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Monday, 29 August 1994
Page: 501

Senator COLLINS (Minister for Primary Industries and Energy) (5.00 p.m.) —Mr Acting Deputy President, it is perfectly true, as Senator Baume said, that there has been some—I think the correct word is `some'—controversy over this issue. People have divided views about whether Cathy Freeman was right in doing what she did or whether the games officials—Arthur Tunstall in particular who, on all reports, initiated the official reprimand against her—were right.

  The mover of this motion—the Australian Democrats—and the government had every reason to believe that there would be no controversy in this chamber on this issue. Controversy exists but there was every reason to believe, because of some firm statements that have been made, that there would be no controversy in the Senate. I will tell the Senate why by quoting from a press statement dated 24 August 1994 and headed `Cathy Freeman':

I congratulate Cathy Freeman on winning the 400 metres race at the Commonwealth Games.

It was a proud moment for all Australians as she is the first Aboriginal woman to win a gold medal.

The last sentence reads:

She has every reason to take great pride in her heritage and to carry both the Aboriginal flag and the Australian flag.

That statement was released by the Leader of the Opposition, Alexander Downer.

  I ask the Senate to compare that press statement with the nonsense we have heard this afternoon. Senator Baume said that he was happy with the word `commend'—which, I suggest, is a far stronger word than `support'—but the opposition wants to remove the word `support'. I would be happy to remove `support' and put `commend'; it is a much stronger word.

  The opposition wants to understand what Cathy Freeman did, not to support it. That is not what I want to do. I want to support what the Democrats want to do. I can understand circumstances in which one spouse kills another. I do not support the action but, occasionally, I can understand why it happens. As Senator Campbell said by way of interjection, that statement means nothing.

  We want this motion to mean something. That is why the Democrats and the government are doing what is utterly legitimate in this chamber this afternoon—expressing our view on the issue.

  I would like to make a few comments about the general question. I have to declare something of a personal interest in the Aboriginal flag. I regard it as one of the outstanding flags of the world, as do professional flag designers. It is a striking flag.

  I also have to declare a personal interest in that the designer of the flag, Harold Thomas, is a personal friend of mine—he is a Luritja man, of course, from the Northern Territory. I am very proud of the flag he designed in 1971 because it has come to be accepted not only nationally but internationally as a special—can I say it—Australian flag with which Aboriginal Australians strongly identify. That is accepted not just here in Australia but around the world.

  I want to make that point because the Aboriginal flag is an Australian flag. I heard a representative of the games officials in an interview on the ABC explaining the decision to reprimand Cathy Freeman. He said, `We have had requests from Italian Australians to have an Italian flag, and from Greek Australians to have a Greek flag, and from Welsh Australians to have a Welsh flag'. Of course they should not fly those flags because they are not Australian flags. The Aboriginal flag—one of the most striking national symbols that we have in Australia—is not just an Australian flag; it is a flag that identifies with the first Australians. How much more Australian could it be?

  I ask a simple question: who, in the opinion of this Senate, has been a better ambassador for Australia in Canada—Cathy Freeman or Arthur Tunstall and the games officials who reprimanded her? I suggest that is a particularly easy question to answer.  The fact is that Arthur Tunstall and, I regret to say, people like Steve Hatton, the Northern Territory Minister for Aboriginal Development, who supported him, are symbols of the past. Cathy Freeman is a symbol of the future.

  Amendment negatived.

  Original question resolved in the affirmative.