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Thursday, 4 October 1984
Page: 1252

Senator MACKLIN(6.22) —We are debating the Flags Amendment Bill 1984 which is a private member's Bill introduced by the Opposition to amend the Flags Act 1953, a very significant Act, one which I have discussed in relation to some other flags. But I will refer to that at another time. The Bill introduced by the Opposition parties contains only a few clauses, some of which I must admit I am rather concerned about. For example, clause 3 seeks to omit section 5 of the principal Act. Section 5 states:

The Governor-General may by proclamation appoint such other flags and ensigns of Australia as he thinks fit.

Probably one would find, certainly in Queensland, a fair amount of disagreement on the part of a number of people about whether we should be so discourteous to the Governor-General, who is the Queen's representative in Australia, as to think that the actions that the Governor-General might take would be not in the interests of this country. Members of the Opposition talk about a number of other matters in regard to how they wish this matter to be dealt with. With a new found fervour in consulting the people, they suggest that we should have a referendum on this issue. The Australian Democrats have for quite a long time in this chamber fought unsuccessfully to have installed a Bill on citizens' initiative. On every one of those occasions every member of the Opposition voted against it. This is precisely the type of proposition that we are talking about which would be able to be available to the people if they wish to exercise their right to have a referendum on this issue.

Senator Haines —Only when the Liberals want it.

Senator MACKLIN —It is precisely as Senator Haines has pointed out. The only issue on which members of the Liberal-National parties want people to have a say are the ones on which they want the people to have a say; not ones on which the people want to have a say. They are highly selective. They do not wish that right to be accorded to the people other than for political purposes-for their political purposes.

Quite frankly it is not because they are interested in the national flag or any another item. They are interested in this exercise because of the impending election and they think there may be a few votes in it. If they had been interested in this matter they could have voted for the Australian Democrats' private member's Bill on three separate occasions in the last three years. They chose not to do so. I think that that shows how barren this particular exercise is.

Nevertheless, in keeping with our interest in enabling the people to vote on such matters, we will support the proposition. But in doing so I point out that we are the only people to show any consistency on the matter of consulting the people of Australia on matters which affect them and in which they have an interest. I notice that Senator Button has entered the chamber. I know that he will speak later and I am sure that he will speak enthusiastically in support of the same type of proposition. Senator Walters gave an interesting view of history when she spoke about the matter of the national anthem. The situation is other than she described to the chamber. On 11 February 1974 the Whitlam Government commissioned a poll through the Australian Bureau of Statistics which took a sample of about 60,000 people.

Senator Button —Was that a flagpole?

Senator MACKLIN —No, actually it was a people poll-a non-sexist poll in Senator Walters's terms. She did not want all Australians to be rejoicing in this country, but only men. The 60,000 people who were polled turned out a listing of Advance Australia Fair, Waltzing Matilda and Song of Australia, which I must admit I had not heard of up to that point, but it came in at No. 3 anyhow. The Fraser Government in 1977 went to the people in relation to a number of referenda issues and at the same time held what I think was called a canvassing of the people. I understand that it was not technically a referendum.

Senator Haines —A straw poll.

Senator MACKLIN —A straw poll of everybody in Australia. In that poll 43 per cent chose Advance Australia Fair, 28.3 per cent chose Waltzing Matilda, of which I was one and unfortunately-

Senator Button —So was I.

Senator MACKLIN —Was Senator Button one as well? I was very upset by that vote.

Senator Haines —What happened to the Road to Gundagai?

Senator MACKLIN —No, that was not listed in the poll. God Save the Queen came in next at 18.7 per cent, presumably sliding out of the hit parade at that point. Song of Australia came in at 9.6 per cent.

Senator Grimes —What about the Aeroplane jelly song?

