Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why The Flag Is Relevant… And The Debate Is Not

Although Ray Martin and Channel Nine appear to have done everything they can to provoke debate about changing the Australian flag, I am not really sure just how many people are keen to pursue the idea. Simply scheduling the discussion to be broadcast on Anzac Day could in itself be seen as being deliberately contentious, and there are no doubt some people who have been genuinely offended by the timing. But in spite having chosen to be as provocative as possible, there doesn’t appear to be any great uprising of Australians responding to the call to arms and demanding change.

Proponents of change suggest that the current flag is anachronistic, and no longer representative of modern day Australia. They suggest that the inclusion of the Union Jack in the top left corner amounts to having another country’s flag as part of our own, and reflects a time when Australia was a part of the British Empire, rather than the independent and sovereign Australia of today. They suggest that a significant number of Australians agree with these views, and therefore support changing the flag. Unfortunately, these assertions amount to a misrepresentation.

A survey conducted for Ausflag has found that 51% of Australians want a new flag without the Union Jack, with a further 19% undecided. While this represents a slender majority, it does not indicate an overwhelming force for change. However, it is not surprising given the considerable publicity given to the idea that the Union Jack somehow represents subservience to Britain. I suspect that many of the people who favour change do so because they have not been taught the meaning of the flag, and have been encouraged to embrace a new flag as a somewhat jingoistic statement of independence.

Unfortunately, they are not the only ones to have misunderstood or misinterpreted the significance of our flag. Supporters, with every good intention in the world, have sought to defend the current flag by saying that our armed forces have fought and died for our flag, or at the very least under it. It is a view which can lead to deeply held feelings, and to passionate argument, without grasping what is truly important. No one fought and died for the flag, they fought and died for what it represents, and that is the democratic freedoms and the principles of justice that form the foundations of our existence as a nation.

In that context, the presence of the Union Jack signifies not allegiance or subservience to Britain, but rather our living legacy of the Rule Of Law, including Common Law stretching back to the Magna Carta and beyond, Habeus Corpus and the Presumption Of Innocence, along with the Westminster system of Parliamentary Democracy, and the Separation Of Powers. That marks Australia as different from other nations which are founded on different, and in many cases less attractive, legal principles. Far from being anachronistic, those principles are more relevant now than ever before, and the only reason that anybody could think otherwise is because we are failing to teach our children the truth about what our flag actually means.

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