This week I am supporting calls to change the date of Australia Day.
26 January has only been a public holiday in all states and territories since 1994. It marks the proclamation of British sovereignty over what is now New South Wales in 1788. For the next 146 years the newly arrived convicts fought frontier wars with the indigenous population, killing at least 20,000 and introducing diseases such as smallpox to wipe out many more. Despite giving indigenous people the vote in 1965 and apologising to them in 2008, the government still feels it is appropriate to hold a national day on the date of the invasion.
This year, for the first time, the Australian Capital Territories, has declared a public holiday for Reconciliation Day in May. It is not difficult to change the date of a holiday, Easter shifts every year, and there are many advantages in moving Australia Day. Falling at the end of the long school holidays in most states, and in Week 1 of the Queensland term, it is not well positioned chronologically or financially for families wishing to travel. Imagine the tourism benefits of a break during a busier working month.
The people becoming new citizens today, in ceremonies around the nation, will pledge to respect the rights and liberties of the Australian people. Who are the Australian people? The descendants of those who arrived 50,000 years ago or of those who came 230 years ago?