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OPINION: Change Australia Day to reflect a diverse nation

There's probably no Member of Parliament in Western Australia who’s been around more Black Lives Matter protests than me.

Before I was elected to Parliament, I lived for four years in Seattle: the location of some of the fiercest anti-racism protests in the United States.

I was there when unarmed black man George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, and my adopted city erupted into weeks of protest over police brutality.

Having seen what I've seen in the US, it's hard for me not to notice the racial fault lines that exist within our own society.

Indigenous Australians are twice as likely as non-indigenous Australians to die in the hands of police custody or in the care of the health system.

The numbers are just as bad in education and unemployment where indigenous Australians lag behind indigenous groups in all other OECD economies.

Premiers and Prime Ministers may say ‘sorry’ and develop ‘action plans’, but we are clearly a nation that is yet to confront and ultimately exorcise its demons.

That is why for my first motion in Parliament, I will move that the upper house expresses support for a change of date to Australia Day and asks the Premier to lobby via the National Cabinet for that change.

26 January is not a holiday for all Australians. It is a holiday for only one of the foundational peoples of Australia. Specifically, Australians of British heritage.

It’s really more of a New South Wales affair: marking the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove in 1788, long before a colony was founded in WA.

Having such a narrow-minded holiday may not have been an issue 60 years ago - when ‘White Australia’ was the law of the land and indigenous people were not counted as part of the census - but it’s not something that can fly today.

I've canvassed my parliamentary colleagues, and so far, I've been able to identify two main arguments against 'changing the date'.

The first one comes from the left of politics, and it argues that issues of identity and symbolism are not important in the context of the economy and COVID-19.

I profoundly disagree.

The rise of ‘identity’ and ‘woke’ movements clearly show that there is a demand for meaningful forms of expression of identity and symbolism.

The other argument against changing the date comes from the right of politics, and it says that doing so would change what it means to be an Australian.

Again, I disagree.

Back in Seattle, one of my tech colleagues once asked me, “when did Australia become an independent country?”.

At first, I struggled to answer this question. After all, our experience of gaining independence is very different from that of the United States.

Yes, we became a self-governing federation in 1901, but it wasn’t until later that we adopted the concrete trappings of an independent country.

In 1943 after Singapore fell, we started flying the Union Jack less, and the Australian flag more. In 1977, we adopted our present national anthem. And in 1986, we got our own independent legal system.

My point is that we can change our national symbols and holidays without changing what it means to be an Australian. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Fear of change should not stand in the way of progress. And the consequences of failing to make progress on this issue are obvious.

More and more indigenous Australians will feel as though this country is not their own. Already, fewer than 60 percent of these Australians vote in elections.

Identity politics will seep its way into the mainstream of Australian politics. Who could forget that speech by former Queensland Senator Fraser Anning calling for a ‘final solution’ to the immigration question?

And politics itself will make its way onto the streets. If you don’t believe me, just have a look at some of the photos from recent ‘freedom’ protests in Melbourne and Brisbane.

I’ve seen this type of transformation happen in the US and it’s not something that I want to see happen in Australia.

Ours is the country that has welcomed people from all corners of the world and has, in recent years, become compassionate in so many ways.

The newly formed National Cabinet doesn’t have to be a one-trick covid pony. The Premier can and should use the platform to address existential questions that have slipped through the cracks of the federation.

One of which is Australia Day. And for what it’s worth, this crossbencher is more than happy to give the Premier a gentle nudge in the right direction.

Wilson Tucker MLC is the Leader of Daylight Saving WA and the Member for Mining and Pastoral Region in the Parliament of Western Australia.

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