Australian flag debate

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The Australian flag debate is a periodic question over whether the Australian flag should be changed, particularly to remove the Union Jack from the canton, but also to possibly introduce a completely new design without the Southern Cross.[1]

The debate has often arisen in connection with the issue of republicanism in Australia. It has come to a head on a number of occasions, such as the period immediately preceding the Australian Bicentenary in 1988, and also during the Prime Ministership of Paul Keating, who had publicly raised the topic of flag change during the early-1990s economic recession.

The case for changing the flag[edit]

A poster released by Ausflag prior to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, displaying some of the many other flags containing the Union Jack in the canton.
A 1918 World War I-era Australian postcard congratulating Australia on winning the war. Includes Union Jack and Australian Red Ensign.

The case for changing the flag has been led by the organisation known as Ausflag. The organisation has not consistently supported one design, and is opposed to the Eureka Flag, but has sponsored a number of design competitions to develop alternative flag candidates.

Supporters of changing the flag have made the following arguments:

  • The flag is not distinctive because it contains the national flag of another country in a position of prominence. In particular, the flag is difficult to distinguish from a variety of flags based on the British Blue Ensign, most notably the national flag of New Zealand and the state flag of Victoria. For example when Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke visited Canada in 1984, Ottawa was decked out with New Zealand flags in his honour.[2] The Australian Monarchist League, during their "no" campaign for the Australian republic referendum in 1999, displayed the New Zealand flag instead of the Australian flag in one of their pamphlets.[3] Again in 2013, the Australian Monarchist League mistakenly captioned the New Zealand flag as being the Australian flag on their website.[2][4]
  • It does not accurately connote Australia's status as an independent nation. The Union Jack at the canton suggests Australia is a British colony or dependency. New Zealand, Fiji and Tuvalu are the only other independent nations in the world to feature the Union Jack on their national flags. Other Commonwealth countries whose flags originally depicted the Union Jack, such as Canada, have since changed them, without becoming republics. The flag's colours of red, white and blue are neither Australia's official national colours (green and gold) nor its traditional heraldic colours (blue and gold).
  • In representing only Australia's British heritage, the flag is anachronistic, and does not reflect the change to a multicultural, pluralist society. In particular, the flag makes no mention of indigenous Australians, many of whom regard the Union Jack as a symbol of colonial oppression and dispossession.
  • The existing flag is historically not the prime national symbol. For most of the time since Federation, it was flown alongside the British Union Jack which took precedence as the National Flag from 1924 until 1954. Until the late 1920s the Federation Flag remained more popular than the Australian flag for public and even some official events. For example, the Federation Flag was flown during the 1927 visit to Australia of the Duke and Duchess of York, the future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.[5] The number of points of the stars have varied since 1901, and the present blue version was not adopted as the national flag until 1954. Before then, the Union Jack took precedence and confusion reigned between whether the red or blue version of the Australian flag was to be preferred, with the red often winning out.
  • It is spurious to claim that Australians have "fought and died under the flag", given that during most of the wars Australians have been involved in, they have usually "fought under" various British flags or the Australian Red Ensign.[6] Prior to 1941 only 10 per cent of military ensigns were Blue and in 1945 Red ensigns were flown along the route of the official end of war parades.[7] The flag made in secret by the Changi prisoners-of-war was a red ensign.[8] The coffins of Australia's war dead were draped with the Union Jack.[9]
  • Although the flag was designed by four Australians, including two teenagers, and a man from New Zealand[10] and chosen through a public competition, the conditions of entry for the Review of Reviews competition - which was integrated into the government initiative - were highly suggestive that the winning design must include the Union Jack and Southern Cross,[11][12][13] and final approval lay with King Edward VII and, because both the red and blue versions were considered naval ensigns, the British Admiralty.[9]

The case against changing the flag[edit]

The Australian National Flag Association was formed to maintain the status quo.

