Madonna King: Our community remains divided on Australia Day, and our government is absent

Photo: Getty

And just like that, Australia Day has been cancelled.

For a moment, forget whether it is Australia Day or Invasion Day.

Forget the long history of celebrating January 26 with a barbecue, a cold beer and a thong-throwing competition.

Forget even, for a moment, the heartache it brings for others, particularly our First Nations people.

Our community is divided, and that division is splitting customers and sports fans, politicians and immigrants; there is no unanimous view on Australia Day.

But what shouldn’t be missed here is how we, like a bunch of teens cancelling friends on Instagram, have just mothballed it.

Australia Day in 2023 has simply been scrapped. Called off. Annulled. Revoked. Retracted.

And by next year, it might never even have happened at all.

Move it or mothball it?

The problem with that is while the rationale behind moving it or muting it might be compelling, it has been done in a tawdry way that makes it hard for many to move forward.

And it lets our politicians off the hook.

Immigrants, and indeed some who upended their lives to move to Australia decades ago, still celebrate January 26 – when official citizenship ceremonies have regularly been held – with a pie, zinc-creamed noses and an Akubra hat to shun the strong Australian sun.

This year, some of them will be eating indoors, worried that their neighbours will spot them on their return from an Invasion Day rally.

For many immigrants, Australia Day is an opportunity to celebrate citizenship of their chosen nation. Photo: Getty 

In the absence of genuine national debate, it has been left to non-politicians to make the decision about how Australia Day will play out.

At the Australian Open, the day will not be recognised with no official celebrations planned. And while Cricket Australia won’t refer to Australia Day, its decision to play a match has met with strong criticism both on and off the field.

Away from sport, the push to park Australia Day in history is strong. Local councils – including the City of Sydney – won’t hold citizenship ceremonies, with many more to follow that lead next year.

At a state level, traditional celebrations have been cancelled. In Queensland, for example, an Invasion Day rally has received the focus. Victoria’s Australia Day parade has slipped off the agenda, too.

At big supermarkets, the traditional bunting – balloons and flags and streamers – lies gathering dust in the storeroom, and employees are being given the discretion of switching days off.

Is there still a place for the traditional Australia Day paraphernalia? Photo: Getty

And the custom of tuning into Triple J’s Hottest 100, while the lamb cooked on the barbecue, has been well and truly roasted.

Indeed, sales of lamb at some butchers has also been capped.

It has been left to business and community organisations to steer debate, and much of that has been done in response to their consumer base.

“Where would I buy an Australian flag?’’ I asked at my local supermarket yesterday.

“Not here,’’ the employee responded. “Apparently it’s become political.’’

So what’s the consequence of this textbook adoption of cancel culture?

The loud voices win, and those with quieter opinions are not heard. No genuine debate is held. And the risk of division grows.

Government absent in debate

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has missed a real opportunity here to lead and unite the nation.

This could have been the impetus for a broad debate that requires nuance and respect and leadership. Instead, he has squibbed it.

Should we abolish Australia Day? Should we change the date? What would be a more appropriate celebration of being Australian?

Australia Day for some, Invasion Day for others. Photo: Getty

The government’s answers mirror a plate of scrambled eggs.

The government has no plans to change the date. It supports local councils holding citizenship ceremonies on other days. And it was ‘fine’ for workers to front up on Australia Day and navigate another day off.

So what does the Prime Minister really think? Is it Australia Day or Invasion Day? Should those who, in past years, swore allegiance on January 26 pack the pies away? Or join their neighbours in drunken renditions of Advance Australia Fair?

And if Albanese and his government can’t manage that debate, what are our chances of bringing the nation together and recognising First Nations people in the Constitution?

It’s something to consider whether you’re turning the lamb on the barbie, or screaming support at an Invasion Day rally.

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