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ABC backs down on use of 'Invasion Day' as a interchangeable term for Australia Day after complaint

The ABC has defensively backed down from describing Australia Day as 'Invasion Day' following a complaint from the communications minister. 

The national broadcaster published an online events guide on Sunday interchangeably using a politically contentious term to describe the January 26 public holiday commemorating the British First Fleet's 1788 arrival in Sydney Cove.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher spoke out against this ABC article. 

'The ABC online article is incorrect about Australia Day,' he said on Monday.

'The ABC has clearly got this one wrong.

The ABC has defensively backed down from describing Australia Day as 'Invasion Day' following a complaint from the communications minister. The national broadcaster published an online events guide on Sunday interchangeably using a politically contentious term to describe the January 26 public holiday commemorating the British First Fleet's 1788 arrival in Sydney Cove. Pictured is a 2020 protest

'The name of our national day is well understood and supported, and for the ABC to suggest otherwise - that in some way Invasion Day is interchangeable with Australia Day  - is clearly wrong.'

Hours later, the ABC issued a defensive statement arguing the policy was to refer to Australia Day.

'In light of some misreporting on this issue, to be abundantly clear: The ABC's policy is to use the term Australia Day, as it always has,' it said on Monday afternoon.

'As the editorial advice states, other terms can be used when they are appropriate in certain contexts. This does not mean they are used interchangeably.'

The ABC events guide on Sunday had described Australia Day as 'a contentious day for many' despite the national broadcaster's style guide recommending Australia Day as a 'default' title.

The initial article, which has now been slightly amended, was titled 'Australia Day/Invasion Day 2021 events for Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Hobart and Darwin'.

The national public holiday was described as 'one of the most polarising dates on the Australian calendar' because it marked  'a day of sorrow for the colonisation of an ancient culture'.

'For some First Nations people, it is a day to mourn the past and galvanise the community to address ongoing systemic racial injustice,' the ABC public holiday guide said.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has spoken out against this ABC article. 'The ABC online article is incorrect about Australia Day,' he said on Monday.

'For others, it's a chance to spend time with family and friends at the beach or around barbecues.'

The ABC had earlier defended the decision to use the terms interchangeably as it would be 'inappropriate' to demand its staff to refer to one or the other.

Jacinta Price, the indigenous Deputy Mayor of Alice Springs in central Australia, has campaigned to keep the date as is, arguing symbolism would do nothing to tackle alcohol and sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities

Mr Fletcher, who represents the safe Liberal electorate of Bradfield on Sydney's wealthy upper north shore, said that original article was inaccurate. 

'While the ABC has editorial independence, and I do not control what it says, I call on the ABC to correct this inaccurate article,' he said.

'The obligation on the ABC Board is clear under the Act: to ensure that the gathering and presentation of news is accurate and impartial.'

Not all indigenous Australians are opposed to Australia Day being celebrated on January 26 every year.

Jacinta Price, the Deputy Mayor of Alice Springs in central Australia, has campaigned to keep the date as is, arguing symbolism would do nothing to tackle domestic violence, alcohol and sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities.

The councillor, who has Warlpiri heritage on her mother's side, was also a Country Liberal Party candidate at the 2019 federal election in the Labor-held seat of Lingiari in the Northern Territory.

Ken Wyatt, the Liberal federal Minister for Indigenous Australians, also supports keeping Australia Day on January 26.

He made history in 2010 as the first Aboriginal candidate to be elected to the House of Representatives.

Australia Day has been a national public holiday since 1994 after it was previously recogised in some states.

Despite that, the ABC statement argued January 26 had been described differently in each state from Australia Day in New South Wales to '26 January' in South Australia, a dual-named 'Australia Day (26 January)' in Western Australia and Tasmania and '26 January (Australia Day)' in Queensland, the NT, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria.  

Indigenous activists have since 1938 protested against commemorating the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Harbour arguing the arrival of British people eventually led to the dispossession of land. 

The movement against recognising January 26 gathered momentum in 1988 when indigenous activists held protests during the bicentenary commemoration that featured a tall ships re-enactment on Sydney Harbour.

The movement against recognising January 26 gathered momentum in 1988 when indigenous activists held protests during the bicentenary commemoration. Pictured are Invasion Day protesters in 2020

Nonetheless, Mr Fletcher said Australia Day needed to be respected as a nationally recognised public holiday.

'The name of Australia Day is reflected in legislation across Australia. More important, it is reflected in the usage of the overwhelming majority of Australians,' he said.

Last year, Mr Fletcher complained to ABC chairwoman Ita Buttrose after the Four Corners program 'Inside the Canberra bubble' suggested cabinet ministers Alan Tudge and Christian Porter had formed relationships with staff.

The Institute of Public Affairs think tank's director of communications Evan Mulholland said the ABC was divisive, despite receiving more than $1.19billion a year from taxpayers.

'It is clear that the ABC is now the Un-Australian Broadcasting Corporation,' he said.

'The government can and ought to step in and prevent the ABC from pushing divisive identity politics and diminishing our national day. 

'It can refuse to fund a public broadcaster that doesn't respect Australian values.'

Some indigenous rights activists have suggested Federation in 1901, when Australia became a nation, was a more appropriate day for a national public holiday but this coincides with New Year's Day. 

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