Bob Katter pleads for more government action on Aboriginal art following flag deal

Brandon Long
By Brandon Long
January 27 2022 - 4:00am
MORE TO DO: Bob Katter at a demonstration in Yarrabah in 2020. Photo: Brian Cassey

Queensland politician Bob Katter has pleaded for more action to be taken on Aboriginal art issues following the government's recent $20 million purchase of the Aboriginal flag copyright.

The Kennedy MP said the government must act to protect authentic First Australian artists and their work by setting up a proper certification and authentication process.

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"We did a survey in Cairns and some 90 percent of the 'Aboriginal artefacts' were in fact made in China, the Philippines or Indonesia," Mr Katter said.

"So not only were they not authentic, but they were imported.

"Politicians look at this situation and do nothing about it. Once again, we plead with the government to do the simplest of things and implement legislation that would set up an authority to certify authentic First Australian artwork."

Mr Katter said the legislation would also outlaw the sale of non-authentic First Australian artwork.

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$2.3m penalty for fake Indigenous Australian art

Mr Katter's request follows a case in 2019 where Brisbane-based souvenir wholesaler Birubi was fined $2.3 million for selling almost 18,000 products in Australia featuring design associated with Aboriginal art and words such as 'authentic Aboriginal art', 'hand painted, and 'Australia', but were all made in Indonesia.

Birubi, whose sole director was Ben Wooster, subsequently entered voluntary liquidation.

ACCC commissioner at the time, Sarah Court, said the penalty sent a strong message to anyone considering selling fake Australian Aboriginal style art as the genuine article.

"Birubi's actions were extremely serious. Not only did they mislead consumers, they were liable to cause offence and distress to Australian Aboriginal people," Ms Court said.

The ACCC later said it was unable to pursue Mr Wooster as he was not party to the original Birubi proceedings in any personal capacity.

It added that the other companies he was involved in - Gifts Mate and WAM Clothing - could not be held liable to pay the penalty.

In evidence to the Senate Select Committee on the Aboriginal Flag - established in 2020 to consider the copyright issues surrounding the flag - Gifts Mate said no complaints were ever made by the ACCC against Mr Wooster personally and emphasised that Justice Perry did not find that Birubi had intentionally sought to mislead potential purchasers of the products.

The flag controversy

The Aboriginal flag was designed by Harold Thomas in 1971 and raised at the first Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra in 1972.

Prior to the government's copyright deal announced on January 25, the design was owned by Thomas and licensed to WAM Clothing, Gifts Mate, and Carroll and Richardson Flagworld.

Thomas will retain his moral rights over the flag and Flagworld will remain the exclusive licensed manufacturer of Aboriginal flags and bunting, but it will not restrict individuals from making their own flag for personal use.

According to the committee on the Aboriginal flag, prior to the deal, WAM Clothing sent a cease and desist letter or a 'notice to potential consumer' to several organisations and individuals, including Spark Health, Clothing the Gap, NRL, Rugby Australia, AFL, Diabetes Victoria, Koori Knockout, and Aboriginal artist Stephen Hogarth.

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Brandon Long

Brandon Long

Queensland Country Life journalist

Brandon Long is a Queensland Country Life journalist based in Toowoomba.

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