In the midst of NAIDOC Week the Federal Government has voted against a motion to fly the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in the Senate chamber.

The motion was Indigenous-led, pushed by Labor Senators Pat Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy and Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe. Moved on Tuesday, the motion failed 29 to 28.

Liberal Senator and Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston defended the decision in Parliament.

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

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

Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt took to Twitter, joining Minister Ruston in defending the Government’s decision.

Yanyuwa woman, Senator McCarthy, slammed the Government for voting down the motion.

“And why is it that in this week of NAIDOC that the Government could be so mean spirited as to not dig deeper, dig much deeper?” said Senator McCarthy.

“The Government has actually had this motion before them for three months. It wasn’t a surprise, I even went and saw the Chief Government Whip and sat in his office and said, ‘Hey … this is what we would like to do.’ It was not a surprise; you had all that time.”

Gunnai/Gunditjmara woman, Senator Thorpe, also voiced her disappointment in Parliament.

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

“I’m not sure where everyone else comes from, but … Aboriginal people have been here, the Wiradjuri, Ngambri, Ngunnawal people, have been here for thousands and thousands and thousands of generations.

“The Aboriginal flag is what we identify with, what we connect with.”

The Senator later took to Twitter, expressing her frsutrations

Her disappointment was shared by Labor members Senator Dodson and Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney.

“It seemed that the Government took the view that the only flag that should be displayed is the Australian flag. I think forgetting that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags are both part of the Australian Flags Act,” Burney told 2GB Drive on Tuesday.

“You go to RSL clubs, schools, hospitals, airports, council chambers, bridges, and if you drove down Commonwealth Avenue in Canberra right now there are hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags flying. So, I don’t know what the big deal is, quite frankly.”

She said that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags are part of the Australian identity.

“They are flags that represent something that we all should be rejoicing as Australians having the longest continuous culture on earth. And the stories behind the flags are really beautiful stories.”

Whilst the Government voted against the flags being displayed, it is strictly outlined in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Australian Flags – Part 2: The protocols for the appropriate use and flying of the flag that they are to be flown during NAIDOC Week.

Page 24 of the document, Special days for flying flags, reads:

“NAIDOC Week is held every year to celebrate and promote a greater understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and culture.

“The Australian Aboriginal Flag and the Torres Strait Islander Flag should be flown on additional flagpoles, where available, next to or near the Australian National Flag on Australian government buildings and establishments.”

NIT reached out to the Prime Minister’s Office for further comment however was referred to Senator Ruston’s previous comments.

By Rachael Knowles