Opponents of changing the flag have made the following arguments:

  • The existing flag has stood the test of time and changing fashions to become "the most embraced Australian symbol" [14] with there being no rival continental designs of any significance currently in circulation.[15]
  • The flag is a unique combination of devices recognised by law, custom and tradition as Australia’s chief national symbol. The Australian National Flag Association claims it represents all Australian citizens, equally of whatever, background, race, colour, religion or age.[16]
  • The existing flag should remain as a tribute to the nation's war dead and returned servicemen.[17] In 1908, Australian Army Military Order, No 58/08 ordered that the "Australian Ensign" replace the Union Flag at all military establishments.[18] From 1911 it was introduced into service as the saluting flag at all reviews and ceremonial parades.[19] That same year when the Royal Australian Navy was promulgated warships were directed to fly the blue ensign from the jackstaff [20] which was also commonly used a battle ensign when at action stations. The military history of the two red, white and blue Australian flags is still recalled as part of the Anzac tradition with 3 September also being declared as both Australian National Flag/Merchant Navy Day which allows the Australian red ensign to be flown on land for the occasion as a matter of protocol.[21][22]
  • The existing flag is based on the 1901 competition winning design in terms of its essential elements thus representing continuity of nation hood being the flag "that Australia has grown up under, and the flag that has been associated with all of her many achievements on the international scene", such as every Olympic games since 1904.[15]
  • The design was a legitimate expression of popular sentiment at the time of Federation being generally reflective of all entries received in the 1901 Federal Flag Design Competition. The five successful contestants who had submitted similar designs included four Australians and a man from New Zealand.[10][23]

Legal status of the national flag from 1901 to 1953[edit]

There has been sub contention over the defacto and dejure status of the Australian national flag since federation in relation to the historic precedence of the existing design. Supporters of the status quo generally maintain that it was inaugurated as the chief national symbol on the day it was first flown being 3 September 1901, which is officially known as Australian National Flag Day.[21] Spokespersons for Ausflag on the other hand have cited the commencement date of the Flags Act as being when definitive legislative recognition was accorded, with the design henceforth being required to be flown in the prime position in the order of precedence. It is also said that the Australian red ensign was effectively a defacto national flag on land during the pre 1953 period.[24]

Eminent American authority Dr Whitney Smith, a noted early pioneer of the art and science of vexillology as an academic field of endeavor, has said in his treatise on the subject that the acquisition of a national flag is generally a gradual process and that the Australian flag was "Officially adopted 22 May 1909; confirmed in present form 15 April 1954".[25] The earlier date reflects the time when an executive branch proclamation of the seven pointed commonwealth star version was published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette.[26]

In a purely formalistic sense, if not immediately in practice and in the hearts and minds of the populace, the Australian blue ensign as it was then designated had achieved the same status as the Union Jack enjoys in the United Kingdom when in the House of Representatives on 2 June 1904, pursuant to a motion that had been moved at a earlier sitting by Ballarat born Richard Crouch, it was resolved in the affirmative that it was henceforth to be flown "upon all forts, vessels, saluting places and public buildings of the Commonwealth upon all occasions when flags are used." [27] Furthermore, precise specifications of the common template for the "Ensign and Merchant Flag of the Commonwealth of Australia" were gazetted in 1934.[26]

Upon introducing the Flags Bill into parliament on 20 November 1953, at the first reading prime minister Robert Menzies, who had carriage of the legislation, would say:

"This bill is very largely a formal measure which puts into legislative form what has become almost the established practice in Australia ... The design adopted was submitted to His Majesty King Edward VII, and he was pleased to approve of it as the Australian flag in 1902. However, no legislative action has ever been taken to determine the precise form of the flag or the circumstances of its use, and this bill has been brought down to produce that result." [28]

The 1927 mystery[edit]

In support of their arguments either side have been able to point to the seemingly unresolvable controversy over the type of the Australian flags used at the 1927 opening of provisional parliament house in Canberra. A lithograph by an unknown artist showing the blue version being flown has now emerged. Contrary to previous claims that only Australian red ensigns and Union Flags are shown in the official painting of the opening ceremony, when enlarged the flag shown in the second position in the order of precedence appears to be predominantly blue. There is also a blue streak in an Australian flag depicted flying from one of the vertical poles outside the building. Along with expert analysis of one of the photographs taken that day showing a red, white and blue Australian flag on display behind a Union Jack, there are now serious doubts as to whether only red ensigns were flown at the ceremony. John Christian Vaughan, vexillographer and former CEO of the Royal Australian Historical Society, has ventured to say:

