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It is time to pivot from divisive rhetoric to constructive action

Zak Kirkup -

There is something seriously wrong in our country when political division starts to infect where we buy our groceries. The call recently by the Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, and others, to boycott Woolworths or any other companies that refuse to carry Australia Day merchandise is a terrible reflection of where our country has landed over January 26.

At the very least, it seems wholly inconsistent for a leader of the Liberal party to be telling companies what they should stock on their shelves. The centre-right party of which I have been a member for more than half my life usually prides itself on valuing the freedom of the individual and freedom of enterprise; clearly when it comes to January 26, we're happy to set those long-held values aside in the pursuit of political opportunism.

To be very clear: changing the date of January 26 will not change the hard realities confronting Aboriginal Australia. Moving the date on which we're meant to celebrate our nation will not instantly mend the intergenerational trauma, it won't Close the Gap, and it won't bring the much-needed economic equality so missing in Australia.

Instead of there being a nuanced conversation around this public holiday, and what it means for our country's national identity and the issues we are confronting, we're having conversations about whether or not foreign-made plastic flags should be lining the shelves of one of the supermarket chains.

We must accept that Australia Day being held on January 26 has become a significantly polarising date. Each year, fewer and fewer people want to celebrate it and it's getting to the point now – with many local governments withdrawing from citizenship ceremonies – that it's almost becoming a taboo to do anything in public to mark the date.

It is time that we pivot from divisive rhetoric to constructive action. As the fabric of our nation frays at the edges, the business community is uniquely positioned to weave a tapestry of unity and progress. It is not merely about stocking shelves or endorsing holidays; it's about championing values that resonate with the heart of Australia. Businesses can become the leaders in bringing positive change.

By setting an example of inclusivity and spearheading initiatives that address the real issues faced by the Aboriginal community, businesses can catalyse a movement of healing and unity.

The journey towards a reconciled Australia, one that truly reflects the spirit and diversity of our people, begins with a single step taken together. It is not about marking a date on the calendar; it is how we respond to this new chapter in our nation's history, one where every day is a step towards collective prosperity and genuine unity.

Zak Kirkup, of Yamatji heritage, is a former leader of the WA Liberal Party and one of the largest employers of Aboriginal people in the construction services sector.

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