On Australia Day, 2021, let’s commit to the glorious dream of a reconciled Australia and find a date where we can all celebrate together
January 26, 2021
I am an Australia Day Ambassador, today become a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) and support a change in date for our National celebration.
It would be ideal for all Australians to celebrate Australia Day together but for our First Peoples, January 26 is a Day of Mourning which signifies the beginning of dispossession, frontier violence & destruction of culture. Therefore, let us acknowledge the truth of Australia’s history and resolve to find a date for our National celebration that brings us all together.
There are 5 reasons why I support the day, not the date, and am giving my time as an Ambassador once again this year to participate in theconversation: Citizenship ceremonies and welcoming new Australians; the opportunity to understand history and promote our Indigenous culture and reconciliation; to amplify foundational principles such as democracy and rule of law to ensure young Australians know how fragile these concepts are; to have important conversations on the national level; and in support of the National awards system, particularly at local level.
I support those Councils, sports, organisations and individuals who feel they, too, can no longer support the date in good conscience including thebrave decision by Cricket Australia last week to participate in the national discussion.
Importantly, cricket listened to their National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cricket Advisory Committee, giving credence to the group and demonstrating a respect for our First Peoples that we’ve too often lacked as a nation. As we move along the continuum towards true recognition, truth-telling and reconciliation we will have many difficult conversations but they will be less so if we simply acknowledge the right of Indigenous Australia to self-determination.
Sport reaches a broad audience and it is wonderful to see greater social responsibility from the influential institution of sport such as the powerfulstance taken by the NRL’s Indigenous All Stars who refused to sing an anthem that demonstrably does not acknowledge their history and culture. I would do the same in their shoes.
I would welcome more of this from my own game of football. It should be perfectly natural for us, given our multicultural nature and global outlook.
In recent years, I have marched in the Redfern Invasion Day Rally and acknowledge that the anniversary of the landing of the First Fleet signifies great pain, dispossession, and inter-generational harm for our First Peoples that we are yet to properly reconcile. It is almost thirty years since the Mabo case in 1992 punctured the historical, legal fiction and injustice of terra nullius and it’s high time we adapted all public institutions and celebrations to this reality.
I stand with Indigenous Australians because I am not committed to the date, but to the glorious dream that so many of us share of an inclusive,reconciled Australia.
Symbols change. It is the underpinning values that are important. This day has always been about more than just the date since emancipated convicts started to celebrate in 1808, a footnote that I particularly enjoy because the genesis of the day is about transformation and hope, making a better life. The history of the day itself, in any event, is one of change, from early iterations of ‘First Landing Day’, ‘Foundation Day’ and ‘Anniversary Day.’ In fact, the first Australia Day was held in July during World War I for four years, complete with an Australia Day Committee.
The date can change in the same way that a word in the National Anthem can be symbolic of broader reconciliation. It needn’t be confronting. It just changes. Of course, we are not young. Not if ‘we’ includes pre-1788. We all learn and evolve, including Nation States and it makes no sense to hold onto anachronistic values or institutions. What was acceptable in at Federation in 1901 is no longer today. The concept is not an existential threat but a natural part of growing up as a nation.Of course, neither a change of a single word in an anthem, nor a date, can replace genuine reconciliation. Welcome to Country and Indigenous Rounds in sport are important, but I am concerned that we remain stuck in symbolism rather than dealing with the substantive and more challenging issues. Genuine partnership, reconciliation, a voice to Parliament and self-determination which means active involvement in all decisions that affect our First nations. All Indigenous peoples have this right under international law.
We must be wary of nationalistic overtones which are exclusionary because the essence of the day itself is inclusiveness, in my mind that’s theentire point. Togetherness. Everyone. All colours, races, first nations and the rest of us, all religions, genders, sexualities, abilities. We are anincredible mix.
This is why I believe in furthering intercultural and interfaith understanding and use my public platform to break down barriers between all ourvarious communities such as fasting during Ramadan last year with the Australian Muslim community and Muslim friends around the world. To show this minority community that we are all together in Australia, that we stand shoulder to shoulder. I would do the same for any minority or CALD community, and frequently do.
I see this as part of my responsibility as someone who represented the country and has never faced prejudice, persecution or racism. It is no goodtalking about a multicultural, inclusive Australia if we are not prepared to live it and each of us take action to that end. It is those of us who don’tface racism that must speak out for, and support those who do.
Racially and culturally, I am in the majority in this country and therefore am obligated to stand alongside those who are not.
I see immense value in coming together annually to reflect and be thankful because a National day is about new citizens, the strength of localcommunities, local sheroes and heroes making a difference who deserve to be recognised and the natural gifts we have at our disposal every day.
The beaches and rainforests, the waterways and deserts, the wildlife and the bush. The openness of the people, the melding of many cultures into a complex yet hugely successful experiment called multiculturalism that is an example to the world and must be nurtured, nourished, protected.
I have lived in many countries during my professional football career and there is truly no place like home, my heart will always lie in the beautiful Northern Rivers of NSW, in a small town called Lismore and I deeply appreciate the opportunity my children have to grow up free of much of theconflict that affects the world.
This year, I will spend time with a Local Council to welcome new Australians, in the Blue Mountains of NSW.
As an advocate for the precious multiculturalism that has so enriched us as a nation, and certainly my professional and personal life, it is a specialprivilege to welcome others. I have also seen first-hand the impact on families from the first generation, port-war migrants who built much of my football community, to the vast contributions of their sons and daughters.
And as a refugee advocate, I am acutely aware of the difficult journeys of many, the sacrifices they’ve made and the depth of gratitude when they find a safe home where they can dream of better things for their children and I feel a responsibility to let them know they are welcome, and should feel equal in every way.
