Loyalists in a flap over republican flag plans

The Sydney Morning Herald, 3 October 1997, p.6.

By Leonie Lamont

The poor Australian flag is under pressure these days. Pauline Hanson drapes herself in it, and yesterday the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy went a step further. They hijacked the flag to their cause, denying republicans any right to use the national symbol.

At yesterday′s launch at Parliament House, a theatrette full of flag-waving Australians semaphored in the 20-member team on the No Republic - ACM ticket for the Constitutional Convention.

Speaker after speaker focused on the flag. One could be forgiven for thinking the convention is a referendum on the flag, rather than a vote for delegates to thrash out whether there should be a republic.

Desperate tactics? No, said ticket leader Mr Doug Sutherland. "I rather suspect the majority of those pushing the republic movement want to change the flag, so if they end up with control the flag will be the first thing to go... The republicans will let the flag go then the anthem will go because it′s politically incorrect."

And don′t forget, he warned, the Australian Republican Movement′s Mr Malcolm Turnbull is a "card-currying" member of Ausflag, hawking king alternative flags around the country.

And what is to be made of ACM′s own literature? While its candidates were variously described as "registered nurse" or "student" or even "Australian born of Czech parents", law professor David Flint was described as "Eurasian". Professor Flint said he hadn′t noticed it and wasn′t offended. "We quite often refer to people by their ethnic origin if they don′t happen to belong to the majority in society," he said.

Some candidates - such as Ms Patricia Feodosiu - spoke from an emigre experience, fleeing other republics for the stability of Australia. Others simply said a system that wasn′t broke didn′t need fixing.

Liberal frontbencher Mr Michael Photios, who hosted the launch, challenged republicans to put up a model. "For far too long the republicans have thought they are a trendy bandwagon heading for victory; from now on it gets hard for them... it′s going to be about a model. The majority of those who support a republic want an elected head of state. The leadership of the republican movement cowers in the face of their own supporters′ wishes and determination. Those who support a minimalist approach are hiding from their own supporters," he said.

The thought of an elected president, and the injection of another layer of party-political life, was a dark spectre for the monarchists. Candidate Mr Malcolm Brooks was in agreement with Winston Churchill, who said "the importance of the crown is not in the power it possesses, but the power it denies others".