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Day of Celebration or Mourning? Australia Grapples With Its National Holiday

For many, it’s a chance to kick back at beaches and barbecues. But for others, it’s a mark of the country’s shameful treatment of Indigenous people: Invasion Day.

essay on australia day

By Livia Albeck-Ripka

MELBOURNE, Australia — Those who celebrate Australia Day, the country’s national holiday, associate it with barbecues and pool parties. But for those who protest against it, it is a reminder of the continent’s brutal colonization.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of people marched through Australia’s major cities in opposition to the holiday, which they instead refer to as Invasion Day. It is a blunt reframing of the legacy of the arrival of the British 233 years ago, which set in motion centuries of oppression of Indigenous people.

Year upon year, these protests have grown and gained political traction, and Tuesday’s were bolstered by the global Black Lives Matter movement. Here is a look at this contentious day.

What is Australia Day?

Australia Day, on Jan. 26, marks the date that a British fleet sailed into Sydney Harbor in 1788 to start a penal colony. The mariners raised a flag on land that the British described as “Terra Nullius” (nobody’s land), though Aboriginal people had inhabited the continent for at least 65,000 years.

The public holiday was first formally recognized in 1818, and it has been commemorated nationally since 1994. It takes place during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, so many Australians spend the day at the beach or with family and friends.

Since the holiday’s beginning, however, Indigenous Australians have been excluded from celebrations. In 1888, when Sir Henry Parkes, the father of the Australian federation, was asked how First Nations people might be involved, he remarked that it would serve only to “remind them that we have robbed them.”

What are protesters calling for?

Australians who protest the public holiday argue that it not only excludes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but also actively celebrates the day their land was taken.

Since 1938, protesters have periodically commemorated the national holiday with a day of mourning. (That same year, several Aboriginal men were forced to participate in a re-enactment of the British landing.)

Two Aboriginal activists, Jack Patten and William Ferguson , wrote at the time: “We, representing the Aborigines, now ask you, the reader of this appeal, to pause in the midst of your sesqui-centenary rejoicings and ask yourself honestly whether your ‘conscience’ is clear in regard to the treatment of the Australian blacks by the Australian whites during the period of 150 years’ history which you celebrate?”

Since then, the demonstrations have involved sit-down protests, rallies and marches on Parliament House in Canberra. Protesters have called for a range of changes, from recognizing Indigenous Australians in the country’s Constitution and creating a treaty between them and the Commonwealth, to reducing high rates of Indigenous incarceration and deaths in custody.

Previously, activists have pushed for changing the date of Australia Day — suggestions have included Jan. 1 (the date Australia was federated ), the fourth Friday in January (because it would make for a good long weekend ) or May 8 (because the abbreviation M8 sounds like “mate” ).

But this year, the messaging shifted more toward abolishing the day altogether.

“There’s a growing awareness and growing solidarity right around the world among Indigenous people everywhere,” said Lidia Thorpe, the first Aboriginal senator elected in the state of Victoria. “There is an uprising.”

What happened on Tuesday?

On Tuesday, thousands of people took to the streets in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Darwin and Perth in protest. They wore Aboriginal flags draped across their shoulders, chanted and held signs reading “Pay the Rent,” “Abolish the Date,” and “No Pride in Genocide.”

Before dawn on Tuesday, the Sydney Opera House lit its sails with the artwork of Frances Belle-Parker, an Indigenous artist, while an Aboriginal flag was raised next to the Australian flag on Sydney Harbour Bridge.

“Solidarity is key,” said Frankie Saliba, an activist, as he marched through downtown Melbourne holding a painted sign that read “Landback,” referring to the movement to return land to its original Indigenous owners.

Another protester, Emily Hart, 11, said she hoped more of her peers would get involved in the protests. “We need to acknowledge this is not our land,” she said.

Though protests were largely peaceful — with masked activists marching in groups of 100 in Melbourne to adhere to social distancing rules — some protesters clashed with the police and were arrested in Sydney after coronavirus regulations were breached, leading organizers to cancel the remainder of the event.

Organizers in Perth and Hobert said the turnout was the largest they had experienced.

Why not change the date?

Support for the Invasion Day movement has been steadily rising, with even mainstream organizations like Cricket Australia removing the name “Australia Day” from their promotional material.

Still, less than a third of Australians say Australia Day should be moved from Jan. 26, according to a recent poll conducted by Ipsos . Australia’s conservative political leaders have expressed the same view, at times minimizing the abuse of Aboriginal people.

