Australia Day debate ‘needs to change’


Byron Shire Council is the latest local government to have citizenship ceremonies stripped following controversy over Australia Day.

Firework celebrations on the Sydney Harbour. Photo: Supplied

The Federal Government removed Byron Shire’s role in conducting ceremonies in response to the local authority’s decision in September to move their local Australia Day ceremony forward to January 25th.

Byron Shire made the change to recognise indigenous culture and acknowledge ongoing concerns around matters of inclusiveness surrounding our national day.

In neighbouring Tweed Shire Council, Aboriginal Development Officer Robert Appo said there are no immediate plans to take similar action, but some legislation regarding Indigenous Heritage and Australia Day “needs to change”.

He said there was still a “gap” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous thinking.

“Some of it is brought about by the current legislation, and not local legislation but state or federal legislation,” he said.

“From a council point of view, we need to remember that the aboriginal community has been around for a very long time and sometimes we forget that and knowledge in the aboriginal community is very strong.”

Last year, three councils in Victoria decided to stop future Australia Day celebrations on January 26th out of respect to Indigenous Australians.

Chair of the Indigenous Advisory Committee for the Australian Government, Robbie Dalton, said the government needed to see heritage as “emblematic” of who we are rather than from a program and policy position.

“I think we as a country have some growing-up to do in terms of the maturity of our political discussions, especially around Indigenous rights… heritage in many ways, sets the framework for that broader level of discussion,” he said.

“I celebrate Australia Day equally as I celebrate NAIDOC ceremonies, I think there’s room for both but I don’t necessarily think that January 26 has to be Australia Day.

Australian beach goers during Australia Day. Photo: Supplied.

It’s an argument given very little time by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, recently suggested a new national day to recognise Australia’s Indigenous history could be a better solution than tinkering with Australia Day.

But Mr Dalton said changing the date should be entertained.

“The Australia Day debate is something we need to have,” Mr Dalton said.

“In the past Australia Day was celebrated on various locations in various states.

“The call for Australia Day to actually be held on January 1 – Federation Day – is an interesting idea.

“There’s not necessarily a right answer, but this is an important issue that should be discussed because it’s about fundamentally who we are as a country, who fits into that idea of Australia and who doesn’t, and whether there’s room to broaden that picture.”


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