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March 5, 2021

Byron councillors accuse Greens of ‘politicising’ Australia Day

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It’s unlikely that politicians will see the irony, yet two Byron councillors from different political parties have become bedfellows in accusing the Greens of being divisive with Australia Day… while also being divisive themselves.

Byron Shire Councillor Alan Hunter. Photo David Hancock

Cr Alan Hunter (National Party aligned) and Cr Paul Spooner (Labor) said in a joint press release they are concerned at ‘just how divisive a separate Australia Day celebration organised by Council on January 25 is for the community’.

Yet local Indigenous Arakwal woman Delta Kay told The Echo that January 1 is the ‘true day’ to celebrate the birth of the independent nation. On that day in 1901, the colonies collectively became states of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Led by Greens mayor Simon Richardson, Council changed the date for ceremonies and awards to January 26 at their September 2018 Council meeting. The decision was later reversed for the awards ceremony, owing to a breach of the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code and pressure from Liberal prime minister Morrison.

Crs Hunter and Spooner question the attempt by Byron Shire Council to gain ‘political mileage’ by changing the Australia Day ceremony on which individuals are awarded for service to the community over the previous 12 months.

Cr Hunter said he believes it is the Greens’ political attempt to divide the community into groups based on origin and a blatant attempt to increase their public profile for short-term political gain.

Byron Shire Councillor Paul Spooner. Photo David Hancock

Unwanted attention

‘Byron Shire doesn’t need this distraction. We are the opposite; we have much in common and our love of the environment and working together in a relaxed lifestyle underpin our strength,’ Cr Hunter said.

‘Drawing attention to the impact on our Indigenous people is very divisive and utterly unnecessary as it has long since become a day on which we all celebrate a country coming of age, many peoples working, playing and living in harmony with common goals of building this great nation to be even greater.

‘To call it anything else is simply a political distraction we don’t need.’

Cr Spooner said, ‘They are called the Australia Day Community Awards, so why are we holding them on a different day?’

‘Why would Byron Shire Council take away from the awards event by holding another on the 25th, especially for our Indigenous people when they already hold their own celebration on the 26th?’

Cr Spooner said, ‘As an empty tokenistic Greens party push around Australia, I don’t see any reason to support it. It’s essentially confusing and divisive.

‘It was not initiated or requested by local people.

‘I suggest attendance at the celebration of the survival of Aboriginal culture in Byron Shire to be held at Apex Park in Byron Bay on January 26 is much more relevant and important.’

Arakwal representative Delta Kay. Photo Eve Jeffery

Invasion day

Local Arakwal representative Delta Kay told The Echo, ‘As an Indigenous woman I would love to celebrate with all Australians on January 1. Why? Because it’s the true day when the British parliament passed legislation allowing Australia to govern themselves; we became an independent nation.’

‘Mayor Simon Richardson was very brave in voicing his party’s line; I was proud to hear our mayor stir this important topic up, even excited that it got so much national attention that will alway keep this issue in the light!

‘But unfortunately there wasn’t enough discussion beforehand to bring along the rest of my family and the Byron community… I would like to encourage the Greens to keep pushing the issue and I am passionate about it also. 

‘The Australia Day ceremonies can be held any time of the year; aren’t they held more than just once? People can become an Aussie citizen any time or on the true day January 1.

‘I don’t truly celebrate on January 26. I’m an Indigenous woman who makes the best of the worst, so on January 26, Invasion Day, I choose to celebrate the survival of my culture.

I choose to mourn my ancestors who lived through the genocide of our culture, destruction of our sacred sites, the stolen generation, massacres. All these have happened to my family, here in Bundjalung country.

‘It is necessary to draw attention to white settlement, it is necessary to show empathy towards the past wrongs because this is how we all walk together in reconciliation. I support Anzac Day. January 26 is the day the British put their flag on our soils and Indigenous people were seen as nothing but savages.’ 

Byron Shire councillor and deputy mayor, Michael Lyon. Photo David Hancock

Airbrushed history

Greens deputy mayor Michael Lyon told The Echo, ‘I am very disappointed, but not at all surprised that Byron’s conservative councillors Spooner and Hunter lack the compassion and political guts to understand the issue of January 26.’

‘Changing the date is only one small step in the ongoing campaign to address the fundamental issues faced by our First Australians, including the lack of a treaty.