I am indebted for what this country has given to me and never forget the gifts that we possess as Australians and, despite the numerous challenges we face in human rights, indigenous rights and inequality to which I devote much of my time and energy, it is important to acknowledge the extraordinary parts of Australia that we can be immensely grateful for.
Moreover, as I spend more time fighting for vulnerable communities including refugees, I see clearly the immense promise of Australia throughtheir eyes and it is deeply moving. I won’t forget standing alongside my young friend, Hakeem al-Araibi as he received his citizenship certificate knowing the struggle it took and what it meant to both he, and his wife.
As a human rights campaigner, I see the atrocities, the conflict, the restrictions on freedoms everywhere and attacks on journalists from which weare not immune and my gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy, though constantly under challenge, has only grown.
My role as an Australia Day Ambassador is to both be thankful for where we are, what we have, and what we represent in all our beautiful diversity and at the same time use the visibility of the moment to support important issues.
A change to the date out of respect for our First Nations, a truly representative anthem, the Uluru statement, refugees and asylum seekertreatment, the shameful over-representation of Indigenous Australians in the criminal justice system and the need to raise the age of criminalresponsibility, to speak out against racism and prejudice, to promote stronger public education, the need for climate action and particularly through sport, a Charter of Human Rights, and for us all to live up to the platitudes about no one being left behind that were so prevalent during the height of COVID-19 last year.
Having participated in Local Government events for many years, I see the value of recognition of civic and social service at the local, State andNational level. Being recognised by one’s own country is very special and families wear the badge of honour for generations. In small towns everywhere, I see the look of pride on faces of parents and grandparents as their children accept well deserved commendations and I look forward to seeing these faces at the Blue Mountains local council event today.
This year is a memorable one for the Foster family, especially my parents, Deanne and Kevin in Lismore who will be bursting with pride to say their family, which began with assisted immigrants and convicts over 200 years ago who moved north of NSW as dairy farmers and loggers, has been recognised by the country they so love with Membership of the Order of Australia (AM).
As an avowed supporter of an Australian Republic since my Socceroo days in the mid 90’s, I look forward eagerly to the day that we develop our own awards under an Australian Head of State and most importantly the honour provides an opportunity to speak about the issues affecting the country and about which I am most passionate, multiculturalism, human rights and indigenous reconciliation, climate action through sport and particularly, refugees.
Today, please consider that there are still over 400 people locked up on Nauru and stranded in Port Moresby or Medevac refugees who came to Australia for treatment now in their 8th year of indefinite incarceration
The way we treat the most vulnerable is the true test of us as people and as a country. And few are as vulnerable as people that flee persecution and are forced to apply for protection under the international agreement that ensures safe haven.
I went to Port Moresby to see the circumstances for myself in late 2019 and say to everyone that regardless of your political views, there must be aminimum standard of treatment of any person that marks us as Australians. And what we have done to asylum seekers is objectively inhumane, it is wrong, it has to change.
They have lost almost a decade of their lives while I have done many things that I took for granted. Things which they are denied. I travelled theworld, saw my kids grow, embraced my wife, children, brothers and parents at will, created treasured memories. As, have you.
Refugees like my friends, singer Mostafar Azimitabar and artist Farhad Bandesh, Behrouz Boochani the writer and poet, Sanousi who dreamt of being a footballer, Ezatullah who lost his boxing career, the talented cricketer Samad, Mohammad the farmer from Sudan and Shamindan the Tamil, have all come to represent the best of humanity in spite of, in fact because of, the horror we subjected them to on Manus Island.
They have never given in to hate, not lost hope, supported each other despite having eight years of their lives destroyed, have continued to show the incredible power of the human spirit and now, once free, are committed to helping those still detained.
Mercifully, we can finally see an end to the pain as many have been released in recent months and weeks, ostensibly to save money at a difficulttime economically, but let’s not forget that we’ve wasted $12 billion, fatally damaged many young lives, caused destruction to countless others. The cacophony of condemnation at Australia’s Universal Periodic Review last week at the UN Human Rights Council should ring loud.
I ask every Australian on this day when we renew our commitment to important principles that we hold dear, to commit to calling on your electedrepresentatives to let the refugees get on with their lives, give the gift of freedom that we ourselves treasure and never replicate this period again.
The AM that I receive today is dedicated to my friends and brothers, refugees Moz and Farhad, and former refugee now Australian citizen, Hakeem.
Each time I see the letters, they will remind me that we must all speak out for what is right, protect the values that are at the heart of an inclusive, multicultural society and of the power of us, the people.
We can create the country, and world in which we wish to live. If enough of us join arms.
The AM is a tribute to everyone who helped free Hakeem al-Araibi with the #SaveHakeem campaign, our football community for their extraordinary support over decades as a player then broadcaster, all those from sport who volunteered with us during COVID for #PlayForLives to support vulnerable communities in need, to John Moriarty and the Nangala Foundation with whom we use football to promote education in remote indigenous communities, all my former colleagues at SBS including the late Les Murray and Johnny Warren and more recently Lucy Zelic, Torrens University, and to all who have supported the #GameOver campaign with Amnesty Australia.
Today is different because of necessary restrictions due to COVID and we can all be thankful that our loved ones are safe. Let’s spare a thought for all who lost their lives last year especially our elder Australians and their families and please, bring every Australian back home from abroad who wishes to return.
One thing is certain, despite the many challenges we face, we are all unquestionably in an incredible place and are absolutely blessed to be on this island and to call ourselves Australian.
A National day is a moment when we can welcome new Australians, thank those doing important work at all levels, engage in necessary conversations about the past and its influence on the future and commit to being better for the next generation.
All of these elements will be incalculably more powerful on a date that truly brings us all together.
Let’s make it happen
Craig Foster AM