PM's flag call branded crass

The Brisbane Courier Mail, 26 April 1996.

Prime Minister John Howard was accused yesterday of politicising Anzac Day by announcing his intention to legislate to protect the Australian flag. Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley, while supporting such a move, said "It's a crass political point to make on the one day of the year."

Ausflag, the non-profit organisation which has pushed for a flag change for more than 15 years, also at attacked Mr Howard's choice of day to raise the issue. Ausflag chief executive Harold Scruby said the issue was divisive and was raised on a day when the country should be united.

Mr Howard announced in his Anzac Day statement that the Government would fulfil its electron promise to write into the Flags Act the need for a referendum or plebiscite to change the flag's design. The amendments would be introduced early In the new parliament sitting period, which begins next week. Currently, the flag's design can be changed by the Government through an Act of Parliament.

The RSL said there was no better day to reassure the nation that its national symbol could not be changed overnight. Mr Howard, asked whether he believed restating an election pledge on Anzac Day was politicising the day, gave a firm "no". RSL chief Major General Digger James said the RSL had been very concerned for some time about moves to change the flag. "I think it was a most appropriate day to talk about the flag" he said. "I certainly am pleased with Mr Howard's comments."

Mr Howard said his proposition was simply that the flag did not belong to the prime minister of the day, or the government of the day. "It is a great national symbol for all of the nation and if there is to be a change then that change would only occur as a result of all of the Australian people being given a say," he said.

Mr Beazley attacked the move as political. "It Is a curious legislative priority for Mr Howard to adopt, given that there is no mainstream political movement to change the Australian flag, he said. "The ALP has no plan to seek any change to the Australian flag but obviously any move by any political party in the future should require a popular vote." Mr Beazley said former prime minister Paul Keating had always said the flag would only be changed by referendum.

Mr Scruby said he believed Mr Howard's legislation would not pass the Senate and, like the national anthem, the Australian people should be given a choice. He said the current flag was no longer appropriate and there would be very few people who would get a lump the throat or shed a tear for it.

Earlier, Mr Howard was among 8500 people who gathered at the Australian War Memorial to commemorate Anzac Day. He laid a wreath in Australia's national colours of green and gold on the Stone of Remembrance and a single flower on the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier.