Sen Rice: I rise to speak on this disallowance motion. It’s a disallowance motion because the motion to try to overturn the legitimate democratic decision of the cities of Yarra and Darebin to hold citizenship ceremonies on the days that they want to hold citizenship ceremonies—the attempt by government to do that—is complete overreach by the federal government. It is an insult to local government, it is vindictive and it is bullying. It’s basically our government saying: ‘We don’t like what you, the cities of Darebin and Yarra, are doing here. We are going to do what’s in our power to try to turn that around.’ Well, the government should not have the right to do that, and if this disallowance motion is successful today, this Senate will be saying, ‘They don’t have the right to do that.’
Local government is a tier of government in its own right, and it has the power to hold citizenship ceremonies. The power to hold citizenship ceremonies is vested in local governments. This attempt to overrule that is basically saying, ‘You local governments, you’ll just do as you are told,’ and that is not right. I speak as someone who spent six years in local government. I was a councillor and then I was Mayor of the City of Maribyrnong. It’s incredibly important to people who are involved in local government to be recognised as a tier of government and to have the same rights as state and federal governments.
But it’s not just Yarra and Darebin that we’re talking about here. I know from my conversations and from talking to people right across Victoria—in fact, right across the country—but particularly within the councils across metropolitan Melbourne, that this is a very live debate. It’s a very live debate across Australia—in fact, so much so that this isn’t something that has just sprung out of the councils of Yarra and Darebin, in my patch. It’s something that is bubbling up all over the country, because it’s about the issue of respecting Indigenous Australians. It’s about saying that we’re celebrating our national day on a day which, for them, is Invasion Day, a day of mourning and a day of marking the huge change and the huge disruption to their way of life and their wellbeing. That is the conversation that’s being had and that needs to be had.
Why is this important? That’s what I want to move on to covering. Why is it so important that Yarra and Darebin said, ‘We want to shift our citizenship ceremonies away from 26 January’? I can speak from experience. As my colleague Senator Hanson-Young said, as senators we get to attend citizenship ceremonies, and they are one of the most joyous parts of the job of being a senator. But even more so, as a councillor and as a mayor, representing the city, putting on those citizenship ceremonies for your local community is an incredibly empowering and an incredible positive thing—welcoming those new local residents as Australians. In Maribyrnong, we used to have about six or seven, sometimes eight, citizenship ceremonies every year because we had so many new residents becoming citizens. In fact, Yarra and Darebin too probably have four, five or six ceremonies a year. So it’s not just on Australia Day that they have these citizenship ceremonies, but the Australia Day ones are seen as being the special ones because Australia Day is the day that we are meant to be celebrating coming together as Australians. The year that I was mayor—I knew that it was quite a significant thing to be standing up and giving a speech, as mayor of a council, at an Australia Day citizenship ceremony—I was incredibly torn because I knew that Australia Day wasn’t a day that brought all Australians together.
At these citizenship ceremonies, almost always, across local government, we have an acknowledgement of country. There’s often now a welcome to country by the local Indigenous custodians of the land. We are recognising and acknowledging the Indigenous history of Australia, and yet we are holding these ceremonies on a day which is so problematic. It is a day which is divisive, a day which, in saying, ‘This is Australia Day,’ is perpetuating the myth of terra nullius. It’s perpetuating the myth that the invasion of Australia was done peacefully, when we know that it wasn’t. We know that Australia has a very dark history. For us to be able to move on, we’ve got to acknowledge that history, and we cannot acknowledge that history while saying that 26 January is the appropriate day to be celebrating our national day.
I love Australia. I love celebrating Australia. I think it is entirely appropriate that we have a celebration of Australia, but we need to change the date. It needs to be shifted from 26 January. I think it’s quite appropriate to acknowledge the significance of 26 January. It was the day that the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay. But I think we should acknowledge it as that. We should acknowledge it as Anniversary Day or Foundation Day. It was once considered to be Anniversary Day, before it was given the title of Australia Day. We should acknowledge it as that, but we need to find a different date to celebrate us coming together as Australians. Anyone who reads our history and who looks back at our history and at the interaction and the process that occurred with the settlement of Australia knows that marking 26 January, as the beginning of that, is marking a very dark beginning for first Australians.
How do we choose the right date? I don’t know. That’s the conversation that we need to have. But the statement that the cities of Yarra and Darebin—and there will be other councils after them—are making is, ‘Let’s have this conversation.’ The beginning of this conversation is to say, ‘Let’s not pretend that we can celebrate how good it is to be an Australian on 26 January.’ So choosing to not have citizenship ceremonies on 26 January is something that local government is able to do. It’s empowering to local government. It’s empowering through listening to all of their communities and to the people who recognise that this is the conversation that Australia needs to have. By doing that, we can begin to move forward.
So I really commend this disallowance motion to the Senate. Again, it’s a statement that we can make that we don’t want to continue on with the racism that is inherent in celebrating Australia Day on 26 January and we want to be able to move forward and celebrate Australia on a different date. So I would really encourage everyone to support this, both because we don’t want to override the legitimate rights of local governments to be able to choose their own way forward on this and because, as a federal government, we can give them support for doing that. I would prefer us to be taking actions that actually celebrate the fact that the cities of Yarra and Darebin have taken this step and other councils like Moreland and Port Phillip in Melbourne are also talking about this. Hobart is also having this conversation. We as a federal parliament should be celebrating that and we should be encouraging more communities across the country to have those conversations and supporting the Australian Local Government Association and other local government associations all across the country to move forward and to have these conversations.
That’s what we should be doing: having the federal government working together with our state governments and with local governments all across the country, suggesting that they also reach out to their community, have the conversation and invite conversations with the Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous communities to bring groups together. Imagine having the resources of federal, state and local governments all working together to be encouraging conversations at Rotary clubs, at sporting clubs and in school communities about what it means to be Australian and how we should recognise that and celebrate that in a way that is truly inclusive. Until we have this debate and this conversation, we are going to just continue to be stuck in the same sorts of divisiveness that we’ve had over the last years.
We’ve got examples from all around the world. We’ve got the South African reconciliation process. We know that here in Australia we have stopped. We have taken some small steps forward, but we haven’t gone the whole way, and that’s what we need to do. Until we do that, we are going to be lesser people. Until we do that, we know that we really have this unfinished business here in Australia and that we can’t truly celebrate having a fully inclusive Australia. I can’t feel, personally, that Australia is genuinely inclusive and genuinely recognises the rights and the aspirations of all Australians until we have reached that situation of justice for Aboriginal Australians, because we have that history. We’ve got to acknowledge that history. We’ve got to be able to acknowledge that history, to recognise the damage that’s been done and to work out how to move forward from here.
In conclusion, I think the right of local government, as a tier of government, to make these decisions in their own right is critical, and I see this move, the move to change the date, as being a really important step forward. Both of these things are why it is so important that we pass this disallowance motion today and then move forward as a community and as a parliament to genuinely embrace and support the rights, the aspirations and justice for Indigenous Australia.
Greens Hanson Young: The date of Australia Day will change, it’s simply a matter of when
Chamber Senate on 19/10/2017
Item REGULATIONS AND DETERMINATIONS – Citizenship (Authorisation) Revocation and Authorisation Instrument 2017, Citizenship (Authorisation) Revocation and Authorisation Amendment Instrument 2017 – Disallowance Speaker: Rice, Sen Janet/ Parliment of Australia Transcript used for Rert