Monday, 30 August 2021
That this House:
(1) recognises and celebrates the 120th anniversary of the Australian national flag which occurs on 3 September 2021;
(2) honours the ideals for which our national flag stands including our history, geography and unity as a federated nation;
(3) notes that this is the world's only national flag ever to fly over one entire continent;
(4) acknowledges that our flag has been Australia's pre-eminent national symbol in times of adversity and war, peacetime and prosperity;
(5) further recognises that our flag now belongs to the Australian people and has been an integral part of the expression of our national pride; and
(6) expresses its respect for the Australian national flag as a symbol of our profound achievements as a federation, our independence and freedom as a people, and our optimism for a common future together.
Later this week our nation, right across our wide brown land, will celebrate the 120th anniversary of the date that our Australian National Flag was first flown, on 3 September 1901, above the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, and for more than a century now our flag has been flying high, symbolising our pride and our national unity. However, it wasn't until 1996 that the then Governor-General proclaimed the first Australian National Flag Day. This year marks 25 years since that point and, again, we are getting prepared to celebrate our National Flag Day.
It also gives us cause to reflect on the foundations of our federation. In doing so, I spent some time over the weekend reflecting on some of the papers of the Australasian constitutional conventions of the 1890s, which was made particularly easy, given the fact that we are in lockdown in Canberra. Blissfully, they're easily available on the parliamentary website. They paint a really fascinating picture. We see in those papers that, as I said, these conventions went throughout the 1890s. They were filled with passionate politicians who ended up being, obviously, some of the earliest leaders in our national parliament. In the papers, there's talk of telegrams, insults and division. In some ways we see many of those elements here still in the parliament, except that, rather than telegrams, we have Twitter. But the point here is that there was really passionate debate about trying to get our starting constitution as good as it could possibly be. It did take a decade get there, but it continues to serve us really well at this point in time.
Above this building is Canberra's most iconic landmark. We see the Australian National Flag, which is the size of a double-decker bus, flying up there. Its apex is at the centre of Parliament House. It marks the intersection of the lawmaking axis, with the House of Representatives and the Senate both adjacent to the centre of the building. This provides us with a powerful symbol of Australia, representing our distinctive national identity. Like all flags around the world, the role of our flag is to help unify our nation, and it belongs to all citizens equally.
It's also an opportunity for us to reflect on the meaning, the history and the heritage of flag itself. Our first Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. Sir Edmund Barton, back in 1901 launched a competition to design the new flag for the Commonwealth of Australia. There were 33,000 submissions. The winning five were almost identical, so they shared in the 200 pound prize money. The winning designs, as we know, symbolise our history, geography and unity. The Union Jack in the upper left corner represents the history of British settlement. Below it, the Federation star and its seven points represent the unity of the six states and territories. Finally, the constellation of the Southern Cross, five stars that can be seen only from the Southern Hemisphere, is a reminder of our geography. The five stars of the Southern Cross are also significant in Indigenous legends and remind us of our rich and precious Aboriginal and Torres Strait heritage.
I also recognise the other official Australian flags, including the Australian Aboriginal Flag, the Torres Strait Islander Flag and the ensigns of the Australian Defence Force. Indeed, our flag has seen us through some of our most challenging times and some of our most significant. It's the national symbol under which we fought during wars, the ensign we fly at half-mast when commemorating Anzac Day and the emblem we wear on our shoulders when undertaking military operations. I, along with quite a number of members in this House—I think we are approaching about platoon strength now—have deployed in many places around the world, both on operations and training activities, and have very proudly represented Australia and our national interests. We have also just seen the Olympians and we are now seeing our Paralympians very proudly wearing our flag as a symbol of hope for our common future of continued independence, freedom and democracy.
[by video link] I can see that there are a few Carlton supporters in the chamber. None of us now have a bit of extra time in September—we usually do at this time of the year!
