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

12:20 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm a co-sponsor of this disallowance motion. Before I start, I would like to acknowledge the first peoples of our nation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and acknowledge that they are the first peoples of these lands and waters and that the Australian Greens recognise that 26 January is a day of mourning for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This land was never ceded. We acknowledge that the issues around sovereignty and treaty have never been dealt with in this country, and it is high time that we as a nation acknowledge these issues, that the land was not ceded and that we have a great deal of unfinished business.

The Greens' policy very strongly supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and we strongly support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are calling for a change to the date of Australia Day. Many Aboriginal people see 26 January, which is currently marked as Australia Day, as in fact Invasion Day. The first Day of Mourning held by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was on 26 January 1938. That was the official day. That was the 150th anniversary, for them, of British invasion. Interestingly, it was only three years earlier that all Australian states and territories commenced using the name Australia Day to mark 26 January, and it was not until 1994 that there was consistently a public holiday on that date.

We will never be truly reconciled as a nation while we put Australia Day on a date that is seen as a day of dispossession and invasion and that Aboriginal people officially claim as a day of mourning. As I said, this date was first marked officially for the Aboriginal community in 1938. In other words, for all those people who think that there is just a group of people that are suddenly trying to change the date because it's fashionable, let me tell you that this has long been marked as a day of invasion for many, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Turnbull government first threatened to ban citizenship ceremonies in Fremantle, in my home state, at the end of last year, when the City of Fremantle rekickstarted an important conversation about cultural inclusivity. This is the same Turnbull government that say that they want to listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. They've claimed with their heart on their sleeve several times that they are committed to listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and that they need to follow their lead. Well, I'm sorry; that is not worth the paper it is written on when you consider their response to councils and local government authorities who have listened to their communities, have held discussions and are actually enacting what their local communities have asked them to do. So the government that say, 'We are listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,' is the same government that are now trying to stop citizenship ceremonies being carried out by local governments that do not want to mark Australia Day on 26 January because they have listened to their communities and are aware that many of the members of their communities are in fact concerned about it and also want to celebrate Australia Day on a day that is not the day that Aboriginal people see as the day of dispossession and invasion.

This is a conversation that we need to have. It was kickstarted in 1938 and has been ignored for many years so this is a continuation of a conversation that should have been held by now. Unfortunately it hasn't been. The Australian Greens commended the City of Fremantle for re-engaging in this conversation and for listening to the requests made by local Aboriginal leaders to change the date and put on culturally inclusive celebrations on 28 January. While the City of Fremantle was the first council to take action on the increasingly louder calls to respect those for whom 26 January represents a tragedy, not a celebration, the change in Fremantle was a huge success. Other councils could see the benefits of this and so have been listening to their communities and have been moving towards a day that is more inclusive. The day in Fremantle, 28 January, was a huge success and the City of Fremantle was congratulated by its local community.

The City of Hobart was then the next to start a local conversation with its community about Australia Day in their city. In August this year the City of Yarra, which represents Melbourne's inner north-east, made the unanimous decision to change the way it marks 26 January following months of consultation with the local Aboriginal community and the broader Yarra community. The Turnbull government responded by revoking the council's power to hold citizenship ceremonies at any time of the year. The City of Darebin became the second council to be stripped of its powers to hold citizenship ceremonies after it decided that 26 January was not an appropriate day for an inclusive national celebration. And then it was told that it would no longer be able to hold citizenship ceremonies on 26 January. The Turnbull government's response was the same—again, a government that say they want to listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Unfortunately, they are obviously not using their ears to listen, because what was their response? They would stop those local governments that have consulted their communities, that have listened to Aboriginal communities and have responded by saying, 'Yes, we want to mark 26 January in a different way.'

The actions of these two councils helped spark a passionate national conversation about Australia Day, with people on both sides of the issues talking to the media and speaking out. They have also been talking about the role of councils in addressing issues of national importance. This is an issue of national importance and one that affects local communities. Obviously local communities have strong ideas and strong feelings about it and feel that they want to listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are saying, 'Please respect what we are saying. Please respect that this is not a day for celebration for us, that we want an inclusive celebration.'

And I should point out here that people are not objecting to celebrating Australia Day and celebrating this fabulous country. What they're objecting to is celebrating it on a day which Aboriginal people call and see as a day of mourning, a day of dispossession. I would like to note here the comment I started my contribution with, and that is: we have unresolved business, unfinished business, in this country. So not only have we not dealt with this unfinished business, but we add insult to injury by celebrating this great country on a day that constantly reminds Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of their dispossession and of that unfinished business—of the fact that we are not a reconciled nation.

The councils that have had the courage to take these actions have shown leadership by acting on their convictions and having celebrations that ensure that their communities are more inclusive and respectful communities that truly want to be inclusive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is unfortunate that they have been treated with contempt by this government and had their autonomy over citizenship ceremonies removed. Councils have shown leadership in moving away from celebrating our nation on 26 January. They should not be punished by having their ability to hold citizenship ceremonies taken away. As the mayor of Darebin council, Councillor Kim Le Cerf, said:

Darebin Council hosts large, lively and joyous citizenship ceremonies all year round and we very much wish to continue doing so, just not on January 26.

