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Queen's birthday holiday and honours: time to move on: by Tasmanian Senator Guy Barnett: June 2006



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QUEEN’S BIRTHDAY HOLIDAY AND HONOURS - TIME TO MOVE ON

By Tasmanian Senator Guy Barnett

June 2006

It is time to replace the June Queen’s Birthday holiday with an alternative day with more relevance to Australia’s heritage and more significance for the Australian people, especially our young.

This long weekend holiday has in fact little relevance to the Queen’s Birthday, let alone significant relevance to any Australian historical context.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was actually born on 21 April, 1926 which means that for almost 70 years we have celebrated her birthday on the wrong day and in the wrong month. Secondly, most people in the United Kingdom do not celebrate the Queen’s birthday with a public holiday, but we in Australia do. Why is this so? I do question this attachment between Australians and the Queen’s Birthday? In 1936 most States decided to proclaim a holiday in June, close to the birthday of King George V, and we have been stuck with this embarrassing anomaly of having a birthday holiday for the wrong monarch ever since.

I have the deepest respect for Her Majesty, and although a republican I am not banging the republican drum. My hope is to “Australianise” our institutions and honours system and help make them relevant in 21st Century Australia.

Also I am not trying to rob Australians of a public holiday. Indeed we could replace this public holiday with a holiday to celebrate the mammoth effort of the nation’s volunteers. Our volunteer numbers have doubled from 3.2 million in 1995 to 6.3 million a decade later and yet they are under-recognised. They contribute 836 million hours each year to Australia, conservatively valued at $30 billion, or $82 million a day. We could replace the June long weekend holiday with a holiday to honour our volunteers in National Volunteers Week in May, or in September on National Wattle Day, or some other suitable day.

Alternatively a day could be set aside to honour those who lived in Australia prior to white settlement - indigenous Australians. Public discussion about these ideas may give rise to other days worthy of replacing the June long weekend holiday.

My other related suggestion is to move the awarding of the Queen's Birthday Honours to Australia Day or Anzac Day so that public service and civil awards are announced 0on Australia Day January 26, with military and bravery awards announced on Anzac Day.

I do so because we have been missing superb and historic opportunities to enhance Anzac Day and Australia Day as the profound statements of Australian nationalism that they deserve.

The solution is not overly challenging, but it requires an act of will. Why not combine the Queen's Birthday and Australia Day Honours, and ensure bravery awards and medals of a military nature are announced on Anzac Day.

Both moves would enhance the significance of the two days. In the case of Anzac Day we can broaden its nature and construction to formally honour and commemorate those deserving a bravery award, the brave and meritorious service of our Defence Force personnel and veterans with the appropriate accolades. My own grandfather was a World War One veteran and like so many other Australians I am immensely proud. The growing number of Australians, particularly young Australians in Anzac Day services both here and at Gallipoli is heartening. We can build on this.

The 1995 Report of the Review of Australian Honours and Awards noted that there were two sets of announcements each year, one on Australia Day in January and another set on the Queen's Birthday in June.

“It would seem appropriate that these should be moved from the Queen's Birthday to Anzac Day. Public Service and civilian awards could be announced on Australia Day and military and bravery awards on Anzac day.” The report recommended.

The report believed that the Defence-related awards announced on Anzac day would enhance the day and give it a greater and dynamic significance, with greater focus on Anzac Day.

My desire is to enhance our comparatively young but clearly strong and unique Australian character, our traditions and our history. Australia's history encompasses our European heritage, our Australian indigenous culture and the brilliant tapestry and mix of migrants that have called Australia home.

I don't believe that by edifying and building on our strengths we are dishonouring our past. On the contrary, we are drawing on our past to help shape our future.