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Thursday, 4 October 1984
Page: 1256

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Social Security)(8.09) —Senator Macklin pointed out quite clearly in his speech that this is a political exercise. I suppose nothing demonstrated that more than the fact that we had Senator Macklin , the only person I believe in this place who is capable of getting up and making a speech in Latin, being corrected on Latin grammar by Senator Jessop, who could no more get up and make a speech in Latin or any other language in this place. I think that is typical of what this Flags Amendment Bill is all about. I find it incredible that we have General Business in the Senate-and probably one of the last General Business sessions that we will have in this place if all the things that people say are true-used in this way. We have issues which are of great importance to this country, small matters such as unemployment, economic development, manufacturing industry and all the other things that are important to the people in the community. On a Bill put forward by the shadow Attorney-General calling for a referendum on whether the flag should be changed we have no fewer than 11 speakers from the Opposition. We have social security legislation going through this place which will cost the taxpayers of this country something like $16,000m a year and we have never had anything like 11 speakers on it. We have Bills coming into this place which are of vital importance to individuals in the community, disadvantaged people, workers and so on. I cannot remember a debate on any Bill in recent times, except the Budget legislation in which we have had 11 speakers. It is not just 11 speakers, it is 11 speakers in General Business time-time that is supposed to be precious to the Opposition.

Senator Jack Evans —Ten of them carbon copies.

Senator GRIMES —Yes, 10 of them carbon copies. Let us look at what the previous speakers have said and the attitude they have taken to illustrate what a political exercise this is. Let me deal first with Senator Kilgariff. He huffed and puffed and based his whole speech on the fact that the Government would oppose this Bill. Well, I am sorry, Senator Kilgariff, but the Government is not opposing this Bill. It has never indicated that it will oppose this Bill and has never suggested any such thing. We would not waste our time opposing legislation such as this, the way the Opposition is wasting its time proposing it.

Senator Kilgariff's colleagues, Senator MacGibbon and Senator Walters, have said how terribly important it is to retain the Union Jack up there in that corner of the flag because it reflects and demonstrates our history. If we look at the flags of the States and the Northern Territory of this country we can always tell the flag of the Northern Territory: The Union Jack ain't there. It is not very important in the Northern Territory. It is terribly important in Queensland, in Tasmania, but not in the Northern Territory, where Senator Kilgariff comes from. Yet he waxes and carries on, huffs and puffs and accuses the Government of doing something that it is not going to do. He and his colleagues such as Senator MacGibbon have carried on with a lot of jingoistic nonsense.

Senator Walters justifies the Bill by saying that this terrible Prime Minister we have came out one morning and announced that the national anthem had been changed-no debate, no nothing. A previous Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Fraser, had a referendum-it was not called a referendum; it was just a vote of all the people of Australia and was conducted with other referendums-and everyone was asked to vote. Advance Australia Fair won easily, and the anthem Senator Walters wanted came third. Yet he did nothing about that at all.

Senator Boswell —That was for a national song, not a national anthem.

Senator GRIMES —If it was not about a national anthem, what was God Save the Queen doing in the list? As Senator Macklin has said, the majority of people wanted Advance Australia Fair. It won easily, yet Senator Walters says that no one was consulted.

The other charge against the Prime Minister was that he changed the national colours. Well, the national colours have been changed many times without consultation with the people, including by Sir Robert Menzies. They have been changed from blue and gold to green and gold to blue and gold and back to green and gold again. No one is questioning that anyone who has anything to do with this country overseas recognises that green and gold are the national colours. Every sporting organisation, every team that goes from this country, everyone who represents this country overseas, whether it be for sport or anything else, represents it in green and gold blazers. It was absolute nonsense to perpetuate the farce that our colours were blue and gold. As Senator Macklin said, this piece of legislation, if one can call it that, is political legislation to allow people to get up and huff and puff and declare their loyalty to the flag and whatever else people want to declare their loyalty to.

Of course flags are important to us all, particularly when we are overseas. I have stood at Cardiff Arms Park and had a lump in my throat when the Australian flag went up and the crowd sang Waltzing Matilda when Australia beat Wales at rugby union. I have stood at Headingley at Leeds and had a lump in my throat when the Australian flag went up and the crowd sang Waltzing Matilda not God Save the Queen or Advance Australia Fair-when Australia beat England at rugby league. We have all watched television and seen the Australian flag being raised when someone wins a gold medal at the Olympic Games or Commonwealth Games and they play Advance Australia Fair. At one Olympics they played Waltzing Matilda. We all feel proud about that. Quite frankly, changing the flag is way down on my list of priorities in this country. I would like to see more people in work, I would like to see fewer people poor, I would like to see women with children getting a better deal, and I am not going out on to the streets to march up and down trying to change the flag.

We are told by Senator MacGibbon and others that the flag is important because people fought for it in two world wars and strove vigourously to maintain that flag. But they fought for other things as well. They fought for the right of free speech. They fought for the right to get up to advocate a change in that flag if that is what they feel is important. They fought so that if someone wanted to get up and advocate a change in the flag that person would be free to do so without being badgered, abused and accused of being disloyal, and all that sort of nonsense we hear in this place and outside. What is happening in this country at the moment? A group of citizens has decided that perhaps we need a new flag. These people are not socialists, they are not radicals. I doubt whether Sir James Hardy has ever voted Labor. He is certainly a very successful businessman and a credit to his country. Those people say: 'When we go overseas no one recognises our flag. What is even more important, people mistake our flag for something else'. I will tell honourable senators of an occasion on which that happened to me recently. When Sir James Hardy said that and advocated a change, what was the reaction? First of all, he was accused of being disloyal. Secondly, maniacs in a well-known organisation refused to buy the wine that is produced by his company. Thirdly, he was abused right and left as being a traitor to his country, to such an extent that he said 'What is the use, I will give the game away', and he resigned from the organisation. What sort of sane and sensible debate is that? What sort of country have those people who fought under that flag fought for when that sort of nonsense goes on?

