The government is claiming a win after Byron Shire ‘backflipped’ on its Australia Day plans, but the council says it was all a misunderstanding
Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson has dismissed the Morrison government’s claim the council has backed down from plans to change the date of its Australia Day festivities.
Immigration minister David Coleman stripped the council of its right to hold citizenship ceremonies in late September as a punishment for “politicising” the day, only to reinstate the right on Monday.
The government claimed Mr Richardson’s council had “reversed” its plan to change Australia Day ceremonies.
But the mayor said the bitter argument with the government was triggered by a “misunderstanding”. Byron Shire will proceed with its plans to move Australia Day speeches and awards to January 25, he said.
“Nothing has changed, from our perspective,” Mr Richardson told SBS News on Monday.
He said the council had originally wanted to move the traditional Australia Day citizenship ceremony too, but had agreed to keep it on January 26 when the council received a terse response from Canberra.
Mr Richardson said once the government made it clear the citizenship ceremony was “sacrosanct”, the council had agreed to only move its own local events.
Writing on Facebook, Prime Minister Scott Morrison hailed a “win for common sense”.
“We should always be proud to celebrate Australia Day,” he wrote.
In a statement, Mr Coleman confirmed the council could go ahead with planned citizenship ceremonies.
“I welcome Mayor Simon Richardson’s and his council’s decision to reinstate the Australia Day citizenship ceremony,” Mr Coleman said.
“The government has been very clear on its position that citizenship ceremonies should not be used as tools to support or promote a political agenda, or to delegitimise Australia’s national day in any way.”
In response to Mr Richardson's claims, a spokeswoman for the minister said the council had "very clearly" tried to move the citizenship ceremony as well, hence the government's response.
The council plans to hold a citizenship ceremony in the coming weeks. The events are held semi-regularly throughout the year.