Subjects: Australian Day citizenship ceremonies
TOM ELLIOTT: So who has the power to decide the date on which citizenship ceremonies are held? Now traditionally they've always been held on Australia Day- pardon me, generally the 26th. But of course there's been a number of renegade councils like Moreland and Yarra which have decided to break that tradition and hold them a day earlier or a day later. Now the Federal Government has said that any council that breaks this rule will be punished, and we learnt this morning that the Launceston Council down in the Apple Isle in Tasmania wants to join some of its inner-city Victorian Council brethren, and also change the date- or not celebrate Australia Day by not having a citizenship ceremony on Australia Day.
Our next guest is the Minister for Immigration, David Coleman. Mr Coleman, good afternoon.
DAVID COLEMAN: Good afternoon, Tom.
TOM ELLIOTT: Okay. So your initial reaction - Launceston wanting to not hold an Australia Day citizenship ceremony on 26 January.
DAVID COLEMAN: Well, they'll need to, Tom, if they want to continue to have the right to hold citizenship ceremonies. We think that basically every council in Australia except for the very small ones should hold a ceremony on Australia Day because it's the biggest day of the year for new citizens, and what better day to become an Australian than Australia Day? And it's not really for local councils to say that people shouldn't have that opportunity.
TOM ELLIOTT: Well, I agree with the rhetoric but in reality what can you actually do to force Launceston and Moreland and Yarra and other councils getting on this bandwagon to hold their events on Australia Day on 26 January?
DAVID COLEMAN: Yeah, well what we'll do Tom is if councils don't hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day, we'll remove their right to hold citizenship ceremonies at all. And the Federal Government in that region will step in and will hold the citizenship ceremonies directly, because we think this is really important. You know, Australia Day's our national day. We had about 15,000 people become citizens on Australia Day last year. And it's not fair for certain councils to seek to deny new citizens that opportunity.
TOM ELLIOTT: But how do you stop them? I mean, for example, Adam Bandt who's the Greens member for Melbourne - I think Federal MPs have the right to hold their own citizenship ceremonies. And I believe that last year he simply sort of stepped in and with the city of Yarra, they held their own citizenship ceremony.
Now, how do you stop a Federal MP who's that way minded from doing that?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well, the body that can authorise people to hold citizenship ceremonies is the Federal Government, and we won't be allowing people to politicise citizenship ceremonies. And councils that seek to politicise them won't be allowed to do so. So we- the Government obviously, it's the body that has the names of the people who want to become citizens and we're the ones who organise those lists and so on. And yeah, we're not going to be allowing a council to get in the way of that.
I should say though Tom, the vast majority of councils do the right thing here.
TOM ELLIOTT: Sure.
DAVID COLEMAN: We're talking about a very small number of councils. The vast majority do the right thing, and for most councils Australia Day is their big citizenship day and they love doing the events. So we're not talking about huge numbers, but we're not going to tolerate councils politicising Australia Day. We are stepping up and saying: you need to do this.
TOM ELLIOTT: Yeah I know. But I mean, there's a lot of words there. But for example, if Launceston pushes ahead and says: nope, we're doing ours a day earlier on 25 January rather than 26, would you for example refuse to give them the names of the people that want to be citizens? Or refuse to print out the citizenship certificates or- I don't know, put a moratorium on the sale of waffle pot plants or something. How do you actually stop it?
DAVID COLEMAN: We'll simply ensure that that council is no longer able to hold citizenship ceremonies.
TOM ELLIOTT: But how do you do that?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well as I said, we obviously control the process by which citizenship ceremonies are held. And there are instruments we can issue and so on. So it's not a question of whether or not we can do it, it's very clear we can do it and we will do it. And we should do it, because Australia Day is not a trivial thing. Australia Day is really important. And we want all councils to hold these ceremonies. There is an exception for very, very small councils that have very few citizens, but you know, we're not going to tolerate a situation where some councils seek to impose some sort of particular ideology that's inconsistent with what we do in Australia.
TOM ELLIOTT: Okay. I mentioned Adam Bandt before, and he sort of helped the city of Yarra hold their own separate citizenship ceremony - I think it was earlier this year or possibly the year before - can you stop individual MPs from hosting citizenship ceremonies?
DAVID COLEMAN: Yeah, we control the process by which citizenship ceremonies are held. And we have done that in relation to different councils already. So yeah, it is certainly the case Tom that the Federal Government determines the manner in which citizenship ceremonies are held. And that's what we're doing.
TOM ELLIOTT: Right. So in conclusion, there's no way that Launceston Council down in Tasmania will be allowed to hold its Australia Day citizenship ceremony on 25 January?
DAVID COLEMAN: Yeah. Unless the council decides to hold a ceremony on Australia Day, its right to have citizenship ceremonies will be taken away. And that's how it should be. Because, as I said, Australia Day is an important date. It's the biggest day for citizenship ceremonies in the year. Vast majority of councils do the right thing and hold ceremonies, and we want to make sure they all do.
TOM ELLIOTT: Thank you for joining us. David Coleman there, Minister for Immigration.