Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags will not be flown inside the Senate because the federal government believes it is only “appropriate” to fly the National flag.
Labor and Greens senators have called the government’s position “shameful” after it and some crossbench senators voted down a proposal to raise the indigenous symbols on Tuesday.
Labor senators Malarndirri McCarthy and Pat Dodson had been joined by Greens senator Lidia Thorpe in raising the motion, in a move coinciding with NAIDOC Week.
The three Indigenous senators called for the Senate to back their idea to have “the Aboriginal flag and the Torres Strait Islander flag be displayed alongside the Australian flag in the Senate chamber”.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags are both official flags of Australia.
Liberal senator Anne Ruston said the government did not support flying the two flags in the Senate.
“There are many places and circumstances to appropriately display the flags of our nation, including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags,” Senator Ruston said in response to the motion.
“The government believes that the Australian national flag, which represents all Australians, is the only appropriate flag to be flown in the Senate chamber.”
this was the explanation from Liberal senator Anne Ruston, for voting against the motion to fly the Aboriginal and Torrest Strait Islander flags in the Senate
she said the government believed the national flag was the only one "appropriate" to fly in the Senate pic.twitter.com/RQMXcBROKF
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) November 10, 2020
Senator McCarthy sought leave to address the Senate.
The request was initially denied by the government before fellow Labor senator Murray Watt asked for that decision to be reconsidered.
“This is NAIDOC Week. To deny a First Nations senator leave to speak for one minute, on this motion, is I think something this government will regret,” he said.
Senator Ruston then did allow Senator McCarthy leave to speak.
Senate president Scott Ryan pointed out it was usual parliamentary procedure for senators moving a motion, such as Senator McCarthy in this case, not to be granted leave to speak.
Senator McCarthy said she would “appeal” to the Senate to pass the motion, and noted that the Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags were all displayed in front of Parliament House.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flags are national flags of Australia, recognised since 1995 under the Flags Act 1953. All three flags are flying outside Parliament House during NAIDOC Week, yet not inside the two houses of Parliament. #shame #auspol pic.twitter.com/BmtUzhzOyF
— malarndirri mccarthy (@Malarndirri19) November 10, 2020
“This is a time we can show the best of the Senate,” she said.
Senator Thorpe said the Aboriginal flag “represents the oldest continuing living culture in the world”.
“The Aboriginal flag is what we identify with, what we connect with, just as you connect with the colonial flag that you love,” she said.
The vote was brought on and the motion was defeated 29-28.
Senator McCarthy later said the vote was “shameful”.
She pointed out the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags had been recognised as national flags of Australia since 1995.
The 3 Black Senators respectfully request for the Aboriginal flag to be flown in the spirit of Naidoc week and the colonial oppression reared it’s ugly violent head.
— Lidia Thorpe (@lidia__thorpe) November 10, 2020
Senator Thorpe tweeted that “colonial oppression reared its ugly violent head”.
“Happy Naidoc week,” she tweeted, alongside an eye-rolling emoji.
In a later speech to the chamber, Senator Thorpe said “the Australian flag does not represent all of us.”
“It’s shameful that the Liberals and Nationals voted against the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags being raised in this place,” she said.