According to an exclusive in today’s Daily Telegraph, Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants to keep Australia Day on January 26th, and resolve the issues around the date by creating a second national day for Indigenous Australians.
He’s also revoked Byron Bay Shire Council’s authority to conduct citizenship ceremonies, after they announced they would celebrate Australia Day on January 25th rather than the 26th.
He believes celebrating Australia Day on January 26th means celebrating the fact that on that day, “Australia changed forever”.
Australia didn’t properly exist until 1901, Scott, but go off, I guess.
In suggesting a new national day for Indigenous Australians, Morrison told the Telegraph:
I also believe we need to honour and acknowledge in our national calendar our indigenous peoples. Rather than further conflict and argument, this is how I believe we can work together to bring and keep Australians together.
The reason it seems a lot like “let’s come up with another term for marriage” is that it’s driven by the same principle: separate but equal.
‘Separate but equal’ was a legal doctrine in the United States that ensured racial segregation didn’t violate the 14th Amendment, which was implemented following the Civil War and addressed equality under the law. The doctrine meant that as long as the facilities provided to each race were equal, governments could continue to segregate them by race.
In this case, as long as both days are afforded the same status as public holidays, Morrison evidently thinks all will be well. ‘Separate but equal’ didn’t work in the US, and it won’t work here.
The problem inherent with the January 26th date is that people like Scott Morrison and many Indigenous Australians fundamentally disagree with what the date represents. Morrison believes it represents the beginning of Australia as a nation, and many Indigenous people see it as a date that marks the beginning of the process of colonisation. People like Morrison see a cause for celebration, where others see a tragedy.
January 26th marks the date Captain (and later Governor) Arthur Phillip rowed ashore and claimed the land for King George III. The colony of New South Wales wasn’t established until February 7th.
Again, Australia didn’t exist as a nation until January 1st, 1901, which is when federation took place.
January 26th doesn’t celebrate Australia as a whole; by alienating so many Indigenous Australians, it fundamentally cannot include them. Morrison’s solution is the wrong response, a flawed attempt at compromising between those who support changing the date and those who feel protective of their right to get drunk on a very specific day.
Australia Day wasn’t officially a public holiday nationwide until 1994 – that makes it (officially) younger than me. It was celebrated on January 26th around the country before then, but it was also celebrated on other days, as the posters and badges shown in this tweet indicate:
The only way to fully include everyone in a celebration of Australia’s history and achievements is to change the celebration to a date that doesn’t alienate the descendants of the people who lived on this continent for 60,000 years before Phillip rowed to shore.
Reckoning with Australia’s treatment of its Indigenous peoples didn’t end with the apology in 2007 – if anything, that was barely a beginning. The way forward cannot include creating a separate national day for Indigenous Australians, a separate national day that suggests they aren’t a part of the Australia that’s being celebrated on January 26th.
Acknowledging this isn’t an act of ‘indulgent self-loathing’, in the words of Prime Minister Morrison; it’s an act of basic empathy and decency. If Morrison really does have a ‘deep respect’ for Indigenous Australians, he should actually listen to their criticisms of January 26th; only then would he realise his suggested solution misses the mark completely.
(Header photo by Stefan Postles/Getty Images)