Instead of celebrating Australia Day on January 26, thousands turned up in marches for “Invasion Day” to protest the founding date of the country. Protesters want the date for Australia Day changed because they believed it represented the massacre of thousands of indigenous groups at the hands of the invading British colony.
Invasion Day marches were held in Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart and Darwin but the largest congregation was at Melbourne which organizers claimed attracted 60,000. Marches carried banners which read “Abolish Australia Day”. It was also estimated Invasion Day protesters outnumbers Australia Day celebrants in the CBD area.
Gary Foley, an indigenous activist and professor of history at Victoria University was happy with the outcome:
“I haven’t seen a crowd like this since the 70’s. If we keep mobilising these sort of numbers, governments cannot ignore us.”
Protesters were also calling the Turnbull Government to task for its rejection of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
The Uluru statement sought to develop a model for constitutional recognition which would be supported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It also proposed the establishment of a Makarrata commission which would create treaties between Indigenous people and Australian governments.
The Uluru statement was drafted after a 3-day summit in May that was participated by more than300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community leaders and legal experts.
Gillian Triggs, former Human Rights Commissioner criticized the Turnbull government’s rejection of the Uluru statement:
“It’s shameful that despite all the political promises and the meeting of the experts the Turnbull government has rejected the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It’s especially disappointing as that the process was established by unanimous action in 2013 and succeeded in making a considered proposal for recognition.”
Sally McManus, Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary, demanded an end to the community development program carried out in remote communities:
“It’s a racist program because it is only in rural and remote areas, 80% of the people in the program are Indigenous and they have to work 25 hours a week, compulsory work, no sick leave, no annual leave, no workers’ compensation and no minimum wage.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull maintained his opinion that majority of Australians do not want to change the date of Australia Day:
“You know the overwhelming majority of Australians are celebrating Australia Day like we all are here today. They are just in love with our nation, with our story, with our people, with our success – the most successful multicultural society in the world.”