Why this Melbourne small-business owner and her staff are choosing to boycott Australia Day

Australia Day

Jo Scard (centre) and the Fifty Acres team. Source: Supplied.

While most small-business owners and their employees will be taking some time off on this coming Monday for the Australia Day public holiday, a number of SMEs across the country will still be working at their desks.

These businesses are part of the “Change it Ourselves” movement, struck up by a group of Melbourne-based designers, illustrators and activists to push for a change to the date we celebrate Australia Day.

In recent years, opposition to Australia Day has steadily grown, with the date being viewed by many as offensive to Australia’s Indigenous population.

The 26th of January marks the day the First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove, and is often seen as disrespectful to Australia’s First Peoples who occupied the land for thousands of years prior.

The day is commonly referred to as ‘Invasion Day’ by Indigenous Australians and activists, with alternate dates such as January 1 and May 8 suggested as days in which all Australians could celebrate the nation.

Jo Scard, managing director and founder of communications agency Fifty Acres told SmartCompany she was alerted to the Change it Ourselves movement last year, and figured it was a simple thing she and her staff could do to show support for moving Australia Day.

Scard has given her staff the option of working on Monday and taking a day off on June 3 instead, which is a national day of recognition for Eddie Mabo, a famous campaigner for Indigenous land rights in Australia.

“A lot of our staff are choosing to work, though some had things planned or had family coming down. I will be working, and I’ll probably use it as a planning day,” Scard says.

“We legally can’t make people work on Australia day, so it’s a personal choice for our workers.”

Scard says she’s happy to do whatever she can to support the movement to change the date, and says it was inspired by her work with Indigenous organisations. However, she acknowledges the issues and debate is “really complicated”.

“I know there’s been a lot of discussion and debate about the date, but the 26th of January is something that shouldn’t be celebrated,” she says.

“It’s a date that marks a day when Indigenous Australians had their culture changed forever.”

Other businesses joining Fifty Acres in the campaign include Lush, Future Super, Oxfam Australia, Amnesty International, Nest Architects, Gangplank and Co Design Studio, among others.

The organiser of the campaign, Melbourne designer Dale de Silvia, said in a statement he hoped the movement would inform more businesses of their rights and options when it came to boycotting Australia Day.

“In researching how to support the cause myself, I found the only options seemed to be to attend the #ChangeTheDate march or complain on Facebook, but both of those felt like waiting for change from above,” he said.

“It occurred to me that workplaces can be very supportive of personal beliefs and there must be something in employee contracts to allow shifting of a public holiday  and as it turns out, in many cases there is.”

Businesses can access all resources and information they need to take part in the boycott from the Change it Ourselves website, including details on how to substitute a public holiday.

Scard says more businesses should be encouraged to get on board with the boycott, saying it’s both “symbolic and real” and that real change can be driven by these sorts of campaigns.

“I think business can have a material impact on the debate. Same-sex marriage was driven a lot by big business, with a lot of banks having positive proactive campaigns,” she says.

“I think once small business and big business get together behind this we can make a big difference.”

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