25 January 2022

SUBJECTS: Aboriginal flag copyright, Coalition Government’s refusal to have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags fly in the senate

NICOLE CHVASTEK, HOST: Malarndirri, what was your reaction when the Prime Minister made this announcement last night?

MALARNDIRRI MCARTHY, SENATOR FOR THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: Well, I learnt of it yesterday afternoon, Nicole, that there was a possibility of this announcement. I think firstly, on the face of it, obviously we need to see and drill down into the detail of it further and hopefully we can do that at Senate Estimates. But on the face of it, it is certainly good news. When you look at the advocates like Laura Thompson, Michael Connelly, Nova Peris and so many others who advocated strongly for the flag to be available for use.

CHVASTEK: Tell me about Laura Thomson's advocacy.

MCARTHY: Well, we had a visit from Laura and Michael and Nova, in fact in the Senate in 2020, and it was at that point it was brought to our attention as senators that this was a really serious matter when so many companies, like Laura’s, were receiving suits and desist letters to not use the Aboriginal flag.

CHVASTEK: The senator this seemed to be a really deep insult, which resonated when Indigenous Australians were told they couldn't use their own flag.

MCARTHY: Well, there certainly was Nicole after the visit by Laura and her team. We pushed in the Senate for a Senate enquiry into the flag so that we could allow people across the country to actually tell the federal parliament what was going on. And some of those stories, Nicole were just devastating. We heard from people who said that they were so distressed at the fact that they could no longer use this flag. They wondered what it meant to be First Nations people, and we had others who said that they were turning the flag upside down in a case of mourning. So these were very emotional responses that our Senate enquiry received, and as chair of that enquiry, I knew we had to navigate very seriously, but also very carefully because of the creator of the flag, Mr Harold Thomas, who also very much has his rights to be protected as well.

CHVASTEK: Did you move a motion to fly the flag in the Senate while you were conducting that enquiry? And how did that go down?

MCARTHY: Yes, most certainly. Look, we moved a motion in NAIDOC week, which, if you may recall in 2020, was moved from July to November because of COVID. And so we moved the motion as senators that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait flags should both be flown in the Senate. And we thought that this was an important step for the federal parliament to acknowledge the importance of the flags, but in particular the Aboriginal flag.

CHVASTEK: And were you allowed to fly it?

MCARTHY: No. We were voted down 29 to 28 by the Coalition government.

CHVASTEK: Well, how do you feel, given that is the background to the prime minister now triumphantly declaring that it belongs to everybody at last?

MCARTHY: Well, more needs to happen here, Nicole, and that was why I tweeted, if you're fair dinkum about this, let's see it in play on many other levels. And one of those is the respect and dignity of that flag being flown in two chambers, the Senate and in the House of Representatives.

CHVASTEK: So would you call on the prime minister to take this a step further and to now display that flag in the House of Representatives and the Senate as part of the goodwill that he has engendered as a result of securing the copyright?

MCARTHY: Absolutely. Nicole, it's not only about the prime minister standing before the Aboriginal flag and press conferences, as Labour certainly does. It's about the parliament of this country, respecting the fact that those flags should be flown within the parliament as much as they're flown outside of it.

CHVASTEK: Isn't there a gap in this, though, senator, the Aboriginal flag copyright has been transferred to the Commonwealth? Doesn't that that mean that, in fact, that the Commonwealth has the right in the future to licence it in the same way that it's created it?

MCARTHY: Well, that's another issue. Nicole, as to a motion going forward to ask for the flag to be flown. And yes, you're right. You see, there are so many other issues around this that do need examining, and that's something that my Labor colleagues will be doing with me in the Senate when we have Senate estimates in February.

CHVASTEK: Thank you so much for giving me your time.