The federal government is giving local councils the flexibility to choose whether or not to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day, allowing them now to be three days before or after January 26.
- The change will come into effect for ceremonies next year
- The government still expects most ceremonies to be held on January 26
- Two Melbourne councils stripped of the ability to hold ceremonies have had it reinstated
The government is changing the code that governs when the ceremonies can be held, meaning from next year they can take place from January 23 to January 29.
Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Andrew Giles also announced that two councils in Melbourne — the City of Yarra and Darebin City Council — would have the ability to hold citizenship ceremonies reinstated.
The councils were stripped of that power by the previous Coalition government in 2017 after both voted to scrap citizenship ceremonies on January 26 in a protest over what the day signifies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Mr Giles described the move as a “pragmatic change”.
“It is the Australian government’s strong expectation that councils conduct ceremonies on January 26,” he said.
“The Australian government implores councils to have new citizens as their key focus, recognising that many community members want to complete their journey to Australian citizenship in connection with Australia Day,” he said.
“The government’s priority is to ensure that, where people have made the choice to become Australia citizens, they are afforded that opportunity in their own communities, with friends and family, in a timely way.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese echoed Mr Giles’ comments, saying the government’s decision was to make sure that regardless of where future-citizens live they will be able to attend a citizenship ceremony in person.
Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Dan Tehan accused Labor of undermining the date’s significance and “laying the groundwork to abolish January 26 as Australia Day”.
“New citizens are taught that Australia Day is our biggest annual public holiday and that the day ‘is about acknowledging and celebrating the contribution that every Australian makes to our contemporary and dynamic nation’,” he said.
“Now the message they are receiving from the Albanese government is that January 26 is no more special than any other day of that week.”
Mr Albanese denied the move was part of a broader plan to move Australia Day to a different date.
The minister said a number of councils had indicated that they wanted to move away from holding the ceremonies on Australia Day because of higher costs for operating on a public holiday, and a desire to include the ceremonies as part of a broader program.
In 2017, Yarra Council voted to hold a small-scale “culturally sensitive” event featuring a smoking ceremony on January 26.