Government accepts Ausflag advice

MEDIA RELEASE. Thursday 27 June 1996

... But Politicians Remain Silent

The Executive Director of Ausflag, Mr Harold Scruby, today applauded the Government's amendments to the Flags Act 1953, introduced into Parliament yesterday. He said:

We welcome Mr Howard's move which represents the first substantive parliamentary steps towards defining a process for the change of the Australian Flag. We are delighted that Mr Howard has resiled from his initial proposal expressed on Anzac Day 1996, where he initially sought to impose a Referendum to protect the current flag and prevent change.

We congratulate the Prime Minister on his decision to accept our advice outlined in points 1 and 2 of our letter to him of 28 March 1996. In doing so, he has clearly rejected the counsel of those such as former Senator John Stone, who had proposed a Referendum to enshrine the Australian Flag in the Constitution. Undoubtedly, Mr Howard realised that such a proposition would fail.

Fortunately, the first draft of this Bill which was expected to be presented to the Lower House last Wednesday, was withdrawn because it omitted a requirement to include the current flag in any future Poll. Undoubtedly at that stage, the Minister for Administrative Services had not had the benefit of reading our letter to Mr Howard which included the Ausflag Petition:

"Require that no new flag be proclaimed without a national plebiscite based on the precedent set in 1977 when Australians were given the choice of several tunes (including the old national anthem 'God Save the Queen')."

This Bill has a more balanced approach in that it promises to give the Australian people a genuine choice in a simple National Poll:

"a form of preferential voting for choosing among three or more flags and arrangements for adopting a new flag, if one is approved by the majority of electors."

Ausflag is confident that in such a vote, a high quality, truly Australian design would be favoured over the current anachronistic Australian Flag.

Now that he has set the wheels in motion, we eagerly look forward to Mr Howard's proposed time-table and also his agreement to the proposals in point 4 of our letter as it is vital that we have Our Own Flag in time for the 2000 Olympics:

"We request that you support and promote open and vigorous debate on the subject, devote sufficient funds for professional research and design and appoint a multi party Parliamentary Committee (following Canada's example). Alternative designs may then be properly considered in order that the Australian people will have the best possible choice or choices on which to vote at a plebiscite, preferably at the next Federal election."

There were, however, several other issues, which it is hoped Mr Howard and the Parliament will consider carefully:

  1. It is feared by many that the Bill may be unconstitutional. The overwhelming majority of constitutional lawyers agree that any Bill which seeks to bind future Parliaments is unconstitutional. Presumably, the Government has received contrary legal advice from the Solicitor-General and we request that this advice be published.

  2. We have some concerns that the Government could be seen to be seeking to compromise the Governor-General (a former High Court judge) by having him sign into law a Bill which may be unconstitutional.

  3. We are concerned that if, for example, the Northern Territory becomes a state (which the Prime Minister supports), then simply to add an extra point to the 7 pointed Federation Star (which currently contains six points representing the six states and one point representing the territories) would require a Poll of the people costing between $20 and $50 million. The amended Act should allow for minor or cosmetic changes to the Australian Flag without the need for a poll.

  4. While amending the Flags Act 1953, we urge Mr Howard to remove Section 8 of the Act:

    "Flying of Union Jack: This Act does not affect the right or privilege of a person to fly the Union Jack".

This section is anachronistic and discriminatory. It encourages such ridiculous behaviour as that recently seen in Queensland when the Speaker of the House 'put back' the Union Jack on Parliament House. How can there now be any reason to refer specifically to the Union Jack in an Act of Parliament defining the Australian Flag? Should this section remain, it must not discriminate. It should refer to all foreign flags equally.

We are extremely disappointed that the Prime Minister has failed to address the discriminatory and anomalous section of the Electoral Act which allows British Subjects to vote in our elections. No foreigners should have any say in our elections, referenda or plebiscites. The President of the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW, Mr Chris Puplick has strongly supported our views:

"I agree entirely with your proposition that non-citizens should be prevented from voting in crucial referenda on issues like the republic and the flag".

Mr Howard has promised that this amended legislation will ensure the Australian Flag can not be changed without the approval of the Australian people. This remains untrue and cannot be guaranteed unless British Subjects are completely excluded from the voting process. (Additional opinion by Carol Foley author of The Australian Flag also attached).