In his book The Strange Death of Europe – Immigration, Identity, and Islam the British writer Douglas Murray compares the attitude many Australians have about their country’s history to that of the Europeans.
“Whereas for contemporary Europeans, colonialism is just one of our middle-ranking, midway sins, for Australians, colonialism has become the nation’s founding, original sin. And not because like European nations it stands accused of having plundered other countries in its search for wealth, but because it stands accused of plundering itself – of being a colonialist project still sitting on its colony,” he writes.
Murray goes on to comment that the “conquering of one group by another and the ill-treatment of the losers by the victors is the story of most nations on earth. But for Australians the historic treatment of the Aborigines and other first peoples is a subject that has in recent decades moved from the margins of public debate to the core – to the country’s deepest, founding sin.”
To some extent the contest about Australia’s history and the meaning of things like Australia Day is a testament to our humanity. The fact that in the weeks leading up to January 26, as Australians are coming back to work from their summer holidays of the beach and watching cricket, the nation is engulfed in a conversation about what it means to be Australian is not entirely a bad thing. Sometimes this conversation is derided as unimportant and merely an aspect of the “culture wars”.
Given what the government and its associated entities devote to telling the public what it means to be Australian, its entirely appropriate to interrogate the story they’re communicating. The federal government is spending $48 million to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s arrival in Australia.
Douglas Murray’s assessment of how parts of elite opinion view this country is surely correct. For the Greens Party, celebrating Australia Day represents an attempt to “airbrush” from history “200 years of dispossession, oppression, and resistance”. But this is not the view of Australia Day held by the vast majority of Australians.
In a survey of 1000 Australians conducted earlier this month commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs, only 10 per cent of respondents said the date of Australia Day should be changed while 75 per cent said the date should not be be altered.
Eleven per cent of those surveyed disagreed with the statement “Australia has a history to be proud of”, while 76 per cent agreed. These findings are consistent with a poll from Advance Australia showing 71 per cent of Australians believe Australia Day should not be moved.
There were two other noteworthy outcomes from the IPA survey.
The first was that 92 per cent of people agreed with the statement “freedom of speech is an important Australian value” and 77 per cent said the same about freedom of religion.
The second outcome was about the attitude of young people to Australia Day. Only eight per cent of respondents between the ages of 18 to 24 believed Australia Day should not be celebrated on January 26. 55 per cent of that age group said Australia Day shouldn’t be moved and 37 per cent didn’t have an opinion on it. This finding about the attitude of young people to Australia Day corresponds with a phenomenon that has confounded the left in this country – namely that one of the reasons for the resurgence of public interest in ANZAC Day is because of support from the nation’s youth.
On practically any measure you could care to think of, while of course Australia faces many challenges, this country ranks as one of the very best places in the world to live, which goes some way to explaining the Australians’ attitudes to Australia Day.
And it appears the rest of the world has a pretty positive attitude to Australia and to its companies.
The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer released a few days ago surveyed 33,000 people across 27 countries on a range of questions.
When people across the world were asked about their level of trust in global companies headquartered in specific countries, Australian companies were ranked the fifth-most trustworthy, behind Switzerland, Germany, Canada, and Japan, but ahead of the UK and the United States.