The Maritime Union of Australia has demanded the so-called Red Union and groups associated with it stop using the red ensign – labelling it as disrespectful of naval veterans.
The red ensign is the official flag of the Australian Merchant Navy, and Paul Gallagher, MUA assistant branch secretary, said the Red Union was “the literal opposite of everything the red ensign represents.” “To claim this flag shows a poor understanding of history and the flag’s significance to the merchant naval community,” he said. “It’s upsetting a lot of people.”
Gallagher said 386 merchant seafarers had died while serving under the flag in two world wars.
Anti-government groups and sovereign citizens have adopted the flag as a symbol of protest – most prominently at anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown protests during the COVID-19 pandemic, where it is often flown upside down. The controversial Red Union associations have also adopted it as a logo.
Gallagher said anyone claiming the ensign as their own or deliberately flying it upside down as some form of protest “defies logic that any decent Australia would think this is acceptable”. “Mates of mine have died working for that flag, I literally broke my back working for that flag. My family has four generations representing the red ensign,” he said. “I call on all Australians to join with the MUA and make their voices heard on this issue, it’s disgusting, disrespectful, and deceptive.”
The MUA represents workers across diving, ferries, offshore oil and gas, port services, shipping and stevedoring industries. Officially, it is a division of the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union.
Asked on Friday about the MUA’s request and the use of the red ensign, Red Union national director Jack McGuire said his official comment was only “LOL”.
“The Australian flag is for all Australians who are proud of their country,” he said before hanging up the phone.
University of South Australia law professor Joe McIntyre said the historical use of the flag was complex, but the “red ensign has never been an official flag for any purpose other than maritime purposes”.“What we think of as the current Australian flag was used by official government departments and buildings, and wasn’t really available to the general public,” he said. “In the early years of federation, we see Australians using the red ensign as a sort of de facto flag for citizens, and it was the appropriate flag if you were sailing a ship.” He said after World War II, Australia’s national identity started to strengthen and most people stopped using the ensign. “We’ve seen it reemerge as a symbol of anti-government protest alongside the rise of movements like the sovereign citizen movement,” McIntyre said. “The red ensign looks formal, it looks like it has some legitimacy and it has some kernel of history, it is a really effective symbol.”Official use
According to the Australian government, the red ensign should never be flown upside down and the Returned and Services League has labelled its use by protesters a “dishonour” to soldiers.
McGuire previously told The New Daily that his organisation chose it because “it was a cool logo”. Gallagher said its use should be reserved for maritime purposes because “this is the flag our people defended and died for our country under”. “Everyone should just stop and think about that,” he said.
“Claiming this flag as their own is a national disgrace and it’s an issue the MUA will not be backing down on.”