THE City of Greater Bendigo has committed to a conversation with the community about how it celebrates Australia Day.
It follows a petition by a group of Uniting Church members, which came before the council during this month's meeting.
Council is expected to develop a plan to engage with the community about January 26, especially with traditional owners and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The engagement plan will form part of the city's new Reconciliation Plan, and the process will take place in the three years to 2021.
Meanwhile, councillors will stage a briefing on the cultural sensitivities surrounding Australia Day and January 26.
Councillors and city staffers are also expected to increase their Aboriginal cultural competency and understanding.
Feedback from the community consultation will shape the city's next steps.
Councillors Jennifer Alden and Rod Fyffe were among those who spoke in support of re-evaluating how Australia Day is celebrated in Greater Bendigo.
Cr Andrea Metcalf raised concerns about the proposed three-stage process and abstained from the vote on the petition.
"My concern with the three-stage process outlined in the report is that it's overly rigid," she said.
She was worried that councillors were effectively being directed along a specific path, and that the actions of councils that had changed the way they celebrated Australia Day had been given considerable emphasis in the report.
"I believe it is possible to celebrate whilst acknowledging our history is not without wrongdoing or suffering and pain," Cr Alden said.
She said January 26 was not a day of celebration for everyone in the community, and it was important that the city acknowledged that the day meant different things to different people.
"I think we have an important advocacy role to play," Cr Alden said.
"Australia Day could be a celebration of all Australians by all Australians and one that embraces, or at least doesn't neglect, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and cultures."
Cr Fyffe said the petition called on the city to be proactive and to discuss the issue within the community.
"What we are proposing here is a way forward - a way forward that should have been put in place probably 30 - 40 years ago - that is dialogue. Respectful dialogue," Cr Fyffe said.
"We need to talk to our community... We need to make sure everyone is on board."
The petition sought for the city's new Reconciliation Plan to incorporate community engagement about when and how "Australia's nationhood" could best be celebrated in Greater Bendigo.
It was signed by about 20 members of the Central Bendigo Uniting Church Cluster.
The cluster encompasses the linked congregations of Forest Street and St Andrew's Bendigo-Axedale. It is headed by a cluster council, though the petition itself represents views of several cluster members rather than that of the cluster council.
Greater Bendigo's existing Reconciliation Plan is dated from 2016-2019.
It is scheduled for review and evaluation late this year.
The path to reconciliation
Councillors reflected on how successfully the plan had been implemented during this month's council meeting.
While acknowledging there was more work to be done to support the reconciliation process and close the gap, councillors said they had seen progress.
More than half of the plan's 93 actions have been achieved, and 30 are in progress.
Eight actions have yet to be progressed. The city decided not to progress six actions "due to changing community need and the consolidation of other actions."
The plan is expected to be completed by the year's end.
More than $142,600 was budgeted for the implementation of the Reconciliation Plan in the past financial year, $42,600 of which was allocated to Reconciliation Plan projects.
City staffers said they were working toward mitigating a number of risks identified as part of the plan's progress.
They included insufficient engagement and participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in city decision-making and processes.
City staffers also identified "poor cultural safety and cultural responsiveness" across the organisation, which was preventing the city from being considered an inclusive and welcoming space for Aboriginal people.
Cultural awareness training and workshops and organisation-wide cultural safety measures were among the steps city staffers were taking to reduce the risks.
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