We celebrated two Australia Days this year. The bad news is that they were on the same date as each other. And not only was there be no extra holiday, but half the population wasn’t able to see what the other half celebrated.
As a civilisation we are split almost down the middle about foundational beliefs, and this split manifests not just in Australia, where the federal government was returned with just 50.36% of the vote, but in the USA and Europe with narrow majorities for Trump and Brexit, and the rise of unconventional parties on the right.
Nothing demonstrates this more than the reaction to the latest Meat and Livestock Australia’s Australia Day Lamb ad, and the Victorian government’s Australia Day billboard of two young Islamic girls.
One belonged to “campers”. These were people who thought that Australia was little more than lines on a map, and that anyone should be a citizen, just by being here. They wanted open borders, and were often hostile to established institutions.
The other we called “Team Australia”. Unlike the campers, these people believed a nation is a state of mind, as much as lines on a map, and that to be a citizen you needed to share core values and a belief in key institutions. They wanted to control borders and you might have seen some wearing an Australian flag stick-on tattoo yesterday.
We also call them “cosmopolitans” and “nationalists”. Traditionally they are found on each side of politics, but it is the emergence of politicians who wrest them from their traditional homes and build new coalitions that is disturbing today’s political establishments.
The MLA ad has something for both groups, and in both cases they are offended.
The ad features two Aboriginal blokes setting-up a barbeque on an open beach, only to be inundated by contingents of newcomers from various eras and nationalities. Everyone has a good time.
You can read it as a potted history of Australia which is where nationalists take offence.
The ad unfolds as though English, Scots and Irish are in the minority, and puts the Brits on a similar footing to the French, the Dutch, and bizarrely, the Germans.
Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.