Byron Shire mayor Simon Richarson.
Byron Shire mayor Simon Richarson. Marc Stapelberg

Byron mayor accuses PM of 'bullying, unhelpful' tactics

THE Prime Minister Scott Morrison's announcement he would be stripping Byron Shire Council's right to hold citizenship ceremonies after the council voted to change the date of their Australia Day event in 2019 has caused a nationwide stir.

The Northern Star asked mayors, councillors, and a Labor MP their thoughts.

Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson

Cr Richardson said he was not surprised by the PM's announcement, and suspected it would happen but thought it "a shame".

"I love doing the ceremonies - I take them seriously," he said.

"In Byron we like to do it with a fair bit of light-heartedness but warm heartedness...I think our locals love doing it in a Byron style in the Byron Shire."

Cr Richardson said he conducts about six ceremonies each year, with about 150 people.

"We were happy enough if we were allowed to, to still do it on Australia day.

"If we couldn't do it on the 25th with the rest of the event, hold it on the 26th as is normally required.

"We will explore that with the minister to see if it's possible.

"It's a shame to see our locals have to drive 40 odd kilometres to another shire to do it there, which is a bit disappointing but that's out of our hands."

He said the letter council received on Monday said they would remove the ability of the mayor, deputy mayor and general manager of council to facilitate these events.

"We'd like to be able to have a conversion with the minister. We will write back and seek a bit of clarity."

Cr Richardson said he believed the language in Mr Morrison's tweet which labelled council as "indulgent self-loathing", was both "bulling" and "unhelpful".

"You'd think from a thought-leader of our nation we can have a bit more of a nuance conversation.

"What we're interested in is a reasonable, insightful, inclusive debate and conversation.

"The minister of citizenship who part of the citizenship ceremonies I am required to read a message from him, and in that one of the first things he says is 'Australia's history and culture began with our Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders'. We are just walking the Australian Government's talk.

"If Australia began before January 26 why are we so hung up on the date when we know it causes pain to some of our community?."

Byron Shire councillor Paul Spooner

Cr Spooner said he supports the creation of a day to celebrate the Indigenous people, and he thought councillors who voted for the motion to change the event to the 25th should rethink their decision.

"I don't think there is any point in a rescission motion given the number five to three vote," he said.

"(Councillors) think it's a good idea, I disagree with that, and the PM disagrees with that.

"You don't change reality of history by changing a date.

"I much prefer the approach that is being put forward by Luke Foley about creating a special day for NSW in terms of the state's Aboriginal people.

"Now Scott Morrison wants to do one nationally, and that's what I suggest we do for the Byron shire.

"Let's not divide the community but celebrate the Indigenous culture.

"Let's not just make up the position on behalf of the community, let's have a discussion with the community on how to approach this.

"While I don't think it will float in a recession, I would really encourage those councillors who voted for it to rethink it."

Lismore City Council Mayor Isaac Smith

Cr Smith said council asked the question of the community about Australia Day, to then supply the information to the government.

"In Lismore we felt Australia Day was something that was decided by the Federal Government, and we decided not to change it at this point in time but we do acknowledge the response from the community to be quite strong and we urge the federal government to listen to local voices.

"There are currently no plans to discuss Australia Day though any councillor can put up a notice of motion to discuss it again."

Labor MP Justine Elliot

Ms Elliot said while she thought Australia Day should remain on January 26, she thought Mr Morrison's actions were "extreme".

"I think the Prime Minister's action to take away Byron Council's right citizenship services and activities is an extreme act and I think is political point is Byron Council's action.

"I think they should all just sit down and try and get an outcome.

"We need to look for ways to reconcile and move forward with these issues and I don't think that's going to be achieved with political point scoring or extreme action.

"I think it's really important we have wide consultation about having a day that recognises and celebrates our Indigenous culture and people.

"We need to unite and find a way forward with these issues.

"I was disappointed the PM has raised the issue in the media first...I think he should've had a proper consultation process first."

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