Racism draped in flag

The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 January 2006.

Austrlaia has the world′s most unpopular national flag. If you ask citizens of Britain, the United States, Canada, France or any other Western democracy whether they think their national flag should be changed, in almost every case fewer than 10 per cent think so.

The dissatisfaction level rises to 40 per cent in New Zealand, but Australia tops the world with half the population expressing "no confidence" in the flag design.

Support for the Australian flag peaked in the early 1960s at about 70 per cent. Since then, support has declined steadily at an average of one half of one percentage point each year.

When a monopoly product with more than 100 years of free advertising and pump-priming by government still does not have resounding popular support there is only one possible conclusion - the product is faulty.

The response by supporters of the present design has been to embark on a campaign of indoctrination. They erect more flagpoles and insist on more schoolyard saluting.

But the field evidence is that the more some fly the Australian flag, the less popular it becomes with everyone else. It is ridiculous to believe that if 100 years of promotion has not been sufficient then 110 years might do the trick.

We are now at a vexillological crossroad, and with the riots in Cronulla in December, we also have a dangerous development in how the Australian flag is used.

Ausflag has always been aware that the Union Jack in the corner could be used as a cultural and racial wedge, a means by which white, Anglo Australians could remind everyone else that "you are not, and will never be, considered truly Australian".

Regrettably, the Cronulla riots saw this come to pass. Never before has this country seen the national flag used so aggressively to put non-Anglos back in their place. But the signs have been there for a long time. Most white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups in Australia bind themselves rootand- branch to the Union Jack on our flag.

When One Nation burst onto the scene, Pauline Hanson was photographed draped in the flag, the Union Jack proudly on her shoulder. And now we have Cronulla. The national flag as racial wedge and cultural sledgehammer has gone mainstream.

Those who profess to love the flag need to reflect deeply on what has happened. Are they troubled that the flag is being used for overtly racist and divisive purposes? Do they care that more and more Australians find this alienating and offensive?

To those who think this is nonsense, reflect upon this: if the Australian flag did not contain the Union Jack and instead celebrated our multicultural reality, how many neo-Nazis, white supremacists and Anglo racists would wave the national flag with aggressive and exclusionary intent? Answer: none.

Some argue that removing the Union Jack would somehow betray "our" heritage, but you never hear Aboriginal or non-Anglo Australians use that argument, for obvious reasons. The Union Jack is not heritage to everyone.

And to suggest that "heritage" can only be satisfactorily symbolised by stealing the flag of another country and bunging it in the corner demonstrates a serious lack of imagination. Almost no other country in the world, apart from New Zealand, thinks it necessary to do this.

East Timor, for example, did not include the flag of Indonesia in the corner of its new flag when it became independent in 2002.

And when Canada removed the Union Jack from its flag in 1965, Canadians fell in love with their new maple leaf flag. Arguments that the new flag somehow offended those who served under the old ensign quickly faded. It is now proudly draped on the coffins of ex-servicemen, and the Canadian Monarchist League displays it on its website.

The way forward is simple. Ausflag has a detailed plan for how Australia can democratically choose a new flag, culminating in a national vote for the top one or two designs against the incumbent.

Remaining on the present path is not an option. The existing flag will continue to decline in popularity and eventually be overthrown in disgrace and dishonour when its approval rating falls into the teens.

Or we can retire this flag gracefully and democratically, and finally give Australia a flag which represents inclusion and tolerance - and is never waved at a racist rally again.

Dr Brendan Jones is a director of Ausflag.

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