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Big Day Out flag ban sparks fury

By staff writers with wires January 22, 2007 07:24am

Big Day Out / Noel Kessel

Flag flying ... OK at last year's Big Day Out

ORGANISERS of the Big Day Out have tried to hose down talk of a ban on the Australian flag at the Sydney concert on Thursday, but still stay they want people to leave the national symbol at home.

Music fans heading to the Homebush event had been warned any flag or bandana featuring the national symbol would be confiscated at the gates.

Event organiser Ken West was quoted as saying fans' behaviour last year in the wake of the Cronulla riots and the recent ethnic violence at the Australian Open tennis tournament had forced his hand.

"The Australian flag was being used as gang colours. It was racism disguised as patriotism and I'm not going to tolerate it," Mr West said.

But organisers today said Mr West had been misinterpreted.

"We are not banning the Australian flag but are simply discouraging its use for anti-social purposes at the Big Day Out," said a statement this morning on the BDO website.

"In recent times, there has been an increased incidence of flags brandished aggressively and this has led to increased tension.

"Our only intention in discouraging this activity at the Big Day Out is to ensure that our patrons are not subjected to this aggressive behaviour.

"With all this in mind and the aim to create a happy, peaceful MUSICAL event, organisers would like to request that fans please leave their flags at home."

The organisers said there was no need for the Australian flag to be waved at the Sydney concert as it was not an Australia Day event.

But the stand has already sparked a chorus of disapproval from top politicians, including Prime Minister John Howard, and the RSL.

Prime Minister John Howard said the Big Day Out should be cancelled unless organisers reversed their decision to ban the flag.

New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma said the promotors should "reverse their decision immediately".

"If they pulled this on Independence Day in the US, imagine what would happen. It's just ridiculous," he said.

"It is a ridiculous decision and I never thought I'd see the day when a promoter would ask young Australian people to celebrate Australian artists but not identify with their national flag."

Mainstream headline act Jet have a black and white version of the flag as the backdrop for their set.

Frontman Nic Cester said they used this version to display their pride in being Australian.

"I can't tell anyone else what to do but we as a band are very proud to be Australian and we don't want to feel we are not allowed to feel proud because of the disgusting actions of people who don't represent Australia, in my mind," he said.

The Big Day Out event tours six cities in Australia and New Zealand but the flag issue has only been raised in Sydney, where the festival has been shifted to the day before its usual Australia Day date to avoid nationalistic overtones.

"Contrary to the reports in the media, it was never our intention to disrespect the symbolism of the Australian or any other flag," the BDO said.

With Simon Benson and Kathy McCabe, Daily Telegraph, AAP

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