Australia Today Newsletter – January 2023 Update – Australia – No Privilege Of Origin
14 January 2023
By: John Roskam
I’m pleased to be sending you my monthly note updating you on the work of the Centre for the Australian Way of Life at the IPA. As you would have seen, it’s been a very busy time at the Centre.
January is Australia Day month. The dozens of print, television and radio interviews I and all the IPA team have done over the last four weeks on Australia Day – and more importantly on the importance of Australia Day on 26 January – is a testament to our hard work and your wonderful support, but also something else. These days the Institute of Public Affairs is basically the only place the media can go to if they want a comment from someone who will defend the meaning of Australia Day. (The same applies if the media wants a comment from someone sceptical about net zero – but that’s a topic for another time.)
Think about it. Can you think of anyone else? The Coalition’s support for Australia Day is half-hearted at best. Sure the Tasmanian Liberal Premier, Jeremy Rockliff who wants to move the date of Australia Day might be an outlier, but there hasn’t been a rollcall of senior Liberal and National MPs lining up to endorse the initiative of first-term Brisbane Liberal MP Henry Pike who wants to introduce legislation that would prevent Australia Day being abolished – either deliberately or by stealth (as is happening now). I’m happy to be corrected, but as far as I could find no Coalition MP has commented on it.
The point of Australia Day on 26 January is not just that poll after poll shows that the majority of Australians want to celebrate the day on that date. At the IPA, we first started our polling on attitudes to Australia Day five years ago because we could see what was coming. As IPA Executive Director Scott Hargreaves wrote to you last week, the significance of Australia Day lies in what it represents. The ‘debate’ about Australia Day is not about the date – it’s about what we think Australia is.
Changing the date of Australia Day won’t satisfy the critics of 26 January. The issue is not the date. If you argue as New South Wales Liberal senator Andrew Bragg wrote in The Australian last week that ‘over the past 250 years, Australia has maintained policies of dispossession, discrimination and, at times, the destruction of Indigenous people’ than perhaps no date in the calendar celebrating Australia could ever be appropriate. Bragg’s suggestion is that in addition to 26 January as Australia Day there should be a second national day before or after the 26th which is an ‘Indigenous Day’. While it’s a suggestion worth discussing there already exist important commemorations such as National Apology Day on 13 February, National Sorry Day on 26 May, Reconciliation Day which is a public holiday in the ACT as part of Reconciliation Week from 27 May to 3 June, National NAIDOC week in the first week of July, and the International Day of World’s Indigenous People on 9 August.
Former Labor staffer Cameron Milner wrote also in The Australian he believed Australia Day should be moved to 1 January because that was the day of the establishment of the Commonwealth government. ‘Our Constitution is sacrosanct. It will give power to the voice. Its birthday is a perfect day for patriots to celebrate our nationhood.’ This reveals just how muddle-headed so much of the discussion around Australia Day is. On the one hand Milner says ‘Our Constitution is sacrosanct’ but at the same time he supports enshrining in it racial difference through the Voice. And his claim ‘Australia cannot stand by and allow the international community to see us celebrate a day on which First Nations people were dispossessed of their land and their rights stolen’ doesn’t bear scrutiny. The suggestion the ‘international community’ should have a role in deciding Australia’s national day is ridiculous. More serious than this though is Milner’s misunderstanding of federation. I’d argue if there’s any date that definitely should not be Australia Day, it’s 1 January. There were many reasons why the colonies federated in 1901 but one was predominant. Federation was seen as a means of guaranteeing the White Australia policy. It’s as simple as that. If you think 26 January is not an appropriate national day for Australia there’s no way you can think 1 January is any better.
Bragg and Milner are at least contemplating alternatives. Former Labor minister Craig Emerson is not. In a piece in The Australian Financial Review a few days ago – ‘Why Australia Day will just die of old age’ he revealed the ambitions of the left. For him Australia Day should be ‘moved’ (but he doesn’t suggest to when), the flag and national anthem replaced, and the country become a republic. That’s a ‘culture war’ if ever there was one. What’s intriguing is Emerson’s justification for all of this. Supposedly all this should occur because Australia is a multicultural country.
With declining fertility of our citizenry, immigration is outpacing national increase as a source of population growth. In the years immediately before the COVID-19 pandemic, net overseas migration accounted for about 63 per cent of Australia’s population growth.
In the most recent Intergenerational Report, net overseas migration is projected to contribute a whooping 75 per cent of Australia’s population growth in 40 year’s time.
The two biggest countries for immigrants nowadays? China and India. And the fastest growing countries of birth between the 2016 and 2021 census periods were India, Nepal, the Philippines, Vietnam and China. Not many monarchists there.
All of this is exactly why it’s more important than ever to celebrate what we have in Australia and create a community. The reason millions of people from around the world have come to this country and continue to come is because we’re the product of the institutions and symbols and history that Emerson wants to get rid of. And Emerson supports the Voice. He doesn’t appear to appreciate, as so many Voice advocates don’t either, that separating Australians into different classes of citizens by changing the Constitution is not the way to engender the commitment of new Australians to their new country.
Bob Hawke got it right. Until I read Scott’s email to IPA members last week I wasn’t aware of the lines Hawke used at the Sydney Opera House on 26 January 1988 and I went and looked it up. It’s pretty good.
We begin these celebrations in no spirit of boastfulness or national self-glorification. This is a day of commemoration. Even more important, it is a day of commitment. Commemoration of the past commitment to the future. But, my fellow Australians, today I use the word ‘commitment’ in a special sense. For our commitment to Australia is, in a very real way the quality which best defines what it means to be an Australian in 1988…
Who is Australian? [Australians have] a commitment to Australia and its future. It is that common commitment which binds the Australian-born of the seventh or eighth generation and all those of their fellow-Australians born in any of the 130 countries from which our people are drawn.
In Australia, there is no hierarchy of descents. There must be no privilege of origin.
It’s true Hawke also supported a treaty between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians that cuts across everything he said on Australia Day in 1988. But still. ‘No hierarchy of descents’ and ‘no privilege of origin’ is a good rule of thumb for a liberal democracy to live by.
‘No hierarchy of descents’ and ‘no privilege of origin’ is part of what defines the Australian way of life. It’s a way of life worth defending.