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Minister rejects criticism of guidelines stipulating that only government representatives should officiate at flag-raising ceremonies in schools.

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Wednesday 25 May 2005

Minister rejects criticism of guidelines stipulating that only government representatives should officiate at flag-raising ceremonies in schools


MARK COLVIN: The West Australian Government has offered to pay for new school flagpoles after it accused the Federal Government of playing politics with the national flag. 


The Federal Government wants the Australian flag to be flown at all schools but the guidelines stipulate that a government representative will officiate at ceremonies. 


This provision has incensed the West Australian Federal Labor MP Graham Edwards, who lost his legs in a landmine blast in the Vietnam War. 


Mr Edwards believes that as a veteran, he should be able to take an official role, and shouldn't be excluded simply because he's in the Labor Party.  


David Weber reports.  


DAVID WEBER: The Member for Cowan, Graham Edwards, said he was contacted about a flagpole ceremony at a primary school in his own electorate. He was surprised to find out he wouldn't have an official role. 


GRAHAM EDWARDS: The principal actually rang me and you know, in a fairly embarrassed way, and said look, we've got this ceremony, but we can't invite you. And he explained why. It was then pushed a bit, and what eventually was arranged was I could attend but I was not allowed to officiate at the flag raising ceremony. 


DAVID WEBER: He said it's happened to other members in the Opposition. 


While he supports the Government's move to have the flag raised at every school, Mr Edwards doesn't like the process. 


GRAHAM EDWARDS: I speak at a lot of ANZAC ceremonies. I love to see the way our young students respect and honour the flag, and I'm not sure why I felt so angry about this issue, and I suspect it has something to do with being a veteran. 


DAVID WEBER: The Federal Education Minister, Brendan Nelson, told Parliament today that flagpoles have been supplied to 1,670 schools around Australia. 


Doctor Nelson said he can't find any evidence that Mr Edwards was refused an invitation to the ceremony in question. 


BRENDAN NELSON: But were that to be the case, were that to be the case, I would join him in being outraged, because under no circumstances does the Australian Government believe that the commissioning of flagpoles in Australian schools should preclude an invitation being offered by the school to any other Member of Parliament. 


DAVID WEBER: But the guidelines require that a government representative should be invited to officiate. 


This afternoon, the Premier of Western Australia, Geoff Gallop, stepped into the controversy. 


GEOFF GALLOP: The flag is owned by all of Australians. Taxpayers' money is not in the ownership of the Commonwealth Government. It's everyone's money. And so I've made it clear to any schools throughout Western Australia that if they need their flag pole upgraded, or if they need a new flagpole, the State Government will provide it, and of course we won't put these political conditions on the way the flag ceremonies are conducted. 


DAVID WEBER: It's an issue that's angered veterans. 


Talkback callers to ABC Radio in Perth this morning said the flag should be above politics. 


TALKBACK CALLER: I would think that in the spirit of mateship of the Prime Minister that what we should have done is ask the school community if they have a suitable returned service person who would be suitable to officiate at the ceremony, and they would have used that person. 


TALKBACK CALLER 2: The flag belongs to the Australian people. The money that goes into the Government belongs to us. He has no right to do that and I agree that the RSL should probably be contacted to see who they could supply for that. 


TALKBACK CALLER 3: Look, I'm a long time member of the RSL, and I call on the State President and the Federal President of the RSL to intervene in this matter.  


MARK COLVIN: Talkback callers to ABC Radio in Perth this morning, ending David Weber's report.