And so Australia Day has been cancelled.
Forget whether it’s Australia Day or Invasion Day.
Forget the long history of celebrating January 26 with a barbecue, a cold beer and a string-throwing contest.
Forget even for a moment the heartache it causes others, especially our First Nations people.
Our community is divided, and that division divides customers and sports fans, politicians and immigrants; there is no unanimous opinion on Australia Day.
But what shouldn’t be missing here is how we, like a bunch of teens canceling friends on Instagram, just mothballed it.
Australia Day in 2023 has simply been cancelled. Canceled. Declared null and void. Withdrawn. Withdrawn.
And by next year, it may not even have happened at all.
Move or mothball?
The problem with that is that while the rationale behind moving or muting it may be compelling, it’s done in a tasteless way that makes it difficult for many to move forward.
And it leaves our politicians off the hook.
Immigrants, and indeed some who turned their lives upside down to move to Australia decades ago, still celebrate January 26 – when official citizenship ceremonies are regularly held – with a cake, zinc-encrusted noses and an Akubra hat to celebrate the avoid strong Australian sun.
This year, some of them will eat inside, afraid their neighbors will see them when they return from an Invasion Day gathering.
In the absence of a real national debate, it has been left to non-politicians to decide how Australia Day will unfold.
At the Australian Open, the day is not recognized and no official celebrations are scheduled. And while Cricket Australia will not be referencing Australia Day, the decision to play a match both on and off the pitch has been met with strong criticism.
Outside of sport, the push to park Australia Day in history is strong. City councils – including the City of Sydney – will not hold citizenship ceremonies, with many more to follow next year.
At the state level, traditional celebrations have been canceled. In Queensland, for example, an Invasion Day rally has gained attention. Victoria’s Australia Day parade is also off the agenda.
At large supermarkets, the traditional flags – balloons and flags and garlands – are gathering dust in the warehouse and employees are given the freedom to alternate days off.
And the habit of tuning in to Triple J’s Hottest 100 while the lamb is cooked on the barbeque is well and truly roasted.
Indeed, sales of lamb at some butchers have also been capped.
It has been left to business and civil society organizations to drive the debate, and much of it has been done in response to their consumer base.
“Where would I buy an Australian flag?” I asked in my local supermarket yesterday.
“Not here,” the employee replied. “Apparently it has become political.”
So what is the consequence of this textbook adoption of cancel culture?
The loud voices win, and those with quieter opinions go unheard. There is no real debate. And the risk of division is growing.
Government absent from debate
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has missed a real opportunity here to lead and unite the nation.
This could have been the start of a broad debate that calls for nuance, respect and leadership. Instead, he squibbed it.
Should we abolish Australia Day? Should we change the date? What would be a more appropriate celebration of being Australian?
The government’s answers reflect a plate of scrambled eggs.
The government has no plans to change the date. It supports local councils that hold citizenship ceremonies on alternate days. And it was ‘fine’ for workers to get out front on Australia Day and take another day off.
What does the prime minister really think? Is it Australia Day or Invasion Day? Should those who have sworn allegiance in recent years wrap the cakes on January 26? Or join their neighbors in drunken renditions of Advance Australia Fair?
And if Albanians and his government can’t handle that debate, what are our chances of bringing the nation together and recognizing First Nations people in the constitution?
It’s something to consider whether you’re turning the lamb on the barbie or shouting support at an Invasion Day gathering.