does not follow that his head is not his own !
– I ask the Committee to retain the clause, with the proposed amendment.
– I think that the Minister has proved a little too much by his quotations from English legislation on this subject. He has proved thai military decorations and medals are not the personal property of those who hold them. In that case, the Minister himself is going a great deal too far in this Bill, because he is going to license persons who may buy such articles. If a man has no right to sell a medal, surely the Minister has no right to give a licence to some one who will buy. But that is exactly what the Minister is going to do.
– Not by this clause.
– The next clause provides that the Minister may license a museum or a collector of curios to buy medals or decorations from a man - which, however, we have been informed, the man has no right to sell.
– The honorable senator is out of order in discussing another clause.
– There is a Chairman in the chair ; and if I am out of order, he will correct me.
– I rise to order. I wish to ask whether Senator Vardon is in order in discussing a clause which is not now before the Committee?
– I should like to point out that Senator Vardon was not discussing another clause. He was simply pointing out that if the Minister’s argument be a good one, the Bill goes too far. The honorable senator was answering an argument.
– He said that, under the next clause, it is proposed to give a licence.
– There is no clause at present in the Bill giving a licence.
– 1 think Senator Vardon is in order.
– I am very careful not to transgress the Standing Orders at any time. Despite what the Minister says, he cannot deny that it is his intention to move for the insertion of a clause in the Bill for the purpose of licensing persons to purchase medals. We should be wise to strike the clause out altogether, and also to have nothing to do with the clause which the Minister intends to propose, which would license certain persons to buy medals. If we prohibit traffic in medals and decorations, we shall prevent them being hawked about, and shall then have done quite enough.
– - If this new doctrine enunciated bv the Minister of Defence in his hour of distress is to be accepted, that military and naval medals are not the property of individuals who hold them-
– It is not a doctrine ; it is the law.
– This is the first time I have heard the Minister of Defence posing as a keen advocate for shaping Commonwealth legislation on the lines of Imperial Acts. When it suits him, no one can more bitterly denounce the copying of legislation passed in the Old Country.
– I was answering Senator Gardiner.
– If the Minister means that he was “ following “ Senator Gardiner, he is quite correct ; but I am not aware that he has “ answered “ that honorable senator. If this new doctrine - that medals are not the property of the individual, but of the Defence Department - is to be admitted, the holders of such decorations will be put very much in the position of those who were victimized by a game which was familiar to most of us in our boyhood. The game was to fasten an apple to a string and lay it upon the footpath. Someone would come along and stoop to pick it up, when the string would be pulled, and the apple would disappear.
– I have heard of a stone under a hat being worked very much in the way same.
– Well, my honorable friend’s methods were always more barbarous than mine ! As to Senator Gardiner’s speech, I recall a criticism of his some time ago when there was a proposal to send representatives of this and the other House of the Legislature to Great Britain. We must all have been gratified at the honorable senator’s tone to-day; and I am sure that we appreciate the good effects that have followed from his short visit to the Old Land. In view of this very pleasant experience, I suggest to the Government that the experiment that has succeeded so admirably in this case is entitled to further application. The Minister said one thing that is quite correct, namely, that this Bill is not worthy of the consideration that has been given to it. I should like to know the real reason for its introduction. I should like to see the genesis of it.
– I should like to see the exodus of it !
– I feel satisfied that this measure has not been brought forward as the result of any public demand or agitation. As far as I am aware, not a single individual in the Commonwealth, and no body of individuals, has asked for its introduction.
– Yes, they have.
– I venture to add that, if inquiry were made, it would be found that some highly pertinacious officer or officers down in the Defence Department are responsible, not only for the production of this document, but for the whole of the time that we have wasted upon its consideration.
– The Veterans’ Association has agitated for a measure of this kind ; and that association exists, not only in Victoria, but in the honorable senator’s own State, and elsewhere.
– I venture to say that if inquiries were made, it would be found that there are two or three officers-
– Does not the honorable senator accept my statement?
– Of course, I accept the Minister’s statement; but we know what two or three active individuals can do. I believe that certain officers have a bee in their bonnet with respect to this subject.
