Well done to the Hobart City Council for following Fremantle’s lead and having the courage to discuss changing the date of Australia Day. As it is both an emotive and controversial issue right now, it must have been tempting for councillors to steer clear of the inevitable controversy, but the right choice and the safe choice are not always the same.
As I said, many people will not agree with this decision. I myself only fully accepted this in the last 12 months (not that the date was important to me, I just didn't think changing the date would change anything- but like I said, I have realised that was a flawed argument) so I understand that others may be not quite ready to do the same. And that is why we need leadership from our elected representatives- exactly as Hobart City Council is showing- to keep pushing the conversation forward in a measured inclusive tone. A few years after we eventually do change the date (which I have little doubt we will do), a lot of people are going to realise they had nothing to fear from the change. That is the value of political leadership that can withstand what it recognises as temporary and ill-informed criticism (take not Malcolm Turnbull).
I have explained my arguments for changing the date of Australia Day in detail in a previous post so won’t elaborate here any further, other than to remind people that changing the date would cost nothing, either to our national identity or from a financial perspective, but it would make a significant positive difference to the land’s first peoples. And when looked at from that perspective, it is pretty hard to make a meaningful argument against such action.
But people will. It would have barely a minute from last night’s announcement before the frenzy of online criticism would have begun.
I have pretty much dealt with any arguments against the idea of changing the date in my previous article so I am going to concentrate today on those critics who instead of providing a counterargument as to why the date should not be changed, chose to criticise the council for getting involved at all.
I get that for some people who don’t see this as a pressing issue, they are over hearing about it. I do get that, but before you say, “I’m sick of hearing about this, let’s move on,” consider how sick of hearing about January 26, Indigenous Australians are. A sense of fatigue from hearing about an issue in no way changes the moral dimensions of the argument. It is either right or wrong, no matter how tired of hearing it you are. The longer a recalcitrant government fails to act, the longer this debate will continue so the blame for any fatigue is as much with those who fail to act as with those who continue to fight for change.
Others (many others I am sure) will say this is a federal issue and local council should focus on local issues, before criticising an unrelated aspect of the council’s performance (basically a thinly-disguised ad hominem argument). But as they are responsible, at the local level, for organising the celebration of our national day, how is it not the council’s business to ensure it is inclusive for its constituents? Moreover, resorting to this type of argument is pretty much an admission that there aren’t any valid arguments against the actual decision. The people that make these arguments do realise politicians can consider more than one motion or piece of legislation in a day right?
It will also be pointed out that Hobart City Council has only voted to begin a process that may result in changing the date, and whether anything actually comes of it is entirely another matter. I take this point, but I welcome the move nonetheless. In the similar example of Marriage Equality (another issue the government should act on immediately), all state parliaments and many local councils have passed motions in support of equality and while these motions have little legislative effect, they do add weight to the movement for change. As I see changing the date as highly probable, it is also nice for my city to be ahead of the curve.