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Council wobbles on Australia Day

09 Oct 2018

Council wobbles on Australia Day Image

By Meg Hill

There are indications that the City of Melbourne is divided and unclear about the controversy over Australia Day celebrations on January 26.

The stance of local councils towards January 26 has re-emerged after events last month at the Port Phillip Council.

Cr Dick Gross gave notice he was planning to move a motion calling for a ceremony on January 26 to acknowledge the impact of colonialism.

Cr Gross withdrew his motion before the meeting, stating he wanted an opportunity for more discussion.

Some City of Melbourne councillors have expressed their personal view to Southbank Local News that January 26 is an inappropriate day for the celebrations, but have also said the council does not have a formal position and hasn’t discussed the issue.

Aboriginal portfolio chairperson Nic Frances Gilley said he thought days that marked colonisation events were not useful days for national celebrations, but added: “I am unaware of the general feeling of councillors towards this view as we haven’t discussed it formally or informally so there’s not a council view.”

Cr Frances Gilley and Cr Rohan Leppert recently came out in strong opposition to Melbourne Day being held on an “invasion day”.

But Cr Frances Gilley said Melbourne Day was a city conversation and Australia Day was a national conversation.

However, Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood said there was a council position and that the issue would have last been discussed by the council informally “weeks ago”.

“The City of Melbourne position is that there is no intention to change Australia Day as it stands, and there’s quite a lot of internal discussion that goes on about these issues,” he said.

He said it was regularly discussed in relation to local government indigenous initiatives such as the council’s Aboriginal Melbourne Plan.

Cr Frances Gilley responded to say that he was sure that he hadn’t been involved in any discussions about Australia Day, but that others might have been.

Cr Rohan Leppert said: “Governments at all levels should do more to respect Australia’s first peoples’ overwhelming opposition to 26 January being our national day.”

“As one white man it’s not for me to unilaterally propose changes to how one local council resources Australia Day celebrations, but clearly if a consensus proposal from traditional owners were to emerge, we should act on it.”

The federal government stripped both the Yarra and Darebin councils of their ability to hold citizenship ceremonies after they both voted to dump January 26 celebrations.

“We fully respect the right of other local governments to represent their constituents and I, personally, believe the federal government has been quite punitive,” said Cr Wood.

The issue has been in discussion at Port Phillip Council since last year.

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