Even symbolic species not safe

The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 December 2002.

It′s the battle of the kangaroo vs the unicorn. And it could even turn into a fight for the dolphin or the boomerang.

And no, this battle is not fought on the sporting field, but in and around courtrooms and historic buildings of NSW.

It is the battle over the state′s coat of arms, and opponents warn it represents republicanism by stealth, while supporters insist it symbolises NSW′s independence from Britain.

Even though the NSW coat of arms, featuring a lion and a kangaroo, was first granted almost 100 years ago, it is the lion and the unicorn - the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom - that still figure most prominently in the state′s courts. But all that is to change if a parliamentary committee has its way. The bipartisan law and justice committee has recommended the Government should pass legislation ordering the replacement of the royal arms with the state arms on any parliamentary building, courthouse, office, seal or document "as soon as practicable".

And the Government should also consider submissions to the committee on possible changes to the coat of arms. These included indigenous or native images and colours and a blue-nosed dolphin.

The MP behind the proposal to replace the royal arms, independent MLC Peter Breen, said NSW courts still contained about 500 royal coats of arms, but there were only about 10 state arms. Even the recently renovated foyer of the old Banco Court featured the royal arms, he said.

The lion and unicorn are also still used above the chair of the speaker and president in both houses of parliament, and on Supreme Court judgements.

But Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy warned that the committee′s attempts to replace the royal arms were undemocratic.

The group′s convenor, David Flint, told the committee it should not turn its back on history. "We see this - consciously or probably unconsciously - as change for the sake of change and part of creeping republicanism," he said.

"We suspect... that this will lead to a changing of the state arms ... and changes in the state flag and the national flag."

But Mr Breen said that although historical connections to England had to be "valued and treasured", it was "inappropriate to represent symbols of British power when conducting the affairs of NSW".

"This is just one more example of our hanging on to our heritage at the expense of our modern and democratic institutions," Mr Breen said.

The committee found that the state arms were the only appropriate arms to be used since the passing of the 1986 Australia Act, or perhaps even since they were granted by King Edward VII in 1906.

But it did say the royal coat of arms should remain if its removal would "destroy the heritage environment", although it should be joined by the state emblem.

The UK arms include the Scottish unicorn and the gold harp, for Ireland, the shamrock, thistle and rose. Motto: "Dieu et mon droit" ("God is my might")

The NSW arms also include a golden fleece and sheaves of wheat, signifying agriculture. The rising sun stands for a newly rising country. Motto: "Orta recens quam pura nites" ("Newly risen how brightly you shine").