Where leaders stand on divisive issue

 

Many of Australia's leaders are reluctant to state a position on changing the date of Australia Day away from January 26.

News.com.au asked the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader and the leaders of every state and territory whether they supported changing the date of Australia Day.

Debate over whether the date should be changed has grown over the past few years, with some saying it should be moved away from January 26 out of respect for Australia's Indigenous community, as many see the date as "Invasion Day" and not something to celebrate.

A news.com.au online poll of 15,800 voters, found 73 per cent still wanted to keep Australia Day on January 26 but public views are slowly shifting, especially among young people.

A poll of 1000 people conducted by Essential Media has shown a decline in people celebrating Australia Day this year, with just 29 per cent saying they would do something to mark the day, down from 40 per cent in 2019.

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently criticised Cricket Australia's decision to remove references to Australia Day while promoting Big Bash League games, referring to "January 26" games instead after consultation with Indigenous leaders.

"A bit more focus on cricket, a little less focus on politics would be my message to Cricket Australia," he told Queensland's 4RO Radio on Thursday.

"I think that's pretty ordinary."

The Big Bash League will remove references to Australia Day. Picture: Gary Day/AAP
The Big Bash League will remove references to Australia Day. Picture: Gary Day/AAP

Mr Morrison later said Australia Day was "all about acknowledging how far we've come".

"When those 12 ships turned up in Sydney, all those years ago, it wasn't a particularly flash day for the people on those vessels either," he told reporters last week.

"What that day … demonstrates is how far we've come as a country and I think that's why it's important to mark it in that way."

The Prime Minister previously ruled out changing the date of Australia Day and wrote an opinion piece in 2019 setting out his views.

"Australia Day is the day we come together. It's the day we celebrate all Australians, all their stories, all their journeys. And we do this on January 26 because this is the day that Australia changed - forever - and set us on the course of the modern Australia we are today," Mr Morrison wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald.

However, independent MP Zali Steggall has called for Australians to observe a minute's silence on Australia Day.

She said many Australians, regardless of their heritage, would appreciate the opportunity to acknowledge "loss and sorrow" as they did on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day.

But Multicultural Minister Alex Hawke lashed the proposal, accusing Ms Steggall of "perpetuating divisions" between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Thousands attended the Invasion Day march in Melbourne last year. Picture: David Geraghty/The Australian.
Thousands attended the Invasion Day march in Melbourne last year. Picture: David Geraghty/The Australian.

When asked his views, Labor leader Anthony Albanese's office pointed news.com.au to comments made by Labor's spokeswoman on Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney that January 26 would remain Australia Day for the foreseeable future.

"While we cannot change the date, we can change the way we observe it," she said.

"It shouldn't be about jingoism. Part of the day should be spent in quiet reflection, embracing the truth and whole history of Australia.

"I urge all Australians to take pride in celebrating the 60,000-year history that we have of human occupation and civilisation."

Other state and territory leaders were also reluctant to back a change, although one leader noted there could be change in the future if one significant event happened. Here is what they said:

QUEENSLAND

"As the Premier has said in recent years, there's no need to change the date," a spokesperson for Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

"As long as we acknowledge and recognise the past, Australia Day is a day to celebrate our nation and what it means to be Australian."

TASMANIA

"The Tasmanian Government respects the wide range of views on this issue," a Tasmanian Government spokesperson said.

"Importantly, this is about a national day, not a state day, and therefore needs to be a national conversation that is facilitated by the Commonwealth."

Less people are choosing to celebrate Australia Day, instead seeing it as simply a public holiday. Picture: Mike Batterham
Less people are choosing to celebrate Australia Day, instead seeing it as simply a public holiday. Picture: Mike Batterham


ACT

Chief Minister Andrew Barr suggested there could be a new date for Australia Day once the country becomes a republic.

"As a supporter of an Australian Republic, I would support a new national day for Australia being celebrated annually on the day we become a Republic," he said.

VICTORIA

Premier Daniel Andrews' office did not respond despite numerous calls and emails.

NORTHERN TERRITORY

Chief Minister Michael Gunner said January 26 forced Australia as a nation to have a conversation about what Australia Day means to everyone.

"I don't think changing the date is likely to happen, and so I would rather focus on changing the meaning of the day," he said.

"For me, Australia Day is about acknowledging the entire story of our nation. We can use the day to celebrate Australia, celebrate the contribution of our First Australians, and properly acknowledge the tragedies of the past.

"It's not beyond us as a nation to come together on Australia Day. To do that, we need to be honest about all of our history - the good and the bad."

NSW

Gladys Berejiklian's office declined to comment but the NSW Premier today defended January 26 as the date Australia Day should be celebrated.

"It's not so much the date that everyone appreciates, it's celebrating our national day, celebrating a time when we all look to each other and realise the values that allow us, perhaps unlike any other country on the planet to be as strong and resilient as we are," Ms Berejiklian told reporters.

But when asked a direct question whether the national day should be moved, Ms Berejiklian said no.

"I don't think we should. What I'm trying to say is the values that bring us all together, it's the feeling of pride, the equality of opportunity, a fair go … That's what all of us should focus on."

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Premier Steven Marshall's office did not respond despite numerous calls and emails.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

When asked whether it was time to change the date, Premier Mark McGowan told reporters on Friday: "it's not one of my priorities at this point in time, we're dealing with the pandemic, we're ensuring that we keep the state safe and strong".

He added, "but I'll let Cricket Australia make their own decisions".


Originally published as Where leaders stand on divisive issue


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