“When those 12 ships turned up in Sydney all those years ago, it wasn’t a particularly flash day for the people on those vessels either,” Scott Morrison, the country’s prime minister, told reporters last week . At a ceremony in Canberra on Tuesday, Mr. Morrison added that Australians had “risen above” their “brutal beginnings.”

Paul Fletcher, Australia’s minister for communications, excoriated the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for including the term “Invasion Day” in an article headline, alongside the holiday’s formal name, pushing the national broadcaster to remove the words.

Marcia Langton, an anthropologist and professor of Indigenous studies at the University of Melbourne, called Mr. Morrison’s comments “cretinous” and an insult to the hundreds of thousands of Indigenous Australians she and others estimate lost their lives in the decades following European settlement.

“The arguments for Australia Day now are clearly morally and intellectually defective,” she said. “It’s not a national day anymore; it’s a day for division.”

Yan Zhuang contributed reporting from Sydney, Australia.

  More about Livia Albeck-Ripka

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Australia Day: Change the date? Change the nation

Opinion + analysis climate + environment politics + human rights, by karen wyld 24 jan 2019, like clockwork, every january australians question when is, or even if there is, an appropriate time to celebrate the nationhood of australia..

Each year, a growing number of Australians acknowledge that the 26 th of January is not an appropriate date for an inclusive celebration .

There are no sound reasons why the date shouldn’t be changed but there are plenty of reasons why the nation needs to change.

I’ve written about that date before, its origins and forgotten stories  and recent almost-comical attempts to protect a public holiday . I choose not to repeat myself, because the date will change.

For many, the jingoism behind Australia Day is representative of a settler colonialism state that should not be preserved. A nation that is not, and has never been fair, free or young. So, I choose to put my energy into changing the nation . And I am not alone.

People are catching up and contributing their voices to the call to change the nation, but this is not a new discussion. On 26 January 1938, on the 150 th anniversary of the British invasion of this continent, a group of Aboriginal people in NSW wrote a letter of protest, calling it a Day of Mourning . They asked the government to consider what that day meant to them, the First Peoples, and called for equality and justice.

Since 1938, the 26 th of January continues to be commemorated as a Day of Mourning . The date is also known as Survival Day or Invasion Day to many. Whatever people choose to call that day, it is not a date suitable for rejoicing.

It was inconsiderate to have changed the date in 1994 to the 26th January. And, now the insensitivity is well known, it’s selfish not to change the date again. The only reasons I can fathom for opposition to changing the date is white privilege , or perhaps even racism.

These antiquated worldviews of white superiority will continue to haunt Australia until a critical mass has self reflected on power and privilege and whiteness , and acknowledges past and present injustices. I believe we’re almost there – which explains the frantic push back.

A belief in white righteousness quietened the voices of reason and fairness when the first fleet landed on the shores of this continent. And it enabled colonisers and settlers to participate in and/or witness without objection decades of massacres, land and resource theft, rape, cultural genocide and other acts of violence towards First Peoples.

The voice of whiteness is also found in present arguments, like when the violence of settlement is justified by what the British introduced. It is white superiority to insist science, language, religion, law and social structures of an invading force are benevolent gifts.

First Peoples already had functioning, sophisticated social structures, law, spiritual beliefs, science and technology. Combining eons of their own advances in science  with long standing trade relations with Muslim neighbours , First Peoples were already on an enviable trajectory.

Tales of white benevolence, whether real or imagined, will not obliterate stories of what was stolen or lost. Social structures implanted by the new arrivals were not beneficial for First Peoples, who were barred from economic participation and denied genuine access to education, health and justice until approximately the 1970s.

Due to systemic racism, power and privilege, and social determinants, these introduced systems of justice, education and health still have entrenched access and equity barriers for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Changing the nation involves settler colonialists being more aware of the history of invasion and brutal settlement, as well as the continuing impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It involves an active commitment to reform, which includes paying the rent .

The frontier wars did not result in victory for settler colonialists, because the fight is not over. The sovereignty of approximately 600 distinctly different cultural/language groups was never ceded. Despite generations of violence and interference from settler colonialists, First Peoples have not been defeated.

