During NAIDOC Week, the government votes against displaying Indigenous flags in the Senate

A motion to display the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in the Senate chamber has been voted down by the federal government.

A man is seen under the indigenous flag protesting Aboriginal rights on Australia Day at Parliament House in Canberra, Sunday, January 26, 2020. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING

A man is seen under the Aboriginal flag at Parliament House in Canberra on 26 January. Source: AAP

As Australia celebrates NAIDOC Week, the federal government has voted against an Indigenous-led motion to hang the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in the Senate chamber.

Labor’s Pat Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy along with the Greens’ Lidia Thorpe on Tuesday to display the flags in the Senate chamber alongside the Australian flag.

The motion failed, 29 to 28.

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Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the government thought the “only appropriate flag” to hang in the Senate was the Australian flag.

“There are many places and circumstances to appropriately display the flags of our nation, including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags,” she told the chamber.

“The government believes that the Australian national flag, which represents all Australians, is the only appropriate flag to be flown in the Senate chamber.”

Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston defending the government's decision on Tuesday.
Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston defending the government's decision on Tuesday. Source: APH/screenshot


NAIDOC Week, which began on Sunday, celebrates the culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This year's theme is 'always was, always will be'.

Senator McCarthy, a Yanyuwa woman, urged the government to support the flag motion.

“The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags are also national flags,” she said.

“I appeal to the Senate, when we fly the flags out the front as we do this week, we have it on display for the whole of the country, in NAIDOC week, [for] an opportunity to show that we can unite our country.”

Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy waits for a press conference for the start of NAIDOC week in Canberra, Monday November 9, 2020
Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy waits for a press conference for the start of NAIDOC Week in Canberra. Source: AAP


Senator Thorpe, a Gunnai and Gunditjmara woman, slammed the government in a passionate speech.

“May I remind you all that we are on stolen land? The Aboriginal flag represents the oldest continuing, living culture in the world,” she said.

“My people have been here … for thousands and thousands and thousands of generations. The Aboriginal flag is what we identify with, what we connect with.”



Nationals Senator Matt Canavan defended the government’s move in an interview with the ABC, suggesting the motion was impractical and would not improve anything.

“There are a lot of people that stand up at the start of the speeches and say they want to recognise the land and traditional owners,” he said.

“Canberra has 99-year leases. It was given back to Indigenous people. It is all words and symbols ... let’s do practical things that can improve people’s lives.”

National NAIDOC Week (8 – 15 Nov 2020) celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Join SBS and NITV for a full slate of . For more information about NAIDOC Week or this year’s theme, head to the 


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3 min read
Published 10 November 2020 at 6:17pm
By Evan Young