Senator MACKLIN —No, that was not listed. Song of Australia came in at 9.6 per cent. I am glad to say that that was the last that we heard of it. It is very interesting, of course, that Advance Australia Fair was composed by a Scotsman in 1878. There is nothing wrong with Scotsmen. I notice that Senator Scott is applauding that proposition. Indeed, as I understand it, it was first played in Australia on St Andrew's Day in 1878. Professor Blainey probably has not realised how diverse this country is in that we have even adopted as a national anthem something written by somebody who was not born in this country and something which was not played on our national day, but on the Scots' national day. So we have had a canvassing of the people in relation to the national anthem. I think probably that that matter will now slide into history. But certainly the flag issue will not. If honourable senators get the same type of mail that I am getting, it seems that it is a matter of vital concern to a large number of people. I am not sure why the Opposition actually brought forward this measure, considering the other vital issues which are on the agenda. But if it has run out of private members' Bills to debate, we are quite happy to bring on some of our 48 private members' Bills which deal with matters like unemployment, youth education--

Senator Haines —Consumer affairs.

Senator MACKLIN —Consumer affairs, human rights and a number of other important matters which we consider ought to have higher priority than this item. As I understand it, I have never heard any member of the Government actually suggest that they planned to do anything about the flag. I have heard them only back pedalling very rapidly whenever it is raised, saying that they will not touch it with a barge pole. The Government will not touch this issue. The Opposition is looking at making some political play on the matter. I will speak when the debate resumes after the suspension of the sitting because I wish to raise some other vital matters on this topic.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Senator MACKLIN —Before the dinner break I had made some preliminary remarks on the Flags Amendment Bill, a private member's Bill introduced by Senator Durack to amend the Flags Act 1953. I wish now to refer specifically to parts of the Bill, particularly the proposition that the design of a national flag ought to be submitted to the electors. I want to go through some of the arguments that have been presented against putting such a proposition to the electorate. These particular arguments have not been put by the Government but by the Opposition parties in previous debates that we have had, particularly in the Australian Democrats' private member's Bill relating to a citizens' initiative.

The major point that has been made by most of the Opposition speakers when they have spoken against having a popular citizens' initiative, in other words of submitting to the people items such as the flag, is the notion that it is a denial of the legislature, that it would result in the decline of the legislature and that it would diminish the legislature and the work that it has to do. It seems to me in many ways odd that political parties will attach themselves to a cause such as the flag and then decide that the only way of doing anything about it is to seek the protection of a referendum and still at the same time deny people the chance of initiating questions on matters of importance to them. I believe that this proposition has been derived specifically for a political purpose. It is a pity in many ways that in this Bill the referendum process should be used purely for those types of purposes without considering the important principles involved.

As I have said, the principle used by the Opposition parties to argue against our Bill was the notion of the decline of the legislature. It is an important issue that we have addressed on a number of occasions. The Australian Democrats have always argued that the notion of having people vote on other issues, particularly if those votes are taken in conjunction with an election, can only enhance the democratic process. I hope that, as a result of introducting this Bill, the Opposition parties will reconsider their rather inconsistent stance in the past. Instead of using this as a political device for those types of purposes, they should actually try to address themselves to the fundamental issue of asking people for their opinions on issues that are of concern to them when they go to elections for the legislature.

The notion of asking people about the flag is a good one. But it is also good to ask them about other important issues. How indeed is it now proposed to do that? What is proposed here is not that the people should ask for a referendum on this issue but that the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia should ask for a referendum on this issue. If indeed, as they have argued already in this debate, it has such overwhelming popular support, I imagine one can easily leave it to a popular initiative. Indeed, according to their arguments, there should be overwhelming evidence to show that if we had a popular initiative there would be a referendum on this issue. To me that seems a far better way of dealing with this matter than dragging it into the political debate.

The Australian flag ought not to be made the subject of partisan politics. Rather it should be a matter of concern to everybody in Australia and it should not be used for one party or another to wave around when there is an election coming. I was recently in the United States of America at the Democratic Party convention. The American flag was used a great deal. But at the Republican Party convention the flag was also used a great deal. It was seen as a matter not of partisan politics but as being above partisan politics. The exercise that is taking place out in the electorate-I certainly have been the recipient of a large number of letters which show that such an exercise has taken place-has been the case of one political party trying to grasp the Australian flag and say : 'It is ours and we are going to protect it'. That seems to be essentially a base operation which drags the flag down in a way that should not be done. It would be far better if the Liberal and National parties, if they are interested in the protection of the flag of Australia, ensure that it does not become a plaything of political parties. Such an exercise is far better done by allowing the people, through a popular initiative, to say that they want a referendum on this issue-not that the Liberal and National parties want a referendum on this issue.

Senator Boswell —How do they do that?

Senator MACKLIN —Senator Boswell can do it by supporting our citizens' initiative Bill which the Liberal and National parties have voted against every time it has come up. In other words, they have said that people are not intelligent enough to know whether they want a referendum on the Australian flag but that the Liberal and National parties are intelligent enough to know that the people need a referendum on the Australian flag. That is the essential contradiction of the position of the Liberal and National parties on this issue.

The Liberal and National parties, when they were debating our private member's Bill, attacked us and said that all sorts of frivolous items could be put to the people. Quite frankly many people may even believe that this is a frivolous item . Who is to judge what is a frivolous item? Our proposition is that if a sufficient number of people want this as a referendum issue it cannot be considered frivolous. Essentially in this debate the Liberal and National parties have agreed with us on that, yet in the other debate they contradicted us on it. It is about time there was some consistency from the Opposition parties if they are to bring an issue like this forward for serious debate in this place. If it is not a frivolous matter, as the Opposition parties have suggested, and we agree with them, it is one that would come forward under a popular initiative. It does not need to be done through this back door way as a party political operation.

It is also suggested that if we went down this road we could end up with unsound legislation; in other words that we could derogate from the rightful position of the Governor-General in Australia; we could say that the Governor- General is not a responsible person, as this Bill effectively says, to sign those types of regulations to change the flag or the national anthem. I need not use a hypothetical example. The attacks made on the Governor-General when he signed for the new national anthem a little while ago suggest that that very well would happen. The attacks were made on the Queen's representative in Australia when he signed the regulation for the national anthem. It is about time that the Opposition parties got some consistency into the operation and recognised that the Governor-General is the Queen's representative in Australia and that when he signed that regulation he expressed the Queen's view on it. That is the technical situation.

Senator Boswell —No, that is not right.

Senator MACKLIN —I am sorry, it is right. If the honourable senator looks at the Constitution, he will see that that is the Governor-General's constitutional role.

Senator Boswell —Does he not take the advice of the Minister or the Government?

Senator MACKLIN —Senator Boswell, I suggest you go back to the debates of 1975 and find out what the Governor-General is and is not capable of doing.

Senator Boswell —I know what he is capable of doing.

Senator MACKLIN —Right, and that is the position which the Opposition parties supported at the time, and that is the Governor-General's constitutional role. Again we have the rather odd view flowing through here that the Governor-General is not capable of making these types of judgments.

Another argument used by the Opposition parties was the interest group domination. Again, there is no problem with that and the Bill presents no problem. If we use the normal referenda proposal-that is, if we have a majority of States and electors-it will undoubtedly be the view of the Australian electorate that that ought to be the Australian national flag. But it is recognised in this Bill and then denied in relation to our private members' Bill . That is the essential inconsistency. The Opposition says, yes, it is perfectly all right in relation to this item but not in relation to other items that people may wish to vote on which are of importance to them but possibly not of importance to the National and Liberal parties.

Mention is also made of the ideological domination in this area. It might very well be such an area, and it has been suggested that it is, but that cannot be. That was one of the views put forward by the Liberal and National parties in the last debate on this issue. Again they have used the opposite technique here and implicitly say that there will not be any ideological domination. Of course there will not be, of course the proposition that the Opposition has in its Bill is correct. Of course if the people vote on it and express their view, that would be the view of the Australian people.