Anyway, I'm pleased to talk about the motion put forward by the member today, and to talk about our flags, because I have a few things to say about our flags. First of all, the Australian flag flies proudly on top of Australia's Parliament House. I see with delight the schoolkids driving into Parliament House, seeing this national monument and seeing our flag—our country's flag—flying on top the building which, frankly, I wish I was in right now. I know that not only the state of the building but the state of the country right now is a difficult one and that there are many challenges which face our country.
But, to be honest, I would take a different position to that of the previous member speaking, in saying that our flags and the state of the flags in this country actually require some reform and updating. First of all, we have three official flags: obviously, the Australian flag is one of them, along with the Aboriginal Flag and the Torres Strait Islander Flag. Of course I acknowledge the Defence Force ensigns as well. But in terms of our three official flags: the protocol at the moment is that our Australian flag must take prominence and precedence over the other two flags. It must take precedence over our Aboriginal and our Torres Strait Islander flags. In fact, when displaying them in any official circumstance, the Australian flag must be higher than the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags.
At the moment, we cannot even have the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags displayed in our houses of parliament, in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. Frankly I don't think that's how it should be. I think that we have three official flags and that when displaying our three flags we should treat them equally, with equal respect and equal dignity. That means they should be flown equally and that no one flag takes prominence over the other. And, in respect to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country, I would like to see the flags, when displayed in Parliament House, or in schools or in other official capacities, flown equally, respectfully and side by side to represent the different parts of our country.
Obviously, I understand that there's a need for a single flag to be the one that designates our country, and I think that for the moment the Australian flag is one that we all have a fondness for. But that doesn't mean that we should accept the status quo, and it certainly doesn't mean that in certain circumstances—especially in our nation's parliament—and especially in the House where all members are treated equally and where all members of this nation are treated equally, with equal respect, dignity and speaking time—we wouldn't have an arrangement where our flags are given that same level of respect, dignity and equality. So I say that we should have the Aboriginal flag flown proudly in the House of Representatives and I say that we should have the Torres Strait Islander flag flown proudly in the House of Representatives.
I do note that there was a proposal last year in the Senate, moved during NAIDOC Week by Senators McCarthy, Dodson and Thorpe, that both the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags be flown in the Senate. I think it is a great shame that the government decided to vote that down. I think this will be a reform that our houses of parliament adopt at some point, and I think the government chose to be on the wrong side of history in that particular debate. I would say to you, Mr Speaker, and to those members debating this that we all hope that our country recovers. But I would say in regard to this debate that we have three flags of equal importance, of equal part of our history, and they should be treated equally by this nation.
I have pleasure in speaking to this motion moved by the honourable member for Stirling, coming as it does to mark the 120th anniversary of the first flying of the Australian flag on the exhibition buildings in Melbourne, where the Australian parliament sat from 1901 until the Old Parliament House was built here in Canberra, on the 25th anniversary of the proclamation of 3 September as Australian National Flag Day.
One of the more pleasant duties I have as a member of parliament—at least in the time prior to COVID—is to present an Australian flag to various organisations within my electorate—often primary schools but also aged-care homes, service clubs and a variety of others, including more recently kindergartens and childcare centres. Just a few months ago I was able to present a flag to one of the childcare centres in my electorate. I was amazed at the knowledge that these four-year-olds had about the Australian flag. In presenting the flag, I usually get the children to hold up the flag and then I ask them questions about what it means. I have found—and I find this regularly—that young children, including those in preschool but particularly those in primary school, know a great deal about the Australian flag.
The Australian flag represents three things, in a sense: our heritage, our place as the great southern land and our federation. Our heritage is represented in the Union Jack, itself a combination of the flags of England, Scotland and Ireland—the cross of St George, the cross of St Andrew and the cross of St Patrick brought together in an amalgamation which goes back to 1606 to form the Union Jack. That was made official by royal proclamation in 1801. As I said, it represents our heritage in that it represents the European establishment here in Australia following the discoveries of the early explorers with Captain James Cook and then the settlement with Captain Arthur Phillip. Secondly, the flag represents our place as the great southern land, the great southern continent of the Southern Hemisphere. That is represented by the constellation of the Southern Cross, which can be seen only in the Southern Hemisphere, not in the Northern Hemisphere, of this globe. Thirdly, the flag represents our federation, because that large Commonwealth star which is placed on the flag below the Union Jack represents the coming together of the former colonies in the Federation and the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia.
