Senate debates

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Regulations and Determinations

Citizenship (Authorisation) Revocation and Authorisation Instrument 2017, Citizenship (Authorisation) Revocation and Authorisation Amendment Instrument 2017; Disallowance

4:00 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of the disallowance motion before us. The motion will disallow a regulation that a very petty government has put forward in order to bully local governments out of making their own democratic choices as to when they want to celebrate their citizenship ceremonies. Local councils to take great pride in these ceremonies. As a senator for South Australia, I have attended many of them, including in my local council area in the city of Mitcham. It's one of the most delightful things that we get to do as senators. You talk to and listen to the stories of people who have actively chosen to make Australia their home. I must say that, when I'm there and in that moment, hearing their stories and hearing the passion from individuals about why they have taken up citizenship in Australia, it makes me feel a little bit sad that I didn't ever get the opportunity to choose to become an Australian; I just am. As many of us are, I was lucky enough to be born in this country and, as a result, am an Australian citizen, but sometimes I think how nice it would be to have actively chosen to become part of this great nation and part of the Australian community.

When you hear the stories of why people have chosen to become Australian citizens and the passion with which they speak about their decision—they often come to join family or bring their family with them—it's often one of the best reminders of what makes our country great. I love Australia. I think it is the best country in the world, and I love hearing why people from other corners of the globe love this country too. One of the reasons why Australia is such a great nation is that we have a proud history of welcoming others, of helping each other out, of looking after each other and of making sure that, when somebody is a little bit full of themselves, we remind them that we're all equal. We have so many great Australianisms that make us a unique, vibrant and safe place.

I have been reflecting on why the government has decided to try and bully these local councils out of their decision not to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day. It is because, in reflecting on what makes Australia a great country and as a community and a group of citizens on why we all love dearly to be Australian, these councils have bravely taken the opportunity to say that every person in Australia deserves to be able to celebrate being a member of the Australian community together on the same day. We know that 26 January is not a day that can be celebrated by everyone and never will be a day that can be celebrated by everybody. That is because it is a day that is very, very reminiscent and symbolic of the day that the British invaded this country. And it marked the beginning of the slaughter and the genocide of First Australians. We've been debating the issue of changing the date of Australia Day in this country ever since 26 January was chosen to be our national day. Back in 1938, in the first year that Australia Day was marked as a national day of celebration, there was a very live debate about whether this day was the most appropriate. Indigenous communities and leaders of First Australian communities stood up in 1938 and said, 'This is not a day that we can feel part of, that we can celebrate and that enables us to be included in the progress of our nation.' They begged the rest of the community leaders to choose a different day—one that was more unifying.

Decades and decades on, we are still having this debate. Some people say we shouldn't worry about this, that Indigenous Australians should just get over it. Some of the most offensive comments of racism and dismissal of generations of being disenfranchised, of genocide, have been simply used as an excuse not to have this debate in this place or even in the public eye. This year, when local councils decided that they would choose a different day to celebrate Australia Day, a different day to celebrate being part of the wonderful Australian community, it caused a massive political stoush. And the ideological warriors from the right-wing corners of the politics in this place raised their ugly head, and we saw some of the most offensive comments about how Aboriginal and Indigenous and First Australians should simply get over the history, suck it up, and we can all move on and pretend that Australia Day being celebrated on 26 January is okay. Well, it's absolutely not.

We heard from Senator Pauline Hanson, the leader of One Nation—that people were being too precious and that of course we should be celebrating Australia Day on 26 January because it was the day of Federation. Wrong! It is not the day of Federation, Senator Hanson. In fact, the day of Federation would be a great day for us to celebrate as our national day of unity. The day of Federation—for those of you playing at home—is 1 January.

I think we're mature enough as a nation to be able to have this discussion. I think we should be embracing this debate. But the tactics from the government of bullying two local councils out of making their own choice about holding citizenship ceremonies on a day other than 26 January just shows how afraid of this debate the government is. Why on earth is the federal government getting involved in trying to dictate whether local councils can hold citizenship ceremonies and the days on which they are held? Haven't they got better things to do with their time than bullying small, local councils out of choosing what days they hold events?

Obviously not, but that is because this is more of an ideological and cultural war. This government is so obsessed with dividing groups in the community.

