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Thursday, 4 October 1984
Page: 1266

Senator SCOTT (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(9.19) -I rise to participate in the debate on the Flags Amendment Bill 1984. I believe that the matter being discussed tonight in the Senate is very important, and Senator Durack is to be commended for having brought this matter before us. Indeed, Mr Ian Cameron intends to move in the same way in the other place. It is important for more reasons than one may have originally imagined. It has become more important as I listened tonight to the comments of one or two members of the Government. It does not surprise me, for instance, that after an hour or two the Minister for Social Security, Senator Grimes, should have majestically announced that the Government would support the legislation. He and several others said that it was purely a political exercise. I cannot imagine a more political approach than the approach of Senator Grimes in making that statement, especially in view of his earlier comment when he said that we were tonight wasting our time. Further, he said that it is a phoney issue.

Senator Macklin, after alleging that he had some knowledge of the Latin language, said that this was purely a political exercise. Let me make it quite clear that it is not merely an exercise involving the actual changing of the Australian flag; it is an exercise that has been seen to be necessary because of what has happened to a number of things that are held, have been held and I believe are still held to be of some significance in the Australian community. It is an exercise that resulted from the sudden elimination of reference to the Queen from the oath of allegiance. It resulted from people's reflection on the fact that virtually overnight the national anthem had been changed. Those are the reasons that made people, and particularly the Opposition parties in this Parliament, think that the same thing could happen to a whole range of other important measures. One of those measures clearly was the Australian flag.

It was with that in view that this legislation was brought about. It does not change anything. It merely makes certain that if it should be seen to be necessary for some reason or other to change the Australian national flag at any time in the next 10, 50 or 100 years, there needed to be a specific measure by which it could be changed. Members of the community needed to be certain that that sort of change would be handled by them and not by the sudden determination of the government of the day, whether it be a Liberal-National Party government or a socialist government. That was and is the purpose of this legislation. It is to make sure that if change is ever sought to the Australian national flag, it can only come about as a result of a decision made by the Australian people and not by some executive authority sitting in the Parliament in Canberra. That is the reason why we are talking about the national flag and that is the reason why we are talking about-as this legislation identifies-the manner in which that flag can be changed, if it is ever changed in the future.

Senator Macklin continued to talk about his party's policy for referenda on a whole range of issues. Of course, why would he not talk about that? But it is a totally different thing because the referenda on the whole range of issues that appeal so much to Senator Macklin and which brought him into this debate merely indicate that he is a member of a party that has virtually an ad hoc attitude to almost every issue. A simple way of achieving a solution to that sort of situation is to ask the people what they think about this, that and the other matter. Of course, that sounds very good on the surface. But politics really is a more serious business, a more significant thing and not quite as simplistic as all that. Politics surely relates to a philosophy, a determination of a way of life, and the sort of development of a country and to its people. In order for that to occur a party must have a political party philosophy. Consequently, parties believe in private enterprise or in a socialist state. There are some in the world today who still believe in a fascist state. It is because Senator Macklin and his colleagues perhaps do not know to what political philosophy they are beholden that this idea of a referendum in the case of changing the Australian flag is attractive. It reminds him of his solution to all of his problems, which relate to his ad hoc attitudes to this, that and the other thing , which might well be found in having a referendum on virtually everything that occurs to him. So much for the citizens' initiative which Senator Macklin dwelt on for so long.

Let me say one or two things about the Australian flag which we are discussing tonight-not so much about the flag itself but the means by which it may be changed. That is all that this discussion is about. The flag dates back to 1901 and I think it is reasonable to say that it has been flown proudly in the four corners of the globe and is well and truly recognised by Australians. As Senator Martin said, the significant thing surely about any national flag is that the people of that nation recognise it, respect it, fly it and are prepared to defend it and promote it. Indeed, Australians basically have exactly that attitude to our national flag. The reason that brought this about, of course, as I said in the first place, was that suddenly overnight we found that the national anthem had been changed more or less at the stroke of a pen, at the whim of an executive government. That was not regarded as satisfactory. So we looked at the Flags Act 1953. It designates the Blue Ensign as the Australian national flag and empowers the Governor-General to appoint by proclamation other flags and ensigns of Australia.

