The Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt has urged fans attending the AFL Indigenous round to bring their own Aboriginal flag, to make up for the fact that a copyright issue has stopped the league from displaying the flag as part of the official proceedings.
The minister joins former Essendon player and Indigenous rights campaigner Michael Long, who has also suggested fans protesting against the copyright restrictions should take their own flag to matches in the Sir Doug Nicholls round, which commences in Darwin on Friday.
In previous seasons, the round has seen the flag painted into the football ground and displayed on the goal posts and the clothing of players.
But the copyright for the image is owned by Luritja artist Harold Thomas and non-Indigenous business WAM Clothing has exclusive rights to reproduce it on clothing.
Last year WAM Clothing issued notices to the AFL and NRL over their use of the flag on player uniforms during the Indigenous round.
After consultation with its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council, the AFL decided not to enter into a commercial agreement with the license holder this year.
The code says that is in line with the “sentiment” of the Aboriginal community.
Mr Wyatt said copyright laws protecting intellectual property must be respected, but he told ABC News presenter Patricia Karvelas there was nothing to stop fans from bringing their own flags.
“What I’m hoping, is that people who go to the game take their Aboriginal flag with them and drape it around their neck, or carry it, and carry it with pride and display it,” he said.
The minister said it was “disappointing” the flag would not be displayed officially in the usual way.
“I would love to see the flag used freely across this nation, as it has been for a very long time,” Mr Wyatt said.
Former AFL player Michael Long said the absence of the flag on the field would have an impact on players and fans.
“It’s (an) Australian flag,” he said.
“It’s symbolic to our people. There’s a lot of people who have given rise to that flag, even elders who aren’t with us today.”
The AFL great said he was hopeful people power would mean the flag would fly high in the stands.
“Hopefully it’s a sea of red and black and yellow.”
Copyright issue ‘delicate’ and ‘complicated’
The Government has consulted with the Australian Copyright Council about the best way to proceed.
Mr Wyatt also confirmed he has been in private talks with Harold Thomas, to find a resolution.
“When you think about Harold and his statements, he has always talked about the flag being symbolic of Aboriginal people,” Mr Wyatt said.
“That symbolism is about the struggle, the relationship to land, but also it’s a symbol that he wants to see unify Australia. It’s unfortunate that some common sense has not prevailed.”
A movement known as Free The Flag has gained momentum within the AFL and a number of teams have signed up.
Olympian and former Labor Senator Nova Peris is one of the campaign leaders, lobbying for Government intervention.
Former Coalition advisor on Indigenous policy, Warren Mundine, has advocated for the Commonwealth to consider buying the copyright directly.
Mr Wyatt said he was prepared to look at a range of options.
When asked for clarification about whether the Commonwealth would consider acquiring the copyright, the minister’s office provided a statement saying the issue was “delicate” and “complicated”.
“The Government is aware of the concerns around the copyright of the Aboriginal flag and is seeking to resolve the matter, it is a delicate and complicated issue,” the statement said.
“The minister would like to see a resolution to this matter in a way that respects the rights of the flag’s creator while ensuring the flag continues to be a symbol of unity for Aboriginal people.”
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