You flagged it - We need something new up the pole

The Sydney Morning Herald, 31 January 1998, p.1.

By Paul Sheehan

The Australian flag has become a 1998 election issue.

The public has given an overwhelming response to the latest design competition launched by Ausflag, with more than one million "hits" registered on the Ausflag Internet site since the Herald published the address last Saturday. More than 100,000 people have inspected the new designs.

There was also a tremendous response to the Herald′s Australia Day Flag Poll, when readers were invited to vote for 100 new designs by professional designers, or for the Australian flag. More than 22,000 calls were registered during the 48 hours of the poll. It was the biggest response to a phone opinion poll this newspaper has received. By an almost two-to-one margin, readers voted for one of the new designs rather than the national flag.

The sheer size of the response, 10 times bigger than an average national opinion poll sample, indicates a deep reservoir of open-mindedness about the flag. The Prime Minister, Mr Howard, a staunch defender of the existing flag, may have to take note of this response.

Ausflag, a private organisation, wants a plebiscite similar to the 1977 one which chose the national anthem, to be held before the Sydney 2000 Olympics. "We′ve never had a response even remotely like this before," said Mr Harold Scruby, executive director of Ausflag, who has run two previous national flag design competitions. "I think the biggest change is the mood of reconciliation in the nation," he said.

Forty per cent of the 100 new designs include at least some element of the Aboriginal flag or a reference to indigenous culture. Most designs chosen by Herald readers, including seven of the top 10 vote-getters, had distinct elements of Aboriginal symbolism. Ausflag restricted entries in this competition to professional designers, and more than 2,500 designs were submitted last year.

As expected, the Australian flag received by far the most number of votes in the Herald phone poll - 8,253 - or 37.3 per cent. But a clear majority of callers - 13,862 - or 62.7 per cent, voted for a new design.

Three new designs stood above the rest with readers: number 134, which had 1,581 votes, followed by 147 and 176. The Aboriginal flag, which was also included in the phone poll, finished seventh in the voting, but one of the most popular new designs, 147, is a similar concept.

A flurry of letters to the editor both praised and criticised the new designs, with critics variously describing them as looking like they "came off boxes of cheap chocolate", or signs for "fast food outlets", or "leftovers from tinpot banana republics".

Ausflag wants to submit three designs to the Federal Government by the end of the year, together with a request that four choices - the national flag plus three new designs, be presented to the people for a vote.

The 100 new designs, plus nine finalists from previous competitions, can be seen at the Museum of Sydney, or by visiting the Ausflag site at www.ausflag.com.au The eight most popular new designs among readers were, in order of popularity: 134, 147, 176, 148, 109, 166, 111, and 172.

Ausflag Webmaster′s Note: These designs are numbered on our web-site as 034, 047, 076, 048, 009, 066, and 011 respectively. Designs 101 to 109 were not included in the SMH poll, but are included in the Ausflag Internet poll and the polls at the Exhibitions around Australia.