Labor leader Bill Shorten has vowed he will not change the date of Australia Day if elected, but dismissed the Prime Minister’s calls for “my rules” on the day and a new dress code as playing politics.
Mr Shorten’s pledge to never “change the date” of Australia Day was backed by Aboriginal MPs including Linda Burney, but who stressed that councils and communities needed to have time for “reflection” and “truth telling” on the day about the impact of white settlement.
Activists have campaigned for years to change the date, arguing the arrival of the First Fleet on January 26, 1788 should be described as “invasion day”, not a day of celebration.
Some councils in Byron Bay and Victoria have refused to offer citizenship ceremonies on the day.
While Mr Shorten confirmed he had no plans to change the date, he accused Scott Morrison of playing politics.
“Labor isn’t going to move Australia Day, unless of course it falls on the weekend and we will have the public holiday on the Monday,” Mr Shorten said.
“Labor is determined to keep Australia Day as a public holiday. (But) you sort of know when Australia Day is coming up – don’t you? – when you get the annual conservative outing to put politics into Australia Day.
“It’s just a piece of politics.”
Asked if councils should retain the freedom to change the date of citizenship ceremonies, Mr Shorten said he was happy to consider the proposal.
“I think we all know what’s happening, it’s a couple of weeks before Australia Day,” he said.
“In January, it’s a bit of slow news, the government is trying to play a bit of politics. It’s what the conservatives do to keep their base happy, talk about this.
“There are 537 councils in Australia. About 530 of them already have citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day. We’ll see what they’re proposing. One thing that I pledge though, is under me, Australia Day will always be a public holiday.”
Ms Burney told The New Daily she backed Mr Shorten’s remarks.
“No plans to change. (But I) recognise the day is difficult, especially for First Nations. We should use part of the day for reflection in spirit of truth telling,” she said.
Mr Morrison accused Mr Shorten of sitting on the fence.
“I think Bill Shorten is having a copout on this. I mean Australia Day is for all Australians and councils are given the right to hold citizenship ceremonies by the Commonwealth government,” Mr Morrison said.
“Now if councils … want to play games, well, you don’t have to run citizenship ceremonies. Other arrangements can be made. But we are not just going to cop people undermining Australia’s national day. It’s for all Australians, all Australians. I’m for Australia Day.”
Earlier, Mr Morrison also backed a “dress code” for Australia Day citizenship ceremonies.
“I’m also asking them today to ensure there is a proper dress code around citizenship ceremonies. As I said today, happy for people to put on the boardies and the thongs for the barbecue afterwards. But you know, I’ve been to heaps of citizenship ceremonies and the vast majority of people who come, they treat it with total respect,” Mr Morrison said.
Mr Morrison denied when asked if he was cynically trying to start a new culture war to mark Australia Day.
“No, I’ve been consistent on this from the day I’ve been prime minister, in fact well beyond that. We’ve got Australia Day coming up. I’m making it really clear what my standards and what my rules are. I don’t see the problem with that,” he said.
The Liberal candidate for Lingiari, Aboriginal leader Jacinta Price, backed Mr Morrison.
“I just want to say I think it’s incredibly divisive of the councils to take these sorts of steps when they should be encouraging Australians to come together on such a day,” Ms Price said.
“I think it’s a day of incredible importance and this argument that to change the date is to recognise that history … it’s actually not recognising our history as a country,” she said.