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Yarra Council has voted unanimously to move Australia Day citizenship ceremonies

Rose Johnstone

In an Australian first, the Yarra Council has voted unanimously to change the way they mark the country's national day. Not only will they stop referring to January 26 as Australia Day as of now, but they will also move the date of their annual citizenship ceremony.  

According to Yarra mayor Cr Amanda Stone, the decision to bring the issue to a council vote comes out of a series of conversations and collaboration with the local Indigenous community. "The overwhelming sentiment from our Aboriginal community is that January 26 is a date of sadness, trauma and distress. They have told us that this is not a day of celebration, but a day of mourning," said Cr Stone in today's announcement

The council also conduced a survey of nearly 300 non-Aboriginal people in Yarra – of which 78.6 per cent supported the idea of an event on January 26 acknowledging Aboriginal experiences. Last night (Tue Aug 15), council members, and people from the local community gathered for the vote, where community figures like Ros Sultan expressed why they felt this change would be an important step towards greater respect for Australia's Indigenous communities. 

Cr Stone made it known that the council officially supports the growing #changethedate campaign. "A celebration of national identity should be inclusive of all Australians," she said. "26 January is not an appropriate date because it marks the beginning of British colonisation and the loss of culture, language and land for Australia's First Peoples. People can still have their barbecues and parties... but I hope our stance encourages people to stop and think about what this date really means in the history of our nation."

You can read the full list of changes to January 26 on the council website. From next year, they will also be holding a "small-scale, culturally sensitive event featuring a Smoking Ceremony on January 26 that acknowledges the loss of culture, language and identity felt by Aboriginal community", and will also be lobbying state government departments to "promote education about the Aboriginal community's pain and disconnection with Australia on January 26 in the wider community".

While the decision from Yarra Council has been applauded by members of the local community, supporters of the #changethedate campaign and public figures like Karl Stefanovic, it has been slammed by prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who told The Age that he is "deeply disappointed" by it, adding: "It is an attack on the values that Australia Day celebrates: "freedom, a fair go, mateship and diversity... the council is using a day that should unite Australians to divide Australians." Federal assistant minister for immigration Alex Hawke has also criticised the change, and warned "Greens-dominated councils" that if they refused to comply with the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code they could lose their right to host the ceremonies altogether. Countering this argument, Cr Stone said that there is no code that stipulates that citizenship ceremonies must be held on January 26.

The Yarra Council's decision is one part of the larger groundswell of support for the #changethedate campaign. Last year's Invasion Day rally saw tens of thousands of people taking to the streets of cities across the whole country.

"I feel like the country is ready." Read what Briggs and Trials – AKA hip hop duo A.B. Original – had to say about January 26.

Get to know the deadly Indigenous Melburnians shaping the future of our city.

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