“You came here only recently, and you took our land away from us by force. You have almost exterminated our people, but there are enough of us remaining to expose the humbug of your claim, as white Australians, to be a civilised, progressive, kindly and humane nation.” ‘ Aborigines Claim Citizen Rights! : A Statement of the Case for the Aborigines Progressive Associations’, The Publicist , 1938, p.3

Having lived on this continent for close to 80,000 years and surviving the violence of colonisation and ongoing injustices of non-Indigenous settlement, the voices of First Peoples cannot be dismissed. The fight for rights is not over.

The date will change. And, although it will take longer, the nation will change. There are enough still standing to lead this change – so all Australians can finally access the freedoms, equality and justice that Australia so proudly espouses.

Karen Wyld is an author, living by the coast in South Australia 


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BY Karen Wyld

Karen wyld is an author, living by the coast in south australia..

Smoking ceremony on Australia Day 2021

60% of Australians want to keep Australia Day on January 26, but those under 35 disagree

essay on australia day

Chair in Contemporary History, Deakin University

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Senior Lecturer in History, Deakin University

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David Lowe receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Andrew Singleton receives funding from the Australian Research Council and the Gandel Foundation.

Joanna Cruickshank receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

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The issue of when or whether to celebrate Australia Day seems to have become stuck in a loop of fierce debate without resolution.

There are those who want to mark January 26 as the start of modern Australia, while others view it as the start of systematic dispossession of Indigenous Australians.

What does the broader public think? A new national survey shows at the moment, the majority of Australians want the day left as it is. But it also suggests a groundswell for change is in the works.

During November 2021, we polled a representative, random sample of more than 5,000 Australians as part of the Deakin Contemporary History Survey.

Fireworks go off over the Opera House, illuminated with the Aboriginal Flag.

In contrast to previous surveys, which have focused on what to call Australia Day, we asked a more general question – is January 26 the right date for something called Australia Day?

We also asked other questions about respondents’ knowledge of and interest in Australian history. Our collective understanding of history can explain why some stories seem more important than others. For example, consider how frequently, and in how many different forms, we learn of Australian military history due to ANZAC Day.

Our findings

Overall, 60% of our respondents want to continue celebrating “Australia Day” on January 26.

But the generational differences are significant. More than half (53%) of millennials (those born between 1986 and 2002) think we should not celebrate Australia Day on January 26.

By contrast, 74% of those over 75 said “disagree” or “strongly disagree” to any change with 70% of baby boomers (born 1946–65) also against change. The generation X cohort (born 1966–1985) was also decisively against change (64%), revealing a gulf between millennials and the rest of those surveyed.

One possible explanation for this is older people being more resistant to change. Their familiarity with Australia Day as an established end-of-summer day for social gathering is possibly stronger than their interpretation of the day’s historical significance or a political stance on the debate.

What does this mean?

These results also mirror other polls (with smaller sample sizes of about 1,200), including one by Roy Morgan in January 2021 and another by CoreData released over the weekend.

Younger Australians are more readily accepting of marriage equality, gender diversity and other kinds of progressive social change.

Recognising and responding to past injustices or complicated histories is familiar terrain for them. Rap group A.B. Original’s call-out of Australia Day, “January 26th,” came 16th place in Triple J’s Hottest 100 songs of 2016.

In 2018, the Hottest 100 was moved from the traditional January 26, after listeners expressed discomfort with holding the celebration on this date.

Other differences

Beyond generational differences, we also found gender and geography matter when it comes to attitudes about Australia Day.

Women were significantly more likely than men to want to change the date of Australia Day (43% compared to 33% men).

This is in keeping with studies showing women are more progressive than men.

Meanwhile, about 66% of those living outside capitals cities were opposed to changing Australia Day. This reduces to 60% opposed to change in capitals. This is driven by boomers in regional areas, who are significantly more opposed than boomers in cities.

More history, please

Importantly for the Australia Day question, we also asked about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history. More than 80% of those polled agreed more of this history should be taught in schools. Here there is less of a generation gap: almost 90% of millennials want more of this education, for boomers, it is nearly 80%.

Women and non-binary interviewees were still more likely to agree than men, by eight percentage points, and those in cities were six points ahead of those in regions.

But Australians are relatively united in their enthusiasm for greater teaching of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history.

Change is coming

We suggest our findings indicate a slow burn to change the date, based on strong foundations. While there remain differences among Australians, the combination of younger generational desire for change to Australia Day and strong enthusiasm among the broader population for more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history may suggest that change is not so far off.

Read more: Why Australia Day survives, despite revealing a nation's rifts and wounds

This slow pace for change probably suits the major political parties (but not so much the Greens).

