It’s the time of the year when the subject of Australia’s national day, and the date on which we celebrate it, fills the airwaves and column inches.
For a couple of weeks it dominates media, political and, more recently, commercial conversations.
The decision by Woolworths and Aldi, among others, not to sell Australia Day-themed material this year at least partly on ideological grounds is the latest example of elements of corporate Australia being unwilling to stay in their own lane and has rightly drawn criticism.
We now expect a debate to arise as each January 26 approaches.
But those of us who are genuinely proud of our country, enjoying its triumphs and mindful of its tribulations, should not accept the efforts of those sowing hypocrisy where there should be honesty, and division where there should be unity.
So, as we near this Australia Day, let’s ensure the discussion is characterised by some balance and common sense, too.
First, surely we can all agree there should be a national day on which we celebrate Australia and the part each of us plays in it – and this should be known as Australia Day.
Second, we should be clear about what we are acknowledging on Australia Day.
We celebrate our diversity, our respect for each other and the individual dignity every Australian is entitled to.
We honour the liberty of expression that allows free debate, the equality given to every person before the law, and reiterate our trust and respect for the institutions ensuring our democracy.
All this is wrapped in a spirit of gratitude, fairness and tolerance.
Third, let’s recognise all our history – the good and the bad.
We are blessed with a rich Indigenous heritage.
We are a nation that has built a trusted national identity that is the envy of the world.
We have fought for freedom over tyranny in global conflicts and opened our doors to millions looking to build a new life in safety.
We can absolutely enjoy all that is good about our country, while also remembering past wrongs and committing ourselves to constant improvement.
And we can do this in the knowledge that Australia’s historical ledger has more pluses than minuses.
Finally, we must be clear about the date.
Australia Day marks January 26, 1788, and while this represents understandable and valid sensitivities for some parts of the Australian community, it can also be viewed as a lens through which we better appreciate the experiences of First Nations Australians over the past 236 years.
I’d argue that what is required is not a change of date, but an increased level of maturity and understanding – especially from our parliamentarians.
There are those, led from the front by Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, working to deliberately erode confidence in our national day by failing to provide real leadership.
Anthony Albanese could learn a thing or two from the political playbooks of former prime ministers Paul Keating and John Howard on this.
When confronted by efforts in the 1990s to destroy Anzac Day and change the Australian national flag, these leaders acted decisively.
As a result, Australians are today comforted by the fact both Anzac Day and the Australian national flag are protected by law.
Paul Keating enshrined Anzac Day in legislation in 1995 and John Howard in 1998 ensured the national flag could only be changed by a vote of all electors.
Debates about these symbols are now muted because people know they must make a substantive case for change, rather than simply disrupting from the sidelines.
Australia Day is every bit as significant and deserves the same certainty and protection.
It’s something to think about as the noise once again begins to rage.
In the meantime, I have no doubt many will celebrate Australia Day 2024 with enthusiasm – and they are the Australians Anthony Albanese and corporate Australia should be paying attention to.