Forcing Australia Day citizenship ceremonies on councils won’t make the issue go away



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The Australia Day debate will likely become more pronounced each year.
from shutterstock.com

Rachel Busbridge, Australian Catholic University and Mark Chou, Australian Catholic University

In the latest instalment of the culture wars surrounding Australia Day, Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday said he plans to force councils to hold citizenship ceremonies on January 26. The announcement was spurred on by a few local councils’ decisions to move citizenship events to a different day out of respect for Indigenous people.

Morrison claimed he was protecting the day from those trying to “play politics”. And opposition leader Bill Shorten, as well as others on social media, accused the prime minister of playing politics himself.

Since 2018, as part of a larger ongoing project exploring culture wars and local politics, we have interviewed eleven councils across the country who have taken the most prominent actions relating to January 26. These councils are generally Greens and Labor dominant.

Some, like Yarra and Darebin, ignited a veritable media storm over plans to “dump” Australia Day citizenship ceremonies. Others, such as Flinders Island, have flown largely under the radar.

All of them, however, take seriously the inclusion of Australia’s Indigenous heritage and multicultural diversity in our national day. Our interviews show Morrison’s portrayal of councils “playing politics” is out of step – councils are reflecting the wishes of their community members.




Read more:
Why a separate holiday for Indigenous Australians misses the point


It’s not just citizenship

The cancellation of citizenship ceremonies on January 26 has been a sticking point for the federal government. In 2017, all 537 councils in Australia received a strongly worded letter from assistant immigration minister, Alex Hawke, warning them:

Local councils are now on notice that if they politicise Australian citizenship, the Government will see it as a breach of the [Australian Citizenship Ceremonies] Code and take appropriate action.

But with a couple of notable exceptions, namely Yarra and Darebin councils who had their rights to hold citizenship ceremonies stripped, the other councils we spoke to have refrained from touching the citizenship matter.

Some councils have simply sought to hold alternative events either on or close to January 26 that would be more inclusive of Indigenous communities. Mayor of Byron Shire Council in regional NSW, Simon Richardson, long felt January 26 celebrations divided the local community:

The Arakwal Indigenous mob will come to our events, do the Welcome to Country, but it offends them celebrating on a day that really marks a complete change to their 10,000-year-old culture, I wanted an event where we’re all together.

Wary of the federal government’s warning, other councils did not want to shift citizenship ceremonies from January 26. But they did want to use them as an opportunity to educate Australia’s newest citizens about the country’s history.

Another regional council in NSW, Lismore, has taken efforts to ensure ceremonies held on Australia Day are as inclusive of the local Aboriginal community as possible. And they never refer to the events as a “celebration”.

Diversity of local responses

Local councils sit at the coalface of the communities they serve and must respond to different needs and concerns. As David O’Loughlin, president of the Australian Local Government Association said: “if they’re reflecting their community’s interest, that’s their job.”

Two of the most prominent councils to cancel Australia Day celebrations and ceremonies, Yarra and Darebin in inner Melbourne, were responding to ongoing discussions with local Wurundjeri people who found the date painful and uncomfortable. Former Yarra Mayor, Amanda Stone, told us council knew from these discussions the Wurundjeri felt “this wasn’t a day for [them]” and wanted people to have “an understanding of what the date meant to them”.

Other councils thought it important to lead on decisions relating to January 26. Byron Shire’s plan to shift Australia Day celebrations was motivated by the sentiment non-Indigenous Australians should be the ones driving change. For Mayor Richardson, this was important to ensure that the local Indigenous community did not “cop the backlash when it’s white fellas who have been responsible for the wrongdoing.”

On consultation with the Arakwal people, Richardson said:

Their basic response was ‘leave us out of it, it’s a council issue’. Though they supported the change to our 26 January event, they wanted to make it clear that the idea was council’s, not theirs.

Lismore City Council conducted extensive consultations on changing the date of Australia Day with local communities, the results of which were handed over to the federal government.

And although they still run celebrations and citizenship ceremonies on January 26, Hobart City Council in Tasmania has formally supported the Change the Date campaign in recognition of local Aboriginal views.

The issue is not going away

Despite the different ways in which local councils have handled January 26, there is one thing on which they all agree – the issue is not going to go away.

