Let’s make Australia Day a day for dialogue, not division
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Let’s make Australia Day a day for dialogue, not division

Forty years ago, I pledged to share Australia’s democratic beliefs and respect the rights and liberties of the Australian people. And with those words, I became a naturalised citizen.

It was one of the most memorable days of my life — as with many others who become citizens.

In the tapestry of nations, Australia stands out as a beacon of inclusivity and optimism, with a remarkable 30 per cent of its population born in another country. This figure, twice the percentage of Americans or Britons born abroad, attests to our nation’s exceptional ability to foster and embrace diversity.

Australians come from over 190 countries, representing a kaleidoscope of races, religions, and ethnicities. It is entirely fair to say we are a global leader in welcoming migrants.

The story of Australian migration is a stark departure from its convict-colonised origins. Unlike the unwilling settlers of 1788, modern migrants freely choose Australia for its promise of freedom, acceptance, and unparalleled opportunities.

This nation, poetically immortalised as a “sunburnt country,” radiates a warmth that attracts brave individuals willing to embark on a journey of new adventures, unknown possibilities, and the pursuit of a better life.

The resilience and optimism of migrants are evident in the continued growth of Australian families, contrasting sharply with demographic stagnation in many other parts of the developed world.

However, amidst this vibrant tapestry, a dissonant note of self-loathing has infiltrated the national dialogue.

Some politicians, pundits, and educators propagate the notion that Australia is xenophobic and racist, perpetuating a narrative that is impossible to reconcile with the welcoming spirit that created the nation’s huge immigrant population.

Australia Day, once a symbol of national pride, has become a focal point for controversy.

We are told that the convicts (who would rather have been anywhere else) constituted an “invasion,” and Australia Day marks a day of shame.

Citizenship ceremonies are cancelled, and supermarkets shy away from selling Australian flags; fostering the idea that love of one’s country is an outdated, improper, and taboo emotion.

While a healthy dose of self-reflection is essential for growth, a fine line exists between acknowledging historical shortcomings and succumbing to self-hate.

Australia’s narrative is not defined solely by its past but also by its resilience, inclusivity, and commitment to progress. Erasing historical symbols, cancelling ceremonies, and dismissing national pride risks undermining the very values that make our nation an attractive haven for diverse communities worldwide.

Self-hatred is particularly notable in universities. Although they owe their existence to the Enlightenment ideals of Western Civilisation, universities now shy away from teaching the value of their own creation.

Their rejection of Enlightenment principles in favour of a distorted form of equality hampers intellectual growth and stifles the diversity of thought that universities should champion. It is imperative that educational institutions uphold their responsibility to foster an environment where open-mindedness, critical thinking, and diverse perspectives thrive.

Politicians are equally culpable. They claim an interest in a hypothetical “humanity” while showing disdain for individual human beings who happen to live outside their social bubble.

The possibility for productive discourse dwindles in a culture steeped in self-loathing and deep-seated disdain.  Patriotism and national pride mean more than flying flags or cheering on our national sporting teams. It represents a mutual commitment to one another and to achieving our ideals.

Australians should be proud that our country remains a beacon of hope for countless prospective migrants worldwide. These migrants recognise that the denigration of our own history and culture is an anomaly, a fringe derangement, not a dominant social trait.

Every nation has its imperfections, but the world rightly sees Australia as a benevolent country dedicated to continual improvement. A desire to contribute to a nation striving to reach its egalitarian ideals still resonates with millions eager to join and enhance the Australian story.

In a time of polarisation and stark binaries, Australia Day should not be an opportunity for political posturing but a crucible for collective thought and introspection.

As the canvas of patriotism becomes crowded with the stark colours of uncompromising love or rejection, the intricate shades that genuinely define a nation’s essence are lost. Fortunately, most Australians value a nuanced form of patriotism that celebrates our nation’s achievements while acknowledging that there will always be more work to be done.

By insisting that universities, politicians, and various pundits display a true intellectual integrity that transcends the confines of political passions, we can navigate the complex landscape of our times with wisdom and coherence. In doing so, we can honour our country’s legacy and foster its boundless possibilities.

Australia Day should serve as a platform for constructive dialogue rather than a battleground for divisive narratives.

It is an occasion to celebrate the nation’s achievements, acknowledge its historical complexities, and pave the way for a better future.

Most important of all, Australia Day is a moment to extend a warm welcome to our newest citizens.

May they find in this sunburnt land not only a new home but also an opportunity to help Australia achieve its true essence—optimism, inclusiveness, and steadfastness in the pursuit of a better world.

To quote Martin Luther King, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

Emeritus Professor Steven Schwartz is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies and a former Vice-Chancellor of Macquarie, Murdoch and Brunel universities.

Photo by Catarina Sousa