• The senate committee into the Aboriginal Flag has handed down two recommendations (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) (AAP)Source: AAP
The 'Select Committee on the Aboriginal Flag' will report back to Parliament in October, focusing on copyright and licensing arrangements for the flag design and exploring what options the government has in ensuring "fair use."
Shahni Wellington

3 Sep 2020 - 6:17 PM  UPDATED 7 Sep 2020 - 10:13 AM

The use of the Aboriginal flag will come under a microscope over the next few weeks, with a federal inquiry receiving the green light on Thursday.

The Select Committee on the Aboriginal Flag will seek to establish who is financially benefitting from the existing copyright and licensing arrangements and the options the Government has to "enable the flag to be freely used by the Australian community".

The motion, passed in the Senate on Thursday, follows an on-going controversy around the use of the Aboriginal flag. 

For Luritja man and flag creator, Harold Thomas, it could see changes to the licensing arrangements he has legally put in place. 

As the intellectual property owner, Mr Thomas has granted rights to three copyright licencees, including to non-Indigenous business WAM Clothing that came under fire for sending cease and desist letters for using the flag on clothing without paying royalties.

Now, a federal inquiry will investigate the impact of the current licensing arrangements on Aboriginal communities, the compulsory acquisition of copyright, and ways to protect the rights and interests of Mr Thomas.

The seven senators appointed to the committee include Garrwa Yanyuwa woman, Sen. Malarndirri McCarthy, Yawuru man Sen. Patrick Dodson, Sen. Andrew Bragg, Sen. Perin Davey, Sen. Amanda Stoker, Sen. Matt O’Sullivan, and Gunnai-Gunditjmara woman Lidia Thorpe (contingent on her confirmation as senator-elect).

A delicate issue

The motion to establish the inquiry was moved by Garrwa Yanyuwa woman and Labor senator for the Northern Territory, Malarndirri McCarthy.

“There is so much confusion about what can and can’t be done about the flag," Ms McCarthy said. 

“This inquiry is a chance to hear from all parties, their concerns and to seek a respectful way forward that guides the Australian parliament."

Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, is also in the process of drafting a legislative bill of the same nature. 

Minister for Finance, Matthias Cormann, rose to express the federal government's support, but made clear there were some concerns.

"The Australian Government is aware of the concerns around the copyright of the Aboriginal flag and would like to see a resolution to this matter in a way that respects the rights of the flag’s creator while ensuring the flag continues to be a symbol of unity for Aboriginal people," he told the Senate.

Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, has previously said he is holding "delicate" negotiations over the flag and has spoken with Mr Thomas.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Minister Wyatt said, "It’s important to note that the Australian Aboriginal Flag can be flown freely, as per the intention of copyright holder Mr Thomas. We do not want to see the process currently underway jeopardised."

The Minister has previously described the actions of the Opposition to pursue rights to the flag as "stunts".

In recent weeks, a social media campaign named 'Free the Flag' gained momentum, with every AFL club joining the movement and abstaining from use of the flag across the AFL Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous round.

The committee is expected to hand down it's findings by the end of next month.