It's due time to scrap the Jack

The Australian, 26 January 2001, p.13.

By Harold Scruby
Harold Scruby is the executive director of Ausflag

Enough of British fawning... let′s update our flag

Jerry Seinfeld summed it up perfectly when he so cynically observed: "I love your flag - Britain at night." Behind Seinfeld′s extraordinarily cutting remark lies a truism which many Australians just can′t and won′t accept. To the world, our flag is a British flag.

And in spite of the best publicity which can be given to any flag - the Olympic Games - our flag remains the unambiguous symbol of some unrecognisable, British branch office. A nation′s flag is its supreme marketing symbol. However recent events have emerged which prove conclusively that the Australian flag is a commercial disaster.

The outbreak of Mad Cow disease in Britain has meant that British beef is now seriously on the nose, not to be touched with a Belgian barge-pole. While this is a devastating occurrence for the European beef industry, it presents a great marketing opportunity for Australian beef. But would anyone with an IQ greater than their shoe-size place the Union Jack dominated Australian flag anywhere within cooee of even a sliver of Australian beef jerky?

Blind to the consequences, most monarchists don′t really give a fig about the Australian parts of our flag. It′s only the British bits they care about. Want proof?

Several years ago, the Monarchist League proudly launched their web-site. Unfortunately they embarrassingly chose the New Zealand flag to proclaim their sycophancy.

Arch monarchist Kerry Jones, protector of all things yesterday and defender against all things tomorrow, wrote in August 2000 (quote): "The Australian flag is, I believe, the best in the world. The seven-pointer (sic) star symbolises our federation of six states and territories. Our geographic position in the world is shown by the stars of the Milky Way."

Then again in August 2000, on Sydney radio, she was asked six times to state the number of stars on the Australian flag. Showing the deft skills of a professional boxer, she ducked and weaved, describing its beauty and meaning. Finally cornered she answered: "Four".

Only last week, Bronwyn Bishop had to admit that the "Australian" flag she′d had painted outside her electorate office, was not only in the wrong position, but had the incorrect number of points on the stars. Of course she blamed the "tradesman" but promised no public floggings.

Last but not least, apart from seditiously defacing the Australian flag by sticking his rejuvenated visage right in the middle of it, Dick Smith must have created the worst and most confusing labelling and advertising campaign known to mankind.

Dick Smith promotes Britain?

Why, when you′re trying to commendably launch a range of "Genuine Australian Foods", would you use a foreign flag, the Union Jack, and then place it where it dominates the entire brand? How stupid! How naive! Can you imagine trying to sell an "Aussie Vegemite" beef-extract product to the world with a Union Jack dominating the label.

So how does a marketing expert view the problem? Roger James, Victorian President of the Australian Marketing Institute could not have put it more eloquently:

"From a marketing point of view we need to consider the role and purpose of the ′national brand′ and the personification of its identity, as seen in our flag.

"Since the euphoria of the Olympics there has been a great deal written about what might be called ′national pride′. But often it seems that Aussies have been short-changed in this characteristic, particularly when we compare ourselves to our cousins across the Pacific. Nowhere is this more pungently and poignantly illustrated than in the national flags of our two countries. The stars and stripes, possibly the most powerful banner ever designed, evokes universal acclamation in the US, while our flag engenders ennui, except among the royalists and RSL types.

"Perhaps Ausflag is right, and the symbols and ideas associated with the current ensign are simply not able to fulfil the task of helping build Australian identity in the 21st century. What we need to find are universal themes, enduring philosophies and an evocation of spirit that is suitably national, but takes us beyond the often jingoistic values of the past."

On Australia Day 2001, 100 years after the unfurling of our British ensign, we remain, in the eyes of the world, obliviously girt by sea, symbolically subordinate and culturally colonial.

But far worse, in a year when we are pretending to celebrate Reconciliation, we continue to cling to a flag, which, to our indigenous people, is a symbol of oppression, invasion, domination and genocide. A flag which gives no recognition whatsoever to their status as the original inhabitants of this continent. A flag which is the utter antithesis of Reconciliation. A flag which subliminally proclaims that if you′re of British decent, you′re superior to all other citizens of this country.

On Australia Day 2001, we must all raise the gaze from the navel to the flag-pole and ask ourselves honestly: "Is this a flag which represents us all equally? Is this a flag which is unambiguously and unequivocally Australian? Is this the flag of a sovereign, independent, egalitarian nation? And is this the flag we expect to fly over Australia for the next 100 years?"