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.
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 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.’
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.’
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.’