Miserable fate awaits flag that battled worst Canberra could deliver

Those suspicious about the trajectory of Australian democracy might need no convincing, but now the very symbol of the nation has begun to shred before our eyes.

Oh, dear.

How did the poor thing reach such a despondent state that it would barely be out of place on the yardarm of a ship emerging from a hurricane?Credit:Rhett Wyman

The massive flag that flies 24 hours of every day above Parliament House, visible across the national capital, background to a thousand televised gusts of political commentary, has become a tattered thing, torn and holed and altogether woebegone.

Has our economy, ripped by inflation and assaulted by the Reserve Bank, come to this, that we can no longer afford to replace our distressed flag?

And how did the poor thing reach such a despondent state that it would barely be out of place on the yardarm of a ship emerging from a hurricane?

Winds of change? Cyclones of hot air blustering from the chambers below?

It took two of the most powerful figures in Parliament House, Speaker Milton Dick and Senate President Sue Lines, to offer an official mea culpa and explication about what they described as the flag’s “unacceptable condition”.

Their statement followed Liberal flag-waver Dan Tehan raising the national standard’s sorry state, suggesting it failed the expectation that Australians should “have pride in our parliament and pride in our flag”.

High winds and thunderstorms over Canberra, combined with a failure of the mechanism used to transport workers up the giant flagpole, were to blame, the presiding officers said.

“Changing the flag is a dangerous and complex undertaking due to the sheer size of the flag and the high wind conditions at that elevation,” they said in a joint statement.

“When there was an opportunity for staff to safely ascend the pole, the lift mechanism experienced a mechanical fault.

“The transport mechanism is urgently undergoing maintenance and the flag changeover will occur as soon as it is possible and safe to do so.”

In short, a faulty parliamentary contraption left the flag to battle the elements alone, disintegrating by the day. The Anzacs, surely, would have scaled the heights and rescued the flag without a second thought.

The flag flies at the dizzying height of 81 metres atop a mast that is among the world’s largest stainless steel structures.

The flag flies at the dizzying height of 81 metres.Credit:Rhett Wyman

At a mighty 12.6 metres by 6.4 metres, the flag requires wrangling by a team of three workers who ascend the mast in a mechanical trolley when, as is usual, it is changed on the first Wednesday of each month.

Parliament House stores around a dozen flags to ensure they wear evenly and that there is always available a national symbol in good repair.

But alas, this piece of cloth has taken such a beating it appears unfixable.

What to do with a hopelessly frayed flag when it is eventually lowered?

There is, naturally, a protocol laid out in detail in a document entitled the Australian Flag Booklet issued by the Australian government.

And there, under the bleak heading “Disposal of flags” is the following directive:

“When a flag becomes dilapidated and no longer suitable for use, it should be destroyed privately and in a dignified way. For example, it may be cut into small unrecognisable pieces, placed in an appropriate sealed bag or closed container then disposed of with the normal rubbish collection.”

What a miserable destiny for a national symbol that has battled gales, thunderstorms and blasts of hot air while bravely and vainly awaiting rescue from a parliamentary system that refused to run up the flagpole.

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.

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