Don’t attack Australia Day, government tells local councils

The Turnbull government is warning local councils against launching “politically motivated attacks” on Australia Day amid moves to change the date of citizenship ceremonies.

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Melbourne’s Yarra City council will on Tuesday debate a move to cease references to January 26 as Australia Day from next year.

The council will also vote on whether citizenship ceremonies will be held on that date.

It comes after Freemantle City Council in WA moved their 2017 Australia Day celebrations to January 28, over concerns about the sensitivity of the date for indigenous Australians.

Yarra Council said it had surveyed both the Indigenous and broader community sentiment towards January 26.

The broader community poll indicated a strong level of community support for the proposals.

“Taking a more active role in acknowledging the experience of January 26th of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including specifically a strong level of support for Council supporting the #changethedate campaign,” the council said.

The poll also showed that 51 per cent of multilingual respondents saw January 26 as the National or foundation day, as compared with 25 per cent of English speaking respondents.

“By seeking ways to better recognise and include Aboriginal peoples in Council’s approach to January 26, and by searching for a more inclusive way to celebrate the achievements of our nation, we bring our actions more in tune with the original inhabitants of this land and commence a long overdue healing process for the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community alike,” the council said.

Yarra Council said its moves could encourage others to follow.

“Recognition of Yarra’s position as a local government leader means that actions resulting from adoption of recommendations in this report are likely to have a high level of influence on other local governments in Victoria and beyond.”

But Assistant Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has written to councils warning them to oblige by rules around ceremonies or else they’ll lose their hosting rights.

“The government views the recent public actions of Greens-dominated councils, using their ability to host Australian citizenship ceremonies to lobby against Australia Day on January 26 as a breach of the Code,” he said in a statement.

Mr Hawke said the government considers January 26 the most appropriate day for ceremonies to be held.

“As long as Australia Day is celebrated on 26 January, this is a most appropriate date for a citizenship ceremony to take place,” he added.

“Local councils are now on notice that if they politicise Australian citizenship, the Government will see it as a breach of the code and take the appropriate action.”

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