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Australia Day: Calls grow for vote to keep public holiday: Lidia Thorpe, Matt Canavan

Pressure is mounting to give Aussies the chance to vote on whether to change the date of Australia Day, as the national holiday becomes synonymous with an endless toxic debate – though it’s unlikely to stop millions enjoying the sunshine today.

A rapidly rising number of Australians – particularly young generations – now view January 26, commemorating the arrival of the First Fleet and the beginning of British colonial rule in 1788, as a day that should not be celebrated.

Wild protests now mar the occasion every year, with hundreds of thousands again set to turn up on Thursday in every major city across the country demanding to ‘change the date’. 

But with sunny skies over most of Australia’s major cities, with highs of 31C in Sydney, 33C in Brisbane and 32C in Perth, the controversy will seem far detached from millions of Australians happy to spend the day off work with their families.

Under pressure by critics, some large companies have given staff the option to work on the public holiday if they feel uncomfortable and formally stated it’s not a day for patriotism.

Smaller businesses and more and more of pubs have also followed suit putting a stop to the flag-waving, beer-drinking celebrations of years gone by.

Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe has even led a charge for homeowners to pay First Nation’s People and annual ‘rent’ tax as reparations.  

But Nationals MP Matt Canavan wants to end the controversy ‘delegitimising’ the national holiday once and for all – saying the decision should be put in the hands of the people, rather than ‘woke’ and virtue-signalling companies.

The staunch conservative has called on the federal government to introduce a plebiscite at the same time citizens vote on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament later this year.

Calls have loudened for Australia to vote on whether to keep Australia Day (pictured, festivities on January 26, 2022)

Poll

Should the nation get to vote on whether to keep Australia Day?

  • Yes – Let’s decide once and for all 45 votes
  • No – it should always be January 26 69 votes

‘Why don’t we, when we have the voice referendum later this year, add a question (such as) “do you want to keep Australia Day on January 26?”‘ he said on Sky News.

‘I’m happy to be guided and listen to the Australian people, so rather than the corporate world trying to impose their woke ideology on the rest of us, why don’t (we) listen to the people?

‘Here’s a voice. Here’s a chance to have a voice of the Australian people and let them decide when the date should be.’

Crowds are expected to descend on major landmarks across the country to enjoy spectacular displays of national pride, including thrilling harbour boat shows in Sydney and a 21-gun salute in Melbourne.

These family-friendly events will be a marked contrast from protests being held across the nation.

Mr Canvan’s call for a plebiscite comes after Senator Thorpe called for Australia to get rid of ‘everything racist’ in the constitution and become a ‘Blak Republic’. 

The outspoken Indigenous Senator has also thrown her support behind the ‘Pay the Rent’ model under which Australian homeowners would be forced to shell out a weekly land tax that would fund Indigenous social services.

Greens senator Lidia Thorpe has asked Australia Day be rebranded to 'Treaty Republic Day'

Greens senator Lidia Thorpe has asked Australia Day be rebranded to 'Treaty Republic Day'

Greens senator Lidia Thorpe has asked Australia Day be rebranded to ‘Treaty Republic Day’

Wild protests now mar the occasion with hundreds of thousands again set to turn up on Thursday in every major city across the country demanding to 'change the date' (pictured, Invasion Day protests, 2019)

Wild protests now mar the occasion with hundreds of thousands again set to turn up on Thursday in every major city across the country demanding to 'change the date' (pictured, Invasion Day protests, 2019)

Wild protests now mar the occasion with hundreds of thousands again set to turn up on Thursday in every major city across the country demanding to ‘change the date’ (pictured, Invasion Day protests, 2019) 

What’s the problem with Australia Day? 

Australia Day has become increasingly contentious, with many campaigning for the holiday to be abolished entirely or the date changed.

The public holiday commemorates the landing of the First Fleet at Sydney Harbour, with Governor Arthur Philip raising the British flag to mark the founding of New South Wales on January 26, 1788.

However, since 1938, Indigenous and First Nations people have observed the public holiday as a day of mourning and instead have named it ‘Invasion Day’.

This year’s Invasion Day rallies held in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane on Thursday will aim to remind people that ‘sovereignty was never ceded’ and call for a date change, a treaty, and other policies designed to prioritise First Nations people. 

In an interview with Junkee, she said the move was crucial to the history and survival of First Nations people. 

‘Having a Blak Republic is about taking back what was ours in the first place and sharing it in a way that we know how best to do,’ she said. 

‘I mean our whole culture is based on sharing and caring. So a Blak Republic would ensure that everybody in this country is looked after.’

The senator said a Blak Republic could only be achieved through a formal agreement with the federal government. 

‘I think a republic can come from a treaty because that is the end of the war, and that is a way that we can mature as a nation,’ she continued.  

‘And that’s why the two go hand in hand. Treaty. Republic. It makes perfect sense.’

The notion of a ‘Blak Republic’ comes as property owners are urged to start paying a weekly ‘rent’ tax to Indigenous groups over their claims to ancestral land. 

Under the ‘Pay the Rent’ model homeowners would voluntarily pay a percentage of their income to a body led by Aboriginal elders and administered without any government oversight or intervention. 

One per cent of weekly wages is the level suggested by Robbie Thorpe, a veteran Aboriginal rights activist who ran a similar scheme in Fitzroy in the 1990s.

Government statistics from last August that say the median Australian employee’s earnings were $1,250 per week. 

So spread evenly, all Australian wage earners could pay a median ‘rent’ of $12.50 a week, adding up to $650 a year. 

The ‘Pay the Rent’ tax could apply to Indigenous people too. Anyone who owns property would pay because it would operate as a form of land tax.

