This weekend, millions of Australians will be firing up barbeques and packing eskies and cricket sets into the back of cars as we prepare to celebrate all that is great about our country on Australia Day, 26th January.
Sadly, this year as much as any other, there are many Australians confronted or affected by bushfires who won’t be in a position to rest or celebrate on Australia Day. I’m sure many of us who are fortunate not to be directly impacted by the bushfires will spend time on Australia Day thinking of our fellow Australians and the struggles they are facing. We’ll also reflect on the fact that the bushfire crisis has demonstrated once again the absolute best of Australians – those who put themselves in harm’s way to fight fires in both a professional and voluntary capacity, and the huge number who have donated their own resources and money to help in whatever way they can.
It’s this reminder of how lucky we are to be Australians – despite natural disasters or any other adversities that we face – that demonstrates why Australia Day is so important. It is a time to spend time with friends and family to reflect and rejoice that, for all our challenges – we are fortunate to be part of a wonderful community which rallies around and supports each other in times of need.
A day to celebrate the great things about our country is an important antidote to the negativity that confronts and often consumes us on a daily basis in this age of social media. Thousands of opinions about perceived faults with ourselves, our neighbours, our culture and our country as a whole, are proclaimed and broadcast to the world every minute on Twitter and Facebook. It can certainly seem sometimes that civil and constructive public debate has given way to hyperbole and moral absolutism, an endless blame game that does nothing to solve our challenges and make life better for all Australians.
A day where we remember what is so good about our country provides us with the opportunity to put into context just how fortunate we are. There are so many other countries around the world where citizens don’t enjoy the same freedoms and quality of life as we do – places where freedom of speech isn’t tolerated, violence against religious minorities is common, and those with a dissenting viewpoint to authoritarian rule face lengthy imprisonment or death. It is cause for celebration that we live in a country where we are able to voice our opinions, thoughts and differing viewpoints freely, and participate in elections which determine the future of our great nation. As our national anthem tells us – Australians all, let us rejoice; for we are young and free.
On Australia Day and every day, we should be thankful that we live in a country built on foundations of liberty and democracy, and we should take care to remember those foundations when engaging in the battle of ideas – whether that’s by the barbeque, next to the office watercooler, on social media or indeed in our nation’s parliament.
To all Tasmanians, have a fantastic and safe Australia Day.