NSW Election 2023: Premier & Labor Declare, If Elected, No Change Of Australia Day Date Until At Least March 2027

Last Wednesday at 12pm, during an hour-long debate on 7 News for the upcoming New South Wales election, both the NSW Premier, Dominic Perrottet & Opposition Leader, Chris Minns, declared that if they or Labor respectively are elected during the next 4-year term of NSW Parliament, they will not try to change the date of Australia Day in New South Wales. Whilst this may seem local news to 1 state of Australia, the significance of their statements is important nationally due to the origins and nature of how Australia Day is celebrated.


Amelia Brace (7 News State Political Reporter/Debate Moderator): Mr Minns, would you change the date of Australia Day?

Chris Minns (Opposition Leader, Labor, District Of Kogarah): No, we’re not going to have any plans to do that.

Amelia Brace (7 News State Political Reporter/Debate Moderator): Mr Perrottet?

Dominic Perrottet (Premier, Coalition, Liberal, District Of Epping): No.

End Of Transcript

Above is the transcript of the moment in the debate when the date of Australia Day arose (49:23 mark). The language of both men is telling. Chris Minns, with more confidence, committed his party and for the full 4-year term to the position he stated by acknowledging “we’re not going to have any plans to do that” while Dominic, staying true to instructions given by the moderator, Amelia Brace, less than 23 seconds prior to keep their answers to “a simple yes or no”, gave a definite “no” but his was a more personal committment (due to the segment being about the individual politicians, not party), leaving the possibility open that a change of leadership in the Coalition may also bring a change in policy, though this is unlikely given their party is on the conservative side of politics.

The NSW Election comprises of 2 elections, 1 for the Legislative Assembly, the other for the Legislative Council. There are 42 seats in the Legislative Council, half of which are being contested at this election, where the whole state acts as 1 electoral district and is proportionally represented while the Legislative Assembly has 93 electoral districts, all being contested at the election, each district representing geographically 1/93rd of the New South Wales electorate population. If a political party wins 47 districts of the Legislative Assembly, the New South Wales Governor, Margaret Beazley, will ask the leader of that political party in the Legislative Assembly to form Government.

In the Legislative Council, regardless of the election result (as half of the seats are not up for re-election), the following political parties are already represented:

  • Coalition (8 seats, 5 Liberal, 3 Nationals),
  • Labor (7 seats),
  • Greens (2 seats),
  • One Nation (2 seats),
  • Shooters, Fishers & Farmers (1 seat) and,
  • Animal Justice (1 seat)

The final composition of the Legislative Assembly & Council will be important in determining nationally what the date of Australia Day is, as despite the date to be considered but some as the ‘national’ day of Australia, it is actually up to the 6 states to decide the date.

In NSW, it comes under the Public Holidays Act 2010, last amended on 13 January 2023 to rename the ‘Queen’s Birthday’ as the ‘King’s Birthday’ following the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Federal Parliament only has the power to control the date of public holidays in relation to ‘conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State’ by Section 51 subsection (35) of the Australian Constitution Of Australia. This is currently dealt with under the Fair Work Act 2009. However, the Federal Parliament already do control the date for the territories under Section 122 of the Australian Constitution (Government of Territories).

While the Federal Parliament can change the date for territories and for workplace relations purposes and while all other states can independently change the date, given it is supposed to be a national day, a nation-wide change is required to keep unity on what is already a very divisive date. NSW holds significant political sway on the date as the date of Australia Day is currently on January 26, which was chosen to commemorate the 1788 landing of the 1st Fleet at Sydney Cove, which is in NSW. It should be pointed out that the raising of the Union Jack & the proclamation of the penal colony of NSW took place nearly 2 weeks later on the 7th of February.

Australia could place control of public holidays under the Australian Parliament if a constitutional referendum was held to alter the constitution to give the Australian Parliament that power though. But until that happens, if it does, if NSW does not want the date changed, it will put pressure on the other states to maintain the status quo. The Federal Parliament does hold nearly equal political influence but as the states control the date, they need the cooperation of NSW and with both the Premier & Labor saying they will not change the date of Australia Day in NSW if elected, this will likely mean the date will not change until March 2027 at the earliest, which is when the next NSW election will be held due to fixed 4-year terms.

However, an early election can be called by the NSW Governor:

  • at any time under established constitutional convention or,
  • if the budget is failed to be passed by the Legislative Assembly or,
  • if a no-confidence vote (with 3 days’ notice) succeeds in the Legislative Assembly & no confidence votes pass in the next 8 days in the Legislative Assembly or,
  • within 2 months of term expiration if the legislated election date is ‘inconvenient’

However, 4 years is a long time and in the past year, the public opinion on the date swayed significantly to ‘change’ with many high-profile businesses such as supermarket giant Woolworths and the Federal Government allowing employees to decide when to take their ‘Australia Day’ public holiday.

This followed the Chief Executive Officer of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, Yuseph Deen, writing in December 2022 to the Commonwealth Employment Minister, Tony Burke & the NSW Employee Relations Minister as well as major Australian Stock Exchange companies to provide employees with this option.