As I said, I find that primary school students often know all these things when I ask them about the flag. It shows a degree of knowledge and indeed a degree of pride in the Australian flag—and of course we should have that pride in the Australian flag. Each Australia Day, when I present local community Australia Day awards, I present to one of the organisations in my electorate a flag which is flown here in this chamber, which you present, Mr Speaker, as Speaker, to each member of parliament to provide to community organisations. I continue to be amazed, when I nominate an organisation each year to come and receive the Australian flag on Australia Day—one that is flown here, with an appropriate certificate to indicate that—by how much pride there is by those organisations in the flag.
This is a flag which has marked our times of mourning and our times of celebration. As we recall the terrible events of the last few days in Afghanistan, we can also recall that our flag has been proudly taken into battle and places of conflict on the tunics and uniforms of the Australian defence forces. It's the same flag which draped the coffins of those 41 brave Australians who lost their lives in Afghanistan, and other Australians in other conflicts around the world over the decades. It's the flag which is flown at half-mast on Anzac Day, Remembrance Day and other days of national military significance. But it's also the flag of celebration. It's the flag that we see raised above the Paralympics; the flag we saw raised above the Olympics. The Australian flag: a flag for all of us which is used, as I said, on times of mourning and times of celebration. It's our national flag; may it continue to be so.
[by video link] I'm pleased to speak on the motion moved by the member for Stirling. National Flag Day is 3 September, marking the day the Australian national flag flew for the first time in 1901, and it will be 120 years since then this September. Before 1901 there was no national flag—in fact, arguably, before 1901 there was no nation of Australia. In that year, 1901, the six British colonies, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, united to form the Commonwealth of Australia, and that's when we became this wonderful federated nation that we are today.
It's interesting, in 2021, to look back at why the six colonies wanted to join together as a nation. We know that there are differences. Why didn't each colony just continue with their own governments, laws, defence forces, stamps, tariffs et cetera? The drive towards federation started in the late 1800s. Obviously there were practical difficulties associated with having six colonies—things that haven't gone away. Movement of goods between the colonies was complicated, as the colonies all had different rail gauges and each colony charged tariffs for goods moving across their borders. Each colony had its own defence force, but none would have been capable on their own of defending the colonies. They still relied on the British navy to protect the coastline. In 1899, soldiers from each of the colonies served together as Australians in the Boer War. But defence of Australia was just one of the pivotal reasons for forming the federation.
But that federation didn't happen overnight. In 1889, Sir Henry Parkes called for a great national government for all Australians. In 1891, delegates met for the first National Australasian Convention in Sydney. The convention spent five weeks debating and writing a draft constitution. Every aspect of the constitution was thoroughly considered. A version of this draft eventually became the Australian Constitution that we follow today. One of the key features of the draft constitution was that the federal parliament would have responsibility for areas that affected the whole nation, such as trade, defence, immigration, postal and telegraphic services, marriage and divorce. And do you know what else made its way into the Constitution as a responsibility of the new federal government because of its effect on the whole nation? Quarantine. After a series of referendums in the colonies for the people to agree to federation, on 1 January 1901 Australia became a nation.
A public competition was held to find a design for the Australian national flag, and the winner was announced on 3 September 1901. Some small changes were made to the flag in the years after 1901, but the flag has basically remained unchanged since 1908. The design itself is still important. The Commonwealth star has seven points, with six representing the six colonies that I mentioned and the seventh representing all of the territories. The Southern Cross is symbolic of our unique place in the world. The three crosses on the flag, the crosses of Saint George, Saint Andrew and Saint Patrick, represent the principles our nation was founded on: parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech, the rights and responsibilities of the citizens and that connection back to the UK. At the recent Olympics in Tokyo, we watched as Australian flag-bearers Patty Mills and Cate Campbell proudly displayed our national flag in the opening ceremony. When our athletes were presented with medals on the podium, it was our national flag that flew proudly overhead on so many occasions.
