Flat White

Why January 26 should be celebrated

26 January 2018

3:41 PM

26 January 2018

3:41 PM

Underlying the campaign to change the date of Australia Day is a barely-concealed hostility to the very existence of Australia as a modern western nation.

If you don’t believe January 26 is a milestone worth celebrating, you are really saying that the arrival of British settlers on that date, and the subsequent creation of modern Australia, is something to be regretted.

This hostility was on full display last week when the Greens leader declared Australia Day “a day that represents the beginning of an ongoing genocide.”

This is an extraordinary position for any Australian to hold, let alone the leader of a political party. It also displays a stunning complacency about how lucky we are to live in such a great country.

According to Di Natale, there’s no reason not to change the date of Australia Day: “We’ll continue to celebrate Australian music, we’ll continue to celebrate all the things that we do, have our barbecues, have our games of beach cricket, but we’ll be able to do it in a way that brings the country together.”

But January 26 wasn’t chosen as Australia Day because of the good weather. It wasn’t picked because it’s suitable for beach cricket and barbecues. Nor did the choice have anything to do with Australian music. January 26 is Australia Day because it marks the birth of our nation.

No one denies that indigenous communities have inhabited our island-continent for thousands of years prior to 1788. They have one of the world’s oldest cultures, which should be celebrated. But it was only with the arrival of the first fleet – and the introduction of a set of cultural and legal institutions with their own storied history – that modern Australia was born.

Without British settlement, Australia would never have inherited the institutions of parliamentary democracy and the common law. We would never have inherited the unique combination of ancient Greek philosophy and Judeo-Christian religious traditions, which were forged and refined in the fires of the enlightenment to produce the core elements of western civilisation.

It is these institutions, and this cultural tradition, that has provided the foundation of modern Australia; enabling it to become one of the freest, most prosperous, and harmonious pluralistic societies that has ever existed. It’s why people from around the world have flocked to our shores for generations.

This is why January 26 should be celebrated. It is the genesis of our modern, diverse immigrant society.

There is no debate that indigenous Australians have often been horribly mistreated throughout Australian history. Denying this truth would be morally wrong. But we can acknowledge our imperfect history while also appreciating that it compares favourably to any other nation on earth. And we don’t need to ditch the anniversary of our foundational day to do so. Americans still celebrate their Independence Day on July 4 despite their nation’s own shortcomings in history.

By focusing on these harms at the exclusion of the overwhelming number of things that make Australia a great country, the advocates for changing the date betray their true feelings about the birth of modern Australia – that it was a historical wrong that should never have occurred. By implication, they are arguing that modern Australia should not exist.

The benefits that have come from the settlement of Australia far outweigh the injustices that have been committed.

On top of this implicit hostility to the British settlement of Australia is the lie that changing the date of Australia Day will improve the circumstances of indigenous Australians.

This claim has been powerfully refuted by Alice Springs town councillor Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, who aptly declared that the Change the Date campaign “isn’t going to make any significant impact whatsoever on the ground for the most marginalised… It’s a complete copout and a pretend way to act like you actually care for Aboriginal people.”

She continued: “If people actually chose to march the streets in the numbers that they do for changing the date but for the victims of family violence towards Aboriginal women and children, we might get around to solving those issues and doing it together.”

January 26 is Australia Day because it marks the birth of Australia as a modern western nation. Not everything about Australia’s history is worth celebrating. But January 26 is the genesis of all the good things, as well as the bad. And the moral ledger is overwhelmingly in the positive.

The only reason to change the date is if you think the European settlement of Australia is not worth celebrating. And if you believe that then you don’t really believe in Australia.

James Paterson is a Liberal Senator for Victoria

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