NSW senator Andrew Bragg, a leading voice for constitutional recognition within the Liberals, said it was “hard to believe” there was a debate about buying the flag.
“The Aboriginal flag is a national icon. The copyright is in private hands but it shouldn’t be. The copyright should be purchased by the Commonwealth on behalf of all Australians,” Senator Bragg said.
But Senator Bragg said a Liberal government could not ride roughshod over the legal rights of any Australian, let alone an artist that created an icon.
“The notion that the government could take the rights without compensation is as absurd as the notion of terra nullius. A fair price should now be paid to ensure this issue is put to rest forever. It is the least the national government can do for Indigenous Australians.”
Victorian MP Russell Broadbent said he would support the Commonwealth buying out the copyright as “the market is in this case not serving the national interest”.
West Australian MP Celia Hammond said she wanted the issue resolved in a way that respected Indigenous Australians, the artist of the flag and the intellectual property laws and rights of all Australians.
“If such resolution involves the government purchasing the intellectual property rights of the flag, I would support that,” she said.
NSW Nationals senator Perin Davey, who will co-chair the Senate committee, said she was “not fixed to a position” but believed “we absolutely need to respect the property of an Indigenous artist”.
WA senator Matt O’Sullivan, who prior to entering Parliament oversaw mining magnate Andrew Forrest’s Indigenous jobs program, said his instincts were that the copyright should be held by the Australian people through the Commonwealth.
“If that means the Commonwealth needs to pay for it, then so be it,” he said.
Labor’s Indigenous affairs spokeswoman, Linda Burney, told Parliament this week while Mr Thomas had “every right” to do as he wished, many people had been “shocked and appalled” by the restrictions on the flag’s use that had recently come into force.
The issue came to a head again last month when AFL was unable to strike a deal with WAM for the flag to be painted in the centre circle for matches during the league’s annual Indigenous round.
WAM Clothing said in a statement on social media last week it was “not stopping Aboriginal people or the community from using the flag for personal use” but when it was used on clothing for commercial reproduction “then we need to talk”.
Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt said he was adamant the government would respect all parties and rejected calls for the government to compulsorily acquire rights to the flag.
“It is a delicate and sensitive matter,” Mr Wyatt said. “In keeping with our efforts to battle inauthentic Indigenous art, the Morrison government respects the copyright of Mr Thomas and the interests of all parties.
“We do not want to see efforts of the government, which are currently underway to resolve the matter and address community concern, jeopardised in any way.”
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra