Australia

Day to recognise Indigenous Australians 'too costly': business groups

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A business group says creating a public holiday to recognise Indigenous Australians could be costly, but the finance minister says it's "early days".

Business groups say creating another public holiday could cost the Australian economy $3 billion after the prime minister suggested a special day to recognise Indigenous Australians.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson said the potential cost in foregone economic activity of an extra day off work should be factored in.

"So consideration should be given to the possibility of replacing an existing public holiday so the total number of public holidays remains the same," he told Fairfax Media.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for a new national day to celebrate Indigenous Australians, in an effort to sidestep the growing calls for Australia Day to be moved from January 26.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for a new day - in addition to Australia Day - for First Australians.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for a new day - in addition to Australia Day - for First Australians.
Getty Images

He told the Seven network he had "personal views" about which date should be chosen but was interested in the views of the community, the states and business groups. 

"It would be good to have a chat about it. We should think about it. We don't have to pull Australia Day down to actually recognise the achievements of Indigenous Australians, the oldest living culture in the world," he told Seven's Sunrise.

"The two can coexist." 

But Finance Minister Senator Mathias Cormann says it's "early days" in discussing the idea of finding a new way to acknowledge Indigenous Australians.

"I think that people are getting way ahead of themselves," he told Sky News on Wednesday.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
AAP

"There's a lot of conversations to be had - obviously consultations with Indigenous Australians, other stakeholders and indeed business. Let's see where that takes us."

The most important thing is that Australia Day remains on January 26, the minister said.

"It should be a day that brings all Australians together."

The prime minister’s suggestion comes after his government took swift action to punish a NSW council for moving its Australia Day festivities – something several Victorian councils did last year.

Byron Shire Council has been stripped of its right to hold citizenship ceremonies, immigration minister David Coleman confirmed in a statement, saying the date should “not be politicised”.

Mr Morrison said some wanted to change the date out of a "deep respect" for Indigenous people, but said the Byron council's decision was a product of "self-loathing". 

"Indulgent self-loathing doesn't make Australia stronger," Mr Morrison tweeted on Monday.

"Being honest about the past does."

Indulgent self-loathing doesn’t make Australia stronger. Being honest about the past does. Our modern Aus nation began on January 26, 1788. That’s the day to reflect on what we’ve accomplished, become, still to achieve. We can do this sensitively, respectfully, proudly, together. https://t.co/uM59Lwrr1p

— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) September 23, 2018

But the PM's push for a new day is also under fire from some activists.

Tarneen Onus-Williams, who was a co-organisor of Melbourne's 'Abolish Australia Day' rally this year, said he had completely missed the point.

"It's creating a diversion path and not actually dealing with the fact that we've been protesting on January 26 for 80 years for things to change for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples," Ms Onus-Williams told NITV News. 

"It’s about genocide, it's not about our achievements." 

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