When the government voted against flying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in the Senate – on NAIDOC Week, of all times – people were understandably livid. Now ABC Indigenous Affairs Correspondent Isabella Higgins has given a no-nonsense takedown of the government’s decision in under two minutes.
Higgins, who is a Torres Strait Islander woman, said she was “baffled” when the government said only the Australian flag and not the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander flags could be flown in the Senate.
“I just can’t understand the harm that it causes to have it flown, but I very much can see the harm it causes when you reject it,” she told Insiders on Sunday.
“This week it was one of the issues I really saw resonating with the Indigenous community.”
She added that by voting against the motion, the government caused “great harm and offence”.
— Insiders ABC (@InsidersABC) November 14, 2020
“When you have the government come out and say, ‘the Aboriginal flag does not represent all Australians’, well it sends a very clear message to Aboriginal people that ‘you are not one of us, you do not represent us’,” Higgins said.
“And that is hurtful and harmful on NAIDOC Week, or any week.”
“Symbolism is very important, it sends a message to young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that you are valued,” she added.
Higgins even said that it shows just how out of touch the government is with ordinary Aussies, regardless of race.
“I mean, who walks around and is offended by the Aboriginal flag?” she said, noting that both flags are flown pretty much everywhere including, importantly, in many state and territory parliaments.
“I think as Australians, we’re very used to seeing the Aboriginal flag, the Torres Strait Islander flag and the Australian flag all flown together.”
Earlier on during Insiders, Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt – who had no part in the vote because he’s an MP, not a Senator – defended the government’s position but said he was still proud of the Aboriginal flag.
The motion was spearheaded earlier this week by Aboriginal Senators Malarndirri McCarthy, Pat Dodson and Lidia Thorpe, who at the time made clear how disappointing the government’s decision was after both Labor and the Greens supported the idea.
— malarndirri mccarthy (@Malarndirri19) November 10, 2020
“The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags are national flags of Australia, recognised since 1995 under the Flags Act 1953,” McCarthy said on Twitter shortly after the motion failed on Tuesday.
“All three flags are flying outside Parliament House during NAIDOC Week, yet not inside the two houses of Parliament.”
Meanwhile, Thorpe said on Twitter: “The three Black Senators respectfully request for the Aboriginal flag to be flown in the spirit of NAIDOC Week and the colonial oppression reared its ugly, violent head.”
The theme for NAIDOC Week this year is #AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe. The Senate sits on stolen Wiradjuri/Ngambri/Ngunnawal land, and yet these Coalition Senators voted AGAINST a motion from 3 Blak Senators to permanently display our flag in the spirit of NAIDOC Week. pic.twitter.com/DK3yewwjUr
— Lidia Thorpe (@lidia__thorpe) November 10, 2020
The motion failed by just one vote, despite the government having three months’ warning to be on the right side of history.
While there likely won’t be any major change-of-heart in the near future, at least the vote was close enough to indicate that things likely won’t be this way forever.