If there’s one day throughout the year that compels people from all walks of life to engage in robust and uncomfortable debate, it’s Australia Day. From the far-left anti-Australia Day activists who call for the decolonisation of Australia to the far-right fedora-tipping white nationalists calling for people to get the fuck over it, you can guarantee there’s going to be some controversial opinions shared come the 26th of January.
This Australia Day, of course, was no exception. Thousands of people attended ‘Invasion Day’ rallies in both Sydney and Melbourne yesterday, with protests in Sydney turning violent after an altercation broke out between protesters and the police.
As reported by Music Feeds, frontman for aboriginal activist band DISPOSSESSED, Birrugan Dunn-Velasco, was arrested by police after pouring lighter fluid on an Australian flag and attempting to set it on fire. However, these reports have now been found to be incorrect following a status update from the man himself.
You can check out the video footage below, originally posted by fake-news reporter Allan Clarke of Buzzfeed Australia.
Aside from the traditional ‘us vs them’ debate that usually centers around Australia Day, the attempted flag burning by Dunn-Velasco has ignited yet another controversial debate. Many pro-Invasion day punters have claimed the police used excessive force to take down Dunn-Velasco, stating that until that moment, the protests had remained relatively peaceful. Those on the other side of the debate, however, have claimed the police were simply acting in the interest of public safety, extinguishing the fire before it had a chance to get out of control and cause potential injury.
Firstly, it’s not against the law to burn the Australian flag. I can literally hear the teeth-grinding and fist-clenching from our more nationalist-minded readers as I type this, who would claim that the flag-burning is an inherently disrespectful act that should be criminalised. If we were actual journalists and not bloggers, we’d probably try to remain impartial and refrain from injecting some kind of gonzo-narrative into this debate. But yeah nah, fuck that. Strap yourself in.
It’s within anyone’s rights to burn the flag. It’s an act of symbolism-on-symbolism, and a pretty reasonable, non-violent way to voice your disapproval. Many see the flag itself as a symbol of oppression, and if setting the bloody thing on fire makes you feel a little better about the questionably racist undertones of Australia Day, then I say have at it. As long as it’s done peacefully, and more importantly safely, then there’s no reason for the police to intervene.
Except that on this occasion, the flag-burning wasn’t executed safely. While it’s not a crime to set the flag on fire, it certainly is a crime to light a fire in a public area. When said flag burning occurs right in the middle of a crowd of thousands of people, the police have both a legal and moral obligation to ensure that some poor schmuck’s face isn’t set on fire along with the Australian flag.
It’s quite clear from the video footage that Dunn-Velasco’s attempt to set the flag on fire was pretty innocent; he was in a cleared area, and if the police hadn’t have rushed in, it’s probably would have been a non-event. In fact, with the way Dunn-Velasco was bending down over the flag, the only person really in danger of being set on fire was probably Dunn-Velasco himself.
However, the police don’t really have the luxury of making a judgement call of that nature. The police were at the protests to ensure the safety of the those attending, and they were simply following protocol by not letting the fire get out of hand.
So yes, burn the Australian flag if you want. Build a bonfire in your backyard and throw every Aussie flag you can find onto it, if that’s your thing. Paint yourself in a motif of the Australian flag and set yourself on fire, do whatever the fuck you want. However, if you’re going to light a fire in a public area which has the potential to cause injury, then you need to be prepared to be taken down by the boys in blue. Perhaps the police did use excessive force in restraining Dunn-Velasco, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
Burning a flag? Who gives a fuck. Burning a flag in a crowded public place? A bit stupid.
DISPOSSESSED Frontman Arrested Following Attempted Flag Burning in Sydney