A Sydney MP has been accused of treating Indigenous Australians as “helpless victims” for suggesting there should be a minute’s silence at Australia Day ceremonies.
Independent Warringah MP Zali Steggall has called on councils across the country and in her electorate to include the minute’s silence as part of their Acknowledgement of Country on January 26, to recognise the Indigenous lives lost since the First Fleet arrived in Port Jackson in 1788.
Ms Steggall, who ousted former Primer Minister Tony Abbott from his seat in 2019, wrote to the Australian Local Government Association and the mayors of North Sydney, Mosman and Northern Beaches councils asking them to consider her suggestion, the Manly Daily reported on Tuesday.
“There should be a formal recognition of the loss, hurt and sorrow felt by our Indigenous community on January 26,” Ms Steggall said.
“Councils provide an important leadership role in commemorating this day by hosting numerous formal and informal ceremonies and activities for their communities. However, January 26 provokes a range of emotions for many within our community.”
The former Olympic skier said while the date marked the start of European colonisation, it also represented “the commencement of violence, disempowerment and displacement of our Indigenous communities that has created sorrow, discrimination and hardship that has lasted for generations”.
“It is only right that we acknowledge all that this day represents and build remembrance into our ceremonies to recognise the price that has been paid by First Australians,” she said.
“A ceremonial minute’s silence could be a powerful step in the healing journey.”
Alice Springs councillor Jacinta Price has hit back, telling radio station 2GB that Ms Steggall “needs to stop painting Indigenous Australians as helpless victims who don’t have any agency, who don’t have the ability to move forward within our nation”.
Ms Price, who is also Director of Indigenous Research at the conservative Centre for Independent Studies think tank, said National Sorry Day on May 26 was already used to commemorate “what occurred in our country’s history”, while Australia Day “is about being inclusive and involving absolutely everybody that makes Australia a great nation”.
“The truth is, the very first round of protests back in 1938 on January 26 by the Aborigines Progressive Association was about the want to have full citizenship status and equality within the community, that’s what they were fighting for,” she said.
“When the Citizenship Act was passed in 1949 on January 26, that’s when all Australians became Australian citizens and no longer British subjects, so it’s a significant day in that regard where we all, including Indigenous Australians, became Australian citizens.”
She noted January 26 remains the most popular day of the year that people choose to become Australian citizens.
“So I think Zali needs to learn a bit more about our country’s history instead of using shallow, PC, woke-ish ways of dealing with these particular issues,” Ms Price said.
“Australia Day is about celebrating what we‘ve accomplished as a nation together, everybody’s contribution to this nation. Sometimes I think we forget there are also people who have come from other parts of the world to make Australia their home, not just black and white. If we continue to feed into the activist narrative we’re enabling narcissistic behaviour.”
Ms Price suggested that if “people are serious about this idea of healing, then why don’t we use the morning of Australia Day to complete the act of healing and use forgiveness to move forward”.
“Because as far as I’m concerned that’s what hasn’t been achieved,” she said.
“Australians are bending over backwards to acknowledge and support Indigenous Australia and there’s a hell of a lot of goodwill out there that has been taken advantage of, and it’s nonsense. It needs to stop and we need to stop feeding into the divide.”
It comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison‘s government warned local councils not to use COVID-19 as an excuse to cancel Australia Day celebrations and citizenship ceremonies.
While most local councils are still holding ceremonies as required, some have announced they are calling them off in solidarity with Invasion Day activists or due to the pandemic.
The federal government has previously stripped inner-city Melbourne councils Yarra and Darebin of their power to hold citizenship ceremonies after they voted in 2017 to stop referring to January 26 as Australia Day.
“For any council seeking to play politics with Australia Day citizenship ceremonies, our message is simple — don’t,” Mr Hawke told The Australian last week.
“Australians need this sort of negative bickering less than ever at this challenging time.”
While Invasion Day rallies have attracted growing numbers of attendees over the past five years, polling has found that the overwhelming majority of Australians support keeping Australia Day on January 26.
A new survey released on Monday by the Institute of Public Affairs found 69 per cent of Australians support January 26, while just 11 per cent think the date should be changed.
The percentage who want the date changed has flatlined over the four years the conservative think tank has run the same survey.
“Despite the tired narrative being pushed by a minority of activists to change the date, support for their cause has not moved,” Dr Bella d’Abrera, Director of the Foundations of Western Civilisation Program at the IPA, said in a statement.
“Australians have had enough of being told that they need to be ashamed of their country, and that it is wrong to celebrate its success.”