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Debate needed on Aust Day date: Calma


Lisa Martin

ACT Australian of The Year finalist, indigenous elder Dr Tom Calma.

ACT Australian of The Year finalist, indigenous elder Dr Tom Calma. Photo: Melissa Adams

ACT Australian of The Year finalist, indigenous elder Tom Calma, wants a national debate on whether Australia Day should be moved to a more neutral date.

Dr Calma is one of eight finalists for Australia's top gong.

The indigenous leader, who has also served as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner, was honoured for his work as an inspirational advocate for human rights and social justice.

Asked about what Australia Day meant to him, Dr Calma said he reflected on "our history, both the positive and negative sides".

Dr Calma said he was able to "intellectualise" the day a bit to celebrate its broad meaning.

"In the big spectrum, you get some people who are opposed to the notion of Australia Day ... people call it survival day or invasion day. All those notions are there," Dr Calma said.

He said there was merit in a public debate about whether Australia Day should be celebrated on a more neutral date.

"If we are going to understand our history we need to understand that if we want to be an inclusive society we need to come up with a time that's acceptable to people, that could mean a change of date of the event or having someway to recognise the impacts of the landing."

Dr Calma's dedication to improving the lives of indigenous people included writing a landmark report calling for the 17-year life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people to be closed.

That laid the groundwork for the Close the Gap campaign.

He is starting to see more cooperation between authorities and organisations working with indigenous communities.

Dr Calma hailed the prime minister's yearly reports on the progress of the close-the-gap goals, which started under Kevin Rudd and continued with Julia Gillard.

"That's the level of accountability we've been calling for to make sure governments stay focused," he said.

Dr Calma has lived in Canberra since 1992 and is an indigenous elder from the Kungarakan and Iwaidja tribal groups, whose traditional lands are southwest of Darwin and on the Coburg Peninsula in the Northern Territory.



  • There is no need for the date of Australia Day to be changed. January 26 represents the arrival of the first fleet, as well as the proclamation of British sovereignty over the Eastern seaboard of Australia. A friend of mine celebrates Australia Day like no one else i know. It is his biggest celebration of the year and he always looks forward to it. He adorns his house with the Australian flag, and this year will also include an indigenous flag, as he is part indigenous. It is time for some Australians to come join the party.

    Date and time
    January 24, 2013, 8:14AM
    • liklik, you are spot on, I also proudly have an Australian flag flying on my premises but sadly as is the way these days my wife is terrified it may cause reprecussions one day.

      OLD DOG
      Date and time
      January 24, 2013, 8:56AM
  • Even to start a debate is rancorous thing to do.
    If you stand back and look objectively, there was no "nation" existing in this continent before the Europeans arrived. A "nation" is a political entity that has a relatively advanced political organization. There are various levels of authority, there is a recognized judicial structure, and there are institutions concerned with science and education generally. A nation has a recognized territory with borders and a system of authority that allow the rulers to pass laws and conclude treaties with other nations. The Kurds are not a nation; they are a cultural entity but not a nation. Before Europeans arrived there were tribes here, and those tribes had characteristic cultures with both commendable and regrettable elements, but there was no level of organization that would qualify for the title of "nation."

    Date and time
    January 24, 2013, 12:29PM
    • If I were an Aborigine, I'd get down on my knees every day and thank God that the British got here first....

      Date and time
      January 24, 2013, 3:55PM
      Comments are now closed

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