Australia Day is growing ever more contentious.
Initially I counted myself very firmly in the change the date camp and in truth I still lean that way. A number of things I’ve read recently have had me questioning the wisdom of that position and what the likely outcomes would be.
Indulge me and say for instance we change the date of Australia Day to May 8th or better still sometime late in the year when we are desperately short of public holidays and make it, like Easter, a floating holiday so that it always falls on a weekend, say the last Friday in November. Guaranteed long weekend, no need for sickies, warm weather, an altogether good time to celebrate what is great about our nation. Also keep the 26th of January as a public holiday rebranded as for instance Reconciliation or Survival Day. Invasion Day simply isn’t going to fly. All sounding fair enough so far I’d hope.
My concern is about what happens on January 26th that first year. Because there is a significant section of our community that is not going welcome or readily accept this change. How significant I don’t know, maybe within a decade they will have dwindled into insignificance. Right now I suspect the proportion is quite staggering, possibly as high as 30% of the general population who will resent and actively resist the change. Even with a bonus public holiday. How these people are treated will have very serious ramifications for us all.
Even the proposal for this change is creating deep divisions within communities. I don’t feel the potential consequences are being given enough discussion. If for instance this issue became a cultural touch stone to One Nation voters or Rise Up Australia, which seems quite likely to me, we would be looking down the barrel of some serious and ugly disrespect and push back both on the day and in the polls with our own inflammatory demagogues picking up even more seats in our parliaments. Thereby imperiling many of the gains in social justice fought for and won in past decades.
I have seen it suggested that we could practise a different way of conducting Australia day. Start with a fire ceremony, an acknowledgment of country, broadcast speeches by the PM and a select few of the new Australians of the year reflecting upon our history and injustices and challenging all Australians to find ways to improve our country together in the year ahead. Start and finish with national minutes of silence across all media, one each to reflect upon the past and look into the future. After midday fire up the barbecue, eat and celebrate what we have become together. I don’t have the answer and by dint of my heritage my opinion has limited weight.
Finally, in all honesty I think changing the date and signing a treaty, much as with marriage equality and a Federal ICAC is an inevitability it is merely a matter of time and political integrity. One of which we have, one we don’t. How well the transition is handled will determine whether it is an act of healing or deepening division.