Box ticking exercises and virtue signalling only create more division

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Australia Day will be celebrated next week and you can expect the usual barrage of news stories, social media posts and divisive commentary about us daring to smile on January 26.

The names change but the story generally remains the same: anyone who dares to celebrate on January 26 is racist and doesn’t understand Australia’s true history.

It is true that Australia has a mixed relationship with the date, and everyone is indeed entitled to their opinion, though most rarely back it up with actions.

And nobody ever takes into account the fact that many people do want to celebrate what a great country this is on January 26, and now feel ashamed if they do.

This year’s ‘change the date’ woke-a-thon actually started before Christmas last year, when Channel 10 declared it would no longer refer to January 26 as Australia Day.

Presumably anyone who dares to mutter the term will be forced to sit down and watch ‘The Project’ on repeat.

“At Paramount ANZ we aim to create a safe place to work where cultural differences are appreciated, understood and respected,” 10 boss Beverley McGarvey said in an email to staff.

“For our First Nations people, we as an organisation acknowledge that January 26 is not a day of celebration. We recognise that there has been a turbulent history, particularly around that date and the recognition of that date being Australia Day.”

Staff at 10 can choose to work through the national holiday if they don’t feel comfortable taking the day off.

So while 10 goes about on its box ticking exercise, its claims that it creates a safe place to work must surely be questioned.

Rather than just accepting January 26 is a nationally sanctioned public holiday, it instead opts to divide its staff. Presumably anyone who dares to take the day off now will raise eyebrows in the workplace. Any colleague seen enjoying an Australia Day BBQ or laying on the beach rather than slaving away at their desk in protest will be labelled racist and bogan.

But 10 is probably OK with that; because only certain groups are allowed to have feelings or be offended.

The low-rating 10 of course has been on this path for some time. Before many of its programs, including ‘The Project’, it runs a note acknowledging the Indigenous lands on which the show was produced.

It is not the only one in this boat; this has also crept in at other networks and Foxtel also runs a message before most of its Australian programming.

Where did this come from though?

Was there legitimate consultation with Indigenous Australians who all said it would help reconciliation, understanding and bridging the gap if we acknowledged the location of a television studio or sports ground was once Aboriginal land?

Maybe there was and continues to be, and if that’s the case, wonderful.

But surely this messaging, and the obsession with including a Welcome to Country or Acknowledgement of Country at every event or meeting (yes, plenty of companies do it before the most mundane of meetings and conferences) is diluting the intent?

There should indeed be a Welcome to Country or Acknowledgement of Country at ceremonies or events that are extremely significant and poignant in relation to Australia’s past, present or future; or if it’s an event that will see the National Anthem be played, for example.

But holding an Acknowledgement of Country at a local charity event, a run-of-the-mill sports match or the opening of a shop seems counter-productive.

All of this debate over Australia Day and the date has only made things more divisive.

I have to admit, I’ve softened my stance somewhat on the date change; I can accept the argument, but I’m far from convinced it’d achieve all that much.

You can’t tell me the debate will simply go away and we’ll be free to celebrate Australia Day on a new date without the guilt and shame that is thrown upon us on January 26.

The loudest voices in the room will simply shift their argument and nothing will change in the big scheme of things.

The truth is the debate has to somehow settle itself down before any realistic discussions about changing the date can be had.

There needs to be an acceptance from the naysayers that January 26 is, for some, a problematic date and not necessarily a date of pure celebration.

But there needs to be an acceptance from the ‘change the date’ brigade that not everyone who wants to celebrate the wonderful country they live in on January 26 is a white, beer drinking bogan with no brain.

The sensible middle understand both sides of the argument and would love to see a solution.

What isn’t sensible is divisive moves like the one made by Channel 10, which serves only to disrupt and rile up emotions; rather than actually achieve anything.

Perhaps a better call to arms from Beverley McGarvey, and other bosses in her place, would be to announce new Indigenous support programs specific to their industry, or donations to causes that improve the lives of Indigenous people.

At the moment, the debate about how to best recognise Indigenous culture and history in this country is being clouded by white people on a desperate box ticking exercise, and it’s not helping anyone.

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