Council won’t hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day

Prospect Council will no longer hold citizenship ceremonies on January 26, following debate and a vote on the “divisive” issue.


Dec 06, 2023, updated Dec 06, 2023
Prospect Town Hall. © Google Maps

Prospect Town Hall. © Google Maps

At its November 28 meeting, the council voted to hold its January citizenship ceremony on a business day three days before or after January 26.

Five councillors voted for the motion, while councillors Jason Nelson and Lillian Hollitt voted against it.

The council agenda recommended the change, highlighting the logistical difficulties of holding citizenship ceremonies on a public holiday and noting that from “a social perspective, there are varying views amongst community around 26 January and its significance within Australian history, with some viewing it as a day of celebration and others a day of mourning”.

Councillor Mark Groote, who chaired the meeting but did not vote, said he supported the motion because it meant the council was listening to First Nations’ voices.

“This is such a divisive issue and if nothing else that we’re listening to our First Nations people, I think for me that’s actually quite enough,” he said.

“It’s also not a financial decision. I think a thousand dollars is… immaterial for our budget really, so for me that’s not a consideration.”

Councillor Hollitt spoke against the motion, saying she took issue with the council feeling pressured to change the date.

“It’s not just the dissension out there, but I feel too [that] it diminishes the significance, the importance of Australia Day and possibly the citizenship ceremony too by changing the date,” she said.

“The ceremony and Australia Day share the same kind of values, the coming together, aspiring to have this future together regardless of your race, heritage, nationality [or] past.”

Councillor Nelson also spoke against the motion, saying that it was significant that citizenship ceremonies were held on January 26 because the Australian Citizenship Act came into effect on that date in 1949.

“This act created Australian citizenship – before that, there was no Australian citizenship,” he said.

“That is what the 26th of January means to me and many others. It is who we are. We are Australians and this definition was born on the 26th of January 1949.”

Councillor Mark Standen supported the shift, saying the process of gaining citizenship rather than the date on which it was was significant to him.

“I wasn’t born an Australian citizen, I became an Australian citizen in 1994 in the building that was here before this one,” he said.

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“I don’t remember the date, [but] the date to me doesn’t really have great significance, the citizenship does.”

Standen said Prospect Council did not hold citizenship ceremonies on January 26 before the Morrison Government mandated the date in 2019.

In December 2022, the Albanese government relaxed rules to allow councils to hold citizenship ceremonies three days before or after Australia Day.

Councillor Thuy Nguyen said that she was initially against the motion but decided to support it after consulting the Payinthi Kumangka Steering Group, which advised the council on Indigenous issues.

“There’s so many different perspectives and arguments to this issue and I think whichever way we decide, I think we’ll be criticised,” she said.

“We have to make a decision and I feel that initially my decision was to not support this motion, but I think about the Kumangka Group and their existence and their involvement with Council, and this is a group of people that have said to us that they believe that it shouldn’t be on this day. I’m basing my vote on that.”

In a statement to InDaily, the council said the “primary motivation” for the date change “addresses the pragmatic issues of cost and staff time, whilst also allowing the community the freedom to observe 26 January in a manner that is most fitting and respectful to them and one that aligns with their own values”.

“To ensure ratepayer voices were heard regarding the date of January citizenship ceremonies, we conducted a survey which asked our community ‘Do you support Council observing its January citizenship ceremonies in the week leading up to 26 January?’ Nearly 60 per cent of respondents were in favour,” it said.

“Additionally, we also consulted extensively with our Kaurna community reference group, who expressed their preference for holding ceremonies on an alternate date to 26 January.”

Adelaide City Council is also considering holding its citizenship ceremonies on January 25 due to the costs of doing so on a public holiday.

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