The Senate, Thursday 5th March 1998
On behalf of the government, I thank all senators for their contributions to this important debate on the Flags Amendment Bill 1996. It has taken a lot longer than the government would have preferred for this bill to rise to the top of the Notice Paper. We are very pleased that it has come on today. To have a bill debated on Thursday lunch time – and I know Senator Conroy wants to go and have some lunch – and so too does the Deputy President – requires all senators to agree that it be treated non-controversially. I think that sends a special message – particularly to those most vocal supporters of this bill – that senators from all corners of the Senate have agreed that it be dealt with on an entirely non-controversial basis, meaning there will be no divisions called. I think that sends a strong message. It shows that the government has carried through its important commitment to ensure that any potential change to a flag in the future will be dealt with democratically by all Australians.
I am particularly proud to have been given carriage of this bill through the Senate, having represented Australia in international competitions under this flag and my grandfather having fought in wars under this flag and indeed having the Australian flag draped over his coffin when he was buried. I know many Australians feel very strongly about the Australian flag. I know this legislation will make those people very happy. Equally, as Senator Brown has said, it gets the support of those who genuinely seek change to the flag. It ensures that those people seeking that change will have that change facilitated when they can agree on some alternative proposal to the most beautiful flag that is our national flag at the moment.
Senator Brown did make the point in summing up that the government should facilitate some sort of competition for the design of a potential alternative flag. I do not think that is necessary. There has been over the years, through Ausflag and other organisations, a range of competitions. I presume thousands of designs have been worked out by artists and other enthusiasts over the years. I do not think any government involvement needs to take place.
I suspect that at some stage in the next 100, 200 or 300 years someone may come up with some alternative to our flag. It would have to be very good to attract my vote and to see consensus formed for it. That is all part of a vigorous democracy. National symbols are very important to a nation, nation building and democracy. I thank all senators - not only those who have contributed to the debate - who have agreed to make this a non-controversial and non-partisan issue in the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.