Former Yarra Mayor Stone, said:

It’s not going to go away for Indigenous people and it’s not going to go away for younger Australians, many of whom haven’t grown up with the racism and attitudes towards Aboriginal people as people my age grew up with.

Some councils, like the Inner West in Sydney, have already seen multiple notices of motion raised. The first, submitted by Greens councillor Tom Kiat, “asking Council to recognise Invasion Day and to reallocate the funds currently designated for their Australia Day event to an Indigenous-led one” was knocked back.

But a few months later, a mayoral minute was passed asking council officers to conduct a “consultation with the local Aboriginal community and the wider community about how the nature of Council’s January 26 events should further evolve to recognise the history of Indigenous Australia.”




Read more:
Why Australia Day survives, despite revealing a nation’s rifts and wounds


Despite speaking to only a small fraction of local councils across the country so far, there is good reason to believe the Australia Day debate will become more pronounced each year.

Some, like Adelaide City Council, have told us in no uncertain terms that the date of our national holiday is a federal matter and beyond their remit. But as more councils debate the matter, it’s clear Australians are starting to think about what it would mean to include Indigenous peoples as equal partners in our national day.

Enforcing citizenship ceremonies on the day is not going to change this, nor is banning boardies and thongs.The Conversation

Rachel Busbridge, Lecturer in Sociology, Australian Catholic University and Mark Chou, Associate Professor of Politics, Australian Catholic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Christian Professor in Pakistan Beaten for Refusing to Convert


In another province, three eighth-grade students expelled for declining Islam.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, June 25 (CDN) — Muslim students attacked a Christian professor at the University of Peshawar this month after he refused their demand to convert to Islam, the instructor told Compass.

Psychology professor Samuel John, a father of four who has been teaching at the university in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province for 12 years, said that as he came out of his house on the university campus at 8:30 a.m. on June 14, about 20 to 25 students rushed and assaulted him.

“I shouted for help, but no one came to help,” he said.

When his wife learned what was happening, she ran to help him, but the students beat her as well. Both John and his wife were rushed to Lady Reading hospital, where they were treated for their injuries, with John listed in critical condition.

“I am still getting threats,” the professor told Compass. “They say, ‘Leave the university or accept Islam – if you don’t convert, we will kill your family.”

Police have refused to register a First Information Report on the incident, he said.

A group of five students had visited John on May 15, he said.

“They said, ‘Professor, you are a good teacher and a good human being, please convert to Islam and we will provide you with everything you need,’” John said. “I was surprised and said, ‘Why do you want me to convert? I am a Christian, and Jesus Christ is my Savior – He provides me with everything.”

One of the students became angry, saying, “Don’t forget that you are a family man,” John said. “I said, ‘I am not scared of anyone, God will protect me and my family.’”

He reported the matter to the dean of the University of Peshawar, but the official was unable to take any action because the Islamic students councils are supported by political parties and powerful Islamic groups, the professor said.

His family became worried, and other professors spoke of going on strike on John’s behalf, demanding an apology from the students who threatened him.

“They said, ‘This is a university, no one will be allowed to take the law in their hands – we are professors and teach everyone and do not discriminate by religion, caste, creed or color,’” John said.  

But no action was taken against anyone. John subsequently faced various forms of harassment from different Islamic student groups who threw stones at his home, sent threatening letters and threatened his family over the phone, he said.

John had recently been honored with an award for best results in psychology at colleges throughout Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. Muslim professors and Muslim student councils were upset that a Christian professor was getting so much attention, Christian sources said.

 

Students Pressured

Separately, in Danna village in southern Punjab Province, Muslim administrators told three Christian students in the eighth grade to leave the school because they refused to convert to Islam.

A new teacher of Islamic Studies who came from another village to Government High School Danna urged students in his class, Sunil Masih, Shazia Masih and Nasir Naeem, to convert to Islam, according to the father of Sunil, Ejaz Masih.

The teacher, whom the parents declined to name, is also a Muslim leader.

“The teacher began by saying, ‘Sunil, Shazia and Nasir, convert to Islam – it is the true religion, and you will go straight to heaven,” Ejaz Masih said.

