The world will be watching: Billy Bragg on the Voice, the flag and the republic

The death of Queen Elizabeth II last year means Australians can now talk about becoming a republic, says English singer/songwriter Billy Bragg.

Billy Bragg, also known as the Bard from Barking.

Currently touring Australia, the political activist is celebrating 40 years since the release of his first album. He appeared with ABC staff on the picket line outside the company’s head office in Ultimo in Sydney on Wednesday and sang Woody Guthrie’s Union Maid to express his solidarity with their cause.

Seeing the Union Jack on the Australian flag during his visit is strange, says Bragg. “Being an independent country looks like you have a flag that doesn’t have someone else’s flag in it … We’re trying to get away from that empire thing,” he says.

“For those of us in our 60s and 70s and older, we have to accept there’s a new generation out there who are making the world now, and we can’t expect the world to stay exactly where we thought it was.”

Waking up to hear his friend of 20 years Anthony Albanese had become Prime Minister last year was quite something, the 65-year-old said, but seeing Albanese quote his lyrics in his new job was a surprise.

Anthony Albanese and Billy Bragg, in a photo shared by Albaneseon Twitter in 2017.Credit:Twitter – @AlboMP

Bragg made the comments while speaking on the latest episode of Good Weekend Talks – a “magazine for your ears” featuring conversations between journalists from The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and the people captivating Australia right now.

Hosting this chat was senior culture writer Kerrie O’Brien, who leads a discussion about everything from life in the United Kingdom after Brexit – “It’s like we soiled ourselves,” Bragg says – to the fact the world will be watching as we vote on introducing an Indigenous Voice to parliament. As an Englishman, Bragg argues he has “skin in the game”, and sees this as an opportunity to “right a terrible, historic wrong”.

“I know that there are people out there who would prefer there was a formal treaty. But this is a process, it’s a long process. And this is a very, very important step in that, a big signpost that says not just to Indigenous people, but to everybody in the world, that the people of Australia are going to take responsibility for wrong that was done relatively recently in Indigenous history by people from my country. The world will be watching.”

Good Weekend Talks explore the events and individuals capturing the interest of Australians, through weekly conversations, with an array of special guests. Listen to more episodes by subscribing to Good Weekend Talks wherever you get your podcasts.

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.

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