A close political ally of Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged Australians to do better to be more respectful of the official national day and more inclusive of First Nations' history and traditions.
While thanking the Australian of the Year finalists ahead of Monday night's awards ceremony, the Prime Minister's Assistant Minister Ben Morton said January 26 should not be treated like any other day because it means different things to different people, particularly Indigenous Australians.
"We need to focus on honouring our national day more respectfully, more inclusively, so Australia Day can be a day about bringing Australians together as one, not dividing us," Mr Morton told the finalists. "Because we are all part of the story. We can do Australia Day better.
"We must and we should include greater recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's history, traditions and culture. There are important opportunities to tell truth and learn from it."
The arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 forever changed the world's oldest surviving culture, one that had been described by Captain Cook as "happier than we Europeans". Mr Morton said that was why January 26 was an important day to reflect on Australia's past.
"It should never be treated like any other day, nor should we disrespectfully mark it like was common in the 1980's," he said.
Government ministers have in recent days criticised references to Invasion Day, which is the term used by protests seeking to move the date of the official national day. The date was officially made a fixed public holiday in 1994.
Labor MP for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain said leadership was needed to advance discussion about the future of Australia Day.
"The undeniable loss many Aboriginal people feel on January 26 cannot be ignored," Ms McBain said.
Labor is not calling for a change of the date, but has urged the government to fulfil a recommendation from the Uluru Statement from the Heart and provide an Indigenous voice to parliament.