Turnbull stars in double-cross on flag

The Australian, Friday 20 August 2004.

According to defenders of the Australian flag, it is simply a case of Malcolm Turnbull seeing the light.

But the colleagues alongside whom he fought 10 years ago for a new flag describe him as "Australia's consummate chameleon".

Mr Turnbull, for six years until 1994 a director of Ausflag, the organisation campaigning for a new Australian flag, has joined its arch-rival, the Australian National Flag Association, dedicated to preserving the existing flag.

It is another step in the evolution of Mr Turnbull, who was appointed by the Keating government to head the Republican Advisory Committee, led the subsequent republic campaign into the unsuccessful 1999 referendum and now aspires to be the Liberal member for the Sydney seat of Wentworth in a government headed by Australia's leading monarchist, John Howard.

The Australian National Flag Association, which includes the Prime Minister among its members, wrote to Mr Turnbull early this year inviting him to join. He replied in March, enclosing his membership application, the joining fee of $15 and an additional donation of about $35.

"As you are probably aware, it is a long time since I canvassed the desirability of changing our flag and despite the allegations to the contrary I am a convinced supporter of our national flag," he wrote to honorary secretary Ted Eggins.

The association's NSW branch president, John Vaughan, said: "I think he has seen the light. I really think he has thought it over and he realises all the polls show the flag is very, very popular."

But the news brought an angry reaction from Ausflag executive director Harold Scruby. "This man is Australia's consummate chameleon. It brings to mind the saying that politics is like rowing, because you can face one way and go the other. Ausflag is awarding Malcolm Turnbull Olympic gold in single political sculling."

In 1994, Ausflag successfully demanded Mr Turnbull's resignation as director after he said the flag issue was "going nowhere". In 1996, his investment banking company, Turnbull and Partners, sponsored an exhibition of flag designs.

Mr Turnbull said yesterday he had become convinced over time that there was not a compelling alternative design for the flag.

While Mr Turnbull remains a republican, he believes there should not be another referendum without overwhelming public support for change and that this is unlikely while Queen Elizabeth remains on the throne.