Local councils and citizens should have been consulted about plans for “forced” Australia Day citizenship ceremonies, Mount Alexander Shire Council mayor Bronwen Machin said.
There were dozens of legitimate reasons why a council might opt out of holding an Australia Day citizenship ceremony, she said.
Cr Machin said Prime Minister Scott Morrison was “not setting a good example” by apparently failing to consult on the issue and possible “different ways of celebrating” citizenship.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Sunday that citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day would be compulsory under changes to the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code.
A stricter dress code for ceremonies will also be introduced and local councils must hold a second citizenship ceremony on Australian Citizenship Day – September 17.
“(Mr Morrison) hasn't consulted with anyone around this that I can see,” Cr Machin said.
“I have this wish in my heart that policy, statements and developments happen after consultation and fact finding – that’s what we’re supposed to do at local level.
“It hasn’t happened at national level and is not setting a good example.”
Cr Machin said that there were two people confirmed for Mount Alexander Shire’s Australia Day citizenship ceremony, but “what if we had none?”.
“Last year we lost one person because they didn’t like the fanfare that came with a ceremony on Australia Day, that is something else to acknowledge,” she said.
Cr Machin said she felt the forced ceremonies diminish local government’s role in the community.
“We do so much work in and with the local community (and) to have something stomp on us from above makes me wonder what our role is seen as,” she said.
“I am trying to see it from his point of view. The Prime Minister of Australia sees Australia Day as important, I fully understand.
Ms Machin said Mount Alexander Shire traditionally held a citizenship ceremony on Australia Day as well as two other days of the year.
“We don’t like to make people wait for Australia Day, we get local members along and Uncle Rick Nelson conducts a Welcome to Country ceremony as well,” she said.
City of Greater Bendigo mayor Margaret O’Rourke said it would be business as usual for council despite citizenship ceremonies being made compulsory.
“We (already hold) citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day and Australian Citizenship Day, so it’s going to be no different,” she said. “Many people request to gain citizenship on Australia Day.
“I’m not sure why the Federal Government has done what is has done. Scott Morrison can answer that, we’re just getting on with business.
“We acknowledge that Australia Day can be difficult for some people and I find a majority of people are very respectful to the Indigenous communities (on January 26).”
Federal Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters said the motivation behind the Morrison Government’s decision was clear.
“The Liberals are playing politics. It's what the conservatives do to keep their base happy,” she said. “Their own leaked polling suggests their base in Victoria is very unhappy with the Federal Liberals and Scott Morrison.
"There are 537 councils in Australia, about 530 of them already have citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day including all the councils in the Bendigo electorate. My challenge on Australia Day is that I can not attend them all.”