Could This Be The First Sydney Council To Ditch Australia Day?

It's a Labor vs. Greens showdown.

Sydney’s Inner West Council could be the first local government in Australia’s largest city to ditch Australia Day festivities if a Greens motion calling for the change is successful next week.

Greens councillor Tom Kiat is moving a motion at the next council meeting, on February 13, titled “Recognising January 26 as a day of invasion, mourning and survival”. It calls on the Inner West Council to acknowledge “that January 26 marks the beginning of the British invasion of the lands of First Nations people” and “the first Day of Mourning was held 80 years ago on January 26, 1938, being the 150th anniversary of the British invasion”.

The motion further calls on the council to support the #ChangeTheDate campaign and advocate to the federal government to change the date Australia Day is commemorated. Kiat also wants the council to stop holding Australia Day events on January 26, and to no longer refer to the day as Australia Day. Council staff have estimated that approximately $85,000 is spent annually on the Australia Day event.

Nathan Moran, the CEO of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (MLALC), said: “The arrival of the First Fleet and the raising of the flag of Great Britain at Sydney Cove by Governor Phillip is a date of significance, but for MLALC it’s not a day for national celebration.

“For MLALC and Aboriginal people generally January 26 represents the establishment of the British penal colony and commencement of war against First Nations Australians to dispossess them of their estates.”

The National Campaign To #ChangeTheDate

In the last couple of years numerous councils have passed motions to stop celebrating Australia Day. Fremantle Council was the first to ditch it’s Australia Day celebrations, and since then Darebin and Yarra councils in Melbourne have passed motions to to stop commemorating Australia Day on January 26.

This year the federal Greens leader Richard Di Natale announced the party would use its presence on over 100 local councils to push for the change across the country.

The federal government has responded to the campaign by stripping Yarra and Darebin councils in Melbourne of the right to hold citizenship ceremonies.

“The Greens political party will not be allowed to hijack Australia Day through a small group of Greens controlled local councils,” the assistant minister for immigration and border protection, Alex Hawke, said in a statement last year. “The overwhelming majority of Australians support Australia Day remaining on January 26.”

Will The Motion Pass?

The Inner West Council was formed last year through the forced merger of Ashfield, Leichhardt and Marrickville Councils. Sydney’s inner west residents have historically elected progressive councillors, and the main political fault lines tend to be between Labor and the Greens.

There are 15 councillors on the Inner West Council — five Labor, five Greens, three independents and two Liberals. There is a nominal progressive majority on the council, but the motion’s success depends on what the Labor councillors decide to do.

In a statement provided to Junkee, the Labor mayor of the Inner West Council, Darcy Byrne, said: “The nature of January 26 is changing and must change. In the inner west, we want it to be a day of reflection and commemoration”.

“The event Council held on January 26 this year was deliberately solemn and reflective rather than celebratory,” he said. “I’m proposing that we consult with the local Aboriginal community about how the nature of Council’s January 26 events can further evolve to recognise the history of Indigenous Australia.”

Byrne is seeking to implement parts of Labor’s Indigenous Justice policy that was announced prior to the local government elections. At the upcoming council meeting, which will debate the Greens proposal, Byrne is moving a number of motions on Indigenous issues.

He’s proposing that the council consult with community representatives about a potential memorial for the Frontier Wars, and he wants the council to allocate $5,000 for a pilot program teaching a local Aboriginal language to children enrolled at an early learning centre. He’s also moving a motion calling on the council to consult with the local Aboriginal community and MLALC about how the council’s January 26 event “can further evolve to recognise the history of Indigenous Australia”.

The background to that motion notes the steps taken by the federal government to strip Yarra and Darebin councils of their right to hold citizenship ceremonies, highlighting Labor’s fear that similar action could be taken against Inner West Council.

Anthony Albanese Has Weighed In

When Yarra Council was stripped of its right to hold citizenship ceremonies, the federal member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, stepped in and offered to host citizenship ceremonies on their behalf. Federal MPs have the right to officiate citizenship ceremonies.

The Inner West Council falls within the electorate of Labor MP Anthony Albanese, and he doesn’t seem keen to follow in Bandt’s footsteps. The Labor frontbencher told The Australian the council should keep commemorating Australia Day on January 26, and said he looked “forward to future citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day”.

Albanese has proposed a national referendum on Indigenous Recognition to be held on January 26 as “an exciting opportunity to forge a path forward for Australia’s future”, but his proposal does not have the backing of the Labor party.