CHARITY'S COSTLY SHIRTS: IWC indigenous health worker, Kane Chapman and medical centre receptionist, Sharnese Mills wearing shirts that are distributed to patients.
CHARITY'S COSTLY SHIRTS: IWC indigenous health worker, Kane Chapman and medical centre receptionist, Sharnese Mills wearing shirts that are distributed to patients. Simon Young

FEE SHOCKER: Group hit with penalty to use flag on shirts

BUNDABERG'S Aboriginal community-controlled health organisation, IWC, says it has been forced to pay thousands of dollars in royalties to a clothing company, for using the Aboriginal flag on shirts.

IWC works to help improve the health and well-being of indigenous communities and patients on its 715 Health Check program receive a complimentary shirt, which showcases the Aboriginal flag.

So when WAM Clothing began reaching to organisations several months ago, IWC CEO Ara Harathunian said he became highly concerned and decided to contact WAM directly.

"As part of our medical centre, which is the Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS) for Bundaberg region, we provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are our patients with a free 715 Health Check shirt when they have their annual comprehensive check," he said.

"These comprehensive MBS (Medicare Benefits Scheme) 715 Health Checks are a very important part of the way we deliver our holistic model of care (and) they support early intervention and prevention around health and well-being, and also enable us to help our patients manage existing or emerging conditions."

Despite the Aboriginal flag being only 48 years old, the symbolism behind it and the heritage of indigenous people goes back thousands of years.

The flag's designer is Luritja artist Harold Thomas.

WAM Clothing's website says the company has the copyright licence for a range of clothing bearing the Aboriginal flag design with Mr Thomas getting royalty payments.

Mr Harathunian said IWC contacted WAM Clothing to explain the situation, as well as the significance and special meaning behind the Aboriginal flag appearing on the shirts.

He said the company suggested a discount instead.

WAM offered a five per cent discount on the 20 per cent-plus-GST standard royalty fee, if IWC agreed to sign a confidentiality agreement, Mr Harathunian said.

"To say we are horrified by the whole situation is an understatement," he said.

"We have had no choice but to pay the money, which is $2200, and to remove the Aboriginal flag from any future IWC 715 Health Check shirts."

Mr Harathunian said the free shirts were offered to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients, from babies through to the elderly, and hundreds were distributed throughout the year.

"This is a real shame, because it was put there with pride in the latest design by the indigenous staff involved in developing this shirt," Mr Harathunian said.

"Both indigenous and non-indigenous employees of IWC are very disappointed at this situation but we simply cannot justify adding these royalties being charged by WAM onto the cost of every shirt given away."

A spokesperson for WAM Clothing said IWC was not fined for using the Aboriginal flag on clothing.

"IWC did not ask to be exempt from paying a fee," the spokesperson said.

"IWC asked for a discount and were offered one, but they declined the offer.

"The Aboriginal Flag has had licensing Agreements attached to it since 1998 which have been enforced since that time.

"We are merely a licensee meeting our obligations under our Agreements and we offer our assistance to other organisations wishing to use the Flag under our licence.

"WAM pays Harold Thomas a royalty from its own sales of Aboriginal Flag clothing."

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