Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says he is disappointed with Australians.
He said so on Tuesday (16/1/17), in a short video lecture posted to social media:
"I'm disappointed by those who want to change the date of Australia Day ... seeking to take a day that unites Australia and Australians, and turn it into one that will divide us."
Millions of Australians want to change the date for Australia Day, including the vast majority of First Nations people. They want to change it precisely because the date chosen, 26 January ─ what Indigenous Australians commonly call “Invasion Day” or “Survival Day” — intrinsically divides Australians. Because for the vast majority of Indigenous people, it is a day of sadness rather than one of celebration. So, a great many compassionate Australians want a day that might unite Australians, not cause the original inhabitants of this land immense sorrow.
It takes a vast amount of chutzpah to accuse people who want to unite Australia of seeking to divide the nation — but then that’s Malcolm Turnbull all over.
In his two-minute piece to camera, spoken with an oddly sinister sibilance, Turnbull said the date was of great significance to our nation. So, here’s a short history lesson for his benefit.
Firstly, the 26th of January does not mark the formation of the nation of Australia. Federation – when all of Australia's colonies came together to form the Commonwealth – occurred on 1 January 1901. The date doesn’t even mark the formation of the Colony of NSW, which was officially proclaimed on 7 February 1788. No, 26 January 1788 is merely the date Captain Arthur Phillip was rowed ashore at Sydney Cove to raise a flag and claim the land thereabouts in the name of King George III. And it wasn’t even the date his convict armada first stepped ashore. The First Fleet arrived in Sydney a week earlier, on 18 January at Botany Bay, but Captain Phillip found this site not to his taste.
Secondly, the 26th of January has not always been the date for Australia Day. Outside of NSW, 26 January began to be celebrated around the continent in 1888, on the centenary of Phillip’s flag raising exercise, as a way of marking White settlement. Back then, tt was called “Anniversary Day” or “Foundation Day”. There was really no such thing as Australia Day until 1915, when a War-time Committee was set up arrive at an appropriate date of national unity and celebration. For some reason, they fixed on the 30 July. The next year, in 1916, this was changed to 25 July; in 1917 to 27 July and, in 1918, to August 10. It seemed to fade away at that point and it wasn’t until 1946 that the Commonwealth and state governments agreed to unify the celebrations on 26 January as "Australia Day". And it was only 24 years ago, in 1994, that 26 January was consistently marked by a public holiday in all Australian states and territories.
So, while the date does mark a major event in the history of colonial Australia, it is an event with little relevance, or a negative connotation, for modern multicultural Australia — for a truly inclusive nation. Because how can a national day be on a date that angers, hurts and excludes a vast number of its citizens? We could change it at any time to something more appropriate, just as we have done before — but Turnbull doesn’t want to.
And why doesn’t he want to? Because, despite his self-serving comments, he knows this is an issue that divides Australia. He hopes for political gain by furthering this division. He thinks he can attract One Nation supporters and other rightwing white nationalists by supporting their cause. Those rightwing nutjobs, mind you, do not care that much about the date – although it is a symbol of white supremacy – it’s just that they hate Indigenous Australians and progressives, and know that opposing this change will hurt and frustrate them.
Turnbull also knows this stance will be popular with the extreme Right in the Coalition, such as Peter Dutton and Barnaby Joyce, and hopes this will help stay the guillotine above his neck a little while longer.
So much for “uniting Australia” — divide and conquer is the Liberal way. It takes a pretty special leader to use the national day to drive a deeper wedge into the nation in an effort to bolster his languishing political fortunes....
A free country debates its history, it does not deny it.— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) January 15, 2018
Australia Day is Australia's day - a day when we come together and celebrate our nation and all of its history. pic.twitter.com/8EUepygqE8