‘It is entirely appropriate for Council, who have the power to hold our Australia Day celebrations on any day we choose, to exercise that power, especially when the majority of our community is behind us and when national leadership is absent.

‘Interestingly, we saw the same pathetic stance when Council took an anti-Adani stance, with Spooner and Hunter voting on behalf of Adani, and against our community and our planet’s future. Councillor Hunter’s comments attempt to airbrush history and it is this which is divisive, because it fails to recognise the continued disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples caused by the invasion. Shame on the both of them.’


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11 COMMENTS

  1. Divisive? What could be more divisive than continuing to hold a national celebration on a day that our indigenous population justifiably sees as the beginning of their dispossession and cultural destruction? Insensitive and arrogant at best, deliberately provocative and cruel at worst, how can we possibly present it as a day for fostering national unity?

    Tokenistic? I am sure Cr Spooner wouldn’t describe Rudd’s national apology this way. In many ways an apology is easy. It’s what needs to follow that gives it solidity and changing this ridiculous choice of date is one of the most obvious and least difficult of the next steps.

    This Council is not good at community consultation and some public debate would have been sensible but making a principled stand shouldn’t be dismissed as a distraction – such tactics are also political opportunism.

  2. It is an oxymoron to hold an Australia Day celebration on any other day than Australia Day. The only Council which has the power to advise the public on the date it should be celebrated is the the Australian Government’s Australia Day Council and it advises it is 26 January. As the Council notes the day belongs to all Australians; it does not exist for one Shire to do with it what they please. It is untrue and unfair of Councillor Lyon to suggest there is no national leadership. On reconciliation Australia Day Council advises (and Councillor Hunter should also pay heed ot its advice) :

    ” January 26 has multiple meanings: it is Australia Day for some, and it is also, for some, Survival Day.

    Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have mixed feelings about celebrating this day – some consider it a day of mourning, and others use the day to mark the survival of their ongoing traditions and cultures.

    It’s important that these views are respected and that collectively we have constructive conversations about this history and seek ways to move forward together as a nation.

    Our national day provides an opportunity to acknowledge and learn about our nation’s past. It’s a time to reflect on and learn about our national journey including the ongoing history, traditions and cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. ”

    Councillor Lynn believes the majority of the Shire support his view so surely it does not need “political guts’ to support what he believes is their view and indeed would it not be political expediency if Cr Spooner or Hunter to not follow what they believe is the right thing.

    Ms Kay has expressed her view on changing the date but it is pleasing to know that she will be address the Survival Day ceremony in the ‘ Bay on 26 January.

    Finally I would suggest Councillor Lyon follow the advice of our local member Tamara Smith who agrees with his views but who has called for a “respectful debate”; that can hardly be done by describing people as lacking in compassion who disagree with your view of the best way to celebrate Australia Day and recognising wrongs of the past.

  3. Personally I think the date needs to be decided in the Community however your article is unclear and confusing.” Council changed the date for ceremonies and awards to January 26 at their September 2018 Council meeting. The decision was later reversed for the awards ceremony, owing to a breach of the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code and pressure from Liberal prime minister Morrison.” ??? The date is the 26/01/2019.

  4. It’s amazing how different our perceptions can be. Cr Hunter’s description of the move to change the date as a ‘political attempt to divide the community into groups based on origin’ is deeply ironic. The other view is that this very precisely describes Jan 26 celebrations.

  5. Jan 26 is the day captain cook claimed Australia for Britain. It could be a british holiday but shouldnt be Australias national day.

    Noone truly believes that Australia was discovered by Cook, or that Australia started on that day, but everyone stills says it. Thats insane. What we often hear next is that modern australia started on that day. Thats debatable, as we have lost so much knowledge of our own country since that time, but in any case why celebrate that, when we actually want to celebrate the totality of Australia?

    Ive heard my whole life that we have no culture and hardly any history. That we are a new country. It is ridiculous, we are the oldest country, with the most extensive culture! We need to incorporate the 10s of thousands of years of AUSTRALIAN history into the everyday experience of australians and this would really help us all. It would allow us our identity. The fun but soulless thong wearing and cooking a sausage laid back activities of australia day can and would occur on any national day. Embracing the full australian history is the main purpose. Australia will change the date, I hope the baby boomers are alive to see it and can welcome it.