Nationals MP Matt Canavan (pictured) suggested the federal government introduce a plebiscite to settle the debate over the date of the contentious holiday

Nationals MP Matt Canavan (pictured) suggested the federal government introduce a plebiscite to settle the debate over the date of the contentious holiday

Nationals MP Matt Canavan (pictured) suggested the federal government introduce a plebiscite to settle the debate over the date of the contentious holiday

Australia Day has become increasingly contentious, with many campaigning for the holiday to be abolished entirely or the date changed (pictured, Invasion Day protests)

Australia Day has become increasingly contentious, with many campaigning for the holiday to be abolished entirely or the date changed (pictured, Invasion Day protests)

Australia Day has become increasingly contentious, with many campaigning for the holiday to be abolished entirely or the date changed (pictured, Invasion Day protests)

Australians could also pay extra rent for use of land that one-off events are held on such as weddings to festivals.

For example, if a wedding costs $54,000 to run, the extra rent would cost $540. 

The intention is the money collected could cover extra costs Indigenous people have for health, education and housing and reduce the need for government handouts. 

Senator Thorpe and feminist author Clementine Ford have thrown their support behind the scheme, which is a rebirth of a ‘Pay the Rent’ scheme from 50 years ago. 

As homeowners are urged to pay First Nations people weekly rent, residents are also being given the option to work on January 26. 

Senator Thorpe's (pictured) calls for a Blak Republic comes as Australian property owners are urged to start paying a weekly 'rent' tax to Indigenous groups over their claim to ancestral land

Senator Thorpe's (pictured) calls for a Blak Republic comes as Australian property owners are urged to start paying a weekly 'rent' tax to Indigenous groups over their claim to ancestral land

Senator Thorpe’s (pictured) calls for a Blak Republic comes as Australian property owners are urged to start paying a weekly ‘rent’ tax to Indigenous groups over their claim to ancestral land

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese declared it was ‘fine’ to give workers – whether in the government or private sector – a choice of working on Australia Day or not. 

Woolworths, Telstra, Network 10 and some of the Big Four accounting firms said January 26 was ‘not a day of celebration’ and instead gave their employees the option to work ‘out of respect for all First Nations peoples’. 

Woolworths claims Australia day – which commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet – is regarded as a painful celebration for Aboriginal groups. 

Telco-giant Telstra also recently followed suit, allowing its 29,000 employees to choose whether to work on Australia Day after the company voted in 2022.

The decision comes after Network 10 told staff they can choose how to spend the national holiday, and that it was ‘not a day to celebrate’ for Indigenous Australians. 

Many large companies have given staff the option to work on the public holiday if they feel uncomfortable and formally stated it's not a day for patriotism (pictured, Bondi Beach on January 26, 2022)

Many large companies have given staff the option to work on the public holiday if they feel uncomfortable and formally stated it's not a day for patriotism (pictured, Bondi Beach on January 26, 2022)

Many large companies have given staff the option to work on the public holiday if they feel uncomfortable and formally stated it’s not a day for patriotism (pictured, Bondi Beach on January 26, 2022)

Smaller businesses and an increasing number of pubs have put a stop to the flag-waving, beer-drinking celebrations of years gone by. (pictured, Australia Day revellers on the Gold Coast)

Smaller businesses and an increasing number of pubs have put a stop to the flag-waving, beer-drinking celebrations of years gone by. (pictured, Australia Day revellers on the Gold Coast)

 Smaller businesses and an increasing number of pubs have put a stop to the flag-waving, beer-drinking celebrations of years gone by. (pictured, Australia Day revellers on the Gold Coast)

Some of the Big Four accounting firms including Deloitte, KPMG and EY have also implemented policies allowing staff to work on January 26.

Australia Day has become increasingly contentious, with many campaigning for the holiday to be abolished entirely or the date changed.

The public holiday commemorates the landing of the First Fleet at Sydney Harbour, with Governor Arthur Philip raising the British flag to mark the founding of New South Wales on January 26, 1788.

However, since 1938, Indigenous and First Nations people have observed the public holiday as a day of mourning and instead have named it ‘Invasion Day’.

This year’s Invasion Day rallies held in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane on Thursday will aim to remind people that ‘sovereignty was never ceded’ and call for a date change, a treaty, and other policies designed to prioritise First Nations people. 

Indigenous voice to parliament explained 

What is the referendum about?

A referendum will be called to change the wording in Australia’s Constitution to recognise Indigenous people and establish a voice to parliament.

When will it be held?

A date has not been set but Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed a referendum would take place before the end of the year.

What will the referendum question be?

The draft referendum question is: “Do you support an alteration to the constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice?”

What is a voice to parliament?

An advisory body parliament would consult with on legislative matters that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

It would not be able to veto decisions made by the federal government or cabinet.

The federal parliament will legislate details about how the body is formed and operates if the referendum is successful.

What other changes will be made to the constitution?

The federal government will recommend three sentences be added:

1. There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice.

2. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice may make representations to parliament and the executive government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

3. The parliament shall, subject to this constitution, have power to make laws with respect to the composition, functions, powers and procedures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice.

Do the Liberal and National parties support the voice to parliament?

The National Party has formally announced it will oppose the referendum while the Liberal Party room has not revealed its position.

Nationals Leader David Littleproud said his party did not believe a voice would help close the gap to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has not yet revealed whether the Liberal Party would support a referendum but has called for more detail about the advisory body.

Will there be more details about how the voice will operate?

A referendum working group co-chaired by Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney and made up of representatives from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia will release more details before a vote is held.

 

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