While the country celebrates NAIDOC Week, a time to acknowledge and commemorate the deep history and achievements of our First Nations people, the Australian government has rejected a motion by Blak Senators for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags to be displayed beside the national flag in the Senate.
The motion was submitted by Indigenous Labor Senators Malarndirri McCarthy and Pat Dodson, while also being backed by the Greens.
If the motion had been approved, the two flags—which are recognised by the government as official flags of Australia—would be permanently displayed alongside the national flag in the Senate chamber.
The Federal government claimed it was not "appropriate" to display all three flags, adding the national flag "represents all Australians."
“There are many places and circumstances to appropriately display the flags of our nation, including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags,” Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said.
“The government believes that the Australian national flag which represents all Australians is the only appropriate flag to be flown in the Senate chamber.”
Many claimed the decision to deny the motion during NAIDOC Week—with the theme 'Always Was, Always Will Be' recognising how "First Nations people have occupied and cared for this continent for over 65,000 years"—was particularly disheartening.
Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe tweeted, "The three Blak Senators respectfully request for the Aboriginal flag to be flown in the spirit of NAIDOC Week and the colonial oppression reared its ugly, violent head."
“Can I remind you all that we are on stolen land and the Aboriginal flag represents the oldest continually living culture in the world?” Thorpe later said in the Senate following the decision.
“My people have been here, Aboriginal people have been here, Wurundjeri and Ngunnawal people have been here for thousands and thousands and thousands of generations.
“So the Aboriginal flag is what we identify with, what we connect with, just as you connect with the colonial flag that you love and you appeal to.”
The denial of Malarndirri and Dodson's motion, which was voted down 28-29, comes amid an ongoing legal battle over the Aboriginal flag.
In 2018, Harold Thomas—the flag's creator and sole copyright holder—granted WAM Clothing, a non-Indigenous company, the worldwide exclusive rights to the use of the Aboriginal flag on clothing. Since gaining that license, the company has issued cease and desist notices to companies including the AFL (which uses the flag on club jerseys for its Indigenous round) and Spark Health, an Indigenous social enterprise, among others.
These actions have sparked the Free The Flag campaign, launched by Clothing the Gap in 2019, to call for new licensing agreements over the flag's design, particularly for Aboriginal businesses and organisations.
The campaign wants the Aboriginal flag to be "celebrated, shared and worn" for #PrideNotProfit, and is currently lobbying the government and relevant bodies to take action.
As of September 2020, Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt claimed to be in talks to secure those rights.