Why change the flag?

The case for a new Australian flag

Changing a flag is not a trivial matter. For many nations, including our own, the national flag is the most important national symbol.

The Australian flag tells the story of who we are, where we come from and what we stand for. It represents Australia on the world stage, illustrates our national values, commemorates our history, and celebrates everything our nation has become.

... or does it?

In many ways, the Australian flag no longer represents the modern nation that flies it. The nation has changed significantly since the flag was first flown over a century ago — so much so that it can be argued that the flag no longer serves its purpose as the flag of an independent nation.

This web page outlines the key reasons why the Australian flag should be changed and debunks the arguments commonly used as reasons to not change the flag.

1. The Australian flag does not recognise our independence

The Australian flag is a British ensign which gives the Union Jack of the United Kingdom privileged ascendancy in the uppermost corner of the flag (the canton). This flag design was repeatedly used by the former British Empire to denote colonised lands that it claimed as its own.

Although the Australian flag was designed by Australians and not simply prescribed by Britain, its design wrongly implies that Australia remains under British rule. Of the more than fifty nations once part of the British Empire, Australia and New Zealand are the only two with national flags that remain traditional blue British ensigns unchanged since their adoption during or shortly after colonial rule.

While the Australian head of state remains the British monarch, Australia, in all other respects, is an entirely independent nation. We have our own government and laws, as well as our own accent, vernacular and customs. Australians take pride in the democratic autonomy of their nation, its special place in the world, and our unique culture and way of life. Australia’s GDP per capita exceeds that of the UK and Australians enjoy a high quality of living, strong civil liberties and robust political rights.

The current Australian flag does not recognise Australia for what it is — an independent, democratic nation whose colonial past is increasingly overshadowed by its modern prosperity. While our British colonial history will always be a part of our nation’s identity, the Australian Flag should represent what Australia is today just as much as what it once was.

Why is this a problem?

It diminishes our self-image as Australians by depriving us of a national symbol which truthfully represents Australia as an independent nation.

It makes Australia appear weaker among other nations by making it seem like Australia is just another external territory of the UK.

It falsely implies that Australia is diplomatically bound or politically governed by the UK.

2. The Australian flag ignores our history and our identity

An outsider seeing the Australian flag for the first time may think that Australia is not only a colony of the United Kingdom but that a British colony is all Australia ever was and all it ever will be. In reality, British colonialism is only one chapter in Australia’s history — a chapter which becomes smaller and further removed from present-day Australia with every passing year.

Australia is not only independent of Britain — it has transformed itself through successive waves of political progress, migration and cultural shifts into a uniquely diverse, cosmopolitan and multicultural society. Close to one quarter of the Australian population is born overseas and around half of all Australians have at least one parent born in another country. As a symbol of subservience to Britain and Britain alone, the Australian flag disregards who we really are as a country.

The First Nations people of Australia, whose sovereignty was never ceded, have occupied the Australian continent for tens of thousands of years — dwarfing Australia’s colonial and modern history. British colonisation saw Indigenous Australians systematically forced from the land, enslaved, massacred and stolen from their families as children in what can only be described as an act of genocide. Australia is still only beginning to come to terms with this history of oppression which has left First Nations people systemically disadvantaged in one of the most developed countries in the world.

While progress has been made to rectify the wrongs of our past and give First Nations people the agency, acknowledgement and reparations that they deserve, the Australian flag remains an explicit symbol of colonial subordination. It disregards the legacy of our past and ignores how the Australian identity has been transformed since colonialism. Australia deserves a national flag that recognises our past without misrepresenting who we are today.

Why is this a problem?

It alienates Australians who have no connection to British colonialism and First Nations people whose lives this legacy still negatively affects.

It suggests that our ancient and modern history is not as important or as equally worthy of being acknowledged and celebrated as our colonial past.

It wrongly implies that Australia has always been a nation of British subjects and remains so today.

3. The Australian flag can be misused (and is misused)

The disconnect between present-day Australia and what the Australian flag says about our identity is not trivial. A British colonial flag is not just a historical artefact — it is an intentionally designed symbol of the superior might of the British Empire and the inferiority of whatever and whoever it sought to conquer. The oppression of Australia’s Indigenous people and the overt racism of the White Australia Policy, which continued well into the 20th century, are the direct result of this colonial ideology.

The Australian flag is not a racist symbol — but its historic origins and symbolic connotations mean that, sadly, it can be used as one. For some, the Australian flag continues to represent the superiority of European culture and ethnicity over all others. It continues to be worn by the perpetrators of racist violence (such as during the Cronulla riots) and used in the official branding of hate groups.

If the Australian flag truly represented the inclusive, cosmopolitan and welcoming nation that we claim to be then it simply would not be used by those who believe it to represent the exact opposite. So long as our national flag remains a symbol of the superiority of one group above others it shall continue to be exploited by those to who seek to undermine the values that the modern nation of Australia stands for. 

