Indigenous Australians are better off thanks to Western settlement, according to former prime minister Tony Abbott. Abbott courted controversy again on Monday with a divisive piece for The Australian that suggested Indigenous Australians should be thankful it was the Brits who landed on their shores as they may not have been treated as well had it been a different white nation.
Abbott wrote that it is “hard to imagine a better Australia in the absence of the Western civilisation” and used a line from the Monty Python classic Life of Brian to illustrate his point, asking: “All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
“It’s worth asking the same question of the British settlement of Australia,” he added.
Abbott has been a vocal critic of the campaign to change Australia Day from January 26, saying it should be a day of celebration and pride for all. Last week he told 2GB radio that British settlement was “a very good thing” and slammed Opposition Leader Bill Shorten for “sitting on the fence” on the issue.
“Why are these people so embarrassed about our country? I think there’s been a deafening silence from the Labor Party… they’ve tried to have a bet each way which is so typical,” he said. “We must work… to make ourselves better but we don’t do that by wallowing in endless, carping self-criticism.”
The campaign to change the date has been bubbling away for the past few years, but boiled over into a full-blown political stoush in the lead up to this year’s celebrations. The Greens have called for all flags to be flown at half-mast and multiple ‘change the date’ petitions have drawn thousands of signatures in support.
It’s in stark contrast to years past when free concerts, fireworks, family barbecues and cries of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie … Oi, oi, oi” filled the air. The campaign to change the date has divided opinions across the country, with young voters some of the most prominent voices supporting the cause.
Youth radio station Triple J already moved its annual Hottest 100 countdown — traditionally held on Australia Day — to January 27, while Triple M copped criticism for filling the gap with its Ozzest 100 countdown celebrating Australian-only music.
Indigenous leaders have also been divided on the issue. Former Labor MP Warren Mundine voiced his support for the date change, but noted that no-one in remote Aboriginal communities had ever raised the issue with him, saying it was only talked about in “places like Sydney and Melbourne”.
Whether the date will change remains to be seen, but if Abbott has his way the country will forget its torrid past and declare its faith in what he calls “the best country on earth” come January 26.