Howard to protect the flag

The Australian, 25 April 1996, p.1.

Vote only way for change

The Prime Minister, Mr Howard, will enshrine the current Australian flag in law in his first term of Parliament, ensuring no change can be made with out the approval of the Australian people. Announcing his plan on Anzac Day, Mr Howard has moved to sweep away the symbolic heart of the changes former prime minister Mr Paul Keating wished to make to the Australian national identity.

"The new Federal Government is to take action, as promised, to protect our great national symbol, the Australian flag," Mr Howard said in his Anzac Day statement. "This will mean that no politician, no political party and no special interest group will be able to tamper with the design of our flag."

The legislation will ensure the Australian flag cannot be changed without a referendum or plebiscite of the Australian people making it as difficult to alter the design of the flag as it is to change the Constitution. At present, the flag can be changed by the government of the day - by an Act of Parliament or simply by proclaiming a new flag, without changing the existing flag. Mr Howard is a fervent supporter of the blue ensign incorporating the Union Jack, while Mr Keating was a dogged opponent, folding it in Parliament to hide the Union Jack and removing it from the prime ministerial car.

Mr Howard tied the move to the theme of his election and campaign slogan – For all of Us – by saying Anzac Day under lined how important it was "for us to focus on the things which unite us rather than dwell on those things which could foster division". He set out his proposal in a prepared Anzac Day statement released to the press last night. As hundreds of thousands of Australians prepared to participate in Anzac Day commemorations today Mr Howard said: "It also means that as thousands of young children line the streets of cities and country towns waving our flag, all Australians can be assured that no one will be able to change our national symbol without the nation's consent."

By seeking to secure the existing flag through law, Mr Howard will confront the Labor Opposition and the Democrats with the dilemma of effectively confirming the existing flag. The Prime Minister's move is sure to win support from veterans' groups across the country today – many of whom opposed plans to change the flag on the grounds that it was the symbol under which they fought – and young people among whom the polls have shown increasing support for the flag.

Government sources said last night the decision to announce Mr Howard's plan was reinforced by public polls showing increasing support for the flag among young people. Mr Keating initially saw a change in the flag as part of Australia's progression towards a republic. However, Mr Keating, a committed republican, later moved to separate the two issues as polling showed increasing support for the flag, which could have jeopardised support for the republic.

Mr Howard who is personally committed to a constitutional monarchy, has described himself as an "unashamed and passionate supporter" of the present flag. "I gave this firm commitment to the Australian people during the election campaign and I am acting promptly to deliver on this promise," Mr Howard said.

As Opposition leader, Mr Howard promised to ensure the flag could not be changed without the consultation of the Australian people as part of his veterans' affairs policy. During the election campaign, it became an issue when Mr Howard questioned whether the ALP was secretly planning a change in the flag,- at a time when the NSW Labor Premier, Mr Carr, downgraded the position of the NSW governor without warning. Mr Howard said he was gratified that more young people were reflecting on "how lucky we are to be Australians".

© Ausflag 2017