THE GREENS have apologised to the City of Vincent after sending out a letter claiming the council had joined the campaign to change the date of Australia Day—it hadn’t.
A letter from Greens senator Rachel Siewert went out to WA councils on Friday, urging them to support changing the date of Australia Day because “January 26 reflects a day of mourning for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples”.
“The City of Moreland, the City of Vincent, and the City of Fremantle have already joined the push towards changing the date, to ensure everyone is welcome,” reads the letter. “Please join us in this growing movement”.
Vincent mayor Emma Cole says council hasn’t tackled the question of changing the date and wouldn’t do so without community consultation.
“I know we’re seen as a very progressive council and we are, but I place a high importance on being very clear and surefooted about where our community stands on issues,” Ms Cole says.
As of Friday, January 19, Ms Cole had only heard from one person who wanted to change the Australia Day date; following the Green’s letter, two people emailed her to say they were against a change.
She says Vincent’s got a good relationship with Aboriginal groups, including Nyoongar Outreach, people who worked on their Reconciliation Action Plan, and elders who come to their citizenship ceremonies, and the city wouldn’t join the “change the date” campaign without speaking to them first.
Ms Siewert says “my office has spoken to the mayor and apologised for the confusion, as the City of Vincent have not progressed conversations on changing the date as much as we initially thought”.
If Vincent council did support changing the date it would be a symbolic move.
Vincent council doesn’t currently hold any big celebrations, unlike Fremantle which used to hold a big January 26 celebration (now moved to the “One Day in Fremantle” event on January 28).
Vincent only has the citizenship ceremony on January 26, and the Turnbull government has told the city it can only be held on that date. Last August the council received what Ms Cole describes as a “strongly worded letter” from federal MP Alex Hawke, assistant minister for immigration, telling them “where a council uses a citizenship ceremony, or the ability of its office-holders to preside over one, as a tool to protest the practice of celebrating Australia Day on 26 January, I will consider this a serious breach of the Australian citizenship ceremonies code, and will revoke the authorisation of office-holders of the council.”
The letter was part of a nation-wide Greens campaign to change the date.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported Greens federal leader Richard Di Natale calling a date change one of his top priorities for 2018, saying he’d coordinate with more than 100 Greens members on local councils to prompt the debate.
Councils in Voiceland are lukewarm on the Greens’ proposal to change the date of Australia Day:
• BAYSWATER’S sticking to its Australia Day sausage sizzle. Acting mayor Chris Cornish says: “I am aware of the Green Party’s Australia Day letter and I am always disappointed when political parties try and bring party politics into local government. Frankly, that is something I think we can all do without.
“It remains my view that the discussion about the date for Australia Day needs to happen at a national level following extensive community debate.
“As a council we will be marking Australia Day with a community barbecue and citizenship ceremony.”
• STIRLING mayor Mark Irwin says: “There has been no discussion by the council on moving the Australia Day celebrations from 26 January. The city will continue to hold our Australia Day Awards followed by a citizenship ceremony and will to use this day to celebrate our great country, our inclusiveness and our diversity”. He says; “feedback received from the Aboriginal community is divided…the city of Stirling will continue to focus on fostering reconciliation, understanding and respect from all parties”.
• PERTH lord mayor Lisa Scaffidi says: “It is important local government councils and councillors remain apolitical, and state or federal political parties should not attempt to influence council decisions or lobby for favourable outcomes. The position of the City of Perth council is January 26 should be retained as the date for Australia Day. Any decision to change the date is a matter for the federal government, not local government.”
by DAVID BELL