Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has promised he will keep Australia Day as a public holiday. Picture: AAP/James Ross
Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has promised he will keep Australia Day as a public holiday. Picture: AAP/James Ross

Don’t be fooled by Shorten’s Australia Day promise

IN life, there are three certainties: death, taxes and when Australia Day rolls around, we'll have yet another debate on changing the date.

But this year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has headed off the usual hijacking of this issue by self-aggrandising councils by demanding they hold their citizenship ceremonies on January 26.

And - hold on to your board shorts - would-be PM Bill Shorten tried to go one better.

In the course of rubbishing ScoMo for supposedly playing politics on the issue the Opposition Leader went one better promising that, if elected, he won't do the Left's bidding and "change the date".

"You sort of know when Australia Day is coming up, don't you, when a couple of weeks before you get the annual conservative outing to put politics into Australia Day," Shorten said.

But he also tried to walk both sides of the street, in the next breath appealing to everyday Aussies who don't want to see the date changed.

"One thing I pledge though is under me, Australia Day will always be a public holiday," Shorten promised.

Can I get an Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi?

Labor leader Bill Shorten has pledged to keep Australia Day a public holiday. Picture: AAP/James Ross
Labor leader Bill Shorten has pledged to keep Australia Day a public holiday. Picture: AAP/James Ross

By his very own yardstick, that could be seen as a new-found conservatism, or at least a nod to the sensible centre of Australian politics where the national day should be left for citizenship ceremonies and backyard snags.

But don't be fooled.

This is the same Bill Shorten who is beholden to the Left on a range of issues, not least climate change, refugees and housing policy.

On climate, Shorten is still committed to a 50 per cent renewable energy target and a 45 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030, with warnings that will decimate industry and lead to higher power prices, while doing virtually nothing to stop climate change.

On refugees, Labor supports medical evacuations for offshore asylum seekers on the advice of two medical professionals, which would put our immigration policy in the hands of activist doctors.

On housing, Labor policy on ending negative gearing except for newly built properties and halving the capital gains tax discount is sure to depress house prices and increase rents.

Morrison, meanwhile, is right to stick it to councils trying to make a point by changing the date of their ceremonies.

Having had the privilege of speaking at one of these events held by Waverley Council last year as an Australia Day ambassador, I can attest to how special it was to beaming new citizens to be sworn in on a day of such national significance.

Scott Morrison’s decision to ban board shorts and thongs at citizenship ceremonies is common sense. Picture: AAP/ Michael Franchi
Scott Morrison’s decision to ban board shorts and thongs at citizenship ceremonies is common sense. Picture: AAP/ Michael Franchi

Banning boardies and thongs was also a commonsense, if easy-to-mock, move from the PM; such an important occasion should be afforded the respect it deserves, even if these items comprise as much our summer national dress as Ugg boots and trackie daks do in winter.

Some councils have already lost their rights to hold citizenship ceremonies after grandstanding on the issue, including Melbourne's Greens-dominated Yarra and Darebin councils.

Both have voted to stop referring to "Australia Day" in all official communications, the former instead holding an Indigenous-themed event to acknowledge the "loss of culture, language and identity felt by the Aboriginal community."

Two NSW mid north coast councils are also at risk of having their citizenship powers scrapped - Hawkesbury City Council and Kempsey Shire Council - holding their ceremonies this year on the evening of January 25, citing cooler weather or to enable "more community participation."

Yeah, right.

Morrison is correct that these councils should stick to their knitting - or, more fittingly, garbage-collecting - rather than sowing division and disharmony over the date.

Anyway, I'd go one step further: any council that refuses to recognise Australia Day should also have its employees turn up to work on the public holiday.

That would, after all, be the conscionable thing to do.

CLP candidate and Walpiri-Celtic woman Jacinta Price believes Australia Day should remain on January 26. Picture: AAP/ Michael Franchi
CLP candidate and Walpiri-Celtic woman Jacinta Price believes Australia Day should remain on January 26. Picture: AAP/ Michael Franchi

No one is saying that people shouldn't be able to protest on the day or hold Invasion Day rallies if they choose - even if those tend to be seized by extremist activists with their disgraceful calls for "Australia to be abolished" or "burn[ed] to the ground".

That is their right, too, in a free country.

But local councils should stay out of it, not least because there is not one accepted stance among indigenous people about how to view the date.

As federal CLP candidate and Walpiri-Celtic woman Jacinta Nampijinpa Price says: "to fully recognise our history is to stick with the date."

"If people choose to, want to mourn, allow them to mourn," Price said. "But ultimately, use the rest of the day to reflect on what a country we have become."

Predictably, critics are deriding this move from Morrison as just the latest missive in the "culture wars", which has become another euphemism for the apparently evil hard Right.

Shorten may want to differentiate himself from the Greens, which last year made a campaign to change the date a party priority, but the dinky-di costume doesn't quite fit.

If we see him turn up in board shorts and Havaianas to his next press conference, the jig will really be up.

Caroline Marcus is the host of Saturday Edition and Sunday Edition on Sky News.



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