ACT first Australian jurisdiction to gazette Reconciliation Day public holiday
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ACT first Australian jurisdiction to gazette Reconciliation Day public holiday

The co-chair of Reconciliation Australia has applauded the ACT for becoming the first Australian state or territory to gazette Reconciliation Day as a public holiday.

The first Reconciliation Day public holiday will be held on May 28 2018, after a bill to amend the Holidays Act passed with tripartisan support in the ACT Legislative Assembly on Thursday.

Professor Tom Calma said the new Reconciliation Day public holiday in Canberra could open the door to a discussion about changing the date.

Professor Tom Calma said the new Reconciliation Day public holiday in Canberra could open the door to a discussion about changing the date. Credit:Karleen Minney

The holiday will replace Family and Community Day, which means this year's celebration on September 25 will be Canberra's last.

It will mark the 1967 Referendum anniversary and will be at the start of National Reconciliation Week.

Steven Freeman's family led the National Sorry Day walk during Reconciliation Week in 2017.

Steven Freeman's family led the National Sorry Day walk during Reconciliation Week in 2017.Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

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Professor Tom Calma said the move was "significant", particularly as it came off the back of three Melbourne councils dumping January 26 as Australia Day.

He hoped the public holiday signalled a shift to celebrating multiculturalism, rather than the proclamation of Australia, on January 26.

"The ACT always been very progressive community in social change and justice and this is the next step," Professor Calma said.

"It's got to be applauded celebrating reconciliation through a public holiday but there's a diversity thinking about January 26.

At least 1000 attended the Sorry Day bridge walk in Canberra during this year's Reconciliation Day.

At least 1000 attended the Sorry Day bridge walk in Canberra during this year's Reconciliation Day. Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

"I recognise many Australians see January 26 as just a public holiday, they don't see the original significance of why it is celebrated, they see it as day when we celebrate the new Australias being recognised as citizens, when Australians are recognised for all the good work they do and that's what it should be.

"Now the ACT government has taken that move there's now potential to reconsider what January 26 means and at Reconciliation Australia we welcome discussion about that and welcome the community asking the big questions about what it is we're celebrating."

Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury signalled he was open to discuss changing the date in the ACT.

Mr Rattenbury said as a republican, he would rather have scrapped the Queens Birthday holiday in June and would welcome a chance to "balance" more public holidays towards the end of the year.

Liberal MLA Andrew Wall said some may see the public holiday as a token act, given the current crisis within the ACT's Aboriginal community.

The Liberals' Indigenous affairs spokesman James Milligan highlighted Aboriginal overrepresentation in Canberra's jail and foster care system.

However Aboriginal affairs minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said it would not just be another "day-off"

She said the day was both a "symbolic and practical" demonstration of government's commitment to reconciliation.

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.