Published: 20th March 2023
In 1999, the Australian government under Prime Minister John Howard decided to change the name of the day from the "International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination" to "Harmony Day." The decision to change the name was made to emphasise the positive aspects of multiculturalism and celebrate cultural diversity in Australia rather than focusing on the negative aspects of racism and discrimination. The government hoped this new name would promote a sense of unity and inclusion among Australians from different cultural backgrounds. However, this decision has been criticised by many as a way of downplaying or ignoring Australia's history of racism and ongoing issues with racism and discrimination, including incidents of far-right extremism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and prejudice against First Nations people.
Recently, the Greens Party pushed for the day to be renamed to its original "International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination," as it was known when it was first observed in 1966. In a letter, senator Mehreen Faruqi urged the government to return the day to its original name and purpose, saying that it would send a "strong message" that the government recognises the issue of racism in Australia and the urgent need to fight it.
A/Professor Chanelle van den Berg, Pro Vice Chancellor First Nations, said: “While it is important that we celebrate our multiculturalism, Harmony Day emerged from a reluctance by the Commonwealth to recognise the importance of addressing racism in Australia. I think it reflects our broader discomfort in Australia when it comes to talking about race. But the courage to have these conversations are vital to addressing racism in society, and I think re-considering Harmony Day is an important step in the right direction."
While celebrating our many cultured communities is essential, it cannot come at the expense of not acknowledging the real meaning of this significant day. At Murdoch University, we recognise the many challenges faced by First Nation and culturally and racially minoritised community members. Despite the controversy surrounding Harmony Day, Murdoch University remains committed to diversity and inclusion, working towards eliminating racial discrimination and celebrating our diverse community. We also encourage people to reflect on Australia's colonial past and history of violence, including dispossession and systemic racism, the importance of having difficult conversations about race, questioning our ways and finding new ways to live better in harmony.
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