It may not have been intended when the flag was designed, but the inclusion of the Southern Cross has particular significance to First Nations people. The first people of earth to see the constellation of stars we call the Southern Cross were Indigenous Australians, First Nations people. The late Indigenous poet Kath Walker, who grew up on Stradbroke Island, not far from Brisbane, has told of knowing the Southern Cross as Mirrabooka. Mirrabooka was given spirit form to guard his people. He was placed in the sky to look over the people he loved. I love that story and I love that Mirrabooka is now part of the Australian national flag, because our flag should be a source of pride for everyone.
You can badge yourself with the Australian national flag and you can wrap yourself up in it, but it means nothing unless you are living the ideals that it represents. You can stand in front of the national flag and make announcement after announcement that impacts on all Australians, but the flag won't change the impact of those announcements. It won't make untruths true and it won't make spin reality.
[by video link] I'm proud to have North Sydney Oval as my background today. Just over a month ago, so many millions of Australians shared the common experience late at night of watching the opening of the Tokyo Olympics. The two weeks of Olympic sporting competition and Australia's incredible success were for many the bright spot during COVID lockdowns. At the opening ceremony and at so many medal presentations that followed, we were united in pride when we saw the best of our athletes represent our nation under the Australian flag. When Patty Mills and Cate Campbell walked into the Olympic stadium, we saw our flag in their hands and we let out a collective cheer. We did so again last week when Danni Di Toro and Ryley Batt held our flag at the opening ceremony of the Paralympics.
For 120 years that flag has been there above and with Australians at the best of times and during the worst—during the triumphs of our achievements and the horrors of the military battlefield. It flies over this parliament on that great flagpole that is the apex of our national democracy. I want to thank the member for Stirling for bringing this motion to the House so we can properly acknowledge the 120th anniversary of that moment our flag was first unfurled by Sir Edmund Barton to fly over the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne on 3 September 1901.
The path to Federation and Australian nationhood was a singularly great achievement for the Australians of that time. We were a nation not born from conflict or revolutionary wars but instead created by the best of democratic ideals and processes. It was to be a similar process with the design of the Australian flag, created as it was through an international design competition that attracted almost 33,000 entries. The award for the winning design was to be shared by five people. It represented the egalitarianism of the new Commonwealth. Ivor Evans was a 14-year-old schoolboy from Melbourne; Leslie John Hawkins, a teenage apprentice to a Sydney optician; Egbert John Nuttall, a Melbourne architect; and Annie Dorrington, an artist from Perth. Even a Kiwi was in the mix: William Stevens, a ship's officer from Auckland, New Zealand. For their efforts, the winners shared in a 200-pound prize pool, including money donated by a tobacco company, something we'd probably best to try to forget today. It was a princely sum for the time.
Two years after its first display, King Edward VII formally approved the design for the flag of the Commonwealth of Australia, and in 1953 the Menzies government enacted the Flags Act, which confirmed the blue ensign as our national flag. In 1996, Australian National Flag Day was formally proclaimed by the Governor-General, and it has been celebrated ever since on 3 September. Sadly, COVID-19 restrictions will mean that many of the celebrations that otherwise would have been held this week have been moved to different platforms.
As an ambassador for Australian Flag Day, I've been looking forward to emceeing the commemorations plan for Martin Place in Sydney, but this is not to be. Nonetheless, this coming Friday is an important occasion to reflect on the history and the enduring symbolism of our flag. I've long supported the flag in its current form; in fact, one of my first television experiences was participating in an A Current Affair debate on the future of the flag, hosted by the legendary Jana Wendt, between the then president of Young Labor and me in my role as Young Liberals president.