Why is this a problem?

Its colonial origins and symbolic connotations have caused the flag to be increasingly associated with discriminatory beliefs and acts of intolerance.

Its continued usage signifies complacency and ambivalence towards harmful ideologies rather than the unambiguous rejection of these ideas.

Its misuse incites division among Australians that undermines our unity and national pride.

Reasons to not change the flag — debunked

Changing the flag discards an established national symbol with broad public appeal that will be difficult to replace

It is very easy to ignore the very real and immediate shortcomings of our current flag for the sake of convenience. Certainly, changing the flag will not be a straightforward process and any new flag design will need time to achieve the same level of affinity and respect that our current flag enjoys. This is not, however, a valid reason for why we should not try to change the flag at all.

It is deeply pessimistic to assume that we will never be able to find a new flag design that represents Australia better than the current flag. Given the quite obvious detriments of the current flag, this argument disregards the ingenuity of Australians and our long history of creating iconic symbols for ourselves such as the Eureka Flag, boxing kangaroo or the Southern Cross.

Changing the flag disrespects Australian soldiers who have fought and died under the flag

Throughout history, Australian soldiers have fought to defend our freedom. This freedom includes the freedom of Australians to change the flag of their nation if they so desire. Changing the flag does not disrespect our soldiers any more than changing the national anthem or amending the constitution — positive affirmations of the Australian identity our soldiers have fought to protect.

The current flag will always be of historical significance to Australia and shall continue to commemorate our fallen soldiers and other historical sacrifices made for our nation. Changing the national flag will not erase the history of the current flag or prevent it from being flown freely by Australians for whatever purpose they see fit.

The British ensign represents parliamentary democracy, egalitarianism and the rule of law which Australia directly inherited from the UK

While Australians should appreciate that our modern nation is broadly based upon the society of Britain, we do not require our national flag to be an explicit symbol of British colonialism to acknowledge this connection to the UK.

The parliamentary democracy of Australia, although based upon the Westminster system, is unique and distinct from that of the UK — most notably featuring an elected upper house more similar to that of the United States. Unlike the UK, Australia is a federation of states with state governments and judiciaries sharing power with their federal counterparts. 

Australia has not passively adopted democracy from the UK. Australia pioneered major democratic advancements such as the secret ballot (also called the Australian ballot) and the method of preferential voting which has been adopted across the world as the standard for emerging democracies and nations seeking democratic reform.

In the 21st Century, the principles of democracy, legal representation and personal liberty are recognised as fundamental human rights. While the UK may have been among the first to adopt these ideals, the nation does not and never did hold a monopoly over them. Australia is a just, egalitarian and democratic nation only because the Australian people decided among themselves that it should be — in spite of UK colonialism not because of it.

Changing the flag disregards the historic democratic exercise which lead to its adoption

The 1901 Federal Flag Design Competition, which resulted in the Australian flag being chosen from over 30,000 public design submissions to represent the newly federated nation, is an inspiring story of our early nationhood. It does not, however, justify the argument that the Australian flag should never be changed again.

The selection of the winning 1901 flag design by a pre-selected panel of judges and its subsequent approval by King Edward VII (who oversaw additional changes to the design) meant that the Australian flag was chosen under the auspices of colonial authority without any democratic involvement other than the public submission of designs.

By contrast, the Flags Amendment Act 1998 dictates that the Australian flag can only be changed by means of a national referendum or plebiscite. Any new Australian flag will, therefore, be chosen by a process of direct democracy and will not be decided upon by anyone other than the Australian people, making it the first and only national flag of Australia to truly be chosen by its citizens.

Changing the flag is politically correct virtue signalling which does nothing to address the actual problems that face Australia

If the design of the Australian flag truly meant nothing to our country then nobody would care if the Australian Flag was changed at all. The fact that so many Australians either strongly support or object to changing the flag proves that it is of far greater importance to our nation than we give it credit for.

The Australian flag has a very real impact on how we see ourselves as Australians and the values that shape our society. No other symbol contributes so much to our nation’s sense of belonging and our camaraderie as Australian citizens. Adopting a new national flag is a powerful and courageous affirmation of national identity. It is a declaration of the values and principles which inform every decision made and action taken as a country.

While Australia certainly has greater problems than its flag to worry about, many of them directly relate to the shortcomings of the flag itself — the persistence of racism and the ongoing impacts of colonialism, continuing injustice and inequality facing First Nations Australians, and Australia’s struggle to assert itself as an independent nation. If we cannot change our flag to better represent our values and our identity it is difficult to see how we can even begin to address the challenges facing Australia as a whole.

The Triple Union Flag

The Triple Union Flag has been designed as an alternative flag of Australia which preserves the most distinctive aspects of the current flag while transforming its symbolism and meaning to better represent the Australian identity.