Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Australia Day #changethedate

A view *for* Japan

One week on from the public holiday for Australia Day on 26 January, one of Japan's leading newspapers, the Asahi Shimbun, featured a rather comprehensive article on the debate surrounding the day, invasion or celebration, mourning or commemoration.

Australia doesn't get a lot of coverage in Japanese media but to their credit, from time to time, Asahi does give space to major issues (one on the Manus Island asylum seekers comes to mind).

Australia Day: Settlement or Invasion?

This post aims to give an overview of the contents of the article. I was going to write a post anyway, as a way to convey my own thoughts on the day and as a response to how the day played out on twitter, as viewed from Tokyo. In the end, the timeliness of this article in the Asahi and my work in observing how Japan and Australia understand each other, outweigh my personal views, for a post here at least.

For the record, however, if I had been in Brisbane on the day, I would have been participating in the march across town. I was born in Sydney, sixth-generation Australian descended from English settlers via Portsmouth, on both sides. At school in Sydney, we learnt Cook discovered Australia (in 1770, I even have a vague recollection of the bicentenary in 1970) and 26 January 1788 marked the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove by Arthur Phillip. We even had school excursions to the 'birthplace' of Australia, the Rocks area and Mrs Macquarie's chair, Hyde Park and Victoria Barracks, just so we understood 'history'. As a Sydney-sider, it only ever represented to me just that, something for Sydney to reflect on. I never really did get why the rest of the country would want to celebrate that, particularly after we moved to Queensland.

The bicentenary in 1988 seemed to shift the local to the national. The re-enactment of the First Fleet arriving in Sydney Harbour seemed to trigger a nascent jingoism which has continued to grow, cause disrespect, anger and a contrived patriotism which mimics the very worst aspects of what overt nationalism can be.

Our politics is broken, of that there is no doubt. As a political scientist, that is a great disappointment, on my bad days, a sense of failure. What Australia Days in recent times have underscored is anger, hatred. As a nation we need healing and reconciliation. Our First Nation people are resilient and have much to teach us about land, environment, knowledges that can heal society.  The Uluru Statement is but one example. We need to support the Statement, we need to convince politicians who lack the courage and foresight to embrace this advance. We need to heal and go forward together, rebuilding our society, fairly, justly and equally.

But back to the article. Relations between Australia and Japan date from the mid-19th century. An adventurous acrobatic troupe was followed by indentured labourers who mainly inhabited Nothern Australia, namely Thursday Island and North Queensland, as pearl fishers, as farm labourers; they also went to Broome in WA. World War Two and postwar trade get much of the attention. But over the years I have been observing both countries, they also share a willingness to look to each others social structures. I recall an extended article in the 1980s on the merits of copying Australia's electoral system; there has long been interest in Australia's approach to multiculturalism, immigration and citizenship. A newly published book by Shiobara Yoshikazu is but the most recent in this extensive genre.

So what to make of the article in the Asahi? As the present Japanese government under Abe Shinzo continues its radical crafting of a rightwing conservatism similar to other western democracies, the Asahi has brought a critical eye to Australia's asylum seeker policies and now the settler vs invasion debate as Australia constructs a jingoistic patriotism. It is a much needed critical eye. Where once Japan looked to Australia to learn, it is almost like the Asahi is tempering that view with a wary eye.

The article reported at length on the demonstrations in each city, pictures that flowed through my twitter feed on the day were reprinted and described in detail. It mentions the changes Triple J made to its Hottest 100. Significantly too, the coverage includes use of the word 'Aborigine' vs Aboriginal people and Indigenous people. Asahi notes that it will in future stop using the word Aborigine and instead use the words Aboriginal People (先住民 senjumin) or Australian Aboriginal People in order to acknowledge First Nations People preferences.

I appreciate the Asahi's endeavours in tackling some of the major political issues in Australia, rather than just the odd koala or kangaroo story. It is a further important development in the relationship.

We can #changethedate and we can make a difference.