January 26, 2020 Josh Burns MP

Opinion: Don’t change the date, create the date.

Australia Day

Australia’s national day is a reflection of how we see ourselves.

It should be a day where we are all reminded of the reasons to celebrate our country.

So is it too much to acknowledge that we can do better?

I don’t think we should change the date, I think we should create the date.

Our national day should be the day that we become a true, independent nation.

Australia Day should be the day we become a republic.

It is then we will be able to achieve a day that celebrates all the things we love about our island home and also create a new, inclusive day of celebration for our first Australians.

January 26 means different things to different people and questions about our national identity provoke strong opinions.

As long as our national day is held on the date which marks the beginning of atrocities committed against Australia’s Indigenous population, it will always be a divisive one.

The movement to change the date is a movement for justice, and I suspect in the long run it is inevitable that we will get there.

But we are still some way off being able to do so. And to be frank, there are other important things we need to do first.

Along with creating a new Australia Day, we must also commit to the important substantive reforms for Indigenous reconciliation.

As Labor’s Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney said, this debate has to be “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.”

Annual debates over Australia Day generate far more attention and controversy in the public domain than reconciliation, constitutional reform, or treaty.

It is easier to debate and dismiss a single day than commit to a long and difficult road of reform.

For over 80 years, our First Australians have been asking for a Voice.

Malcolm Turnbull’s cynical rejection of the Uluru Statement is a stain on his legacy and, it seems, will be one on Scott Morrison’s too.

The First Nations Voice, a treaty and constitutional reform should all come before we look at changing the date.

Achieving true reconciliation would also provide us with the momentum to push for a republic referendum.

These are bold, historic reforms that require leadership and ambition, but they should not be considered radical.

Telling the truth about our past is not radical.

Giving Indigenous Australians a proper say in their own affairs is not radical.

Making reparations for past wrongs is not radical.

What they require is vision for a stronger, more unified Australia.

Photo with Boon Wurrung elder N’arweet Carolyn Briggs at the Australia Day mourning ceremony at Alfred Square in St Kilda

It’s a pity that Scott Morrison has shown no signs that he has a bold vision for anything.

Menzies dismantled White Australia, Gough ended conscription, Fraser boosted migration, Hawke created Medicare, Keating introduced superannuation, Howard banned guns, Rudd said sorry and Gillard created the NDIS.

Yet, perhaps like no other in our history, Scott Morrison evades presenting a vision and policy ambition.

Instead of promoting boldness, Scott Morrison has praised the ‘quiet Australian.’

Time and time again he has shown he doesn’t like scrutiny or debate.

And stifling challenging ideas only denies us the opportunity to create a bolder vision for our nation.

Scott Morrison wants Australians to be quiet for precisely that reason – he has no vision and he doesn’t want anyone else to have one either.

Instead of offering an inclusive national identity for all Australians, Scott Morrison has sought to divide and to limit social and policy ambition.

We can all do better in how we celebrate Australia Day.

We have so much to celebrate and be proud of, but we can do better.

In my electorate, the City of Port Phillip will precede its Australia Day citizenship ceremony and celebrations with a morning dedicated to the First Australians and their perspective of the date.

I think this is an idea worth supporting, and a meaningful way for us to celebrate all of the great modern, multicultural successes of Australia whilst acknowledging that this day comes with a sorrowful past.

January 26 is an historic day for our nation.

For both good and bad, it says a lot about who we are today as a nation.

Now, a new decade comes with new possibilities.

By the time we welcome the 2030s, I hope that Australia has become an independent republic.

I hope that, in a decade, we have an Australian as our national head.

I hope that in a decade we have achieved meaningful reconciliation with our First Nations in accordance with the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

I hope the day we become a republic and the day we properly include our First Australians in our national story will be the day we celebrate our nation.

I hope that we have a national day that embraces the past that includes every member of our great nation.

And I am not the only one.

Ken Wyatt, our Minister for Indigenous Australians has also expressed support for this idea.

Of course, if we are to achieve independence and if we are to include the 65,000 years of human history on our vast southern land then we have much to do this decade.

To get there we must not limit ourselves to Morrison’s quiet expectations, rather Australians should be ambitious, proud and inclusive.

Josh Burns MP – Federal Member for Macnamara


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    Josh Burns MP respectfully acknowledges the past and present traditional owners of the land of the Indigenous people, the traditional custodians of this land, and respect their culture and identity which has been bound up with the land and sea for generations.