The copyright for the Aboriginal flag should not be compulsorily acquired by the federal government, according to a Senate committee.
Instead, an independent Aboriginal body could have “custodial oversight” over the flag and make decisions about its use.
The recommendations follow an inquiry into Australians’ ability to freely use the image of the flag after a community push to “free” it from licensing arrangements held by artist Harold Thomas.
“The committee considers it vitally important to protect artists’ copyright, particularly Aboriginal artists,” the report states.
“The committee therefore rejects calls for the commonwealth government to invoke its constitutional power to compulsorily acquire the copyright in the Aboriginal flag.”
Confidential negotiations between the government and Mr Thomas are under way.
However, committee chair senator Malarndirri McCarthy has called for the discussions to be swift to prevent further “distress and harm” to Aboriginal communities.
“The 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal flag is in July 2021: Will it be a celebration or a commemoration?” Senator McCarthy wrote in the report.
She said it was clear that the conduct of WAM Clothing – which has an agreement with Mr Thomas to produce the exclusive licence to print the flag on garments – and its heavy-handed approach to enforcement was a “significant contributor” to the anguish experienced by Aboriginals.
Labor says if the government is unable to negotiate an outcome it should compulsorily acquire the licences to enable free use of the flag and its design for Aboriginal individuals, communities and organisations as well as the general public for non-profit purposes.
“The commercial rights of the parties should be respected as far as possible in any compulsory acquisition,” Senator McCarthy said.
“If the commonwealth’s negotiations are successful and the rights are acquired, a body of Aboriginal people should advise on the protocol and governance of the flag.”
NSW Liberal senator Andrew Bragg said compulsory acquisition would set an “ugly precedent”.
“I believe that would be abhorrent, both morally and culturally,” he wrote in the report.