House of Representatives, Thursday 12 December 1996
I rise today in the debate on this very significant Flags Amendment Bill to make a contribution not only as Minister for Veterans′ Affairs but also as the member for Maranoa. Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the link that my portfolio has with the ex-service community. I have listened with great interest to speakers on both sides of the parliament. Whilst I understand that the member for Brisbane (Mr Bevis) and the other side are supporting this bill, he did seem to be hedging his bets a little in suggesting that we need to have a mature debate about this. That probably underlies a lot of opinion on the other side of the House. They would like to change our flag by suggesting we need to have a mature debate about it.
Wherever I have travelled since becoming the Minister for Veterans′ Affairs, I have found that the ex-service community have no doubts in their minds as to the support they give to our Australian flag. It has always been important to the services of this nation. It is an issue that is raised with me constantly. When I raise the issue in terms of this amendment bill they break into spontaneous applause. It is a measure of the support that we have out there in the ex-service community for this amendment bill.
Another event to look back on is the very successful Australia Remembers celebrations last year on the 50th anniversary of the ending of the Second World War. To see people, young and old, lining the streets of our small country towns and our cities, waving our Australian flag so proudly, demonstrates to us all in this parliament and to legislators around this nation that the people of Australia, overwhelmingly, support the flag we have. The demonstrations last year that we saw in our streets during the celebrations which marked the 50th anniversary of the ending of the Second World War are ones that all members of parliament should hark back to. They were about the grassroots people of Australia demonstrating in a very meaningful way their support for our flag.
I also want to touch on the pilgrimage that I made this year to Vietnam, along with the shadow minister, the member for Cunningham (Mr Martin), who I acknowledge played a very important role in that pilgrimage to Vietnam, because it is very much linked with our flag and the ex-service community′s support for the military presence and the fact that they fought under our Australian flag. As I travelled with those Vietnam veterans and the widows of veterans who fought in Vietnam, that moment that I stood with them at a service at Nui Dat, where our task force headquarters were, gave me a much greater understanding of the price that was paid by so many hundreds of thousands of Australians who paid the supreme sacrifice defending freedom around the world and fighting for our flag. It just means so much to those people. The price that was paid really struck me as I stood at that small service on 18 August this year at Nui Dat in Vietnam.
For those who have served this country in times of war and conflict, and for those who stand ready to serve it today - and that is important; they stand to serve it should they be needed - our flag is a very special symbol to them. It symbolises what they are fighting for. It also symbolises where they have come from and where they have been and where they are going, and when we think back through the annals of military history it has never been any other way.
Look back at the great recruitment marches that used to come through rural Australia into our capital cities. There is an excellent exhibition down at the National Library on the First World War. The exhibition contains some of the memorabilia associated with the marches and with fighting `For king and country: follow the flag′, as it is called. It is a very good exhibition. The brochure which I have with me here in the House demonstrates that the flag has always been part of military history and has been so very important to our nation as a whole. One of the many publications on the history of our flag describes it like this:
The flag was carried into New Guinea at the outbreak of World War I by the naval and military force which captured the German colonies, by the cruiser Sydney in the first naval battle of the war, by the ANZACs who landed at Gallipoli and by the `diggers′ who spearheaded the victories in France in 1917-18. It was seen around the world again in World War II. When Singapore was retaken in 1945, the first flag to fly was an Australian ensign made secretly in a prison camp.
I also had the great privilege last year of attending the 80th anniversary commemorative celebrations in Turkey, and I attended on Anzac Day at Gallipoli. I was at Anzac Cove for that dawn service. I still remember - it is a very vivid memory - the people who attended that very small but very significant service on Anzac Day last year. Many young people, Australian and New Zealander backpackers, made their way out of their holidays to Turkey and then to Gallipoli for Anzac Day. To see them waving the Australian flag is another demonstration by the young people of Australia of their support for our Australian flag and what it means to them. They were clearly taking time out of a European holiday to be on Anzac Day at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli.
They were associating themselves not only with our flag but also with our history right back to Gallipoli and that first landing at Gallipoli. I believe most Australians feel that a lot of the Australian psyche and the Australian character were born on those beaches at Gallipoli.
The achievements have really been marked by the planting, or the raising, of the flag. Troops for so long have fought under flags. Those who have lost their lives have been buried with their flag. Victories have been celebrated with many flags.
The importance of the flag in military encounters is emphasised by Dr C.E.W. Bean′s history of the First World War. With reference to the operations to capture Passchendaele on 17 October, Dr Bean writes:
Only one Australian division, the 3(RD), was wholly employed in this day′s offensive. But that division was to capture Passchendaele, and, in spite of the depressing conditions, it was eager to achieve the distinction of doing so. One unit carried an Australian flag, to be planted in Passchendaele, and the Commander-in-Chief had been informed and had told General Monash, that, when this flag was planted, the news would be immediately cabled to Australia.
From Dr C.E.W. Bean′s history again, I quote the words of Lieutenant Rollings in France in 1918:
Enemy infantry surrendering very freely. Have sent scores back and killed scores, others running away. Enemy artillery nil. Have toured round Framerville and upset all their transport etc. Australian flag hoisted at 11.15 on German Corps HQ.
These men fought with the flag, they fought for the flag, and the job was not done till the flag was hoisted. The views of the ex-service community are very strong on the issue of our national flag. They express it quite simply. They fought for everything symbolised by our flag. It united them, at times it comforted them, and always it inspired them.
The issue we are addressing here is not the design of our flag. It is not a logo or brand or natty marketing device designed to win favour or a particular target market. It is a symbol for all Australians, for all that is good about being Australian. We should not be concerned with the merit or otherwise of the design of our flag, although personally I am very firmly of the view that our flag is not only a very beautiful flag but also very inspiring. It is a highly emotive flag.
The issue, quite clearly, is that our flag, and all that it symbolises, is far too important to be subject to change by political whim. Our flag means what it does because the people of this country have believed in it. It has been a constant in times of war, in conflict, in turmoil, in disaster and in depression, reminding us all of the freedom and equality and hope and opportunity that characterises this great nation of ours.
There have been contributions made about the linking of our Australian flag to great sporting events, whether it is on the football field or at the Olympic Games or the Commonwealth Games. So often in the sporting arenas we see people linking themselves to the Australian flag because of what the Australian flag means to them. It is a symbol. It is a national symbol. To see athletes at the Olympic Games proudly collecting an Australian flag and draping it around their shoulders and doing a victory lap of an arena or of a swimming stadium clearly demonstrates that it is a national symbol and one that should not be tampered with. It should only be through the united will of the Australian people that change should come about.
That is what this legislation does. It ensures that change can only come about through the will of the people, not a political party or an individual. That is why I am so pleased to be here at the dispatch box today supporting this amendment bill. It is a further demonstration that we are carrying out what we said to the people before 2 March. We said that, if we were given the mandate by the people of Australia, we would introduce legislation that would ensure that the flag could only be changed by the people and not by a political party or by an individual. We are now delivering on yet another of the promises that we gave to the people of Australia before 2 March.