Greens leader Richard Di Natale has pledged the party’s support for a push to change the date of Australia Day from January 26.
Senator Di Natale said the current date, which commemorates the landing of the First Fleet in Botany Bay, represented “pain and suffering” for many Indigenous Australians.
“It’s a day that represents an act of dispossession, an act of theft,” he said.
“It’s a day that reps the beginning of an ongoing genocide.”
He said the Greens supported changing the date as an act of “respect and understanding” – but affirmed the party still celebrated the contributions of all immigrants to the country.
“Some people would argue that changing the date is to somehow present a black armband view of history,” he said.
“There’s no such thing as a black armband view of history or a white armband view of history. There’s just history.”
Senator Di Natale said changing the official date of Australia Day did not mean people could not continue to celebrate or recognise January 26.
“At the moment it’s a day that divides the nation,” he said.
“We have an opportunity to bring Australia together.”
Former prime minister Tony Abbott earlier weighed into the debate via Twitter, tweeting: “There are 364 other days a year for the Greens to be politically correct. Why can’t they just accept that Jan 26 is the best available day to celebrate all that’s good about life in Australia.”
There are 364 other days a year for the Greens to be politically correct. Why can’t they just accept that Jan 26 is the best available day to celebrate all that’s good about life in Australia.
— Tony Abbott (@TonyAbbottMHR) January 15, 2018
Senator Di Natale responded by saying the country should institute a national holiday for the day Mr Abbott resigned from parliament.
“That would bring the country together in a way like few other national days,” he said.
The tweet came after Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce criticised the Greens for their support of the campaign to change the date of Australia Day.
Greens councillors across the country who launched local campaigns to move the January 26 date have been told they can count on the full support and resources of the national organisation.
Senator Di Natale said Australia needed to be honest about its history and the “mass slaughter” and “genocide” that marked the early years of European settlement.
But Mr Joyce hit back, rejecting the push and accusing the party of dwelling on the philosophical.
“We are building the inland rail, they’re talking about Australia Day. We are building the Regional Investment Corporation, they think that Lachlan Macquarie and Captain Cook were bad buggers,” he told reporters in Parkes, NSW.
“They dwell in the philosophical. We build the things that actually make our nation stronger.”
Mr Joyce said he was very proud of Australia Day and looked forward to celebrating it this year.
Indigenous leaders have been pushing for the change in recent years, saying January 26 marks the date the First Fleet landed in Sydney Cove in 1788, marking the beginning of British colonisation.
However, there is a great deal of resistance from different quarters to the move, including from the Turnbull government.