Australia Day focuses on Black recognition in constitution : NPR
CANBERRA, Australia — Australians marked the 235th anniversary of British colonization on Thursday with a public holiday that stoked anger at Indigenous injustice, and focused national attention on a new government push to recognize the first inhabitants of Australia in the constitution.
The government has joined with several large corporations to allow staff the option of taking the holiday out or working Thursday and taking another day off instead, in recognition of growing public anxiety to celebrate the -raising of the Union Jack in 1788 at Sydney Cove.
Public calls are mounting to change the date of Australia Day, which is known to many Indigenous people as Invasion Day and Survival Day, due to the disastrous impacts on First Nations people of the colonists British taking their land without a treaty.
The focus on Australia’s European-marked history sparked debate on Thursday about a referendum to be held later this year that would create an Indigenous body known as the Voice to address Parliament on Indigenous issues.
The referendum, which is expected to take place between August and November, will include the Voice in the constitution.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese committed himself to the referendum on the day the centre-left Labor Party government was elected in May last year.
Albanese said he wanted Indigenous people to be recognized as the original inhabitants of Australia in the constitution, which has existed since 1901, before next year’s Australia Day.
“If not now, when will this change take place? And if not the people of Australia this year, who will make this change that will improve our country, improve our national unity?” Albanese told reporters Thursday.
“It’s a great country. Australia will be even better when we recognize our First Nations people in our constitution,” he added.
Noel Pearson, an Indigenous leader and long-time advocate of constitutional change, said the Voice would be a move towards “a settlement between the indigenous people and those who took the continent and established modern Australia.”
“This year is the most important year in the relationship between the natives of Australia and its so-called settlers in the 235 years since the landing of the First Fleet,” Pearson wrote Thursday in The Sydney Morning Herald, referring to the 11 British ships. carrying convicts who established Sydney as a penal colony.
But reactions to the Voice are mixed, including among Indigenous leaders.
Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Indigenous senator for the conservative Citizens party, opposes the Voice. Her party supports her view that the Voice will divide Australia along racial lines.
Lidia Thorpe, an Indigenous senator for the progressive Green party, on Wednesday threatened to oppose the Voice unless the referendum question included recognition that the traditional owners never gave up their land.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said his conservative Liberal Party needed more detail on what the Voice would mean before they could decide whether to support constitutional change.
“As you move around the community, it’s pretty obvious that people don’t understand what the Prime Minister is talking about,” Dutton told reporters.
“They understand that changing the constitution is a big deal and, instinctively like me and like millions of Australians, we want better outcomes for Indigenous Australians,” he added.
Indigenous Australians make up 3.2% of the population and are the nation’s most disadvantaged ethnic group. They die younger than other Australians, achieve lower levels of education, are less likely to be employed and are over-represented in prison populations.
They were not allowed to vote in federal elections until 1962, and Australian courts did not recognize until 1992 that their ancestors legally owned the land when the British arrived.
Australia Day celebrations on Thursday centered on Sydney Harbour, where attractions included an annual race of historic sailing ships.
Separately, thousands gathered in central Sydney to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the original Day of Mourning protest in 1938 when protesters made demands, including civil rights, for Indigenous Australians.