Scott Morrison says he is 'prime minister for standards' after unveiling Australia Day plan
Scott Morrison has rebuffed Bill Shorten’s claim the government is politicising Australia Day with a plan to force councils to have citizenship ceremonies on 26 January from 2020.
The prime minister hit back at the Labor leader for not immediately backing the move, which he says is common sense.
“I think Bill Shorten is having a copout on this,” Morrison told reporters in the Northern Territory.
Forcing councils to have the ceremonies on Australia Day comes after a handful of municipalities voted to move citizenship events out of respect for Australia’s Indigenous people.
“If some councils, as we’ve seen, want to play games, well, you don’t have to run citizenship ceremonies, other arrangements will be made,” the prime minister said. “But we will not undermine Australia’s national day.”
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The Morrison government’s change to the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code means councils will be forced to hold a citizenship ceremony on 26 January, another on 17 September, and institute a dress code that bans thongs and board shorts.
“I’m a prime minister for standards,” Morrison said.
Shorten did not rule out supporting the plan but guaranteed he would keep the public holiday if in government.
“You sort of know when Australia Day’s coming up don’t you, when a couple of weeks before we get the annual conservative outing to put politics into Australia Day,” Shorten told reporters in Melbourne on Sunday. “It’s what the conservatives do to keep their base happy.”
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Morrison said it would help “protect our national day and ensure it is respected”, in the face of mounting calls to change the date of Australia Day.
The immigration minister, David Coleman, said it meant “councils will no longer be able to say ‘no’ to Australia Day”.
“We believe that all councils should say ‘yes’ to Australia Day,” he told reporters in Queensland.
He said councils that did not comply would have their citizenship ceremonies revoked. He added that the dress code would allow people to wear cultural or national dress.
“To become an Australian on Australia Day is incredibly special,” he said. “Our government believes all new citizens should have the opportunity to become an Australian on Australia Day.
“At the moment, that’s not the case. More than 100 councils around Australia don’t hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day … Why should councils be able to stop someone who is about to become an Australian citizen from the great honour of becoming a citizen on Australia Day?”
Previously, councils were under no obligation to hold ceremonies on any set days. The change will affect all 537 councils from 2020.
In 2017, two councils in Melbourne voted to move their ceremonies away from 26 January, due to its association with the start of European colonisation. Another council, Moreland, decided to keep a ceremony on 26 January but to remove the reference to “Australia Day” out of respect for Indigenous Australians.
The other councils, Yarra and Darebin, had their right to hold citizenship ceremonies taken away by the then Turnbull government.
On Sunday, Morrison said making the ceremonies compulsory would stop local councils “playing politics with Australia Day”.
But the president of the Australian Local Government Association, David O’Loughlin, said there had been “zero consultation” with councils, and rejected the idea.
“About 25% of councils hold ceremonies on a different day for very sensible reasons,” he told Channel Seven. “If it’s too hot on the day, they hold it the evening before. Or they have it the week before, so everyone on Australia Day already has their Australian citizenship.
“The federal government’s strong focus on drawing a link between Australia Day and citizenship ceremonies is bizarre.
“The government doesn’t even announce the Australian of the Year on Australia Day, so it’s very curious.”
O’Loughlin said the association of citizenship with 26 January was a recent invention.
“Most councils would do several citizenship ceremonies a year,” he said. “Not just this one. My own council does four, and I know councils that do them monthly.”
In 2017, Colin Hunter, a Wurundjeri
man and City of Yarra Aboriginal liaison officer, told Guardian Australia it was appropriate for local councils to lead the movement to change the date of Australia Day.
“People say local government is about bins and rates but it’s also about the civic participation of your local community,” he said.
On Sunday, O’Loughlin agreed, saying councils like Yarra, Darebin and Moreland were free to reflect their communities’ interests by shifting ceremonies away from 26 January.
“If their communities want them to advocate for something, I would expect their communities would want their councils to follow that lead.”
Australia Day has only been consistency celebrated on 26 January since 1988, according to the Australia Day National Council. It was previously celebrated on 30 July, 28 July and a variety of other dates.
26 January marks the day the first fleet arrived in Sydney Cove in 1788, and has been referred to as Invasion Day or Survival Day by Indigenous Australians for years.
In 1938, 26 January was marked by the National Day of Mourning, protesting the anniversary of 150 years of colonisation.
The New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said 26 January was the natural day for ceremonies to be staged.
But the acting Victorian premier, James Merlino, was more sceptical.
“I think this is more to do with the federal election than with the Morrison government respecting our country,” he said.
The Morrison government is making it compulsory for local councils to hold a citizenship ceremony on 26 January and is instituting a dress code.