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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 1026

Mr KEOGH (Burt) (16:24): The celebration of our national day, Australia Day, should be authentic and mature, where we can celebrate and mourn at the same time, honour all that is great about Australia and being Australian, remember the sufferings and our shortcomings, and commit to building a more cohesive and inclusive nation.

Over the past few years the debate about the date of Australia Day has become more and more visible. Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and some non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, have mixed feelings about celebrating this day marking the commencement of English colonisation, and this is understandable. But I would like to add a second—and, as far as I can tell, so far unspoken—argument about changing the date of Australia Day because, from a Western Australian perspective, 26 January has no historical significance whatsoever.

The settlement now known as Perth has been continuously inhabited for the last 40,000 years by the Wadjuk people of the great Noongar nation of south-western Australia. If we are to talk about European colonisation in WA, the Swan River colony was declared on 2 May 1829. While Western Australia's first English settlement was indeed an outpost of the New South Wales colony, when Albany was settled in 1827 in King George Sound—a place that was named on 29 September 1791—the first European interaction with Western Australia was more than 100 years earlier, when Dirk Hartog arrived at Shark Bay on 26 October 1616. While I do acknowledge that it was the colony starting in Sydney that led to the establishment of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania, Western Australia was settled and established separately and occupies nearly one-third of the Australian land mass.

Yes, Western Australia did join the Commonwealth, albeit reluctantly; but why should a date marking the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney have more significance for our nation than its equivalent date on the other side of the country? Our national day should be a day that every one of us can get behind, regardless of our origins, longevity in Australia and from which part of the continent we hail, and I am not sure that 26 January can make that claim. However, through all the conversations about changing the date of our national day, there tends to be a stumbling block on what the alternative national day should be. We federated on 1 January which is, of course, already a public holiday; and there has been an amusing campaign this year to look at 8 May as the date—that is, 'May 8; mate'—but I suspect that too many of the traditions of Australia Day involve warm weather for there to be a serious taste for a move towards May.

Here is my proposal. When our nation finally takes that final step towards full independence, when we finally stand up and become a republic, let us use that date as our national day. That will be a day we can all get behind. (Time expired)