A group of government MPs are pushing for new laws to ensure Australia Day is celebrated on January 26.
Liberal senator Dean Smith told The Australian he was willing to draft a public member’s bill to protect the date and was discussing the idea with local residents.
Senator Smith, who also drafted the bill to legalise same-sex marriage, has reportedly got early backing from other MPs including Barnaby Joyce, Jason Wood, Michelle Landry and Craig Kelly.
In an opinion piece, Mr Smith points out that both Australia’s flag and the commemoration of Anzac Day are already protected by law.
The Howard Government introduced laws in 1998 to ensure the flag could only be changed if it was agreed to by a majority of voters in each state and territory.
The Keating Government introduced Anzac Day laws in response to fears it would not be observed as much in future years.
Mr Smith said Australia Day was the oldest of the country’s national symbols, having been used as a national day of celebration since before Federation. It is older than the flag and predates the landing at Gallipoli.
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“A law to protect Australia Day will give Australians peace of mind that their national day will survive attempts from a very small and vocal minority that seeks to create division where there is unity, for political gain,” Mr Smith wrote.
It would also ensure the date could only be changed if the Australian people were consulted directly and that January 26 must also be included as an option.
Senator Smith said the potential law would mean Australia Day, together with Anzac Day and the national flag, would form the “trinity of Australia’s most cherished national symbols of nationhood”.
The debate around Australia Day is hotting up with former Victorian Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett arguing in favour of changing the date.
“For many in the community, (January 26) represents the day they were dispossessed and brutalised. I agree with them,” he told The Australian.
Mr Kennett he had changed his mind about moving the date after working with indigenous offenders in Victoria.
“For sometime now I have been increasingly worried that we do not do enough in this country to recognise our First People,” he said.
In an opinion piece published in the Herald Sun, Mr Kennett looked at the dates of other national holidays in other countries and couldn’t find one that marked the arrival of settlers in the country.
“So, as we approach Australia Day, in the spirit in genuinely starting to build trust and give our First Peoples the priority they deserve, I suggest we find another date,” he wrote.
Mr Kennett said if Australians were that serious about celebrating on January 26, they would celebrate it on the day that it falls and not have a holiday if it fell on the weekend as it does this year.
“We celebrate Anzac Day on April 25 each year with no day off if it falls on a weekend. So Anzac Day has real meaning,” he said.
The comments come after Prime Minister Scott Morrison ordered councils to hold their citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day or be stripped of their rights to hold them.
He has announced $6.7 million in funding for a replica of Captain Cook’s famous ship the Endeavour to circumnavigate Australia over 14 months. It total he has promised to spend more than $12 million on projects to mark the 250th anniversary of the explorer’s first voyage to Australia.
Mr Morrison said the replica ship’s trip would be a “re-enactment” of the voyage of Captain Cook along Australia’s east coast, as part of a circumnavigation of Australia.
However, while Captain Cook charted the east coast, he did not circumnavigate Australia. Matthew Flinders was the first to sail around the country between 1801 and 1803.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten seized on the error saying: “Mr Morrison has come to Queensland to get his historical facts wrong.”
Mr Morrison said Mr Shorten could sneer at Australia’s history if he wanted.
“He can disrespect having an understanding of what our history means,” Mr Morrison said.
“For years — decades — we have had political correctness in this country which I fear is raising kids in our country today to despise our history, to despise how we have grown as a nation, and I am disappointed that Bill Shorten would want to feed into that.”
Mr Shorten said he had “bigger fish to fry” than getting engaged in “divisive debates” about history.
“Kids should be taught it — I think every Australian child should be taught that Captain Cook didn’t sail around Australia, that it was Matthew Flinders … so I do believe in teaching our history accurately. But to be honest, I have got some bigger fish to fry,” he said.
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