– That is not so.
– And these officers, having ready access to the administrative ear, have probably induced an innocentminded Minister to introduce this measure. They are really responsible for its introduction. I do not believe that it has any other foundation. But I do not see why we should pass legislation imposing penalties, and creating new crimes, whilst, at the same time, in no sense rendering a service to the public, or conferring any advantage upon anybody, under such influences. If the Minister can show that any section of the public of Australia will be injured by the rejection of this Bill, I am sure that every member of the Senate will listen to him.
– That is ridiculous.
– But not even the Minister can pretend that any public good will be served by the measure; and when I say that not even the Minister can make that pretence, it is going as far as any sensible man would care to go. If even the Minister cannot show that any public good will be done, why should we waste time in further considering the matter?
– Hear, hear ! We ought not to do so.
– The amount of public good to be done is nil ; and the Bill has been brought forward only to meet the views of some little coterie in the Department.
– That is incorrect. 1 have already denied that statement.
– The Minister has not said anything to show that the statement is incorrect.
– Yes. I have shown that such a Bill has been asked for by the Veterans’ Association.
– I have said that the whole matter has arisen out of the engineering of one or two officers, and that the Minister has been led away by the persuasive efforts of those who have ready access to him. Quite enough has been said to-day-
– Hear, hear ! Quite enough.
– To make the Minister regret that he ever brought in the Bill.
– Is the honorable senator going to talk it out?
– I do not think that I shall be accused of being egotistical if I say that if I thought I could secure the defeat of this Bill by continuing to talk about it I could easily do so. But I have no desire to defeat the measure in that way. It is, however, in my opinion, making Parliament ridiculous when we are asked to pass a Bill of this kind, which is in no sense for the benefit of the public, and confers no advantage upon anybody.
– A few minutes ago, I was puzzled as to how I should vote in regard to this clause; but my doubts were set at rest by the authorities quoted by the Minister.
– If. the honorable senator is following the Home authorities, he should be prepared to go further and make the penalty imprisonment.
– The Minister has explained the practice in Great Britain; and. as our Defence Forces are supposed to lie part of the Imperial Defence Forces, I do not see why we should not adopt the same principle in regard to military decorations. I shall, therefore, support the clause, though I confess that I had considerable doubts about it until I heard the Minister’s last speech. I shall also support Senator McDougall’s amendment.
– I am not at all surprised at one who, like Senator Walker, has a great regard for doctrines laid down in the Old Country, supporting this measure. But I point out in all seriousness that, though persons of conservative tendencies may attach an altogether exaggerated veneration to these bits of trinkets, and may want to impose all sorts of penalties on other people who do not, nevertheless, we ought to have sounder reasons given for the passage of this Bill. That does not account for my opposition to the measure, but certainly accentuates it. The Minister actually said that even if I were to live to be a veteran I would probably never gain a medal for good conduct. I really think that I am entitled to ask him to withdraw that serious reflection upon me. It has strained my loyalty to the party almost beyond breaking point.
– 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.
– Under the law, the right continues as long as the recipient holds the medal.
– 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.
– When I offered to do that before, you said, “No, go on.”
– 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.
– 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.
– On the understanding that the Minister will consent to an adjournment as soon as the clause has been disposed of, I resume my seat.
– I do not feel that I can support clause 3. In my opinion, the attempt to treat the vendor and the buyer of a medal equally is very ineffective. If clause 3 were passed, we should have the humiliating spectacle of a person who is generally regarded as a hero being dragged before a police court’ because he was obliged to pledge his medal for two or three shillings. There would be a howl throughout the community if a veteran were treated in that way.
– The law would not be put in force.
