I think it is important to be able to reflect on our own thinking and be willing to change our minds. And when you share a lot of your opinions in a public forum such as this, you also need to be ready to openly admit when you might have been wrong about something (unless you're in politics where it seems acceptable to just avoid the question). Last year I published some thoughts about Australia Day. I am mostly happy with what I wrote, especially the point that you are not demonstrating a love for the country by expressing bilious hatred for those Australians you deem unworthy. Wearing the national flag and take no effort and as such is a poor illustration of patriotism (Pauline Hanson take note). If you want to show how much the country means to you, start by not being an inconsiderate or hateful jerk.
On the other hand I do feel my views around the date of Australia Day are shifting and I now disagree with some of what I wrote. As I said in last year’s article, I have no attachment to the date, January 26. It was neither the date the country was discovered (by aboriginals or Europeans) or founded. Having said that, last year I did not support calls for changing the date.
I felt this debate was something of a distraction from more pressing issues such as indigenous incarceration and mortality rates, as well as ongoing racism in Australian society. I said this with full sympathy and complete acceptance that European colonisation- or invasion- had catastrophic impact on Australia’s indigenous population. I am not sure there is anything that can be done to properly atone for the crimes committed in the past. For this reason I wrote that priority for effort should be to address extant challenges of the present. And with the increasingly strident efforts of a conservative groups to push the narrative that Anglo Saxon Australians are somehow the true victims of multiculturalism, you know that every concession or initiative made towards addressing issues such as indigenous health or education will be held up as an another example of how ‘Australian values’ are under threat from political correctness. For this reason I thought maybe aboriginal activists would be better served by saving their energy for fights that would have immediate impact on the welfare of indigenous Australians and not poke the angry white bear over more symbolic issues.
I’m a little embarrassed about writing that now as I was looking at that backwards. The fact that something costs political capital to a movement is hardly a good argument not to do it. If there is a good reason to do something, especially if it goes some way to righting a wrong, should we be dissuaded by the fact that it may be difficult politically? Indigenous Australians would argue there is certainly a reason, as the date, January 26, to them represents genocide and abuse. Whether or not you feel that Australia day represents something different to you or that the continued focus on the distant past is unhelpful, the argument that celebrations around this day are offensive to many indigenous Australians, and as such hinder our progress towards true reconciliation, is valid nonetheless.
Instead of telling indigenous Australians to ‘get over’ a brutal history at the hands of Europeans, something that everyone would ‘get over’ a whole lot more easily would be doing something as simple as changing the date. I started thinking, who would actually suffer if we did? Who is it insulting? It isn't taking anything away from other Australians, it is just making many of the first Australians more comfortable joining in our celebrations. Borrowing a phrase from a good friend of mine, you are not being oppressed when others are being treated with the same respect and sensitivity you always have. That’s equality.
Those who have fought vocally against the change may be a little uncomfortable having perhaps backed themselves into a corner with their choice of rhetoric, but that is the most anyone has to fear from a change of date. Being ‘on the wrong side of history,’ is not just a pithy catchphrase. It is a pretty powerful and accurate description of people advocating a course of action that in future years will be looked back on the same way we now look back on other outdated notions such as apartheid, slavery and tolerating domestic violence. I don’t like to think that I was on ever on that side, but in arguing that the positives of moving the date of Australia Day were outweighed by the negatives of upsetting conservative white Australia, perhaps I was toeing that line.
In any case, I was dead wrong. Changing the date is a no-brainer. It will mean a lot to many Australians and be another step towards reconciliation. At the same time it will not really hurt anyone anything more than a bit of embarrassment or anger at not getting their way. The debate will be another rallying point for the right wing extremist groups such as Reclaim Australia, but it can hardly make them more racist.
I am pretty confident that the date of Australia Day will be changed in the near future, over the protestations of the last diehards and I look forward to that day. As a society, we are maturing each year and, as with many issues of social justice, large sections of the community are leading the government.