Sydney council moves to scrap Australia Day celebrations in favour of Aboriginal Yabun festival

Mayor Darcy Byrne is encouraging inner west residents to go to the Yabun festival. Source: Facebook/YabunFestival

A local council in Sydney will vote next week on a proposal to change the way January 26 is marked to better reflect the views of Indigenous Australians.

The Inner West Council in Sydney will vote on a proposal next week to scrap Australia Day celebrations on 26 January.

Mayor Darcy Byrne said the move reflects more contemporary attitudes on the tone of the day, considering the views of many Indigenous Australians who view the day as one of mourning and invasion.  

"There's no need for the community to lose anything but there is a more mature and respectful way for our Council to mark the day," he said.

The Darebin, Yarra and Moreland Councils in Victoria have already moved to stop marking January 26 as Australia Day. Fremantle in Western Australia has also done the same.

"For Aboriginal people, January 26 marks the beginning of colonisation, dispossession, the removal of children and deliberate destruction of language and culture," Mr Byrne said.

"The community is becoming more aware of those sad facts and as a result attitudes to and the meaning of Australia Day is changing."

The proposal would still call for the holding of citizenship ceremonies on 26 January, despite threats from the federal government that local councils would be stripped of their rights to hold such ceremonies, if Australia Day celebrations are moved to a day other than 26 January.

Mr Byrne criticised Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton for threatening councils, calling it mean-spirited. 

"Peter Dutton in all his mean-spiritedness has already made it clear that he will remove the right of Council to conduct citizenship ceremonies at all if they are cancelled on 26 January.

"Here in the inner west, the birthplace of Australian multiculturalism, citizenship ceremonies must be maintained. Swearing in new citizens is one of the most important things we do."

PM Scott Morrison with newly sworn in citizens at an Australia Day ceremony
Prime Minister Scott Morrison with newly sworn in citizens at an Australia Day ceremony.

Mr Byrne said residents would be encouraged to attend the Yabun Festival to "learn about the meaning of the day for Aboriginal people".

Festival organisers say the event in Sydney's Victoria Park is the largest one-day gathering and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in Australia.

Independent councillor Victor Macri said he won't be supporting the motion when it is presented for a vote.

"It highlights the differences in people rather than showing them how to come together as one," he told the ABC.

"To try and make people conform into some military-type democracy, where everyone has to think and feel the same way, it doesn't work."

The proposal will be voted at the next council meeting on Tuesday and is expected to pass with the support of councillors from the Labor party and the Greens party.

20 September 2019: Local councils will be forced to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day
20 September 2019: Local councils will be forced to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day

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