As Australia Day approaches for yet another year, I’m sure that most of us, who are lucky enough to reside in this beautiful country, take the time to think about what being Australian means to us.
My story is not dissimilar to many others. My parents emigrated from Croatia when I was three years old. We first lived in Bassendean, predominantly because we had relatives living nearby. My parents worked hard to provide my brother and I with a good life and encouraged us to study. I owe a lot to the hard work of my parents and am honoured to now be a Member of Parliament, representing the electorate of Carine.
While I acknowledge and celebrate my Croatian heritage, I consider myself to be a proud Australian and this great country my home. I am honoured to be a part of the wonderful, diverse, cultural melting point that is Australia.
In recent years, it has become trendy amongst a small cohort of Australians to use our national day to broadcast their moral posturing.
I will admit, I felt pangs of sadness and frustration when I first heard about the decision of the City of Fremantle to not celebrate Australia Day on our national holiday. When I read about Triple J following suit and moving the date of their much loved music poll, I shook my head. But the latest move by the Federal Greens has me flabbergasted.
In case you missed the headline, Senator Richard Di Natale and the Greens are planning to use their numbers in local government to push for a change of the date Australia Day is celebrated. They are reported to have over 100 councillors in councils across the country.
As the Shadow Minister for Local Government, I would like to think of myself as a champion of and for the sector. I am proud to rally behind the sector and celebrate their achievements. Local Government plays a very important role and most councils understand and do their job very well – servicing and representing their local community. We often hear that it is all about the three “R’s” – roads, rubbish and rates.
I personally think there is also a broader community role of representing ratepayers on local issues. This may, for example, include advocacy to State and Federal governments on matters impacting ratepayers such as infrastructure or planning.
But a line needs to be drawn in the sand somewhere and I cannot see how councils can justify the use of resources to advocate on broad social policy issues. We have State and Federal politicians who are paid to represent their constituents on State and Federal issues – it is time for Local Government to move away from this unnecessary duplication.
Most importantly, why are the Greens encouraging local government to enter into such a divisive debate which, as the Prime Minister pointed out, only seeks to take a day that unites Australia and Australians and turn it into one that would divide us.
The sensible majority of Australians see our national day as the one day of the year when we can all be grateful for what we have. We know the history of our nation is not perfect but neither is the history of any other country. We know we can make improvements, but there is no other place we would rather be.
I know from my own story that Australia is one of the few countries on earth where, regardless of where you were born, you can make something of yourself.
Successive Prime Ministers have been asked their views about changing the date; John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull have each stated their support for keeping the date. Similarly, opinion polls, in recent years have indicated that the support to change the date of Australia Day is far from being the majority view.
Yet, the Greens see fit to interfere in something that, for most Australians, is considered to be outside the scope of responsibility of Local Government.
Regrettably, the Greens seem to have had some traction. At a conference held by the Australian Local Government Association in June last year, a motion was supported to encourage Australian councils to consider efforts they could make to lobby the Federal Government to change the date of Australia Day. I would be interested to see how many of those councils who voted in favour of this motion, had actually canvassed this issue with their ratepayers.
If the Greens want to involve themselves in Local Government, they should be encouraging local councils to focus on what they do best and that is focus on local issues. If Greens councillors want to enter debates about national issues, they have the opportunity to run for national parliament.
January 26 is and should remain our nationally recognised public holiday. The Greens involvement in urging local government to be the catalyst for change is mischievous and divisive. Councils should continue to do what they do best and aim to bring their community together.
To be an Australian is to win the lottery of life – a truth well worth celebrating this Australia Day.
Tony Krsticevic MLA is the shadow minister for local government
As published in The West Australian on 18 January 2018