Originally written by MARK LEE
QUESTIONS put forward to Southern Grampians Shire chief executive Richard Perry asking why the Aboriginal flag is not continuously flown at any of the council office’s six flagpoles remain unanswered.
The matter was raised on three occasions in meetings and emails with Mr Perry by Spectator journalists during 2010.
At the time, Mr Perry explained that the Aboriginal flag was flown only during NAIDOC week when council was required to do so.
He said he was not sure why this was the case and told The Spectator the policy would be reviewed.
Yet more than half a year later, none of the council’s six flagpoles feature an Aboriginal flag.
Two Australian flags and a shire flag are raised outside council’s Brown St offices, while at the Market Place offices there is one Australian flag, one shire flag and the third pole is bare.
When asked what the outcome of council’s policy review regarding the Aboriginal flag was, Southern Grampians manager community services and leisure, Vicki Williams, said council was “currently reviewing policies in this area”.
She said the shire was aiming to ensure councillors, staff and members of the community were able to contribute to the reconciliation process.
This reporter then sent through a series of questions to Mr Perry asking why the review was taking so many months to complete.
The questions were emailed via Southern Grampians communications co-ordinator, Rory Neeson, as required by council policy.
Instead of getting specific responses to the questions from Mr Perry, The Spectator again received a general statement from Ms Williams which reads:
“A review of this nature is a sensitive process and council is working closely with local aboriginal representatives to achieve the best outcome for all parties involved.
“It is important to recognise that such processes must attain the correct procedures as they relate to the local indigenous groups, and it is not a ‘one size fits all’ or an ‘over night’ approach.
“Council is committed to recognising the traditional owners of the land in the shire and embracing the appropriate practises to ensure that staff are able to develop the most suitable outcomes from the review, which takes time.
“It is intended that the review will be completed in the next few months.”
Ms Williams failed to answer questions as to whether or not council owned an Aboriginal flag, who was responsible for the review or whether council considered seven months to be an acceptable time for a review.
The representative Ms Williams speaks of is Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Corporation chief executive Damein Bell who told the Spectator the review was still in its infancy.
He said there had been a couple of initial meetings with council regarding their policy but having the Aboriginal flag flown outside council every day of the year was the outcome he was working towards.
“Flying the Aboriginal flag is a mark of respect for Australia’s first people,” he said.
“It’s about respect, it’s about dignity… we’re looking forward to seeing the Aboriginal flag flown in Hamilton on behalf of the Southern Grampians Shire Council.”
Glenelg and Moyne shires fly an Aboriginal flag each day while the Ararat Rural City Council alternates between the Australian Flag and the Aboriginal Flag as they only have one flagpole.
Southern Grampians Shire has a combination of six flagpoles outside its two office buildings; one is currently unused.
A staff member at member for Wannon Dan Tehan’s Hamilton electoral office told The Spectator the Southern Grampians Shire could attain an Aboriginal flag at no cost by walking to the office and filling out a form.
Otherwise a flag could be sent to them if they chose to post their application form.
Deputy Mayor Bruach Colliton said council had a lot to do when it came to reconciliation and he hoped to see the issue on the agenda soon.
As for the council’s policy review he said: “Council hasn’t even discussed it so I don’t know where it’s at, at the moment”.
He said he would not have any issues with council utilising at least one of its flagpoles to fly an Aboriginal flag if it helped with the reconciliation process.