Cricket Australia’s decision to drop any mention of Australia Day during its promotions of the Big Bash League match on the day in question has ignited debate after the prime minister disagreed with the decision.
The move comes after years of campaigns and annual protests by Indigenous activists and their supporters on the left who wish to change Australia Day’s date from Jan. 26. Many of these activists also refer to Australia Day as Invasion Day.
When asked about Cricket Australia’s decision, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “Look, I think a bit more focus on cricket, and a little less focus on politics would be my message to Cricket Australia.”
Morrison said that celebrating Australia Day is an important part of upholding democratic values and acknowledging how far the country had come since the first fleet arrived in 1788.
But it was his comments about the suffering endured by the convicts who came to Australia on the initial 20,000-kilometre sea journey that sparked a backlash.
“You know, when those 12 ships turned up in Sydney all those years ago, it wasn’t a particularly flash day for the people on those vessels either,” Morrison said.
According to New South Wales state One Nation leader Mark Latham, Morrison just stated the “obvious.”
Conditions on the first fleet were “dreadful,” he said, adding that 40 people, including women and a child, died on the journey from England.
“It was a dreadful environment. Who’d want to be a convict? And who’d want to die at sea?” he told 2GB Radio on Jan. 22.
“But what are we into now—a relative pain? That we’re going to measure up the pain of the Indigenous against the pain of the convicts? Well maybe both groups had some issues arising out of the 26th of January, but in the years since, Australia has built the most magnificent successful nation in the world and if we don’t celebrate that we’re not much of a nation at all,” he said.
Kevin Rudd, a former Labor prime minister who has been hotly campaigning against News Corp-owned conservative media, led the charge in criticising Morrison.
“Morrison is gutless. So afraid of offending the far-right, he lets them spread dangerous coronavirus myths. He won’t criticise Trump’s incitement of insurrection against US Congress. Instead he bashes Cricket Australia for honouring the first Australians,” he wrote on Twitter on Jan. 21.
The claim that former President Donald Trump incited the storming of the U.S. Capital on Jan. 6 has been disputed by eyewitnesses.
Mel Jones, a Cricket Australia board member and co-chair of its Indigenous advisory committee, told The Sydney Morning Herald on Jan. 21 that the decision wasn’t about politics, “it’s purely about cricket.”
“There was no politics in regards to changing the date or anything along those lines. The conversation was purely about, ‘how do we help this day be as safe and respectful for everyone involved in cricket,’” she said.
Meanwhile, Indigenous Alice Springs councillor Jacinta Price, who is also the director of the Indigenous program at the Centre for Independent Studies, believes there are more significant problems facing Indigenous Australians than Australia Day.
She likened the debate around the day to “window dressing,” saying it’s a curtain that works to conceal real problems in Indigenous communities like family violence, child sexual assault, alcoholism, and welfare dependency.
Price, who earlier this week called for forgiveness and healing on Australia Day, argued in an op-ed for Daily Telegraph on Jan. 21 that the “offenderati” will never be appeased when people or institutions give in to their pressure.
“There are 11 official days of the year and one entire week all dedicated to recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Not to mention every single event, program, sporting game, theatre performance, school assembly, Council meeting, conference and email salutation where there is a ‘Welcome to Country’ or ‘Recognition of the Land in which we are so very privileged to be gathered on,’” Price said.
“To suggest Australians don’t do enough to recognise Aboriginal Australia is to suggest the sun rises in the west: it simply is not true,” she said.