Our flag reflects who and where we are as a nation. The Southern Cross represents our geography, as the most notable constellation of the southern skies. Its importance spans tens of thousands of years for Indigenous Australians, as it has in more recent times for nations of the Southern Hemisphere like New Zealand and our own. The Commonwealth star represents our federation with its representation of our six states and our territories. The Union Jack in recent times has become perhaps the most contested element of the flag. In 1901 its presence would have been relatively uncontroversial, such was our allegiance to Britain at the time. Since then, its significance has evolved. I see its presence not just as a reminder of our history; more importantly, it is an enduring reminder that, while our Constitution was shaped by the democratic forms of many nations, including the structure of institutions in the United States, it is the liberal democratic ideals of the Westminster system that have guided our own development as a nation.
Symbols do matter, and Australians are proud of the Australian flag. So this Friday I hope all of us will pause to remember the incredible 120-year history of our flag and all that it has represented and continues to represent about our incredible nation.
In today's debate in the House, we are recognising and celebrating the centenary of the Australian national flag—the 120th anniversary that occurs this Friday, 3 September. We honour the ideals for which our national flag stands, including our history, geography and unity as a federated nation, and we note that this is the world's only national flag to ever fly over one entire continent. We acknowledge that our flag has been Australia's pre-eminent national symbol in times of adversity, war, peacetime and prosperity. We further recognise that our flag now belongs to the Australian people and has been an integral part of the expression of our national pride. We express our respect for the Australian national flag as a symbol of our profound achievements as a federation, of our independence and freedom as a people, and of our optimism for a common future together.
Who would have thought, when the 32,823 entrants, the men, women and children at the time, in 1900-1901, who helped design our flag, that they would see our society and our nation as it is today? Sir Edmund Barton announced the five winning entrants: Ivor Evans, Leslie Hawkins, Egbert John Nuttall, William Stevens and, the only woman to win, Annie Dorrington. I can only imagine what they would think of this building, this chamber and what we're discussing today when they sat down with their ink and paper to look at how Australia would be and what we would become. Two hundred pounds, the prize money, was a lot of money back then, and it had to be shared by the five of them. But it was a lot of money going into a very significant moment of our history.
The Australian flag is special, and it represents our country's values, its diverse people, its triumphs and its challenges throughout history. I want to focus in my remarks today on the flags that fly in this building and this parliament that I am standing in. We all know that as members we have the honour of being presented with these flags, a special occasion that occurs, by the Speaker. I had the opportunity to present one of these flags, which flew for the first time in this place on 15 August 2015—my parents' wedding anniversary—to Colonel Mark Smith, who was serving in Afghanistan. He proudly flew that flag in Afghanistan.
I remember entering this chamber for the first time and being sworn in, which was exactly five years ago today, 30 August—the member for Fisher, the member for Tangney, the member for Goldstein and I—and I remember looking at those flags and being in awe of what they represented, and how I was part of that story as well.
So I presented that flag, and it flew at Camp Qargha. I was so pleased that it was to a member of our ADF who was serving at the time, and I've reflected on that interaction specifically over the past few weeks. That flag was flown on Anzac Day in 2020 at Camp Qargha. The member for Fisher and I had the privilege of visiting Afghanistan in 2017. Then, that flag continued its journey where I presented it to St Joseph's Primary School at Corinda. I encouraged the students at that important ceremony to think of Colonel Smith, who is a father at that school, and all the service people like him who exemplify our proud Australian values of courage, mateship and selflessness.
Our values and our freedom are hard-won through the sacrifices of those who chose to serve our country, like my father, the late Allan Baxter Dick, who served under that flag in World War II. Our flag represents not only their sacrifice but the millions of diverse Australians who everyday benefit from their protection. I'm proud to support this motion today, but I'm also proud to support our nation's flag.
[by video link] I'm delighted to speak today about the history and importance of the Australian national flag. The Australian national flag was designed and adopted as a result of a public competition over 120 years ago. It wasn't created by politicians and bureaucrats but by Australians themselves. The competition received 32,823 entries, with the winning design being won by five almost identical entries. Each of the five winners shared in 200 pounds of prize money—that's almost $30,000 today. The joint winners were Annie Dorrington, a well-known artist from Perth; Ivor Evans, a 14-year-old Melbourne schoolboy whose father owned a flag-making business; Lesley Hawkins, an 18-year-old from Leichhardt who was apprenticed to a Sydney optician; Eggbert Nutall, an architect with the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works; and William Stevens, a first officer with the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand. When you think about the diversity of that group—different ages, different occupations, living in different parts of Australia and even New Zealand—it underscores the point that our flag belongs to all of us. As the former Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove said:
Ultimately, our flag serves as a potent symbol of our nation. One nation, of many backgrounds, but ultimately united together by shared values and ideals and a respect for each other and the diversity that is the very essence of who we are.
