Australia buys rights to Aboriginal flag, ending long dispute

In a photo from Aug 19, 2021, protesters carry Aboriginal flags while taking part in a march against new heritage protection laws in Perth. PHOTO: REUTERS/GABRIELLE TIMMINS

SYDNEY (AFP) - The Australian government has struck a US$14 million (S$19 million) deal to buy the copyright to the Aboriginal flag, ending a long-running debate about its public use.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government had "freed the Aboriginal flag for Australians".

The deal emerged from negotiations with Aboriginal artist Harold Thomas, who designed the flag in 1971.

Over the past 50 years, the flag has become an important symbol of protest and celebration for Australia's Aboriginal people.

But there was intense debate about public use of Mr Thomas' design after the artist granted licences to companies to use it on their products.

One of these companies, WAM Clothing, sent cease-and-desist letters to many organisations, including the Australian Football League, for using the Aboriginal flag on clothing.

"I hope that this arrangement provides comfort to all Aboriginal people and Australians to use the flag, unaltered, proudly and without restriction," Mr Thomas said of his deal with the Australian government.

"I am grateful that my art is appreciated by so many, and that it has come to represent something so powerful to so many."

Mr Morrison said the deal means the flag can be used on apparel, sport grounds, artworks "and in any other medium without having to ask for permission or pay a fee".

The deal will also see the Australian government set up a scholarship in Mr Thomas' honour worth US$100,000 for indigenous students.

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