Fresh twist in tale of cancelled UK Australia Day event

You could almost see the steam pouring out ofPeter Dutton’s ears when news broke last December that our new High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and former Labor defence ministerStephen Smithwas “cancelling” a planned Australia Day function in London.

John Shakespeare

Smith reportedly told organisers of an annual Australia Day gala dinner that it would be inappropriate to hold an event on the day,with a spokesperson for the High Commission pointing out the “sensitivities” around January 26 to many Indigenous Australians who see it as more synonymous with colonisation and genocide than celebration.

As predictable outrage ensued,including a rebuke from Deputy Prime MinisterRichard “Timbertop” Marles,the high commissioner appeared to backtrack a little,with a statement from Foreign MinisterPenny Wong’s office on Smith’s behalf citing highcosts as the chief reason why the planned gala event was canned.

But new documents released under freedom of information bring some clarity to all that muddled messaging,and prove that sensitivities around the date did indeed influence how Australia House chose to mark the national day.

In November,the High Commission’s First Nations Working Group recommended,in relation to Australia Day,a “focus on celebrating Australian excellence in the UK by hosting an event in late January or early February to draw in and engage with key stakeholders early in the new year.”

A couple of weeks later,the High Commission’s approved events list had a new addition – an “Exhibition of Australian Excellence” to be held on the afternoon of January 25,intended to “promote Australian culinary,cultural and commercial excellence to our UK audience”.

There was no mention of Australia Day in the event description or run sheet. But there was a planned performance of the national anthem,leading CBD to wonder whether the High Commission was having a bet both ways – holding an event on a different date,but giving things a bit of a patriotic hue.

When we asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about the event a spokesperson directed us toward a statement on their website in response to aHerald Sunarticle from December last year,which noted that “the High Commission has already planned and will host an appropriate event to mark Australia Day 2024 at Australia House,as Australia’s embassies and consulates do around the world”.

All that mixed messaging and culture warring aside,we think the fact Australia’s most plum diplomatic outpost finds Australia Day a bit too toxic to acknowledge is rather telling.


Most organisations take a drab approach to filling board positions,giving anybody with a controversial past or complicated public profile a wide steer.

So CBD was delighted to learn on Monday about the sports advisory board formed by medicinal cannabis operation Levin Health as it looks to lead the way in treating sporting injuries – particularly concussion – with weed.

Even allowing for the propensity for Australians to forgive their sporting heroes anything,Levin hasn’t shied away from some greats who’ve had more than,ahem,a whiff of controversy about them.

Around the table we have rugby league immortal and reformed sesh gremlinAndrew Johns as well as legendary jockeyDamien Oliver,who served a lengthy suspension at the height of his career for placing dodgy bets on the nags.

Homegrown basketball megastarAndrew Bogut, who got a little too close to the notorious Pizzagate hoax during the 2016 US presidential election,and landed in strife over his anti-lockdown ranting,also has a seat at the Levin table.

Four-time premiership Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson – about whom no adverse findings were made by the inquiry into complaints of systemic racism at the club – also brings his expertise,which includes Gold Coast Suns coachDamien Hardwick – three premierships with Richmond – and Australia’s greatest-ever basketballer,Lauren Jackson.

Those board meetings must be something.

We asked Levin’sMark Brayshaw – himself a former North Melbourne footballer – how he identified the right stuff in a potential board member. He told us the advisory board members were picked for their ability to cut through on the benefits of medicinal cannabis and it helps to “not be anonymous”.

There’s also this,about choosing brand ambassadors who’ve known life’s ups and downs. “When they talk about pain and anxiety and stress management,people listen,” Brayshaw told us.


We’re just days out from the NSW Liberal Party’s annual general meeting,where former arts ministerDon Harwin,the moderate pick,is a shoo-in to beatMark Bailie in the state president race.

A few other bits of scuttlebutt caught CBD’s eye. One is that former Waverley mayorSally Betts is still up on the Moderate ticket,despite this mastheadreporting that she’s being investigated by the council following an alcohol-fuelled altercation with a colleague.

Then there’s some of the campaign literature that’s been doing the rounds. A grouping called the “Mainstream Conservatives”,who’ve been gathering in the salubrious confines of the Burwood RSL to plot,released a leaflet fronted by a rather strange picture of former PMTony Abbottand shadow treasurerAngus Taylor,with their beliefs listed as “Freedom,Family,Flag[and] Free enterprise”.

Then there is the hard-right “members’ rights” mob,whose leaflet opens with a lengthy quote from a 1974 letter betweenRobert Menzies and his daughterHeather slamming “small l liberals” who believe in nothing.

Among the many grievances aired in that leaflet – that the Liberals have been taken over by “overly excessive eastern suburbs-centric woke management”.

Perhaps they’ve forgotten the party doesn’t even hold a federal seat in Sydney’s east.

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Kishor Napier-Raman is a CBD columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Previously he worked as a reporter for Crikey,covering federal politics from the Canberra Press Gallery.

Noel Towell is Economics Editor for The Age

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