15 September 2017

ACT to hold Australia’s first Reconciliation Day holiday next May

| Glynis Quinlan
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In a first for Australia, the ACT will hold a Reconciliation Day public holiday on May 28 next year.

The new public holiday will replace the current Family and Community Day, which will be held for the last time in the ACT on September 25 this year.

The introduction of a Reconciliation Day public holiday marks the first time in Australia that an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander focused public holiday has been established.

The move follows the passing of the Holidays (Reconciliation Day) Amendment Bill 2017 in the ACT Legislative Assembly yesterday with support from all parties.

ACT Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Rachel Stephen-Smith said that Reconciliation Day will be held each year on the first Monday on or after the 1967 Referendum anniversary date of 27 May, which marks the start of National Reconciliation Week.

“I look forward to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Canberrans and the wider community as we consider together the best way to celebrate the first Reconciliation Day in 2018,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“Canberrans should be proud to be part of a community where we can all come together to recognise and celebrate the important place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and history in our city and nation.”

Writing in The RiotACT last month, Ms Stephen-Smith said that National Reconciliation Week is bookended by significant milestones in the reconciliation journey.

“The 1967 referendum, the 50th anniversary of which we marked this year, saw more than 90 per cent of Australians vote to give the Commonwealth the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and recognise them in the national census,” Ms Stephen-Smith wrote.

“The end of reconciliation week, 3 June, commemorates the High Court of Australia’s landmark Mabo decision in 1992. This case paved the way for Native Title.”

Ms Stephen-Smith believes that reconciliation needs to be a conversation in Australian society that becomes normal and ongoing.

“Reconciliation won’t end with a single act or gesture, but each step on the journey is important. The establishment of Reconciliation Day is Canberra’s next step,” she stated.

“On Reconciliation Day, I hope we will celebrate what we have achieved as well as recognising what we still need to do.”

The new Reconciliation Day public holiday in the ACT has been welcomed by Reconciliation Australia, which also hopes it will lead to more discussion about the Australia Day public holiday on January 26.

“Celebrating reconciliation through a public holiday is to be applauded but it’s also important to think more about January 26,” said Reconciliation Australia co-chair, Professor Tom Calma.

“Now the ACT government has taken that move there’s potential to reconsider what January 26 means,” he said.

“At Reconciliation Australia we welcome discussion about that and welcome the community asking the big questions about what it is we’re celebrating.

“We’re particularly interested in making sure that whatever happens, this is about unification of Australia and not dividing us as a society. So having a conversation is very important at this stage.”

What do you think about having a new Reconciliation Day public holiday? Do you think the Australia Day public holiday on January 26 is divisive or should be left as it is? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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wildturkeycanoe9:14 am 18 Sep 17

Great idea, let’s pick a day that has an average temperature four degrees colder than the current Community and family day holiday. If it is to replace Australia Day, even worse idea. Too cold for getting away for a weekend of swimming or outdoor leisure, too soon to head up to the snow. Waste of a holiday. They could’ve put it in February, it is devoid of long weekends.
Few people are going to use it as a day of “reconciling” anyway, they will do something that they can’t do any normal weekend like visit family or friends interstate or just get away from the hustle and bustle. Actually, many won’t even get it off thanks to having no penalty rates and being casual, needing to work the holiday to make ends meet. This is sadly the way things are nowadays.

Reconciliation Day can be good for our country. It helps to celebrate our indigenous culture and is well placed on the calendar, between two significant dates for indigenous people. Hopefully, it can be an opportunity for our cultures to work together for healing some of the hurts from the past.
At the same time, we need to keep Australia Day on 26 Jan as advocated by Indigenous campaigner and Alice Springs counsellor Jacinta Price. Not all indigenous people want the date changed, as many already join in the Australia Day celebrations. It is possible to start the day by acknowledging the atrocities associated with Early Settlement then to celebrate the achievements of the First Fleet and this young nation.
We need to learn from the past, to build a more unified nation – celebrating our differences – for the future.

Surely we can identify an anniversary in the second half of the year.

I do not have a problem with a Reconciliation Day holiday, but please leave our January 26 Australia Day one.

Rightly or wrongly the Australia we have today is a direct result of that event. If it or something similar had not happened, then the chances of this continent spanning country existing are very remote.

Though obviously they have both evolved, our laws and political systems are direct descendants of the one we gained from the British.

New immigrants come to this country not just because of its rich natural resources but also because of the stable and tolerant society that is a direct consequence of that January 26 in 1788.

Of course there are elements of our past we should be ashamed of, and there are aspects of Indigenous culture we should applaud and adopt.

But to remove recognition of the First Fleet landings, and the monumental impact it has had is dishonest. Of all the dates we can identify, it is the is the one date that has had the most fundamental change and impact on this country.

What happened to Sorry Day which is usually the 26th May each year?

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