Former prime minister Tony Abbott has linked the same-sex marriage debate to the decision by an inner-city council to change the date of its Australia Day celebrations.
Speaking on Sydney radio, Mr Abbott lashed the decision by the left-leaning Yarra Council in Melbourne’s inner north-east as the latest example of a “larger war on our way of life”, comparing it to Safe Schools, political correctness and the same-sex marriage debate.
“Whether it be political correctness rampant in our schools, the gender fluidity stuff which is part of the Safe Schools program which has been institutionalised in Victoria, so many people are anxious about these assaults on things we have always taken for granted,” Mr Abbott told 2GB.
“And this is one of the reasons why I think the same-sex marriage vote is suddenly in all sort of trouble, because people are worried about the real agenda of the people that are pushing these things.”
The Yarra council voted unanimously to scrap all Australia Day celebrations and citizenship ceremonies on January 26 and instead host a “culturally-sensitive event acknowledging the loss of culture, language and identity felt by the community on January 26″.
The council made its decision after polling community and indigenous groups.
Mr Abbott gave credit to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for denouncing the move, and for “responding very firmly to this outrageous and completely over-the-top attack on Australia Day by this mad leftie council”.
Mr Turnbull in Parliament hit out at the decision as “utterly out of step with Australian values”.
The Turnbull government later stripped the council of its power to hold citizenship ceremonies, after Mr Turnbull accused the council of “seeking to turn a day which unites Australia into one which divides us”.
Assistant Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke also weighed in, saying the government would not allow the council to politicise citizenship.
“We are committed to ensuring that citizenship is treated in the ‘non-commercial, apolitical, bipartisan and secular manner’ which the Code mandates,” Mr Hawke said in a statement.
“The instrument I have signed today means there will be no more citizenship ceremonies conducted by the City of Yarra on behalf of the government.”
He told ABC Radio Melbourne that if the Yarra Council wanted to advance an argument about Australia Day they should have done so without referencing citizenship ceremonies.
“It’s not because they’re not holding [a citizenship ceremony] on Australia Day, but they passed a very political motion about Australia Day and cancelled their existing citizenship day on 26th of January in a political motion,” he said.
“The code is there to make sure that councils don’t do these sorts of things. We don’t want citizenship ceremonies being used as a political argument for anybody’s political advancement one way or the other.”
Yarra Socialist councillor Steve Jolly posted on Twitter on Wednesday night that front office staff had been abused by “neo-nazis”.
Solidarity with Yarra Council telephone staff who today faced a minority of racist and violent calls from neo-nazis today
— Stephen Jolly (@stephenjolly99) August 16, 2017
Yarra City Mayor Amanda Stone said she planned to talk to Mr Hawke about the decision soon.
“I think it’s a bit of an overreaction,” Ms Stone said of the federal government’s move. “I hope common-sense and decency will prevail.
“He [Alex Hawke] has the right to make the determination, I disagree with it.”
In a statement, Ms Stone added: “We do not believe we are in breach of the Citizenship Ceremonies Code, and we will be seeking to discuss this matter with the Assistant Minister as soon as possible.”
Mr Hawke denied the federal government had over-reacted to the council’s decision, saying Australia Day was the most popular day for people to receive their citizenship.