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Wednesday, 22 June 1994
Page: 1859

Senator REYNOLDS (1.19 p.m.) —I rise to contribute to the debate initiated by Senator Abetz about the way in which Australians should be debating the flag of the future. I had not intended to contribute to this debate this afternoon, but I do feel that a number of facts relating to the way in which the Australian flag emerged as the flag we have today are important to put on the public record.

  The Flags Act 1953 gives the game away. It was passed to give statutory recognition to the present flag in preparation for the royal tour of that year. The schedule to the act is clear about the nature and origins of the flag. It proclaims that the Australian national flag is the British blue ensign. This makes all the talk about the flag being a symbol of our national experience and our past sound rather silly. It also underlines major problems with the conservative case against change.

  The conventional view is that the flag resulted from a competition in 1901, attracting over 30,000 entries. This allowed the new nation a free choice of design and, ultimately, reflected the popular will. But the truth is actually quite different. The first condition of the competition was that the flag `be based on the British ensign'. So the competition's terms of reference were quite clear: it had to be based on the British ensign, which is what we would expect in 1901, but surely it is not what we would expect of multicultural Australia by the year 2001.

Senator Campbell —Do you want a hammer and sickle?

Senator REYNOLDS —Oh, really! Even after the winning design had been chosen, it had to be submitted to the British government and, more specifically, the British admiralty. Incidentally, approval was a year in coming. So much for Australian input and Australian decision making!

  Opposition senators interjecting

Senator REYNOLDS —Opposition senators do not like it, do they? In 1908, the Australian government was forced to seek British permission to add the seventh point to the Federation Star. Australia's choice was not over which flag to adopt. It was more a matter of deciding which local symbols should `deface the red and blue ensigns', the dominant background colours of the alternative flags. Even then there was no unequivocal decision in favour of the blue ensign. When introducing the Flags Bill in 1953, Senator George McLeay explained:

During the first twenty years of federation . . . the Australian Blue Ensign was regarded as a flag which should be flown only by Commonwealth Government departments and agencies whilst the Australian Red Ensign or the Union Jack was flown by Australian citizens.

That is still the practice in some places. But Australia's situation is not unique. In the debate about the flag, we should remember that in 1901 over 40 colonial flags followed a similar pattern—either red or blue ensigns with a local symbol. They had a strong family likeness because the colonies shared the same dependent relationship with the mother country of those days, which I believe all senators would expect of Australia at that stage in its history. But this reality has now been forgotten by present day defenders of the flag. It was clearly understood by the politicians who debated the Flags Bill in 1953. The member for Mallee, Winton Turnbull, explained:

Our flag symbolises the loyalty of Australia to the Empire and its unity with the British Commonwealth.

His colleague Percy Joske was more lyrical.

Senator Kemp —What did Evatt say and what did Calwell say in the debate?

Senator REYNOLDS —Listen and you might learn something, Senator. He observed:

In the most important part of the flag, the part nearest the hoist, appears the glorious Union Jack, a flag that thrills the heart of every Englishman.

Are we hearing in the Senate today from Englishmen who want to defend that very Britishness of our flag? When they were first flown in 1901, the Australian ensigns were appropriate symbols.

Senator Campbell —And Abetz is Australian. What are you? Who do you owe your allegiance to, you traitor? Who do you owe your allegiance to!

Senator REYNOLDS —I am a proud Australian. I owe my allegiance to Australia.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Herron)—Order! Senator Campbell, you will withdraw that remark.

Senator Campbell —I will be extremely happy to withdraw that remark, if Senator Reynolds withdraws the gross, disgraceful and disgusting reflection on my colleague Senator Abetz and his loyalty.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Campbell, there is no qualification for the withdrawal. You will withdraw.

Senator Campbell —I withdraw. I raise a point of order. I ask Senator Reynolds to withdraw her personal reflection on my colleague Senator Abetz in relation to his loyalty.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator REYNOLDS —I have not made any comment about Senator Abetz's loyalty. I am simply trying to bring Senator Abetz and some honourable senators in this place up to date on the circumstances of the flag debate.

Senator Campbell —Perhaps you were not listening to the debate, Mr Acting Deputy President. Senator Reynolds specifically referred to Senator Abetz as an Englishman. She said, `Perhaps we are hearing from an Englishman.' Senator Abetz is a proud Australian, a proud immigrant. That is a reflection upon him and I ask it to be withdrawn. I will continue to ask for it to be withdrawn until Senator Reynolds's time runs out.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I was listening to the debate. There is no point of order.

  A quorum having been called and the bells being rung—

Senator REYNOLDS —I was not talking about Senator Abetz; I was talking about you.

Senator Campbell —You can withdraw that now too, if you want.

  (Quorum formed)

Senator REYNOLDS —Can I clarify the remark that obviously stunned a number of opposition senators? Because opposition senators were interjecting, I did say something—and we will have to check the Hansard—about Englishmen. I accept that Senator Campbell felt particularly stunned by that.

Senator Campbell —I raise a point of order. During the ringing of the quorum bells, Senator Reynolds clarified her remarks and said that she was not calling Senator Abetz an Englishman; she was calling me an Englishman. I now take offence. She has repeated that offence. I ask her to withdraw it.

Senator REYNOLDS —On the point of order: I apologise if people feel that I was calling them Englishmen when they are in fact Australian. But I cannot understand how Australians cannot accept that Australia, as a multicultural society, wants its own symbols.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Reynolds, I think you have responded to the point of order. You may now resume the debate.

Senator REYNOLDS —Thank you. I thought this was a relatively non-controversial setting to place some facts on the record—

Senator Campbell —If you want to tear up the flag, it is going to be controversial.

Senator REYNOLDS —I am not tearing up anything; I am simply setting out the facts relating to the Flags Act. Time has passed since 1901. Some of us have noticed that and some of us have not. Time has moved on and flags have changed in sympathy all over the world. Almost all the countries which once had colonial flags have replaced them, appreciating that they could not symbolise the ideals and aspirations of independence.

  Even here in Australia, the Northern Territory has abandoned the symbol of the old empire and of British government. The Northern Territory flag is a wonderful flag and a wonderful symbol for that territory. I compliment the Northern Territory government—something unusual for me—on that aspect of its policy which has resulted in a unique and very distinctive flag.

  As I was saying, there are 47 ex-British colonies which now have distinctive national flags. That leaves Australia, New Zealand and Fiji as the only ex-colonies to retain the flag of the empire. Our embarrassment is compounded by the fact that few remaining British colonies still fly the Blue Ensign. So as far as flags are concerned, Australia lines up with the Virgin Islands, St Helena, Pitcairn Island, the Falklands and the British Antarctic Territory—strange company for an independent nation. We can scarcely claim that people outside Australia do not understand our point of view.

  In conclusion, the issue at the core of this debate is Australia's future. We must involve people in the debate and get the facts on the public record. The debate cannot be allowed to degenerate into name calling and accusations about tearing up the flag. We are all loyal to the flag we have at the moment but many Australians say—and I agree with them—that we need to look to the flag of the future. They are saying that we should go into the centenary of Federation in the year 2001 with a new national symbol for the future.

  I am amazed that there are honourable senators on the other side who cannot approach this as an intellectual debate. They cannot consider the facts. They resort to abuse and accusations about tearing up the flag. Really, that surprises me.