I would like to begin by paying tribute to all members of the committee for the manner in which this inquiry was held. It was collaborative, respectful and constructive.
As a non-indigenous person, I feel the strength and symbolism of the Aboriginal flag and believe it should be available to all Australians to use widely.
The Aboriginal flag should be as free as the Australian flag. It is a wonderful symbol.
The evidence is overwhelming that Aboriginal people are ceasing use of the flag because of the complex flag use arrangements, some of which were put in place from 1995.
The gazetting of the flag under the Flags Act was bungled. It is a classic case of the government failing to consult with Indigenous Australians before acting – exactly what the Uluru Statement proposes that we stop doing through an Indigenous Voice.
In this case, the creator of the flag, Mr Harold Thomas, was informed as an afterthought. He refused to attend the ceremony.
The government and this inquiry now seek to right this wrong without injuring Mr Thomas. It is very important that Mr Thomas’s rights are respected as Professor Langton noted during the inquiry.
At first I was sceptical about what this inquiry could achieve.
I was concerned that it may undermine sensitive negotiations which Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt has been undertaking with the flag’s designer Harold Thomas for some time.
Instead, I found the inquiry to be a very positive process which shed light on many issues which were misunderstood and/or culturally sensitive.
I agree with Recommendation One, that the Commonwealth should not compulsorily acquire the rights to the Aboriginal flag. I believe that would be abhorrent, both morally and culturally. It would be an ugly precedent.
Recommendation Two reinforces the position the Minister is seeking to land. It again raises the question of how the Commonwealth should engage with Indigenous Australians. This is an area of policy which has failed over the generations.
Accordingly, if the Commonwealth’s negotiations are successful and the rights are acquired, a body of Aboriginal people should advise on the protocol and governance of the flag.
One option I favour is to provide the Indigenous Voice, as proposed in the Uluru Statement, with a mandate to perform this role. Any such proposal should be decided in concert with Mr Harold Thomas, respecting his rights as copyright holder.
The Voice is currently under development through a process of co-design in accordance with the statements issued by the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt.
It is desirable for issues like this to be subject to community agreement. The importance of community involvement in formulation and implementation of policy cannot be overstated.
Finally, I would like to congratulate the Chair, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, on the professional and constructive manner in which she conducted this inquiry.
The bipartisan way in which this committee was run with a mutual desire for a positive result for Indigenous Australians was clear.
My thanks to all the Senate colleagues on this committee, as well as the community members who gave their time to support our deliberations.
Senator Andrew Bragg
Senator for New South Wales