The Australian Government has secured a copyright transfer for the Aboriginal Flag in a $20.05 million deal following negotiations with Luritja artist and land rights activist Harold Thomas.
Mr Thomas designed the flag in 1971 and it was first flown in Adelaide on National Aborigines Day that year.
It will now follow the same protocols as the Australian National Flag, where its use is free but it must be treated with respect and dignity.
“I hope that this arrangement provides comfort to all Aboriginal people and Australians to use the Flag, unaltered, proudly and without restriction,” Mr Thomas said.
“The Flag represents the timeless history of our land and our people’s time on it. It is an introspection and appreciation of who we are.”
“It draws from the history of our ancestors, our land, and our identity and will honour these well into the future.”
The colours of the flag represent the earth (red), the sun (yellow) and the Aboriginal people of Australia (black).
Up until now, only three businesses owned by non-Aboriginal people had licensing agreements with Mr Thomas to produce his design on flags, souvenirs and clothing.
Gunditjmara woman and Clothing the Gaps CEO Laura Thompson started a campaign to ‘Free the Flag’ in 2020 after discovering WAM Clothing held exclusive international rights to sell clothing with the Aboriginal Flag.
Her campaign drew support from the AFL, Olympian Nova Peris, Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and gained more than 165,000 signatures online.
Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said securing public use of the Aboriginal Flag is important for all Australians.
“Over the last 50 years we made Harold Thomas’ artwork our own - we marched under the Aboriginal Flag, stood behind it, and flew it high as a point of pride,” Minister Wyatt said.
“In reaching this agreement to resolve the copyright issues, all Australians can freely display and use the flag to celebrate Indigenous culture.
“Now that the Commonwealth holds the copyright, it belongs to everyone, and no one can take it away.”
The Aboriginal Flag can now be put on apparel such as sports jerseys and shirts.
It can also be painted on sports grounds, included on websites and in artwork without permission or having to pay a fee.
Harold Thomas 'grateful'
The Morrison Government has confirmed Carroll and Richardson Flagworld will remain the exclusive licenced manufacturer and provider of Aboriginal Flags.
Any profits the government makes from Flagworld’s sales will be invested in a dedicated fund for NAIDOC Week, while Mr Thomas will retain moral rights over the flag.
In a statement to NITV News, the NAIDOC Committee welcomed the announcement of the successful negotiations.
"We acknowledge the sensitivities of those discussions and congratulate Minister Wyatt on securing a negotiated outcome," it read.
"The nomination that royalties that the Commonwealth receives from Flagworld’s sale of the flag will be directed to the ongoing work of NAIDOC is also warmly welcome and hopefully adds to the greater reach of the NAIDOC grants each year.
"We also look forward to the Flag's Copyright eventually being invested with an Indigenous entity."
While the details of the $20.05 million agreement are 'commercial in confidence', Mr Thomas has said he intends to use $2 million of his profits to establish an Australian Aboriginal Flag Legacy not-for-profit to make periodic disbursements aligned with the interests of Aboriginal Australians and the flag.
Mr Thomas said he was "grateful" that his art was appreciated by so many and that it "has come to represent something so powerful".
Prime Minister Scott Morrison thanked all those involved in the negotiations, saying "we've freed the Aboriginal flag for Australians."