Choose another Australia Day?

Today we mark our national day of national celebration, Australia Day. There is certainly a lot to celebrate. We have a long history of stable, functional liberal democracy. We are peaceful, prosperous, and, as our anthem proclaims, “young and free”. As a nation we enjoy the type of ongoing progress that makes all our lives better – scientific, technological, social and political. However, this is also a difficult occasion to celebrate with untempered enthusiasm. For of course, it is the anniversary of British settlement – that is to say, the day the First Fleet arrived and forcefully took possession of this continent from its native people. Indigenous activists have every reason to prefer to call it “Invasion Day”, as it was indeed an armed invasion. Sadly, until very recently in our history, even this simple fact was not acknowledged; possession was claimed by the Crown neither by conquest nor a negotiated treaty, but the doctrine of Terra Nullius. Essentially, this was legal pretence that the land was uninhabited, that the previous owners simply did not exist. The forceful conquest together with the refusal to acknowledge it as such was a deep and tragic injustice, and its effects are still felt to this day in the ongoing dislocation and marginalisation suffered by Indigenous Australians.

The Future Party believes it is possible to acknowledge this vital truth of our nation’s history, without at all diminishing the wonderful things that were to eventually blossom in the society founded in Sydney Cove over 220 years ago. It is not a black armband view of history, just an honest one. Equally, we are a party of optimists, thankful for the blessings we have today and hopeful about what we can achieve tomorrow. We started a new political movement to focus, not on past misdeeds and wrongdoings, but on opportunities to make life better for every Australian. We would, therefore, like to see Australia Day moved to a new date, so that it can be an occasion for every one of us to joyfully celebrate what is great about this country, without reservation.

The obvious candidate would be the day our nation was formed – but unfortunately the Federation was signed on January 1st, already a public holiday of its own, and of course a day many currently spend in quiet contemplation of the previous year, or at least, the previous night. However there are other momentous points from our history that might be appropriate: for instance, what of May 27th, 1967, when four decades ago we voted overwhelmingly to change our Constitution and recognize Indigenous Australians as people and citizens of this country? This was a critical step in our journey toward true equality under the law for all, and of course a correction of some of the injustices that began 1788.

Perhaps most appropriate of all would be to mark the Australia Acts of 1986. The Acts were the final legal instrument severing the constitution and government of Australia from that of Great Britain, by separating our State Governors and our court system from any authority outside of Australia. While this may seem at first like a rather dry, dull event, there are many reasons to want to commemorate it as, in a very real sense, the true birth of modern, independent Australia.

It is a fact both wonderful and rare that when we became a nation in our own right, it was not by a violent rebellion against former rulers, or even at the stroke of a great power’s pen in the chaotic aftermath of a war, as happened in so many once colonial states. Rather, our nationhood was achieved peacefully over many decades, step by step in the ordinary course of the operation of our democracy. The Australia Acts were mutually agreed between and passed by the parliaments of both Australia and the United Kingdom, under the rule of law in the Westminster tradition.

This is the same rich legal heritage which does so much to protect the rights of every Australian – for instance, starting with the High Court’s celebrated Mabo decision, we finally began to acknowledge that as a matter of Australian common law, Terra Nullius had always been a wrong and a falsehood. There are several possible dates associated with the Acts which could serve as a new Australia Day: the passage on December 4th, or their proclamation on March 3rd. In any case, Australians could take the opportunity to remember that, thanks to the Acts, we really can all rejoice.

As a people we truly are free, under the sovereignty of our own parliaments and the supremacy of our own courts. And, indeed, we are young – as a nation, we are not yet thirty years old as measured from this new birthday. Yet we will still be drawing on British ideas and traditions that have reshaped the entire world; on tens of thousands of years of Indigenous cultural heritage; and of course on a great many other rich contributions from those who’ve come across the seas, to make a home for themselves in this Great Southern Land.