OPINION: We Deserve A Flag Without The Union Jack

It will be emblazoned across Tee-shirts and caps, worn as face tattoos. It will be stuck in lamingtons and adorn car rooftops. It’s such a pity. Let’s face it: the
27 Jan 2015 10:17
OPINION: We Deserve A Flag Without The Union Jack

It will be emblazoned across Tee-shirts and caps, worn as face tattoos. It will be stuck in lamingtons and adorn car rooftops. It’s such a pity. Let’s face it: the Australian flag is a relic of a bygone era. It has become an international embarrassment.

Its history has been distorted through a thick fog of nostalgia wrapped in fidelity to the mother country. It does not symbolise an independent nation with its own identity. It’s time we had a new flag to reflect modern Australia.

The official flag unfurled at the time of Federation in 1901 was the British Union Jack. The current flag, which is actually the blue ensign, wasn’t flown as the national flag until September 1901.

It was chosen after a competition to design a new flag. But the British monarch didn’t “approve” our flag until 1903. It has been redesigned too; each of the six stars has had its points altered.

Australian troops have fought under various flags, including the red ensign, which was also popular at home. (My grandfather said he never saw a flag in the jungles of New Guinea during World War II.)

It was not until the Flags Act 1953 that the blue ensign became the official flag, ending confusion. So let’s have none of the nonsense that the flag is sacrosanct and can’t be changed.

The central problem is the Union Jack in the upper left corner. It has to go. We are a multicultural country, not an ¬appendage of Britain.

We should keep the red, white and blue colours to identify our British heritage. The Southern Cross and the Commonwealth Star, denoting our location, can be incorporated into a new design. But a new flag must symbolise contemporary Australia.

We have often changed our national symbols. Green and gold became the national colours in 1984. The golden wattle became our floral emblem in 1988.

The opal was declared the national gemstone in 1993. Our first Coat of Arms was adopted in 1908 and revised in 1912.

For almost a century, the national anthem was God Save the Queen (or King) until Advance Australia Fair replaced it in 1984.

The Australian flag has often been parodied. US comedian Jerry Seinfeld called it “Britain at night”.

Years ago Paul Hogan asked audiences why the British had cut a corner out of our flag and made it their own.

Apart from Britain, only three of the other 53 Commonwealth members incorporate the Union Jack in their flag (New Zealand, Fiji and Tuvalu). Several former British colonies have changed their flags.

They include Canada, which dumped the Union Jack in 1965. Across the ditch, conservative Prime Minister John Key has taken up the cause of a new flag for New Zealand.

“To me it’s an issue of building more overt signs of patriotism and being proud of who we are,” Key said recently. “It’s not about saying we should be somehow divorced from our history as a British colony.”

Indeed, Key is a monarchist. But he wants a flag that better identifies New Zealand on the world stage.

Key says changing the flag is “about our place in the world and how we see ourselves … confident, outward-looking, multicultural.” He says New Zealand’s flag is often confused with the Australian flag; this isn’t good for either country.

Key faces strong opposition in New Zealand. But he’s pushing on. A cross-party group of politicians will appoint a panel to consult with voters and recommend a shortlist of flag options at a referendum this year.

A second referendum next year will present two designs for voters to choose from.

After Key led the centre-right New Zealand National Party to a third election victory last year, he was lauded by many commentators as a role model for Tony Abbott. However, Abbott, a staunch monarchist, would never countenance changing the flag.

Last September, the Prime Minister celebrated National Flag Day in the forecourt of Parliament House. The Federation Guard was inspected, a band played and the flag was raised. The pomp and ceremony was laid on thick.

I don’t begrudge Abbott his fondness for the Anglo-Australian ¬tradition. While his heart is warmed by the cherished symbols of old Australia, his head has wisely guided him to develop closer relations with China, Japan and India. His “Asia first, not Asia only” policy is sound.

Australia Day is the perfect time to question our symbols. It is a holiday that combines a carnival atmosphere with patriotism and reflection about our past, present and future. It is an opportunity to consider how to invest our national identity with greater meaning.

We should follow the lead of New Zealand and initiate a competition to design a new national flag. Public input would be encouraged.

A series of flag options could be put to a national vote. It would focus attention on what it means to be Australian, how we want to be seen abroad and what new symbols can unite us in the modern era.

Just because Australians today will be displaying our flag with pride does not mean they are enamoured of the design and resistant to changing it.

Just as Australians embraced a new anthem 30 years ago and have often changed their symbols, they will proudly wave a new flag.

Australia Day is an ideal time to restart the debate.


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