Australia Day debate now on COAG agenda

Aboriginal leaders are poised to ask all tiers of government to formally change the date of Australia Day before next year.

Tasmanian lawyer and Aboriginal activist Michael Mansell said the issue of Australia Day being celebrated on January 26 — the date the First Fleet of British ships arrived at Botany Bay — would come up at meetings of Aboriginal representatives being held in Canberra in the coming days.

Representatives of the group were then expected to take up the matter with Council of Australian Government leaders on Friday.

The move comes after tens of thousands of people took to streets in major cities around Australia on January 26 calling for the date to be changed.

The group of leaders is meeting in Canberra to advise the Federal Government on the next phase of the ‘Closing the Gap’ agenda at the request of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Mr Mansell is one of the independent Aboriginal people in the group.

“Disappointed with the poor federal response to the Uluru Summit and Constitutional recognition, the Aboriginal panel will expect government ministers to be positive in improving the lives of Aboriginal people,” Mr Mansell said.

“Changing the date of Australia Day is an essential first step.

“Support for the change of date would indicate that governments appreciate the impact January 26 has on Aboriginal people. A new date is needed to avoid division. Unity is essential to reform.”

Federal government ministers are expected to join the Indigenous group on Thursday afternoon. On Friday, 10 representatives from the group are to formally present the gathering’s proposals to COAG.

Mr Mansell said the Aboriginal participants would not propose a “more of the same” approach.

“Instead we will be looking to change the way things are done,” he said.

“Imprisonment rates in all jurisdictions other than Tasmania and ACT continue to rise.

“Cashless welfare cards promote dependency, not responsibility.

“Government control of Aboriginal affairs is killing ideas and initiative. And the gap between living standards of whites and Aborigines is not closing significantly or at all.

“That means looking at establishing a new national Aboriginal representative body and transferring administration of Aboriginal programs to it. We need control of our destiny.

“It may also mean calling on the Federal Parliament to establish a Treaty Commission to develop a national treaty as proposed by the Uluru gathering in May 2017.”

Mr Mansell said state and federal laws also needed to divert Aboriginal people from custody, and programs needed to be set up to give courts more options.

Political representation of Aboriginal people was also set to be raised.

“Designated seats in parliament, like in New Zealand, will be on the table,” Mr Mansell said.

“Aborigines will argue that in a democracy the make-up of the parliaments should reflect the people they govern.

“Getting Aboriginal representatives into parliaments in Australia has been too slow and the current electoral process has failed to produce the desired results.”

Wendy Caccetta

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