Councils Should Keep out of Australia Day Debate, Say WA Mayors

WA mayors have pushed back against a Greens campaign to dump Australia Day celebrations on January 26, saying party politics has no place in local government.

As the Greens revealed it had enlisted star power to help in its anti-Australia Day campaign, WA councils said they should focus on delivering services to ratepayers and leave decisions about changing the date of Australia Day to the Federal Government.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale this week pledged the Federal party’s support and resources to Greens councillors if they launched campaigns to shift local government celebrations out of respect for Aboriginal people.

The call to arms was slammed by many on both sides of politics, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who yesterday accused Opposition Leader Bill Shorten of being silent on the issue. Mr Shorten has previously said he supported keeping Australia Day on the anniversary of the First Fleet’s arrival.

Former Home and Away actress Isabelle Lucas has joined the Greens’ push, appearing in a video in which she says, “Now’s the time to change the date of Australia Day”. Veteran Australia actor Tony Barry also appears.

The Greens campaign has received a mostly cool reception from WA mayors, with Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi saying changing the date of Australia Day was a matter for the Federal Government, not local government.

“It is important local government councils and councillors remain apolitical, and State or Federal political parties should not attempt to influence council decisions or lobby for favourable outcomes,” she said.

Bayswater deputy mayor Chris Cornish echoed Ms Scaffidi’s words, saying any discussion “needs to happen at a national level following extensive community debate”.

At WA’s biggest council, the City of Stirling, mayor Mark Irwin said local governments’ focus “should remain on providing better customer service and quality infrastructure and services to ratepayers and residents”.

City of Armadale mayor Henry Zelones said local Aboriginal elders had told him they were happy with the status quo and he would continue to listen to them.

Claremont mayor Jock Barker said Senator Di Natale would be better off looking at “matters that actually affect Aboriginal people in their day-to-day lives”.

An Australian flag on display.

“I see it as simply a cynical, headline-grabbing exercise for which the Greens are noted rather than appropriately seeking actually do something positive to assist Aboriginal people,” he said.

The City of Fremantle last year became the first WA council to move its Australia Day celebrations from January 26. A handful of councils nationwide have also made the switch.

Most WA councils have reaffirmed their intention to retain the official date for celebrations and citizenship ceremonies.

The City of Cockburn has commissioned talks with the Aboriginal community about activities at Australia Day celebrations.

Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt said the port city’s decision was “very much driven and initiated by feedback we got from Aboriginal leaders in our community”.

He said it was an issue he had not considered until about 18 months ago when he was challenged on it. He said he expected to see change but it would happen slowly.