Former Australian of the Year Fiona Stanley Urges Australia Day Date Change to Boost Health

Former Australian of the Year Fiona Stanley says changing the date of Australia Day would have an “almost direct”, positive impact on Aboriginal health.

Joining the push to shift the national holiday from January 26, the Telethon Kids Institute patron acknowledged public opinion was split, but said she felt strongly the date was “unacceptable” and must be changed.

While changing the date would not do much to improve services, she expected the effect it would have on the mental health of Aboriginal people would be “quite profound”.

She said much of their trauma was linked to mental health issues, which led to substance abuse and problems associated with it such as domestic violence and maltreatment of children.


And while she was “all for” having an Australia Day, she did not want it to be January 26 because it was divisive.

“What these symbolic acts do is actually create a pathway to reduce that mental health anguish,” Professor Stanley told The Weekend West.

“One of our Aboriginal researchers has got data to show that even young kids, Aboriginal kids, their self-esteem is partly due to how they perceive the dominant culture perceives them.

“So if the dominant culture says, ‘We want to say sorry to Aboriginal people for what happened to them’, or, ‘We want to change the date’, then they are likely to say, ‘Oh gosh, they understand, they care so I’m not going to feel so depressed, I’m not going to feel so angry, I’m not going to drink, I’m going to be better’.”

Premier Mark McGowan did not support changing the date.

Some other prominent West Australians contacted by The Weekend West declined to be drawn on the issue, including Gina Rinehart, Governor Kerry Sanderson and former governor Malcolm McCusker.

Opposition Leader Mike Nahan said Australia Day should always be January 26.

“People can reflect on events of the time, but I prefer to embrace what we have become,” Dr Nahan said.

“There is no better place to live — that’s what we should be celebrating — so let’s all unite on January 26 and celebrate our great nation.”

Aboriginal elder and performer Richard Walley said while he firmly believed in celebrating Australia Day, the country did need to have a conversation about the date.

He said celebrating Australia Day was about nationhood, not statehood or colonisation.

“The date debate, to me, is a red herring,” Dr Walley said.

“A lot of people think the date change is about being unpatriotic or not supporting Australia Day, and it’s far from it. It’s about looking at what’s relevant, so we look at relevant dates that the nation can relate to.”

The Greens this week offered the Federal party’s support and resources to Greens councillors who campaigned to dump celebrations on January 26.

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion joined other coalition MPs pushing back against the campaign yesterday, claiming not a single Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person had approached him about changing the date.

Senator Scullion, who is from the Northern Territory, said the issue was “not something that comes up at all”.