Thousands join Australia Day protests

Protesters on Australia Day demand that the country's national day be changed, as the date marks the arrival of Britain's first fleet and subsequent colonization of indigenous Australians, at a march in Sydney, Australia, on Thursday. (Photo: Reuters)

CANBERRA, Jan. 26 (Xinhua) -- Tens of thousands of Australians have joined protests across the country, calling for the government to change the date of Australia Day.

Protesters joined rallies in every major city on Thursday, calling for the date of the contentious public holiday to be shifted out of respect for Indigenous Australians.

Australia Day has been celebrated as a national public holiday since 1994 on Jan. 26 to mark the anniversary of the British First Fleet landing in Sydney in 1788.

However, among Indigenous communities, the date is considered one of mourning and known as "Invasion Day" in recognition of the massacres of First Nations people carried out by British settlers.

According to a poll published by the Guardian, 26 percent of Australians are supportive of creating a new date to replace Australia Day -- up from 15 percent in 2019 -- and another 33 percent are in favor of picking a new date to recognize Indigenous Australians while keeping the Jan. 26 holiday.

Support for changing the date was strongest among those aged 18-34, who were almost four times more likely to be in favor than those aged 55 and over.

Despite growing support for the initiative, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his government has no plans to change the date.

Instead, he urged support for his plan for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

A referendum to establish the voice, which would advise the parliament on issues relating to the Indigenous population, will be held later in 2023.

Albanese said it was an opportunity to advance national reconciliation.

"This is an opportunity for Australia. It is one that I sincerely hope that Australia doesn't miss," he said at a citizenship ceremony in Canberra on Thursday.

"Australia will be even better when we recognise First Nations people in our Constitution."