Last Wednesday, the Yarra Council unanimously voted to no longer recognise Australia Day, receiving political backlash.
The council’s decision follows months of consultation with the local indigenous community.
In addition to its refusal to celebrate Australia Day, Yarra Council is lobbying the Federal Government to change the date of Australia Day and implement communication plans to help people understand the indigenous community and its experiences.
The council had previously been warned that any push to cancel citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day would be seen as “a significant breach of the citizenship protocol”, Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Alex Hawke said.
Mr Hawke said, “the Federal Government wouldn’t tolerate councils using citizenship ceremonies to campaign against Australia Day being celebrated.”
“I am surprised and disappointed that the City of Yarra has chosen to pursue this divisive approach,” Mr Hawke said.
The council was not expecting the federal government to follow through with its threat to ban the council from holding ceremonies.
“It’s unnecessary and an overreaction. We asked for a discussion but he has chosen to act instead. It’s a shame,” City of Yarra Mayor, Amanda Stone remarked in an interview with The Age.
Cr Stephen Jolly said, the council would not stop anyone from celebrating January 26 as Australia Day.
“It’s not North Korea here, you know. We are a small council. If the City of Yarra decides to call it January 26 … that does not stop the vast majority of people in the council area calling it Australia Day. No one is going to jail because they are having an Australia Day barbecue,” Mr Jolly told The Age.
Harsh consequence came from the federal government’s view that Yarra Council’s decision serves to divide the Australian people on a day intended to unite the population, with attacks coming from all angles.
The ABC has reported that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull remarked that “an attack on Australia Day is a repudiation of the values the day celebrates: freedom, a fair go, mateship and diversity”. He went on to further describe the change as “utterly out of step with Australian values”.
Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy also expressed his displeasure with council members, calling on the state government to “sack this rabble” if the council is unwilling to focus on its real job of addressing issues at a community level.
The Age quoted Victorian premier Daniel Andrews saying, “I think we get the balance right [on Australia Day]. We respect the traditional owners of our land, but we then get on in a really unified way.”
In the same story, former Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott is quoted as referring to Yarra Council as a “mad lefty council”.
Though the Australian Government considers The Yarra Council’s stance as active and reductive, others believe that the celebration of Australia Day ignores the persecution and discrimination suffered by our indigenous population in the years since.
Australia Day has been a recognised national holiday since 1994 and celebrates the arrival of British ships on our shores in 1788, prompting members of the indigenous population instead to refer to the date as “Invasion Day”.
For many indigenous Australians, Australia Day isn’t a day for celebrating. It signifies the beginning of exploitation, destruction of a culture, abuse and separation of families and extreme social control.
The celebration of Australia Day is considered to be divisive as it marginalises the indigenous community, who see the day as an event that instigated unfortunate events.
In a piece written for The Guardian, actor and writer Nakkiah Lui said: “I refuse to celebrate, and every Australia Day my heart is broken as I am reminded that in the eyes of many, I am not welcome on my own land.”
In the future new Australian citizens in the Yarra community will be required to attend ceremonies performed by neighbouring councils or the Department of Immigration.
Though responses at a state and federal level have been largely negative, other local councils around Melbourne have displayed similar positions on the significance of Australia Day.
The public has taken to twitter and social media to voice opinions on the matter.
— Yarra Council (@YarraCouncil) August 15, 2017
Having Australia Day on the 26th of January doesn't "offend" me as an Aboriginal person.
It excludes me as an Australian.
— Nakkiah Lui (@nakkiahlui) August 16, 2017
The Yarra Council tweeted the news yesterday and received a range of reactions from the public.
Some members of the public believe the decision made was questionable. It has been reported in mainstream media that the City of Yarra commissioned a survey of nearly 300 non-indigenous people who were in the council.
According to the most recent populus survey conducted by the ABS in 2015, the Yarra municipality housed almost 90,000 residents and only 0.33% of residents have changed the rules of the entire municipality.
Delta Preston, Benefit Officer from Mercy Health in Richmond, said that the council’s decision to not celebrate Australia Day on January 26th is “ridiculous … it creates more division than inclusion,” she said.
Victoria, a local Salvos worker congratulated the Yarra Council for the move, saying that, “if it will keep the peace between non-indigenous and indigenous community members then it’s a good thing.”
James Moffat, who works in Abbotsford doesn’t support the change of date and said that the issue is tricky.
“No matter which way you go on this topic, you’re going to piss people off. I just think it’s crazy to change the date of a celebration that’s been happening forever,” he said.
Written by Zathia Bazeer, Alice Wilson, Caitlin Matticoli.