Australia Day Celebrations – Private Members Statement (21 September 2017)

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Australia Day Celebrations – Private Members Statement (21 September 2017)

I inform the House of concerns raised by my constituents on a move by some local councils, including neighbouring councils, to cancel official Australia Day celebrations.

The date 26 January is an important day for every Australian. It is about more than just the landing of the First Fleet or the raising of the flag at Sydney Cove.

Australia Day is a recognition of all that makes this country great. It is a celebration of our history and our heritage, our freedom and our future. It is a day when we proudly welcome new citizens to be part of the unfolding Australian story.

However, there are disturbing signs that a minority of activists are now using our national day to divide our nation. Three local councils—Yarra, Darebin and Moreland—have decided to cancel celebrations, scrap citizenship ceremonies and remove any notion of Australia Day from their local communities.

They have based this on the premise that celebrating Australia Day is offensive to Indigenous Australians and we should be more inclusive by moving it to another day.

The current plight of our First Peoples in this country should be a source of continued national shame. On nearly every social indicator—health and education to levels of incarceration—many Indigenous communities are trapped in a seemingly inescapable cycle of dysfunction and despair.

Like many Australians, I have witnessed these conditions firsthand. I have met with people and communities who feel the pain of their current circumstances. But I can assure members that dividing the nation by cancelling Australia Day will not make one iota of practical difference to these communities. It will not serve to educate one further Indigenous child, save one family from poverty or rescue one community from despair.

What is needed is positive action—action that is inclusive, not divisive. Being inclusive does not mean we erase one part of our history to promote another.

Being inclusive means we celebrate everything that makes us who we are. As Stan Grant has recognised, our country has three distinct histories that have shaped our nation—our Indigenous heritage, the British legacy and the richness of our migrant story.

Australia is unique precisely because of the way these different traditions have blended and enriched each other I believe we should continue to proudly celebrate Australia Day on 26 January because it is an important marker of our western heritage that has been instrumental in forming this country. Over past generations, we have seen our nation take steps to address our past and include our Indigenous communities in our nation’s progress.

I believe it is now time to take the next step to celebrate our Indigenous heritage. We have an opportunity to grow as a nation by sharing more fully in the history and heritage of our Indigenous brothers and sisters, to acknowledge the sorrows but also share in the richness of a culture that has graced these shores for tens of thousands of years.

A new national day to celebrate the Indigenous story would bring our nation together. I echo the calls by Federal Labor member Linda Burney that we should have a second national holiday to recognise and celebrate Indigenous culture and heritage, and its contribution to our national identity. That is what being inclusive means—bringing people together to celebrate the good, not dividing our nation into warring camps.

It is instructive that all the councils banning Australia Day have come from the inner city. They are councils dominated by The Greens and the Socialist Alliance, which are in no way representative of mainstream Australia or the real Indigenous communities they claim to speak for. They are turning what should be a time of unity into a time of conflict. They are practising politics of division, pitting Australian against Australian, where everyone ends up losing.

I regret to say it has been brought to my attention that the Labor Mayor of Blue Mountains City Council, which neighbours the electorate of Hawkesbury, has recently rejected a motion to affirm Australia Day as 26 January.

What started with The Greens is now moving into the Labor Party. As we have seen so often, where The Greens are today Labor will be tomorrow. That is why it is time for the New South Wales Labor Party to come clean and to be honest with the community about where it really stands.

I call upon the Opposition to condemn Labor councillors in New South Wales and elsewhere who are threatening to undermine our national day. I call upon the Opposition to affirm its support for Australia Day, our national heritage and our national story in a spirit of solidarity with the whole Australian community. I call upon the Opposition to help bring people together rather than driving them apart.

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