14 April 2016
by Heath Aston
AWU attempts to lower the flag of anti-immigration Australia First PartyProtesters in Sydney hold Australia First Party flags.
It can be seen on the back windows of utes, flying above the town hall in Ballarat and tattooed to the necks, backs and biceps of thousands of Australians. But who has the right to use the Eureka flag?
The question has become part of the upcoming election campaign, with the Australian Workers' Union urging electoral authorities to prevent the far-right Australia First Party from using the Eureka image as its logo on the Senate ballot paper.
The AWU claims the Eureka flag is central to "working class values" and the union movement and should not be allowed to be "hijacked" to push the nationalism and anti-multiculturalism of Australia First.
On Wednesday, Australia First, led by Jim Saleam, issued a statement saying: "Bring it on! We are keen that the culture war over the flag be waged."
Two of the party's eight core policies are to reduce and limit immigration and abolish multiculturalism.
Australia First said it plans to use the Eureka flag as a "sign of its commitment to Australia's identity, independence and freedom" and pointed out that a similar flag was raised during anti-Chinese riots at Lambing Flat in NSW in 1861 and by seamen who stormed NSW Parliament in 1878 to protest against cheap imported labour on ships.
But the flag, first flown by anti-establishment miners at Bakery Hill near Ballarat before British troops killed 25 of the rebels in an armed confrontation, is also claimed by the left.
Italian miner Raffaello Carboni said when the flag was unfurled in 1854:
"I call on all miners irrespective of nationality, religion or colour to salute the Southern Cross as a refuge of the oppressed from all countries on earth."
In a letter to the Australian Electoral Commission, AWU national secretary Scott McDine said the flag should not be free to be registered as a political logo.
"For the Australia First Party to attempt to hijack the Eureka Flag is offensive to all trade unionists past and present. It is a clear attempt for a fringe party of questionable value to associate itself with Australia's greatest founding institution – the union movement," he said.
"The use of the Eureka Flag would represent a deliberate attempt to mislead voters that the Australia First Party is somehow aligned to the values of the Australian Workers' Union and the broader union movement. This should not be allowed by the AEC."
A similar flag was flown above the shearers' strike camp at Barcaldine in Queensland in 1891 - a key event in the formation of the union movement.
The Builders Labourers Federation, one of the forerunners of the CFMEU, adopted the Eureka flag and it is permanently flown over Trades Hall in Melbourne.
The AEC can refuse to register a logo of a political party if it is "obscene; or so nearly resembles the logo of any other person that it is likely to be confused with or mistaken for that logo."