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Thursday, 22 August 1996
Page: 3618

Mr McCLELLAND(5.53 p.m.) —While I like other members of the opposition do not oppose the Flags Amendment Bill, there are a number of points I would like to make. Essentially, this bill is an insult to our flag. The flag can and does fly on its own. It does not need a life support system, as this bill purports to give it. You would not find any other proud nation—whether it be the United States, Canada, Japan, Great Britain or any nation you could name—attempting to introduce these false protections for their own cherished flag. There is no need to belittle our flag with a bill such as this.

The legislation is virtually a complete waste of time. There is a non-existent threat to our flag. Even those organisations which are evoking debate on the possible change to our flag in the future do not support any change without an expression of the will of the people by way of referendum or plebiscite. No government would ever contemplate changing the flag without the approval of its citizens. Indeed, no mainstream party in Australia today proposes a change to our flag.

The reason most frequently stated for the retention of the Union Jack on our flag is that it symbolises the system of government which we have inherited from Great Britain. It is said that the system followed the Union Jack when it was raised on our shores. With that raising on 26 January 1788, it is said that the common law of England flowed on to the shores of our land.

The irony of this bill is that it is completely contrary to those principles which we inherited. It is unconstitutional for any parliament to purport to bind a future parliament. That has been stated in a number of cases, including cases before the High Court of Australia. One such case is Wenn v. the Attorney-General of Victoria, where the High Court said:

The Parliament cannot limit the legislative power of Parliament by providing that a statute shall not be amendable or repealable or that it shall operate notwithstanding any subsequent legislation.

So the irony of this bill is that this act of political gimmickry—of making a political statement on Anzac Day—is offending and embarrassing those very principles that we all cherish and that we have all inherited via the Westminster system. That is the unfortunate part of the bill.

The bill will as a matter of course be presented to Sir William Deane, the Governor-General. We are very fortunate to have him in that role, as he is an eminent and respected constitutional lawyer. One wonders what dilemma he will face when he is asked to give assent to this act of parliament—as will eventuate from the bill—even though he is more than aware of the principles to which I have referred.

This is a bill which cannot be said to threaten our constitutional fabric, but it is a shame that, for political purposes, our system has literally been embarrassed by this act of political gimmickry. This is a government which quite frequently preaches with self-righteous tones political propriety. This action does not live up to the standards of political propriety. It is quite unnecessary.

I do not propose to embark on the debate either for or against proposals to change our flag. I note that there are arguments both ways. I think over time it is quite possible—indeed, quite likely—that that argument will evolve. It is regrettable that the government has seen fit to attempt in some way to limit the argument which will naturally evolve over time.

Be that as it may, I am proud of our national symbols—of our coat of arms and our flag. I, like all members of the opposition, would not even contemplate changing that flag without the will of the people.

It is a shame that this government has not converted what is a tokenistic demonstration of a supposed national spirit into action.

I note, for instance, the contrast between what the government has done here and what it did to the `produce of Australia' symbol and its failure to support the Advance Australia Foundation. That symbol gave meaningful support to our products which were in competition with other countries' products. That would have been a meaningful gesture. This bill is essentially a meaningless act of political gimmickry that demeans our flag and does not serve the government well at all. Nonetheless, I do not oppose the bill as moved because we do not deny that citizens should have a say before the flag is changed.

Debate (on motion by Dr Kemp) adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 6.00 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.