25 January 2022

SUBJECTS: Aboriginal flag copyright

JOLENE LAVERTY, HOST: This morning, the rights of the Aboriginal flag were transferred to the Australian government for $20 million. It really is a momentous outcome for the Senate enquiry into the flag, which began years ago, 2020, and now leaves the flag free for the public to wear on clothing, to use in art and as a symbol without having to ask permission or to pay a fee. Senator Malarndirri McCarthy is chair of the Senate's Committee on the Aboriginal flag and joins us this morning. For starters, thank you, senator, for your time this morning.

MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY, SENATOR FOR THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: No, no. All good. This has been very close to my heart this whole issue. So thank you for asking.

LAVERTY: Did you know that this announcement was coming, senator?

MCCARTHY: I was certainly aware yesterday that an announcement was imminent and that the federal government had received or achieved a decision in regards to Mr Harold Thomas.

LAVERTY: This has been years in the making just how many different types of negotiations have been going on to be able to transfer the copyright over to the Commonwealth.

MCCARTHY: Well, you're right, Jo. It certainly has been years in the making. It was in 2020, actually, that we first started working on this issue. The Senate called for a Senate select enquiry into the Aboriginal flag because we were very, very concerned from the advocacy that we were receiving across the country, in particular from our own people here in the Northern Territory like Nova Peris, for example. Certainly Michael Long and also many of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria. This issue had been around well into that year of 2020, and so the Senate pushed for a Senate enquiry into the Aboriginal flag so we could understand what was actually going on and also to advise the federal government on the best steps forward.

LAVERTY: And so those steps have obviously been taken because here we are with this result. And so what does this mean? I mean, if anything, to indigenous Australians?

MCCARTHY: Well, look on the face of it, it certainly looks like people can now use the Aboriginal flag without fear of retribution and legal threats, which was initially what was happening in 2020. People and companies were receiving cease and desist letters to use to not use the flag. And I remember, the AFL was being told it couldn't have the Aboriginal flag sport. Sporting groups couldn't have it on their shirts. So what it means now is that naturally people can use it and use it freely, and that's on the face of reading the press release from the Minister's Office.

LAVERTY: And I imagine it feels a little bit like the flag is back where it belongs in the hands of the public.

MCCARTHY: Well, it's certainly where it should be in terms of the use of the flag and the respect of the flag. We now have to drill down into the details of just what the other elements of it is. Can I just take this opportunity to thank very much the artist, Mr. Harold Thomas. I know it's been a really incredibly difficult time for him and his family, no doubt. But I do want to sincerely thank him for persevering on this. There were so many complexities to all of this, and in particular with the different businesses that were involved with trying to navigate through with this contract. So, I do want to personally thank him. I know it has been a tough time.

LAVERTY: Good to speak with you, Senator. Thank you for your time.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

LAVERTY: Joe Malarndirri McCarthy, the senator for the Northern Territory and chair of the Senate Committee on the Aboriginal.