Flag group sees red on giveaways

Herald-Sun, 14 May 2001, p.14.

By Harold Scruby
By Andrew Probyn

Federal politicians have been given the right to give away taxpayer-funded Red Ensign flags, the one-time candidate for the Australian national flag. The Red Ensign, a red version of the flag, was in use by private citizens from 1901 until 1954 because the Blue Ensign was reserved for government.

MPs and senators will now be able to distribute the Red Ensign as well as the national flag (Blue Ensign), the Aboriginal flag and the Torres Strait Islander flag. Last calendar year, federal politicians gave away flags worth $595,000 to schools, councils, churches and other groups, including RSLs. Special Minister of State Eric Abetz′s decision to include the Red Ensign in the flags program has angered Ausflag.

"The blue ensign is our only national flag and it should be the only one handed out, nothing else," Ausflag chief executive Harold Scruby said. Mr Scruby said the fact that Australia could have two official flags was absurd and outdated. "You wouldn′t find the Canadian Government handing out Red Ensigns, even though its soldiers fought beneath one in the World Wars," he said.

Ausflag is a voluntary, non-profit organisation that wants a truly Australian flag without Britain′s Union Jack.

In 1941, Prime Minister Robert Menzies directed there be no restriction on private citizens flying the Blue Ensign, though most people continued using the Red Ensign. Sir Robert was believed to favour the Blue Ensign because of the colour red′s growing association with Communism.

It was not until 1953 that the Flags Act made Sir Robert′s directive law with the Red Ensign becoming reserved for the merchant navy and the Light Horse Brigade.

Senator Abetz, a self-proclaimed republican, said the decision to include the Red Ensign in the Parliamentary Entitlements Act was correcting an anomaly in the 11-year-old legislation. Under the minister′s amendment, the Red Ensign can only be given to relevant military groups. RSL Victorian president Bruce Ruxton said he had no problem with the merchant navy serving under the Red Ensign.