A Melbourne council has made history overnight by becoming the first in the nation to shun Australia Day celebrations.
Yarra City councillors unanimously voted that the so-called ‘invasion day’ of January 26 should no longer be referred to as Australia Day. As of next year, out of respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, citizenship ceremonies will no longer be held on that date, and will be replaced instead with an Indigenous-themed event.
It is, the councillors stated quite frankly, the wrong day for a party.
“It’s really an opportunity to engage with the community and to educate them on Indigenous affairs,” said councillor Mi-Lin Chen Yi Mei, who brought forward the motion to reconsider the day’s significance. Mayor Amanda Stone said the councillors all agreed that a bold move for change was necessary.
And it is a bold move. While this issue has been boiling toward breaking point for at least the past 12 months, this is the first real affirmative action we’ve seen from any of Australia’s bodies of government. Unsurprisingly, it’s ruffled a feather or two.
The decision flew in the face of pressure from the federal government, and has incited the wrath of Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Alex Hawke. Hawke has since contacted councils around the country, warning that if they too elect to stop holding citizenship ceremonies on January 26 then they risk being banned from hosting them at all.
“Local councils are now on notice that if they politicise Australian citizenship, the government will see it as a breach of the (Australian Citizenship Ceremonies) code and take the appropriate action,” he said.
Malcolm Turnbull, meanwhile, has expressed disappointment that Yarra Council was “using a day that should unite Australians to divide Australians.
“An attack on Australia Day is a repudiation of the values the day celebrates: freedom, a fair go, mateship and diversity,” Mr Turnbull said in a statement.
“I recognise Australia Day, and its history, is complex for many Indigenous Australians but the overwhelming majority of Australians believe the 26th of January is the day and should remain our national day.”
Feature image: Public Holidays 2017
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