Saturday, 16 November 2002
This morning's Age reports that the shadow Leader of the Opposition, John Howard
has defended the right of people to burn the Australian flag, saying that while repugnant, it was a matter of free speech.
National Party leader John Anderson disagrees:
Mr Anderson wants to change the Crimes Act to outlaw burning or desecrating the flag. He says this would not limit free speech because laws already exist making it a crime to vandalise or deface war memorials.
With my wide ranging ignorance of the law, I don't know whether Mr Anderson is correct in his assertion that there are laws making it a crime to vandalise or deface war memorials, although we do have plenty of run-of-the-mill laws prohibiting acts such as throwing bricks through your neighbours' windows or "tagging" their front doors. Still, with the generally acknowledged centrality of the ANZAC legend to Australia's sense of national identity it wouldn't surprise me to discover that there's a special law to protect all those concrete statues of carabinieri that we fondly pretend are statues of diggers. But I do think that Mr Anderson's suggestion that a ban on flag burning is pretty much the same as laws protecting public property is a little disingenuous.
I'm pretty indifferent on the subject of flag burning most of the time - if people want to promote their cause by doing something that's guaranteed to alienate most of the population, that's their business. The only times it really riles me is when flags are burnt in support of the causes I favour. I suspect Martin Heidegger might have had similar problems with the phenomenon of book-burning but that's a whole other issue I don't want to get into right now.