– That shows the folly of passing the clause. I am in favour of clause 4, because I think that pawnbrokers should be prevented from buying or receiving decorations. I think that we can gain our purpose by passing clause 3 and dropping clause 4. We are all familiar with the old story about a man having a medal and a wooden leg. The treatment of veteran soldiers has led to many reforms. I hope that we shall never witness here a state of affairs common in older lands, and which Australians generally have condemned from every platform and in the press. I trust that if we cannot do anything to keep a veteran out of the position of having to pawn or sell his medal, which sentimentally is worth a good deal, particularly to the members of his family, we shall not drag him before a police court. That would show a very poor appreciation of the services which had entitled him to receive the medal. It may pain an individual more to pawn his medal for, perhaps, 2s., than it would pain the community to hear of the fact. A veteran may pawn his medal with the fullest intention of redeeming it at the earliest opportunity, although that might never come to him. I shall support clause 4, which, I think, will achieve all that the Minister desires; but I shall vote to protect the poor veteran who is driven to dispose of his medal or decoration. The special circumstances in which men win their medals should secure to them that exemption.
Question - That the words proposed to be inserted be inserted (Senator McDougall’s amendment) - put. The Committee divided.
Question so. resolved in the affirmative. Amendment agreed to. Amendment (by Senator Walker) proposed -
That the word “ Twenty “ be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ Five.”
Question - That the word “ Twenty “ be left out, resolved in the affirmative.
– I desire to move that the penalty be reduced to 5s.
– Unless we are very careful I foresee that we shall land ourselves in a difficulty. I submit that the position now is that we have created a blank in the line prescribing the penalty for a breach of the clause. Therefore, the correct course for us to adopt is to decide what word we shall insert in that blank.
—But the Committee have decided to retain the word “ pounds.”
– The simple way out of the difficulty is for those who agree with Senator Walker to vote for the insertion of the word “ five,” and for those who, like the iconoclasts on this side of the chamber, desire to get away from rusty traditions to vote against it.
Question- That the word “ Five “ be inserted, resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment (by Senator Gardiner) proposed -
That the word “ pounds “ be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ shillings.”
– I would point out to honorable senators that these penalties are governed by the Acts Interpretation Act, and that this clause, therefore, means that the penalty for an offence under it shall not exceed £$. As a matter of fact, it may not be 5s.
– I take it that the penalty inflicted will bear some relation to the maximum penalty. Consequently, the lower the maximum the lower will be any penalty that may be inflicted. For this reason I intend to support the insertion of the word “ shillings.” I am sorry that it is not “ pence.”
Question - That the word proposed to be left out be left out - put. The Committee divided.
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause, as amended, agreed to. Clause 4 -
A person shall not buy, or receive in exchange, or receive by way of pledge or otherwise, any decoration which has been conferred on any person being or having “been a member of the King’s Naval or Military Forces or of the Defence Force for service performed in or out of Australia.
Penalty : Twenty pounds.
– - As we have passed a clause making a penalty attach to the man who sells any naval or military decoration, we cannot logically refrain from imposing a similar penalty upon the man who buys it. But, as it seems hopeless to expect the Minister to recognise the merits of this question, I think that we may reasonably allow the remainder of the Bill to pass.
– I move -
That the words “ or receive, by way of pledge or otherwise” be left out.
Even if it be not advisable to allow a man to sell these valuable trinkets, there can be no objection to his pawning them in case of emergency, when the accommodation which he would receive would be infinitely more valuable to him than would the decoration. If the Minister will accept the amendment I shall resume my seat, but if not I shall continue talking until 4 o’clock in the hope that we shall never hear of this measure again.
– It is obviously impossible to accept the amendment, because we have already passed a clause which imposes a penalty upon any person who pledges a naval or military decoration. That being so, surely the person who receives .such a decoration should be equally liable. I wish also to say that the threat made by Senator Rae is rather unworthy of him. I have not attempted to bludgeon the Bill through in any way, and I do not think he is treating me fairly when he says that, unless the amendment be agreed to, he will “ stone- wall “ the Bill until 4 o’clock in the hope that it will never be heard of again. I am entitled to respectful treatment from the honorable senator, and, even if his threat were made in jest, it will not so appear in Hansard.
