I wish tonight to talk about the Australian flag. On 3 September 114 years ago, a bit of cloth—a blue flag, our flag—11 metres long and five and a half metres wide was raised for the first time from the main dome of the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, then the home of our Commonwealth parliament. Whether on the battlefield or sporting grounds or diplomatic posts or schools or homes—just like mine on the Sunshine Coast—right across this country, the Australian flag, that blue flag of stars and crosses, has come to symbolise our young Federation and the values for which we stand.
The origins of our flag are rather unique. In April 1901, the Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton, announced that a competition would be held to design a federal Australian flag. Over 32,000 entries were received with five near-identical entries being awarded equal first place and sharing in the prize of 200 pounds. On 3 September 1901, at approximately half past two, the Prime Minister announced the winning design and that bit of cloth, that blue flag was raised.
The Commonwealth star—originally six pointed—represented the six colonies that united to become the Commonwealth. The seventh point was added in December 1908 to represent all of the federal territories, which when combined with the states constituted the nation.
The five-star Southern Cross, an ancient and constant presence in our night sky, represents our place in the world; and the Union Jack, comprising the crosses of St George, St Andrew and St Patrick, serves to represent the principles and ideals inherited from the United Kingdom on which our nation was founded: parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech and the liberty of the individual.
This flag, our flag, was flown for the first time at the Olympic Games in St Louis in 1904, where there was only one Australian competing. In 1908, all military establishments were ordered to fly the flag. On Christmas Day 1912, Frank Wild, a member of Sir Douglas Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition, raised the flag to take possession of Queen Mary Land, which is now part of the Australian Antarctic Territory.
In theatres of war—in Europe, the Pacific, the jungles of Papua New Guinea and Vietnam, East Timor, Afghanistan, the Middle East and in many other places—the Australian flag has been flown as a beacon of the freedoms and liberties for which countless brave Australian men and women have fought. I believe that all serving Australian Defence Force personnel should be gifted an Australian flag to honour their service to their nation. It disappointed me, when I was recently in the Middle East, meeting with serving personnel of the Australian Defence Force, to find out that they had had to buy their own flags to take over with them. I call upon the government to make sure that all who serve in the Australian Defence Force are given a flag, rather than being forced to go on the internet and pay money for one, and I will be writing to the new Prime Minister to ask him to make this one of the first acts of his government.
The Flags Act was personally signed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in February 1954. And I digress to congratulate—along with my good friend Senator Smith here—Her Majesty on becoming the longest reigning monarch in British and Australian history. Her Majesty has served Australia and the rest of the Commonwealth nations with grace and dignity for over 63½ years, a reassuring figure in what is sometimes an uncertain world. The Flags Act 1953 was amended to require that a referendum of all Australians be held in order to change the flag.
Australian National Flag Day, on 3 September, is an occasion on which to reflect on this national symbol and the values it represents, and organisations such as the Australian National Flag Association do great work in building community understanding of the flag and its history. I am an ardent supporter of free speech—the right of people to be quite rude about each other. However, I do find it reprehensible when hooligans and troublemakers who have no respect for Australian values, of for the sacrifices of those who fought for those values, burn, damage or otherwise desecrate our flag. It is my belief that burning or damaging with criminal intent the Australian flag should be an offence, and I note that my colleague George Christensen in the other place intends to introduce a bill to amend the Flags Act.