We need a flag for the people

The Sunday Telegraph, 26 January 2003.

Today, the sight of the Australian national flag will be avoidable only by those who have locked themselves in a cellar or taken a submarine ride to the bottom of the Tasman.

Among visitors to our shores, this flag is the object of much ridicule. As US comedian Jerry Seinfeld remarked: "I love your flag - Britain at night." And the Barmy Army have a pointed chant: "Get your fucking stars off our flag."

Nothing would give the majority of Australians greater pleasure than to comply with the endlessly witty English - although we′d perhaps prefer to think of it as getting their fucking Union Jack off our Southern Cross.

On the 100th anniversary of Federation, a News Limited online poll asked if the present Australian flag was "the right symbol for the next 100 years?" Sixty-five per cent said "no".

Indeed, a look around those parts of the SCG not occupied by overcooked Englishmen revealed a panorama of boxing kangaroos and Eureka-style constellations. The official flag was largely confined to official flagstaffs.

The blue ensign has been with us since 1900, but not until 1954 did it become our national flag. It was flown, usually alongside the Union Jack, well into the 1960s.

Until 1953, the blue ensign was regarded as the Government′s, and the red ensign (same stars, same crosses, but on scarlet) as the people′s flag. But, with the Cold War heating up in Korea, prime minister Robert Menzies felt red was inappropriate.

Menzies′ greatest fan and fellow arch-monarchist, John Howard, refuses even to countenance debate on changing the flag.

Yet most people find the dominance of a foreign symbol in our flag inappropriate and - perhaps most of all - are embarrassed by the flag′s similarity to New Zealand′s.

It′s not helped when foreign governments raise the Kiwi ensign for visits by Australian PMs. Famously, the Australian Monarchist League has also made this classic clanger.

"The flag is the icon of Australian freedom," the Australian National Flag Association says, "representing the union of Australians as one nation... allowing personal divergence and self-expression."

That, argue pro-change groups like Ausflag, is precisely what it does not do.

The flag debate is possibly more emotive and powerfully symbolic than changing our system of government. But Australians are not being given a chance to have their say on the issue.