‘Let the People Decide’: Nationals Senator Propose to Put Australian Day to a Vote

‘Let the People Decide’: Nationals Senator Propose to Put Australian Day to a Vote
People attend the Australia Day parade in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 26, 2020. (Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

The debate over whether Australians should celebrate Australian Day or replace it with Invasion Day could be settled by putting it to a vote, suggests Nationals senator Matt Canavan.

Australia Day, Jan. 26, marks the day when Captain Arthur Phillip’s First Fleet arrived in Sydney Cove (now known as Circular Quay) and claimed the southern continent for the British Crown. It is perceived by the majority of Australians as a celebratory occasion to commemorate the birth of their liberal democracy.

But in recent years, the public holiday day has become the focus of Indigenous rights activists who view the event as the start of an invasion.

Canavan, on Jan. 26 said that the Australia Day debate “turns up sooner than the Hot Cross Buns does in the shops and let’s just settle it.”
Nationals Senator Matthew Canavan at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on Jun. 22, 2021. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)
“Let the people decide. Because what clearly is happening right now is a bunch of woke activists, woke CEOs just trying that slow drumbeat of undermining a common institution,” he told Sydney’s radio 2GB.

“And if those activists are confident that people don’t want Australia worried, put it to the vote. It'll cost nothing to add this question to the referendum later this year.”

It comes as Australians are to decide on the Indigenous Voice to parliament in a referendum this year, a move that was proposed by the Labor government.

Although there have been no concrete discussions on what form the Indigenous Voice to parliament would take, supporters say it would be a body enshrined in the Constitution that would enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to provide advice to the Parliament on policies and projects that impact their lives.

According to a Roy Morgan Poll conducted with 1,372 Australians aged 18 and above from Jan. 21 to Jan. 24, 2022, an increasing majority—65 percent—of Australians want to continue recognising Jan. 26 as Australia Day, up 6 percentage points from a year ago.

The generational differences are notable. Up to 64 percent of Australians under 25 think Jan. 26 should be known as Invasion Day, while 65 percent of those aged 35-49 are in favour of Australia Day.

Support for celebrating Australia Day also grew substantially for those aged 50-64 (75 percent) and 65 and above (85 percent).

Some Businesses Cancel Australia Day

As cancel culture takes hold in Western democratic societies, some major Australian businesses have decided to stop celebrating Australian Day.

Just last week, retail giant Kmart decided to stop producing a specific Australia Day product line.

“We respect that Jan. 26 means different things to different people, and we aim to foster an environment that is inclusive and respectful of both our customers and teams,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

“However, customers who shop with us can find a number of products year-round that feature Australiana designs with Australian animals, flora and fauna, as well as educational materials.”

Kmart would also be giving employees the choice of working on the traditional public holiday.

Meanwhile, the head of the Australian television network, Channel 10, has discouraged staff from celebrating Jan. 26 as Australia Day, arguing the date marks the beginning of a “turbulent history” for Indigenous people, according to an internal note.

Channel 10 is one of five national free-to-air networks and is part of Paramount Australia and New Zealand (Paramount ANZ), a division of U.S. network CBS Studios International.

Ten’s chief content officer Beverley McGarvey wrote in an email sent to staff, co-signed by chief commercial officer Jarrod Villa, that Australia Day is “not a day of celebration,” reported The Australian newspaper in December 2022.

“At Paramount ANZ, we aim to create a safe place to work where cultural differences are appreciated, understood, and respected,” the letter said.

“For our First Nations people, we as an organisation acknowledge that Jan. 26 is not a day of celebration. We recognise that there has been a turbulent history, particularly around that date and the recognition of that date being Australia Day.”

Daniel Y. Teng contributed to this report.