An Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Thursday 28 March 1996
The Hon John Howard MP
Prime Minister of Australia
Parliament House
CANBERRA ACT 2600

Dear Prime Minister,

Congratulations on your resounding election victory.

I am sure that even those who voted against you were heartened by your victory speech in which you promised to govern "for all Australians". While we at Ausflag realise that you personally do not favour changing the National Flag of Australia, we know you will consider opposing views with an open mind.

The most recent AGB McNair poll found that 50 per cent of Australians favoured adopting a new flag in which the Union Jack is not featured, as opposed to 46 per cent against. A Newspoll survey has revealed that 59% of Australia's Olympic and Commonwealth gold medallists want a new flag (53% favour becoming a republic).

It is of course a truism that one can read virtually whatever one likes into statistics. The election-eve polls which gave Labor an even chance are a case in point. Nevertheless, I am sure you will agree that there is a considerable groundswell of support for change, especially, though by no means exclusively, from those under 50 years of age.

With the possible exception of New Zealand, whose flag is all too frequently mistaken for our own, it is doubtful that there is another democratic nation in the world where there exists such widespread dissatisfaction with the national standard. Excluding our trans-Tasman neighbour, Australia is the only remaining member of the 53 Commonwealth nations to have retained a colonial-period British ensign after gaining sovereignty and independence.

Clearly, the Australian Flag no longer fulfils its primary purpose of uniting all Australians, which we are glad to see is one of your promises. It may be that another flag can meet this need.

Ausflag respectfully proposes the following points for your consideration:

  1. It is our view that a "referendum" is inappropriate as this is not a Constitutional issue. The flag was not included by our forefathers in the Constitution and should not be confused with the referendum required for Australia to become a republic. This is supported in writing by the Australian Democrats (see attached letter from Senator Kernot). In spite of the several changes to the flags which have flown over Australia since 1788, no referendums have ever been required for the adoption of the new flags.

  2. That instead of a referendum, you consider holding a plebiscite based on the "National Anthem" precedent set by the Australian Government in 1977 under Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. The people of Australia were given the choice of several options, including the then National Anthem, God Save the Queen. Ausflag has always campaigned for a "plebiscite" on the Australian Flag. It has been a part of our Petition for many years (see attached copy). To date, the people of Australia have never been given the right to choose the Australian Flag.

  3. The proposal for legislation requiring a referendum before the Australian Flag could be changed may create anomalous and costly impediments (eg) if an extra point were required on the Federation Star should the Northern Territory become a state.

  4. 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.

  5. We request that you do your best to ensure that only Australian citizens be permitted to vote in such a plebiscite.

  6. We request that we be permitted reasonable representation at your proposed "People's Convention" in order that we may ensure that the issue of a new flag for Australia is not confused with the matter of Australia becoming a republic. Indeed, if the linkage continues to be promoted by the monarchists, then it becomes inevitable that a new flag will be required if we become a republic.

No Australian should fear open debate on this subject. To quote Dame Leonie Kramer from her article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 9 August 1995:

"If however, it is clear that all views may compete and in the process be modified, but that dissent from the majority view does not imply that the dissenter is either wrong or bent on being disruptive, then the democratic process is working well. The dissenters might in fact be proved right in the end."

Within the next month, we would like to circulate a copy of this letter and its attachments to all the members of the Parliament and other interested persons so that our aims and objectives are widely known. If you have any objection to this, please let us know.

The Australian Flag is an issue of great national importance. We are confident you will give it the priority and consideration it deserves and look forward to progressing these ideas and proposals at your earliest convenience.

Yours faithfully

(signed)

Harold C W Scruby
Executive Director
Ausflag