A growing appetite for change may also indicate a discomfort with celebrating “Australia Day” at all. Luke Pearson, Gamilaroi man and founder of media organisation IndigenousX opposes simply changing the date. As he explained in 2019, there is still too little recognition of the harmful impact of colonisation and too little justice for Indigenous peoples for there to be any day to celebrate.

So, change the country first and then we can talk about a date.
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Is there a respectful way to approach Australia Day?

As we head towards another 26 January, the request to ‘change the date’ is still being hotly debated. Many early education services now choose not to celebrate a day that is a source of pain to many in our Indigenous population. However, others wonder if there’s still a way to acknowledge or approach the day respectfully, particularly when families are celebrating Australia day at home and children may be discussing it with their educators.

essay on australia day

By CELA on 15 Jan, 2021

We asked early education resource specialist and Dunghutti woman Deborah Hoger to reflect on the topic.  

By Deborah Hoger

26 January is the date on which Britain’s First Fleet sailed into Sydney Harbour in 1788, beginning the European colonisation which resulted in trauma and dispossession for our First Nations communities.

It’s a date that marks the beginning of the end of over 60,000 years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s control over their country and lives. This is why for many, January 26 is not referred to as Australia Day, but rather, Invasion Day or Survival Day.

Celebrating our national day on such a date, by nature then, excludes our First Nations peoples. Hence the push to change the date to one which can be celebrated by ALL Australians, including our First Nations peoples.

There are actually very few former British colonies that celebrate their national day on the actual day of colonisation. In New Zealand for example, their national day is Waitangi Day. This day marks the anniversary of the initial signing of the  Treaty of Waitangi , regarded as the founding document of the nation (read more about this topic in  New Matilda ).

A day that requires careful reflection and insight

Given the ongoing division in Australia around January 26 as our national day, the question of how to approach Australia Day in an educational setting can be a difficult one which requires careful and deliberate reflection and insight. Certainly, no one can say there is a single correct way to navigate this controversial day.

What educators can do, however, is actively seek out places, people and resources which help to build on their own understanding. In the weeks leading up to this date, take the time to reach out to your local Indigenous community and gain their insight and opinions.  Narragunnawali ,  SNAICC‑the national voice for our children ,  Reconciliation Australia , and  Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies  (AIATSIS) are also all great starting points for further research.

Australia Day cannot truly function as a day of unification for  all  Australians while it is still observed on 26 January. The date itself marks a critical point in the history of Australia where our First Nations people began to be dispossessed and exploited, leading to cultural destruction, poverty, intergenerational trauma and discrimination.

So, how can educators position themselves to respectfully approach such a day, and how can they facilitate spaces where children can explore what it means to be Australian?

Early Childhood Australia provides some apt advice:

“Navigating how services approach 26 January may be more complex for some educators and in some communities than for others. The skills, resources and support required may depend on the nature of your setting, the team and leadership you work with, and the children and families in your community. Where opinions differ or debate becomes heated, it’s important to stay engaged, listen and be respectful. Try to stay with the discussion if you can, rather than stifle or turn away from it, just as you would address difficult conversations, disrespect or incomplete understanding between colleagues, among groups of children or with families on other matters”  ( The Spoke ).

As an Aboriginal mum of two little ones, I would mirror these thoughts.

Respect and cultural understanding are critical to engaging around this date; showing empathy and awareness of the diverse feelings that some of your children’s families may be experiencing around this date is important.

Consider how the activities you may be planning for this day may make some people feel. Are there ways you can create a program of events which demonstrate respect for and appreciation of our First Nations peoples?

If nothing else, the division around this date offers a reminder for educators to take a critical look at Australia’s history, particularly the shared history between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians.

How Tyabb Village Children’s Centre approaches January 26

Tyabb Village Children’s Centre’s philosophy makes a strong statement of respect and inclusion for Australia’s First Peoples. Rather than ‘celebrating’ on January 26th, they use the day for annual planning and professional development.

The following statement comes from their letter of employment:

We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic including how you approach Australia Day with the children in your centre.

Further reading

  • http://thespoke.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/change-heart-well-date/
  • https://newmatilda.com/2016/01/28/january-26-australia-all-alone-with-a-national-day-that-celebrates-dispossession/
  • https://australianstogether.org.au/discover/australian-history/australia-day/  

CELA professional development relating to this topic

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  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
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  • Tyabb Village

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I’m one of those people who cry when the Australian anthem is played at the Olympics. I feel that tug of pride when a foreign celebrity professes love for our nation. I'm a belonger. I feel similar pride and love for my extended family, for my denominational tradition and for my city.

