January 26. A national day of mourning for many, a guilty day off for some, and an excuse to wear obnoxious flag capes for others.
Wherever you land on Australia Day AKA Invasion Day AKA Survival Day, the push to change our national date (which, for those playing at home, goes back even further than the public holiday) to something less overtly offensive to First Nations people has now become strong enough to enter the political sphere. Let’s see how our politicians stack up.
Richard Di Natale
Kicking off the most recent news cycle, Greens Senator Di Natale told told Fairfax Media on January 14 that changing the date would be a priority for the party this year. He has encouraged Greens city councillors to follow the lead of Yarra, Darebin and Fremantle councils in attempts to move official events, and expects the official date to change within the decade:
“All Australians want a day on which we can come together and to celebrate our wonderfully diverse, open and free society, but January 26 is not that day,” he said. “It’s time that we stop papering over an issue that for 200 years has been so divisive and painful for so many of our citizens.”
Prime Minister Turnbull was unsurprisingly not a fan, acknowledging in a Facebook video last year that European settlement in Australia has been “complex and tragic for Indigenous Australians” but characterising a push for a more inclusive national day as some kind of Orwellian-PC-rewriting of the history books:
“I’m disappointed by those who want to change the date of Australia Day, seeking to take a day that unites Australia and Australians and turn it into one that would divide us. A free country debates its history; it does not deny it.”
Australia’s favourite wet blanket, Shorten supports the current date but, magnanimously, will not begrudge First Nations people choosing not to celebrate genocide:
“I understand there’s a range of views about when Australia Day should be. I’m on the record as supporting Australia Day staying on January 26. I can respect that different people have different views. You’re not going to see me sneering at Indigenous Australians who want to have a discussion about a different date for Australia Day.”
Speaking of telling people what to think…
Asked about Di Natale’s comments on 2GB last week, former prime minister Abbott was fuming at the idea of a country founded on dispossession, murder and genocide allowing for some introspection:
“We must work … to make ourselves better but we don’t do that by wallowing in endless, carping self-criticism. British settlement was a very good thing, it wasn’t good immediately for everyone. But the modern Australia that emerged from British settlement … is something that all of us, on balance, can and should be proud of.”
While Labor MP Linda Burney described the current date as an “extremely painful” reminder of an attack on First Nations’ sovereignty, she said the Greens campaign “could end up being more divisive than helpful”:
“The Labor position is very clear and it is broader than just whether we’re going to change the date … that’s a very narrow way to look at the issue of Indigenous affairs. Whatever happened to the Uluru statement that Malcolm Turnbull cut down, that has to be part of the discussion as well?”
Indigenous Affairs minister Nigel Scullion made headlines last week when asked what he thought of government adviser Chris Sarra’s description of the date as divisive. He claimed it was not an issue that First Nations people bring up with him:
“I’ve just spent the last week in different communities around Australia, and it never comes up as an issue. This is one of those things that comes up from time to time [but] what people are telling me is that they want their kids to get a good education, what about more opportunities for access to the health system?”
In a Facebook post that saw the Victorian Greens MP receive rape and death threats, Thorpe spoke about the pain January 26 brings her as a Gunnai-Gunditjmara woman and suggested the Australian and Indigenous flags be flown at half mast this year:
“As Victoria’s first female Aboriginal member of State Parliament, I want to take a stand to make sure that our grief is recognised… I am calling on Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, to lower the Australian and Aboriginal flags to half-mast on all government buildings, including the Victorian Parliament, on January 26.
I support the Change the Date movement and the moves by some councils to no longer recognise January 26 as Australia Day. But first, we have to acknowledge why it causes so much suffering. I see the lowering of the flag as an important first step towards truth-telling and healing.”
Alice Springs councillor Jacinta Price made the controversial call for First Nations people not to “pass on” the trauma attached to January 26, as part of an even more controversial decision to team up with Mark Latham in a “Save Australia Day” campaign:
“I’m not just Indigenous. I’m half white Australian, and I wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t arrived, and neither would many mixed heritage Indigenous people who speak out against the date. I don’t see how the date itself denies parts of our history. I think it’s actually significant for our history to recognise that.”