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How a guaranteed long weekend can unite us as a nation

Kate Russell -

Major retailers declining to stock merchandise, politicians calling for consumer boycotts, flares thrown and supermarkets graffitied - each year a day that is supposed to unite the nation just seems to provoke more division.

Division over our national day is also reflected in opinion research. A poll released last week by the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) found that while 71 percent of Australians over 55 support Australia Day being celebrated on January 26, only 42 percent of people between 18 and 24 felt this should be the date of our national day. Triple J was an early mover and changed the date of the hottest 100 countdown in 2017 but this wasn't without controversy.

The IPA research also found that support for the January 26 date is declining. Fifteen percent less 18–24- year-olds and nine percent less 55–64-year-olds want Australia Day celebrated on January 26 than did so four years ago.

But this division is only about the date, not the day. Research also shows that an overwhelming majority of Australians are proud of this country and want a day that we can all celebrate together.

There is disagreement as to when this celebration should occur. Personally, I don't think most people really care when the public holiday takes place, but they do think we should have one.

However, there is one group of Australians who very much care about the choice of the specific date. From talking to many hundreds of First Nations business people each year, I know that for many of them the January 26 date is deeply troubling. Many of us have a knot in our stomach throughout that day and for the week leading up to it. While a handful of high profile Aboriginal people have been vocal in their support for January 26, these views are not shared by the vast majority of my Community. I breathed a sigh of relief as Woolworths and Aldi announced they would no longer stock Australia Day merchandise. While this was cited as a business decision, it made me feel more comfortable than I have since the Referendum.

I am a proud Aboriginal Australian and I would love to join the party, but I feel that to do so on that particular day is not just turning a blind eye to Australia's black history, but the continued inequities facing Community. There are so many things that can bring us together as a nation. We have so much to be grateful for. But this is not the way. This divides us. How can Australians reconcile that the country we love is the only nation in

the world which aligns its national day of celebration with the beginning of colonisation?

We are a minority in our land and need others to help us change the date. I struggle to understand why Australia would want to cling so doggedly to a date that has, and can be, moved so easily, especially when it hurts us so much.

However, a simple compromise could make a huge difference. It could take the hurt that my people feel about the date of Australia Day without denying what most Australians want – a Summer long weekend.

All we would need to do is decouple our national day from a particular date by making it the fourth Monday or Friday of January every year.

Like Easter Monday, Melbourne Cup Day in Victoria or Thanksgiving in the US and Canada it would be a public holiday not linked to a specific date.

Instead, we would all receive a guaranteed long weekend and business would gain greater certainty by putting an end to all those extra absences that occur when the public holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday.

This compromise could preserve the institution of Australia Day by halting the decline in support by young people. It would also mean that for the first time my people would feel they had a genuine invitation to join the party.

You'd think our leaders would support a more inclusive day, a guaranteed long weekend and a more business friendly public holiday. But I won't hold my breath. Often the ones most loudly complaining about

divisiveness are those who have most to gain from division. That's what the culture wars are all about. In the lead up to this Australia Day we've seen a commercial decision by supermarkets become political ammunition in the latest 'anti woke' agenda.

I agree that there are more important battles facing the Indigenous community, still reeling from the October result. But the 26th of January is a lingering symbol of centuries of hurt. I am Aboriginal and I love this country, but I want it to be better for my children. A slight change to the date is a small concession that would go a long way in bringing our nation together.

Kate Russell is a proud Awabakal woman and the CEO of Supply Nation.

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