It has a significant history, as I said, dating back to 1901. It is not a flag which arose as a result of somebody's dreams. I understand that about 30,000 designs-all those years ago when, after all, there were only 4 or 5 million people in this country-were forwarded before ultimately the design of the Australian national flag was agreed on. It is not an irrelevant design if one examines it and thinks about it for a moment or two. It is not irrelevant because it has within it the Southern Cross which identifies Australia around the world. The Southern Cross and Australia seem to be almost synonymous. Indeed , the fact that in one small top left hand corner it has the Union Jack does not mean that this is necessarily a British country; but it does mean that the United Kingdom has some sort of relevance in our history, as does the Union Jack and what it stands for. The Union Jack is a combination of a number of crosses of a number of countries. There is no need for us to be constantly concerned with apologising for our past. We are not saying that everything in the past was perfect. We are not saying that everything in the past was necessarily good. But we are saying that the past has a real relevance to the present and to the future. The present constitution or makeup of this flag certainly bears reference to the past, to the history of this country, through the existence of the Union Jack and certainly it geographically indicates the significance of Australia under the Southern Cross and by that it cannot be mistaken.

As we talk here tonight on such a wide range of issues, it is important to realise what this Bill does. First, it will allow the Governor-General to declare other flags and ensigns of Australia only by regulation and not by proclamation. Secondly, the Governor-General will not be able to appoint other flags to challenge or detract from the Australian flag as a symbol of our nation or national institutions. Thirdly, and finally, and most importantly I believe, it requires that a referendum be held before there can be a change to the national flag. That purely and simply means that from that time on, if Australians want to change their flag, they will have to indicate that desire through a referendum. It will have to be a decision made literally by the Australian people-a majority of States and a majority of people. I think that is a perfectly realistic and proper circumstance.

I am glad that the Government, when coming into this debate tonight-a debate that has resulted from Senator Durack's Bill in this place-has seen fit to say that it supports this proposition. Indeed, the number of Australians poll-wise who support that proposition is even greater percentage-wise than those who support the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). It is no wonder that the Government has indicated it will support this legislation. The important thing is that the legislation is here and that we should seriously bring it into being. It gives the Australian people the right to control the change at any time, if change there must be, to the Australian flag.

Let us be quite clear: Change is inevitable in our society. Of course there will be change. The important thing is that we maintain a measure of control over the rate of that change and, more particularly still, especially with a view to this legislation, that we maintain a control of the nature of that change; in other words, how it is to be brought about. Here in our Australia surely there has been extraordinary change over the years-change in lifestyles, change in a range of priorities, change in the compostion of our population, change in the development of our culture and change in the whole socio-economic circumstances in which we are developing. But, as I was saying a short while ago , that does not mean that the past is irrelevant.

The facts are that the Australian national flag, as it is today, has a relevance to Australia as it is today and where it is, under the southern cross. It has a relevance to its history and development as a part of what was once the British Empire. It has a relevance indeed to the past and the present and significantly, I hope, a relevance to the future. I fear that as the time for debate has virtually expired, I should round up my comments by saying that this legislation and this debate tonight, which has brought out a measure of humour and lightheartedness and has brought out even a measure of song from the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan), who is sitting opposite , has emphasised the great need to have within the control of the Australian people a real capacity to determine whether their national flag should be changed, and in what nature. That is what the legislation is about. That is what it promotes. It is extremely important that this Parliament should indicate its determination that, if at any time there is a move to change the national flag, it will not occur on the whim of some part of the Executive of some government, whatever government that may be; it will occur only at the command of the Australian people.