The Turnbull government has reacted angrily to the new Greens campaign to change the date of Day, accusing leader Richard Di Natale of stoking division for the sake of “shameless attention seeking”.
Coalition and Labor politicians – from Barnaby Joyce to Bill Shorten – have united to reject the latest push by Senator Di Natale, who has declared the controversial issue will be one of his top priorities for 2018.
He has told the 100 Greens councillors across the country they will have the full support and resources of the federal party if they launch campaigns to shift local celebrations from January 26.
He wants more councils to follow the lead of Yarra, Darebin and Fremantle, which have all made moves to shift events from the date, because to many Indigenous ns it represents the trauma and violence of British colonisation.
But the government’s Assistant Minister for Home Affairs, Alex Hawke, issued a statement saying the Greens were making another “unrepresentative attempt to impose a far-left agenda on everyday ns”.
“Yet again the Greens are seeking to turn n against n and impose their politically correct, minority view on our history and our values,” he said. “[It] is shameless attention seeking at the expense of our national day and another example of why ns should reject the divisive approach of the Greens.”
The government is “resolute in our commitment to safeguard the integrity of citizenship ceremonies” he added – a clear signal the government intends to crack down on any councils that emulate Yarra or Darebin.
The government last year banned the two Greens-led councils in Victoria from holding citizenship ceremonies after they passed motions to change the date, accusing them of hijacking the celebration.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull posted a video on Facebook, acknowledging European settlement had been “complex and tragic” for Indigenous people but rejecting calls for change.
“I’m disappointed by those who want to change the date of Day, seeking to take a day that unites and ns and turn it into one that would divide us,” he said.
But the Greens have found an ally in former tennis champ Pat Cash, who has taken up the “change the date” cause after spending time working with a charity in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.
“I’m not celebrating the day the British landed here and started butchering the Aboriginal people,” he told 3AW on Monday.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the government was busy building infrastructure while the Greens fixated on fringe issues.
“They dwell in the philosophical. We build the things that actually make our nation stronger,” he said.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott weighed in on social media, saying: “There are 364 other days a year for the Greens to be politically correct.”
Senator Di Natale was quick to hit back at that, saying there should be a national holiday declared when Mr Abbott retires from Parliament.
“That would bring the country together in a way like few other national days,” he said.
NSW Multiculturalism Minister Ray Williams said anyone who boycotted January 26 celebrations was “un-n”. NSW Labor leader Luke Foley also rejected the idea but added there should be another public holiday that “recognises our Indigenous history that celebrates our Indigenous story.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s office said his position had not changed, pointing to a speech he gave in Parliament six months ago in which he said: “I do not support changing the date of Day. It is a day of citizenship ceremonies, of looking to the future, of celebrating all our cultures, faiths and traditions.”
Day is celebrated on January 26 because the First Fleet planted the British flag in Sydney Cove on January 26, 1788.