However, when my husband first came to my extended family Christmas, I was quick to warn him that the noise level due to simultaneous loud conversations would be deafening. I'm also the first to admit that a coffee table book celebrating ugly church buildings of Australia would be dominated by Baptist ones - we seem to think ugliness is next to godliness. Sydney is, of course, the best city in the world, but it's ridiculously expensive.


CELEBRATION?: Megan Powell do Toit says she will not do so on 26th January, in part because she cannot celebrate while an Aboriginal friend mourns. PICTURE:  Chris Fuller/Unsplash

"We can love Australia and still admit the faults and blemishes. Christians, of all people, should be open to this. We declare a God who loves us despite our failures."

We can love Australia and still admit the faults and blemishes. Christians, of all people, should be open to this. We declare a God who loves us despite our failures. "But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Love doesn’t require perfection. And when it comes to Australia, like other countries, we have a past and present that causes some shame. As with most communities, we have that which we should celebrate and that of which we should repent. This should lead us as Christians to confession. In particular, we need to confess that we built this country upon the deaths and oppression of the original inhabitants, and that the results of this continue today: • Massacres ongoing into the 20th century in The Frontier Wars. • The outright systematic and legalised extermination of Aboriginal people in Tasmania. • The stolen generations, a measure of forced assimilation. • Universal Indigenous Suffrage not achieved at a federal level until 1962; Queensland was the last state to confer suffrage on Aboriginal peoples in 1965 (note - while some of the states gave Indigenous men the vote from the start, because some states did not, the indigenous people of these states were not given the vote upon Federation. In 1949, the right to vote was extended to those who had served in the armed forces. See  http://www.aec.gov.au/indigenous/milestones.htm  for more information.) • Indigenous people not counted in the census until 1967. • A life expectancy that still trails the average Australian by 10 years.

I’m a white Australian woman whose heritage is mainly British – with a little bit of French thrown in for flavour. When it comes to discussing the impact of colonisation upon the original inhabitants of this land, I need to listen to them. To my shame, I started listening properly only in recent years. As a child, those around me didn’t recognise the pain the day brought to some. Even as better knowledge has made me aware of this, I still for a while attempted to both acknowledge this pain and celebrate my country on 26th January. Just two years ago, I made an Iced Vovo tart and Instagrammed it. But I have come to the conclusion, as I have listened to the pain of my indigenous compatriots, that any celebration potentially shows a callousness that I have no desire to communicate to them. Although there is much to celebrate about Australia, I cannot do so on 26th January. Because they cannot.

What has made the difference? I think there has been a general increase in public awareness and conversation about this in the past couple of years. But I have also listened to Aboriginal friends. One in particular is very close to me, like family, and I have listened to her. I cannot celebrate while she mourns. And I certainly can’t look her in the face while I do so. I asked her to share with us how she currently feels about Australia Day, and she has graciously done so, though she has elected to remain anonymous.

I quote her response to my question in full: "How can we celebrate a day that condones genocide? All Aboriginal people have suffered as a result of colonisation. Colonisation started with invasion. I deliberately use the term invasion rather than settlement. That is why for many Aboriginal people January 26 is seen as Invasion Day. For me, I choose deliberately to take back my power and own my ancestors’ power and refer to the day as Survival Day. That despite invasion, massacres, and the rape and subjugation of women and children, despite the over-representation of Aboriginal people in jail, despite the racism, and despite the dispossession, disempowerment and destabilising of communities, Aboriginal people have been resilient. I celebrate that resilience every day.       "On January 26 I mourn and remember the warriors who came before me. When I was younger, I was angrier and it was about invasion; now it’s about grieving in such a way that honours and continues to ensure survival. Changing the date won’t change the violent and racist history of this country, nor will it stop children being taken away or deaths in custody, nor will it close the gap in any way. We need to keep working towards making real changes. Changing the date will, however, indicate that Australia is aware of its bloody past, that we stand together to work towards an equitable society - a society where we celebrate what’s great about this nation. Not the day that marked the invasion that started the massacres, or began the cultural destruction of the world’s oldest living culture."

She is just one voice, of course, and so we need to seek out the multiple perspectives of our Indigenous people and listen to them. But, she is a voice that is important to me. Friendship has a way of opening us up to new perspectives and greater truth.

