Did you take today off or choose to enjoy your holiday at a later date?
Most of us would not even be aware that this was a possibility, but Commonwealth public servants can at present do this, and apparently, a few do, mainly for cultural reasons.
But the Federal Government moved to close off this option in future work deals just before the election was called, at least for days that it considers to be of national significance – Australia Day, Anzac Day and the Queen’s Birthday, all of which have a degree of contention about them.
When Public Service Minister Ben Morton was asked for the thinking behind the change, the politically charged response from Coalition Campaign Headquarters ran the flag up the pole and saluted.
It read like something out of the 50s, more or less labelling those who might have an issue with the date of Australia Day, such as First Nations people, with the way Anzac Day is commemorated and the mythology around it is promoted, and of course republicans, as un-Australian.
“Our national days are incredibly important and should be recognised appropriately,” the statement said. “It’s appropriate and right that APS agencies recognise our national days.”
Australia Day was a time for coming together to reflect, respect and celebrate the best of our nation, despite a portion of the nation understandably finding it hard to join the party.
Anzac Day was a day of reflection that all Australians recognise and honour, presuming that everybody falls into line when it comes to the country’s military history.
The Queen’s Birthday recognises the monarch’s role in “our proud democracy” and was a mark of respect to Her Majesty’s life of public service, ignoring the sizable republican sentiment among Australians, muted these days though that may be.
There was no evidence, data or reference to tidying up an area of entitlements that may not make much sense to most people outside the public service.
Indeed, other holidays such as Easter and Christmas will still be able to be substituted, presumably by staff from different cultural backgrounds.
The Minister’s move came out of the blue for the public servants union, which is still assessing just what it means.
But it seems clear that the Coalition has reverted to singling out those it disagrees with and wielding yet another wedge at the Labor Opposition which, in its current state, is unlikely to challenge the move.
The Coalition argues that the days are unifying times for the nation but, in the process, seeks to cleave off those who do not conform to its particular worldview.
The democracy it is so proud of should be able to tolerate and foster a range of views and differences and not be reduced to a narrow spectrum that allows little room for dissent.
These days can bring us together but not always all of us, and that’s OK. I doubt many of us toast the Queen on her official holiday.
But the fact is few public servants would have exercised these rights, and many would not see sense in them.
And who wants to lose a public holiday?
So why make the effort on the eve of an election?
Possibly, just to pick a fight and drape the APS in the flag as part of the seemingly never-ending culture wars the Coalition indulges in from time to time when its fortunes are low.
For a government that purports to believe in individual liberty, it spends an awful lot of energy telling people what to do and think.
Whether or not public servants deserve to have these entitlements is one for the IR experts, but the Coalition’s tip to base nationalism is disappointing.