• Labor's Malarndirri McCarthy and Linda Burney are backing calls to change the anthem. (SBS News )Source: SBS News
A Senate inquiry into the use of the Aboriginal flag has handed down two recommendations, while the founder of one small business affected by the copyright issues say they just want equal access to the flag.
Keira Jenkins

14 Oct 2020 - 4:34 PM  UPDATED 19 Oct 2020 - 9:28 AM

A Senate committee has recommended that the government does not compulsorily acquire the copyright to the Aboriginal flag from its designer Harold Thomas.

The committee chair, Malarndirri McCarthy said, however, if negotiations between the federal government and Mr Thomas are not resolved by January, the Commonwealth should instead compulsorily acquire the licenses to the flag, a position she said is supported by her Labor colleagues. 

"If you can't find a way through this then you're going to have to fix it in terms of the licensees, WAM especially," the Yanyuwa and Garrawa Senator told NITV News.

"Aboriginal people are despairing, they’re distressed. We heard evidence that people are holding the flag upside down as a sign of mourning and Sorry Business and if they do not move quickly on this then Aboriginal people will walk away."

The committee was established in September to look into the copyright and licensing arrangements for the flag.

Ms McCarthy said the committee heard of the distress that copyright issues over the flag had caused within community organisations, not-for-profits and businesses.

But she said the overwhelming evidence was against taking the copyright from Mr Thomas, who is a Luritja man.

"The Koori Knockout in NSW were horrified that each individual player might have to be charged a certain amount," she said.

"This was the evidence that they gave to the inquiry. The Koori Knockout did actually pay $10,000 to WAM. There's some exorbitant amounts that community groups, non-profit organisations have been expected to pay."

'Flag equity'

One of these organisations who gave evidence to the committee was Clothing the Gap, which received a cease and desist order from WAM Clothing, the non-Indigenous company granted exclusive licence to reproduce the flag design on clothing, physical and digital media.

Clothing the Gap founder and managing director Laura Thompson said she hoped the option of compulsory acquisition had not been completely ruled out.

"We would love to see a negotiated outcome, but if we don't get a negotiated outcome is compulsory acquisition still on the table? Because it's an important national symbol. It's a national flag of Australia and I think it's too important to be controlled by one individual," the Gunditjmara woman said.

The committee also recommended an independent body be established, which would decide on the use of the Aboriginal flag.

Ms Thompson said she feels this body would be an "unnecessary administrative burden on the Aboriginal community and all Australians".

"What we want is flag equity. We want equal access to our flag, like all Australians enjoy (with) the Australian flag," she said.

"I just want to see more Aboriginal flags in the world, I don't want to have to  - whether it's an advisory committee or whether it's WAM - I just don't want to have to ask people to use my own flag."

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