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Australia Day controversy: Why people are calling for the date to be changed

January 26 is fast becoming a day that divides, rather than unites our country. So here's why some people want Australia Day moved to a different date.
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Since 1946, Australia Day has been celebrated on January 26th.

Like most years, Aussies will spend that precious day off work, eating and drinking too much with friends in the sunshine but every year the “Change The Date” discussion arises.

So why do people want the date to change? And what date do they think it should be instead?

Here’s everything you need to know about the momentous change that Australia is facing – so that you can make up your own mind about this important occasion.

Why is Australia Day currently held on January 26th?

January 26 marks the anniversary of the day Britain officially colonised Australia in 1788.

It marks the arrival of the First Fleet, a convoy of 11 ships carrying convicts at Port Jackson, New South Wales, and the raising of the Flag of Great Britain at Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip.

In 1818, on the 30th anniversary of the founding of the colony, the Governor of New South Wales gave all government employees a holiday.

This day was initially called Foundation Day and in 1838, 50 years after the First Fleet arrived, Foundation Day was declared Australia’s First Public Holiday in NSW.

By 1935, January 26 was known as Australia Day in all states except New South Wales, but in 1994, the entire country enjoyed a public holiday on this day.

Australia Day is quickly becoming a divisive date on the calendar.

(Image: Getty)

Why do some people want the date changed?

Prior to this day, Australia’s indigenous population had been living without intervention for at least 65,000 years.

Indigenous Australians, often referred to as “First Australians” or “First Nations”, instead describe Australia Day as “Invasion Day”, because January 26 marks the date their culture was “destroyed by white people”.

The arrival of British people on Australian soil dramatically reduced the native Indigenous population, thanks to mass killings, the loss of traditional lands, food sources, and the spread of diseases such as smallpox.

Indigenous Australians are often treated like second class citizens, even in modern day Australia. They have significantly worse health outcomes, have a lower life expectancy and a greater chance of incarceration.

Those in favour of changing the date believe it is disrespectful to Indigenous Australians to celebrate the decline of their people and what they perceive as the disruption and destruction of their culture.

Many Indigenous Australians refer to Australia Day as “Invasion Day”.

(Image: Getty)

Not everyone wants the date to be changed

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is one of the high profile Australians who have come out in defence of the current date.

“We don’t have to pull Australia Day down to actually recognise the achievements of indigenous Australia, the oldest living culture in the world; the two can coexist,” Mr Morrison told Channel 7.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott penned a long opinion piece in The Australian explaining why he wants to keep the date as January 26.

“Sure, not everything’s perfect in contemporary Australia; and it’s possible that Aboriginal life could have continued for some time without modernity bursting upon it, had governor Arthur Phillip not raised the Union flag and toasted the king on January 26, 1788, but it’s hard to imagine a better Australia in the absence of the Western civilisation that began here from that date,” Mr Abbott wrote.

“We could all make a list of the things that should be better … let’s grow up and treat Australia Day as a good time to reflect on how far we’ve come as a country and, for those in public life, how far we’ve yet to go,” he wrote.

“There are 364 other days of the year when we can wear a black armband and strive to overcome our national failures.”

WATCH: Karl Stefanovic on the Australia Day “Change The Date” movement

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But what do regular Aussies want?

According to a 2017 survey by The Guardian, 26 per cent of Australians support changing the date from Janary 26, while 54 per cent oppose changing it, including 38 per cent of people who are “strongly opposed” to any change.

And the majority of Australians – about 70 per cent – believe everyone can celebrate Australia Day on Jan 26, while 18 believe everyone cannot.

In 2004, a Newspoll survey that asked if the date of Australia Day should be moved to one that is not associated with European settlement found 79 per cent of respondents favoured no change, 15 per cent favoured change, and 6 per cent were uncommitted.

A poll from The Australia Institute revealed that only 38 per cent of respondents could correctly identify the events of the 26th as the First Fleet landing at Sydney Cove.

Ebony Bennett, Deputy Director of The Australia Institute, said this could be the reason more than half of us don’t mind the day we celebrate Australia.

“When asked to choose which date Australia Day should be celebrated on, less than a quarter (23 per cent) chose the current date from a range of options,” she said.

“Half (49 per cent) agreed that Australia Day should not be on a day that is offensive to Indigenous Australians, while 36% disagreed. However, only 37 per cent greed that the current date of Australia Day is offensive to Indigenous Australians, while 46% disagreed.”

What do you think? Do Indigenous Australians deserve to have this day left alone?

(Image: Getty)

What are some of the alternative dates being discussed?

January 1

Australian historyian and writer Dr Aron Paul believes this is the best date, because it’s the day all of our states and territories united to form the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901.

“The founding document — a piece of paper signed by the hand of Queen Victoria — sits as evidence of this fact in the federal parliament. To pretend otherwise is to deny history,” he wrote in an op-ed for The ABC.

“The Commonwealth is still not perfect, but on that New Year’s Day, Australians joined their destinies together.”

Others disagree with Dr Paul’s view, because New Year’s Day is already a public holiday – also one when many of us are extremely hungover from the previous evening’s festivities!

January 27th or 28th

Many believe this is the most convenient date, because it’s still in January, therefore creating the least fuss without missing out on the beautiful summer weather.

In 2018, popular youth radio station Triple J moved the date of its popular Hottest 100 countdown from January 26th to the fourth Saturday in January.

May 8

Many on social media believe this is a great day because of its connection to our favourite Aussie slang word mate – which is often abbreviated to “M8”.

May 27

This date marks the start of National Reconciliation Week. On this day in 1967, Australia held a national referendum to include Indigenous Australians in the census.

Almost 91 per cent of Australians voted Yes and the vote was considered a huge victory for Indigenous rights in this country.

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