As outlined in Minister Stephen-Smith’s recent article, there is a proposal before the ACT Legislative Assembly to introduce a public holiday in May each year to recognise reconciliation with the first Australians. Dubbed ‘Reconciliation Day’, it will be held at the end of May each year, close to the date of Australia’s referendum in 1967 and at the start of Reconciliation Week. It is proposed that this holiday will replace the family and community day which is held at the end of September and commence from 2018.
This idea was first muted by former ACT Labor MLA Indigenous member, Dr Chris Bourke, and is a way to progress our reconciliation journey. It seems to me a practical way to increase awareness and understanding of Australia’s history of race relations, provides an opportunity to learn more about our challenging past and enables time and space for all of us to engage in reconciliation activities.
While it’s a good step, it is only a small one and doesn’t negate the need for us as a community to reflect deeply on what to do about Australia Day and the problems with its current date. This was again highlighted last week, as we saw the announcement of Canberra’s Reconciliation Day coincide with Yarra Council’s announcement that it will make significant changes to the way it deals with Australia Day, recognising that for many in the Aboriginal community 26 January is a day of sadness, trauma and mourning – a move that triggered a sharp rebuke from members of the Government.
While there are so many bigger issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, I am one of an increasing number of people who feel deep unease that our national holiday celebrating our identity falls on a date that is acknowledged to be the beginning of dispossession of the first Australians. While the Prime Minister asserts that Australia Day celebrates values of a fair go, mateship and diversity, how we can in all seriousness say that it is ok that the date chosen for this celebration remembers a day where a colonising nation arrived in Australia, claimed the land for themselves, choosing not to even recognise the humanity of the original inhabitants and triggering tragic and catastrophic consequences for these communities – the impacts of which are still being felt today by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia.
There has been little community discussion about the idea for Reconciliation Day, but I believe we are a community who understand the need to confront our past and work to create a better future for all members of our citizens, and as such will support this move. It also provides a catalyst to generate an important conversation about Australia Day and how we wish to deal with this issue in our community. I believe that we can work together to a date that is inclusive, respectful and truly reflective of the things that make this country a wonderful place to call home.
I think the Reconciliation Day Public Holiday is a great idea but we need to go further in our reconciliation journey and change the date of Australia Day. What do you think?
Rebecca is a member of the ACT Greens and ran as a candidate in the 2016 Territory Election. The ACT Greens support changing the date of Australia Day.