A Turnbull government minister has slammed both the defacing of historical statues and the decision of two councils not to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day as “absolutely appalling”.
Several monuments across Sydney’s CBD, including a statue of Captain James Cook, were defaced in the early hours of Saturday morning with slogans including “change the date” and “no pride in genocide”.
The vandalism follows growing public debate about the way the European arrival in Australia is commemorated, after a pair of Victorian councils decided not to hold citizenship ceremonies on January 26.
Many indigenous people view that date as “invasion day”.
Federal minister Dan Tehan says there’s no place for vandalism and he hopes the people who defaced the Sydney statues are arrested.
It wasn’t possible to rewrite history, he said.
“But of course, in teaching history, you can look at the facts as they were at the time − for instance when Captain Cook discovered Australia − and then you can say this is what we know now,” he told Sky News.
“But to go and deface statues, I think, is just absolutely appalling.”
He believed people in “mainstream Australia” would wonder: “What the hell is going on here, what are these people trying to do to our history, to our heritage?”
The federal government has stripped Melbourne’s City of Yarra and Darebin councils of their right to host citizenship ceremonies at any time of the year after the local governments voted not to hold them on January 26.
Mr Tehan extended that threat to any other councils contemplating following suit, saying they would “undermine Australia Day”.
“The behaviour of these councils is appalling,” he said.
“The government will continue to act to make sure that Australia Day is kept as our national day, that it is respected and honoured.”
The Australia Citizenship Ceremonies Code says local councils should hold ceremonies every two to three months and notes that Australia Day − along with Australian Citizenship Day on September 17 − are “significant days” in the calendar when “local governments and community organisations can play an important role” in raising awareness of citizenship.