Ask LH: Should The Australian Flag Be Banned As A Fashion Item?

Ask LH: Should The Australian Flag Be Banned As A Fashion Item?

Dear Lifehacker, with Australia Day around the corner, lots of people I know will be showing off their Aussie pride by draping the flag over their shoulders, homes and vehicles. However, I read somewhere that this was getting banned, which sounds very un-Australian! Could you give me an insight into the legality of telling someone they can’t wear a flag? If it’s not against the law, shouldn’t I be allowed to do it? Thanks, Proud Flag Waver

Flag picture from Shutterstock

Dear PFW,

There are currently no laws that prohibit the wearing of the Australian flag for style or patriotic purposes. Under the 1953 Flags Act, the Australian National Flag may be flown on every day of the year, provided it is “treated with [the] respect and dignity it deserves as the nation’s most important national symbol.”

Bear in mind that the above ‘dignity’ rule only applies to actual flags. Southern Cross-emblazoned budgie smugglers are A-okay, apparently.

So why has the Australian flag been slapped with numerous bans at public events and venues, especially in apparel form? For this unfortunate state of affairs, we can mostly blame racist Anglo Saxons who have appropriated the flag as their own goonish, anti-social ensign.

This has essentially forced festivals like the Big Day Out to crack down on the practice, despite the knee-jerk public outcry and reputational damage that inevitably follows. In short, they want everyone who attends to feel safe and wanted. Even when flag-wearers aren’t doing anything illegal, the organisers still have the right to send them packing — just like pub owners can refuse service to people dressed in singlets or thongs.

So to answer your question, wearing the Australian flag is not “against the law”. However, event organisers are perfectly within their rights to ban you from a venue if you refuse to follow their house rules. Sometimes, this includes not being allowed to wear the Aussie flag. Tough luck, mate.

In any event, common sense usually prevails in these situations. If you’re waving around a few plastic flags with your family, the security guards are unlikely to bother you. If, on the other hand, you’re being loud, aggressive and drunk in a Southern Cross headband and cape, you’ll be asked to piss off, and rightly so. It’s about the behaviour first and foremost.

We’re also keen to hear what our readers think on this controversial topic. Is it “Un-Australian” to ban wearable Aussie flags, or did the yobbos bring it all on themselves? Let fly in the comments!

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Should The Australian Flag Be Banned As A Fashion Item?Banned is a bit strong, judicious self-censorship maybe. Personally, I’ve never liked Flag Wavers, way too much like the US with their over-hyped patriotic flags on their homes. We don’t need to be THAT patriotic.

  • OK so last Australia day I knew 3 people that either had little flags or those side mirror flag covers on there cars. 2 of them were people not born in this country but have proudly adopted it as their home. I bring this up because I hear the displaying the flag is racism crap all the time yet I see people of all backgrounds celebrating our flag. Since when is being proud of the place you call home regardless of your origin racist?

    • I see you’re practicing the long and proud Australian tradition of showing outrage without actually reading an entire article. Although the question does address displaying the flag in general, the answer tackles the more specific crowd that tend to wear a flag draped over their shoulders (as opposed to any other case, which he implies is generally okay). Chris is simply observing that in general, people who walk around in flag-capes are the ones that, through their own behaviour, tend to get kicked out of places and, since their behaviour tends to be worse in groups, venues may preempt this by enforcing a house rule banning the wearing of flags.

      Interesting question to you, though: Why do you tie pride of place, pride of person and pride of country to a flag? I worry that we, as a country, are following the American idolisation of their flag, rather than seeing Australians as Australia and collectively celebrating our great fortune for living in the time and place that we do.

      • You kinda high lighted what I was saying any one wearing a flag is branded as being bad. See that in general statement he and yourself make, continue the stereotyping.
        We are a materialistic society. We tie our pride to something something physical we can use to display it. Should we carry jars of vegimite around instead.

