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Michael Cobb Introduces Private Member’s Bill On Flag Desecration

Michael Cobb, the National Party member for Parkes, introduced a private members bill on flag desecration to the House of Representatives on May 4, 1989.

The bill was not proceeded with.

The audio clip contains some of Cobb’s remarks in his First Reading Speech.

  • Listen to Michael Cobb (80s)

Hansard transcript of Michael Cobb’s First Reading Speech on the CRIMES (PROTECTION OF AUSTRALIAN FLAGS) BILL 1989.

Mr COBB (10.24) —Earlier this year some citizens demonstrating outside the front of the new Parliament House burnt an Australian flag as part of their protest. This quite despicable act guaranteed these people nationwide media coverage for their cause. Like many other Australian citizens-I do not overstate it by saying this-I was horrified and outraged at seeing our national flag destroyed in this manner, in a cheap, defiant and quite deliberate action calculated to gain the maximum publicity at the expense of our nation’s symbol-our flag. I raised this matter with the Speaker in the House and, like many others, was surprised to find that no penalty exists for such actions. To rectify that deficiency I am introducing this private member’s Bill into the Parliament.

Although relating to the Australian national flag and its ensigns, which are defined under the Flags Act, the penalties contained in this Bill-the Crimes (Protection of Australian Flags) Bill 1989-are described as an addition to our Crimes Act. If this Bill is implemented and passed, anyone who, from then on, desecrates or otherwise dishonours the Australian national flag or an Australian ensign or who, without lawful authority, burns, mutilates or otherwise destroys our flag shall be deemed guilty of an offence and subject to a penalty of $5,000 or imprisonment for two years or both.

Many other countries around the world have penalties for similar offences against their flag. The penalties proposed in this Bill are not inconsistent with penalties imposed overseas. Our soldiers fought under our flag in two world wars so that we might all live in freedom in this lucky country. The price paid for that freedom is one that we should not lightly forget. Those people who so insolently burned our flag outside Parliament House recently should realise that, whatever their grievance, they should never resort to such a treasonable insult. What other nation would allow its flag to be dishonoured with impunity? Such behaviour is totally unacceptable to most people. Are we to be treated, or do we want to be treated, with this sort of spectacle every time some unwashed, disaffected group of people who have probably contributed little or nothing to the welfare of this nation want a cheap publicity shot? When they burn our flag they mock every decent tradition and foundation in Australia-traditions, loyalty and pride that have been built up through the contribution of all Australians over the last 200 years.

Consequently, I and most others strongly and sincerely feel that any actions which desecrate or dishonour our flag are totally offensive. Unless we have respect for our flag we can have no respect for anyone, including ourselves. It is time that the line was drawn. I challenge anyone who disputes that penalties are needed for these actions to conduct a poll among the general population. If we claim to represent the people we much correct this oversight. If we care about our country and what it stands for, we will support what is proposed in this legislation. I ask for and I expect the unanimous support of all honourable members in this chamber for this Bill.

Bill read a first time.

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —In accordance with sessional order 104a, the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting Thursday.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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