'Update law' to make it tougher for imposters

JARED MORGAN
Last updated 09:43 29/04/2011

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In the United States they call it "stolen valor" and it attracts a US$5000 fine, across the Tasman an offender could get pinged A$3300, and to impersonate a returned serviceman in New Zealand it is a fine not exceeding $40 or $500 – both figures are contained in the act.

In the aftermath of the discovery of a fraudulent Vietnam veteran in Invercargill, attention has been drawn to the legislation surrounding claiming to be a returned soldier, sailor or airman.

Awarua Returned Services Association president and Vietnam veteran Ian Beker said it was time for the anomaly to be addressed by Parliament.

The Military Decorations and Distinctive Badges Act 1918 was last amended in 1974.

Less wide-reaching than its US and Australian equivalents, the New Zealand legislation centres on fraudulently wearing military decorations not awarded to them.

The offences section of the act says the fine does not exceed $500.

However, the penalties section says one month's jail, or a fine not exceeding $40. It further says the amount $40 was substituted for 20 by the Decimal Currency Act 1964.

The discrepancy is not explained in the body of the act, but the lower figure equates to half the average weekly wage of $80 in 1974, according to Statistics New Zealand.

Adjusted to inflation, that wage equates to $841, while the fine becomes $420.

Either way, that fine needed to be revised, Mr Beker said.

"Here's an opportunity to link at it (the law) and see if they (politicians) are in sync with our Anzus partners.

Anzus – the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty – is the military alliance that binds Australia and New Zealand and, separately, Australia and the United States to co-operate on defence matters in the Pacific Ocean, although today the treaty is understood to relate to attacks in any area.

Mr Beker said the terms of that alliance meant all three nations "should be marching in step".

In Australia, under the Defence Act 1903, as amended, it is a federal offence to claim to be a returned soldier, sailor or airman, subject to six months' jail and a fine of up to $3300 (NZ$4470). It also says it is an offence to wear a service decoration to which you are not entitled, attracting additional penalties.

In the US, The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 broadened the provisions of previous US law addressing the unauthorised wear, manufacture or sale of any military decorations and medals. It made it a federal misdemeanour offence to falsely represent oneself as having received any US military decoration or medal. If convicted, defendants can be fined US$5000 (NZ$6210) and six months' jail.

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Royal New Zealand Returned Services Association national president Don McIver said he believed the act had simply not been "updated or upgraded".

"I do think it's an inadequate punishment."

A spokesman for Veterans' Affairs Minister Judith Collins said she was unavailable for comment yesterday, but he would raise the issue with her.

jared.morgan@stl.co.nz

- © Fairfax NZ News

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