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October 20, 2019
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Launceston City Council votes to move Australia Day celebrations

LAUNCESTON, Australia: Debate about the appropriateness of January 26 being Australia Day has begun as the Launceston City Council voted to scrap its Australia Day celebrations and instead hold them on a less contentious day.

Launceston has become the state’s second municipality to do so.

The council will now hold its citizenship ceremony, which is usually held on Australia Day, on January 25.

Its National Australia Day Awards program will also be replaced with a “community recognition awards ceremony”, also to be held on January 25.

The council is the second in Tasmania to move away from holding festivities on Australia Day out of respect for indigenous people.

Graeme Gardner, from the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania, said the council’s decision represented the first step in recognizing aboriginal history in Tasmania and across Australia.

“It is significant in the fact that today we’ve seen leadership from the City of Launceston Council, in that it’s being inclusive and that it’s being mutually beneficial for all persons that live in this region,” Gardner said.

“The voice of Tasmanian aborigines are being heard, they have been very loud over a period of time, but now the listening is taking place,” he added.

“What we would want to see is the country collectively change its whole perception of what it is to celebrate Australia and make it a celebration of all history.”

Launceston Mayor Albert van Zetten said he was pleased with the result of the vote, where all present councillors voted in favour of the change.

“I really encourage all our members [of the community], especially those that feel Australia Day has to be on the 26th, to have a look at the history, understand what really happened on that day and how it affected some people,” the mayor said.

“How can we celebrate when people feel it’s a day of death for them, it’s a day that’s very negative to them and it’s something we need to work on together?” he questioned.

The council did not comment whether the date that is currently recognized as Australia Day should be changed.

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz accused the council of ignoring the majority of people who support celebrating Australia Day on the current date.

“For the council to be so out of step with their ratepayers is a matter of great disappointment and what it will be is causing division within the community alienating three quarters of their ratepayers in the name of virtue signalling,” he said in dismay.

Several councils around Australia, including Melbourne’s Yarra and Darebin, have been stripped off their power to host citizenship events after voting to move the ceremonies.

Yarra City Council has replaced its citizenship ceremony with an event “marking the loss of Indigenous culture”.