The Australia Day debate refuses to go away and each year the furore over the date seems to get louder and attract more support from influential voices.
The latest to speak his mind is former Victorian premier and beyondblue founder Jeff Kennett. He believes that retaining 26 January will “forever put a white line between us and our first peoples”.
“We came here to settle, we formed a colony … as we spread that colony, we dispossessed the First People,” he told The Australian.
“For many in the community, (26 January) represents the day they were dispossessed and brutalised. I agree with them.”
Mr Kennett’s views come as Prime Minister Scott Morrison was savaged by critics after announcing $6.7 million in funding for a replica of Captain Cook’s ship, Endeavour, to circumnavigate Australia.
“That’ll be great for tourism and it will also be a great opportunity just to talk about our history – the view from the shore, the view from the ship – and very much understanding those two stories,” Mr Morrison said.
Australia Day, 26 January, marks the arrival of the First Fleet at Port Jackson in Sydney in 1788 and has been a public holiday since 1935. Unlike the Anzac Day public holiday, which is always on 25 April, the Australia Day holiday is the following Monday – another bone of contention for Mr Kennett.
“If Australia Day is going to mean anything, whatever day, there shouldn’t be a day in lieu, which indicates to me we’re not serious.” he said.
Mr Kennett said he had changed his mind about the significance of Australia Day after spending time at The Torch, an organisation that aims to reduce the rate of reoffending by indigenous Australians.
“For some time now, I have been increasingly worried that we do not do enough in this country to recognise our first people,” he said. “They are important, they are special and they should be recognised as such.”
Mt Kennett’s suggestion for a new date is 1 January.
“It is a day on which everyone can celebrate, no one is disadvantaged,” he said. “We can reflect on the past and be optimistic.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has ruled out changing the date for Australia Day if Labor succeeds at this year’s federal election and the Government is also sticking with 26 January, as well as insisting that councils hold citizenship ceremonies only on that date.
Mr Kennett is asking the majority of Australians who say they want to keep 26 January to show the same generosity they displayed in the same-sex marriage vote.
“I’m asking the 75 per cent of the Australian population, who is said to support Australia Day as 26 January, to understand the intellectual strength of my argument.” he said.
“And to recognise if we continue to support that date, we will forever put a white line between us and our first peoples.”
Others suggestions for alternative dates include 27 May – the day in 1967 when a referendum overwhelmingly voted to include Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the census; the third Monday in February, because it has no links to anything, and any other date because, as a young girl wrote in a letter to the Government: “I think that Australia Day should be celebrated on a different day because it’s the day we stole Australia from the Aboriginal people. It’s a day for the Aboriginal people to feel sad and I don’t think that’s right. It’s like celebrating because we killed lots and lots of Aboriginal people.”
Are you convinced we should stick with 26 January or respect the calls from many indigenous Australians to change the date?