Parliamentary Debates

House of Representatives, Wednesday 11 December 1996

Gary Hardgrave (Liberal Party of Australia) – Member for Moreton (Qld)

I am also delighted to support the Flags Amendment Bill 1996. With its presentation in this place today, a great majority of Australians have breathed a collective sigh of relief. They are the ones who are quite the opposite to those angry, loudmouthed minorities who want to change the Australian flag - the flag which has united us as a people for almost 100 years.

There are many people in this country who were worried about the approach of the former Prime Minister and many others who were running in his pack who saw the flag and other national symbols as up for grabs – as theirs to change as they would like. They wanted to chop and change them around with little regard of the view of the broader Australian community. This quite simply was a very wrong attitude and contributed to the collective reasons for the decisive view which Australians expressed on 2 March.

Those who, back in the budget week, around 22 August, burnt the Australian flag near Old Parliament House should be charged with an offence. I consider such an act on such a day as one against all Australians, because it is quite simply treasonous in my submission to treat our flag in such a way. It is a direct attack on all of us who want to work together as a united community. It is not a vote for free speech to burn our national symbols; it quite simply is a vote for anarchy. It is simply not good enough, and I and so many other Australians were deeply offended by such an action on such a day.

It is certainly time for all of us to stand up and support our national symbols to bring this country together and to work on those things which unite us and not highlight those things which could divide us in the hands of those who want to. There is no need to change our Australian flag. As a Liberal, in a traditional sense, I certainly support change - change when it is worth while. So, to those who want to change the Australian flag, the constitution, our system of government and all the other things which are important as national symbols of Australia, I say prove your case on its merits, not by attacking the current laws, the current traditions and the current symbols which have protected us and united us so well for so long. Prove your case - prove we can have something better. It is a very difficult thing for those who are advocating change to prove.

This flag of Australia is not mine; it is not the Prime Minister′s alone. It is the flag for all Australians. It is the flag for war, the flag for peace. It has been the rallying cry in times of trouble and in times of triumph. It is the flag which has dictated our history and our place in the world geographically. It is the flag which hundreds of thousands of Australians have, sadly, died for, fighting to defend our country and our way of life. To change our Australian flag is to spurn their contribution. To change the flag would be an act conceived in ignorance and selfishness.

There is great interest in the Australian flag in my electorate which certainly reflects the solid support for the flag right across our nation. I am pleased to record how many schools have sought refreshed copies of the Australian flag from my office. I have been pleased to arrange for, and in most cases present, flags to schools like Upper Mount Gravatt State School, Moorooka State School, Wishart State School, Rochedale State School, St Joachim′s Parish School at Holland Park, just to name a few. Other community groups who want to see the Australian flag flying proudly in my electorate have included Stephen′s RSL and Sunnybank Bowls Club. They have sought new copies of our Australian flag so they can tell all around them and their members they are proud to have it on their flagpoles.

The people of my electorate of Moreton want this flag to stay. Young and old, they have gained a renewed sense of the importance of our national symbols. This, I submit, is one of the great successes of last year′s Australia Remembers commemorative year. Young Australians have now learnt a greater regard for the importance of this wonderful national symbol.

One of my constituents, Austin Wilkins, has been the honorary secretary of the Australian National Flag Association of Queensland for many years. He, and a lot of others in his generation, have been stalwarts in the campaign against the noisy minorities who wanted to see the flag changed. I pay tribute to him and Dr Rupe Goodman of St Lucia in the electorate of Ryan.

My great concern for the passage of this bill stems from the fact that, without it being passed, Australia′s national flag, despite the will of an overwhelming majority of Australians, could be changed by amending or repealing section 3 of the Flags Act 1953. A simple act of parliament without any reference to the people in the form of a referendum could make this happen.

For many of the 13 years of the failed Labor government we were rid of on 2 March, the Liberal and National coalition in this place made numerous efforts to entrench the flag. From 1984, coalition members introduced a series of private members′ bills into both this place and the other place but none were passed. Those bills sought, amongst other things, to provide what this bill aims to do, which is to ensure Australian people have their say on their most important national symbol, the flag.

There was a collective sigh of relief across the country, and certainly in my electorate, when the Prime Minister showed his determination to introduce early in the life of this parliament a bill such as this which will expose any attempts by politicians, and members of this place with big egos, to change our flag without consulting the people. On Anzac Day this year, a most appropriate day for the following words to have been spoken, the Prime Minister said:

The new federal government is to take action as promised to protect our great national symbol, the Australian flag.

