Senator Eric Abetz has objected to the presence of a rainbow flag in government buildings during a Senate committee hearing as it’s “the flag of a hostile nation”.
On Tuesday the Tasmanian Liberal senator asked Department of Finance officials about protocols for flying a rainbow flag within a government building, explaining that he’d heard a rainbow flag – the international symbol of LGBTI pride – had been displayed in the lobby of the Department of Finance.
“There was the rainbow flag on display in the lobby which some people see as an activist flag for a particular cause in relation to an issue of whether or not we should change the legislation on marriage. Some people of course support that cause, others don’t,” Senator Abetz said.
“If that is allowed, then one imagines the Marriage Alliance banner should be flown equally… If you allow one side of the debate, then you need to allow the other side.”
The Marriage Alliance is a group campaigning against marriage equality and the Safe Schools anti-bullying program. The group caused controversy last year when they released a poster with a woman with a rainbow noose around her neck.
Senator Abetz then went on to describe the flag as the symbol of a “hostile nation,” referring to a 2004 protest against the Howard Government’s ban on same-sex marriage that year.
A small uninhabited island in the Coral Sea was proclaimed the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea, with its population declared as “100% homosexual”. The micro-nation subsequently “declared war” on Australia.
“Just for what it’s worth, by way of some slight humour on this issue, this particular flag is the flag of the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands, that declared war on Australia,” Senator Abetz said.
“Of course, it is the flag of a hostile nation if we are to believe them, having declared war on Australia. I dare say that wasn’t the reason it was flown.”
— Janet Rice (@janet_rice) February 28, 2017
In response, PFLAG spokesperson Shelley Argent said, to her, the rainbow flag “is similar to the Indigenous flag.”
“Both are symbols and official recognition by the people, nationally and internationally and instantly recognised. They are not flags of hate, discrimination or oppression,” she said.
She said the rainbow flag was a unifying symbol that LGBTI people had great pride in, but symbols of groups like the Marriage Alliance promoted discrimination and divisiveness.
Ms Argent said people who feel threatened by the rainbow flag need to take a “good hard look at themselves and consider what it is they have to fear.”
Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesperson Rodney Croome said the rainbow flag “represents the long struggle of sexual and gender minorities for respect and equality.”
“It should be flown from every official building in this country at least once a year as a reminder of how far Australia has come along the road to inclusion, and how far it has yet to go,” he said.
Last month, the ACT Government rejected calls from the Australian Christian Lobby to remove rainbow flags flying in Canberra.