Linda Burney proposes replacing Queen’s birthday with indigenous celebration
Labor frontbencher Linda Burney has proposed replacing the Queen’s Birthday with a national holiday to celebrate Australia’s indigenous heritage and says she finds it “difficult” to be involved in Australia Day celebrations, despite maintaining that her party’s “clear position” is for the date of Australia Day to remain the same.
The first indigenous woman elected to the House of Representatives repeatedly said Labor’s policy on Australia Day was “very clear”, despite leader Bill Shorten refusing to issue a statement about his views, and Ms Burney yesterday describing the day as “problematic”.
Ms Burney said Australia Day represented “the usurping of Aboriginal culture” and was an “attack on sovereignty” when asked to clarify Labor’s position, calling for the Turnbull government to reverse its decision last year to reject the Uluru Statement from indigenous leaders, calling for recognition of indigenous Australians in the constitution.
“The Labor Party’s position is this: is that there is no proposal to change the date, and we are saying that this Australia Day there needs to be a massive undertaking by Australians to think deeply about the truth and the true history of this country and it be a day of reflection and absolute recognition that Australia Day is an extremely painful day for First Australians, that represents to the First Australians the usurping of Australian culture, Aboriginal culture, the attack on sovereignty in many ways,” Ms Burney told ABC radio.
“That’s why we’re saying that this Australia Day should be putting back on the agenda what the Turnbull government has taken off, and that is the referendum that recognises first people and the process of truth-telling.”
Asked whether she supported a national celebration of indigenous culture being held on a different day, Ms Burney proposed replacing the Queen’s Birthday.
“Being a pragmatist as I try to be, the date (of Australia Day) is not going to change any time soon. I think that’s very clear,” she said.
“But what we’re advocating, and what I’m advocating particularly within my own party, is that we actually, and with Martin Luther King Day yesterday in America, is that Australia should have a national public holiday that celebrates, that lifts up, that recognises our first nation’s peoples, first nation’s stories, and I think that would be a day that everyone could absolutely get behind, and there are number of dates that lend themselves to having that sort of wonderful recognition in Australia finally, that there is a national day, a public holiday, where all Australians can celebrate First Australians and the extraordinary, wonderful, unique history we have in this country of human occupation which is over 60,000 years.
“This is something that I’m advocating very strongly within the Labor Party.”
Asked whether she had a date in mind, Ms Burney said: “I note that Luke Foley, who is the leader of the Labor Party in New South Wales, is advocating a national public holiday recognising indigenous people and trading off the Queen’s Birthday as the day.”
Ms Burney said the 26th of January hadn’t officially become Australia Day until 1994.
“I was really involved in the 1988 bicentennial protest movement and I also want to make a very big point this morning that in 1938 the Aboriginal Progressive Association met in Sydney on the 26th of January very deliberately to call for not only basic human rights, but also a recognition of the truth about what’s happened in this country,” she said.
Ms Burney said she found it difficult to be involved in Australia Day celebrations.
“Yes, I do find it difficult. I have been as I’ve said involved in this debate for 30 years, and the way in which I approach Australia Day is, particularly as a member of parliament over the last 15 years, is I do attend formal Australia Day functions, and I cannot think of one in the last five or six years where there has not been proper recognition of Aboriginal protocol and culture,” she said.
Ms Burney said she usually attended the Wagulora indigenous cleansing ceremony at dawn in Sydney’s Barangaroo, as well as the Yabun “survival” festival in the afternoon on January 26.
“I attend formal functions and have noted very much that they’ve changed dramatically in terms of recognising the truth.
“I also attend the functions that are organised as part of the official program, but certainly from the point of view of being survival day.”
Asked to comment on indigenous Alice Springs councillor Jacinta Price’s comments that calls from white men such as tennis star Pat Cash and Greens leader Richard Di Natale to change the date of Australia Day were an “easy option to alleviate white guilt”, Ms Burney declined to comment.
“I have listened to Pat Cash yesterday on the radio and I was very impressed that he’d come to his position from the experience of seeing the poverty and the deprivation experienced by Aboriginal people in the communities he’d been to, and his was a considered position,” she said.
“I also watched the 7.30 report on the ABC last night, and I don’t come from the Northern Territory and don’t pretend to know a lot about the Northern Territory, and Jacinta Price’s position was in relation to the Territory celebrating together. I won’t make comment on that.”