When I think about Australia Day, I think about celebrating as a nation the various, diverse and rich tapestries of our different communities and the success of Australia being a multicultural nation. I think about that picture of the two young girls from Melbourne who proudly wore their headscarves with their Australian flags in their hands. I think about Australia's soldiers, returned from places like Afghanistan and Iraq, who have harrowing stories to tell but amazing stories of mateship and community, of young men and women who have been told that they can't talk about the horrors that they saw when they were there and that those young men and women have a right to feel part of this community as well. I think about the young Indigenous kids in my home state of South Australia who every year make an effort to feel part of and included in the Australian community. But that Australia Day is not the Australia Day we've currently got. We can't do that on 26 January when we know that Indigenous Australians, our first people, can't and won't be able to celebrate and feel included on a day that symbolises murder, slaughter, genocide and generations of discrimination and racism.

What I hate seeing is the pseudonationalists who drape themselves in the Australian flag, wear the flag as balaclavas and run around pretending as though they represent our great nation. If you want to talk about what is offensive when it comes to Australia Day, it's a bunch of drunk blokes running around wearing Australian flags as balaclavas, espousing racism and bigotry. That doesn't make us proud to be Australian. It doesn't make me proud to celebrate Australia Day when I see behaviour like that. I don't think it would make any of us proud.

But, of course, what we have here from the government is that they don't want to participate in this debate. They want to bully local governments and stir the ideological pot. They don't want to take on racism and bigotry. They want to shut down the democratic rights of local councils to make their own decisions. It's just pathetic.

If we're worried about people understanding, recognising and celebrating Australian history, how about we start with educating people in the Senate like Senator Hanson, the leader of One Nation, who thinks that Australia Day is the day of Federation. Well, it's not. Senator Hanson has just walked into the chamber, so I've decided to remind her that—through you, Acting Deputy President Williams—Federation is 1 January, not 26 January.

This is an important national conversation that we should be having about changing the date of Australia Day. It's a debate that started in 1938. It hasn't gone away and it won't go away. The date of Australia Day will change. It will change. It's not a matter of what or if; it's simply a matter of when.

4:15 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this disallowance motion. It's a disallowance motion because the motion to try to overturn the legitimate democratic decision of the cities of Yarra and Darebin to hold citizenship ceremonies on the days that they want to hold citizenship ceremonies—the attempt by government to do that—is complete overreach by the federal government. It is an insult to local government, it is vindictive and it is bullying. It's basically our government saying: 'We don't like what you, the cities of Darebin and Yarra, are doing here. We are going to do what's in our power to try to turn that around.' Well, the government should not have the right to do that, and if this disallowance motion is successful today, this Senate will be saying, 'They don't have the right to do that.'

Local government is a tier of government in its own right, and it has the power to hold citizenship ceremonies. The power to hold citizenship ceremonies is vested in local governments. This attempt to overrule that is basically saying, 'You local governments, you'll just do as you are told,' and that is not right. I speak as someone who spent six years in local government. I was a councillor and then I was Mayor of the City of Maribyrnong. It's incredibly important to people who are involved in local government to be recognised as a tier of government and to have the same rights as state and federal governments.

Our colleagues in the cities of Yarra and Darebin have made a decision after talking with their local communities. As to whether to celebrate citizenship ceremonies and whether to celebrate 26 January as Australia Day is a conversation that this country needs to have. Certainly, within their local government areas, they know that this is something that their communities are on side with. And it's important to note that it's not just the cities of Yarra and Darebin. The regulation that we are moving to disallow today explicitly specifies just Yarra and Darebin. It is vindictiveness and really going in for the kill of those two. It specifies that the mayor can't hold citizenship ceremonies, that the deputy mayor can't, that the general manager can't and that the CEO can't.

But it's not just Yarra and Darebin that we're talking about here. I know from my conversations and from talking to people right across Victoria—in fact, right across the country—but particularly within the councils across metropolitan Melbourne, that this is a very live debate. It's a very live debate across Australia—in fact, so much so that this isn't something that has just sprung out of the councils of Yarra and Darebin, in my patch. It's something that is bubbling up all over the country, because it's about the issue of respecting Indigenous Australians. It's about saying that we're celebrating our national day on a day which, for them, is Invasion Day, a day of mourning and a day of marking the huge change and the huge disruption to their way of life and their wellbeing. That is the conversation that's being had and that needs to be had.

