Australian Flag

August 30, 2021

[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.

The SPEAKER: Before I call the next speaker—I don't often commend the member for Moreton, but I commend him on the background that he has there. That is the ideal background for members remoting in.