• A smoking ceremony at the Tent Embassy in Canberra mark the start of the day's events. (NITV News/Nakari Thorpe)Source: NITV News/Nakari Thorpe
While hundreds of protesters have marched from the Aboriginal tent embassy to the doors of Parliament House, conservative politicians have argued for and against changing the date, sparked by a former minister’s surprising change of heart.
By
Belinda Merhab

Source:
AAP
26 Jan 2017 - 3:18 PM  UPDATED 26 Jan 2017 - 3:26 PM

Hundreds of demonstrators have marched in Canberra rejecting plans for constitutional recognition and labelling Australia a racist regime.

"Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land," they yelled as they marched on Thursday afternoon

They then sat outside the front doors of the building for an hour, calling for a treaty as a line of police formed a guard blocking the entrance.

"What do we want? Treaty. What have we got? F*** all," they chanted.

Protester Les Coe urged the crowd to reject proposals for constitutional recognition and push for a treaty instead.

The Referendum Council appointed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in 2015 has begun community consultation on constitutional recognition, with a final report due later this year.

Mr Coe says he will attend those meetings to talk about a treaty.

"That's what we should be doing at these so-called meetings," he told the crowd.

"We've actually got to hijack this f***ing agenda and put on it what we demand.

The only thing we want to talk about is a treaty."

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Mr Coe said Indigenous Australians would lose no matter how they voted in a referendum on constitutional recognition.

Aboriginal people should be asked whether they want constitutional recognition and be allowed to say 'no', he said.

He said the constitution was based on racial supremacy and warned against becoming "participants in our own destruction".

"When they talk about constitutional recognition, there's nothing in this for us."

Canberra woman Claire Boyer, 24, who has no Indigenous heritage, believes the date of Australia Day should be changed.

"The history of genocide of Aboriginal people - we're not going to celebrate that," she told AAP.

Politicians insisting Australia Day should remain on January 26 were ignorant, she said.

"Hear the call for change, hear the reasons behind that.

"That hurt is a very personal thing and the main thing that needs to change first is that white Australia needs to listen."

Meanwhile, politicians have also argued about the push to change the date.

Former Coalition Cabinet Minister Ian Macfarlane has had a change of heart from his previous stance. He’s said he now thinks March 1 would be a better day to celebrate, as it would draw a line and allow Australia to get on with the really important issues facing Indigenous communities.

Mr Macfarlane says he's not known as a bleeding heart, but for the first time in his 25 years of public life he's going to make what some might call "bleeding- heart comments".

He thought "Bloody ABC" when Triple J announced 2017 would be the last Australia Day with its famous Hottest 100, because of the offence the celebration was causing to Indigenous Australians

"Then Fremantle City Council announced it was cancelling its Australia Day citizenship ceremony and fireworks for this year. "Bloody latte-drinking trendies," I thought," he says.

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But the former minister then thought how his Scottish cousins would feel if they had to celebrate United Kingdom day on the anniversary of the Vikings launching an amphibious attack on Arrochar.

"It was the moment I decided that as a conservative, Anglo-Celtic Australian, I want to play a part in the push to changing the date of Australia Day," he says.

Mr Macfarlane believes the change of date wouldn't be about pleasing people, but rather uniting people.

"It's about healing a wound, drawing a line, getting on with the really important issues facing our Indigenous communities."

He says the date still has to be a warm month because he can't imagine an Australia Day without backyard cricket, barbecues and pool parties.

Why March 1? Mr Macfarlane says it would commemorate the date in 1901 that the first Commonwealth government began taking control of many of the functions formerly exercised by the colonies.

But Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce slammed Mr Macfarlane’s comments.

He told Sydney radio 2GB the idea of moving away from January 26 is political correctness gone mad, and those pushing for change should bypass the public holiday and go to work.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull backed the Deputy Prime Minister, saying he thinks January 26 should be maintained as a day to celebrate Australia's rich diversity.

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