We’ve had a difficult start to the New Year but fortunately the challenges weren’t enough to deter our communities from fully and properly celebrating Australia Day. That, again, demonstrates our resilience and determination not to be beaten.
Our national day provided the opportunity to recognise and acknowledge the contribution of the many people who devote so much of their time and energy to assisting others. There are many to name here, which is a good thing, but I thank and congratulate all those who were recognised for their selfless work and deeds. It was wonderful to see so much recognition for our firefighters. We’ve asked so much of them and they have been there for us without complaint and without any interest in thanks or reward.
It was a little disappointing that a debate about the date of our national day emerged once again this year. Indigenous disadvantage remains a very well-researched issue and we must be united in our efforts to both recognise the mistakes and wrongs of the past and to address them. A divisive debate about the timing of Australia Day will only divide, not unite.
Our First Peoples continue to die younger, are more likely to be unemployed and poor, and less likely to enjoy home ownership. But closing the gap will require more meaningful solutions than a change of date. Constitutional recognition would be a good start.
Last week I wrote to the relevant Government Ministers appealing for some assistance for vignerons who have lost their vintage to smoke taint. Some growers have already made the tough decision not to pick and more will follow. Smoke from the bushfires has rendered their grapes worthless.
Current assistance for businesses affected by bush fires extends only to direct fire damage but damage from smoke from the same fires should be covered. The Government assistance is modest but it will help growers rebuild. It should make no difference that their properly was damaged by smoke or flames. I’ve received some encouraging responses from Minister Littleproud so I’m hopeful for a positive outcome.