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Official Status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags

Last modified: 2000-07-03 by phil nelson
Keywords: australia | aboriginal | torres strait islanders | australia aboriginal |
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The Australian Government has announced it will give formal, legal recognition to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags as a "Flag of Australia" from 14 July 1995. This recognition will be proclaimed by Governor-General Bill Hayden under S.5 of the Flags Act 1953. This means that Australia will now have five national flags given legal authority under the Flags Act:

Somewhat predictably, this move has caused outrage amongst some conservative (anglophile, monarchist) politicians in the opposition who view it as a move to "reduce the status of the national flag". What they don't realise is that the national flag or blue ensign already has competition from the red and white ensigns. It has already been devalued in status by having competing national flags used for different purposes. And both times it were conservative governments which gave these particular flags legal status!

Personally, I think this is a wonderful move. Both the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags have earned a national respect and recognition through widespread use. They deserve legal recognition. A side-benefit of this is that once they gain legal recognition, these flags will become exempt from sales tax!
brendan jones, 1995-JUL-5

The Australian Aboriginal flag and the Torres Strait Islander flag were proclaimed as flags of Australia under section 5 of the Flags Act on 14 July 1995. Section 5 provides authority to proclaim "other" flags and ensigns and it had previously been used to give official status to the unsigns of the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force. The Australian red ensign's use as a civilian shipping flag dates from the early origins of the Australian National Flag.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags are regarded as "indigenous peoples" flags and their use pre-dates their proclamation. Whilst proclamation confirmed their official usage on government buildings as appropriate, the main purpose was to provide the then Labor Government with a political gesture towards indigenous people. It also by-passed a copyright claim by Harold Thomas (the generally recognised designer of the Aboriginal flag) which had been causing some limitations on its use in connection with government and private aboriginal programs, publications and events.

The flags are not equivalent to state or territory flags as they do not correspond to any specific geographic area or sub-government. They are officially used by the federal government's "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission" which replaced the previous Department of Aboriginal Affairs as the principal administration entity for government spending and policy. Australian official protocol suggests a precedent below the Australian flag and senior to the state and territory flags. It would be rare for the issue of precedence to arise relative to the military and red ensigns, though these ensigns would probably rank ahead of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags, except where the event or location had a specific Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander connection.

The flags are widely used by individuals, schools and non-government entities to show support for Aboriginal people as well as use by Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander individuals and organisations. The closest international comparison would be to "ethnic minority" flags, however the Aboriginal people do not regard themselves as an ethnic minority or part of "multicultural Australia". They regard themselves as the original inhabitants and prior owners of the land.
ralph kelly, 1998-JAN-19

On 14 April 2000, the Defence Force Ensign was gazetted as the sixth Australian official flag
David Cohen, 17 Apr 2000

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