How can we step off the Australia Day behaviour carousel?

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, explains Nic Hayes, managing director of Media Stable.

Australia Day is a hot potato. A day of immense pride, celebration, and joy for some Aussies and a day of guilt, sadness, and embarrassment for our First Nation’s people and many others. 


Every January, people feel guilty for celebrating it and we talk about changing the date. And every year nothing changes… then we jump back on the carousel to go around again next year.  

The outrage on social media is phenomenal as known commentators and agitators whip the mob into a frenzy on both sides. It’s a vanity metrics competition between known entities to see who can get the most likes, comments, and reposts. And once the day has passed, these same people are on the lookout for the next outrage.  

Corporate Australia communications teams see Australia Day as an opportunity to demonstrate their values and amplify their brands while heightened emotion is present. This year, Woolworths has decided not to sell cheap Chinese-made Australia Day merchandise for commercial and values-based reasons.  

This is the same brand that tried to hijack Anzac Day in 2015 by encouraging people to generate images on their social feeds with the “Fresh in our memories” tagline and Woolworth’s logo. A poorly thought-out and disrespectful marketing campaign, which the government ordered to be taken down immediately.  

Brands do have a role to play in these conversations and are more involved today in societal issues that fit with the values of their organisation and audience. It’s a slippery slope to get involved with this type of brand positioning, particularly for listed and public companies that have a wide spread of stakeholders, investors, and employees. It’s brave marketing more than smart marketing. 

Local councils and councillors deciding not to hold their citizenship days on Australia Day, will in the end have their fate decided by those that have voted them in at the next election. The issue is that this third layer of government gets voted in on small numbers because no one cares who represents them at a local level.  

This Australia Day has more significance off the back of the failed referendum last year to give our First Nations people a voice to Parliament. Australians in substantial numbers chose to vote no. We can argue that the referendum was doomed from the start with misinformation and a poorly executed campaign to inform, but Australians made their decision. 

The anger and the hurt is still raw from those in the ‘YES’ camp looking to acknowledge our First Nations people in the constitution. The ‘NO’ camp have moved on with a nothing to see here attitude. The good that did come from the failed referendum is that the spotlight was certainly put on the disadvantages that Aboriginal people experience. Something we will be more sensitive to moving forward. 

So how can we step off this Australia Day behaviour carousel? 

I believe that those who are presenting the problem should also be proposing a solution. An alternative day that will make it more inclusive, celebratory, significant, and enjoyable for all.  

It takes serious leadership and courage to make that change but our political landscape and representatives doesn’t allow for this. We have a system of government that doesn’t reward innovators, visionaries, or the brave. Instead, our political halls are made up of scared and self-interested representatives whose only fear is not being re-elected. 

Anzac Day is a perfect day to be patriotic, proud, thankful, and thoughtful, but it’s a public holiday already. And one thing is certain in Australia, you’re more likely to hold back the tide than take a public holiday away from an Aussie. 

May 8 was touted as a great date for Australia Day, phonetically it’s ‘Mate’ which we could make our own. But to be honest, you could throw a dart at the calendar to find any date that would be less divisive than the landing of Captain Arthur Phillip in Botany Bay.  

The real issue is that unfortunately, we will never have a consensus. We are a society not built for change, and we enjoy the conflict and outrage.  

On January 27, the commentators and influencers will all move on to the next big thing. But my wish for Australia, a country I’m bloody proud of and lucky to live and work in, is that we find some peace with our national day, because respect, fairness, and freedom of speech are the cornerstones of our sunburnt country. 

Nic Hayes is managing director of Media Stable 


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.