The Australian flag — when it’s not attached to the neck of a sunburnt festival-goer like the cape of some kind of drunken constitutional monarchy superman, it’s being shouted down for not representing modern Australia and its contemporary values. It’s been the official national standard for more than 50 years and, if the annual media campaign for a new flag is anything to go by, its status has been debated for just as long.
So do we need a new flag? Well, the media would have you believe so, if their slavish devotion to the topic every Australia Day is anything to go by.
The lobby group behind the annual push is Ausflag — an organisation founded in 1981 by Harold Scruby. They argue an Australia flag needs to better reflect the Australian identity. They even offer an order form where you can purchase some of their alternative designs.
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And the media — desperate for stories that aren’t about the Australia Day honours or the latest one-day cricket scores — eat it up. According to Media Monitors, on Australia Day there were 2546 mentions of the word “flag”.
While that doesn’t necessarily mean all those mentions were of the flag debate, it shadows January 25 and 27, when there were a combined total of just 711 mentions.
It seems to happen like clockwork. Each year, on January 26, litres of ink are spilt debating the need for a new national flag. Typically the push lasts just a day, as a series of politicians are then wheeled out in response to poo-poo the idea and we all get on with our lives until the next Australia Day, when the topic is sure to be raised again.
To add credibility to their crusade, Ausflag generally recruits a prominent identity to offer quotes to the media and speak about how “the time has come” to fly something new on the flagpole. Last year it was Ray Martin (a director of Ausflag), this year the lobby group cobbled together a flag faction of a dozen Australians of the Year to have a crack at the Union Jack. There was Patrick McGorry, Gustav Nossal and Tim Flannery. Even our Dawn Fraser was on board.
As usual, prominent federal politicians were sent out to round on the turncoats. Julia Gillard said she is a “big advocate” of the current design, while Tony Abbott wouldn’t change it because “millions of people” are proud of the flag. Like last time, and the time before that, the debate was sent up the flagpole and shut down within a day.
How do we know? Well it’s has been going on for decades — Gareth Evans was leading the charge as early as 1984, according to this yellowing Age article. And we’re still no closer to a productive national discussion on the topic.