Australia Day … next steps

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How do we move ahead in our thinking about Australia Day, especially as the discussion seems quite divided and sometimes polarised?

Cricket Australia’s recent decision to refrain from using the term “Australia Day” was criticised by the Prime Minister, expressing his view that cricket was cricket and politics was politics, and the two should not be mixed. As if we suspend all political judgement when we enter the cricket ground, or jump onto the streaming service, or listen on the radio. Yeah, nah.

I thought the PM’s comments betrayed any real sensitivity to First Nations people, and many others like myself who are burdened by the tensions around Australia Day. So, not a great move, PM.

Australians want more. They want a deeper discussion of the things we seem to be avoiding in our national discourse.

Australians want a fair go for First Nations peoples – so issues of Black Deaths in Custody, Stolen Generations, poor health and education outcomes for First Nations peoples really matter to a majority of people.

Australians want to understand their history – warts and all. People do want to acknowledge and recognise what happened in the past – whether flowing from good motive or ill.

Despite everything that has happened and is happening, we really do want to be a nation of “a fair go”, we really do want all people to be given “a fair go”, and we will not be happy if some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our nation are left behind.

So, while we do need to look back to name and to acknowledge all that has happened, a better response to all the questions about Australia Day (including my own) is to look forward together.

a better response to all the questions about Australia Day is to look forward – together

We can do this by starting to listen to First Nations people about what we need to do to build a common future. We can listen to one another and wrestle with what we all need to do to repair our history of brokenness. We can weep together about injustice past and present, and with much hope build shared aspirations for the future.

And as a nation, we need to

  • Stop telling ‘the other party’ what they need to do
  • Stop imposing solutions that have not been mutually developed
  • Make political decisions, not because they’ll work well for the polls, but because they are the best way to serve people (for the ‘how’, see Dot Point 2, above)
  • Teach our children – with all the integrity and humility we can muster – the true history of colonial dispossession of First Nations peoples
  • Retain Australia Day – but also consider making Sorry Day a nationally approved Public Holiday
  • Develop a National Cabinet for Reconciliation. I’m not convinced this title is the best we can do, but I’m sticking with the “reconciliation” terminology because it’s so widely used. Either way, political and First Nations leaders need to develop policies that help us wrestle with the really big issues and lead us forward together. Federal and State Governments will need to work out their own responses, but this is doable. The only thing stopping us is a lack of political will. And where there is a will, there’s a way.

I love Australia, and I celebrate everything this nation has given me. I, along with my forbears, my children, my grandchildren have been nurtured and nourished beautifully by this nation. But I don’t think the same opportunities have been given to First Nations peoples. And that has to change.

So, look forward with me. Yearn for what can be. Think of what it needs to look like, and let’s start. Let’s have God change our heart.

There’s a powerful vision in Isaiah 58 where the prophet speaks of a context of devastation and horrifying injustice. The Lord calls his people to stop mere actions of faith (like worship), if worship and fasting is all that’s going on. When worship is joined with stopping injustice and putting things right, then the light of God’s people will shine like the day and their healing and restoration will appear. Things will start to be put right and to reflect God’s character of true goodness and grace. Right-ness will ‘have their back’. Instead of a wasteland, there will be a garden. Ancient ruins, broken down in the prophet’s eye, will be rebuilt. God’s people will be known as “Rebuilders” and “Restorers”.

That’s what we’re longing for, right? For trust, hope, love, grace, mercy and justice to be rekindled and rebuilt.

For my mind, that’s a pretty good thing to start longing for on Australia Day.

To do that, my family will be logging on to the #ChangeTheHeart webcast tonight. As we do, we’ll be praying that our good God will work in us all to rebuild, repair and restore what has been broken.