Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

A day for some Australians
January 26 is going to remain controversial


We all knew Tony Abbott could push Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull around. It was painful to watch: over and over Turnbull capitulated to the man he’d knifed. Today we watched the first culture wars skirmish between Abbott and our latest prime minister, Scott Morrison, over Australia Day. In an op-ed in The Daily Telegraph, Morrison acknowledged Indigenous concerns about January 26, and proposed a new national day to honour and acknowledge the history of Indigenous Australians. That was news to Indigenous Australians themselves, who weren’t even consulted, as co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples Jackie Huggins quickly pointed out. It was also news to Abbott, the Indigenous affairs envoy, who went straight onto his favoured airwaves and – if I heard him right – basically warned Morrison to STFU about an alternative day.

Labor, which supports Australia Day, was all over it like a rash this morning. NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley came out in support of Morrison’s plan, and acting federal Opposition leader Tanya Plibersek tweeted: “Unlike Scott Morrison, we’ll consult Indigenous people and our Indigenous caucus about whether a proper day of recognition with an additional public holiday is a positive way forward – we’re open to it.” If it splits the Liberals, Labor will happily stir the Australia Day pot from now until the election.

Morrison’s proposal followed an announcement that Byron Bay shire council would be banned from hosting citizenship ceremonies after it became the third council (behind Melbourne’s Yarra and Darebin councils) to shift the date of Australia Day celebrations. Morrison posted: “Indulgent self-loathing does not make Australia stronger. Being honest about the past does – our achievements and our failings. We should not rewrite our history. Our modern Australian nation began on January 26, 1788.”

The PM followed up with the op-ed [$], which the Tele pointed to with a front-page splash and an inside news yarn by political editor Sharri Markson. So this was no thought bubble, but a dressed-up package. Morrison’s op-ed was a long apology for Australia Day (short version: it is what it is), but buried in the bottom, in the penultimate paragraph, was a single sentence: “I also believe we need to honour and acknowledge in our national calendar our Indigenous Peoples. That is a topic for another day.”

Jackie Huggins told the ABC she was happy to consider it: “It’s probably the most sensible comment he’s made to date in relation to Aboriginal affairs … the question from us though, who has he consulted with? His body the [Indigenous Advisory Council] or the National Congress or with Indigenous leaders or is this some pie in the sky exercise?” To be fair there were a range of Indigenous reactions: on RN Breakfast this morning, federal aged care minister Ken Wyatt supported it. Victorian Greens MP Lidia Thorpe said January 26 should be a national day of mourning – “The prime minister has failed to understand what that day means for the first people of this country” – while another national day was found, perhaps during NAIDOC week. At a national level, The Australian reported [$], Greens leader Richard Di Natale slammed Morrison’s intervention as a celebration of genocide.

Abbott took to 2GB, not in his regular Monday slot with Ray Hadley, but calling in from Warruwi on the Northern Territory’s Goulburn Islands, where he was doing envoy work, to talk with John Stanley. Asked if he was aware of it, Abbott made clear that he had not been consulted, apart from a heads-up the night before: “I did have a chance to flick through the press clips this morning and I’ve read Scott’s article. I’ve got to say I thought his defence of Australia Day was wonderful. I thought his attack on those leftie, greenie, guilt-ridden councils that somehow think Australia Day is a day of shame, rather than a day of pride, was excellent. I think the emphasis, and I’m sure this would be the prime minister’s emphasis, is on all pulling together on Australia Day … [which] is a day for everyone.” Abbott said he would hold judgement on any alternative national day, but pointed out “We’ve already got things like NAIDOC week and National Sorry Day and so on.”

Morrison spent most of today softening his message, telling Seven’s Sunrise: “I’m not getting too far ahead of myself on this, or the country … my point was this: you’ve got a whole of people who are trying to tear down Australia Day. I know some people are motivated by the fact that they want to recognise Indigenous people more and I get that. There are others who are just being goons about this …”

Goons. That’d be anyone who believes, for example, that given January 26 is offensive for obvious reasons to Indigenous people, we should move it to another day. Morrison himself picked up the ACT proposal of May 27, the date of the 1967 referendum.

An online poll in the Tele is running, predictably, at 80 per cent support for January 26. It will take real political leadership, and support from both major parties, to move it. Another day in the unproductive culture wars. Meanwhile, the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the idea of a Voice to Parliament – which could be so useful on a question like Australia Day – gather dust.

since this morning

The Guardian reports that Treasury’s final budget outcome for 2017–18 has revealed the smallest deficit in a decade – $10.1 billion – after a decline in welfare spending.

The Australian reports [$] that a Melbourne court has heard a man accused of driving his car into pedestrians in Flinders Street last year had images of foreign mass car attacks on his computer and yelled “Allahu Akbar” when he was arrested.

in case you missed it

The Guardian’s latest Essential Poll shows Labor maintaining an election-winning lead over the Coalition, at 53–47, while the voting public is divided about whether Australia needs a new law protecting religious freedom.

The ABC has been told that senior executives at the broadcaster were threatening to quit over Michelle Guthrie’s performance, while in The Conversation former ABC news and current affairs chief Peter Manning (disclosure: my dad) writes that she “has been badly treated – not by being sacked, but by being hired in the first place”.

Fairfax Media reports that the Australian telecommunications industry has warned that a push to compel its companies to install spyware on customers’ phones under broad new security plans could be “severely damaging” to the country’s cybersecurity.

by Fiona McGregor
‘The Harp in the South’ at Sydney Theatre Company
Kate Mulvany’s adaptation proves that Ruth Park’s epic endures

by Shane Danielsen
Toronto International Film Festival 2018 (part two)
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Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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