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Australia (Act) Day

Summary:
As usual, 26 January has been marked by protests, denunciations of those protests, and further iterations. Even apart from the fact that it marks an invasion, the foundation of a colony that later became one of Australia’s states isn’t much of a basis for a national day. A logical choice would be the day our Federation came into force. Unfortunately for this idea, our Founders chose 1 Jan 1901. The first day of the 20th century[1] must have seemed like an auspicious choice for a new country, but it ruled out the anniversary as a national day. The ideal thing would be to fix the problems of our current system with a republican constitution including a treaty with the original owners of our land. That would provide a date really worthy of celebration. In the meantime, I

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As usual, 26 January has been marked by protests, denunciations of those protests, and further iterations. Even apart from the fact that it marks an invasion, the foundation of a colony that later became one of Australia’s states isn’t much of a basis for a national day.

A logical choice would be the day our Federation came into force. Unfortunately for this idea, our Founders chose 1 Jan 1901. The first day of the 20th century[1] must have seemed like an auspicious choice for a new country, but it ruled out the anniversary as a national day.

The ideal thing would be to fix the problems of our current system with a republican constitution including a treaty with the original owners of our land. That would provide a date really worthy of celebration.

In the meantime, I suggest 3 March, the anniversary of the day in 1986 when the Australia Act came into force, finally establishing beyond any doubt that Australia is an independent country, entirely separate from the UK[2]. We had by 1986 a constitution and public policy that was at least formally non-racist, thanks to the 1967 referendum and the end of the White Australia policy. Many of the symbolic problems with the current date would be avoided, though the real injustices would remain to be addressed.

It’s true that the Australia Act doesn’t have a lot of resonance. But any date with a lot of resonance is bound to resonate badly for a large proportion of the population. At least this would be a choice nearly all of us could celebrate without worrying too much about its precise significance.

fn1. At least if you start the count from 1CE. I think it would be more sensible to cross-label 1BCE as 0 CE, making 1900 the start of C20. I had always assumed that Dionysius Exiguus, who invented the AD calendar was unaware of the concept of zero, but Wikipedia accords him a prominent role in its history.

fn2. Whether, when and to what extent, we had become an independent country before 1986 remains a mystery, but there’s no doubt after that.

John Quiggin
He is an Australian economist, a Professor and an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow at the University of Queensland, and a former member of the Board of the Climate Change Authority of the Australian Government.

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