ABC Radio Kimblerley: We urge the Government to reach a solution on the Aboriginal Flag by the 26 January



TOPICS: Senate Select Committee on the Aboriginal Flag report

VANESSA MILLS, HOST: The Select Committee has had more than 70 submissions and has just released its report. Senator Malarndirri McCarthy is chair of the committee. Hello, Senator.

SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: Good morning, Vanessa, and good morning to your listeners.

MILLS: What key recommendations has the committee made over the future of the flag?

MCCARTHY: Well, the committee unanimously agreed that the rights of Harold Thomas, the creator of the flag, must be protected, that the Commonwealth should not compulsorily acquire his rights. And unless, of course, he's willing to participate in negotiations to find a way forward. So that was very clear from our first recommendation. And the second one, Vanessa, was that, should those discussions and negotiations be successful, the next step would be custodianship of the flag. And we recommended that needs to go to an independent Aboriginal body. So they're two recommendations that the committee collectively agreed on unanimously. And then Labor did add an additional recommendation where we are concerned if no negotiations are satisfactorily met that the Commonwealth look at taking the licences and appropriating that from one of the companies in particular, WAM clothing, to ensure that Aboriginal people and non Aboriginal people could use the flag.

MILLS: So this could mean, in essence, depending on how negotiations go, that WAM clothing gets a good amount of money for handing over their rights to the design.

MCCARTHY: Well, that's absolutely correct. I mean, negotiations are obviously are undergoing at the moment with with the Commonwealth. And I think Minister Wyatt will certainly be able to speak with you on that. But in terms of how much, in terms of what the outcome is, we don't know. And clearly, they are very sensitive negotiations at the moment.

MILLS: How might a custodial body work, that that has the flag within its care? How would it work if a group or school or healthcare group wanted to use the flag?

MCCARTHY: Look, that's a really important point, and it came up through our inquiry; the Australian flag, for example, does have a flag officer, so if people want to understand how to use the Australian flag or what rules and protocols there are, there are numbers that you can ring and go to for that kind of guidance. There isn't for the use of the Aboriginal flag. And what came through with the inquiry from many submitters is that there are a couple of options that people proposed. One was if there was a Voice to Parliament, perhaps that could be an organisation that holds custody of the flag, a trust, a board, a flag commission; these were options that were suggested to the enquiry. So what we did as a committee was we put into our second recommendation to the Senate report that, should there be success in power to negotiate with Mr Thomas, then we needed to look at what that body would look like in terms of custodianship of the flag. That would be the next step.

MILLS: There were 74 diverse submissions to the committee from rugby and cricket groups to lawyers, land councils and reconciliation organisations. Senator, what did you learn from some of the submissions that surprised or even moved you?

MCCARTHY: Look, I think the most deeply saddening elements that came through Vanesa in the inquiry was people's despair. I mean, we were listening to, you know, sporting groups, people from the Koori New South Wales, Knock-Out, from W.A., families who were saying that they were, you know, flags were being held upside down in homes just out of despair and frustration and sadness. And, you know, the realisation that with every day that goes past, the value of the flag is diminishing and not just financially, but more emotionally when people are starting to become quite distanced from the flag. And I found that quite disturbing.

MILLS: What did the committee make of WAM's submission and appearance before it?

MCCARTHY: Look, it was important that WAM did appear before us, but they were certainly very reluctant to answer particular questions to the point where, you know, we were very concerned that we were not getting enough information from them. But what they did display, unfortunately for them, was, a, you know, that it was very clear that their behaviour, both in the way that they work with some of these organisations, but in their responses to the Senate committee, I don't think they did themselves any favours.

MILLS: Did you find the company was making a profit from the image?

MCCARTHY: Well, clearly, that's their intent. I mean, there's nothing wrong with organisations or in terms of copyright. We know that people needed to make a living and we get that. What we're talking about here is the way in which grassroots organisations, non-profit organisations like Aboriginal health organisations who use the flag and need the flag to bring people to a safe environment, to get their health cheques are being treated so badly and almost disgracefully to the point where they just go, well, we're not going to deal with you.

MILLS: You mentioned that there are a couple of recommendations and that efforts are already underway to bring this to a resolution. How soon do you think we might see the flag issue resolved? Is it even possible to put a timeline on it, Senator?

MCCARTHY: Well, Vanessa, next year is the fiftieth anniversary of when the flag was created. And what Labor has added to this inquiry report at the end is that we really urged the Government to reach negotiations by the 26th of January, because if it continues beyond that, we do feel that First Nations people in particular, but organisations more broadly will just walk away.

MILLS: Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, thank you for making time today.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Vanessa.