        • I’m not for a moment going to suggest that I don’t make judgments on people based on very limited evidence – I do, and I expect that you do to, because everyone does. Unfortunately, aggressive racists don’t typically have a floating neon sign above their heads advertising the fact (some do us the favour and wear “Fuck Off, We’re Full!” singlets, at least) – so we all tend to need to find other ways of avoid people we really don’t want anything to do with. In my experience (and, judging by the article, Chris’ as well) out of everyone that I’ve ever encountered out in public wearing the flag as a cape, few if any are the kind of person I want to spend any period of time near and a large proportion behave in a manner that I’d expect someone of foreign appearance to find intimidating, if not outright hostile.
          If everyone starting wearing flags around tomorrow, my opinion would change – but instead, young men brought up on America’s version of patriotism will take their shirts off, wrap the flag around their shoulders and go get mind-numbingly drunk – some will have a great day with their mates, playing beach cricket and listening to triple J, others will get into fights and the racists among them will take tomorrow as a golden opportunity to pick fights with foreigners.
          If I come across you at a beach tomorrow and you’re wearing a flag, I assume (probably incorrectly, in your case, since you’re here on LH) that there’s a good chance you’re a moron, and maybe a racist. With that being said, however, if our paths crossed – like if you needed to ask me for directions, I wouldn’t treat you any differently unless your behaviour warranted it.
          So, that’s me – as for businesses (whether we’re talking bars or festivals or whatever), I’d suggest that it’s simply risk assessment. They know (repeating what I said above) that there’s a greater than normal risk from a bunch of young guys wearing flags and they do what they can to minimise that risk. That’s not discriminatory any more than not letting someone in in a deadpool costume brimming with (fake/blunted/inoperable) weapons – that’s just sensible business.
          To your last point, I refer you to the last point in my last post. Why not celebrate your fellow Australians? Get a shirt with some of the lyrics from We Are Australian on it, or an item that speaks to your own ideology and what Australia means to you – a flag to mark you as Australian in Australia on Australia Day seems redundant. If you take pride that we’ve got a unique savoury spread that almost no one else in the world knows how to enjoy, go ahead and dress like a jar of vegemite, you’ll get a greeting from people on Australia Day that’s far more Aussie, in my opinion – a shared laugh, because we’re not too serious and we’re happy to be in on that joke.

  • Fuck no. If they didn’t wear Aussie flag singlets, capes, headbands etc how would we recognise rascist bogans?

  • that flag also means something very different for our indigenous brothers and sisters. bit of a funny celebration really. ill enjoy my day off with friends and family like most people, but ill probably do it with a bit of sadness too. here’s hoping for reformed futures.

  • “This has essentially forced festivals like the Big Day Out to crack down on the practice”

    No, they’ve chosen to, rather than take any other form of action (or inaction). But there’s no “essentially forced” at all, not even close.

  • As a Kiwi, I’m a bit confused.
    Can anyone tell me more about this anti-social group which has apparently adopted the Aussie flag as their symbol?
    Surely the counter is to encourage people to wear it, not to ban it?

    • They’re just a mob of bogans who feel it’s their right to get as pissed as a nit, throw a flash around their shoulders and insult anyone who isn’t also a pissed bogan.

      And no it doesn’t need to be encouraged as it is actually disrespectful to the flag and unlike the article last time i read the act i interpreted it as also saying that having the flag printed on clothing was also disrespectful.

      • So, to clarify:
        Respect for an actual human’s freedom of expression is less important than respect for a symbol?

        • I have exactly zero respect for anybody who uses hiding behind a flag as an excuse for being a racist cu^t, which is basically what this mob tend towards.

          • So because you don’t respect them, they ought be denied their freedom of expression?

          • Nice effort equating “doesn’t need to be encouraged” with “ought to be denied” to needlessly get your outrage up.

          • Outraged? I’m calm as a Hindu Cow :o)

            I can see where you think I was making a false equation, so I apologize for being unclear, and re-frame as two questions:
            1: Do you think some or all Australians should be discouraged from wearing their flag? (Why?)
            2: Do you think there should be some special clothing restriction on people behaving badly?

            I’m genuinely interested, because I don’t think the citizens of most countries think this way.

  • maybe it’s just me, but wearing the national flag as a cape doesn’t seem to me to be treating our flag with “dignity it deserves as the nation’s most important national symbol”

  • I would love to see it banned as anything but a flag… mostly due to the god awful design it has… We really need an update design… though with the country keeping up with the 90’s quite well still.. maybe it’s appropriate?