In what she says, she acknowledges mixed feelings. This for me has been a way into understanding to some degree what it must feel like for her. I think mixed feelings about dates is something many of us know. I know my own mother spent many years dreading Christmas as her own mother died a couple of days after Christmas. For myself, Good Friday reminds me of the loss of a child to miscarriage. We are aware, these days, of the need for care around days of celebration – acknowledging the grief for some that Mother’s Day brings, for instance. For many of these days, there is no option of changing the date – any date would result in similar ambivalence for someone.

But, with Australia Day, with have a simple answer to some of the pain that day causes. We can move the day to another date and instead declare 26th January a national day of sorrow for what has been done.

"We have chosen to celebrate our nation on a date that reminds the original inhabitants of the evil and injustice done to them. In this, I am calling those of us with no Indigenous heritage to be other-centred. We may well attach significance and happy memories to the date of 26th January. But we need to weigh these in the balance with the cruel reminder such a date entails."

This is our problem when we come to Australia Day. We have chosen to celebrate our nation on a date that reminds the original inhabitants of the evil and injustice done to them. In this, I am calling those of us with no Indigenous heritage to be other-centred. We may well attach significance and happy memories to the date of 26th January. But we need to weigh these in the balance with the cruel reminder such a date entails. There are no weighty reasons for retaining the date. It has only been a  national public holiday since 1994 . Meanwhile, the calls for a change of attitude to 26th January have been around for a lot longer. In 1938, the Indigenous response to Australia’s sesquicentenary was a  Day of Mourning . We can easily, and more happily, celebrate Australia Day on another date, and over time that will become hallowed tradition. It is no major sacrifice to move it. But, in doing so, we communicate love and respect in a way necessary for reconciliation. For a faith centered on the cross, this should be an easy equation. We are called to live other-centred lives of self-sacrificial love. To make large sacrifices for love of others. This is a small sacrifice. 

There was some recent controversy over the Triple J Hottest 100 changing its count down to the following day.  Some politicians used it for political mileage .  Triple M announced a rival Ozzest 100 .  The Australian Conservatives tried something similar , to the disapproval of some of the musicians included. What are we saying when we cannot perceive the moving of the date of the hottest 100 as an Australian act? It is, dare I say it, a fundamentally Christian act, in its concern to offer acceptance and healing to the wounded. Some have responded by  suggesting we vote for the song January 26  in an attempt to get it voted most Australian song. The song argues for the date to be changed. Dan Sultan, featured in the song,  spoke to this issue on Q and A last year : "I think we should recognise the 26 th  of January for what it is, which is a day that started the on-going genocide of our people. I think there are many days throughout our history that include everybody and I think it's important that a day called Australia Day includes all Australians. The fact of the matter is that it doesn't include us; it excludes us."

This finally, after listening and considering and praying, is where I land. A national day should promote unity in the nation. As a Christian, I see part of my role within our society is to be a voice that promotes a love of all people, that expresses the love God has for all. In love, we need to move the date. My thanks to those who have helped me to see this.

Megan Powell du Toit is an ordained Baptist minister, Publications and Policies Administrator for the Australian College of Theology and editor of the academic journal  Colloquium . This article was first published by Ethos: EA Centre for Christianity and Society as part of its Engage.Mail.

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EU AI Act: first regulation on artificial intelligence

The use of artificial intelligence in the EU will be regulated by the AI Act, the world’s first comprehensive AI law. Find out how it will protect you.

A man faces a computer generated figure with programming language in the background

As part of its digital strategy , the EU wants to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure better conditions for the development and use of this innovative technology. AI can create many benefits , such as better healthcare; safer and cleaner transport; more efficient manufacturing; and cheaper and more sustainable energy.

In April 2021, the European Commission proposed the first EU regulatory framework for AI. It says that AI systems that can be used in different applications are analysed and classified according to the risk they pose to users. The different risk levels will mean more or less regulation. Once approved, these will be the world’s first rules on AI.

Learn more about what artificial intelligence is and how it is used

What Parliament wants in AI legislation

Parliament’s priority is to make sure that AI systems used in the EU are safe, transparent, traceable, non-discriminatory and environmentally friendly. AI systems should be overseen by people, rather than by automation, to prevent harmful outcomes.

Parliament also wants to establish a technology-neutral, uniform definition for AI that could be applied to future AI systems.

Learn more about Parliament’s work on AI and its vision for AI’s future

AI Act: different rules for different risk levels

The new rules establish obligations for providers and users depending on the level of risk from artificial intelligence. While many AI systems pose minimal risk, they need to be assessed.