In fact, so much is this conversation being held around the country that, at the Australian Local Government Association conference on 20 June this year, the Australian Local Government Association, the ALGA, moved a motion to encourage Australian councils to consider the efforts they could make to lobby the federal government to change the date of Australia Day. That was the ALGA. It represents local governments all across the country. That was the ALGA, which is represented on the Council of Australian Governments. That is the significance of this movement to have this conversation about changing the date of Australia Day. That's how much importance, how much significance, it has in our community today.

That motion was moved by the Lord Mayor of the City of Hobart, Alderman Sue Hickey. Again, it didn't come out of inner Melbourne; it came out of Tasmania. In fact, I've just been told that Alderman Sue Hickey has just been endorsed as one of the Liberal candidates for the seat of Denison at the state election. So it's not just a Greens thing here. I know that there is a lot of support amongst the Labor Party for having this conversation in the community. There is clearly a lot of support from the Liberal Party, from the government side of politics, as well. So for the government to say, 'No, we are just going to use these heavy-handed tactics to shut down Yarra and Darebin,' is just so wrong.

Why is this important? That's what I want to move on to covering. Why is it so important that Yarra and Darebin said, 'We want to shift our citizenship ceremonies away from 26 January'? I can speak from experience. As my colleague Senator Hanson-Young said, as senators we get to attend citizenship ceremonies, and they are one of the most joyous parts of the job of being a senator. But even more so, as a councillor and as a mayor, representing the city, putting on those citizenship ceremonies for your local community is an incredibly empowering and an incredible positive thing—welcoming those new local residents as Australians. In Maribyrnong, we used to have about six or seven, sometimes eight, citizenship ceremonies every year because we had so many new residents becoming citizens. In fact, Yarra and Darebin too probably have four, five or six ceremonies a year. So it's not just on Australia Day that they have these citizenship ceremonies, but the Australia Day ones are seen as being the special ones because Australia Day is the day that we are meant to be celebrating coming together as Australians. The year that I was mayor—I knew that it was quite a significant thing to be standing up and giving a speech, as mayor of a council, at an Australia Day citizenship ceremony—I was incredibly torn because I knew that Australia Day wasn't a day that brought all Australians together.

At these citizenship ceremonies, almost always, across local government, we have an acknowledgement of country. There's often now a welcome to country by the local Indigenous custodians of the land. We are recognising and acknowledging the Indigenous history of Australia, and yet we are holding these ceremonies on a day which is so problematic. It is a day which is divisive, a day which, in saying, 'This is Australia Day,' is perpetuating the myth of terra nullius. It's perpetuating the myth that the invasion of Australia was done peacefully, when we know that it wasn't. We know that Australia has a very dark history. For us to be able to move on, we've got to acknowledge that history, and we cannot acknowledge that history while saying that 26 January is the appropriate day to be celebrating our national day.

I want to quote Senator Eric Abetz. When this all blew up a few months ago, he said, in media commentary:

Australia Day is about bringing together all Australians from all walks of life to reflect on our history and look to the future with optimism …

I agree with Senator Abetz. I think that is a great intention for what we should be able to achieve on Australia Day. That, in itself, is why it is inappropriate for Australia Day to be on 26 January.

I love Australia. I love celebrating Australia. I think it is entirely appropriate that we have a celebration of Australia, but we need to change the date. It needs to be shifted from 26 January. I think it's quite appropriate to acknowledge the significance of 26 January. It was the day that the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay. But I think we should acknowledge it as that. We should acknowledge it as Anniversary Day or Foundation Day. It was once considered to be Anniversary Day, before it was given the title of Australia Day. We should acknowledge it as that, but we need to find a different date to celebrate us coming together as Australians. Anyone who reads our history and who looks back at our history and at the interaction and the process that occurred with the settlement of Australia knows that marking 26 January, as the beginning of that, is marking a very dark beginning for first Australians.