– I am very sorry if I have said anything which reflects on the Minister. I had no intention of doing so, and I most unreservedly withdraw any remarks of mine which bear that complexion. But I consider that I have just as much right to express my opinion on this Bill as has the Minister. I admit that he has not attempted to bludgeon the measure through in any way, and that he has met the criticism which has been levelled against it with a surprising amount of good temper. I honestly believe that if the Minister had anticipated the opposition which has been shown to this measure, it would never have been introduced. There will be some justification for the time wasted over it if the discussion will prevent the introduction of such trivial legislation in future. While that may not have been intended, it is, in effect, an insult to the Senate to bring such absolutely futile and inept legislation before it. I feel it keenly when, because of it, the Senate is delayed in the performance of duties which it might perform with honour and credit to the country. It is not what honorable senators who are opposed to the Bill have said, but the Bill itself that is reducing the work of the Senate to an absolute farce.
– One is rather surprised at the sensitiveness of the Minister of Defence in taking exception to Senator Rae’s remarks-
– One cannot be quite a worm.
– When the honorable member himself earlier in the debate made a statement to the effect that if Senator Rae lived to a great old age he would never get a medal for good conduct. That is another jest that will not appear as a jest in Hansard. I know that Senator Rae has a habit of telling unpleasant truths in an unpleasant way which hurts honorable senators opposite, because they do not like to hear the truth.
– In view of Senator Rae’s handsome withdrawal of the remarks to which I objected, I am quite prepared now to admit that he will get a goodconduct medal.
– I hope he will. There is another aspect of this measure which may be worthy of the Minister’s consideration. What will be the position if, after this Bill is passed, it is found to be in conflict with a State law ; if, for instance, the law under which pawnbrokers in New South Wales obtain their licences, permits them to take pledges of this kind? I do not pretend to be an authority on the Constitution, but I have grave doubts whether it gives us the right to interfere with the licences issued to pawnbrokers under a State law.
– This may lead to some poor man, without a shilling, having to spend a fortune in fighting a case in the High Court.
– I direct the attention of the Minister to Senator Vardon’s interjection. We on this side have had a lesson calculated to impress us deeply with the way in which the States resent any undue interference with their rights on the part of the Commonwealth. Only a few months ago the electors in several of the States told us to halt when we proposed an interference with what they regarded as State rights. I do not ‘know whether the Minister of Defence remembers the incident? It was so slight a matter that perhaps it should not be included in the same category as a great measure of this kind, but it was an instance of the resentment of the electors at the Commonwealth proposing to interfere with the right of State Parliaments to enact certain legislation. Perhaps, in the circumstances, we might have the opinion of the Attorney-General, or of the Crown Law officers, as to whether this Bill will not involve an interference with State laws.
– The Minister said that he would adjourn if he was requested to do so.
– It appears that such a request to have any effect must come from the Opposition side. I have no intention to “ stone- wall “ this measure, and I shall never be guilty of such a thing while I am a member of the Senate, but that is no reason why I should adopt the free-and-easy way of letting a measure pass, because it mav not be worth while to exert myself to oppose it. I do not say that the Minister made such a promise in so many words, but I sat down immediately when I was discussing the last clause, after the honorable senator made a statement, which 1 took to mean _ that that would be the last clause dealt with to-day. I think the further consideration of trieBill might well be adjourned until some of us get more information on the matter. If that course is adopted, I shall try to get some definite information on the point as. to whether the passing of this Bill would interfere with the business of people who are licensed under a State law, and is not something beyond the powers of this Parliament. The clause under discussion provides that -
A person shall not buy or receive in exchange, or receive by way of pledge or otherwise, any decoration that has been conferred on any person being or having been a member of the King’s Naval or Military Forces or of the Defence Force for service performed in or out of Australia.
The Government are proposing in. this clause to regulate the business of people whose business at the present moment is regulated by a State law in each of the States. Some persons may have a very lofty contempt for the business of a pawnbroker but such businesses would not flourish as they do if they did not receive the support of large numbers of people in the community. It appears that pawnbrokers are to be permitted to take apparel and almost anything else they like in pledge, but a naval or military war medal is to be a sacred thing on which they shall not be allowed to lend money. I think that the less law we have the better for thc.people, and we might well devote a very long session to the consideration of laws already on the statute-book that have become unnecessary. We are discussing a clause here, which, if passed, will never be given effect to. Let us consider the kind of case which might be brought before the Courts if this measure were passed. An unfortunate man meeting another might say, “ This is a medal I won in India in 1857 ; lend me a shilling on it that I may get a meal, because I have had nothing to eat for twenty-four hours,” and it is proposed to make it a crime for any one to lend a shilling on such a medal.
