Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion claims not a single Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person has approached him about changing the date of Australia Day.
Earlier this week, one of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous affairs advisers, Chris Sarra, told 7.30 holding Australia Day on January 26 was dividing Australians and excluding Indigenous people.
Senator Scullion said it was “good to have heard that advice” from Dr Sarra, but that “outside of Chris”, no-one had raised it with him.
“He’d be the only Indigenous Australian who has said [this] to me,” he told AM.
“This is not something that comes up at all.
“I can tell you there would be no-one, as a fact.”
Senator Scullion is a senator for the Northern Territory and has held the Indigenous Affairs portfolio since 2013.
He acknowledged Indigenous “culture was smashed” after the First Fleet’s arrival at Sydney Cove on January 26, 1788.
But Senator Scullion said many Aboriginal people celebrated Australia Day, and shifting the date was “a very low priority certainly on my agenda”.
“If you want to divide the nation, this is how we go down that line,” he said.
Indigenous leaders criticise Scullion’s comments
Rod Little, co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, said the Minister’s claim that he had not heard from the Indigenous community about changing the date was “plausible”, because Senator Scullion had been focused on Indigenous health and education.
But he said the Indigenous Affairs Minister should be aware that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people also want Australia Day moved from January 26.
“This has been going on for more than 80 years, so it’s not new. It should be a pulse on the calendar,” Mr Little said.
“So I find it surprising. If the Minister is the Minister for Indigenous Affairs he absolutely should be informing himself.”
Mr Little said changing the date was an issue the National Congress had discussed at length through their membership and communities.
“The more and more that broader Australians are informed about why this matter is coming up every year I think it is destined for a change.”
Wyatt surprised to hear Scullion’s comments
Federal Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt — a Yamatji-Wongi-Noongar man — said he had a different experience with the public on the issue.
Mr Wyatt said he was surprised to hear his colleague’s statement about the lack of Indigenous engagement.
“Some of the [Indigenous] leadership have been very vocal,” Mr Wyatt said.
“Certainly I’ve had individuals who have that view talk to me, I’ve had them text me, even as late as yesterday.
“He may not have had that approach, but I certainly have.
“And I know my other Indigenous colleagues have been part of those discussions as well.”
Professor Sarra is a member of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council and is a respected educator and former school principal.
“Regrettably I don’t think Australia Day, and what it represents, is a day that most people in the Aboriginal community want to celebrate,” he told the ABC this week.
“It represents the beginning of a very destructive period for our people.”
The Federal Government strongly supports the current date and has punished councils that have dumped Australia Day celebrations.