I recently read the book Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe, which I really recommend to you if you haven't read it. It outlines what was lost with the beginning of the white settlement of Australia; the wars that were held; the deaths; the massacres; the disease. There were really complex technologies, there were settlements, there was agriculture, and there were villages and towns of thousands of people, in some cases, which have been wiped from our history, unacknowledged, because we have a myth of our history now which says, 'Oh, no, we had this peaceful settlement; white Australians arrived and Aboriginal Australians just sort of said, "Yes, we're happy to let you be here."' But that wasn't the case, and there is more than enough historical evidence to show that that wasn't the case. This is what happened. It was our history. We can't deny it.

We need to work out how we can move forward to make reparations. The best way of moving forward, and the only way of moving forward, is to acknowledge that that was our history, and to acknowledge that there are still repercussions from that history that are rippling out to today, and to say, 'Yes, we know that that happened. Now we are going to work with the first Australians.' We want to work for justice. We want to work for sovereignty. We want to work for treaties. We want to work with the first Australians for self-determination for Aboriginal Australians. We need to acknowledge that, and acknowledging that 26 January is not the day to celebrate our national day is a critical part of doing that. We need to have reparations. We need to have the makarrata. We need to bring people together. This is how we can move forward as Australians.

If we're able to find a different date and find something that can genuinely bring everyone together—Indigenous Australians, non-Indigenous Australians and people of every background who all can come together and celebrate Australia for all of the wonderful things that we know there are in Australia—then we will be a better nation. We will then truly be able to say that we truly respect everyone in this country and that we are not denying our history—that we are not denying what's occurred in the past.

How do we choose the right date? I don't know. That's the conversation that we need to have. But the statement that the cities of Yarra and Darebin—and there will be other councils after them—are making is, 'Let's have this conversation.' The beginning of this conversation is to say, 'Let's not pretend that we can celebrate how good it is to be an Australian on 26 January.' So choosing to not have citizenship ceremonies on 26 January is something that local government is able to do. It's empowering to local government. It's empowering through listening to all of their communities and to the people who recognise that this is the conversation that Australia needs to have. By doing that, we can begin to move forward.

So I really commend this disallowance motion to the Senate. Again, it's a statement that we can make that we don't want to continue on with the racism that is inherent in celebrating Australia Day on 26 January and we want to be able to move forward and celebrate Australia on a different date. So I would really encourage everyone to support this, both because we don't want to override the legitimate rights of local governments to be able to choose their own way forward on this and because, as a federal government, we can give them support for doing that. I would prefer us to be taking actions that actually celebrate the fact that the cities of Yarra and Darebin have taken this step and other councils like Moreland and Port Phillip in Melbourne are also talking about this. Hobart is also having this conversation. We as a federal parliament should be celebrating that and we should be encouraging more communities across the country to have those conversations and supporting the Australian Local Government Association and other local government associations all across the country to move forward and to have these conversations.

That's what we should be doing: having the federal government working together with our state governments and with local governments all across the country, suggesting that they also reach out to their community, have the conversation and invite conversations with the Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous communities to bring groups together. Imagine having the resources of federal, state and local governments all working together to be encouraging conversations at Rotary clubs, at sporting clubs and in school communities about what it means to be Australian and how we should recognise that and celebrate that in a way that is truly inclusive. Until we have this debate and this conversation, we are going to just continue to be stuck in the same sorts of divisiveness that we've had over the last years.

We've got examples from all around the world. We've got the South African reconciliation process. We know that here in Australia we have stopped. We have taken some small steps forward, but we haven't gone the whole way, and that's what we need to do. Until we do that, we are going to be lesser people. Until we do that, we know that we really have this unfinished business here in Australia and that we can't truly celebrate having a fully inclusive Australia. I can't feel, personally, that Australia is genuinely inclusive and genuinely recognises the rights and the aspirations of all Australians until we have reached that situation of justice for Aboriginal Australians, because we have that history. We've got to acknowledge that history. We've got to be able to acknowledge that history, to recognise the damage that's been done and to work out how to move forward from here.

In conclusion, I think the right of local government, as a tier of government, to make these decisions in their own right is critical, and I see this move, the move to change the date, as being a really important step forward. Both of these things are why it is so important that we pass this disallowance motion today and then move forward as a community and as a parliament to genuinely embrace and support the rights, the aspirations and justice for Indigenous Australia.

Debate adjourned.