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MPs clash over January 26 citizenship ceremonies

Callan Morse -

Members of Parliament have traded blows following an increasing number of local council's opting against holding citizenship ceremonies on January 26.

The stoush began following senator Sarah Henderson's criticism of federal Labor's approach to holding citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day, claiming the government is failing to protect the country's national day.

The Victorian senator's comments came after federal Labor revoked a Coalition rule shortly after coming into power, which had previously forced councils to hold citizenship ceremonies on January 26.

Following the rule change, numerous councils opted not to hold ceremonies on the contentious day.

They include Geelong Council, which will hold a ceremony within three days of the day Council whilst opting to refer to as January 26 and Bendigo Council, which will hold its citizenship ceremony on January 25.

Victoria's Surf Coast Shire Council will also hold a citizenship ceremony on January 25 whilst electing to fly the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags at half mast.

Following the developments, Senator Henderson called out federal Labor MPs, Richard Marles and Libby Coker, accusing the pair of "failing to protect Australia Day" and "fuelling division across our community".

"Corio MP Richard Marles and Corangamite MP Libby Coker must explain their failure to safeguard the significance of Australia Day," Senator Henderson said.

Since the nationwide rule change, more than 80 councils across the country have moved citizenship ceremonies from January 26.

Labelling the move "the undermining of Australia Day" Senator Henderson said the change is part of the federal government's "covert plan to change the date".

"Australia Day is a significant day of national unity and pride including for the thousands of Australians who become citizens on this day," the Senator said.

In response, Former Western Australian of the Year and proud Nyamal woman, Dr Tracey Westerman criticised Senator Hendersons views.

"'Fueling division' - conservatives are very good at weaponising language to ensure the truth of our traumatic history & the pain its denial causes continues. The DATE divides the nation- every single year," Dr Westerman said via X, formerly Twitter.

Senator Henderson also highlighted comments made by Ms Coker in 2018.

"We do need to look at changing the date," the then Surf Coast councillor said at the time.

"The date on which we currently celebrate Australia Day is highly symbolic and it is worthy of debate given that so many of our First Australians find January 26 offensive."

In response to Senator Henderson's comments, Ms Coker said she supported local councils to decide how they recognise Australia Day.

"I understand there are passionate views on both sides of this issue," she said.

"I am listening to my community and our local First Nations people, but at the same time our government is focused on the cost-of-living challenges facing people across the nation."

Speaking on behalf of Mr Marles, a spokesperson refuted Ms Henderson's claim that the federal government holds plans to change the date of Australia Day.

"It is the government's view that Australia Day should continue to be held on January 26," she said.

"As the Prime Minister has said on many, many occasions – the government has no plans to change the date of Australia Day."

A Coalition government would mandate councils to again hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day, according to opposition immigration spokesperson, Dan Tehan.

"Australia Day is a proud day for the many thousands of people who will join our multicultural family and become Australian citizens – it should be respected," he said.

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