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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18671

Mrs DRAPER (12:41 PM) —I present the Protection of Australian Flags (Desecration of the Flag) Bill 2003. The purpose of the Protection of Australian Flags (Desecration of the Flag) Bill 2003 is to provide legal protection to the Australian national flag, the Australian white ensign, the Australian red ensign and the Royal Australian Air Force ensign. Any person found guilty of burning, mutilating, destroying or otherwise desecrating or dishonouring the Australian flag or an Australian ensign without lawful authority shall have committed an offence and be subject to a maximum fine of $11,000.

In introducing this bill, the honourable member for Canning, Don Randall, and I would like to acknowledge and thank the honourable member for Gilmore and deputy whip, Joanna Gash, for seconding the first draft of the Protection of Australian Flags (Desecration of the Flag) Bill 2003. I note that she was happy to do so because of the number of concerned constituents in her electorate of Gilmore—over 2,000 people have, over the years, commented to her on the importance of the Australian flag. As well, we would like to acknowledge and thank the honourable member for Robertson, Mr Jim Lloyd, for his support for the second draft of the bill, which was also given because of the concerns of many of the constituents in his electorate of Robertson.

Earlier today the honourable member for Canning, Don Randall, stated:

Our flag is our national symbol and represents Australia's achievements, independence and freedom. Vandalism of the Australian flag is not justified in any way. Our flag should be unquestionably treated with dignity and respect. This bill will ensure this is the case in law.

The story of the Australian flag tells us much about the sort of country we are. Following a nationwide competition, the design for our Australian flag was announced on 3 September 1901 and gazetted in February 1903. The Menzies government provided a legislative basis for the flag with the Flags Act 1953. To ensure that the Australian flag remains the property of the Australian people, the Howard government successfully amended the Flags Act 1953 so that any change to our flag would have to gain the support of a majority of electors in the states and territories in a nationwide referendum.

This bill seeks to make further amendment to the Flags Act 1953 to give legal protection to our flag from any form of unlawful desecration or destruction. It is currently a crime in Australia to deface, disfigure, mutilate or destroy Australian coin or paper money, yet no such protection is given to the symbol of our nation. The Australian flag symbolises the values that we as Australians share. We are an egalitarian people and we believe in the concept of a fair go. Everyone deserves a fair chance in life and a chance to make of it what they will. From the Old World we have taken much that was good—equality before the law, constitutional government and democratically elected parliaments—and we have built for ourselves a great southern nation surrounded by a vast blue ocean.

The Australian flag is illustrative of our history, geography and culture, endearing it to the people of this country. That is why so many Australians are upset when they see their flag being burned or otherwise desecrated. No matter what the cause, there is never any justification for insulting the people of any nation by trampling on their national symbols and sacred images. Many nations already provide legal protection for their flags, including New Zealand, Austria, France, India, Italy and Portugal.

I expect during this debate to hear the argument that this bill infringes on the right to protest. I categorically reject that argument. There is nothing in this bill which would take away the rights of Australians to air their views and grievances, either privately or publicly. The freedoms of speech, assembly and association are in no way diminished by this bill and nor would we seek to undermine these cornerstones of our democracy. But you can protest without burning our flag, you can speak your mind without desecrating our national symbol and you can criticise the system without humiliating the people.

This basic principle is not new. It has already been accepted at the federal level and in most state and territory jurisdictions. It was recognised in implementing laws against racial vilification that these laws impose restrictions on freedom of expression. In doing so we acknowledged that there are other values that are worthy of protection. No-one in this House would support any so-called right to incite racial hatred or to treat with contempt and ridicule a person on the basis of his or her race or religion, nor should we accept any right to treat the Australian people with ridicule or contempt by the desecration of their flag. It is important to note that this bill is a private member's bill and, as such, members of the House are able to vote according to their beliefs. I hope that we get enough support from the House of Representatives and the Senate to pass this bill. I commend the bill to the House and I thank my colleague Don Randall, member for Canning.

Bill read a first time.

The SPEAKER —In accordance with standing order 104A, the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.