What is the Australia Day debate really about?
With Australia Day coming up there has been continued debate about whether the date should be changed. Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull released a video on Facebook putting forward his strong view that Australia Day should remain as is. He says:
“I am 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.”
The remarks are disappointing and only emphasises the wider need for the Australian government to recognise the wrongs of the past. The Government has continuously failed to deal with the constitutional recognition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
A clear example of this was the Government’s rejection of the Uluru Statement from the Heart which called for the establishment of a First Nations Voice. This would be a constitutionally recognised national body tasked with representing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Despite the Referendum Council advising the Government to hold a referendum on whether to establish this body, the Government did not believe that such a radical constitutional change would be supported by Australian voters and rejected the idea. The Human Rights Watch report noted this during their criticism of Australia’s human rights record.
Words and actions don’t match up
The PM’s words are contradictory. On one hand PM Turnbull says that Australia Day is about celebrating what we have, “united by our Australian values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law”. However we do not see democracy in action when a referendum proposal, that is important to many in our country and considered vital by representatives of our first inhabitants, is rejected. Likewise the continuous refusal to enter into a treaty with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people undermines the values of freedom and inclusiveness. The Government, as representatives of our people, should act in accordance with these values and actively seek out an inclusive arrangement with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Attention also needs to be paid to addressing the underlying social issues facing these communities.
The Australia Day debate is strongly tied to the Republican debate. Changing the date of Australia Day would mean a recognition that Australia wants to move forward from our history as a British colony, to recognise that we have forged a new Australian identity. This debate is re-igniting the Republican debate – widespread recognition that we should have a new Australian Constitution with an Australian head of state, expressly recognising our first people, and a day not too far away to celebrate its inception.