A question of standards

The Sunday Age, 20 August 2000.

Should the Aboriginal flag be flown and displayed by spectators at the Sydney Olympics?


YES

Geoff Clark, chairman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).

On Cathy Freeman′s right shoulder is a tattoo that simply states ′Cos I′m free". But is she?

Picture this. Freeman runs the race of her life and achieves her destiny - Olympic gold in the 400 metres in her own country before her own people.

During her triumphant lap of honor, she proudly displays a two-sided Australian and Aboriginal flag to celebrate all of her people and the powerful national unity forged by our love of sport.

Within minutes, her joy and that of an entire nation crumbles to dust as outraged Olympic officials tell Cathy she will be stripped of her medal. But Cathy has not cheated or taken illegal drugs.

In the eyes of Australian and international Olympics officials she has breached the laws prohibiting any display of her people′s flag in Olympic venues. Word is among our people that Aboriginal athletes have been officially forewarned that they risk forfeiting any medals won if they defy the ban on showing their flag.

And the fine print governing Olympic ticket sales and terms of admission makes it clear there will be no tolerance shown whatsoever towards the display of the flag in any Olympic venue.

These rules make clear that the "flags of non-participating countries" or the promotion of "race-related materials" are forbidden. We are told these rules are for the "safety and security" of ticket holders and others. There is nothing threatening about our flag. It is a symbol of our unity and strength, our relationship with the land and our pride in ourselves. Given the tragic history of our dispossession, it cannot be denied.

At these Olympics we will see close to a dozen Aboriginal athletes representing this country in soccer, weightlifting, boxing and track and field - an ideal opportunity for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal to celebrate. But we will be denied the opportunity to draw on the strength and power of our flag. Everyone will be given yet another reminder of how so often this country seems to prefer its indigenous people out of sight and out of mind.


YES

Harold Scruby, executive director, Ausflag Limited

In less than a month, the Australian flag will be on show to the world - a defaced British ensign, signalling that we remain a child still clutching to the bosom of a long lost empire. A veritable British branch office.

But the real travesty is the total lack of recognition and inclusion on our flag of our indigenous people. Their sentiments could not have been put better than by Lowitja O′Donoghue who said: "Our national flag should be a symbol of our national ideals and of the people we want to be. We regard ourselves as independent, individual and inclusive - but our existing flag, our national symbol, says none of this. Instead, it symbolises a narrow slice of our history including a significant period when the rights of Australia′s indigenous peoples were overlooked. For this reason, most of Australia′s indigenous people cannot relate to the existing flag. For us, it symbolises dispossession and oppression.

"It′s time to leave the Union Jack behind, along with other mementoes of our infancy as a nation. It′s time to agree upon a flag that has meaning ′for all of us′ - if you′ll forgive me for using that tainted phrase. It′s time to realise that a reconciliation movement has taken root in our community that needs symbols to help it along."

In 1997, the then chairman of ATSIC, Mr Gatjil Djerrkura (a director of Ausflag) said: "To the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the Union Jack is a constant reminder of oppression domination, genocide and dispossession. . . there can be no true reconciliation with the indigenous people of Australia while the Union Jack remains on the Australian flag."

Cathy Freeman, also a director of Ausflag, made a bold attempt to show the world her frustrations and aspirations by flying the Aboriginal flag at the Commonwealth Games.

In the early ′90s, the Australian Parliament proclaimed the Aboriginal flag an Australian flag. As such, our Olympic sportsmen and women and all Australian spectators have every right to fly it at the forthcoming Games. And those with any guts should come out and support Cathy Freeman and our indigenous people in their quest for a truly Australian flag. Our own flag.


NO

Kerry Jones, Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy.

There is no doubt that the Australian national flag is the only flag that should be flown and waved whenever an Australian represents us at the Olympics.

The Australian flag is the only flag that truly represents us all as Australians living in our wonderful democracy.

All other flags, including the Aboriginal and state flags, are important symbols representing particular groups in our community. But they cannot hope to capture the spirit of our entire nation.

The Australian flag is, I believe, the best in the world. The seven-pointer star symbolises our federation of six states and territories. Our geographic position in the world is shown by the stars of the Milky Way.

All Australians, including our Aboriginal ancestors, are united under the stars of our night sky. Our heritage and history is represented by the Union Jack. As much as some people would like to change the Australia we know and love, our working democracy ensures we all have a say through our democratic tradition.

Last year′s republic referendum was defeated resoundingly across the nation, in all six states and the Northern Territory. It was the republicans who sought to change our national flag. They wanted to disband the symbol of our heritage and past. They were rejected and our beautiful flag will fly proudly throughout the Olympic Games as a symbol of unity and celebration.

Our Aussie tradition of tolerance and fair go deserves to apply to our national flag as much as it does to our principles in our daily lives.


YES

Philip Benwell, national chairman, the Australian Monarchist League.

The ban on flags of non-participating nations at Olympic venues should be specifically spelt out to avoid confusion and potential legal implications. What qualifies as a flag of a participating nation? In Australia, we have at least 20 official flags plus a number of recognised flags of governmental and private bodies.

If, in Australia, the ban excludes all but the national flag, then SOCOG heavies will need to confiscate the Governor-General′s flag as he enters to open the Games, as well as flags of the New South Wales Premier and Governor. The Aboriginal flag is a recognised Australian flag and to prevent an Australian from carrying any official flag in a public place is a clear infringement of constitutional rights. What is of great concern is that what amounts to a multinational corporation is dictatorially using its immense legal authority in complete disregard of the constitutional rights of the people.

Nine months ago, the people voted to maintain our constitution, and yet governments have relinquished authority constitutionally vested in them to one or another of the Olympic bodies who are unanswerable to the people.

In Sydney, the Olympic Road Transport Authority has taken over control of traffic and the Olympic Coordination Authority has taken over certain areas of the city.

Australia has always given a warm-hearted welcome to strangers from other lands. We have always respected their culture and their different identities. To tell any visitor that they cannot carry proudly a miniature of their own flag in this country is unfair and un-Australian.

Under no circumstances must SOCOG overrule our democratic and free way of life.