Mayor responds to criticism over bull Taiwanese flag issue
ROCKHAMPTON Mayor Margaret Strelow expands further on explaining what happened with regards to a painted flag on a bull statue that has attracted international attention.
Read the original story here: Why we painted over students' Taiwan flag: Council explain
Read the response from the Australian Association for Taiwan Public Affairs here: Taiwanese association demands apology.
The bull statue was one of many offered to local schools to paint as part of Beef Week. Here is Mayor Strelow's statement:
Firstly let me say that Rockhampton welcomes people from every country and encourages them to hold fast to their culture.
But from the moment a Year 11 student painted the Taiwanese flag and the Chinese characters for 'Tai Wan' on a bull sculpture that was to be installed in a public place, our response was inevitably going to be a matter for international comment.
The students had been asked to paint 'what the Rockhampton Region means to them'.
The Chinese vice consul in Brisbane made contact with one of our officers and sent through photos of the fish shaped flag, clearly showing the Chinese characters. ( The Vice Consul is well known to us and she is a regular visitor to Rockhampton. )
Council officers contacted the school to explain that there was a problem. When the school couldn't offer a solution, council staff proceeded to paint over the flag and words.
The Australian Government's agreement with China is that Australia does not recognise Taiwan as a separate country, (hence no flag). The addition of the name 'Tai Wan' across the flag made the matter even more sensitive. We were in a highly charged political minefield.
With the world about to converge on our doorstep, and our most important event only days away, this was no time for an international incident.
There was no easy or 'right' response for us. Council's actions reflect Australian foreign policy. Negotiating international policy is not our normal role.
The way this has played out among the Australian Taiwanese community that is predictable in such highly charged times.
The publicity has been driven by groups outside of Rockhampton.
The first comments that I can see on social media were from a Melbourne woman who works for a migration agency. Her Facebook page also shows a photo of the 'fish flag' when it was only partially complete. She initially posted a question on the high school's Facebook page about the painted over flag.
Her copyrighted photos of the completed bull 'before and after' were quickly distributed to news channels around the world. I have been receiving hate mail for some days now and council has been advised of the prospect of legal action.
Thankfully most local media accepted that council was in a 'no win' situation and there was very little disruption during Beef Australia.
Taiwan is an important trading partner for Australian beef. In fact I hosted both Chinese and Taiwanese delegates at a breakfast during Beef Australia. The pathway that allows Australia to maintain cultural and trade relationships with both China and Taiwan must be very complicated for DFAT to negotiate!
I wasn't personally involved in what happened. That said, while I may have wished I had been briefed, I can't honestly say I would have done anything different. And believe me I've thought about it a lot. Our goal was to ensure that Beef Week was a success without a diplomatic incident. Mission accomplished. Now to manage the fall out!