CANBERRA -- Burning, damaging, defacing or trampling the Australian flag would become illegal under a bill introduced into the House of Representatives on Monday.
Conservative Nationals MP George Christensen introduced his private member's bill, the Flags Amendment (Protecting Australian Flags) Bill 2016, which seeks to outlaw the desecration of the national flag. Christensen called the act a "hate crime against Aussies".
A penalty of one month jail or 30 penalty units -- a Commonwealth penalty unit is currently $180, equalling a maximum fine of $5400 -- would be imposed by the bill, if someone is found to have mutilated an Australian flag.
The bill states that defacing, defiling, damaging, destroying, desecrating, dishonouring -- it is a bill that loves alliteration, apparently -- mutilating, burning or trampling upon an Australian flag would be a crime. The bill would extend these protections to the Australian National Flag, the Australian Red Ensign, the Aboriginal Flag and the Torres Strait Islander Flag.
"Thousands of Australian men and women have fought and died under this Flag in the defence of the nation. Their sacrifice to defend our nation requires this Parliament to defend the Flag for which they have fought," states an explanatory note accompanying the bill.
Christensen's bill outlines that the act would be a crime if the person "does so reckless as to whether the act will cause death, injury or violence to another person in a public place; or cause damage or destruction to property (other than the
18 Australian flag); or create public disorder or a public disturbance; or offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people".
"These are turbulent times, these are uncertain times," Christensen said, in introducing the bill in the house.
"Ill winds blow, a sea of public discourse is polluted with the distracting and self-harming froth and bubble of our own making. The chattering classes and the self-proclaimed elite, egged on by a compliant and self-serving media, are forcing the entire nation to apologise for everything the nation is and represents. The people of this nation, willing or not, have allowed this cancer to take root."
Flag burning has been declared legal in the USA, protected as a form of free speech. Christensen claimed on Twitter that burning a flag "is not speaking" and in his address said "I believe in freedom of speech", citing section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act as supporting his calls to outlaw flag burning.
This is not speaking. It is burning our nation's chief symbol and its disgraceful. pic.twitter.com/zyU6twRosK— George Christensen (@GChristensenMP) February 29, 2016
The controversial section 18c sets out that is unlawful for someone to act in a way that is "reasonably likely" to "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people" and if the act "is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person". Christensen claimed that burning the Australian flag would come under this provision, as it would offend mainstream Australians.
The bill was seconded by Liberal MP Warren Entsch, but debate was adjourned to become an order of the day for the next sitting of the House.
Christensen has made other headlines in recent weeks, including starting a new website titled "War On Radical Islam" and likening a school program that supports LGBT students to paedophile grooming.