Unacceptable risk

Unacceptable risk AI systems are systems considered a threat to people and will be banned. They include:

  • Cognitive behavioural manipulation of people or specific vulnerable groups: for example voice-activated toys that encourage dangerous behaviour in children
  • Social scoring: classifying people based on behaviour, socio-economic status or personal characteristics
  • Biometric identification and categorisation of people
  • Real-time and remote biometric identification systems, such as facial recognition

Some exceptions may be allowed for law enforcement purposes. “Real-time” remote biometric identification systems will be allowed in a limited number of serious cases, while “post” remote biometric identification systems, where identification occurs after a significant delay, will be allowed to prosecute serious crimes and only after court approval.

AI systems that negatively affect safety or fundamental rights will be considered high risk and will be divided into two categories:

1) AI systems that are used in products falling under the EU’s product safety legislation . This includes toys, aviation, cars, medical devices and lifts.

2) AI systems falling into specific areas that will have to be registered in an EU database:

  • Management and operation of critical infrastructure
  • Education and vocational training
  • Employment, worker management and access to self-employment
  • Access to and enjoyment of essential private services and public services and benefits
  • Law enforcement
  • Migration, asylum and border control management
  • Assistance in legal interpretation and application of the law.

All high-risk AI systems will be assessed before being put on the market and also throughout their lifecycle.

General purpose and generative AI

Generative AI, like ChatGPT, would have to comply with transparency requirements:

  • Disclosing that the content was generated by AI
  • Designing the model to prevent it from generating illegal content
  • Publishing summaries of copyrighted data used for training

High-impact general-purpose AI models that might pose systemic risk, such as the more advanced AI model GPT-4, would have to undergo thorough evaluations and any serious incidents would have to be reported to the European Commission.

Limited risk

Limited risk AI systems should comply with minimal transparency requirements that would allow users to make informed decisions. After interacting with the applications, the user can then decide whether they want to continue using it. Users should be made aware when they are interacting with AI. This includes AI systems that generate or manipulate image, audio or video content, for example deepfakes.

On December 9 2023, Parliament reached a provisional agreement with the Council on the AI act . The agreed text will now have to be formally adopted by both Parliament and Council to become EU law. Before all MEPs have their say on the agreement, Parliament’s internal market and civil liberties committees will vote on it.

More on the EU’s digital measures

  • Cryptocurrency dangers and the benefits of EU legislation
  • Fighting cybercrime: new EU cybersecurity laws explained
  • Boosting data sharing in the EU: what are the benefits?
  • EU Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act
  • Five ways the European Parliament wants to protect online gamers
  • Artificial Intelligence Act

Related articles

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This section features overview and background articles for the general public. Press releases and materials for news media are available in the news section .

Taylor Swift: why academics are studying the pop star

Taylor Swift is the biggest pop star in the world and a seemingly unlikely subject of academic study around Australia and the world. The American superstar made Grammys history this month winning Album of the Year for the fourth time, soon after being named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. Forbes magazine declared the 34-year-old American the most powerful woman in the entertainment industry and fifth in the world for 2023, stating she is “an advocate for the empowerment of women and a champion for all musicians seeking greater ownership of their work.”

The conference or Swiftposium - hosted by the University of Melbourne in collaboration with the University of Sydney, RMIT University, Curtin University, Auckland University of Technology and Monash University - highlighted how a single artist has impacted contemporary life, with papers exploring Swift’s influence across the intersection of music, economics, business, media studies, health, and societal and cultural impact.

Brittany Spanos, New York University (NYU) Adjunct Instructor and senior writer for Rolling Stone opened the conference, delivering a keynote address examining Swift’s career in relation to the music industry, musicology, feminism and race.

a young woman in a pink dress is giving a talk about Taylor Swift

Dr Georgia Carroll presenting the keynote at the Swiftposium. 

Dr Georgia Carroll, a researcher who completed her PhD on fandom and celebrity in the Discipline of Sociology at the University of Sydney delivered the Early Career Researcher keynote on the second day. Dr Carroll’s keynote was titled: “’My pennies made your crown’: Taylor Swift as your Billionaire Best Friend” and explored the intersection of fandom and economic consumption in the Taylor Swift fan community. It examined how Swift encourages individuals to purchase merchandise, multiple versions of her albums, and concert tickets in order to be viewed as the "right" kind of fan and gain her attention. 

