Change the Date: Facilitating A Respectful Conversation


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Just change the date. That’s the thought running through my mind as I race towards the end of this working week to ‘enjoy’ a public holiday on Friday. We're conscious too that Global Community Engagement Day falls just two days after Australia Day - it would seem strange not to open up a discussion on one of the most important conversations our nation needs to hold?

As a community engagement professional, it strikes me as unbelievable that our federal government is incapable of a mature conversation about January 26, Australia Day and what it means to Australians. Let us help you Malcolm! We could design a cracker process ;-)

Yarra City Council's Mayor Daniel Nguyen discusses the decision to change the way Yarra City Council recognises January 26.

When federal governments fail, local government often steps up to the mark and I can say with great pride that Yarra City Council – the organisation I’ve worked for for the past 10 years is taking a lead in this conversation.

It wouldn’t feel right to me to write a blog about #changethedate without putting an Indigenous voice first. But as an experienced Engage 2 Act member rightly pointed out to me, there is a good chance Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advocates and activists are feeling just a bit over it. And maybe asking someone to contribute to a blog could add to the emotions they already feel this week.

That’s where Jack Latimore comes in. Jack is a writer and an academic and a friend of my sister Elly and my brother-in-law Mitch. When I asked how to reference him he said: Just go: Jack Latimore, Daily Editor, IndigenousX. I know he’s a lot more than that, so as well as a passionate and opinionated person I think he’s pretty humble.

My question to the Engage 2 Act collective is, what can we do in our professional roles to facilitate respectful conversations about reconciliation and a voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people? Over to Jack to provide his perspective and provoke some thinking for us…

By now, with a few days to go to January 26, everybody should be aware that Invasion Day 2018 is the 30th anniversary of the 1988 March for Freedom, Hope & Justice – a rally of 40,000 supporters that marched the streets of Sydney as that city celebrated the bicentennial anniversary of the arrival of the British First Fleet; and the 80th anniversary of the Day of Mourning march organised to contest Australia’s sesquicentenary in 1938.

It's fair to say that these anniversaries provide a pretty clear indication that the date of January 26, and the concept of Australia Day celebrations have always been contested ground. Never a day of unity. For white Australia to argue otherwise is a staggering display of historical and cultural erasure. For the Prime Minister to assert otherwise is a bold exhibition of selective amnesia, and yet another risible example of the hypocrisy that bloats his administration.

Last year, his libertarian-led office – one that eschews “big government” – punitively stripped three Melbourne local councils of the ability to hold citizenship ceremonies after they voted to shift the emphasis of their celebration of nationhood away from the demonstrably insensitive date of January 26. Then there was the “soft” pressure applied to the ABC to have the Triple J “Hottest 100” decision reversed. It fell short, and without doubt that loss has contributed to the incentive behind this week’s big show to brace the construction of January 26 as Australia Day.

Everything about the PM’s video response last week was carefully calculated too. From the audience demographic it sought via social media, to the likely impact of the dog-whistling contained within the rhetoric of the message. Gone is the era that necessitated the kind of race-baiting subtleties that former PM Howard observed in the run-up to the 2005 Cronulla riots. In our current decade, a far more brazen-faced approach appears to be entirely acceptable. Turnbull’s ministers in Dutton and O’Dwyer already ran that flag up the pole with their contemptible fear-mongering over African gangs. And already we’ve seen an indication of the social impact of their political opportunism in the video footage released early last week by Dave F Anei, and in the death and gang rape threats made over the past weekend against Aboriginal MP Lidia Thorpe for daring to be outspoken on the issue of Australia Day celebrations. 

I've written elsewhere about how #ChangeTheDate has no end-point in terms of result, that the change is already underway and its momentum successfully shifting how people consider the white construction of Australia Day. This year there’s a push among radical Black activists and their allies to not even bother with #ChangingTheDate, but abolish Australia Day altogether. This position continues the 1938 Day of Mourning thinking. I like the rationale, but consider myself more of a moderate. Every new nation – and Australia is very much one of those – needs a device like a designated national day. I just happen to think the current one needs to be stripped-down and reassembled with more consideration and respect for others. This involves white Australia voluntarily surrendering and discarding large swathes of their constructed history and instead promoting alternate aspects of Australia that we as a people should be prouder of, or even just more aware of. This is crucial if the commonwealth truely wants to be reconciled. The reluctance to do so provides a critical insight into the kind of nationhood white Australia prefers.

Thanks to Jack Latimore, PhD Candidate and Journalist for being a guest blogger for us. You can follow Jack on Twitter at @LatimoreJack.