We believe the business community can lead the way and make a stance by allowing employees the choice and the flexibility and instead taking the day off at a mutually agreeable time.

Many businesses, big and small, have already taken the lead. At NSW Aboriginal Land Council, we gave our staff this option last year and we’re calling on you to do the same.

This approach allows businesses to act in a way that reflects their principles, while also sending a statement to all levels of Government. Instead of another year of fuelling hatred and division, we are making the changes that are needed by honouring the world’s oldest living culture.

New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council Chief Executive Officer, Yuseph Deen

With such a significant shift in public opinion in the space of a year and despite it only being an ‘option’ so far, with momentum growing every year to ‘change’, the position of Labor & the Premier, as stated in the debate, is a surprise given the 4-year commitment and the fact that the economics of allowing employees to choose the date they celebrate ‘Australia Day’ will eventually cause an economic mess.

Whilst providing employees the option to work on January 26 provides that date more economic security, the alternate date the employees choose to mark the public holiday, whatever it is (though likely sometime else around that time period) might mean there will eventually be 1 day of the year when there is a lack of employees running essential services and selling essential products at shops despite people needing these things because they are on holiday like fuel & transportation services.

While this may be not a problem currently, the more people choosing a day other than January 26 to celebrate Australia Day, the increasing lack of certainty of when employers or the Government will have employees to operate essential services or sell essential products will eventually cause the political pressure to be overwhelmed if the Parliament is still blind to the obvious public opinion at that late stage, which again makes the Premier & Labor’s decision to commit for 4 years to be very risky, let alone surprising.

If the Parliament still refuses to change the date and employers run out of employees to operate essential services and sell essential items on that 1 unknown day of the year just mentioned, employers may have to make the unethical but Parliament-forced decision to ask some of their employees to take their public holiday on January 26, which could lead to not just the most significant Survival/Invasion Day protests in history but one of the largest industrial relations disputes in Australian history.

The date of Australia Day, January 26, is controversial as it marks the beginning of the loss of full sovereignty and self-determination for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people & nations with the landing of the British Empire’s 1st Fleet at Sydney Cove. More about the date’s controversy can be found at the bottom of our 2019 article speculating the rise of ‘Australia Day In Sydney’ as a ‘Sydney Spectacular’ here.

Recently, people have claimed that 26 January was chosen to mark the anniversary of the 1st day of Australian citizenship, 26 January 1949, rather than the anniversary of the 1st Fleet’s landing at Sydney Cove. However, this view ignores what the Minister For Information & Immigration, Arthur Calwell, said in his 2nd reading speech in 1948 that introduced the Nationality & Citizenship Bill that created Australian citizenship:

When this bill becomes an act, it will be proclaimed on Australia Day, the 26tb of January, 1949.

Minister For Information & Immigration, Arthur Calwell

In 1948 and in the present, ‘Australia Day’ was the national successor to New South Wales’ ‘1st Landing Day’ or ‘Anniversary Day’ public holiday that marked the anniversary of the 1st Fleet’s landing at Sydney Cove. Also, to reinforce the reason Arthur Calwell chose that date, between the 1930’s and 1987, ‘Australia Day’ was celebrated on the Monday during a long weekend near the 26th of January, which in 1949 was on Monday the 24th of January. Arthur Calwell, therefore, particularly wanted it Australian citizenship to begin on the exact anniversary of the 1st Fleet’s landing.

With the controversy and growing divide, debate and historical negationism, the decision of the Premier & Labor is a significant roadblock for the Indigenous people of Australia. In a statement to Sydney Spectaculars, the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council said:

The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) is disappointed neither of the major political parties has committed during the NSW State election campaign to changing the date of Australia Day.

NSWALC strongly believes that momentum will continue to build to change the date of Australia Day, and we will continue to advocate for Australia Day to be held on a different date than January 26.

NSWALC believes the business community can show similar leadership and courage by taking a stand on this important issue.

New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council

Every year we are sick of the divisive debate around celebrating Australia Day on January 26 – the day that represents the invasion and dispossession of Aboriginal lands, and the beginning of colonisation.

We know a growing number of Australians are also uncomfortable with celebrating Australia Day on January 26 and want a different day celebrated to reflect our inclusive society.

Councillor Danny Chapman, New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council Chair

In late 2023, in what will be the 40th year of the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act, a federal referendum will also be held on whether to both recognise Indigenous people in the Australian Constitution & to add a First Nations Voice.

The NSW Election is already being contested on other matters relating to Sydney Spectaculars. Labor announced just before New Year’s Eve last year that, if elected, they will make all government-controlled Sydney NYE vantage points free of charge. The Premier responded to Labor’s announcement by saying it’s “simply embarrassing” and implied he will maintain the status quo. You can read more about that here.

The New South Wales Election is held on Saturday the 25th of March between 8am & 6pm. Pre-polls open tomorrow (Saturday the 18th of March) at 9am.

Sydney Spectaculars’ will be covering live the NSW State Election from 6pm AEDT, 25 March in rare coverage of a non-‘Sydney Spectacular’ event.