Australians of the Year rally around as call goes out for a new flag

Sydney Morning Herald, 26 January 2011.

© Sydney Morning Herald

Australians of the Year rally around as call goes out for a new flag EXCLUSIVE John Huxley IN AN unprecedented show of strength and purpose, more than a dozen Australians of the Year dating back to the 1960s have declared their support for a new national flag. The present design causes confusion overseas and embarrassment at home, said Patrick McGorry, the 2010 award winner. "It′s time Australia grew up. Right now, it′s a bit like a slowly maturing, Generation Y adolescent, a 27-yearold who just won′t leave home," he said yesterday, calling on the nation to move into "independent adulthood". Professor McGorry, a mental health expert, who believes a new flag is now achievable on the way to the greater prize of a republic, is one of 15 to have signed a statement calling for change. Others include the Clean Up campaigner Ian Kiernan, swimmers Dawn Fraser and Shane Gould, and scientists Ian Frazer, Gustav Nossal and Tim Flannery. Ausflag, which drafted the statement, believes it can secure support from other award recipients. It is understood only a few of those approached withheld support. "This is a major breakthrough, backed by some of the nation′s most respected people," said Harold Scruby, who founded Ausflag in 1981. Timed to coincide with the usual Australia Day debate on national identity, the statement says the present flag "highlights and promotes the flag of another nation", Britain. We must boldly take the next step and define ourselves confidently and distinctly before the world. Our new flag must be unambiguously and inclusively Australian, representing all of us equally." The proposal, which conies after several unsuccessful moves to replace the flag, calls on Parliament to produce a design which, "like our national anthem, can be put to a plebiscite of the Australian people". Supporters concede that, like devising an acceptable model for a republic, designing a new flag will not be easy. Ausflag has promoted three design competitions: in 1986 before the bicentenary; in 1993 after Sydney won the right to host the 2000 Olympics, and in 1998, before the new millennium. Not surprisingly, though the signatories say the process should not be divisive, they have different views on the shortcomings of the present design and what might replace it. On one thing they agree: the change is long overdue. Professor McGorry, who was born in Ireland and has been a critic of Australia′s refugee policy, says there is no excuse for inaction. "I am sure some people will say, oh, ′this is not the time. Australia has other priorities′. But that′s pathetic. Governments can deal with dozens, hundreds of issues at one time." To continue ignoring the issue would only confirm a widespread feeling, apparent since the last federal election, that there was a lack of leadership in public life, he added. Mr Scruby said the Gillard government would, no doubt, like to "run a mile from the subject", but he was more confident than ever that the latest initiative could force it to act. Meanwhile, Ausflag is seeking formal commitments from former prime ministers such as Paul Keating, Bob Hawke and Malcolm Fraser.
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