Melbourne's Yarra Council drops Australia Day ceremonies despite warning from Turnbull government

A Melbourne council has voted to stop referring to January 26 as Australia Day in a move that has come under immediate fire from the state and federal governments.

Yarra City councillors on Tuesday night voted to stop referring to January 26 as Australia Day and to cease holding any citizenship ceremonies on that day from 2018.

Premier Daniel Andrews and Federal Assistant Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke attacked the decision, with Mr Hawke warning "Greens-dominated councils" could be banned from hosting citizenship ceremonies.

Despite pressure from the federal government against such a move, Yarra councillors voted unanimously.

Melbourne's Yarra Council will stop referring to January 26 as Australia Day. Photo: Craig Sillitoe

Melbourne's Yarra Council will stop referring to January 26 as Australia Day. Photo: Craig Sillitoe

All clauses passed unamended despite some fiery submissions from a few people in the audience who said the council hadn't surveyed the community widely enough.

Councillor Mi-Lin Chen Yi Mei, who brought the motion forward, said it was an important move because the day was not inclusive.

"It's really an opportunity to engage with the community and to educate them on Indigenous affairs," she told the meeting.

Councillors said January 26 was the wrong day for a celebration and a party.

Assistant Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke sent a letter to councils across the country on Tuesday warning that if they stopped complying with the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code they would lose their hosting rights.

"The government views the recent public actions of Greens-dominated councils, using their ability to host Australian citizenship ceremonies to lobby against Australia Day on January 26 as a breach of the Code," he said in a statement.

"As long as Australia Day is celebrated on 26 January, this is a most appropriate date for a citizenship ceremony to take place.

"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."

Yarra Council voted to:

  • Refer to Australia Day as "January 26" until another "more appropriate" term is adopted nationally;
  • Stop holding citizenship ceremonies on January 26; 
  • Hold a "small-scale, culturally-sensitive event featuring a smoking ceremony that acknowledges the loss of culture, language and identity felt by Aboriginal community on January 26";
  • Adopt a "communications plan that focuses on broader community education to help people better understand Aboriginal community experiences of January 26";
  • Officially support the #changethedate campaign in council publications and on social media;
  • Consider ways to lobby the federal government to change the date of Australia Day.

Earlier, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the move from the council was unnecessary.

"You can celebrate what modern Australia is and citizenship ceremonies are a big part of that — it's truly a magical thing," he told the ABC.

"I don't think anybody should be trying to diminish that."

"I think we get the balance right [on Australia Day]. We respect the traditional owners of our land, but we then get on in a really unified way."

Mayor Amanda Stone said she can't find any requirement in the code for councils to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day.

"The code actually says you shouldn't use a ceremony to promote a political agenda or a religious agenda or commercial agenda," she said.

"We wouldn't be intending to do that. We are simply considering changing when we hold our first citizenship ceremony of the year."

Yarra City usually holds citizenship ceremonies every two months and Cr Stone said they would continue to do so.

Ms Stone said councillors took into consideration the ministers' warning before Tuesday night's vote, but all decided a bold move for change was required.

Yarra City Council takes in the inner-northern and eastern suburbs of Melbourne including  Carlton North, Abbotsford, Collingwood, Fitzroy and Richmond.

- with AAP