A few weeks ago, many people questioned whether it was right to celebrate New Year's Eve with fireworks when people had lost their homes and were engulfed in smoke and flames.
And as January 26 approaches, questions are again being asked about whether we should celebrate as a nation on a day that for many represents the dispossession of Indigenous Australians, and which perpetuates their exclusion and suffering.
This analogy is useful but limited, because Australia Day is more complex and meaningful than New Year's Eve.
Questions of when and how to celebrate our nation evoke fundamental concepts of justice and belonging. Calls to #changethedate raise anxieties about what's happening to our collective identity, heritage and pride in a rapidly changing world.
According to journalist and Wiradjuri man Stan Grant, Australia Day highlights how "we are still to find a song we can all sing".
I have steadily come to realise that we'll have a greater chance of composing and voicing that song if we reschedule Australia Day.
While this move will be unpopular with some, it's worth remembering that January 26 has only been a national holiday since 1994. And it's worth emphasising that, in setting a new day, we seek to build a prouder and more inclusive nation that acknowledges its history and honours its culture.
Looking back, the truth is that January 26 never was an occasion for us all to celebrate. Looking forward, the reality is that it never will be.
Answering this question is difficult in part because there are no standout national struggles for independence, revolution, a treaty or a republic. This means that we have choices. These choices can be put into three categories.
The "Federation Choices" include January 1, which marks the 1901 formation of the Commonwealth of Australia, and May 9, when Federal Parliament first sat. However, these dates are only marginally better than January 26.
New Year's Day is already booked as a public holiday and should not be double-booked and diluted with another occasion. Moreover, for all its political significance, Australia's federation was distinctively characterised by racial discrimination and exclusion.
As a leader of the federation movement, Alfred Deakin oversaw the drafting of Parliament's first law, the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, which was the basis for the White Australia Policy. "This Commonwealth shall be established," remarked Deakin, "on the firm foundation of unity of race." A federation-related Australia Day would have to distance itself from that foundation.
The second set of choices, "Reconciliation Choices", involve switching the national day with a view to bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Prime Minister Morrison opposes such a move, and has suggested instead maintaining Australia Day on January 26 and designating a separate national day to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture. Adding another national day has some merit, however it would not change the history nor address the opposition to January 26 as Australia Day.
Another choice would be the first Monday on or after May 27, which in the ACT is Reconciliation Day. This marks the occasion in 1967 when 90 per cent of Australia's voters chose to amend the constitution to allow the federal government to make laws for Indigenous Australians and for them to be included in the national census. Prior to that they were commonly subjected to state-based assimilationist laws and recorded separately in the census, reflecting a Social Darwinist conviction that Indigenous peoples' days were numbered.
While the 1967 referendum was an important social and political event, it signified the winding back of extreme discrimination rather than our coming together as a nation.
There is a third set of options - "Unfussy Choices" incorporating days that represent a fresh start. This might involve randomly selecting a day from a suitable swag. Or we could celebrate Australia Day on the last Monday or Friday of January, recognising our love of long holidays while also making it a little easier for parents with school-age children and those who celebrate the Lunar New Year.
Mate Day, on May 8, has been proposed. While it has charm, for May 8 to be a serious contender our understanding of mateship would have to evolve so that it's not centred around blokes.
Then there's Wattle Day on September 1, which evokes springtime beginnings and the wondrous presence of green and gold in the Australian landscape and sporting psyche.
The strength of these Unfussy Choices is also a weakness, because their lack of historical baggage means that the dates can seem flippant and superficial. Sustained energy and effort would be required for them to develop into meaningful occasions.
Choosing and investing in a new national day will invariably generate new debates and discontent. But we can, and should, now make that choice and muster the goodwill required to make it work for the nation.
So let's get scheduling.
- Kim Huynh is an ANU politics lecturer and ABC Radio Canberra presenter.