Australia Day: Poll examines attitudes to controversial date

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Media captionAustralia Day controversy - Hywel Griffith on last year's event

Less than half of Australians know the historical origin of the country's national day, according to a poll.

Australia Day, on 26 January, has been the subject of debate in recent times over concerns it is offensive to indigenous Australians.

The day commemorates the arrival of British settlers in 1788, an event some indigenous people call "invasion day".

A survey conducted by the Australia Institute, a think tank, has shed light on national attitudes to the day.

The poll of 1,417 Australians, described as nationally representative, showed:

  • Only 38% of respondents could identify the day's historical origin from a list of 11 options;
  • Just over half said they did not care when the celebration was held;
  • 37% said they agreed the date was offensive to indigenous Australians, compared with 46% who disagreed, and a remainder who were unsure.

"This polling shows that while Australia Day is important to most Australians, most people are laid back about the date we celebrate on," said Ebony Bennett, the institute's deputy director.

Last year, controversy over the day saw protests held around the country.

The government has repeatedly said the date should not be changed, and that a majority of Australians support it.

"An attack on Australia Day is a repudiation of the values the day celebrates: freedom, a fair go, mateship and diversity," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said last year.

The left-wing Greens party reignited discussion this week by launching a campaign to change the date.

The government has criticised local councils in recent times for moving celebrations from 26 January.