Vincent to test Labor on Oz Day

Vincent mayor Emma Cole at the January 26 2022 citizenship ceremony – a difficult date for local Indigenous elders. Photo by Danica Zuks

AFTER five years of being forced by the former federal Liberal government to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day, Vincent council will ask the new Labor government if it can welcome new citizens on a “less disrespectful date”.

Some Indigenous representatives have ceased attending January 26 citizenship ceremonies, and those that do seem increasingly uncomfortable and distressed by celebrations on that date, Vincent mayor Emma Cole said this week. 

In 2017 the federal Liberal government told all councils they must hold a citizenship ceremony on Australia Day or they’d lose the right to confer citizenship altogether, an edict prompted by Fremantle council wanting to change its regular celebrations to January 28 in 2017.

Disrespectful

Councils are still allowed to hold ceremonies on other significant days (the federal code suggests Australian Citizenship Day on September 17 as appropriately august), provided they also have one on the mandatory January 26 date.

At the December 13 meeting Vincent councillor Dan Loden moved that they write to the new federal government and request that rule be rescinded.

“Australia Day establishes the first permanent European settlement, and this effectively is the point at which white settlers dispossessed Aboriginal people … what we do is have a celebration on that day every year,” Cr Loden said.

“It’s kind of the equivalent of kicking someone out of their house and then having everyone over for a barbeque to celebrate, which is a little bit offensive I think.”

Ms Cole spoke out against the federal government order at the time but faced heavy backlash and “a lot of hate mail from a lot of older white men living in Western Sydney”, but remained resolute that councils should get to decide. 

“For me this is really about how our Aboriginal community and leaders feel about this, and I have actually seen the discomfort of Aboriginal representatives who come to the citizenship ceremony on Australia Day to give a welcome to country, and it does make me feel deeply uncomfortable that they feel that way,” Ms Cole said.

“Not everyone will come. I know that the Noongar Choir chooses not to come to our citizenship ceremonies if they are on Australia Day.

“But we still do manage to have an Aboriginal representative there and I can tell that it does cause distress.”

Some have been reported to bring a support person along.  

The council asked its Aboriginal elder’s advisory group, the Vincent Boordiyas, if they wanted citizenship ceremonies moved away from January 26. 

“They were very resounding in their support for this,” Ms Cole said. 

The council unanimously backed the motion and Ms Cole will now write to the federal Labor minister for citizenship and request the rule be rescinded.

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