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Controversial Australia Day rule abandoned

Local councils will no longer be required to hold ciizenship ceremonies on Australia Day.

Local councils will no longer be required to hold ciizenship ceremonies on Australia Day. Photo: AAP

Local councils won’t be forced to run citizenship ceremonies on January 26 after Labor scrapped a controversial rule made by Scott Morrison.

The rule introduced by the former prime minister meant any council that didn’t hold ceremonies on that date could be stripped of its right to hold citizenship events, as some Melbourne local governments refused to recognise the national holiday.

Councils can now hold the citizenship ceremonies any time from January 23-29.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese denied the change was the first step toward his government changing the date of Australia Day.

He said the rule change was about removing red tape to allow more people to take part in citizenship ceremonies.

“I support Australia Day, the government supports Australia Day, there are no changes here,” he said in Sydney on Friday.

“The rules, the way they were fashioned, meant that citizens who are not part of the decisions of when ceremonies would be were missing out on becoming Australian citizens.

“We want people to become Australian citizens and that is why we should not place red tape for ideological reasons in front of that opportunity.”

But the opposition said Labor was undermining the significance of the national day and bowing to pressure from Greens-dominated local councils.

“The message [new citizens] are receiving from the Albanese government is that January 26 is no more special than any other day of that week,” opposition citizenship spokesperson Dan Tehan said.

“Make no mistake, this is Labor laying the groundwork to abolish January 26 as Australia Day despite Anthony Albanese promising during the election campaign that Labor had no plans to change the date of our national day.”

Greens senator Nick McKim said in changing the rules the former government had tried to create patriotism “by force”.

“Local governments are far better placed to make decisions about when they hold citizenship ceremonies and how they can best be inclusive to everyone in their communities,” he said.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles also announced the Yarra and Darebin councils in inner-Melbourne had regained authority to hold citizenship ceremonies, after former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull stripped them of the right in 2017.

Mr Turnbull described the councils as “out of step with Australian values”.

A third Melbourne council – Merri-bek – announced earlier in December it would no longer hold events on January 26 and would instead host a mourning ceremony to acknowledge the experiences of Indigenous Australians.

“The very idea that we celebrate, hold parties and welcome new people to this country on this day is pretty shameful,” councillor James Conlan said at a council meeting on Wednesday.

Mr Tehan said Australia could celebrate on January 26 while still honouring the “incredible richness” of the country’s 65,000-year history.

The government said there were fewer than 100,000 citizenship applications on hand for the first time in five years.

– AAP

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