He went on, in words I am very proud to have heard:

Legislation will be introduced early in the life of the new Parliament... to ensure the Australian Flag cannot be changed without the approval of all of the Australian people voting at a referendum or plebiscite... This will mean no politician, no political party and no special interest group will be able to tamper with the design of our flag.

The Prime Minister is spot-on with this assessment and his motivation in ensuring this bill has been introduced reflects the view of a great majority of people. It is one of a number of actions this Prime Minister has put forward in this place which has been able to unite Australians. His approach has really struck a chord.

I would like to deal with some of the details of the bill. This bill simply reflects the wise principle of the Australian people having the right to be consulted on any proposed change to the flag. The Australian national flag belongs to all people in Australia. This bill provides the people of Australia with a guarantee from this parliament that it is they, and not politicians, who will decide if their national flag should be changed. It does not seek to override the right of parliament to legislate, for it will still require some legislation to endorse the will of the people and make any new flag which may be chosen law.

Subsection 3(2) of the bill says the current national flag ceases to be the national flag if, and only if, the majority of the Australian electorate have approved an alternative design. This section of the bill requires the existing national flag to be one of the choices offered to the people. It is really quite disgraceful conduct, often promoted in the media by those who want to change the Australian flag, to never put forward as one of the viable options the current flag. What an absolute disgrace and a bit of blatant social engineering to say, through such an action, our current flag is not good enough so choose from one of these others. Put the current Australian flag forward as one of the submissions in any design competition and we know which one will get through.

Subsection 3(3) of this bill leaves it to the parliament to prescribe the manner in which a proposal for any alternative design or designs for a new flag should be submitted to the electors and the manner in which the vote is to be taken and the arrangements which might be needed to accommodate any alternative designs selected as a new flag. This is a very good provision. It recognises clearly the value the majority of people place in the existing flag.

I challenge anyone in this place or listening to this parliament today or reading the Hansard – anybody in this country – to come up with a better design which can sum up the history of our country better; which can sum up our geographic place in the world; and which meets the vital criterion of uniting Australians, no matter where they have come from. Any new flag which may come in future years would have to overcome the sheer weight of history and real regard and true value which is instilled in our current national flag.

This flag has been the flag of Australia for virtually 100 years. In fact, on a personal note, six generations of my family have known this flag since Federation. My great-great-grandfather Robert, who came to this country from Ireland in the 1840s as a two-year-old and who died in the 1930s, knew the flag. His son knew the flag. My grandfathers, happily both still living, know this flag and they fought in the Second World War under this flag. My father knows it, I know it and my children know it. It is my daughter′s birthday today. She is seven. Jessica knows this flag extremely well. She is very, very proud of this flag. It is a unique flag. It shows our unique place in the world. It is the only flag to have ever flown over one entire continent. So for many reasons we have good reason, on a personal and on a national level, to be very proud of this flag.

It is also a very clever design. It has never been beaten. It not only symbolises our history and our geographic location but also symbolises our system of government. The blue ensign – a startling, domineering part of the flag - says to me the Pacific. It really says where we live. The Southern Cross emphasises where we are in the Pacific – in the South Pacific. When you see the flag, no matter where you have been, whether it is within Australia or around the world, you get the feeling you know where home is.

The federation star, with its seven points, depicts the six states and the territories. The Union Jack, as the member for Parramatta (Mr Ross Cameron) said, in the canton of the flag, represents the flags of the various patron saints of the British Isles. There is the Cross of St George, the patron saint of England and Wales; the saltire - the cross on a diagonal - of St Andrew, which is for Scotland; and the saltire of St Patrick, which is for Ireland.

I can trace my family history back to each of those crosses and saltires, so it says a lot to me when I see our flag. St George and St Andrew were both crucified martyrs. St Patrick was martyred but he died in his sleep; he was not crucified. I guess because I am of part-Irish heritage, I can appreciate this aspect. But if anybody can come up with a design which captures the rich history which our current flag promotes, I am sure the Australian people will respond. They, like me, are not afraid of change, but no-one has yet proved the case.

