Madonna King: Prime Minister, it’s time to sort out this Australia Day mess

The Woolworths-Australia Day furore shows why Anthony Albanese must lead, writes Madonna King.

The Woolworths-Australia Day furore shows why Anthony Albanese must lead, writes Madonna King. Photo: Getty

Is Woolworths’ decision to dump Australia Day merchandise this year a woke decision that will draw the ire of customers?

Or is it a sensible call in a bid not to divide a nation that is struggling to find an appropriate day to acknowledge its history?

My view here is irrelevant; although, for the record, I fall into the latter camp.

But the utter lack of leadership that envelops January 26 – the day in 1788 that Arthur Phillip raised the British flag in Sydney Cove – is incomprehensible.

If Prime Minister Anthony Albanese believed the nation should fly the flag later this month, why wouldn’t he say that with conviction and passion?

And if he believes that we shouldn’t, because of the heartache it causes some Australians, then why won’t he say that, and open the batting on serious discussions for a new date?

Instead, the Prime Minister has taken a big step back on an issue he should not, and passed the buck to others like local councils, retailers, schools and communities to make that decision.

It’s a recipe for disaster, reeks of politics, and risks fuelling further the divisions that underpinned the results of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum.

That’s not leadership; it’s abandoning the office of Prime Minister, because the issue is too hard.

And a Prime Minister should not get to do that.

Australians eager for Australia Day merchandise will have fewer options this year. Photo: Getty

Although more than 80 local councils have announced they will not be holding citizenship ceremonies on January 26, it has been a tortuous decision for some – especially since the referendum’s resounding defeat.

And that, in turn, has created the wrath of some ratepayers, while others in the same community are lining up to join Invasion Day rallies.

Anthony Albanese backed the Voice. And he lost. So the position he finds himself in is politically tricky – he could pursue a new date, knowing this is what Indigenous Australians (and many others) want; or he could take the politically palatable route, and softly support it, from a distance.

He has chosen the latter, and that ignores the leadership this issue warrants. And his decision to take that option deserves a bigger backlash than a single retailer taking a few bucket hats off its shelves.

We need to make a decision here, and while we do that, clean up the rest of the public holidays that are celebrated now in different states on different days, like paint splattered on a lounge room wall.

Perhaps we should start in the UK, where British Royal Navy officer Arthur Phillip was born – and look at King Charles’ birthday.

He will blow out the candles on his 76th birthday on November 14 this year, yet most Australian states will sing Happy Birthday on the second Monday in June.

That’s except Western Australia and Queensland, which have dates in September and October.

Labour Day is another example, and is even called different things depending on where you live.

Some readers will know this as Eight Hours Day or May Day. In Western Australia, it is held in March. Victoria and Tasmania acknowledge it then too, except on different dates in March. Northern Territory and Queensland observe it on the first Monday in May, but the ACT, New South Wales and South Australia choose the first Monday in October.

Can’t we do anything together?

So let’s look at new options for Australia Day; a day that we should acknowledge, without the division that surrounds it now.

Anzac Day – the anniversary of when Australian and New Zealand soldiers landed at Gallipoli in 1915 as part of the Allies’ invasion – is not appropriate.

Melbourne Cup Day would draw the ire of that growing group who object to racing horses.

New Year’s Day is problematic too, because of where it sits, despite it being the anniversary of the birth of Federation.

What other day might work? Or should we pick one randomly? One cheeky suggestion is May 8 (say it quickly, and it sounds like Ma-ate).

But perhaps here the date is second to what Australia Day should represent: A day when the nation comes together to acknowledge and celebrate what we have in common, not what pulls us apart.

Prime Minister, over to you.

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