“The Cross of St George on the Union Jack is red and of darker shade that the blue of St Andrew's Cross. It is interesting to note that the blue on the Union Jack matches the shade of Australian flag which, to my eye means that the Australian flag has a blue field not red which would have matched the shade of the red St George's Cross.”

It has been said that Power may have chosen the red ensign for dramatic effect or because it was the flag the Australian public was expected to use.[29][30]

Southern Cross[edit]

The Australian Federation Flag (1831) was used by Sir Henry Parkes and the federation movement and featured the Southern Cross and Union Jack in combination.
The 1854 Eureka Flag.

The Southern Cross is most frequently employed as an Australian icon. It has been in evidence as such since the 1820s when there were crown colonies of the British Empire in Australia. The National Colonial Flag for Australia was the first flag design concept to depict the Southern Cross.

However some point to the fact the Southern Cross is not distinctively Australian and featured in the heraldry of other nations throughout oceania and south america as being generally emblematic of the southern hemisphere. As well as the Australian flag, it also already appears on the flags of Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and New Zealand.[31]

Progress of the debate[edit]

When the winning entry to the 1901 Federal Flag Design Competition was announced the initial reception was mixed. The then republican magazine The Bulletin labelled it:[32]

a staled réchauffé of the British flag, with no artistic virtue, no national significance... Minds move slowly: and Australia is still Britain's little boy. What more natural than that he should accept his father's cut-down garments, – lacking the power to protest, and only dimly realising his will. That bastard flag is a true symbol of the bastard state of Australian opinion.[33]

Melbourne Evening Herald flag (red).svg Flag of Australia 1901-1903.svg Flag of Australia 1903-1909.svg
Melbourne Herald competition winning design[34] Blue version of winning design As approved by King Edward VII

Initially the Department of Defence resisted, considering it to be a marine ensign and favouring King's Regulations that specified the use of the Union Jack. After being approached by the Department of Defence, Prime Minister Chris Watson stated in parliament that he was not satisfied with the design of the Australian flag and that implementation of the 1904 resolution could wait until consideration was given to "adopt another [flag] which in our opinion is more appropriate."[35]

On 14 April 1954 the Flags Act 1953 (Cth) became law after receiving all-party support. Tabling the legislation in parliament Prime Minister Robert Menzies stated: "The bill is very largely a formal measure which puts into legislative form what has become almost the established practice in Australia."

The first proposal for a new Australian flag was made in 1956 by the Republican Socialist League, and was an evolutionary design where the Union Jack was replaced with the Commonwealth Star.[36]

The Bulletin launched an Australian National Flag Quest on 1 August 1971 in time for the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to open the Sydney Opera House in October 1973; 10 designs were chosen from the 2,000 submitted and these were displayed by major stores in the capital cities and main provincial centres during 1972.[37]

At the July 1982 Australian Labor Party national conference in Canberra, the party changed its policy platform in regard to national symbols to: "Initiate and Support moves to establish with popular acceptance an Australian flag ... which will more distinctively reflect our national independence and identity."

It was reported in The Australian on 28 January 1984 that, "It is understood that Federal Cabinet will soon decide how best to ignite the debate on the pros and cons of changing the flag before the issue is put to a national vote before the 1988 bicentenary year. The Minister for Housing and Construction Mr Chris Hurford publicly revealed yesterday that the Government had not allowed economic discussions to completely swamp cabinet debate on the flag."

