Yarra Mayor defends Australia Day decision

The Mayor of Melbourne’s Yarra City has vigorously defended the Council’s decision to refrain from official references to ‘Australia Day’, in an interview with Lamourette Folly and Dominique Russell. 

“It was definitely the right thing to do,” Cr Amanda Stone told Hatch.

“As the mayor of the City of Yarra it’s important for me that we are inclusive as what we do as a council.

“By holding celebrations on January 26th we are excluding an important part of our community. We want to be inclusive, and we want everybody to be able to celebrate our national identity.”

Yesterday’s unanimous Council decision was based on wide-ranging consultations with indigenous residents of the inner Melbourne region.

It has been met with both backlash and praise from locals and the wider Australian community.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has banned Yarra from hosting citizenship ceremonies, and told Parliament the Council was “using a day that should unite Australians to divide Australians”.

“To change the date of Australia Day would be to turn our back on Australian values,” he said.

Cr Stone disagreed, saying: “We’re not changing the date of Australia Day. We are not instructing people on how to spend January the 26th.”

“I know that a lot of people don’t understand the Aboriginal perspective and what this day means to them and I’m really confident that if people did understand, most people have compassion in their hearts when they are really given the information,” she added.

Australia Day has been a national holiday since 1994. It has drawn growing criticism every year from Indigenous Australians and been labelled ‘invasion day’ by many, as it marks the date of British settlement in 1788.

The Mayor said she would be meeting with Alex Hawke, Assistant Minister of Border Protection and Immigration, whom she said had formally issued the citizenship ceremony ban.

“I wish we could have had that conversation before he jumped in to issue the ban, but I will be encouraging him to listen to our point of view,” she said.

Cr Stone admits that the Council has been contacted by many frustrated and angry locals and people outside Yarra, but says there has been equivalent, if not more, positive feedback on the move.

“Some of the conversations I’ve had, people have demonstrated that they didn’t really understand this issue till now,” she said.

Many critics of the move have asked whether the Council will still take a day off work on the Australia Day public holiday.

Cr Stone said that they will operate as they do on any other public holiday, that is, by closing their offices, and staff who were entitled to public holidays would not be working – but that regular out-of-hours services would continue as usual. 

“That suggestion is not understanding what we’re doing,” she said. “We’re acknowledging that it’s a public holiday, it’s a federally imposed public holiday. We can’t change that.”

“We want everyone to be able to celebrate our national identity, and we need to find a date that we can do that on, and I think it’s really a discussion we need to have as a nation.”

Story and video by Dominique Russell and Lamourette Folly. Feature image by Dominique Russell.