Flagging

The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 November 1996, p.44.

Editorial

The two designs for a NSW flag that have gone on public display should provide the impetus for a new State flag. Both flags feature the State′s sky blue colours and a stylised version of its floral emblem, a waratah. One of the flags also carries the Southern Cross in a dark blue panel. The symbols and the colours on the flags are so resonant of NSW that inhabitants here will have no trouble recognising either flag as the State flag. There will be no trouble, as well, in remembering the detail of the new NSW flag. These are important considerations in the lead-up to Sydney′s 2000 Olympics. Part of the success of this occasion will be measured by the way Sydney and its emblems impress visitors with their authenticity.

The present flag is inappropriate for this task. A Herald AGB-McNair poll taken last year found that only 12 per cent of NSW people could accurately describe the NSW flag. Fewer people could remember all the flag′s symbols accurately. The flag, moreover, has no obvious links with this State. There is a Union Jack in the left corner and balancing it a white circle enclosing the Red Cross of St George with a golden lion at its centre. These symbols are placed on a navy blue background.

The State flag, which was adopted in 1876, is a construct of colonialism. Visitors will never be able to associate it with a State that has its own identity and culture. The flag was designed to conform with the requirements of the British Colonial Naval Defence Act of 1865. It was intended, in other words, to serve a British rather than a NSW purpose. The symbols on the flag and its colours are British and not NSW symbols and colours.

The new flag concept has won the support of former premiers of Liberal and Labor persuasions, the Lord Mayor of Sydney and a number of NSW sporting personalities. There should be widespread approval for the change which should not be seen as a sign of an imminent republicanism. This is an issue of the identity of NSW and not a constitutional issue. But to alleviate whatever fears that may arise, the NSW Government should introduce legislation next year into the State Parliament for a referendum on the new flag. The referendum could be run at the same time as the next State election in 1999. This timetable would allow for plenty of discussion before the vote - and a new flag in place for the 2000 Olympics.