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UOW's Dr Summer Finlay says she has never 'celebrated' Australia Day. Picture: UOW.

Australia day: universities open to changing work policies

Universities will consider giving staff the option to work on Australia Day following an ongoing debate around the controversial date.

Earlier this month, the University of Wollongong announced they would let staff work on January 26 saying it wasn't “a day of celebration for all Australians”.

UOW public health lecturer Dr Summer Finlay said she will "seize the opportunity" to work as part of her “personal protest” against a day that “shouldn’t be celebrated”.

“By allowing us to work that day and take another day off, it shows that the university recognizes the fraught that happened,” Dr Finlay told Campus Review

Finlay said the fact that people can choose to work or not on the day shows the university's understanding of First Nations communities.

“There's a large number of reasons why Aboriginal people might want the day off as there are events all around the country to recognize Invasion Day.

“It is really important to recognize that while people like myself can work in recognition of our dislike for the day, it's not necessarily suitable or appropriate for everybody,” Dr Finlay said. 

The announcement follows the university's commitment to its latest Reconciliation Action Plan, which was launched in March 2022. 

The plan said it aims to build a learning and working environment "free of discrimination and racism by emphasizing stronger relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people". 

UOW vice-chancellor professor Patricia M. Davidson said for many First Nations people January 26 isn’t a celebration but marks the “beginning of colonisation and atrocities”.

“We want to cast a spotlight on the reality of our history," Professor Davidson told Campus Review

"We want to be part of a bigger, broader national conversation about reconciliation and making a stronger country for all of us."

Davidson said the university supports an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, including the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian constitution.

“I hope this move helps generate greater support for recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and for changing the date for Australia Day so that we can have a national celebration that is truly inclusive," she said.

NTEU National President Dr Alison Barnes said the union supports UOW's decision and has encouraged other universities to follow in their footstep. 

"Allowing a choice of whether to work or not acknowledges that many in our community don't want to mark the anniversary of genocide, dispossession and suffering with a public holiday,” Barnes said.

“All university management should give staff the option to have an alternative day off."

A spokesperson at Flinders University and the University of Western Australia told Campus Review they will continue to observe the national public holiday. 

The University of Sydney said they recognise “mixed feelings” around the date but won't be changing their work policies.

An ANU spokesperson said staff will not be working on January 26 but will be open to future alternatives. 

“We are conscious of the pain Australia Day can cause and we are very open to exploring new approaches to public holidays as part of our enterprise bargaining,” the ANU spokesperson said. 

The University of Melbourne said it will discuss optional arrangements in its next round of enterprise bargaining.

Similarly, UNSW said the university is “committed” to providing a flexible workplace and will consider a substitute day for January 26. 

“While we do not currently allow staff to choose a substitute day for the Australia Day public holiday, flexibility and choice around public holidays is an option currently under review,” a UNSW spokesperson told Campus Review.

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One comment

  1. Australia is not the only country that has ever been colonised. This is Australia’s history. It’s not great but that’s colonisation and history. What is in the past should be remembered but left in the past. As a nation we should move forward and stop dredging up the past and using that as an excuse to remain firmly stuck in the past. The origins of Mardi Gras was horrific yet today we celebrate Mardi Gras and it unites people. Why can’t we do the same for Australia Day. Move on Australia and let’s make Australia day into a positive day for all, where we celebrate the variety of cultures this great country is made up off and we forgive the sins of our ancestors.

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