My Daily Advertiser column for Tuesday 23 January 2018: Most don’t mind what day Australia Day is held

by ray goodlass

In recent weeks I’ve been gearing up to write today’s column on the topic of Australia Day, preparing to argue that 26 January isn’t an appropriate date, whilst at the same time being subject to a barrage of propaganda from many politicians and commentators firmly denying there should be change.

Though I was heartened by a few lone voices calling for change, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that ‘Most Australians don’t mind what date it’s held, according to new poll’ (ABC Radio AM).

Conducted by Canberra think-tank The Australia Institute, and released amid increased debate about the date, the poll found that 56% of Australians don’t mind when it’s held, and 37% found 26 January to be offensive. Almost half, 49%, felt that it should not be on a date offensive to Indigenous Australians.

In a Daily Advertiser survey of only 400 people the figures didn’t quite match, but even so 35% found the date to be inappropriate.

It’s offensive because to many of us the day Captain Phillip established the British convict settlement at Sydney Cove is quite rightly regarded as ‘Invasion Day’, marking the beginning of the British conquest of a civilisation dating back 60,000 years. That conquest decimated the First Peoples of this land, and as we are all too aware, the consequences are still being felt.

Another clear reason for changing the date is that it does not in any way mark the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia, which was on 1 January 1901. Between 1788 and 1900 what we know as Australia was simply a series of separate British colonies, beginning with NSW, then Van Diemen’s Land, then the Swan River colony (later WA) and so forth.

Appropriately then Greens leader Richard Di Natale has launched a renewed campaign for change, and quite sensibly jumped on the survey’s figures.

“What it does demonstrate is there is a great opportunity to move the nation forward, to choose a day that allows us to celebrate all the things that it means to be Australian,” he said.

PM Turnbull has been arguing to keep the dater as it is, and Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister Alan Tudge is adamant there is no need for change.

“It is a great unifying moment for this country where we properly celebrate our history, our Indigenous heritage, our British foundations and the multicultural character of this nation,” he said.

It certainly beats me how the settlement of one small penal colony can be a unifying moment for an entire continent and federal nation state, Mr Tudge.

Perhaps we might find the momentum for change coming from the grassroots, as several local government councils have abandoned 26 January. Last year, following the lead of the WA’s Fremantle council, Moreland, Darebin and Yarra councils “The Greens are planning to use their numbers in local governments across the country to spearhead a push to move Australia Day” said Di Natale.

Of course, changing the date begs the question of when the new date should be. 1 January is already a public holiday and so most would probably resent losing a day off, and given that for 67 years the Commonwealth of Australia legally didn’t recognise its First Peoples even as human beings, let alone citizens, it would still be offensive to many.

Perhaps the Australia Institute deputy director Ebony Bennett pointed the way when she noted that “Some people chose events that haven’t happened yet —like signing a treaty with the Aboriginal people of Australia or when Australia becomes a republic”.