As the Deputy Chair of the Senate Select Committee on the Aboriginal Flag I welcome the Commonwealth acquiring the copyright of the Flag so it can be freely used by all members of the Australian Public.
The agreement reached by the Commonwealth and the original artist, Mr Harold Thomas, respects his legacy and the history of the Flag while making it freely available to use the Flag to celebrate Australian Indigenous culture.
It was important to the Committee to respect the copyright of Mr Thomas as an Indigenous artist. We heard from many Indigenous artists who stressed the risk of a precedence of compulsory acquisition.
Throughout the Senate Committee’s hearings, we heard of the impact of restricting use of the Flag, particularly on small aboriginal not-for-profits who couldn’t afford the licence fees to display a symbol of their culture.
For me, the most important part of the Senate Committee process was learning about and understanding the history of the Flag and how, that one symbol, came to unite all our Aboriginal Nations.
Although the Flag itself was designed in 1971 and then raised at the first Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra in 1972, there is a wealth of history that precedes the Flag that must also be acknowledged.
I am grateful to have worked on the Committee with Senators Malarndirri McCarthy (Chair) and Pat Dodson who were instrumental in ensuring we understand the whole background, not just the design and copyright issue. I commend Chapter 2 of the Committee’s report to anyone interested in this history.
The announcement of the copyright transfer to the Commonwealth also includes the establishment of a new $100,000 annual scholarship in Mr Thomas’ name for Indigenous students to further the development of Indigenous governance and leadership – ensuring his legacy will continue. Further, future royalties from the sale of the Flag will be put towards the ongoing work of NAIDOC.
As the Aboriginal Flag turns 50, I think Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt summed up the importance of making it freely available to all when he explained as an Indigenous man:
“Over the last 50 years we made Harold Thomas’ artwork our own – we marched under the Aboriginal Flag, stood behind it, and flew it high as a point of pride.”
The Aboriginal Flag will now be managed in the same way as the Australian National Flag, where its use is free, but it must be used in a respectful and dignified way.
Senator Perin Davey is Senator for New South Wales and was Deputy Chair of the Senate Select Committee on the Aboriginal Flag established in 2020 to consider the copyright issues surrounding the Flag.