9 March 2023

Parliament House staff scrambling to replace flag in 'unacceptable condition'

| James Coleman
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Church and state

The tattered flag on top of Australian Parliament House today (9 March). Photo: James Coleman.

A comedy of errors means Parliament House is still flying an Australian flag with a “gaping hole in it”.

The flag, bigger than the side of a double-decker bus, is usually changed on the first Wednesday of every month but has been left visibly damaged by a period of high winds and thunderstorms.

And when staff did attempt to change it, there was a mechanical fault with the equipment.

Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Dan Tehan took to social media on Wednesday (8 March) to draw attention to the flag’s state and ask Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to replace the flag “before Parliament sits today”.

“The Australian flag flying above Parliament House has a gaping hole in it,” he tweeted.

“We should have pride in our flag and I hope the Prime Minister will fix this.”

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But a statement issued shortly afterwards by Senate President Sue Lines and House of Representatives Speaker Milton Dick revealed staff have tried to get up there to make the change for at least a week.

“The national significance and the importance of the Australian flag cannot be overstated,” the statement read.

“We are aware of the unacceptable condition of the current Australian Flag flying above Parliament House.”

The presiding officers pointed out Canberra’s recent wild weather has not helped what is already a “dangerous and complex undertaking due to the sheer size of the flag and the high wind conditions at that elevation”.

“Weather conditions must be favourable to ensure a safe changeover can take place. Recent weather conditions have posed an unacceptable risk to the safety of personnel to replace the current flag.”

When the winds did ease to allow staff to safely ascend the pole, the lift mechanism failed. This metal cage runs up one of the structure’s metal ‘legs’ via a toothed track to a landing near the top.

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

It takes five people about an hour to change the flag โ€“ two up at the actual flagpole, two on the bottom at the ropes and another overseeing the whole operation – and several health and safety forms.

Experienced flag changer of eight years Nick Harris told Region in December last year “it’s one of the most dangerous jobs in Canberra”.

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“No one can trump our judgment on the weather conditions to have it replaced sooner, not management, not any of the parliamentary staff, not even the Prime Minister,” he said.

“It’s not like there’s an emergency rescue plan.”

In response, Mr Tehan said he welcomed the news and hoped there would be no more delays.

“I’m pleased to see the Government will now act to hoist a new flag above Parliament House,” he said.

“I hope their long list of excuses for the poor condition of the current flag will not delay this happening. Let’s also hope we don’t go through this again.”

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