Councillors prefer Australia day status quo

A central Victorian unfurls a flag prior to it being run up the flag pole for Australia Day celebrations. Picture: Brendan McCarthy
A central Victorian unfurls a flag prior to it being run up the flag pole for Australia Day celebrations. Picture: Brendan McCarthy

Several City of Greater Bendigo councillors have said they would prefer the council did not weigh in on debates about Australia Day’s date or changing citizenship ceremonies.

The Bendigo Council does not have a position on changing the date, yet a handful of other councils had declared their support for the #changethedate campaign.

On Tuesday night the Yarra City Council voted unanimously to change the way it marked Australia Day.

The council would refer to the day only as “January 26” until another name was adopted nationally.

The council would also scrap citizenship ceremonies and shift award ceremonies to other dates.

Among other changes, mayor Amanda Stone said the council would begin holding a small-scale, culturally sensitive event on January 26 acknowledging the loss Aboriginal language, culture and identity.

“People can still have their barbecues and parties on the January 26 public holiday, but I hope our stance encourages people to stop and think about what this date really means in the history of our nation,” she said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Wednesday blasted the council’s decision, saying the step was out of touch with Australian values.

“They are seeking to take a day which unites Australia and turn it into one which divides us,” he said.

An online Bendigo Advertiser poll found the idea of changing local citizenship and award ceremonies deeply unpopular, with 81 per cent of respondents opposing.

Councillor James Williams said that while he welcomed a range of opinions on the issue he felt it was not a decision for council.

“That decision is one I’m happy to see happen at a federal level, with us working within the various legislative frameworks provided to council,” he said.

Fellow councillor Julie Hoskin had similar sentiments, saying it was a decision that should be left to the Australian people.

“In my opinion it’s not up to councils or councillors to decide something like that … (the day is) part of our heritage,” she said.