Let me say first of all that I have believed for many decades that Australia needs a new flag.
May I also say that I will never ever burn our flag no matter what its design may be?
My journey towards achieving a new flag for Australia began at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne.
At that time, our National Anthem was GOD SAVE THE QUEEN. When an Australian won a Gold Medal, this was played as the Aussie mounted the podium. Exactly the same happened when a Brit or a Kiwi won. There was no distinction.
Even the most conservative monarchists in Australia began to openly say, ‘we must have a national anthem of our own that shows we are no longer a British colony.’ Some were also saying, ‘we must have a new flag too. After all the Canadians are getting a new one.’
It took a long time, but we finally achieved the goal of a new national anthem even though we blundered badly. WALTZING MATILDA, with new words, should have been chosen as this is the tune that the world instinctively identifies as being Australian.
But we have made no progress whatsoever in gaining a genuine Australian Flag.
The Union Jack, that is a predominant part of it, continues to tell the world we are a British Colony. No national movement of power is advocating a new flag and current thinking is that a new flag can naturally follow after Australia becomes a Republic, probably in 2024 or 2025. I fervently hope so.
In the meantime, our Aboriginal Flag has gained prominence and will continue be a permanent presence in the life of Australia even though many people are of the strong belief that Australia can have only one flag. Actually, we have three as Torres Strait Islanders have one too, but most of us have not been aware of it. If we really want to get round to considering the entire realm of our flags, all six States and both Territories have flags, so this makes 11 flags in all.
Now, to come to the current controversy.
During our national remembrance of the death of Queen Elizabeth, an indigenous protester publicly burned the Australian Flag, declaring that it commemorates the British Invasion of Australia that occurred when the First Fleet arrived in 1788. This resulted in the dispossession of land occupied by Indigenous people for 65000 years and the deaths of 30000 of them by gunfire and 100,000 by the diseases of white civilisation. In remembering this, it is important to note that no indigenous tribe ever surrendered or ceded their land to the British. It remains their own to this day.
While all this is true, Elizabeth was not personally responsible for it, nor is anyone living on our continent right now. So, the burning of our flag is offensive to most of our people. However, we will become very much to blame if we fail to do something positive about recognising Indigenous heritage and granting them a legislated advisory voice that they are entitled to in the affairs of the nation.
Our first opportunity to do this is via the Voice Referendum, currently scheduled to be held sometime in 2023. If it is passed, it will create a constitutional entity to which Aborigines will elect representatives. Those representatives will have power to debate any issues that relate to their people and present them to our Federal Parliament for consideration, However, Parliament will be under no legal obligation to approve them.
I can see no valid reason why this referendum should not pass. Indigenous people were not consulted when the Australian Constitution was drafted and approved in 1901 and they are not mentioned in it except to say they are the responsibility of the States. They have a fundamental right to be recognised as human beings and this small step will recognise it.
(It is appropriate also that I should mention too that women were not consulted about the Constitution in 1901).
Once this first step is taken, consideration can be given to the signing of a Treaty in the same spirit as was intended in the negotiation of the Waitangi Treaty in New Zealand in 1840.
The blunt fact is that if the Voice Referendum is defeated, the issue will not ever go away. It will remain as a festering sore of our national life forever so nothing will be gained by running away from it. We cannot hide behind the fact that dispossession of indigenous people has happened on every other continent. That fact of history does not make it right.
Nevertheless, having said all of the above, I strongly hold the view that the burning of our National Flag last week was unjustified.
Indeed, it was also very naive politics as it has lost the support of many people who were intending to vote YES. It was quite simply insulting and WRONG.
That lost ground means that much more positive work will have to be done to make sure that the referendum wins.
A proud Australian who intends to vote YES and campaign strongly for a YES vote. It’s time.