• File photo: Flags at an Australia Day parade (AAP)Source: AAP
Greens leader Richard Di Natalie says his party will prioritise changing the date of Australia Day with a major campaign to abandon January 26, despite the government's stance.
15 Jan 2018 - 4:31 PM  UPDATED 15 Jan 2018 - 5:28 PM

Less than a week out from January 26, the national debate on changing the date of Australia Day is rapidly building up. 

Greens leader Richard Di Natale echoed the sentiment felt by many as he announced his party will make changing the date a priority, reiterating that the day on which Australia currently chooses to celebrate its national day represents pain and suffering for many First Australians.

"We have a day on January 26 that marks the commemoration of the arrival of the First Fleet and it's a day that represents an act of dispossession, an act of theft," he said. 

"It's a day that represents the beginning of an ongoing genocide, the slaughter of so many Aboriginal people." 

The Greens will write to more than 100 of their local councillors across the nation urging them to agitate and follow the lead of the Yarra and Darebin councils in Victoria, which axed their Australia Day celebrations.

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But the government was firm in continuing its stance to reject any calls to change the date, which has previously responded to councils' decisions to scrap Australia Day celebrations by stripping them of their power to hold citizenship ceremonies. 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he's disappointed by those who want to change the date of Australia Day.

"Seeking to take a day that unites Australia and Australians and turn it into one that would divide us." he said in a Facebook video. 

"We recognise that the history of European settlement has been complex and tragic for Indigenous Australians, we recognise all the complexities and challenges of our history. But above all we recognise and we celebrate our acheivements as Australians," he said.  

"A free country debates its history, it does not deny it." 

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce criticised the Greens for throwing their support behind the campaign. 

"They dwell in the philosophical, we build the things that actually make our nation stronger," he told reporters in Parkes. 

"We are the building inland rail, they are talking about Australia day. We're building the Regional Investment Corporation, they think that Lachlan Macquarie and Captain Cook were bad buggers" he said.  

Mr Joyce said he did not support changing Australia Day, and that he's 'at ease of Australia Day,' and he is 'very proud of Australia Day.' 

His comments were backed up by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott who tweeted 'there are 364 other days a year for the Greens to be politically correct,' and why can't they [the Greens] just accept it. 

NSW Multicultural Minister Ray Williams said the move to abandon January 26 is un-Australian. 

"Anyone who's boycotting Australia Day, I think that's the most un-Australian thing to do. The fact of the matter is that Australia Day is not divisive, it's an inclusive day," he said.

Despite the heated debate, Australia Day celebrations will go ahead with Mr Williams launching the state government's Australia Day celebrations in Sydney this morning along with ambassadors John Paul-Young and Torres Strait Islander performer Christine Anu. 

Mr Williams said the day should be an opportunity for all to come together. 

"The fact that we live here cohesively, our population is the sum total of every nationality around the world, including the oldest culture on Earth, the Indigenous culture. I tell you what, there's a lot there to celebrate," he said. 

But Indigenous leaders have hit back. 

National Congress of Australia's First People's Co-Chair, Rod Little, said January 26 is a Day of Mourning. 

"That's the day celebrating the invasions of our countries and our lands," he said. 

Mr Little says the Greens push to change to date shows a maturity within local governments.  

"That people who live locally in these communities going through a process of reconciliation, understanding and education of what these of kinds of things actually mean to Aboriginal people." 

Aboriginal Tent Embassy co-founder and Sovereign Union convenor, Michael Anderson, said he welcomes the debate but the truth must be told. 

"The bottom line is there is nothing, not even for the non-Aboriginal majority, to celebrate because Australia is not an independent nation," he said. 

"Australians of today celebrate a day they know nothing about or have little understanding of, we do need a day when our First Nations and the rest can truly celebrate a historic occasion" 

Academic Marcia Langton criticised former Labor leader Mark Latham, who has launched the Save Australia Day campaign, and his 'racist defence' of the day. 

Tennis legend Pat Cash also weighed in on the debate telling a commercial breakfast television he will not be celebrating Australia Day. 

“That is not going to be a celebration for me, it’s like an Invasion Day, celebrating white England — English landing.

“As an Australian who brought two Davis Cups home, representing my country, January 26 is not a day of celebration for me. People who really look into it would question that." 

Mr Cash said his work with Indigenous charity Children's Ground changed his perspective. He said the experience of working in remote communities left him shocked and moved to tears. 

“I got to the stage I cannot celebrate Australia Day. I’m sorry,” he said.

“As you can see it has changed my life. Seeing what has gone on up there.”

Rapper Briggs says changing the date should be more be a simple task in comparison to the more complex decisions that need to be made in regards to Indigenous Australians. 

"If we can’t make the easy changes regarding January 26th, how we gonna make the sophisticated & difficult ones?" Briggs questioned on Twitter.

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