SUBJECTS: Aboriginal flag; drug testing welfare recipients.

WENDY HARMER: Good morning Linda.


HARMER: Have I got that right?

BURNEY: You have. I am very much calling on the government – and I’ve had one discussion with Minister Wyatt about this – calling on the government to intervene and buy the copyright because as you have indicated this flag is so important to Aboriginal people but it’s important across the country. It’s recognised in the official flags act as an official flag of Australia.

ROBBIE BUCK: Give us the – and for people who’ve missed this story – we were flabbergasted when we heard this – but the background behind it – the flag was designed by an artist called Harold Thomas. And first became the official flag for the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, where you are in Canberra after it was first flown in Adelaide in 1972. How did it become copyrighted by a private company? And I think it was not even an Indigenous company.

HARMER: WAM Clothing.

BUCK: Yes, that’s right.

BURNEY: It is WAM Clothing. And I understand – this is my understanding – is that Harold Thomas sold the rights of the flag, including digital rights to WAM Clothing which of course is absolutely unacceptable to so many people. The Aboriginal flag – there are people like myself with a tattoo of the flag on their arm. Aboriginal organisations often include the flag in their uniforms, particularly medical services. The NRL and the AFL use the flag in the Indigenous round and on the field. There are just so many uses. You drive around Sydney, as you know Wendy and Robbie, you look at the NSW Parliament which flies the flag inside and outside the parliament. It’s often on the Harbour Bridge. It’s all over the place. And there is just so much uncertainty.

HARMER: It’s amazing to think that you might owe people some money for that tattoo of yours Linda.

BURNEY: (laughter) It’s very small Wendy.

BUCK: We should actually make it clear. It is really – the copyright covers sales of t-shirts – and I don’t know about flags – but it’s actual clothing and material.

HARMER: And the Indigenous Wellness Centre – this is a non-profit Aboriginal medical service. They produced the flag on t-shirts that they were giving out to patients –

BURNEY: - Yes.

HARMER: - who came in for a health check and they were told to pay $2,200.

BURNEY: That’s correct and that’s just one instance. We know that many organisations have been sent cease and desist letters from WAM Clothing, or they have to pay a percentage to WAM Clothing for the use of the flag on promotional material. And what’s really unclear we understand that the rights are now including digital images and that is just complete – the whole thing’s just completely unacceptable, which is why we’re saying that the real arbiters in this – the people who can sort it out is the government. And I don’t know why Harold did this. I really don’t.

BUCK: What are the legal avenues available to you, though? If they hold the copyright on it –

BURNEY: That’s right –

BUCK: It means that they can essentially hold the government to ransom can’t they?

BURNEY: That’s precisely right –

HARMER: - but to be fair this is a perfectly legal arrangement. I can’t see that anyone’s to blame. And Harold needed the money. And this other outfit wanted to pay for it. I mean, it all seems above board. I think the thing that you’re saying Linda and the thing that a lot of people will agree with is that this should have been secured by the government. I wonder if Harold offered the copyright to the government.

BURNEY: I actually don’t know. I haven’t had a conversation with Harold but I mean, his role in producing the flag back at a time as you say in the 70s when the civil rights movement was so important, the establishment of the Tent Embassy here in Canberra. But the fact that the flag is now in many ways being held hostage by a non-Aboriginal company who are actually demanding money from Aboriginal organisations – it’s my understanding that there’s some sort of arrangement brokered by Harold that Aboriginal organisations could use the flag. So it’s really very confusing …

HARMER: Okay …

BURNEY: …about what’s going on.

HARMER: Alright, well good-o. Before we say goodbye to you, we’d like to get your opinion, being obviously a Sydney MP as well, knowing Bankstown your electorate. What is your view of the federal government wanting to drug test welfare recipients receiving Newstart and Youth Allowance?

BURNEY: Oh thank you Wendy. My position and the position of the Labor Party is that we’re not supporting the roll out of this trial. There is some talk here in Canberra today that the government will attempt to introduce this legislation for a third time. When you talk to the experts, which is where we are taking our direction from, you talk to the experts they say this is punitive, it’s been tried in other countries, it’s expensive and it doesn’t work. And what’s really needed is drug rehabilitation programs and investment in where people can get treatment. Not the punitive measures of drug testing every welfare recipient which by all measures has not been successful anywhere else.

HARMER: Now the Prime Minister said he’s puzzled by the opposition. What do you make of that?

BURNEY: Well, I think that the Prime Minister and the responsible minister, and indeed the cabinet, have not really thought through the practicalities of this. And the fact that this could legitimately take away treatment facilities from people who are seeking help. We also know Wendy that in New Zealand that there was something like 8,000 people who were drug tested and we also know that only 22 of that 8.000 proved positive. So you have to say ‘what is the economic arguments behind this? … which seems upside-down as well.

BUCK: Alright, we will leave it there. Thank you very much for your time this morning.