Senator McIntosh —Not necessarily if there is a majority of people--

Senator MACKLIN —No. It is true that in the last referenda campaign a majority of people voted for a proposition that was not passed. I acknowledge the interjection. The other issue which was raised in the earlier legislation, but which was not raised by the Opposition parties in this debate, was the expense of referenda campaigns. None of the Opposition speakers so far has raised that issue. Yet it was one of the important planks that a number of Opposition speakers used against the Australian Democrats proposal on citizens' initiative. At that time we argued that if a referenda campaign is held in conjunction with elections, the cost will be minimal if a significant group of people in the community wish to hold a referenda on that issue. We were looking at a quarter of a million people-

Senator Jessop —Are you talking about the plural? You use the plural all the time.

Senator MACKLIN —I am sorry, I am using the plural about myself and my colleagues in talking about our private member's Bill, that the Opposition opposed.

Senator Jessop —You obviously don't understand Latin, do you?

Senator MACKLIN —I understand Latin. If the honourable senator wishes to talk in Latin, I am quite happy to do so. As a matter of fact I taught Latin. If the honourable senator wants to talk in Latin, he can give us a few Latin phrases and sentences and I will respond to them. Otherwise keep your ignorance to yourself. I am sorry, but the honourable senator does not know my background. Otherwise he would not have interjected. The expense of the proposition is a matter which the Opposition parties totally ignored at the time, yet they wish to use it in their Bill. I am not criticising the Bill, but I am criticising the inconsistent stand of the Opposition parties in relation to it. The costs are undoubtedly there, but the Opposition ought to have been arguing that on this issue those costs are warranted, which is what the Australian Democrats have been arguing all along. If a quarter of a million people, not 33 people, want such an issue raised it definitely is warranted. It ought to be something, we believe, which can be borne by the people in terms of the importance of the issue as they see it.

We have been arguing constantly that if a significant portion of the population of Australia petition the Government and say 'This issue is of such concern to us'-such an issue would gain those signatures-it would meet the criteria for a popular initiative. The question would then go to the people and we would have a resolution of the matter. That seems to me to be a far better way than to make these issues issues of partisan political concern. We do need symbols in the country. I think everybody acknowledges the usefulness of symbols to any nation, whether they be anthems, flags or a whole host of matters. Symbols play a very important part in the life of any democracy and in any country and have always done so. It is not a matter of whether we should have those symbols-we necessarily will have them-but it is a matter of how best to make sure that they are symbols of unity and not symbols of disunity. That is why I believe it is important that whatever we are debating-a national anthem, a national flag or whatever-we keep the debate out of the political arena as much as we are able so that we can keep them as some symbol in this community of the little bit of unity that we have left. On my understanding this is the first time that an Opposition party has brought into this chamber a Bill which wants to use referenda as a basis for a decision-making procedure-

Senator Jessop —A referendum. It is the singular you are talking about. That is what I am trying to educate you on.

Senator MACKLIN —I am talking about referenda. If the honourable senator had listened before the suspension of the sitting, instead of swanning and dining elsewhere he would know that I have been talking about referenda and I am not talking about referendum. I am talking about the plural in the negative, Senator . If the Opposition parties are going to embark on a campaign of using referenda , it would be useful, as I have said all along--

Senator Jessop —That is better.

Senator MACKLIN —If the honourable senator looks at the Hansard record he will see that I have used the word correctly. The Opposition would then extend its proposition to other matters and not confine it simply to this matter. I think that is the essential argument that we have against the Opposition's approach.

I said before the suspension that we will support the Opposition parties on this. We believe it is a matter for people's consideration and deliberative vote . It is a matter that needs to be supported by the wider Australian population as a symbol for this country. They are matters of interest to the wider population; hence they should be matters of deliberation by the entire community . We have emphasised, and we again emphasise, that not only ought they to be matters also of concern to the wider community but also indeed many other matters should be. We hope that following a successful vote on this proposition the Opposition parties will look at their previous votes and realise the inconsistency of their stands, and the next time we introduce a citizen's initiative Bill during General Business, we hope the Opposition will for the first time support it.