Citizenship ceremonies set to remain on Australia Day

By Thomas Moir

The City of Greater Shepparton appears to be committed to continue hosting citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day, as two councillors say they have not heard any discussion to suggest otherwise.

This comes as councils will be forced to organise citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day in a Morrison government move aimed at locking in January 26 as the national day.

‘‘New citizens should be given the opportunity to become an Australian on our national day,’’ Immigration Minister David Coleman said.

‘‘While most councils already hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day, becoming an Australian on our national day is a great privilege and I want more people to have that opportunity.’’

At a regional level, councillor and Ethnic Council of Shepparton manager Chris Hazelman said the city had traditionally had citizenship ceremonies on January 26.

‘‘For such a culturally diverse community as ours, it’s been a highlight,’’ Cr Hazelman said.

‘‘The look of joy of those becoming citizens, it’s fantastic... it’s part of the day.’’

Cr Hazelman said he understood the active move away from Australia Day in other municipalities, but said that was another entirely different debate.

‘‘I haven’t seen any discussion or initiative to make changes at a local level here,’’ he said.

‘‘I’ve seen no push, suggestion or initiative to say we should do something different.’’

Under changes to the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code to be introduced in the first half of this year, councils must host a second citizenship ceremony on September 17 — Australian Citizenship Day.

Forcing councils to have the ceremonies on Australia Day comes after a handful of municipalities voted to move citizenship events out of respect for indigenous people.

‘‘If some councils as we’ve seen want to play games, well, you don’t have to run citizenship ceremonies, other arrangements will be made,’’ Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

‘‘But we will not undermine Australia’s national day.’’

Cr Hazelman believed the move had the potential to generate further division around the nation’s national day, arguing it could ‘‘polarise views’’ and ‘‘bring out of the woodwork those who have an axe to grind about Australia Day’’.

Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino said: ‘‘I think this is more to do with the federal election than with the Morrison government respecting our country.’’

A strict dress code for ceremonies will also be introduced banning board shorts and thongs.

‘‘I’m a prime minister for standards,’’ Mr Morrison said.

Mayor Kim O’Keeffe echoed that the council was set to continue to have Australia Day citizenship ceremonies.

‘‘We will continue to do what we’ve been doing,’’ Cr O’Keeffe said.

‘‘We have a lot of people who come to our (Australia Day) ceremony day.

‘‘The focus is to continue to be united.’’

However, Cr O’Keeffe said she did not see dress code at citizenship ceremonies as an issue.

‘‘We’ve never had any issues,’’ she said.

She said whether hosting ceremonies on the night before or the day following January 26, it remained close and was as such connected to Australia Day.

‘‘To me, it’s just pulling it apart across that date,’’ she said.

— with AAP