A Sydney MP’s request for a minute’s silence for Indigenous Australians on Australia Day has been countered by Alice Springs councillor Jacinta Price, who suggested that the day could instead provide a time for forgiveness and healing.
“Why don’t we use the morning of Australia Day to … forgive?” Price told 2GB radio on Tuesday. “Why don’t we complete the act of healing and use forgiveness to move forward? As far as I’m concerned that hasn’t been achieved yet.”
Price, a Walpiri woman and the Centre for Independent Studies’ Indigenous program director, was responding to questions about Independent MP Zali Steggall’s letter sent to mayors in her Sydney electorate. Steggall asked them to observe a minute’s silence on Australia Day to honour Indigenous Australians who may carry a feeling of loss and hurt about Australia’s early settlement by British colonists.
“January 26 provokes a range of emotions for many within our community,” Steggall said. “While it marks the commencement of European colonisation of this land, it also represents the commencement of violence, disempowerment and displacement of our Indigenous communities that has created sorrow, discrimination and hardship that has lasted for generations.”
But Price thinks Steggall is feeding a divide and needs to “stop painting Indigenous Australians as helpless victims” who have no agency to move forward within Australia.
She said that Australia already commemorates what has happened between settlers and Indigenous people in the country’s history on National Sorry Day, held annually on May 26. Whereas Australia Day on Jan. 26 is about celebrating together.
“Australia Day is about being inclusive and involving absolutely everybody that makes Australia a great nation,” Price said.
People had come from many parts of the world to make Australia their home. “It’s not just black and white,” Price said.
Alex Hawke, the federal immigration minister, said in a statement that Steggall’s proposal was “disappointing” and “ill-considered.”
“[The proposal] plays negative politics with our history and which can only perpetuate divisions between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians,” he said.
“The truth is Australia Day unifies us all, because of our shared history—the good and the bad.
“Regardless of the failings in our history, Australia has become one of the most free, egalitarian, safe and diverse societies today, and our shared commitment to continuing this journey together is what matters most,” he said.
Jan. 26 is a significant day for many Australians, including new ones, as it was the day Australian’s stopped being British subjects in 1949, and it is the “most popular day of the year that people choose to become Australian citizens,” Price said.
It was also the day of a protest by a group of Indigenous men and women in front of Australia Hall in Sydney on Jan. 26, 1938, where they asked for full citizen status and equality within the community.
“So I think Zali needs to learn a bit more about our country’s history instead of using shallow, PC, wokeish way of dealing with these particular issues,” Price said.