Why I am working on ‘Australia Day’

Photo by Stewart Munro

Jamal Hakim writes about four things business leaders can do
on January 26

The First Fleet sailed into Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788.

Except, of course, they weren’t really the ‘first’ of anything at all.

First Nations People were already living here and thriving until they were invaded.

Why would we want to celebrate that?

In some ways, the insistence that Australia Day should be held on January 26 gives advocates an ongoing opportunity to educate Australians about the truth of this date.

We saw it at the Australian Open this week where the confiscation of a ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ t-shirt has catapulted the issue into the global headlines again. In a similar way, the continuing denial of the Australian genocide and insistence of marking 26 January as a day to celebrate, gives us an opportunity to continue to acknowledge the dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

This is a time for us to accept the fact that massacres occurred as a result of colonisation. First Nations people were dispossessed of their land and culture. Their children were stolen. The trauma of colonisation continues to impact generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Many Australians didn’t learn anything about these issues at school, or in fact much — if anything — about First Nations history. So this is a time for us all to do more to learn about these issues and to acknowledge that if we are celebrating Australia Day, we are celebrating the trauma that colonisation has heaped upon First Nations people.

We still have a long way to go. For far too long it’s been easier for leaders to wrap themselves in the Australian flag than look at the truth behind it.

26 January should be a time of truth telling. But to do so takes leadership.

Photo by Stewart Munro

Frankly, when I look at most of our leaders, all I see is a pack of backseat drivers. They would rather spend a fortune on advisors telling them how to look like a driver instead of just grabbing the wheel with two hands.

If we wait for our leaders to do something, we will be waiting a very long time.

This is an opportunity for corporate Australia to take a leadership role in this space.

Here are four things Australian business leaders can do on January 26, instead of celebrating colonisation and dispossession.

1. Don’t share ignorance. Share knowledge

Pick up a book or open a search engine and educate yourself. Encourage your staff to do the same. If you need a starting point, I recommend starting with Dark Emu or check out your local library and ask a librarian!

Be humble, don’t pretend to know everything — First Nations history, culture and impact is varied and rich. Share what you have learnt about it with your colleagues.

Share this widely to your wider network, your colleagues and family. Share links or a story — like this! — with your staff and professional network.

2. Let staff take an alternative day leave

While our political leaders fail to act, business leaders don’t have to. Encourage line managers to let staff take an alternative day of leave. Make it HR policy.

For example, encourage staff to nominate the following Friday as a leave day — and have a three-day weekend!

3. Don’t judge but educate (aka lead and they shall follow…eventually)

Staff might not support January 26 as Australia Day, but may want to take the public holiday anyway. And that’s ok.

Staff might have events and commitments on that day that they are obliged to attend. It doesn’t mean they endorse January 26 as Australia Day.

Let staff know that they won’t be judged if they do take the holiday, but leaders should lead by example and work on the day. Even if they are the only person in the office or worksite to begin with. Maybe give staff the time to attend the Dawn service or a First Nations run event.

If you decide to take the public holiday, explain to your staff and network why you have chosen to do this.

4. Acknowledge and don’t celebrate

Whatever anyone else does on the day, it is still a day of deep grief for First Nations people. That cannot be denied. Take the time to acknowledge this fact.

We must recognise the truth of the dispossession and trauma that has occurred as a result of colonisation. We can then work together in solidarity with First Nations peoples towards a future that benefits us all.

Jamal Hakim is an Independent Councillor at the City of Melbourne and Managing Director at Marie Stopes Australia and can be reached on Twitter and Instagram on @thejamalhakim

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