Flag Branded Symbol of Racism

Exclusive by Kathy McCabe and Simon Benson
January 22, 2007 12:00

THE Australian flag has been banned from this year's Big Day Out in Sydney after organisers branded it a "gang colour" and symbol of hate.

The Daily Telegraph has learned organisers of the Aussie rock festival at Homebush will confiscate any flag or bandana bearing the national symbol at the gate.

Labelling Sydney a hot bed of racism, producers of the Sydney Showground event said it will be the only city in the nationwide event to be subject to the draconian action. Promoters have already moved the event from the traditional Australia Day gig to a day earlier to avoid nationalistic overtones.

Spooked by last year's event, which came only weeks after the Cronulla riots, organisers will outlaw flags being brandished as a "gang colour".

Prime Minister John Howard said the Big Day Out should be cancelled unless organisers reversed their decision to ban the flag. Big Day Out patrons were intimidated and harassed at the Sydney event on Australia Day 2006 by bigoted fans brandishing flags and demanding people pledge their allegiance.

Event producer Ken West said the use of flags last year after the Cronulla riots and recent clashes between Serb and Croatian fans at the Australian Open tennis had forced his hand.

"I didn't like the behaviour of last year and we have moved the event from Australia Day this year partly because of the way the flags were used," Mr West said. "The Australian flag was being used as gang colours. It was racism disguised as patriotism and I'm not going to tolerate it.

"I am telling people not to bring (flags) " “ they are free to get them out at midnight on their way home when it is Australia Day."

Gangs use colours and symbols to distinguish them from rival groups. Mr West added the ban was also in part trying to be respectful to the Aboriginal community, who view Australia Day as invasion day.

"This is about giving people the opportunity to think about it and what the flag means to them," he said.

Premier Morris Iemma reacted angrily to the ban, claiming the promotors should "reverse their decision immediately".

"If they pulled this on Independence Day in the US, imagine what would happen. It's just ridiculous," he said.

"It is a ridiculous decision and I never thought I'd see the day when a promoter would ask young Australian people to celebrate Australian artists but not identify with their national flag."

Mainstream headline act Jet have a black and white version of the flag as the backdrop for their set.

Frontman Nic Cester said they used this version to display their pride in being Australian. "I can't tell anyone else what to do but we as a band are very proud to be Australian and we don't want to feel we are not allowed to feel proud because of the disgusting actions of people who don't represent Australia, in my mind," he said.

The ban will be announced on the Big Day Out website this week. Security staff will not search bags specifically but will be told to stop people from wearing a flag or Australian bandana.

The Big Day Out will be the first event ever to ban the national symbol.

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