Dear Cr Brandenburg
I do hope that this letter finds you well.
I am writing to you, perhaps with a lack of any real surprise, regarding the decision by the Shire of Carnarvon to refuse to fly the Aboriginal flag during NAIDOC week.
I listened, with some interest, to the explanation of this decision, as you articulated during your radio interview with ABC, on 26 May 2016.
I would like to, if I may, respond to some of the comments made during this interview.
I noted your comments equating the Aboriginal flag to that of sporting clubs or the flag of other nations. It is important to understand that the Aboriginal flag is indeed an official Australian flag, as confirmed under the Flags Act 1953 (Cth). People are not generally aware of the official status of the Aboriginal flag as per Australian legislation, so I do hope that this assuages your concern about the validity of its status vis-a-vis the flags of other nations, or, indeed, sporting clubs.
I also noted your concern about the potential constitutional impact that this may have on any citizenship ceremony that may be conducted during the time that the Aboriginal flag is flying. Hopefully by now you have received advice that there are no constitutional limits on the ability of the Shire of Carnarvon to fly the Aboriginal flag and conduct valid citizenship ceremonies. Indeed, many Local Government Authorities fly the Australian flag, the Western Australian flag, and the Aboriginal flag during their ceremonies. Personally, it is my view that the flying of the Aboriginal flag during Citizenship ceremonies is a nice touch, particularly in light of the fact that for the majority of the time since Australia (and Western Australia) was colonised Aboriginal people were not recognised as citizens of our great country. While I do not, in this letter, intend to revisit the long history of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations, clearly the referendum of 1967 remains a very prominent part of our nation’s history.
I also noted your concern that the flying of the flag may indeed be divisive. This is, perhaps, the most difficult to address as it is based on your personal view rather than a mistaken understanding of the law. While you raised the example of the Western Australian Parliament, I do wish to draw your attention to the fact that the Western Australian Parliament does indeed fly the Aboriginal flag. Permanently. The WA Parliament represent every Western Australian. The flying of the Aboriginal flag simply seeks to acknowledge the proud, and long, history of Aboriginal people as the traditional owners of our State and not, in any way, to elevate one particular person above another.
Our Aboriginal history is quite amazing, and it is this history that all Australians seek to celebrate during NAIDOC week. Aboriginal history is the history of our nation and, therefore, all Australians should be proud in claiming this history. It is my view that your position about the flag being ‘divisive’ is misplaced and will create division rather than taking this opportunity to celebrate with the people of Carnarvon the history of an extraordinary people, together. You, of all people, are very aware of the significant Aboriginal constituency that you represent.
I have also noted some comments from the Council that there are other, more substantive, issues to address regarding your Aboriginal constituents. While this may indeed be the case, and while you may regard the flying of the Aboriginal flag as merely symbolic, I assure you that actions that speak about the value that the Council places on the Aboriginal historical context, such as flying the flag, will make it much easier to entice engagement from your Aboriginal constituency to resolve the other issues. Extending the warm hand of celebration will ensure that when the Shire seeks to engage with its Aboriginal constituents this will be on the basis of a mutual respect.
Finally, I was concerned with your comment that the Shire of Carnarvon does not have an Aboriginal flag. I am delighted to enclose an Aboriginal flag for your use and do hope that the Shire is able to reconsider its decision regarding the flying of the Aboriginal flag during NAIDOC week.
I look forward to my next visit to Carnarvon and will keep a keen eye out to hopefully see the enclosed flag flying!!
Ben Wyatt MLA
Member for Victoria Park