The Senate, Thursday 5th March 1998
As the National Party leader in the Senate, I wish to express the wholehearted support of National Party members everywhere for the Flags Amendment Bill 1996. Under this legislation, the only way our national flag can change is by the express and direct vote of the Australian electors. No government, no matter what their numbers or their political colour, will be able to change the flag for whatever reason without referring it to the Australian people.
This bill will be greatly welcomed by those sceptical of the recent claims by republicans that they are not interested in changing the flag. It will be greatly welcomed by those sceptical of the Labor Party′s intention regarding the flag. Our national flag is an important symbol of our country. It should not be vulnerable to the whims of political factions. This bill removes the Australian flag from being the victim of factional trade-offs. It removes the flag from the clutches of the wealthy elite who would turn our system of government upside down and change the flag at the first opportunity.
It was one of my proudest achievements in this place when I moved a motion in this place to have two flags placed in the Senate chamber either side of the President′s chair. There was a Labor government in power and there was a marvellous new building for politicians, yet there was no flag in the Senate chamber to remind us of who we are here to represent. It was left to the National Party to move that motion. Those flags have been with us ever since. The National Party will always stand firm to protect that flag.
The bill is a safeguard mechanism for a national icon. It restores ownership to the people represented by the flag. The Australian flag is the highest part of Parliament House. As we owe our position to the people of Australia so too should the flag. This bill sends a message that the heritage and symbols of our nation are not up for political sale. It guards against the faddishness and trendiness by trusting in the stability and commonsense of the Australian people.
From now on the flag will not be able to be toyed with by the likes of the Malcolm Turnbulls and the Janet Holmes a Courts of this world. Make no mistake, the Australian flag is under a lot of pressure. There is great wealth and power lined up against it. Mr Turnbull′s company sponsored an exhibition of alternative flags. Mrs Holmes a Court has opened exhibitions of alternative flags put on by Ausflag - the group that wants to change the flag. Sponsors of the exhibition include multinational corporations and overseas companies spending money to change the Australian flag.
What should we expect next - a flag section in the multilateral agreement on investment? These are people and organisations of power and influence nationally and internationally. What hope is there for an old digger who wants to keep the flag he fought for if he is up against the elite? This bill is the hope. This bill is the digger′s flag insurance against the chardonnay set. This bill is the equaliser. It sends a signal that the ultimate power within our system of government rests with the people. Wherever the flag is raised - from prestigious international sporting events to humble scout halls - it can now be raised with a greater sense of ownership than before.
There have been attempts to diminish, belittle and undermine important parts of our heritage and even to rewrite history. This leaves people feeling great unease as their past is taken away from them. Certainty and identity are lost in an already changeable world. But with this bill, Australians can at least say, with assurance of compliance, `Hands off our flag.′