Is it time to change the date? Or is it time for something else?
Over the next few years, this will be a frequent topic in Australia this time of year. If our political discourse over the last few years (on any issue) is a guide, it’ll be a fractious conversation.
Two years ago Australia Day started to feel a bit strange, something was wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it (and I do my best to ignore the online frenzy on what I “should” think). Last July I got the opportunity to spend a week in a remote Aboriginal community in NT. I took it to go see for myself what life was like for First Australians and to make up my own mind.
It was an amazing week. I came away convicted how deep the problems run & how our current strategy isn’t getting to the root cause. Most profound was the disconnection that community felt from the rest of the country.
For many what 26th January represents in the arrival of the British is deeply painful. I wasn’t picking up on that in that community as a specific issue, hence is moving it a surface level solution only? Will it really solve the problem?
Is there another way to look at this?
A topic I’m starting to explore this year is the shift of economic power from the West to China. We are in the “Asian Century” and it will have a profound impact for entrepreneurs.
Geographically and politically, Australia is well placed to transition, should we choose to do so. A successful transition will need us to question every assumption we’ve ever made about who we are, and how we work.
For example, is it time to look at the Republic option again, for two reasons that are converging.
Firstly, why changing the date of Australia Day isn’t enough. The core issue here is the disengagement felt by the Aboriginal community.
Any date needs to unite us as a community and genuinely address the concerns the Aboriginal community have.
The best (sensible) date proposed so far is January 1st, being Federation in 1901. While it’s significant, it’s not one the broader Australian community has embraced.
Its historical significance appeared during WW1. We came together and forged values as a nation. ANZAC Day recognises this well.
Federation was about the institutions, very much based on a British form of democracy.
I’m a big fan of the UK. The Brits have a steadiness and stability the Americans can’t match (I’ve lived in both so can say that). Their constitutional monarchy seems to have a lot to do with that. How they deal with Brexit will take every ounce of their considerable resilience.
In the last referendum, I didn’t vote because I was overseas (in London) and I didn’t think it was that important.
So why now?
The cultural and historical legacy of events in 1788 need to be acknowledged. To do so properly means looking at every single one of our legal frameworks and institutions. Which still work for us, and which don’t.
A process of transitioning to a Republic needs that level of depth. It may be the only trigger that would provide the impetus. Necessity is the “mother of all invention”. That process may enable the conversations that need to happen to truly make a difference.
That’s an expensive and intrusive exercise. Are things really that broken? So why do it? Why spend the money and trigger the emotive reaction this will create in some parts of our community. More on that later.
This brings us to the second reason. Is it time to acknowledge the bigger economic transitions going on in the world? Things aren’t “broken” so much as “changing”.
It is predicted that China will be the world’s biggest economy by 2030 (source here). The economic & political knock-on effects will touch every area of our lives in Australia.
What will that look like? Predicting that means getting deep inside the psyche of China. What I can say is it won’t look and act Western.
A growing % of our population are not from western backgrounds. So we’ve now got two groups who aren’t necessarily engaged with our Western history.
The transition to the Asian Century will be a major undertaking for any Western country. Given Australia’s geographical position it is one that makes sense.
Accepting change that is going to happen and working with it to make it work for you is a sign of strength. Fighting it will only weaken us.
At the same time, it creates an opportunity to genuinely fix the sins of the past for the Aboriginal community. It’s also the sins of the present, it’s still going on today.
How to pull something like that off?
It will take a unifying leader to bring together several very disparate groups. None of our current politicians are using unifying techniques right now. It will also be a long and tough journey that will span several election cycles.
For example, there is a group they will need to bring with them on the journey.
They are the veterans, and the children of veterans, who fought under the Australian flag. Their concerns often get shouted down in our current political discourse. The emotional impact that has means they will disengage.
They will also be taken advantage of by some leaders who are fighting to protect the status quo at every turn.
Leaders can appear in the most unexpected places. They usually do appear when it’s time for a new approach and some fresh thinking, in response to “big picture” events. It is that time.