Scott Morrison to force councils to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day | Australia news
Scott Morrison has announced it will be compulsory for local councils to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day, starting from 2020.
A change to the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code means councils will be forced to hold a citizenship ceremony on 26 January, another on 17 September, and institute a dress code that bans thongs and board shorts.
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, the prime minister said it would help “protect our national day and ensure it is respected”, in the face of mounting calls to change the date of Australia Day.
Previously, councils were under no obligation to hold ceremonies on any set days. The change will affect all 537 councils and will take effect from 2020.
In 2017, two councils in Melbourne voted to move their ceremonies away from 26 January, due to its association with the start of European colonisation. Another council, Moreland, decided to keep a ceremony on 26 January but to remove reference to “Australia Day” out of respect for Indigenous Australians.
On Sunday, Morrison said making the ceremonies compulsory would stop local councils “playing politics with Australia Day”.
But the president of the Australian Local Government Association, David O’Loughlin, said there had been “zero consultation” with councils, and rejected the idea.
“About 25% of councils hold ceremonies on a different day for very sensible reasons,” he told Channel Seven. “If it’s too hot on the day, they hold it the evening before. Or they have it the week before, so everyone on Australia Day already has their Australian citizenship.
“The government doesn’t even announce the Australian of the Year on Australia Day, so it’s very curious.”
O’Loughlin said the association of citizenship with 26 January was a recent invention. “Most councils would do several citizenship ceremonies a year,” he said. “Not just this one. My own council does four, and I know councils that do them monthly. So why so much focus on this citizenship ceremony?
“Citizenship Day is 17 September. Australian citizenship was only invented in 1948. This association of citizenship with Australia Day is a very recent experience.”
On Sunday, the immigration minister, David Coleman, said councils which did not comply would have their citizenship ceremonies revoked. He added that the dress code would allow people to wear cultural or national dress.
“More than 73,000 people have become Australian citizens on Australia Day in the past five years, making it by far the most popular day of the year for people to attend a citizenship ceremony,” he said. “[It] is an incredibly important part of our national calendar.
“The new code will be formally introduced in the first half of 2019. Once implemented, councils that choose not to hold a citizenship ceremony on Australia Day will be in breach of the code and will have their authorisation to host citizenship ceremonies revoked.”
The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, speaking at a press conference in Melbourne, said it was the government who were “playing politics”.
“In January, it’s a bit of slow news. The government is trying to play politics. It is what the conservatives do to keep their base happy.”
But he said Labor was “not going to move Australia Day”. “One thing I pledge is that, under me, Australia Day will always be a public holiday,” Shorten said.
In 2017, Colin Hunter, a Wurundjeri man and City of Yarra Aboriginal liaison officer, told Guardian Australia it was appropriate for local councils to lead the movement to change the date of Australia Day.
He said Indigenous Australians would be were happy to join a national celebration “but not on that day”. “People say local government is about bins and rates but it’s also about the civic participation of your local community,” he said.
On Sunday, O’Loughlin agreed, saying councils like Yarra, Darebin and Moreland were free to reflect their communities’ interests by shifting ceremonies away from 26 January.
“If their communities want them to advocate for something, I would expect their communities would want their councils to follow that lead.”
Australia Day has only been consistency celebrated on 26 January since 1988, according to the Australia Day National Council. It was previously celebrated on 30 July, 28 July and a variety of other dates.
26 January marks the day the first fleet arrived in Sydney Cove in 1788, and has been referred to as Invasion Day or Survival Day by Indigenous Australians for years.
In 1938, 26 January was marked by the National Day of Mourning, protesting the anniversary of 150 years of colonisation.