Should We Change the Date of Australia Day?

January 25, 2022 Updated: January 25, 2022

Commentary

For a decade now, I have voiced my opinion on the controversy surrounding Australia Day.

My views are largely unchanged and can be summarised as follows: I won’t oppose if the date for Australia Day gets changed, but I believe decisions should be made based on sound reasoning and not virtue signalling.

Further, if it does get changed, and it does result in practical benefit for Aboriginal Australians or race relations, then I will gladly admit I was wrong.

However, suppose a few years after a change, it still has not resulted in any practical benefit. In that case, I will then suggest that we get on with what we know makes a positive change for Aboriginal Australians—jobs, education, community safety, etc.

A common criticism of celebrating Australia Day on Jan. 26 is that it is divisive.

Actually, people are divisive, not dates. Any divisiveness arises from the fact that some people want the date changed and some don’t. And it is not just simply Aboriginal people disagreeing with non-Aboriginal people, as members of both groups sit in the camps of “change the date” and “keep the date.”

Those wanting the date changed believe it is somehow upsetting or disrespectful to Aboriginal Australians, despite the fact that many Aboriginal people celebrate Australia Day.

Will a date change really help Aboriginal people? I don’t believe so, but I am happy to discuss the option.

Epoch Times Photo
Protesters shout slogans as they march in an “Invasion Day” rally in Sydney, Australia, on Jan. 26, 2019. (Farooq Khan/AFP via Getty Images)

I agree with Western Australia’s first Aboriginal magistrate, Sue Gordon, who has in the past stated that Aboriginal people face far more important issues than changing the date of Australia Day.

In response, those wanting to change the date have claimed that people can “walk and chew gum at the same time.” That is, they can oppose Australia Day and focus on the more important issues (e.g., housing, health, education, etc.) at the same time.

Do they appear to be doing both? Perhaps Australia Day protests are a convenient distraction from addressing the important issues?

Others have said: “well, it’s the right thing to do” and “changing the date is not hard.” If it is right, then what criteria are we using to determine rightness? I do agree that changing the date is not hard, but that for me is not a good reason for changing it.

Perhaps my biggest reservation for changing the date, is that to do so sends a very disempowering message to those who claim they are suffering because of it.

Exactly how are they suffering? To claim to be suffering on Jan. 26 because Australia Day celebrations are taking place, is to claim that your emotional well-being is under the control of those who celebrate on that day.

In a sense, that makes the mourners little “Australia Day” puppets whose emotional strings are being pulled by those celebrating Australia Day.

Changing the date will only validate the myth that their chosen suffering is caused by celebrating Jan. 26. This is because those claiming to be suffering will think: “Well, my suffering must be real, or else the government would not have changed the date.”

Perhaps the very worst excuse for changing the date is that celebrating on Jan. 26 in the name of “Australia Day” is considered an act of celebrating theft, rape, murder, and genocide. These are emotive words used to prop up weak arguments. I do not know of one person who celebrates any of those things on Jan. 26.

Epoch Times Photo
Australia Day revelers pose for photos at Circular Quay in Sydney, Australia, on Jan. 26, 2018. (Cole Bennetts/Getty Images)

So, what to do as we approach Jan. 26 this year? Well, let’s respect other people’s right to do as they please on that day, but let’s also be prepared to discuss and challenge differing viewpoints, respectfully.

For those who want to use Australia Day as an opportunity to claim to be suffering and oppressed, can you please take some time out to spare a thought for those Aboriginal people who are genuinely suffering because they are hungry, live in unclean environments, and feel unsafe.

My final thought regarding a date change is somewhat of a compromise and very practical. How about we celebrate Australia Day on the closest Monday to Jan. 26 each year, giving us a long weekend, and at least a long break from whinging, repetitive, and utterly predictable protesters?

Happy Australia Day, all.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Dr. Anthony Dillon is a researcher at the Institute of Positive Psychology and Education at the Australian Catholic University. He is a regular commentator on Australian Indigenous affairs and has worked in the field for two decades.