INDIGENOUS federal frontbencher Ken Wyatt says the debate over a new date for Australia Day will stop when the nation becomes a republic, a change he suggests is inevitable within the next 10 years.
He believes the momentum for a republic would be supported by a younger generation “less wed to the monarchy with a strong sense of national identity”.
“At one time you could have said Australians would not support same sex marriage, but we’ve matured and grown, and changed,” he said.
Debate over a new date is audible in Minister Wyatt’s electorate of Hasluck.
“I’ve had constituents say don’t move the date and calls from people who say how can you not support your own people?” he said.
“Australia Day has become more focused on nationalism and by that I mean we take great pride in the nation we’ve become, but equally there are people that would like to see a change of date.”
He said celebrations on January 26, which became a public holiday in 1994, had become significant in the past five years.
“To some extent, the survey that was undertaken recently clearly showed a lot of Australians do not know the origin of Australia Day other than a day of celebrating being Australian and the way of life we have with family and friends,” he said.
However, for Aboriginal Australians the date reflects the arrival of the first fleet of British ships in 1788.
He said a change of date required the consensus of Australians.
“This time, there is a heightened sense of a change because it’s come from Richard Di Natale and the Greens writing to local governments, but the government needs to take into consideration the views of Australians because we’re asking people to rethink what Australia Day is.
“What does worry me is whether we create a division within this debate in a way that is unsavoury,” he said.
He referred to trolling in the same sex marriage debate and the campaign against retired tennis player Margaret Court.
“People should be allowed to have a view and we should not denigrate them because of those views; we should become part of a broader discussion.
“At the moment, I don’t want to see Australia Day moved until we reach a stage where there is wholehearted agreement to shift; no one has really put forward an alternative date.
“People talk to me about their frustrations with housing, education, issues to do with health services, and that’s why I came out strongly and said let’s not waste our time fighting over shifting the date when we have levels of disparity that are not acceptable.
“If we aim to be proactive, then let’s be proactive in closing the gaps of disparity.”
Minister Wyatt will attend Australia Day events in Mundaring Shire and the City of Swan on January 26.
He plans to join an indigenous group on the foreshore to watch the Skyworks firework show.
Australia Day – timeline
January 26 is made a public holiday in 1994
Date is adopted nationally as Australia Day in 1995
Source: National Australia Day Council Ltd
* Opposition leader Bill Shorten will start the process for a republic if he wins the next election.
* The last referendum on an Australian republic was on November 6 1999.
* Malcolm Turnbull led the republican vote.
* The results in WA were 41.48 per cent for 58.52 per cent against
Prime Minister Turnbull and Bill Shorten support Australia Day on January 26.