Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Page: 4445

Senator BARNETT (4:13 PM) —I table the explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

This is a bill to amend the Flags Act 1953 to prevent the desecration or wilful destruction of Australian flags, and for related purposes.

This bill was drafted in response to the wilful burning of the Australian flag on Australian Day, 26 January 2008, in Launceston, Tasmania, and has since received extensive support from the National Returned and Services League of Australia and their state branches. I have also received the support of the Australian National Flag Association and many other such organisations.

The purpose of this bill is to make the desecration or wilful destruction of our flags a criminal offence.

The Australian flag is a profound expression of who we are and the values we stand for. It is worthy of respect and protection. For our flag to be desecrated is an insult to our national pride and heritage, and in particular, our veterans who fought and died under our flag.

In fact, it is right that all flags proclaimed under the Flags Act be respected and protected. As well as the Australian flag, proclaimed flags under the Act include the Aboriginal Flag, the Torres Straight Islander Flag, The Australian Defence Force Ensign, the Royal Australian Air Force Ensign and the Australian White ensign. I acknowledge that the list of proclaimed flags can be amended at any time.

The bill does not refer to flags of the states and territories. This matter is rightfully within their jurisdiction.

This bill is consistent with views expressed in the past by Liberal, National and Labor MPs, who have supported similar legislation, including Michael Cobb MP, former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, Bronwyn Bishop MP, Don Randall MP, Trish Draper MP, former Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Bruce Scott, Senator Robert Ray and Roger Price MP.

I recognise that previous attempts to legislate on this matter have been unsuccessful. In drafting this bill, I have taken into account many considerations.

Bills previously tabled have been criticised for being too tough and divisive of our many cultures, and of encouraging people to promote themselves as martyrs.

To allay some of these concerns the penalty imposed is only 2 penalty units or a community service order. Community service with an organisation such as the RSL or other community groups would foster greater understanding of what the flag represents.

This bill seeks to be educative. Passing this law will send a message to all Australians that the flag is an important national symbol worthy of protection.

The Australian national flag belongs equally to all Australians. It is a symbol of our nation and the values we hold dear. Modern Australians are proud to wave and show off our flag.

In a similar way, our Australian Indigenous flags, the Australian Aboriginal flag and the Torres Straight Islander flag, are of great symbolic importance to the peoples they represent and displayed proudly, as they should.

To desecrate our national flag, Indigenous flags or any flag proclaimed under the Flags Act is an insult to our national pride and heritage. It is, in particular, an insult to veterans who fought to protect these values under the national flag.

It is right that this Parliament legislates to protect the flag under which our veterans fought and died.

This bill has the support of the National President of the RSL, Major General Bill Crews and he has been very encouraging in my efforts to both protect and promote the Australian flag, and for this I say thank you. It has in fact, for many years, been RSL policy to promote legislation protecting our flag. I have also received support from the President of the Tasmanian Branch, Tony Scott, who has expressed to me the disgrace felt by our veterans when our flag is wilfully desecrated. He has also informed me that many Aboriginal veterans have also expressed to him their support for the Australian flag to be protected by legislation.

I would like to thank the Australian National Flag Association for their support in promoting this legislation, and especially, thanks to the Tasmanian President, Mr Reg Watson who played an instrumental part in launching this current campaign in protecting our flags.

I have received support from RSLs and other service groups from all over Australia. Since announcing my intention to introduce this legislation, I have had people from all sections of the community come forward to offer their support.

Moreover, I have received over 5000 signatures in a petition in support of legislation to protect our flags.

It must be noted that I have no intention of this bill being used against people who inadvertently destroy images of the flags’ that may, for example, be portrayed on items such as tea towels, t-shirts and other items of clothing, bags, et cetera. The bill recognises there may be reasonable cause for the destruction of the Australian national flag or proclaimed flags because it has become worn, soiled or damaged in normal usage.

In response to the constitutionality of this bill I have received advice ascertaining that this bill falls fully within constitutional parameters and is reasonably appropriate and adapted to achieve a legitimate object that is compatible with the constitutional system of representative and responsible government. In short, the bill falls fully within the parameters of the Australian Constitution.

Interestingly, it is currently a crime in Australia to deface, disfigure, mutilate or destroy Australian coin or paper money, yet there is no legislation to protect and honour the symbol of our nation.

Other countries with protection of flag legislation include: Austria; China; Hong Kong; France; Germany; India; Italy; New Zealand; Portugal; Norway; Taiwan and Turkey.

The Australian flag is a symbol of our achievements as a nation. Respect for the flag is respect for the Australian nation and our achievements. To display the flag is to display pride in our nation and our heritage. This is a nation of which we can and should be proud.

I commend this bill to the Senate.

Senator BARNETT —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.