Flags Amendment Bill 1996

Introduced into the House of Representatives, Wednesday 26 June 1996

David Jull, Minister for Administrative Services

Mr Speaker,

I move that this bill be now read a second time.

This Bill seeks to ensure that the Australian National Flag cannot be changed unless the people of Australia have been consulted and a majority of those voting indicate their support for a different design.

The Government believes that the people of Australia are entitled to be consulted about their nation's symbols. Nowhere is this more important than with the Australian National Flag - our oldest and most important national symbol.

Our National Flag has a history which goes back to 1901 when its design was selected after a public competition which attracted over 30,000 entries.

The existing National Flag is declared in section 3 of the Flags Act 1953 and its design is reproduced in a schedule to the Act.

Mr Speaker, when the Flags Bill was introduced in 1953 it received enthusiastic bipartisan support. I trust that this bill which gives legislative expression to the commonly held view that any change to the Flag is a matter for the Australian people will receive equally enthusiastic support from all sides of the House.

I now turn to the detail of the Bill.

The Bill does not seek to override the right of Parliament to legislate. Any new flag which might be chosen would become law by the action of Parliament. What this Bill does say in subsection 3(2) is that the current National Flag shall only cease to be the Australian National Flag if, and only if, the majority of the Australian electorate have approved an alternative design. This section also requires that the existing National Flag will always be amongst the choices offered to the electorate.

Subsection 3(3) of the Bill leaves Parliament to prescribe the manner in which a proposal for any alternative design or designs for a new Australian National Flag should be submitted to the electors, the manner in which the vote is to be taken, and the arrangements that might need to be put in place if an alternative design is ever selected as a new National Flag.

The key intent of this legislation is to reflect the principle that the Australian National Flag belongs to the Australian people; and that the Australian people have the right to be consulted in any proposal to change the Flag.

Mr Speaker, this Bill provides the Parliament with the means to give to the people of Australia, a guarantee that they will decide if the National Flag, their National Flag, should be changed.

It is a flag which was chosen by Australians, it is the flag the people of Australia have been united under since federation. It has been the symbol of our nationhood and our community for five generations.

It is the only flag flown over a whole continent. It symbolises our history, our geography and our system of government.

It is the flag Australian men and women have served so well under in times of war. It is the flag under which we have claimed sporting glory. It is the flag under which this very Parliament meets - it flies above this very chamber as a reminder of the sovereignty of the people.

We are committed to recognising that sovereignty by giving the Australian people the right to decide the future of their National Flag.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Subsequent Parliamentary Debates



Schedule 1. Amendment of the Flags Act 1953

At the end of section 3 add:

(2) The blue flag referred to in subsection (1) ceases to be the Australian National Flag if, and only if:
  (a) a new flag or flags, and the flag referred to in subsection (1), are submitted in each State and Territory to the electors qualified to vote for the election of members of the House of Representatives; and
(b) the new flag, or one of the new flags, is chosen by a majority of all the electors voting.
(3) The form and manner in which a proposal for a new Australian National Flag is submitted to electors, and the manner in which a vote on the proposal is taken (which may include the adoption of a form of preferential voting for choosing among 3 or more flags), and arrangements for adopting a new flag as the Australian National Flag if chosen as mentioned in subsection (2), are to be as the Parliament prescribes.
(4)

In this section: Territory means any Territory referred to in section 122 of the constitution in respect of which there is in force a law allowing its representation in the House of Representatives.


Clause Notes

Clause 1: Short Title
This clause cites the Act as the Flags Amendment Act 1996. The Flags Act 1953 is the principal Act.

Clause 2: Commencement
The commencement of the Act shall be the date of royal assent.

Clause 3: Schedule of amendments to the Flags Act 1953
The Schedule inserts three subsections, after section 3 of the Flags Act 1953, which is the section of the Act that defines the existing National Flag.

Subsection 3(2) provides that the current National Flag ceases to be the National Flag if, and only if, a new flag or flags and the existing National Flag, have been submitted to the electorate and a majority of the electors voting have approved a new flag.

Subsection 3(3) provides that the form and manner in which a proposal for a new National Flag is to be submitted to the electorate; the manner in which the vote is to be taken (which may include the adoption of A form of preferential voting for choosing among three or more flags); and arrangements for adopting a new flag, if one is approved by a majority of the electors, are to be as the Parliament prescribes.

Subsection 3(4) ensures that electors who are qualified to vote in elections for representatives to a territory in the House of Representatives are qualified to vote on any proposal for a new flag.