The Australian Government has announced local councils will no longer be forced to hold a citizenship ceremony on 26 January.
The move, announced by Citizenship Minister Andrew Giles, will allow councils to hold a ceremony any time from 23 January to 29 January.
However, Giles says it remains the Government’s “strong expectation” that councils conduct ceremonies on the 26th.
Until now, councils have been required to hold at least one ceremony on 26 January (they can also hold other ceremonies throughout the year).
In 2017, the City of Yarra and Darebin City Council, both in inner Melbourne, announced they would not hold a ceremony on 26 January in protest.
The Federal Government responded by revoking their power to conduct citizenship ceremonies at any time. Then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the councils were “out of step with Australian values”.
The new decision will return citizenship ceremony authority to Yarra and Darebin, and means other councils who make similar decisions will not be punished.
The Federal Government says it expects “a number” of councils will no longer hold ceremonies on the 26th.
Earlier this month, Merri-bek council (also in inner Melbourne) announced its intention to stop holding ceremonies on the day and instead host a “day of mourning”.
Giles said many new citizens wanted to “complete their journey to Australian citizenship” on 26 January and urged councils to “have new citizens as their key focus” despite the new flexibility.
“Australian citizenship is an important common bond for all Australians, whether by birth or by choice, and lies at the heart of a unified, cohesive and inclusive Australia,” Giles said.
Dan Tehan, Shadow Citizenship Minister, has accused the Government of “undermining the significance of Australia Day”.
“Every immigrant should have the choice of becoming an Australian citizen in their local community on Australia Day,” Tehan said.
“Make no mistake, this is Labor laying the groundwork to abolish January 26 as Australia Day.”