Australia Day: Ending the Civil War on Race and Culture

Australia needs a national settlement of our deep political and cultural divisions around indigenous occupancy of land and cultural continuity, British annexation of land and colonisation, and the rapid growth of a hybrid culturally-mixed population. These divisions have become more intense in recent years and have rightly been called ‘culture wars’. They threaten to undermine our unity of purpose and social cohesion, and sap the goodwill of Australians from all backgrounds.

We need to set a settlement date by which the nation settles this conflict. This would be a date by which land claims are finalized, local treaty processes concluded, truth-telling exercises completed, and a line drawn in the sand which marks the end of both race-based discrimination and race-based culture wars.

Both Right and Left need to make major concessions to enable this settlement to happen. They need to abandon their culture wars and begin reconciling with the great majority of Australians who want these issues to be settled.

We think this settlement date should:

1. Take the place of Australia Day as our national day.

The 26th of January marks the commencement of British colonial settlement in Australia. That is an appropriate occasion for British commemoration, but it doesn’t mark or commemorate achievement by Australians. Captain James Cook was a notable British explorer, navigator and naturalist. He should be commemorated by Britain. But he wasn’t an Australian.

The Right should give up insisting that Cook’s voyages or the beginning of British settlement on the 26th of January are Australian achievements.

2. Conclude treaty processes underway in the Northern Territory and Victoria, and land claims under the Native Title Act.

This can best be done by the inclusion of sunset clauses in relevant legislature marking the settlement date. The Treaty of Waitangi in 1871 in New Zealand marked the formal cessation of hostilities between the maori and pakeha, and we would look to this settlement date serving the same purpose for Australians.

The Left should give up seeking reparations or compensation for the British annexation of land. By this settlement date, it should drop the mantra “Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land”.

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3. Mark the replacement of the British Crown by an Australian head of state.

The best model for an Australian head of state would be appointment of an Australian citizen for a period of five years by a jury of citizens selected by lot by the Australian Electoral Commission following a public nomination process. Selection by jury process (with an emphasis on consensus) avoids the risk of a partisan politicised head of state that would result from either parliamentary appointment or popular election.

The Right should give up its attachment to the British Crown and accept an Australian citizen as head of state.

4. Mark an end to the official practice of Welcome to Country.

The Welcome to Country practice has served a useful function of reminding Australians of indigenous occupancy of land and cultural continuity for sixty thousand years. But it has become formulaic and tired. The practice should not continue in perpetuity. The settlement date would mark the end of the practice in official events and government settings.

The Left should give up its attachment to the Welcome to Country practice.

5. Mark the introduction of selective indigenous language learning in primary schools.

Governments of both persuasions have ignored recommendations from linguists for decades to select a limited number of priority indigenous languages for inclusion in primary schools to ensure their survival. We support the selection of 12 key indigenous languages around the country for inclusion in primary school curricula.

6. Mark the decommissioning of race-specific government programs.

The settlement date should mark the adoption of needs-based funding criteria in government programs in place of race-based criteria. A range of race-based programs should be decommissioned by this date, along with the practice of government forms and surveys stipulating information on people of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander backgrounds, as if these are a different species from the other 97% of Australians.

Both Right and Left should give up their administration of race-specific programs in government.

7. Mark the commencement of a search for a new unifying national flag.

A public search for an inclusive and unifying Australian flag would be launched on this date. The official practice of displaying the current national flag, along with the red-black-yellow (Aboriginal flag) and Torres Strait Islander flag in government offices and buildings would cease with the adoption of a unifying flag.

The Right should give up its attachment to the current national flag featuring the Union Jack. The Left should give up its attachment to the red-black-yellow (Aboriginal) flag.

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We think a settlement date that serves these purposes would bring Australians together and unite the country. We think a three-year period of public discussion would be an appropriate period of preparation – any longer than three years carries the risk of deferral of urgent decision-making in the national interest.

Our recommended settlement date is 27 January 2023.