Prime Minister Bob Hawke subsequently announced in the House of Representatives that the design of the Australian flag would not be reviewed by the Australian government before or during the bicentenary year.[38]

Paul Keating publicly championed the cause of a new flag during his term as prime minister, including on a state visit to Indonesia. He was quoted as saying:

I do not believe that the symbols and the expression of the full sovereignty of Australian nationhood can ever be complete while we have a flag with the flag of another country on the corner of it.[39]

On 6 June 1994, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Deputy Prime Minister Kim Beazley as saying the ALP Government was committed to its timetable for changes to Australia's flag by the Centenary of Federation in 2001; beyond commissioning a national survey that year, no further action was taken.[40]

In opposition from 1983 - 1996, coalition MPs unsuccessfully sponsored 10 private members bills to amend the Flags Act 1953 (Cth) to prevent the existing Australian flag from being replaced by the agreement of both houses of federal parliament alone, without the views of the Australian people being taken into account.[41]

Frequent Morgan polls showed the percentage of Australians wanting a new flag increasing from 27% in 1979 to 42% in 1992, to a majority of 52% in 1998.[42] In response to polls showing increasing support for a new flag, the Coalition government under John Howard established Australian National Flag Day in 1996 and introduced legislation, the Flags Amendment Bill 1996, to make a change more difficult. In 2002, the Howard government supplied ANFA’s promotional video free to all primary schools and in 2004 required all schools receiving federal funds to fly the Australian flag.[43]

On 24 March 1998, the Flags Amendment Bill 1996 received Royal Assent.

Malcolm Turnbull, former chairman (1993 - 2000) of the Australian Republican Movement and head of the official Yes case committee for the 1999 Australian republic referendum, left the board of Ausflag in 1994 after being asked for his resignation and in 2004 joined the Australian National Flag Association.[44]

A 2010 Morgan Poll that asked: "Do you think Australia should have a new design for our National Flag?" was supported by 29% of respondents and opposed by 66%, with 5% uncommitted.[42]

According to McCrindle research carried out in 2013 "The Australian flag has the nation’s vote for being the image or symbol about which we are most proud. 95% of Australians take pride in the national flag, which is enjoying increasing popularity, with half (50%) saying that they are extremely proud.