– So it ought to be a crime. He should give the man a shilling, and not lend it.
– He might be just as generous as Senator McDougall, but be unable to afford to give it. I ask the honorable senator to imagine what his feelings would be if, after the passing of this Bill, he were to see a case reported of a man being brought before a Court, and fined, because he lent some unfortunate individual a shilling on a war medal. I know what we should say if the other side tried to pass such a measure. Such a thing might happen if we pass this legislation, which is asked for by no one, but, perhaps, a few people who may rightly feel resentment against medals presented for services in war being treated as matters of no value. We have to consider how this clause would operate if passed. A man might be sufficiently high-spirited to refuse to take money as a gift, though he would be disposed to accept a loan, giving his medal as a pledge, but this clause would make such a man an offender against the law. It is repugnant to our feeling of right to make a man an offender unless he does something which is injurious to the community. This clause would prevent a man obtaining a loan .upon an article which was his own property.
– A medal does not belong to the holder, remember.
– That is exactly what I do not remember. I am not convinced by the Minister’s statement that medals do not belong to the holders. Then, take the case of a man who buys a medal which was conferred upon a soldier who has been dead many years, and has no living heirs. It may be that such a medal has passed through half-a-dozen hands. What sense is there in saying that the present holder of such a medal should be regarded as an offender against the law?* What will happen to an individual like myself, who may have a medal offered to him for sale, and may determine to buy it ? I might say, “ These medals are getting very scarce, and I do not mind giving the price asked for the specimen offered to me.” Why should I be regarded as an offender against the law because I am willing to make such a bargain? If the Government really want to stop medals being disposed of in this manner, why do they not impose a Customs duty upon them, and prevent them coming into the country? I am afraid, however, that this Bill has been introduced at the instance of a few military “ Johnnies,” who, because they wear gilded uniforms and have a few decorations, do not like to see medals similar to their own hanging in pawnshop windows. If these persons are displeased to see such things, let them buy up the medals themselves. However, I do not wish to “stone-wall” the Bill, and, though I have much else to say, shall sit down and give some one else an opportunity of speaking.
– If this discussion has done nothing else, it has produced a magnificent joke from Senator Vardon. But, incidentally, the_ honorable senator made a suggestion which may contain within it a serious point. It was that there was a possibility of this Bill being altogether unconstitutional. _ Is the Minister perfectly certain that this Government have a right to interfere with a man’s right to dispose of a medal which has been given to him by the King for services rendered as a member of the Imperial Army? If such a man comes to Australia, goes to a pawnshop, and obtains a loan on his medal, has the Commonwealth the constitutional right to prosecute him? Has the Commonwealth any control over medals which it has not conferred ? If a soldier who was so treated chose to take a case to the High Court, I am not sure that his contention would not be upheld. Of course, if he had only a few shillings, it would not matter very much if he embarked his whole fortune on testing the point, hut it might involve the Commonwealth in many thousands of pounds of expenditure.
– Does the honorable senator think that if a man had only a few shillings any lawyer would take his case into Court for him?
– Though a man may have only a shilling or two, the Judges, it is wise to assume, know the law of the land ; and I am not at all sure that they would not uphold the point that the Commonwealth Parliament has no right, by its legislation, to dictate what shall be done with a medal given to an old soldier by the King for services in the Imperial Army. Senator Vardon deserves credit for raising this interesting legal point. I am inclined to think that the Commonwealth has no more right to legislate with regard to a medal of that kind than it has to legislate concerning the possible inhabitants of Mars. I should be very much inclined, if I were a pawnbroker who had taken a pledge in this manner, to resist the law of the Commonwealth. If a policeman came into my mont it piete to execute this law of the Commonwealth. I should be inclined to take him by the slack of the nether portion of his garments and hurl him out into the street.
Progress reported under sessional order.
Senate adjourned at 4.1 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 6 October 1911, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1911/19111006_senate_4_60/>.