Indigenous leaders lament debate over $25m Harbour Bridge flag plan

Indigenous leaders have labelled a debate about the $25 million price tag to install a third pole that would fly the Aboriginal flag on top of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge “a joke”.

The government revealed its plan to install a third flagpole on the 99-year-old bridge, as part of its latest budget.

Premier Dominic Perrottet on Sunday said the quote to permanently install the flag was a “small price to pay” for unity, and that he wasn’t sure what the cost breakdown was.

And, while the project will go ahead, treasury has since confirmed it will get a second opinion on the price.

The $25 million price tag includes the installation of a new pole, from which the Aboriginal flag will fly, and the refurbishment of the two existing poles.

A man standing in front of colourful street art.
Shane Phillips has been critical of the debate.(ABC News: Liv Casben)

Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Shane Phillips said criticism of only one portion of the project was being used to divide people.

“It’s a smokescreen, only last week they were talking about shortages of power and money, then all of a sudden they throw this into the equation — it’s a joke,” he said.

Usually, the Australian flag and the NSW flag are flown on the bridge, while the Aboriginal flag is flown on select occasions.

Mr Phillips, who runs mentoring and exercise programs in Redfern, said the government needed to be “called out” for mishandling the important task.

“If this is not motivated to divide people — black and white — I don’t know what it is,” he said.

The new pole will be installed 97.4 metres above the road, and will match the two other 20m poles already in place.

a man wearing glasses talking
Premier Dominic Perrottet supports the plan to install a third flag pole on the bridge.(ABC News)

The project will be paid for by using money from a $91.1 million fund for First Nations culture included in yesterday’s budget.

A spokesperson for Transport for NSW said the $25 million figure would be used to remedy a larger issue.

“The project is complex and requires sophisticated engineering work on a heritage asset,” a spokesperson said.

“The scope of this project is broader than installing a third flagpole on the Harbour Bridge.

“These works must be done in a way that ensures that the structure and heritage fabric are maintained. Importantly, the scope also involves relocation of the aircraft beacon to provide space for the third flagpole.”

A indigenous woman holding the Aboriginal flag, smiling
Cheree Toka said the move would “set an example of how Australia needs to unite as an equal nation”. (AAP: Daniel Munoz)

Kamilaroi woman Cheree Toka, who launched the campaign to include the Aboriginal flag on the Harbour Bridge five years ago, said while the cost was “a little rich”, the project would be invaluable.

“It will hopefully symbolise and set an example of how Australia needs to unite as an equal nation,” she said.

“I hope other First Nations people are proud to see their flag fly every single day and hopefully it diminishes the racism that happens.”

Options floated as a replacement to reduce costs included replacing the NSW flag with the Aboriginal one.

But Ms Toka said that wouldn’t work.

“They can easily replace it [the Aboriginal flag] with the NSW flag again and we’ll be back at square one,” she said.

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