Division flagged

By Chris Thomson | posted on January 31, 2019

LESS than 24 hours after the Australia Day weekend, one councillor at a Great Southern shire called the Aboriginal flag “a minority group flag” and another argued that moves to fly it might “drive political leverage by stealth”.

In February last year, The Weekender revealed that Minang man Mark Colbung – who grew up near Mount Barker – had asked Shire of Plantagenet councillors why there was no Aboriginal flag flown outside their chambers, as there is in Albany where he now lives.

“Everywhere [else] you go, there’s an Aboriginal flag flown 24/7,” Mr Colbung told Plantagenet councillors at the time.

“Is there a problem?”

Fast forward 11 months and, at a Plantagenet council meeting on Tuesday afternoon, councillors voted 7-2 to fly the Aboriginal flag outside the chambers.

After Cr Len Handasyde moved that the flag be approved, Cr Brett Bell read from a prepared statement that said differential treatment of Aboriginal people had caused problems in the past.

“I know that this could be a sensitive issue,” he said, adding that differential treatment needed to stop.

He said he supported the Australian flag only outside the chambers because it represented “us all”, as opposed to a “minority group flag”.

He added that most Plantagenet ratepayers would not support the Shire hoisting the Aboriginal flag.

Cr Bell’s statements came one day after the Australia Day weekend when many Aboriginal people around the nation protested colonisation.

Also reading from prepared notes, Cr Jeff Moir said flying “an alternate flag” was “contrary to the values of our democracy”.

“The Australian flag is everybody’s flag and has been since Federation in 1901,” he said.

Cr Moir said that Australia’s first peoples needed to be acknowledged and respected but so too did every other Australian.

He said he suspected the “true motive” of seeking approval to fly the “alternate flag” was “to drive political leverage by stealth”.

“The result will be divisive,” he said.

Former Shire President Ken Clements said he was “neither one way or the other on this” but added he would prefer the Western Australian flag be flown out front rather than the Australian one.

“Technically [the Shire is] a product of the State, not the Federation,” he said.

The last word belonged to Cr Handasyde.

“Yes, we are a nation under one flag,” he summed up.

“And that will take precedence.

“Whilst we look back in the past, we can learn from that and we have to have our eyes firmly on the future.”

Two flag poles to carry the Aboriginal and Plantagenet flags will now be added to existing poles that support the Australian and Western Australian flags.

The Aboriginal, Australian, Western Australian and Plantagenet flags already co-exist inside the council chambers, behind the chair of Shire President Chris Pavlovich.

IMAGE: The Aboriginal flag will join the Australian and Western Australian ones outside the Plantagenet shire offices in Mount Barker. Photo: Chris Thomson