A new January 26 working group will be created to consider how the city’s celebrations on the day can be more respectful.
The new volunteer committee was designed to discuss the issue of Australia Day throughout 2019, giving a voice to Ballarat’s indigenous community about how City of Ballarat approach the public holiday.
Councillor Belinda Coates, who is the deputy chair of the Koorie Engagement Action Group (KEAG), said it’s “certainly not new, in that there’s a desire for it to be discussed across the local indigenous community”.
“Really the change is its still being lead by indigenous community members, but it has a bit more support from officers to focus on assisting with consultation,” she said.
The group will have representatives from KEAG, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residents, councillors and City of Ballarat officers.
City of Ballarat's director of people and communities Neville Ivey said a January meeting in Sturt Street Gardens was attended by more than 40 people and “approached without prejudice”.
There were some saying change the date, others are saying, ‘No …we want to take council and councillors through and educative opportunity as well.City of Ballarat's Neville Ivey
“The broad consensus was, ‘We want to celebrate the day too, we’re proud Aussies, but you’re doing it on a date that resembles doing fireworks on ANZAC Day’, that was the analogy used.”
He said almost a full year of conversation around January 26 was ahead, with recommendations from the new working group to be shared with councillors.
Indigenous members of Ballarat’s Koorie Engagement Action Group were contacted for this story, but did not respond by deadline.
While the public holiday is set by the federal government, City of Ballarat hosts citizenship ceremonies.
Cr Coates said while a working group with greater ties to council was requested a few years ago, there had been some “spinning the wheels” on the matter, so it was “good to get some commitment to pursuing that throughout the year”.
The topic of moving Australia Day from January, which many indigenous Australians consider ‘Invasion Day’, is publicly divisive.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced in mid-January his plan to force local councils to hold citizenship ceremonies on January 26, with a strict dress code to be introduced for the events.
It followed the City of Yarra in inner Melbourne voting to no longer recognise Australia Day on January 26, and City of Darebin announcing they would not hold citizenship ceremonies on that date.
Reconciliation Victoria has encouraged a “continuing and respectful national conversation about the suitability” of celebrating on January 26.