So here we have a council that celebrates citizenship that, as they said, holds joyous, lively citizenship ceremonies. They also want to celebrate this great country. They want to celebrate the inclusive nature of this country. But they don't want to do it on a day that hurts many of their community members. This decision disadvantages new residents waiting to become citizens, and it makes no sense, as Councillor Kim Le Cerf said. It does make no sense. It is a punitive, top-down attack on local government—you can see it as nothing else—by a government that has turned its back on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, who have said: 'This is not the appropriate day to be celebrating Australia Day.'

In June this year the National General Assembly of Local Government passed a motion, 64 to 62, that urges all local councils to lobby the federal government on changing the date for Australia Day. In short, this means that just over half of Australia's councils are open to changing the date to be more inclusive. This is not just a few councils; this is over half of the local councils around Australia saying, 'We want to start talking about changing the date of Australia Day.' This is a significant motion to come out of the #NGA17 conference and shows a significant shift by local councils that are aligning themselves with the community view that Australia Day should be for everyone, including our first peoples.

The government needs to wake up to the changing discourse around Australia Day. They need to show some leadership and start leading the discussion on this. They are on the wrong side of history because history will show us that we will move Australia Day. We will! Get on board with this issue. Support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. And it is not only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that are calling for this, of course; other members of the community are doing so. Members of the CALD community have also been speaking to me about this and saying that they feel uncomfortable celebrating this nation then; they are new citizens and they want to be part of an inclusive society but not at the cost to our first peoples.

The government needs to listen to the community. It needs to engage in the conversations that are happening around Australia about the date of Australia Day. That is our clear message to the government: listen to the community. Don't punish those local governments for listening to their community and showing the leadership that the government should be showing in terms of changing the date. Change the date so that we can all participate in celebrating this great nation.

This great nation has been built on inclusiveness. It has been built, supposedly, on listening to all our citizens; yet they're shutting out our first peoples. They're shutting out the peoples whose land they took. They never negotiated a treaty despite having clear instructions to negotiate with the local peoples. They did not do that. They did not ensure that a treaty was negotiated with our first peoples, as, for example, occurred in New Zealand with the Waitangi treaty—which, I very strongly argue, has helped the Maori people in New Zealand address many of the issues that we are yet to address in this country. Having ignored those instructions, having taken this country and dispossessed our first peoples, having failed to negotiate a treaty or treaties and denied Aboriginal people sovereignty ever since, they continue to slight our first peoples by saying, 'We will celebrate this great nation on a day that causes you pain.'

Not only that, we have failed to establish something like a truth and justice commission, as, for example, occurred in South Africa; failed to negotiate treaties; failed—and are failing—to address Aboriginal disadvantage; failed to ensure that our stolen generations have adequate reparations; failed to implement the groundbreaking recommendations from the Bringing them home report; and failed to implement the majority of the 339 recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. At every stage where we needed to make sure we addressed these issues, this nation has failed.

This government is yet to respond to the Referendum Council's report that was delivered to the government at the end of June. They have failed to address the 'Uluru statement from the heart', which is such a passionate statement and which so eloquently sends a clear message to Australia about our unfinished business. All the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that came together at Uluru sent that clear, passionate, eloquent, strong statement to Australians and to this place about the need to address this unfinished business—for example, the need for a makarrata commission to start addressing issues around a treaty, the need for truth telling, and the need for a voice in the Constitution so that they can reflect, to this parliament, on matters of importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Turnbull government needs to refrain from interfering in local government's business and stopping them holding citizenship ceremonies. It's an outrageous infringement on the right of local councils and local government to hold those ceremonies and the people who wish to become citizens in their communities.

I stand proudly here today to say: we want Australia Day to take place on a day that is not a day of mourning for our first peoples, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples around this country. We want a conversation in our communities around this country so that we can collectively decide on a date where we can celebrate this wonderful country and not marginalise and discriminate against the first nations of this place. We need to ensure that we have a conversation in this place and that we find a day we can truly celebrate this nation that does not cause so much hurt to so many people.

12:40 pm

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

The government opposes the disallowance motion. The Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code provides that citizenship ceremonies are non-commercial, apolitical, bipartisan and secular. They must not be used as forums for political, partisan or religious expression. In August, certain councils passed motions cancelling their Australia Day citizenship ceremonies to protest the practice of holding Australia Day on 26 January. They also endorsed the 'change the date' campaign and defied a warning from the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection that their motion seriously breached the code. Assistant Minister Hawke responded by revoking the councils' authority to preside over citizenship ceremonies. Good!

12:41 pm

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the question be now put.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Senator Hanson, that the question be now put, be agreed to.

Senator Paterson did not vote, to compensate for the vacancy caused by the resignation of Senator Ludlam.

Senator Duniam did not vote, to compensate for the vacancy caused by the resignation of Senator Waters.

12:47 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

It now being 12.45, we move to government business. I advise senators that this matter will be called on again later today, after ministerial statements.