The latest polls on Australia Day paint very different pictures of what it all means

Photo: Getty/Sergio Dionisio

If there’s one thing most Australians agree on, it’s that a day to celebrate the nation, is important.

But the issue of whether January 26 is the right day continues to divide sections of the populace, with conflicting surveys revealing different results about when a majority want to celebrate.

A week after the left-leaning Australia Institute published a survey that found just 38% of Australians know what historical event occurred on 26 January, and less than a quarter (23%) chose the current date from a range of options when asked what day would be best, the right-wing think tank the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) has released its own poll saying 70% of Australians do not want the date changed, with 11% in favour of change.

While Australia Institute deputy director Ebony Bennett concluded her organisation’s survey showed “most people are laid back about the date we celebrate on” and saw the current debate as “an opportunity for all of us to learn about and reflect on Australia’s history”, the IPA’s director of the Foundations of Western Civilisation Program, Dr Bella d’Abrera, saw her results as a chance to take ideological foes to task.

“The poll confirms that the left-leaning elements of our politics and media that are obsessed with identity politics are completely out of step with the majority of Australians when it comes to our national day. They want to divide, rather than unite Australians,” she said.

“26 January marks the foundation of modern Australia and it should to be celebrated by all Australians. Rather than being ashamed of it, we should be proud of it.”

The IPA’s results are similar to the findings of a Guardian Essential poll in September last year in which 54% opposed changing the date, with 26% in favour.

That poll found 70% believed everyone can celebrate on January 26 with 18% holding the opposite view.

The IPA’s poll surveyed just over 1,000 Australians, and began by asking questions such as whether the respondent was “proud to be an Australian” (87% said yes) and whether “Australia has a history to be proud of” (yes, 76%).

Despite 885 of the 1013 respondents saying they were “proud to be an Australian”, just 785 called themselves Australian when asked what “ethnic group” they most strongly identified with.

An overwhelming majority (81%) agreed that “the world would be a better place if other countries were more like Australia” and that “Australia Day is a day for celebration”. Asked if Australia was better or worse than other countries, 88% said better, 9% said it was the same and 3%, worse.

The IPA poll also asked if councils should stop holding citizenship ceremonies on January 26, with 23% agreeing and 50% disagreeing.

The Australian Institute’s similar question asked whether councils “should not be forced” to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day, with 47% agreeing and 35% disagreeing.

The issue was raised after the federal government intervened last year to strip two Melbourne councils of the power to hold citizenship ceremonies after they said they would not be celebrating Australia Day.

The findings of the IPA poll on Australia Day. Source: Institute of Public Affairs

Adding to that picture is another survey out today, commissioned by the settlement agency AMES Australia. From 140 new migrants and refugees, the survey found 89% of respondents said they planned to become citizens, with 11% saying they had no citizenship plans or were not sure.

While less than half (44%) of the newcomers to Australia where aware of the significance of the day, 65% said they planned to mark or celebrate the day, with 22% saying they had no plans.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) said Australia Day helped them to feel more welcome to the country.

Iraqi refugee Osama Butti, who arrived here with his wife and two children early last year, told AMES Australia that the day demonstrated the nation was “a united and peaceful country” and would mean more to him when he becomes a citizen.

AMES Australia CEO Cath Scarth said the survey showed that migrants and refugees new to Australia were committed to becoming part of the wider society.

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