Other papers covered topics such as lyrical poetics, cyber-security, AI, mental health, public relations and “Swiftonomics”, referring to the economic impact of Taylor on local and global economies both in terms of her touring and her wider role in the entertainment industry. There was also a stream exploring Swift as a teaching tool in higher education, following recent courses on her and her work at institutions including Harvard University, Stanford University and NYU.

@abcnewsaus How well do you know Taylor Swift and her international impact? Academics from around the world have gathered at the Swiftposium conference in Melbourne to discuss her influence on music, cities, creatives and more.  #TaylorSwift #ErasTour #ErasTourAus #ABCNews ♬ original sound - ABC News Australia

University of Sydney experts from philosophy, sociology, English and psychology share why they are studying the lyrics and music of the American pop star.

Philosophy, forgiveness and Taylor Swift

Associate Professor Luke Russell , lecturer in ethics and critical thinking in the Discipline of Philosophy, said the singer-songwriter has a strong view on forgiveness, a subject he has recently published a book on, Real Forgiveness .  

“I’m a philosopher who writes on the topic of forgiveness," he said. "Taylor Swift holds an interesting and contentious view about forgiveness, a view that she has explained in interviews and has expressed in her songs. 

“Swift rejects the claim that we always ought to offer unconditional forgiveness to those who have wronged us. This puts her in conflict with advocates of unconditional forgiveness, including many Christians and therapists. I think that Swift is right about this, and her insights on this topic can help philosophers to see why sometimes forgiving is the wrong thing to do.” 

Greek philosophy, betrayal and Taylor Swift

Pop singer Taylor Swift wearing a sparkling bodysuit on stage for her Eras tour.

Taylor Swift performs in Nashville, May 5, 2023 Photo: George Walker IV, AP/AAP Photos

Dr Emily Hulme is a lecturer in Ancient Greek philosophy in the Discipline of Philosophy. Her research interests include Plato’s epistemology and ethics, philosophy of language from Parmenides to the Stoics, and arguments concerning the status of women in the ancient world. Dr Hulme said:

“I work in Greek philosophy, a philosophical tradition where reflection on art and emotions is understood to be a key part of our development as humans. We can learn a lot about ourselves through emotionally engaging with art that pulls no punches in talking about vulnerability, trust, and betrayal. And Taylor Swift has a lot of songs that fit that bill.” 

Sociology, identity, and Taylor Swift

Dr Georgia Carroll a researcher who completed her PhD in fandom in the Discipline of Sociology at the University of Sydney said:  “I wrote my PhD on Taylor Swift and her fandom because as a long-time Swiftie, I knew that there was something special about the relationship she shares with her fans. Many of Taylor's fans feel as though they have grown up alongside her, built a real connection with her, and that her music has served as a kind of overarching soundtrack to their lives. 

“As sociologists, we strive to understand society and its intersection with culture, identity, social relationships, and power structures, and celebrity fandom is a perfect window into all of those things.”  

English poetry, Shakespeare and Taylor Swift

Professor Liam Semler , is a Shakespeare scholar and teaches Early Modern Literature in the Discipline of English. He has a new paper on teaching Shakespeare’s sonnets using the lyrics from Taylor Swift’s album Midnights. He also teaches a unit called Shakespeare and Modernity, using Taylor Swift’s lyrics. Professor Semler said: “As the marketing for Midnights as a concept album started to permeate popular culture, I felt there was a fascinating, but not explicit, array of parallels to early modern sonnet sequences. 

“There are plenty of songs on the album that work well in class and connect to thematic and poetic elements relevant to Shakespeare’s sonnets. In my unit ‘Shakespeare and Modernity,’ Swift is part of a multidimensional picture as we explore the design principles and thematics of sonnet collections, including the literary work of Jen Bervin and Luke Kennard who rewrite the sonnets in fresh and provocative ways.” 

Psychology, archetypes and Taylor Swift

Kayla Greenstien, a PhD candidate in psychology said: “I study the theoretical orientations behind psychedelic therapies, including Jungian archetypes and using myths to explore deeper truths about human experiences. 

“After seeing Eras Tour footage on TikTok, I started thinking about Taylor Swift's entire artistic output as a form of uniquely modern mythopoeticism. There's a lot we can learn about archetypal experiences and who's voice they represent from looking at Swift's work through this lens.” 

Top Photo: Taylor Swift performs at the Monumental stadium during her Eras Tour concert in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko/AAP Photos)

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