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Councillors look to ditch Welcome to Country, smoking ceremonies post referendum

Dechlan Brennan -

Several councillors across Australia have been emboldened by the Voice to Parliament defeat in October, pushing for an abolishment of Welcome to Country ceremonies despite Indigenous leaders saying the cultural practice was more important now than ever after the referendum result.

The West Australian reported on Monday several councils across the state had raised motions against Aboriginal cultural gestures, with the Shire of Harvey becoming the latest after Councillor Craig Carbone labelled some Indigenous ceremonial acts "tokenistic" and "virtue signalling".

"I think everyone has had enough. It's at every footy game, school event, or concert. There's a time and place for these things," Mr Carbone told The West Australian.

Despite his motion to ban various Indigenous acts designed to foster reconciliation failing, Mr Carbone said he has been inundated with calls from other councillors from across Australia who he said would introduce their own motions.

"People are getting sick of it. I'm not being a racist at all, I'm saying we should embrace all cultures. Forget about the colonial past and get along with the multicultural future," he said.

On Monday, a Western Sydney Councillor said Aboriginal ceremonies would be axed if his newly launched party Our Local Community (OLC) won a majority in the September election, according to reports by NCA Newswire.

Cumberland City Councillor, Steve Christou, said on Monday both Welcome to Country and smoking ceremonies did not represent the people of his electorate - which has a small Indigenous population - and the "overwhelming" choice to reject the Voice to Parliament by the residents of Cumberland indicated that they would support the proposal.

"It makes no sense to continue with an Indigenous policy that only represents roughly 0.63 per cent of the 240,000 residents that reside in the Cumberland City Council Local Government area," he said, as reported by NCA Newswire.

Mr Christou said the use of ceremonies was divisive and pandering to a "minority".

"...its (sic) time this obsession of dividing the country stopped and I urge more elected representatives in local councils to stand up and pull the plug on this expensive and over used exercise and ideas of changing Australia day (sic) celebrations away from the 26th of January," he said.

"Its (sic) time to stop dividing the community in order to represent a minority of 3 per cent."

Appearing on the conservative Bolt Report on Sky News, Mr Christou said he had received "overwhelmingly positive feedback" to his proposal.

"People are just sick of it, there have been a few trolls online, but they're just gutless, faceless trolls".

However, Indigenous leaders have said these ceremonies are more important than ever after the referendum defeat, which saw increases of racism, misinformation and calls to mental health lines for Aboriginal people.

Reconciliation WA co-chairs Nolan Hunter and Gary Smith told The West Australian greater commitment to reconciliation, including ceremonies and dual naming, was vital after October 14.

"While this is a very small number of councils considering stepping away from these respectful practices, Reconciliation WA has observed the vast majority of councils firmly recommitting to reconciliation," Ms Hunter said.

"Following the disappointing referendum result, it is time to express even greater commitment to reconciliation, including continued respect for Aboriginal peoples and cultural protocols."

A Noongar elder was left "absolutely shattered" after the Boyup Brook Council elected to not support the dual naming of the Blackwood River to include its Indigenous name, Goorbilyup.

The WA government, whilst acknowledging councils were "largely autonomous" when it came to policy, urged them to consult with Indigenous people "when considering any proposed changes".

The consternation from some councils and MPs around Indigenous ceremonies has played into the larger issue of the appropriateness of Australia day being celebrated on January 26, with "invasion day" rallies by people opposed to the day juxtaposing with an increasingly jingoistic view of the day by others.

A growing number of councils across the country have begun to turn away from controversial citizenship ceremonies on January 26 after an edict by the federal government to allow the ceremonies to be held on three days either side of the date.

Whilst Coalition MPs attacked the move, more than 80 councils - up from four in 2022 - have chosen to move their citizenship ceremony away from January 26.

Sydney Mayor Clover Moore said the day was "painful" for many, with the City of Sydney holding their citizenship ceremony on January 29.

Merri-bek council in Melbourne's inner north will hold a 'mourning ceremony' on January 26, with a citizenship ceremony being held three days earlier.

"26 January marks the start of colonisation and the dispossession of these lands and massacre of First Peoples," Merri-bek Mayor Adam Pulford told National Indigenous Times.

"We've listened to Traditional Owners and First Peoples more broadly who have clearly said that 26 January is not a date to celebrate."

In WA, Mosman Park, Cambridge, Victoria Park, Rockingham, Fremantle and Wanneroo councils have all changed their citizenship ceremonies with Fremantle to begin a "year-long program of Truth-Telling" in March.


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