The students reported the pressure to their parents, who came to the school and complained to the principal.

The principal asked the teacher to explain the details of what happened, but other staff members at the school supported the new teacher, Masih said. On June 16, under pressure from other teachers, the principal told the parents to remove their children from the school unless they were willing to convert to Islam.

“We have been forced to leave the village,” Masih said. “The police have refused to help us. We are helpless here.”

Masih, along with Sohail Masih and Naeem Boota, parents of the other children, have fled the village with their families. Their children were the only Christian students at the school.

Report from Compass Direct News

Christmas could be cancelled by British government


Christmas could be cancelled by a bill being put forward by the Labour government, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales have said, reports Hilary White, LifeSiteNews.com.

In a letter to MPs, Monsignor Andrew Summersgill, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said that Harriet Harmon’s Equality Bill will have a "chilling effect" on local councils, town halls and other organizations clamping down on Christmas festivities for fear of offending people of other religions.

The Equality Bill combines all previous equality legislation in the U.K., and includes a range of new provisions.

"Under existing legislation," Summersgill wrote, "we have seen the development of a risk-averse culture with outcomes as ridiculous as reports of a local authority instructing tenants to take down Christmas lights in case they might offend Muslim neighbours, or of authorities removing the word Christmas out of cultural sensitivity to everyone except Christians.

"If this bill is serious about equality, everything possible must be done to avoid it having a chilling effect on religious expression and practice."

The Christian Institute, Britain’s leading Christian political lobby group, has listed incidents where public displays of Christianity at Christmas have already come under attack. Councils around Britain are removing all references to the name "Christmas" from their 2009 events. Birmingham City Council has changed the name of this year’s light-switching-on event to the generic "Winterval." Last November an attempt by Oxford City Council to drop Christmas from the title of the city’s celebrations was condemned by both residents and religious leaders.

The Christian Institute complained about the bill, saying that councils "are already over-zealous in applying equality laws." The bill, they said, "will make this worse."

In fact, some of the Labour government’s closest advisors have already urged it to abolish public displays of a Christian origin at Christmas. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which has shaped many Labour party policies, said in 2007 that Christmas "should be downgraded to help race relations."

The equality legislation leads only to the law favoring aggrieved minority lobby groups over the existing Christian culture, the Christian Institute says. The group pointed to the closure and forced secularization of several of Britain’s Catholic adoption agencies under similar legislation, the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) of the 2007 Equality Act.

Under the SORs, they said, "the rights of children have been trumped by the rights of homosexual adults. Any agency which refuses to do homosexual adoptions becomes a target for closure."

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

IRAQ: CHURCH LEADERS PLEAD FOR HELP IN MOSUL


Christians meet with Al-Maliki, ask for troops and provincial voting rights.

ISTANBUL, October 19 (Compass Direct News) – Amid escalating violence against Christians, Iraqi church leaders have appealed directly to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for increased efforts to curb the continuing attacks In Mosul.

In a meeting with Al-Maliki, 10 heads of Iraqi churches urged the prime minister on Thursday (Oct. 16) to send the army to Mosul to help the approximately 1,000 police that were dispatched this past week to keep watch over Christians in the city.

Church leaders said police efforts to curb violence were insufficient and more needed to be done to stabilize the city, from which an estimated 1,500 families have fled following recent killings of Christians.

Al-Maliki assured the church heads that he would do whatever was in his power in cooperation with them and that he hoped to send soldiers to Mosul “immediately,” said Shlemon Warduni, an auxiliary bishop of the Chaldean Church in Bagdad present at the meeting.

“He is upset and he’s sorry for what is happening,” said Warduni. “He is going to do whatever he can in cooperation with those who work with him.”

Members of the Christian communities believe that the police already sent to the city have made little difference and more forces are needed to ensure peace.

“I hope they will follow it up with more action; that they will continue as they said themselves until there is peace,” said Warduni. “We firmly ask for the army to be sent in the hopes that peace will come back and people will return to their homes.”

Father Basher Warda of St. Peter’s Seminary, spoke by phone to Compass with similar urgency. Government officials have visited Mosul and the victims promising to help, “but there is nothing,” said Fr. Warda. “A few initiatives here and there, but they cannot correspond to the whole crisis.”

