Kennett flags a new day dawning

The Age, 27 January 1998.

By Louise Martin and Sushila Das

The Australian flag in future would carry an Aboriginal symbol rather than the Union Jack, the Premier, Mr Jeff Kennett, predicted yesterday. His comments came as Ausflag′s release of 100 new flag designs sparked heated debate.

Speaking after the Australia Day flag-raising at Parliament House yesterday, Mr Kennett said the flag′s design should not be a matter for present debate. "But I suppose one day the Aboriginal flag could replace the Union Jack. But looking at the Australian flag... how could you really want to pull it down, tear it up and throw it away?"

Mr Kennett′s prediction was instantly dismissed by Mr Harold Scruby, the executive director of Ausflag, a non-Government organisation lobbying for a new flag before 2000. He said incorporating the Aboriginal flag would be against the wishes of most Aborigines.

"The Aboriginal leaders I have spoken to don′t want that," he said. "They want their flag to remain their flag too, and if we take that, we have got the trifecta: their land, their children and their flag."

Mr Scruby said Ausflag′s Internet web-site had recorded 92,000 hits on Sunday by people anticipating the release of the designs. This was significantly higher than the site′s previous record of 12,000 visits.

Ausflag announced its competition for flag designs in June. Mr Scruby said the plan always was to release them to coincide with Australia Day.

In Perth, the Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, said he saw no valid argument for changing the flag. "I am not in favor of a change, I see no argument for a change," he said. "I have never seen a flag that comes anywhere near approaching the Australian flag."

But he said he welcomed the debate on such symbols and the flag would change if that was the will of the people.

"A nation has symbols, but a nation always has its substance and I think those things are important," Mr Howard said. "But the substance of the nation, the character of the nation, what a nation stands for, is even more important than its symbols."

But with less than a week before the Constitutional Convention begins, many monarchist and republican delegates were sensitive about discussing Ausflag′s designs.

Mrs Janet Holmes à Court, an Australian Republican Movement delegate, is on Ausflag′s board, but the ARM believes the debates about a flag and a new constitution should be conducted separately.

The ARM′s Victorian campaign director, Mr Frank McGuire, did not make any Victorian delegates available to be interviewed.

Ms Wendy Machin, the deputy chairwoman of ARM and a Sydney delegate to the convention, said anyone who "thought for more than five minutes" would realise that changing the flag and the Constitution were separate issues.

Before hanging up the phone, Mr Bruce Ruxton, a delegate for the Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy, said the designs "look like a whole lot of chocolates in a box, wrapped in chocolate paper, toffee paper, OK? Did you expect me to be impressed?"

Ms Mischa Schubert, the delegate for the youth team, Republic4U, said it was "fantastic" that the Ausflag designs were released as people were debating the future shape of the nation.

"I think that if Australia does become a republic, then having a new symbol to honor that change is critical... They are about the same recognition of our national independence."