My stance on Australia Day is well documented. The date as it stands represents the start of the theft of a continent and it needs to move from January 26 to a more inclusive date. Not far, mind, a summery celebration of Australia feels right and the fourth Monday in January would be ideal. Under that arrangement one year in seven that would be January 26, but no one would complain because it would not celebrating white arrival in Australia.
Doing plenty of complaining at the moment is our unhappy Communications Minister Mitch Fifield who is annoyed someone has the audacity to recognise the problem with January 26. He was unhappy with a decision ABC’s youth music radio station Triple J’s management took last week to move the date of its popular Hottest 100 countdown from January after 60 per cent of those polled in a listener survey said they supported the move. Leaving aside the fact the Hottest 100 has been a moveable feast, his intervention had all the hallmarks of culture wars.
Triple J denied Fifield’s assertion the decision was “political” saying the countdown had not always been held on Australia Day. That was disingenuous from the station, Fifield was right – the decision WAS political.
But that was the only way he was right. Of course it was a political decision, following a national campaign to respect the views of Indigenous Australians who see January 26 as a Day of Mourning.
To say it isn’t political is as absurd as saying sports and politics don’t mix. The ABC has a charter to be neutral and unbiased but it takes political decisions all the time with shows like its nightly news service and 7.30 on what the leads are, who they talk to and what angles they take. It was a political decision to remove Lateline from the schedule. Given its funding is from the government, the ABC is inherently political and its leaders face an annual grilling at Senate Estimates.
No doubt the next time Michelle Guthrie is in parliament she will face questions from right-wing warriors about the Triple J decision. And no doubt they will follow Fifield’s line on the topic. “This is just a really bad idea, it’s a dumb idea and Triple J should change their mind,” he told another ABC station. “This is an attempt to delegitimise Australia Day. Australia Day is January 26. That’s not going to change. It’s not going anywhere.”
Again Fifield is partially right. Whether Triple J admits it or not, it WAS an attempt to delegitimise the date of Australia Day. But Fifield refuses to countenance why that might be the case and simply hides behind the non sequitur “It’s not going anywhere”. If follows a long line of white politicians refusing to engage with Indigenous demands and casually dismissing them as ‘dumb ideas” White Australia has had two centuries of practice and shows no sign of easing up as the disgraceful dismissal of the Uluru Statement showed.
Labor’s one line response to Fifield’s comments was a gem. “Mate, fix your second rate NBN” was a good riposte to a minister with oversight of a catastrophic rollout of our communications fibre. But it left Labor off the hook too, implying that the Triple J issue was not worth a response.
It is worth a response. Labor should congratulate the ABC for listening to its audience. Labor should now listen to its own audience and work to move Australia Day away from January 26. It should also make the Uluru Statement an election issue. As the same-sex marriage debate has shown, the Australian people are far ahead of many of its politicians when it comes to supporting the right decision.