Victoria Police have been accused of “honouring a police state” by flying the flag of the Chinese Communist regime on its 70th birthday.
Box Hill station in the city’s east raised the flag on October 1 in honour of the National Day of the People’s Republic of China and to mark the beginning of the Whitehorse Chinese New Year Festival.
As many as 45 million people died in four years under Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward, making him the greatest mass murderer in world history. The Box Hill event was attended by the mayor, state and federal ministers and local business representatives.
“The flag-raising ceremony honours the local police station’s strong relationship with the local Chinese community, retailers and local business stakeholders,” a Victoria Police spokeswoman said in a statement.
“Box Hill Police Station acknowledges the significance of this flag to a particular portion of the community without seeking to cause prejudice or offence to others. Box Hill police work closely with their local community and the raising of the flag, for one day, represents the commitment Box Hill police has in acknowledging what is an important day for many in their local area.”
She added, “Victoria Police acknowledges the concerns about the use of the flag by some people within the community, and the station will continue to assess the appropriateness of raising any flag at the police station.”
Box Hill resident Keith Wilkins told local newspaper the Whitehorse Leader “people are feeling quite uncomfortable” about the flag flying over the police station. “I’m not sure that’s appropriate,” he told the paper.
3AW radio host Neil Mitchell slammed the move on Wednesday, saying it was “a bad look”. “It’s a police station honouring a police state,” he said.
The flag-raising ceremony came as Hong Kong police shot an 18-year-old student in the chest at close range in a disturbing escalation of months of street violence between authorities and pro-democracy protesters opposed to China’s growing political influence.
Last month, Foreign Minister Marise Payne described drone footage showing hundreds of blindfolded and shackled men being transferred to camps in China’s largely Uighur Muslim northwest Xinjiang region as “deeply disturbing”.
City of Whitehorse councillor Blair Barker told 3AW he found the flag-raising “problematic”. “We’re a very diverse community out here, people with Taiwanese heritage, Uighurs, Tibetans, they’ve all got very legitimate concerns about the Communist government flag flying over a police station,” he said.
“My concern is that we’re seen to be promoting a regime that doesn’t support the democratic values and principles such as the rule of law, and people might associate our police service with the way the police services in that regime conduct themselves.”
Cr Barker said a lot of people “have probably been pretty concerned about seeing the way the Beijing-backed police in Hong Kong have been pretty brutal with democracy protesters over there”.
“I’d encourage (police) to be a bit more judicious about the sort of flags they try to fly,” he said. “I’m sure it was a symbolic gesture to show that, yes, it’s a very multicultural place and we welcome all people. Chinese people are beautiful like all people, but it’s people’s concern with that foreign regime that matters.”
Cr Barker said the same issue came up last year when the Chinese flag was flown over Box Hill Town Hall. He pushed for a ban on flying flags of other nations unless approved by a council vote, but the motion was voted down.
Box Hill has one of the highest concentrations of Chinese-born residents anywhere in the country at 27.6 per cent, as of the 2016 census.
Malaysia was the third most common country of birth after Australia and China on 4.8 per cent, followed by India on 4.2 per cent, Hong Kong on 3 per cent and South Korea on 1.7 per cent.
Last year, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was heavily criticised for breaking with the Federal Government to do a deal directly with the Chinese regime, signing the state up for President Xi Jinping’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative.
By Frank Chung