Australia Day Plebiscite
What kind of people are we, who, knowing full well our choice of national day presents insurmountable and painful difficulties to our first nations people, yet we still stubbornly refuse to move to another day?
The Prime Minister is fond of saying it is not his role to lecture others on a matter of morality or ethics. He recently took this line following widespread demands he sanction Craig Kelly and George Christensen for their continuing fabrication of truth in relation to a range of issues including climate change, but more recently, the result of the US election.
However, he is more than happy to lecture others when the matter at hand is in direct conflict with his government’s chosen ideological position. He has had no difficulty in lecturing Cricket Australia for their decision to feature indigenous history and culture for the fixture on 26th January. He told them to play more cricket and be involved in less politics. The truth of course is that sport has always been involved in politics, be it through grand spectacles like the Olympic Games, or less spectacularly through football competitions, in particular, the boycotting of South African sporting teams which played a large part in the downfall of apartheid.
Apparently, he is quite happy that a committee, to be led by the notorious George Christensen, will lecture banks and insurance companies about their decision not to fund or insure various fossil fuel mining enterprises. Minister David Littleproud informed these financial institutions that it is not up to non-elected individuals or businesses to make political decisions based on moral principle. Apparently, that is the role of government, although extreme reluctance to support an independent federal ICAC casts a shadow over this as a political ideal. It seems not to occur to the minister that these decisions may have had little to do with morality or politics and everything to do with prudent business acumen. Investing in stranded assets would almost certainly risk litigation from shareholders.
The Prime Minister has recently changed ‘young’ to ‘one’ in the national anthem. Few would disagree with the decision. However, on its own it is mere tokenism. We are not ‘one’ simply by changing a word in the anthem, and we are certainly not ‘one’ if on our national day the first nations people feel alienated.
Changing the day, would not mean changing history. We would simply, but significantly, be changing the way we celebrate history. In a real sense 26th January is the least suitable day to choose as Australia’s national day. The landing did no more than strike a claim on these shores for the British monarch and Empire and begin an early settlement. The landing did not in itself establish a new nation. This was not to happen until 100 years later. The landing began the establishment of colonies, the purpose of which was largely penal. Leaving aside the brutality and violence which was to quickly engulf the Dharawal nation, there was no understanding then that the continent upon which the Europeans were setting foot was occupied by more than 300 separate nations with history, culture, and tradition stretching back thousands of years.
Consideration of another date is not, to coin a phrase beloved of Prime Minister Howard, to submit to a black arm band view of history. It is to recognise that as we have matured as a nation, it is no longer a date that best captures nationhood. Over the years many dates have been suggested, no doubt there are many that have merit.
I have always favoured Federation Day as the most logical. We became a nation because of federation on 1 January 1901. I fully realise that this presents a logistical problem for annual celebrations, because everybody is asleep or on the beach on New Year’s Day and it is very close to Christmas. There are ways around it. The Queen’s birthday celebration is transferred to a date with potentially warmer weather and more sunlight!
However, there are other days.
I strongly recommend a plebiscite be held with perhaps two or three suggestions being made of which the current date could be one. A plebiscite requires a significant investment in education which would be an extremely good thing for us all.
It is simply dumb, as well as insulting to our indigenous brother and sisters, to stay as we are. Until there is a change, I will seek the company of First Nations people on 26th January, not out of any disrespect to our nation, quite the contrary, but because we can obviously do better, and for the sake of our ‘oneness’ we have to do better.