Facsimile from Malcolm Turnbull to Harold Scruby, 5 April 1993

Telefax To: Harold Scruby
Fax No: 953 9400
From: Malcolm Turnbull
Fax No: +(61 -2) 223 5180
Date: 5 April 1993
No of Pages (including this page): 2

Dear Harold,

I am not going to be able to make it to Cremorne at 4.00pm tomorrow, so my apologies. Please give my best wishes to Janet and the rest of the Ausflag directors.

I do however wish to get together with you all and wonder whether we could have a meeting at another time. If the city is more convenient my office is always available for seditious gatherings of this kind.

There are a few comments I have on your letter which I would be grateful if you could circulate to the rest of the directors:

  1. I disagree that it is easier to get a new flag than a republic. Your are right in saying that a new flag does not require a constitutional referendum, but it is far too late in the day for any government to contemplate a flag change without at least a plebiscite. A constitutional change does require both a national majority and a majority in four out of six states. It is important to bear in mind however that while only eight out of 42 constitutional referendums have been approved, of the 34 rejected proposals only five were supported by a majority of voters across Australia and only three of those attracted majority support in half the States. So while it is correct that on paper the mechanics of a flag plebiscite are less formidable than those of a constitutional referendum, experience suggests that the "four out of six states" requirement is not so material.

  2. There is no question that the republic is much, much more popular than the flag. I have been successful in winkling Liberals out of the closet on the republic issue, but all of them have said to me "Don't touch the flag!". The problem with the flag, of course, is that it is an Australian symbol (while the monarchy clearly is not), but it is, in our view, insufficiently distinctively Australian and reflects political realities which are now long past. Nonetheless, to many Australians it is distinctively Australian.

  3. Before we can take the flag debate much further we need to have a really compelling alternative design, and this I understood was the objective of Ausflag. In this respect Canada was much better off than Australia because the maple leaf had been a graphically distinct Canadian emblem for a century before the flag was changed. It is fair to say also that their old flag was much worse than ours.

  4. So my feeling is that the flag is far from being a catalyst for a republic, and that pushing the flag together with the republic is likely to ensure we get neither. I believe that the republican issue is now on a roll and that we should work to get the republican goal achieved in the knowledge that as that becomes closer to realisation other national emblems and symbols will be reconsidered. At the same time we need to keep looking for that compelling design.

  5. On the design, I must confess I am fairly deficient in a visual sense and have been known to forget the colour of my own car! However, it does seem to me that the southern cross design (as displayed in the blue & white flag) is a strong Australian symbol. The criticism is that it is too dull and needs some red to spice it up. l am not sure that any of the red, white and blue flags are compelling. Have you tried making the stars red, or edged in red?

  6. I trust my remarks about the republic / flag issues do not offend. I think the great advantage the republic cause has over the flag is that with the republic we are trying to replace a thoroughly foreign symbol (the Queen) with a clearly defined Australian one. With the flag we are trying to replace an Australian symbol (albeit insufficiently distinctively Australian) with an as yet undefined new Australian symbol.

Regards,

(Signed)
Malcolm Turnbull
Turnbull & Partners Limited A.C.N. 003 267 427
Telephone +(61 -2) 223 5899 Facsimile +(61 -2) 223 5180
1 Chifley Square Sydney * GPO Box 4298 Sydney NSW 2001 Australia