Greens ‘won’t let’ Morrison force councils to hold Australia Day citizenship ceremonies | Australia news

The Greens have offered to preside over citizenship ceremonies on behalf of councils that refuse to conduct them on 26 January in a bid to thwart Scott Morrison’s attempt to force councils to celebrate Australia Day.

The Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, made the offer on Wednesday, citing advice from the parliamentary library stating that MPs and senators have the power to conduct citizenship ceremonies under current regulations.

The home affairs department has responded by suggesting that parliamentarians require departmental approval and the immigration minister could revoke their power to conduct ceremonies. Supplementary library advice contradicts this claim.

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The date of the national day has become controversial because the arrival of the first fleet at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788 began the process of dispossessing Indigenous Australians of their land.

In 2017, the Yarra and Darebin councils in Melbourne voted to move their ceremonies away from 26 January, which prompted the Turnbull government to revoke their right to initiate new citizens.

On Sunday the Morrison government announced a change to the Australian citizenship ceremonies code that from 2020 will force councils to hold a citizenship ceremony on 26 January, another on 17 September, and institute a dress code to be determined by councils.

Di Natale said that Morrison “is playing a predictable political game trying to punish councils for reflecting the will of their constituents and standing up for justice for First Nations peoples but the Greens won’t let him”.

“We’re promising today that any council which is stripped of its ability to hold citizenship ceremonies because it refuses to hold them on January 26th can count on a Greens senator or MP in their state to conduct those ceremonies in their place.”

A home affairs department spokesman told the Australian that any ­individual or organisation who ­politicised a citizenship ceremony could have their right to conduct one revoked by the immigration minister, David Coleman.

“Ceremonies conducted by a member of parliament must be carried out in accordance with the requirements of the Australian citizenship ceremonies code and with the approval of the department of home affairs,” he reportedly said.

Parliamentary library advice, seen by Guardian Australia, rejected that claim, stating “there is nothing in the citizenship legislation or regulations stating that senators and members must seek authorisation from the minister or department to preside over a citizenship ceremony”.

“However, in practice, assistance from the department will be required – notably, in providing a list of citizenship applicants who are eligible to take the pledge,” it said.

“The limiting factor in a senator being able to conduct a ceremony may therefore be the ability of the department to provide this information in a timely fashion.”

In 2017 the then assistant immigration minister, Alex Hawke, told parliament the government “will not permit a senator or member to circumvent the revocation of a council’s citizenship authority” but did not elaborate on how it could stop parliamentarians conducting their own ceremonies.

The power for parliamentarians to preside over ceremonies is contained in a legislative instrument that could be remade by the minister, but any changes would be disallowable by the Senate.

The library’s advice states that Hawke’s comments “[appear] to be at odds with the Australian citizenship instructions which state that senators and members do not need to seek authorisation”.

On Wednesday Bill Shorten told Channel Nine’s Today show that Labor will not follow the Greens’ lead, suggesting that the “extremes” in Australian politics “say radical things” to “grab a headline”.

“The Greens can say and do what they want,” he said. “Labor is not going to go down that path.”

Shorten has committed that, if elected, he will ensure Australia Day remains on 26 January and stays a public holiday.

He accused Coalition conservatives of “always wanting to talk about politics on Australia Day”. “I don’t want to be the fashion police telling people what they can wear at citizenship ceremonies.

“I just think we ought to leave the politics alone, catch up with our family and friends, and on Australia Day, my wish is for all Australians just to realise what a great country we live in.”

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