Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Tim Hunter
Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Tim Hunter

Embrace national story on day it started

RECENTLY, I asked the question when giving a speech in Albury "Who loves Australia?". I then went one step further and asked "Who loves Australians?".

The people in the room got it - hands went up, from the oldest to the youngest.

But it's not always the case. People can say they love Australia, but just don't seem to feel the same way about their fellow Australians.

Australia Day is not about a flag being raised in Farm Cove. It's the day we celebrate all Australians, all their stories, all their journeys. It is a day for us to come together.

We do this on January 26, because that was the day that Australia changed forever. Before that day there was 60,000 years of indigenous history. After that day, our land was set on the course to the modern Australia we know and love today.

We can't pretend there was some other day more profound than this. That would be dishonest. We'd be kidding ourselves and we'd also be selling ourselves short.

We have a great national story. It's not perfect, but no country has a perfect story. We are a living, breathing, honest and good-hearted people making the best choices we can, but always striving to be better.

Mostly, our Australian story is one that is the envy of the world. But we know there are things that have happened, like in every country, that have left deep scars, particularly in relation to the treatment and experience of indigenous Australians.

Such scars should not provide an invitation for self-loathing, but a reminder of what we have learned and how we have become a better nation.

We are the only people with a continent to ourselves and our very name 'the Commonwealth of Australia' speaks about our commitment to stand by each other.

A country is more than geography it's also about a shared history and future. For us, it is 25 million lives knitted together - with our joys and dramas, achievements and mistakes.

There is an honesty in marking our national day on January 26. It says we acknowledge our history and our success. It says we do not look away from our past in this country. We embrace it all, like anyone does their own life's experiences.

If Australians can come together on this day, above all days, that says something very big about our country. That is why I believe Australia Day on January 26, is the right day for us to celebrate our progress, our healing, our achievements, our unity and our shared hope for the future.

In recent years, some have said we should walk away from Australia Day on January 26. For some this comes from a place of deep respect for indigenous Australians. I understand this, but respectfully disagree for the reasons I have outlined.

For others it's just about the politics of division. They confuse self-awareness with self-loathing, which never ends well.

This has most recently included some local councillors in Byron Bay, seeking to use local citizenship ceremonies to push their political barrow.

The Australian Government authorises local councils to hold citizenship ceremonies, not to rewrite the rules or use them as a political football. Their job is to book the hall and conduct the ceremony with respect and dignity. If they are not prepared to do this, then other arrangements can be made.

Local councils who seek to dishonour citizenship ceremonies in this way and the new citizens that they're supposed to be about, will have the authority to conduct them withdrawn.

We are a country made up of Indigenous people, settlers, and immigrants. In 1788, my own forebears arrived on the First Fleet. They were sick, poor and destitute, and not there by choice. But they made a life like the so many other Australians from all over the world who followed them, who in turn have made a great nation.

So on Australia Day we remember and celebrate all Australians, from the first to the most recent.

That said, I also believe we need to honour and acknowledge in our national calendar our Indigenous Peoples. That is a topic for another day.

Rather than further conflict and argument, this is how I believe we can work together to bring and keep Australians together.

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