An inner-Melbourne council will vote on Tuesday night on whether to stop referring to January 26 as Australia Day, and whether to replace the annual citizenship ceremony with an Indigenous smoking ceremony.
If passed, they could be the most extensive range of changes to Australia Day celebrations any council has undertaken.
City of Yarra Mayor Amanda Stone, a Greens councillor, said she consulted several Indigenous leaders before raising the potential for changes back in January.
“We’ve had discussions with the Indigenous community about the sense of loss and anger and sadness about not just the history, about what January 26 means to them,” she said.
“Our officers have since been engaging with the Indigenous community and non-Indigenous people with random, on-the-spot surveys.”
Cr Stone said ending all references to Australia Day was in line with what Indigenous communities had been telling her about taking “small steps”.
“That was something that came through from the Aboriginal community really strongly,” Cr Stone said.
“That associating January 26, which is a day that represents dispossession for them, with a day of national celebration is incongruous.
“So their strong desire is to engage in education rather than big bold steps.”
The City of Yarra takes in the suburbs Brunswick, Richmond, Carlton North, Collingwood and Fitzroy, where several Indigenous groups are based.
It is also home to large Australia Day celebrations, particularly in Fitzroy’s Edinburgh Gardens.
Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Alex Hawke fired off a letter to councils across the country on Tuesday warning that if they stop complying with the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code they will no longer be able to host the ceremonies.
Mr Hawke accused local councils of using citizenship ceremonies to make politically-motivated attacks.
“A citizenship ceremony must not be used as a forum to protest the practice of celebrating Australia Day on 26 January,” he said.
“This includes arranging a citizenship ceremony to align with an ‘anti or alternate Australia Day celebration’.
“Local councils are now on notice that if they politicise Australian citizenship, the government will see it as a breach of the code and take the appropriate action.”
Cr Stone said while she hoped the date of Australia Day would be changed, she did not expect celebrations within the council’s areas to be significantly affected.
“I can’t see that gathering will change in the short-term, but perhaps people will have more of a think about what Australia Day is and means on January 26,” Cr Stone said.
“We don’t have the authority to change the name. We don’t have the authority to change the date.
“That’s a big process. But we cannot refer to that date as Australia Day, which is a day that is associated with great loss and sadness in the community.”
Cr Stone said neighbouring councils, including Darebin and Moreland, were considering similar changes.
“The City of Fremantle did something similar [late last year] but they created a different kind of celebration on a different day.
“What they haven’t done is change their citizenship ceremony, which is a contentious point.”