The connection with the Australian flag is also notable the highest response to it is “extremely proud” and it is the most embraced Australian symbol.” [14]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ John Huxley (2011-01-26). "Australia Day | New Union Jack Flag Debate". Theage.com.au. Retrieved 2012-12-26. 
  2. ^ a b Media Release (25 January 2013). "Monarchists Prove Case for Australian Flag Change". AUSFLAG. Retrieved 7 February 2014.  A similar claim has been made by another Prime Minister about his predecessor: "I did not fight under that flag: Whitlam.". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995) (ACT: National Library of Australia). 23 August 1994. p. 3. Retrieved 11 March 2014. .
  3. ^ "The threat to Democracy in English speaking nations". Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  4. ^ In a similar vein, the Australian National Flag Association's website uses a black and white photograph to illustrate the National Flag's use by Australian service men and women since 1901, the flag is in fact a red ensign.
  5. ^ "The Status Of The Flag". Home.alphalink.com.au. Retrieved 2012-12-26. 
  6. ^ "Australian Red Ensign - Myths and Facts". Ausflag. 2006-06-12. Archived from the original on 2007-12-15. Retrieved 2007-12-17. 
    Australian forces in the Sudan War (1885), the Boxer Rebellion (1900-1901), and the Boer War (1899-1902) fought under the Union Jack. The First World War was the first to use the Red Ensign although the Union Jack dominated. World War II saw the Blue Ensign used for forts while the Red Ensign was used by the troops. In the Korean War, Australians fought under the United Nations' Flag. The first war to be fought under the Blue Ensign was Vietnam (1965-1972).
  7. ^ Australia's Forgotten Flag. The Red Ensign Digger History: history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces
  8. ^ "Union Jacks and Southern Skies". Home.alphalink.com.au. Retrieved 2012-12-26. 
  9. ^ a b Commonwealth Document. "Documenting a Democracy". National Archives of Australia: Flags Act 1953: History. Archived from the original on 2 June 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  10. ^ a b Australian Flags, p. 40.
  11. ^ "History of the Australian National Flag". AusFlag. Retrieved 2012-12-26. 
  12. ^ Competition For A Flag
    The Evening Herald flag competition had stipulated that the flag must include both the Union Jack and the Southern Cross. The Review of Reviews competition specifically stated that "such absolute limitations" would not apply but that any entry "which omitted these symbols might have small chance of success." The Federal Government 1901 competition combined the Review of Reviews with their own. Of the 32,823 designs entered in the Government competition the "great majority" contained both the Union Jack and the Southern Cross. The judges in choosing the winners stated "it was apparent that a Commonwealth flag, to be representative, should contain: the Union Jack... it was felt that the only additional emblem required was one representing the Federation of the six States".
  13. ^ "History of the Australian flag: Obtaining approval from London". Flags of the World. Archived from the original on 5 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-04. 
  14. ^ a b http://mccrindle.com.au/ResearchSummaries/2013/Aussie-Pride-Australia-Day-2013_McCrindle-Research.pdf
  15. ^ a b Nigel Morris, Australian Flag Society responds to Ray Martin, Australian Conservative at 8 July
  16. ^ "Flag meaning & Symbolism". Australian National Flag Association. Retrieved 10 February 2014. 
  17. ^ "The Flag of Australia". Australian Monarchist League. Retrieved 10 February 2014. 
  18. ^ M.O. 58/08
  19. ^ M.O. 135 1911
  20. ^ George Odgers, Navy Australia: An Illustrated History (Child and Associates, Frenchs Forest, 1989) 41
  21. ^ a b Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, S 321, 28 August 1996.
  22. ^ Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No. GN 26, 2 July 2008
  23. ^ "1901 Federal Flag design competition". Australianflag.com.au. Retrieved 2010-06-27. 
  24. ^ Rupert Goodman, "Don't change our flag: An exposure of false and misleading arguments (Boolarong Press, Moorooka, 1998) 60 - 61
  25. ^ Whitney Smith, Flags Through the Ages and Across the World (McGraw-Hill, Maidenhead, 1975) 211
  26. ^ a b Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No 18, 23 March 1934.
  27. ^ Elizabeth Kwan, Flag and Nation (University of New South Wales press, Sydney, 2006) 32
  28. ^ Commonwealth, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 20 November 1953, 367, (Bob Menzies).
  29. ^ Dr Elizabeth Kwan, Parliament House Puzzle (2003) <http://www.curriculum.edu.au/cce/default.asp?id=9306>.
  30. ^ “The 1927 Mystery Unravels” (12 July 2014) 2(1) Flag Breaking News (ISSN 2203-2118)
  31. ^ White, Richard; Harper, Melissa (22 January 2010). "Coat Of Arms of Australia | National Symbols". Melbourne: Theage.com.au. Retrieved 2010-06-27. 
  32. ^ Kirby, Michael (2000). "The Australian Referendum on a Republic – Ten Lessons". Australian Journal of Politics & History 46 (4): 510–535. doi:10.1111/1467-8497.00111. 
  33. ^ Bulletin, Sydney, 28 September 1901
  34. ^ "Design for Australian Flag". National Archives of Australia. 1900. Retrieved 12 August 2008. 
  35. ^ "History of the Australian national flag (Part 3)". Flagspot.net. Retrieved 2012-12-26. 
  36. ^ "A New Flag for Australia?". Flagsaustralia.com.au. Retrieved 2012-12-26. 
  37. ^ Kwan, Pg. 119.
  38. ^ "Parlinfo - Questions Without Notice : National Flag". Parlinfo.aph.gov.au. 1987-02-25. Retrieved 2012-12-26. 
  39. ^ Hansard. 2 June 1994. Question without Notice: Australian Flag, pp 1318
  40. ^ Kwan, Pg. 157.
  41. ^ Kwan, Pg. 135.
  42. ^ a b "Clear Majority Want to Keep the Australian Flag". Roymorgan.com. 2010-05-13. Retrieved 2014-04-22. 
  43. ^ Kwan, Pg. 116.
  44. ^ "The Turnbull Letters". AusFlag. Retrieved 2012-12-26. 

External links to alternative designs[edit]