The Australian national flag has three elements on a blue background: the Union Jack, the Commonwealth star and the Southern Cross. The Union Jack in the upper left corner represents the history and contribution of Britain to Australia. Our law, our language, our freedoms, our culture and many of our social norms are part of our British inheritance. Below the Union Jack is the white Commonwealth or Federation star. It has seven points representing the unity of the six states and the seventh, added in 1908, represents the territories of the Commonwealth. The star is also featured on the Commonwealth Coat of Arms. The Southern Cross is shown on the flag in white. It's a constellation of five stars that can only be seen from the Southern Hemisphere and is a reminder of Australia's geography.
The flag was flown for the first time on 3 September 1901 at the Exhibition Building in Melbourne. On that day, Prime Minister Edmund Barton announced the winners of the competition. A large flag, 5.5 metres by 11 metres, was flown over the dome at the building. Each year Australia marks National Flag Day on 3 September. This year is the flag's 120th birthday.
In February 1903, King Edward VII officially approved the design for the official Australian flag and the Australian red ensign for Australia's merchant ships and private pleasure craft. It's a flag that we've carried into battle. It's a flag raised at moments of remembrance like Anzac Day and a flag raised at moments of celebration like the Olympics and Paralympics. I was moved earlier this year when I saw the damage the floods on the Hawkesbury River had created. Those floods destroyed the St George caravan park at Lower Portland in my electorate. But among the debris was a solitary Australian flag, tattered but still flying, a beacon of hope at a time of tragedy.
An amendment to the Flags Act was introduced by the Howard government and passed in 1998 to ensure that the Australian national flag could only be changed with the agreement of the Australian people at a referendum. This was to protect the flag from the designs of Ausflag and some members of the Labor Party who wanted to see the flag changed. I believe our flag should never be changed.
The Australian National Flag Association was formed in 1983 to promote our flag and educate people about it, and I note that their longtime office bearer John Christian Vaughan was recently awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia at the Queen's Birthday awards.
Australian National Flag Day is an opportunity for people to celebrate with pride the anniversary of our flag. I encourage people in my electorate and across Australia to fly or display the Australian national flag every day, but particularly this Friday, to show pride in Australia, its history, its institutions and to celebrate the 120th birthday of our amazing flag.
I want to finish my remarks with a poem by Robert Northover, written in 1986, called Our Flag:
Our Flag wears the stars that blaze at night,
In our Southern skies of blue,
And a little old flag in the corner,
That's part of our heritage too.
It's for the English, the Scots and the Irish,
Who were sent to the ends of the earth,
The rogues and schemers, the doers and dreamers,
Who gave modern Australia its birth.
And you, who are shouting to change it,
You don't seem to understand,
It's the flag of our laws and our language,
Not the flag of a faraway land.
Though there are plenty of people who'll tell you,
How when Europe was plunged into night,
That little old flag in the corner,
Was their symbol of freedom and light.
It doesn't mean we owe allegiance,
To a forgotten imperial dream,
We've the stars to show where we're going,
And the old flag to show where we've been.
It's only an old piece of bunting,
It's only an old piece of rag,
But there are thousands who've died for its honour,
And shed of their blood for OUR FLAG.
I particularly want to acknowledge the contributions of others who have spoken in this debate, in particular the very good speech by my friend the member for North Sydney, who reminded us that the Southern Cross doesn't just remind us of our own geography but has particular resonance for the Indigenous Australians as well. As the chair of the House Indigenous affairs committee I also want to elevate that point. Thank you.