By Casey Neill
Indigenous Australians need to “move on” and Australia Day should stay put, says Greater Dandenong Councillor Maria Sampey.
The council will officially express its support for Australia Day celebrations remaining on 26 January after Cr Sampey joined Crs Tim Dark, Youhorn Chea, Loi Truong, Sean O’Reilly, Jim Memeti and Heang Tak in voting to do so at the Monday 23 October council meeting.
Cr Dark moved the motion, telling the meeting he’d been “personally inundated“ with requests to take a stand.
“We have one of the best Australia Days I’ve ever been to,” he said.
“The role of Australia Day is not to divide people, it’s to unite people.”
Cr Sampey said it was “sad in a way that people dwell on the invasion”.
“There’s stacks of countries around the world that have been invaded at some time or other,” she said.
“It happened years ago and we just need to move on.”
She said that moving the date really had nothing to do with the council.
“It needs to come from the Federal Government rather than the council getting involved in something like this,” Cr Sampey said.
“We should worry about our residents and what’s going on in our city.”
Cr O’Reilly said he thought the motion was unnecessary as the status quo should stand unless the Federal Government moved the public holiday.
“By resolving on this matter either way we are also implicitly agreeing that other councils can have their own view on this matter, rather then being a universal view that should come from the Federal Government,” he said.
“Now that the motion’s on the table we should support it and most definitely move on.
“I think it would be a bad look for council to vote against this motion.”
But Crs Matthew Kirwan and Angela Long did just that.
Cr Kirwan said the council should have consulted the community before making a stand, which includes a 500-strong Indigenous community.
He said 26 January was not a date that unified.
Cr Kirwan said Australia Day was first celebrated nationally in 1935 and only became an official national holiday in 1994.
He said that for Indigenous Australians, 26 January 1788 was “the day that their land started to be taken. It was the day that they started dying.“
Their population dropped from 1.25 million at white settlement to about 50,000 in 1930.
“There were many massacres. There were many deaths from western diseases,” he said.
“All of that started on the unhappy date of 26 January.
“We need to change the date so the celebration is inclusive of all our residents.”