2 September 2022

Aboriginal flag safe to fly at Yass Soldiers Memorial Hall ... for now

| Claire Fenwicke
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The Aboriginal flag has been flying outside the Yass Soldiers Memorial Hall since 12 August. Photo: Yass Valley Council.

A rescission motion to remove the Aboriginal flag from the Yass Soldiers Memorial Hall passed the recent council meeting – but the flag can still fly for now.

The idea to permanently fly the flag was raised and passed during the mayoral minute at July’s meeting, but was met with some fierce opposition.

A rescission motion to scrap the decision was presented by Councillor Kim Turner at August’s meeting, describing the original motion as “ill-conceived and ill-determined”.

But the following debate turned heated, with accusations of racism hurled at unnamed councillors.

Cr Turner said he wanted the decision overturned as it had been done without community consultation.

“This is an attempt to rectify a procedural matter that was done wrong a month ago,” he said.

“Due process was not followed, the Aboriginal community was not consulted, the RSL was not consulted, the general public was not consulted.”

He slammed the “slurs of racism” that had appeared on social media over the issue, and said the entire issue had been “manipulated”.

“This is a process that says once the flag is up, anyone who wants to pull it down is a racist, and social media has leapt on board,” Cr Turner said.

“This has been manipulated, the social media frenzy that has been brought about by this has been absolutely horrendous.”

Cr Turner argued that while he felt the Aboriginal flag was a “great flag”, flying it permanently without community consultation was “the wrong decision”.

“We need to have a rescission motion to get us back to where we were a month ago, and then we can do it properly,” he said.

“We must be seen in this community to take consideration of the 17,243 other people in this community, not for less than one per cent.”

The flag has been flying at the hall since 12 August.

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Others agreed, with Cr Cayla Pothan arguing while she would like to see the flag flying permanently, councillors had promised to listen to the community before making decisions.

“This is not about flying the flag or racism, it’s about conversations first,” she said.

Cr Mike Reid said he was both for and against the rescission motion – he was against it as he felt council should stand by its original decision to fly the flag, but he was for it as “we did not consult and we should have”.

Given the Aboriginal flag was flying on a flag pole built for temporary flags, he was concerned about how other flags could be flown for certain occasions.

“What if on some other day we want to put up the Ukrainian flag or something like that?” he asked.

“I’m all in favour of the flag flying, and so is everybody that I’ve talked to, and I want to see the flag fly, but whether the flag is there for reconciliation purposes or whether we can have a special place [elsewhere] for it [in town].”

He also noted the flag had been raised without any ceremony, and he wanted to “do it properly and get everyone involved”.

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But those against the rescission motion fiercely opposed the idea due process had not been followed.

Cr Adrian Cameron admitted council consultation may not have been “great” for the past nine years, and that improved consultation was something some councillors had promised when running for election.

But he argued council had a right to make decisions on behalf of the people they represented.

“I agree consultation is important, this council is doing a lot of it … but we don’t have to consult on everything, and I think we need to be aware that consultation does have its limits and I think we can make decisions,” Cr Cameron said.

“If this [rescission] motion is passed, the council will be seen as weak and indecisive.”

He felt the correct decision had been originally made, and that it shouldn’t be reversed because of a “vocal minority”.

Cr Cameron also noted the issue had generated interest outside of the area, and was concerned about how people would perceive the Yass community if the flag was pulled down.

Cr Adrian Cameron posted this photo the day the Aboriginal flag was raised at the Soldiers Memorial Hall. Photo: Facebook.

Deputy Mayor Jasmin Jones argued the land where the memorial hall stood was council owned, and therefore council had a right to make the decision about what was there.

She also said there was “nothing illegal” about the original motion a month ago.

“Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s wrong,” Cr Jones said.

“We cannot take away [the flag now], that does more damage to every single one of us in the Yass Valley more than anything else … do not take down the respect you gave.

“Leave the flag.”

Cr Kristen Butler went further, claiming the reason people were against the flag wasn’t because due process hadn’t been followed, but that because they had other agendas.

“I find it interesting that the same people who are standing by this justification have been heard to say words such as ‘black fellas’, ‘Why should we fly the flag of just a minority group?’, ‘I’ll take the flag down and burn it’,” she claimed.

“This to me speaks volumes, and I cannot disassociate the dark undertones of the need to take this flag down.”

She also took offence to the idea no consultation had been undertaken, as while no formal meetings had taken place, it was her job as a councillor to do her own research and speak with locals to inform her decisions.

“To say no community consultation has been undertaken is in fact completely untrue, and one that I actually take offence to as it indicates that I failed and I didn’t do my job,” Cr Butler said.

The rescission motion passed five votes to four.

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But those who wanted the flag pulled down did not have a voteable motion to take its place.

So Deputy Mayor Jones put forward the motion that the flag could continue to fly while community consultation took place.

She said she learned council had already undertaken consultation on this same issue in 2012, and that it had passed.

“When it’s the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to do, and we already did it,” Cr Jones said.

“I can’t believe we have to go through this process to do what was the right thing to do.”

She urged those councillors against the flag flying at the Soldiers Memorial Hall to “keep your ears open” and not let their own biases impact their future decisions.

“I’ve had councillors in this room tell me, ‘They’re bloody everywhere, the effing black fellas’, councillors around this room told me that, and we know who you are, and I feel ashamed,” Cr Jones said.

This new motion passed six to three.

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