The Victorian government has rubbished reports Anzac Day could be used to commemorate Indigenous people killed defending their communities during British colonisation.
A report commissioned by the premier’s department, seen by The New Daily, last year canvassed “the social value of war commemorative events”.
Views on recognising the Frontier Wars on Anzac Day or Remembrance Day were considered on page 36 of the 46-page report. It found such a move would be divisive and unpopular, but said there was “goodwill” for acknowledging Indigenous experiences more generally.
It prompted Opposition frontbencher Tim Smith to claim Premier Daniel Andrews was “ashamed to be Australian”, The Herald Sun reported.
Mr Smith said expanding Anzac Day would be politicising “our most sacred day” through “warped ideology”.
He said he had seen some of the survey results, but not the report, and questioned whether the questions were loaded.
A government spokesperson confirmed there would be no change to Anzac Day or Remembrance Day.
“We do everything we can to back our veterans and honour the sacrifice of all servicemen and women.”
The spokesperson confirmed the government would not consider adding a separate public holiday to commemorate Indigenous lives lost, either.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said Anzac Day was “not negotiable”.
The survey results
More than 500 Victorians responded to an online survey for the report, commissioned by the Department of Premier and Cabinet. The study also included interviews and group discussions with stakeholders, commemoration participants and non-participants.
“The study demonstrates that there is an expectation that commemoration will continue in a recognisable form, for perpetuity,” the report found.
Thirty per cent of respondents agreed that Indigenous people killed while defending their communities between 1790 and 1930 should be reflected in Anzac ceremonies. Nineteen per cent disagreed.
Participants were more reluctant to agree the Frontier Wars should be recognised in Anzac or Remembrance Day ceremonies in the group discussions.
“Some said they didn’t want to feel guilty on a day where they liked to feel pride. Others said they disliked Indigenous Australians ‘getting more’ – this was almost framed as a battle for cultural resource,” the report said.
An Indigenous veteran in the study said different events served different purposes for him – allowing him to reflect as a serviceman at Anzac services, and reflect on the Indigenous struggle at the Victorian Aboriginal Remembrance Service on May 31.
“Importantly, he valued both of these opportunities to commemorate,” the report said.
One-quarter of survey respondents agreed Anzac Day had changed over time and would continue evolving, while 7 per cent disagreed.
Comparatively, one-third said “any change to how we do Anzac Day would destroy the meaning of the day”.
Almost half (44 per cent) agreed Anzac Day should “reflect the impact of all wars that have affected Australians, no matter where they have come from”. Five per cent disagreed.
More than one-fifth agreed Anzac Day should be changed to be more inclusive, while one-quarter disagreed.
“It has to be about Anzacs first and foremost,” one participant said.
If you dilute that too far by making it about everyone impacted by war, no matter they come from or who they fought for, it will end up just being an ‘international recognition of war day’.”
The report recommended the government work with local Returned Service Leagues (RSL) and the Shrine of Remembrance “to explore the gentle evolution towards the inclusion of more diverse stories as part of commemorative events, without undermining what people hold dear about the day”.
It also recommended the government “explore community interest in a more prominent Victorian Aboriginal Remembrance Service”.
“There was general interest and good will in this study to do with the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. While exploration of specific events, such as the frontier conflicts, within the structure of Anzac Day is likely to lead to resentment and conflict, the VARS offers a less controversial vehicle for Victorians to recognise their state’s Indigenous past.”
The Aboriginal population of Australia dropped by about 90 per cent between 1788 and 1900.