    • This baby boomer is old enough to remember a time when it hardly registered in anyone’s consciousness and was just a welcome mid-summer date for a holiday and beach day, I don’t know who has whipped up the nationalistic fervour but it’s like Halloween and Valentine’s Day in that it’s only recently become a dig deal in Australian culture and a great opportunity to boost retail sales with the consumption of useless throw-away junk (flowers and chocolate duly excepted).

      I’m also old enough to have been taught some Australian history at school and know it’s not about Captain James Cook but worse – it’s about the foundation of the wretched penal colony of NSW. No cause for Anglo celebration either!

      Don’t make assumptions about who thinks what (if you are) and remember the predominant ages of those involved in the Cronulla riots and the generation who has adopted the flag waving. Culture wars are what we want to avoid, don’t hint and generation warfare. I share your optimism that we will change the date and feel quite confident I will live to see it.

  6. Mayor Richardson has correctly condemned the defacing of signs in Brunswick Heads but Councillors Spooner and Hancock are quite right too that politicising Australia Day is indeed divisive.. Councillor Lyons is incorrect and unfair in suggesting that there has been no national leadership on how and when we should celebrate Australia Day. The Australian Government’s Australia Day Council is quite clear that it is celebrated on 26 January. It further advises:
    “January 26 has multiple meanings: it is Australia Day for some, and it is also, for some, Survival Day.
    Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have mixed feelings about celebrating this day – some consider it a day of mourning, and others use the day to mark the survival of their ongoing traditions and cultures.
    It’s important that these views are respected and that collectively we have constructive conversations about this history and seek ways to move forward together as a nation.
    Our national day provides an opportunity to acknowledge and learn about our nation’s past. It’s a time to reflect on and learn about our national journey including the ongoing history, traditions and cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.” I suggest Councillor Hancock also heed its advice.
    I respect Delta Kay and others’ have a different view on the date, but have read that Ms Kay will speak to Survival Day gathering on 26 January. That is fully consistent with the leadership the Australia Day Council has given and we look forward to an honest but less divisive Saturday than we have seen in the last few weeks.

    • Some will celebrate – presumably because of how well they’ve done out of terra nullius (but it’s also unclear just how many know exactly what happened on the date). Some will celebrate surviving European settlement which doesn’t speak highly of the event if it had to be ‘survived’. Like cancer perhaps. Others will mourn all it has brought to their people.

      If the Australia Day Council thinks that’s all just tickety boo good for that ‘Australian Government’ body – doesn’t seem very unifying. Seems a bit like ‘dividing the community into groups based on origin’.

      Great to reflect on our history but not all of it is a cause for celebration.

      • Nothing I read in the Australia Day Council’s note suggests anything is “tickety poo good ” – it refers to 26 January as a day of mourning and survival. As you wrote above: “Don’t make assumptions about who thinks what”.

        The narrative for the “wretched penal colony” was developed by early 19c free settlers helped by their evangelic friends in Britain who were keen to end the penal system. It emerged again in Anne Summers quite inaccurate portrayal of the majority of early convict woman and their daughters as “whores’. It has now been taken up by those who want to change the date and see a need to disparage early colonial Australia and so 1788.

        Ironically in doing so, they ignore the vital contribution of aboriginals to the survival and prosperity of early colonial Australia and ignore the many marriages – usually defacto – between aboriginals and convicts and other early settlers – most aboriginals in NSW have British ancestors and many from that early period. The settlement in 1788 heralded a period of horrific disease and later displacement of land , but also brought much of the British legal, administrative, governance and economic framework we use today. We should not use the discussion over Australia Day to disparage our mutual British ancestors and their struggle to make a society out of such unlikely beginnings.

  7. I’d be disappointed if you didn’t get back to me, Peter. I gather you think that the system of transportation had many redeeming features but I for one am very grateful I was never put on one of those ships and don’t see the whole thing as shining examples of justice and humanitarianism. Therefore I can think of better historical landmarks in which to invest some national pride.

    Tell me also if I’m wrong in interpreting as your view, that many of the indigenous population were much better off after European settlement and would want to celebrate their role in achieving thereafter a far superior civilisation. I think the fact that many of their descendants don’t exactly see things this way is sufficient cause for at least an open, dispassionate and respectful debate.

    I thought it was you who seemed to be quoting the Australia Day Council as approving of the multiple and simultaneous ‘meanings’ of Jan 26 for different groups. I remain unrepentent in my view that maintaining a day that elicits the extremes of celebration and mourning, is not unifying nor encouraging of a respectful contemplation of our history.

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