Tasmania Reconciliation Council lends voice to change the date debate

COUNCIL: Reconciliation Tasmania co-chairs Bill Lawson with Fiona Hughes, who says she feels excluded by not being able to celebrate Australia Day as an Indigenous person. Picture: Paul Scambler.
COUNCIL: Reconciliation Tasmania co-chairs Bill Lawson with Fiona Hughes, who says she feels excluded by not being able to celebrate Australia Day as an Indigenous person. Picture: Paul Scambler.

Changing the date of Australia Day would be a “powerful gesture” according to Reconciliation Tasmania Aboriginal co-chair, Fiona Hughes. 

Ms Hughes said commemorating the first European settlement at Sydney Cove was symbolic of the “ongoing disadvantage” experienced by too many Indigenous Australians. 

“I am nearly a half century old and I have never celebrated Australia Day,” she said. 

“I feel excluded and feel offended from not being able to celebrate Australia Day as an Australian first nations person. 

“If the Australian Government really wanted to work towards reconciliation between my people then it's time to change the date.

“Stop offending me and the traditional owners of this country and let’s become a united people.”

Numerous Australia Day celebrations are planned across the state on Friday. 

George Town Mayor Bridget Archer said the council did not have a resolved position on the change the date debate, which was last raised at November’s LGAT meeting. 

“Any councillor is of course free to bring it forward, but it is quite a complex issue,” she said.

“I think there are many diverse views on the issue and I don’t think our council would be comfortable making that call, without further consultation with the community.”

Meander Valley Mayor Craig Perkins said it was not the council’s place to take a position on the issue, before a federal decision was made. 

General manager John Brown said Break O’Day Council wrote to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in September, asking the government to initiate conversations with the community regarding the issue. 

The response was that the government was committed to celebrating Australia Day on January 26. 

Reconciliation co-chair Bill Lawson described the division in Tasmania’s Aboriginal community as “deep and bitter” and said it’s time to find a middle ground. 

“There are a lot of issues in Tasmania, which are not in a good place in terms of reconciliation,” he said.

“There is a big need for reconciliation between black and white, black and black and white and white.”