Senator Crichton-Browne —That is not reflected in this legislation.

Senator GRIMES —No, but it is reflected in some of the speeches that have already been made on this legislation. I want to correct some of the things that have been said by Senator MacGibbon. He says that people want to change the flag because no one recognises it. He quite rightly points out that most of us could not recognise any flags other than those of Britain and the United States; that we would suspect that a red flag with a hammer and sickle on it was Russian and that possibly some of us could recognise the tricolour of France. It has been pointed out that in Western Australia recently they did not have an Australian flag so they put up the New Zealand flag. It was up for a week and nobody noticed that it was not Australian. That is a real problem. What people are saying is that our flag is mistaken for other flags, and I think that that is sometimes a problem.

Recently on an overseas trip I went to a country where I had six security guards around me the whole time I was there. The reason for that was that three weeks before I got there a representative of the British Council was shot in that capital city. The Australian Ambassador decided that the best thing he could do to protect himself and everyone else in the Embassy from being shot was to festoon the car in which we drove around with Australian flags. Obviously, there was considerable dissension in the Australian Embassy at the time, particularly between the Ambassador and the local staff, about this behaviour. I asked the Ambassador what it was all about and he said: 'People here do not like the British; they shot a British person here a couple of weeks ago. We have put these flags on the car so they will recognise that we are Australians'. We then went for a drive to a well known place in that country and we stopped at three shops on the way-it is terrible that parliamentarians should do this but we did stop for postcards-and at every place the shopkeeper came out and said 'Ah ha, you are British' and looked at the flags. I said to the Ambassador: 'For God's sake, if you want to get us recognised as Australians go and get some of Bondy's boxing kangaroos and put them all over the car, but for Heaven's sake get rid of these flags'. The next day they were all gone.

Sir James Hardy and others have raised a valid point. Because they are nationalists and loyal Australians they do not want to be considered to be someone else when overseas. Frankly, as I pointed out when I first spoke, it is way down on my agenda of the things we need to change. I point out that the arguments used have been false. We did have a national ballot, whether or not we call it a referendum, on the national anthem. That was held by the present Opposition parties when they were in government. No one was surprised when the national anthem was made Advance Australia Fair. No one was surprised when the colours were officially made green and gold and I have not seen anyone racing up and down in the streets complaining about it. Frankly, when I read the Morgan polls I do not see that many people in this country have been too fussed about it.

This Government has not announced any intention of changing the national flag. We have far more important things to deal with following the mess that those opposite left behind them than to sit here and worry about what should or should not be a new national flag. Although flags are important symbols, people can get too worked up about this subject. I can remember when there was a fuss in Canada about what the new national flag would be. The suggestion of a well known Canadian politician was that they should have a sheet with 'flag' on one side and 'drapeau' on the other, and that would solve everyone's problems. As Senator Macklin said, this debate is about symbols and about how we feel about those symbols. If we have been born and have grown up under the Australian flag as it is at the moment, of course we are proud when that flag is run up. Of course the majority of people in the community at the moment certainly do not want the flag changed.

So we wonder what all the fuss is about. We wonder why there are 11 speakers. We wonder why Senator Kilgariff gets up and waves his arms around and screams and shouts that the Government will oppose the Bill when it has no intention of doing so. We wonder why Opposition members get up and scream and shout that the most vital thing for this country is that the Union Jack stay in the corner of the flag. That includes Senator Kilgariff, even though his own Territory's flag has no sign of the Union Jack on it. We do not have to wonder long. As Senator Macklin says, all the arguments used by the Opposition tonight in favour of this referendum procedure were used by the Australian Democrats when they put up their Constitution Alteration (Electors' Initiative) Bill.

Any argument one can think of in opposing this Bill tonight was used by the Opposition when it opposed the Democrats' citizens' initiative Bill. I think a reading of the two debates would demonstrate that, as I said, this is just a political exercise, a phoney stunt. We will let the Opposition have its 11 speakers. We could let members of the Opposition talk as long as the time allocated for General Business allows, but at the end of it I do not think they will have moved anyone much. I do not think anyone will be very impressed by the rhetoric and nonsense that has gone on here tonight but they particularly will not be impressed by the fact that 11 speakers on the Opposition side can huff and puff the way they have so far on an issue like this when on issues such as social security, health, taxation and all the other issues we never get anywhere near as many speakers. I can remember when, on one very large piece of taxation legislation, we had only one speaker from the Opposition. I think also that the people will recognise that the Opposition has two and a half hours of General Business each week during which it can decide what will be debated, but it has ignored the fact that it has a whole series of General Business items on the agenda of this Parliament which relate to vital issues and which concern ordinary men and women in this country who have been concerned for some time about the state of the economy, about the state of disadvantaged people in the community and everything else. Of all the issues they could have chosen, they have chosen a phoney issue like this-an issue which in itself is important but which has been put up in such a phoney way and for which they will parade out 11 speakers.

In answer to Senator Walters, we have only two speakers because we will not waste our breath answering the nonsense we have heard tonight. If members of the Opposition want to waste their time on General Business the way they have, they can go ahead but we will not waste our breath and our time on it. We will put up a couple of speakers merely to point out that we are not opposing the legislation. We will put up a couple of speakers to point out some of the inanities used in argument by those on the other side. Other than that, we will leave General Business to the Opposition, as we should leave it and as we would have liked it to have been left when we were in Opposition though it never was.