In the US, burning a flag is regarded as a form of constitutionally protected speech. But it seems Australia is yet to catch up to this notion, with a Sydney magistrate, Paul Falzon, yesterday sentencing Hadi Khawaja to three months’ jail for taking a flag from Brighton-le-Sands RSL and burning it in front of a crowd.
I’m not arguing that Khawaja should’ve gotten off scot-free. After all, he stole and destroyed property from the RSL. But what worried me is that the magistrate said that burning an Australian flag was "of great significance" and warranted a harsher penalty than the usual fine. On its face, this seems to me to go against the High Court’s 1997 judgment in Lange, setting out the limits of the freedom of political communication in Australia. Three months is a ridiculously long sentence.