Australia Day and reconciliation

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The sixth and last of my columns subbing in for Peter Fitzsimons at Sunday Extra.Advance Australia Day where?

The mixed emotions around Australia Day were never highlighted more pointedly than this year, when the Australian of the Year celebrated his award by immediately calling for the day to be moved to February 13th, the day of Kevin Rudd’s apology. While I have to declare a vested interest in this question because 26 January is my birthday, and I love always having the day off, we saw from the response to Mick Dodson’s suggestion that moving the date will create a degree of resentment that will only hinder race relations. We can’t simply undo the fact that European settlement began on that date. And trying to shoehorn a reconciliation theme into a day that bears unhappy associations for many Aborigines, as the Government did this year, will always feel shallow and awkward.

Dodson’s call for a public holiday on February 13 is sensible, but as I suggested last week, it should be a separate Reconciliation Day, devoted exclusively to celebrating our indigenous community and remembering the terrible casualties it suffered. 26 January will never be a happy date for Aborigines, but moving our national day will only transform its original date into an annual festival of the kind of hateful displays of white pride we saw in Manly this year. And fuelling that “love it or leave it” mentality will only undermine the inclusive, multicultural spirit that makes modern Australia worth celebrating in the first place.

Slumdog Miserliness

I probably wasn’t the only person this week to feel disgusted after reading that the producers of Slumdog Millionaire paid their child actors a pittance of only a few thousands dollars, and the kids and their families are still living in the same slums depicted in the movie. The producers’ defence, that the actors were paid three times the average local wage for adults, sounds hollow to say the least in light of the film’s earnings.

Slumdog Millionaire’s message is that children in Mumbai’s slums have to look out for themselves because in this world, you can’t trust anybody – least of all grown-ups. Well, nobody can accuse its producers of being inconsistent. Perhaps they should make a sequel where instead of being cruelly used by gangsters and orphanage proprietors, the kids are exploited of by award-hungry Western filmmakers?

Short Message Scamming

This week, an exciting opportunity was texted direct to my phone by my pals at At least I assume they’re pals – I don’t actually remember giving them my number. They offered me a kind invitation to receive two SMS messages a week which left me torn. $6.60 per text message seemed a lot to pay, but naturally I wanted to help out a good friend’s business. Ultimately I regretfully declined, what with the global financial crisis and all.

When SMS scammers list the price legibly, like they have to in a text message, surely nobody ever signs up. But on TV and online, we’re constantly bombarded by ads for these services that hide their true costs in microscopic text. One particularly heinous violator is the Love Calculator, which supposedly texts you the name of your soulmate for $19.80, and then charges you $13.20 a week for horoscopes until you wise up to the scam and unsubscribe. (Admittedly, I’d pay more than that to actually learn the name of my soulmate, but something tells me mobile phone fraudsters ain’t gonna know it.) These services should be banned immediately, with violators imprisoned and forced to listen to an endless loop of the Crazy Frog.

Is the dope Catholic?

This week, the Catholic Church welcomed back its very own David Irving, the British Bishop Richard Williamson. An anti-Vatican II traditionalist like Mel Gibson and his charming father, Williamson not only denies that millions of Jews died in Nazi gas chambers, but that the gas chambers existed at all. The Bishop also believes that the Jews are concocting a dastardly plot to take over the world, and that September 11 was an inside job, which you’d think would make him unsuitable to speak not only in church, but to anybody.

John Paul II expelled him from the Church, for his religious views rather than his anti-Semitic ones, and it defies belief that Williamson has been rehabilitated by the very Vatican he once claimed was run by Satan. You’d think a Pope who has spent his life living down once being a member of the Hitler Youth, albeit involuntarily, would exercise caution in this area. But as his lurid footwear indicates, Pope Benedict is not one to tread carefully.

Catch a falling Starbucks

The world’s largest coffee chain announced this week that it’s closing 300 more stores in the US. Its Australian operations have already been scaled right back. But if they want to turn their business around, Starbucks’ employees only need to do one simple thing: learn how to make coffee.