10 July 2015
by Kate Aubusson

Federal politicians spend $500,000 on Australian flags

Tony Abbott appears with Peter Dutton and George Brandis in front of 10 flags at a press conference

Federal politicians spent over half a million dollars on Australian flags in the second half of 2014, according to parliamentary records.

If the quantity of flags were a reliable indicator of patriotism, Liberal MP John Alexander and his Bennelong electorate would be awash with national pride, topping the flag spending tally on $17,949, according to the Australian Financial Review.

Bob Katter is the second most fair-dinkum MP with a flag spend of $13,320 and National MP Bruce Scott comes in third on $12,236.

"I'm utterly ashamed of myself that I was number two. I have a lot of work to do," Mr Katter said.

The $502,000 spend on flags coincided with the national terrorism alert level rising to high over IS threats, high-profile terrorist raids in Brisbane and Sydney and the Lindt Cafe siege in Martin Place.

A conspicuous rise in the number of flags used at national press conferences by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and frontbenchers lead some commentators to suggest that a flag tally was a more reliable measure of the nation's terror level than any standard emergency alert system.

Mr Abbott attacked the ABC's Q&A program and its question from a former terrorism suspect while flanked by a record 10 flags at a press conference last week. But the Prime Minister did not buy a single flag between July 1 and December 31 last year.

The days of MPs splashing out on the Southern Cross-spangled banner have come to an end, however, with Treasurer Joe Hockey slashing the flag budget, effective from July 1.

Coalition MPs are well-stocked to weather the budget cut after spending close to $330,000 on flags in the second half of last year, compared to the $130,000 spent on flags by Labor politicians.

Politicians had been entitled to hand out an unlimited number of of large flags to schools, RSLs, and other eligible organisations, and up to 50 large flags to private individuals, before Hockey's flag budget cut.

They could also distribute up to $900 worth of desktop and hand-waver flags.

But under the new budget, senators have to stick to a "single office budget"of roughly $98,000. Lower house MPs will be able to stand in front of a few more new flags with a budget of $130,000, but both figures will also cover entitlements for publications, stationery, printing and software.

Mr Alexander's office told the AFR he used the flag budget for a number of Rotary Clubs who sponsor student travel overseas, nursing homes, RSLs and all sorts of community groups.

Mr Katter said he would move immediately to have the cap removed when Parliament resumes.

"It shows monumental stupidity and a total lack of Australian-ness in the government," he said