The old argument that our flag is like so many others because it has the Union Jack in the corner is absolute nonsense. The recent Olympics showed the world our flag as we claimed our many sporting victories. We are among only a few other places which have the Union Jack on their flags. The Union Jack is also on the New Zealand flag and, interestingly, the state flag of Hawaii, the island state of the United States of America. It symbolises the history of European settlement in each of those places.

It is interesting to reflect upon a couple of South American and Central American countries which have on their flags the stripes of the Stars and Stripes, the United States flag, because they have some sort of relationship with the United States. So a flag is a symbol which unites us and brings us together. It says something about who we are, where we have come from and how confident we are about ourselves. Many people, I submit, who want to see a change in the flag do not feel confident about Australia or about themselves.

It is worth noting when the Canadian people voted to change their flag a generation ago, they came up with a compromise called the maple leaf. Everyone knows the flag, but it has ended up being a compromise between those in Canada who wanted to retain the old Canadian flag, which had the Union Jack on it, and those French separatists who wanted to see the tricolour flying over Canada.

A generation later, after those symbols were changed and a compromise was reached, so many of the same tensions which brought about the move to change the Canadian flag back then have re-arisen. Whilst the flag is very attractive to most people, it does not have the depth of history to survive a lot of the tensions currently in Canada, as some are calling for separation yet again. Canada is facing a lot of crises, I submit, in part because its national symbol is not supported by so many people in that country.

I would certainly hate to see Australia′s national flag changed to satisfy a loud minority and to cause some sort of compromise to exist in this country. There are enough pressures from some - including some in this place - who seek to divide this country on certain issues without our changing important unifying national symbols in this country, which is why this bill is so important. The Australian people have shown they can and do galvanise on great national issues. I believe, like me, most Australians want the present flag retained. Recent history has shown no-one can come up with a better design or a more appropriate one.

The challenge for all of us is to put a real effort into promoting our flag to all Australians, particularly to those who have moved to this country as migrants. In my electorate, migrants, particularly from Asian nations, who have chosen to come to Australia are very proud Australians. In the process they have picked up the point of the flag which has been raised by some who want to see it changed. I say to them, as I often do, it is an important symbol in this country, one which has served us well and helped to unify us.

If newer Australians must recognise this flag as the one under which they became citizens, the flag of the nation they chose as their home, then all Australians, especially those born here, must fly the flag proudly. How else can we expect newer Australians to respect it with great enthusiasm?

Most people from all nations respect the importance of flags. Nations with a sense of certainty and history understand how important national symbols are. Again, with regard to people in my electorate who have come from Taiwan, I often find the Taiwanese flag flying side by side with the Australian flag at functions in my electorate each month. The Taiwanese people know how important their flag is because it is in stark contrast to the communist banner which flies on the mainland. The Taiwanese and all other newer Australian migrants respect our flag, but they and so many other Australians need to know why this flag is so important, why it unifies us, why history is on its side. All Australians must show this flag is important.

As I said in the beginning of my contribution today, I am very pleased to provide flags to schools in my electorate. It is particularly enriching to watch 10-, 11- and 12-year-old students, as happened at Upper Mount Gravatt school the other month, clap and cheer when you unfurl a nice, bright copy of the Australian flag on their school flagpole. I think such experiences show young people do appreciate how important our symbols are. The good news about this bill is it places official, extra, importance on our flag.

I am pleased to say on another note: in my electorate not only are schools and community groups getting copies of the Australian flag to refresh their tired, old ones, which have served them well, but also the Australian flag flies once again in my own electorate office. I think it is quite sad the previous member did not even display one in his office. It was not there when I arrived and took over the office, but I am pleased to say it has now been restored in the Moreton electorate office.

I am pleased to arrange copies of the Australian flag for various community groups and organisations in my electorate. I am proud of the young people in my electorate who want to fly the Australian flag and make sure their flag is well looked after. I am pleased they are going to carry on the banner of older generations who have fought and, in so many cases, died under the Australian flag.

I am very pleased to have lent a hand to the debate surrounding this very important bill. I think this bill is a vital gesture, a gesture which will ensure the flag is more protected from the noisy minorities who want to change the flag, who want to try to fix something which clearly is just not broken.

In so many ways, this is probably one of the best and most straightforward bills to be passed in this place this year because it says to Australians who feel so strongly about our flag that we recognise their right to have a say and not just leave it in our hands or in the hands of some recalcitrant Prime Minister of the future. For all those reasons, I commend this bill to the House.