CANBERRA -- Ever heard of the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands? Probably not. You're about to, and it's all got to do with a flag placed in the foyer of the Department of Finance building in Canberra.
During a Senate estimates hearing on finance and public administration on Tuesday, conversation turned to flags. Liberal Senator Eric Abetz, one of the most conservative members of parliament, was concerned about a rainbow flag -- a symbol of the LGBTQ equality movement -- being flown in the foyer of the finance department.
It sparked several minutes of questioning of department officials about flag protocols, who decides which flags are displayed and why, with Abetz saying rainbow flags were the symbol of a "political campaign" and "activist flag".
He stopped short of implicitly criticising the rainbow flag being displayed in a government building, but said he had been tipped off by a department staffer who was "concerned" by the flag selection process.
"If that is allowed, one imagines the Marriage Alliance banner should be flown equally... if you allow one side of a debate, then you need to allow the other side," Abetz said, referencing a group actively opposing marriage equality.
As the hearing started to move on, Abetz had one final bizarre thing to add to an already weird conversation.
"By way of some slight humour on this issue, this particular flag, you will realise, is the flag of the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands which declared war on Australia... of course it's the flag of a hostile nation, if we are to believe them, having declared war on Australia," he said, grinning.
Wait, what? What?
Yes, the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands is a place that exists. It's what is called a "micro nation", a tiny area of land which declares independence for itself from the country it is ostensibly part of.
The kingdom, like other micronations such as the famous Principality of Hutt River in Western Australia, is not an official nation of its own, and not recognised by the United Nations or any international bodies.
But it exists, and yes, it did declare war on Australia.
The Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands, according to its website (yes, it has a website, and a Facebook page) was established in 2004 by a group of LGBTQ activists protesting the government's refusal to grant same-sex marriage. The kingdom is scattered over some one million square kilometres of ocean, in the Coral Sea off Australia's northeast coast.
On its website, the kingdom claims its population is "100 percent homosexual". Its capital is "Heaven, a camp site located on Cato Island". It is a constitutional monarchy. Its currency is the Euro, but its only industries are tourism, fishing and "the sale of Gay & Lesbian Postage Stamps". Its national anthem is titled 'Zadok the Priest' and its national flag, sparking the concern of Senator Abetz, is "the gay rainbow pride flag".
"The Gay and Lesbian Kingdom formally raised the gay rainbow pride flag on Cato Island on the 14th of June 2004 and declared the territory an independent gay and lesbian state, a memorial plaque on the north eastern tip of Cato Island commemorates this historic event," the website reports.
The plaque, pictured above, states: "On the 14th day of June 2004, at this highest point in the Coral Sea, Emperor Dale Parker Anderson raised the gay rainbow flag and claimed the islands of the Coral Sea in his name as homeland for the gay and lesbian peoples of the world. God Save our King!"
The title 'kingdom' is not just a fancy name, with the micronation's sovereign claiming to descend from actual English royalty.
"The sovereign of the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom is Dale Parker Anderson, who is directly descendant from the murdered gay King of England, Edward II (1284-1327) this makes the Sovereign distantly related to all the major royal houses of Europe," its website states.
However, as Abetz pointed out, its not all peace in the gay kingdom. In September 2004, the kingdom declared war on Australia (it must be noted that the kingdom claims to have "a small army of gay activist located around the world it can call on in times of emergency".)
"On the 13th of September 2004, the Gay Kingdom declared war on the Commonwealth of Australia. Notification of acceptance and notification of the Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949, were given to the Prime Minister of Australia John Howard, both directly and through the Swiss Federal Government. This is a ratified Law of Australia, and conveys the responsibility to Govern to the Occupying Power," the kingdom said on its website.
"Therefore, by the Law of Australia, only the Gay Government is the Authority to Govern the Territory and the people of the Coral Sea Islands. The 1 week state of War, which was Officially declared, brought into effect the Law of War, under whose Sovereignty goes automatically to a State undefeated in a State of War. As Australia did not respond to the declaration The Gay & Lesbian Kingdoms independence was assured."
Back in estimates, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann -- as tongue-in-cheek as Abetz was -- promised a "flag enquiry".
"It's certainly not the government's intentions in any of our official buildings to fly the flag of hostile nations," the stone-faced Cormann said.
"We'll make sure there are no flags of hostile nations anywhere in any government building."
So there you go. A nation whose economy is built on postage stamps and occupies a beautiful island chain off the Great Barrier Reef once declared war on Australia, and claimed victory by default. And 13 years later a federal senator complained because a rainbow flag was flown in the Department of Finance.