Prime minister Scott Morrison says Byron Shire Council could be stripped of its ability to hold citizenship ceremonies at all if it moves ahead with a plan to hold next year’s Australia Day ceremony on January 25 as previously announced.
At a hastily convened press conference this morning (Tuesday, September 25) the PM said he supported the idea of an Aboriginal recognition day, perhaps during NAIDOC Week or on the anniversary of the 1967 referendum, but added, ‘You don’t have to bring some things down to raise other things up’.
‘Australia Day is Australia Day. That’s the day all Australians come together and we recognise everyone from our first Australians to our most recent Australians becoming citizens on that day. You can’t pretend your history isn’t your history. That’s the day the flag went up in Farm Cove; that’s the day the course of the nation changed. And from that point on, that’s when the modern Australia began,’ the PM said.
Yesterday afternoon, Byron Shire Council was issued with an edict by immigration minister David Coleman saying, ‘Citizenship ceremonies are non-commercial, apolitical, bipartisan and secular. They must not be used as forums for political, partisan or religious expression or for the distribution of material that could be perceived to be of a commercial, political or religious nature’.
‘The Byron Council has sought to politicise what should be a non-political day of celebration that brings communities together. The Council’s actions are divisive and the Australian Government will not stand by and allow this to happen.
‘The government’s position is very firm to ensure Australia Day is not politicised.’
Mayor won’t back down
Byron mayor Simon Richardson has confirmed the Council received a letter that would potentially prevent himself, deputy mayor Basil Cameron and GM Mark Arnold from conducting any citizenship ceremonies if it proceeds with plans to move the celebration of Australia Day.
He told Echonetdaily that Council was receiving legal advice on the implications of the letter but ruled out changing the date back.
As a compromise, he suggested holding the citizenship ceremony on the official day but moving all other official Council events to January 25.
‘We are intending to write back and say we are happy to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day – we hold six of them a year.
‘We can separate them and have the official Australia Day event on the 25th and the citizenship ceremony on the 26th, I’m happy to do that.
‘If they won’t allow us to do that then someone else can facilitate the ceremony,’ he said.
‘That would be a real shame because I think we do it beautifully in Byron and people who get their citizenship here appreciate the fact that we do it with a degree of light heartedness but also warm heartedness. We do it differently and with a lot less pomp and circumstance than other places.
‘And of course it may mean locals having to drive 40-odd kilometres to do it in a surrounding shire, so it’s a punitive and quite silly measure by the federal government.
‘Ironically as part of the citizenship ceremony, the minister who wants to take our powers away has a message that we are obliged to read out – and part of that actually says Australian history and culture began with our Indigenous people and was added to by people from all corners of the world.
‘So rather than reflecting history, we’re told about it but then denied [the opportunity of] acting on it,’ he said.
Asked if he thought the federal government may seek further ways of penalising Byron, such as withholding grant funding, the mayor said he thought not.
‘You’d like to think you can have a mature debate.
’We’re an important community; we’re deserving of the same amount of infrastructure support and I would consider any political leader to have the maturity to also acknowledge that we don’t agree on everything but it shouldn’t affect funding for a road or a storm water drain,’ Cr Richardson said.
Newly installed prime minister Scott Morrison (aka ScoMo) may be a busy guy but he he has enough time to promote the Daily Telegraph in a tweet and at the same time take a sideswipe at Byron mayor Simon Richardson’s plan to #changethedate.
Last week, Cr Richardson told The Echo, ‘The majority of our community feel desperately uneasy about celebrating Australia Day on a day that is associated with a lot of hurt and anger for Indigenous people.’
‘Why would we, being a nation that prides itself on the values of a “fair go”, equality and “mateship”, willingly choose a date that is not fair, hurts our fellow Australian mates and suggests that some Australians are more equal than others?
‘I believe Byron has an opportunity to help the nation make the transition away from the historical problem of this date while still honouring the needs and values of those who enthusiastically wish to celebrate our successes as a nation…’
Early on Monday ScoMo responded with a link to the Daily Telegraph’s unexpectedly subdued coverage of the call, which was probably due to the fact that it had been recycled from its stablemate the Northern Star.
‘Indulgent self-loathing doesn’t make Australia stronger,’ the PM tweeted.
‘Being honest about the past does. Our modern Aus nation began on January 26, 1788. That’s the day to reflect on what we’ve accomplished, become, still to achieve. We can do this sensitively, respectfully, proudly, together.’
Echo editor Hans Lovejoy, who is in the process of putting together this week’s Backlash column, responds.
‘Here’s some recent past history – Morrison’s government has contributed, and still does, to the appalling statistics on Indigenous incarceration, health, education, and is unable to agree to reconciliation or a treaty.
‘Morrison’s government has consistently resisted any meaningful improvements to the lives of the nation’s first people by ignoring decades of independent reports and inquiries. If these were implemented, it would go a long way towards addressing the appalling inequity.’