Australians All, Let Us Rejoice

That’s the first line of our national anthem, for any international friends who aren’t aware; and today, 26 January, is Australia Day.

Today is “a day to celebrate national pride”, according to the news bulletin I have playing in the background. As a white, middle-class Australian (even a depressed and anxious one!) I have plenty to rejoice about.

We live in freedom, in a land of plenty; we have a pretty damned fine welfare system (although I learnt yesterday that we now spend less than the UK and the US on welfare, as a percentage of GDP; and we are surrounded by natural beauty.

Of course, the deal’s not so great for indigenous Australians – some of whom call today “Invasion Day”. At present, it’s not so great for people seeking asylum here, either: our conservative government is pretty committed to Project Sovereign Borders (yes, I just spewed in my mouth a little, too).

If you go in for national pride, you’d better not place great expectations on our Prime Minister. Thanks to the high regard in which his predecessor, Julia Gillard, was held internationally, Tony Abbott is currently the president of the G20 for 2014. His keynote address to the recent World Economic Forum in Davos didn’t receive much coverage in the Australian press, but has been commented upon elsewhere – see Alan Austin’s article, “Abbott’s Davos Disaster“, for further details.

What does Australia Day mean to me? It’s a call to action. Our nation is, and has been, just so wonderful to so many people – and we have to fight to ensure it stays that way. We are a land of plenty; we can embrace our indigenous brothers and sisters, draw close those fleeing persecution overseas, and care for those in our community who are disenfranchised and alienated. We can work together to banish the stigma of mental illness, help people understand that our culture of binge drinking isn’t constructive, and fight against the insidious encroachment of gambling into everyday life. We can take a stand against the retail duopoly which threatens our food supply and the well-being of our farmers.

Yes, Australia Day is a call to action: a call to continue to work to Advance Australia Fair.

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