  • You wanna know what my favourite thing is?
    It’s being smug and telling everyone just how morally superior I am.

    • Totally! I love being smug, it’s much better than standing around agreeing on what things are un-Australian.

  • I am not of Australian descent but of a mixed background. I was born in NSW and I sound as Australian as any other. Some would think I was if they heard me on the phone. I love the flag and Australia, I love Australia day, as do most of my multicultural friends and family. In fact, most immigrants i have known are hard workers and love Australia.

    The flag is not the problem. But when I heard from a taxi driver overseas many years ago, he asked how we were dealing with the Sydney riots. He was referring to the Cronulla riots. I thought then that now we are being embarrassed on the world stage by a group of people who are acting exactly like the neo Nazi skinheads or like the KKK.

    I have never been scared to walk the streets alone. But now in all honesty, I am shit scared that one day I will round a corner to people who bash me because I don’t appear Aussie.

    Well I am Aussie and proud. We are all Aussie. Nobody deserves to be targeted by any of these sorts of violent flag cape people. The flag is an icon of multiculturalism and unity.

    The penalties should be congruent with the coward punch laws. They are disgusting acts and are disgraceful.

    • You appear to be advocating a minimum 10 year non-parole sentence for wearing an item of clothing…

      • You miss my point. I have no problem with the flag or it being worn. I have a problem with racial fueled violence.
        It happens that people have been bashed for being of different ethnicity. I have been targeted and abused before. People have been bashed for no reason.
        Unfortunately, now the flag as a cape has come to be associated with these groups of antisocial and violent people. Some of these people enjoy appearing violent in the name of patriotism, others think they are the next UFC star. If you bash or gang bash someone because they are different in any way, that is a cowards act.

        • So you advocate proportionally harsher sentences for harm to persons who can be identified with a minority group?

          Imagine I get 2 years for crippling a Right-Wing Straight European Baptist because I hate some aspect of that combination.
          How many years should it have been if I’d crippled a Transgender Ethiopian Buddhist Greenie?

  • It’s un-Australian to get around wearing the Aussie flag! All you’re doing is reappropriating an American culture of patriotism. You’re being American with an Australian flag. Australians are traditionally not overt (some might even say apathetic) in their patriotism. The traditional Australian way is to hand your mate a beer, say “she’ll be right mate” and move on.

    • piss off it’s un-Australian! Why can’t we be patriotic? Just because you don’t think Australians are patriotic doesn’t mean that is the case and to judge people who are patriotic to our country and call them Americans is a joke right?
      Your traditional way of giving a mate a beer and saying “she’ll be right mate” may well be your tradition but it’s certainly not mine.

      On Australia Day I hoist a flag in the window of my office and my house and I’m proud to have it there.

      To sit there and tell people that celebrating their country and the flag that represents it… That is Un-Australian!

      • No view held by either of you (Australians) can possibly be Un-Australian.

        That said, hitman does have clear high-ground;
        The flag is not protected by your constitution, but the freedom to wear it is…
        (At least, if you grant that any activity involving your national flag is definitionally political free-expression).

    • Overt patriotism is an American import?
      Ruulllle Britania, Britania rules the waves….
      I’d be interested to know what gets worn more per-capita, the union jack or the stars and bars.

  • Going back to the original point of the article, the reason that some events have clamped down on the people who appear to be associated with the flag wearing, associate now with racist groups, is so people can feel safe at these events and in public

  • I don’t see the big deal. Its only the 3/4 Australian flag, once we get around to having a 100% Australian flag ill worry about what people do with it…….

  • This is similar to what’s happened in the UK with ultra-right wing groups adopting the Union Jack or St. George Cross flags as their banners. Until it sadly reached a point where those flags became more associated with those groups than the country as a whole.

    It’s a pity to ban the wearing of a flag because it’s been hijacked. If anything, it should be recaptured as a symbol of a nation that welcomes strangers (including me). When decent people stop wearing the flag, the only ones left will be fascists and bigots. So there should be more displays of it not fewer.

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