He pointed out how no military spokesman has said Mosul is now secure, leaving only the government’s promises.

“The whole system needs to be reconsidered,” Fr. Warda said. “In a crisis the government should not take any holiday or rest, but they said, ‘We will see what to do in the coming days.’ But it’s not a matter of coming days; it’s a matter of families who have left everything behind.”

Families are still fleeing as threats, bombings and deaths persist in Mosul, according to Fr. Warda. He said 20 percent of the displaced people he has spoken to said they had been directly threatened before they fled Mosul. Others described how they witnessed threats against their neighbors, “the killing of a man, or a father and his son,” in their streets.

“These [accounts] … show there is something planned to evacuate Christians form Mosul,” he said. “They say: ‘We cannot risk it.’”

 

Change in Parliament

It is not clear who is behind the attacks on Christians in Mosul, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have been conducting operations against the Sunni militant group al-Qaeda.

The displacement of Christians follows comes on the heels of an Iraqi parliamentary vote to drop a clause in its new provincial election law, Article 50, that protected rights of minorities by guaranteeing their representation on provincial councils.

The change earlier this month sparked protests from Christians in Mosul, which some believe have fueled the attacks on the Christian community.

In their meeting with Al-Maliki, church community leaders also pleaded for the re-instatement of Article 50. Al-Maliki assured them he would bring it to the attention of Parliament in the next session, Warduni said.

Although unwilling to draw direct links to the demonstrations, Fr. Warda did tell Compass that he thought the attacks were coordinated.

“Maybe it’s a coincidence, and maybe it’s an occasion for violence,” said Fr. Warda. “But whatever the reason was, it looks like there was a plan [for the violence]. We cannot say it’s just a coincidence, it happened in such a quick way.”

He called the effort to clear Christians out of Mosul, a “massive task.”

“We are talking about 1,700 families who have fled in nine days,” he said.

In the wake of attacks on churches and individuals, Iraqi Christians have fled to surrounding villages leaving homes and businesses.

Some of Mosul’s refugees have sought shelter across the border in either Turkey or Syria. It is the small and unprepared villages surrounding the city, however, that have borne the brunt of the displacement, according to Fr. Warda.

For now, the primary concern of church leaders is the safe return of those who have fled.

“[Mosul is] their history, their heritage, memories are there. Every beautiful memory is there. We have to do something,” said Fr. Warda. He said those he spoke to were too afraid to go back to their homes and did not know if they could trust the government for their security.

Asked whether he thought Mosul would lose its entire Christian population, Fr. Warda said, “I don’t care to think about it, because it would be a tragedy for all people. The choices are so limited. My concern now is for Christians who are leaving.”

Although “hopeful” about the situation of Mosul’s Christian community, Warduni did not hesitate to criticize what he calls the “silence” of the international community on the human rights of Iraq’s Christian community.

“I want to tell the developed world that from the outset no one has said anything,” he said. “No one is talking about the rights of Christians and minorities in Iraq. We are waiting for support from the outside, at least as human beings not only as Christians.”

Report from Compass Direct News

CRIME CRACKDOWN: Councils to DNA Test Dog Droppings


Yes you read the title of this post correctly – there is a major crime wave in Sydney that warrants a massive redirection of funds. According to news reports today, a number of Sydney local governments are keen to test dog droppings with DNA technology in order to crackdown on owners who refuse to clean up after their dogs.

Dog owners are required to pick up dog droppings here and this is generally done by disposable gloves (or the like) and a plastic bag that dog owners take with them when walking the dog. The owners are then required to dispose of the waste in a responsible manner. However, it seems that a number of dog owners just can’t bring themselves to clean up after their dogs – perhaps these owners are simply above doing this type of thing or maybe they can’t stomach doing so.

Dogs are currently required to have an identification microchip installed (for want of a better word) and under the proposed DNA testing scheme, they would then also be DNA tested so that their records are kept on a database. With this done, dog droppings could be DNA tested and the results cross referenced with the database. The owners of offending dogs would then be easy to track and revenue increased for local councils (oops, did I suggest that this was a revenue raising scheme) through the issue of a fine.