The Senate, Thursday 5th March 1998
I support the Flags Amendment Bill 1996, but I do so as a means of clearing the decks for action. I, like everybody else here, move around the country a lot and the feedback I get is that there is enormous interest in the prospect of changing our flag to bring us into the 21st century and to give us a flag which more appropriately reflects Australia at the end of 20th century rather than at the start of the 20th century. The opinion polls are changing. It is not going to be long before they will be reflecting majority support for that course of action. I am sure they would have already had there been a clear consensus on what the alternative should be.
The next thing for the government to do is commit itself to giving Australians an opportunity to take part in the design of a new flag which Australians can be proud of as we enter the next millennium. I think many Australians would feel that, for example, the Olympics would be a great time to have a new flag symbolising this country and for people to feel that Australia is no longer part of the British empire and secondary to anybody else but a clear, proud, independent part of the community of nations.
The question is: where to next? There ought to be government moves to give the designing of the flag to the people. The popularity of the Constitutional Convention shows that the Australian people want to be involved. We should now devise the means of allowing them to be involved. Those people who do not feel that a change in the flag is warranted or wanted at this time have nothing to fear.
My reading of it is that there is enormous interest in a new flag. You only have to see the reaction there is to newspaper and other media competitions or polls to allow people to vote on new flag designs to see how keen that interest is. Let us get on with devising a new flag – whether it is taking the current flag and simply removing the Union Jack and raising the Federation Star to complement and balance the Southern Cross to a new design. Let Australians take part in that process. Let the parliament take Australians into its confidence and start the process of allowing people to be involved in a move towards a new design which is going to give Australians the feeling of distinction which the Canadians get out of their new flag. It has been many decades since Canada dropped the Union Jack and the confusing symbolism of its old flag. It is time we did the same.
I am an enthusiast for this. Not all those people around me agree. Many people feel that flags are of no significance. I note that it was stated in the second reading speech that the Australian national flag is our oldest and most important national symbol. It is not. The country itself, the nature of its land forms, its wildlife, its flora and its indigenous people are much older and more enduring symbols than the flag that has been with us for 100 years. That is a point to dwell on. There is much more symbolism about a country than the pennant which is taken up a flag pole on ceremonial and other occasions. It is nevertheless part of how a country identifies itself. It is time for change in Australia. I am an enthusiast for that change. I would inveigle the government to next think about how it is going to put this across to the people.