WANNEROO Council has decided not to add “Australia Day” to promotional material for its January 26 multicultural festival, an event an Aboriginal educator says “includes all people”.
After stirring up public outrage and racism, a motion on notice by councillor Linda Aitken to add the words “Australia Day” divided the council on Tuesday, and was lost with fewer than half of 14 members present supporting it.
Respected Nyoongar cultural educator Dennis Simmons said the January 26 event was about “bringing people together of all cultures”.
“It’s about moving forward and including the first nations people,” he said.
“The days are long gone when we can just exclude Aboriginal people.”
The Wanneroo Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) working group chairman said regardless of the November 12 decision, he had planned to be part of the festival to increase awareness of Aboriginal history and culture.
“I will tell them what this land was like; I will tell them our story,” he said.
“I will honour our ancestors.
“I still would have done that even if this motion went ahead because I’m trying to teach people about our community.”
Cr Aitken argued that the decision should have been made by the council, rather than administration based on advice from the RAP working group and Multicultural Advisory Group.
However Mayor Tracey Roberts said the advice was included in July reports, when the council unanimously agreed to cancel the November Wanneroo Presents Concert and hold a multicultural festival in January instead.
That decision aimed to maximise the use of a giant marquee hired for the Australia Day citizenship ceremony at Wanneroo Showground, with concert funds diverted to the festival.
Mrs Roberts said concerns should have been raised then, not months later after flyers had been printed for the event.
The citizenship ceremony, expected to be the biggest in WA, will be held in the morning, and the alcohol-free festival will take place from 4pm, featuring local performers, food trucks, cultural acts and a fireworks finale about 8pm.
Mr Simmons said there would be a Welcome to Country, smoking ceremony and Aboriginal dancing as well as cultural performances from other nationalities.
“I think people will come to the festival and have a great time,” he said.
Speaking in support of the motion, Cr Chris Baker referred to the arrival of the first British ships as the start of the nation and asked the event name to also include the word ‘multicultural’.
“Australia has always been a multicultural country since day dot,” he said.
Cr Baker attempted to sway the votes with ABS population statistics, saying only 1.5 per cent of the City’s 210,000 residents identified as indigenous.
Cr Brett Treby argued there was no pressure or sense of shame about leaving out the words from promotional material out of respect for Aboriginal people.
“Australia Day should be about unity, celebrating what brings us together, not separating us,” he said.
As councillors debated whether the words mattered, Cr Dot Newton said people she had shown the poster to had not noticed it did not include the words “Australia Day”.
Cr Newton said it was disappointing to see how the issue had been picked up by media and on social media.
“Now we have community Facebook pages full of racist remarks,” she said.
In his deputation before the meeting, Mr Simmons said the RAP group had not asked the council to change the date for the festival.
Prior to the meeting Pearce MHR Christian Porter labelled the omission of “Australia Day” an “act of politically correct stupidity”.
“Australia Day is an opportunity for everyone to come together and celebrate all that is great about our nation,” he said.
“Any attempt to try and stealthily erase it from our public consciousness should be strongly opposed.”
A WA Government spokesman said the State Government supported celebrating Australia Day on January 26.
“It is an important day to celebrate all that is great about our country, which includes the great contribution made by those from many cultures,” he said.
“The City of Wanneroo’s Australia Day citizenship ceremony is a tremendous celebration; it appears to make perfect sense that the council would also choose to hold a multicultural celebration as part of their schedule of events.
“How the council chooses to advertise the events is a matter for them.”