No, Changing One Word In The Australian Anthem Won’t Help “Recognise” Indigenous People

Go ahead girl, give us nothing.

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It’s NAIDOC Week in the year 2020. The federal government has refused to fly the Aboriginal flag in Parliament. In comes NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. She wants to change one word in the Australian national anthem in order to acknowledge Indigenous people. She says it would be a sign of “respect and dignity”. We say it would be a sign of literally doing the least.

The word in question is “young” — that is, changing the line “for we are young and free” to “for we are one and free” — as young implies that Indigenous people and culture have not been present in this land for 1,000’s of years.

The move is backed by conservative commentator and Sky News after-dark show host, Chris Kenny, so you know it’s exactly what Indigenous people actually want.

“It’s great that the NSW Premier is talking about ensuring that First People are considered in this nations identity,” said Senator Lidia Thorpe in a tweet. “We will need to do more than change the national anthem, we need to change the nation.”

It’s not that this change would be bad. In fact, the controversy surrounding the Australian anthem has come more and more into the public sphere in recent years.

In 2017 Indigenous boxer Anthony Mundine called the anthem “racist” and “disrespectful”, in 2018 a 9-year-old schoolgirl refused to stand up for the anthem at an assembly calling it which subsequently led to her being attacked by grown-up politicians, and in 2019 NRL All Stars’ Indigenous captain called for a discussion on the appropriateness of the anthem.

And yes, the word in question is one that Indigenous people have said is problematic.

The issue is the tokenistic approach taken to the very important task of recognising First Nations peoples and their history. And Berejiklian’s hypocrisy.

Earlier this year, the premier repeatedly condemned Black Lives Matter protests, banning the event from taking place.

In NSW, Indigenous children as young as 11 were disproportionately strip searched by police. In Dubbo, where the Indigenous population is 20%, 66% of strip searches conducted were on Indigenous people. A matter which Berejiklian has done nothing about.

Also in NSW, of all new prisoners in the first quarter of 2020, 31% were Indigenous. The Indigenous population in NSW is about 3%. This is due to discriminatory policing and laws, which again, Berejiklian has done nothing about.

Even if we were to change the national anthem, it would be an injustice to gloss over the argument that “Advance Australia Fair” is itself referring to advancing the white people of the nation. The speculation around the term warrants a meaningful discussion and consultation with Indigenous people. To address any injustice in the national anthem, and to forge a path towards a new inclusive anthem, self-reflection on the part of white Australia would be required.