FREMANTLE council will move its citizenship ceremony back to Australia Day following a tense phone call between mayor Brad Pettitt and assistant immigration minister Alex Hawke.
Dr Pettitt says Mr Hawke told him the council could not hold its ceremony on any other date in January apart from Australia Day.
The mayor says he offered a number of compromises, including holding the ceremony at the Sunday music sessions at Fremantle Arts Centre on January 29, or holding two ceremonies so one could coincide with the council’s One Day in Fremantle event, but Mr Hawke was obdurate and said no.
The city will now hold a low-key ceremony on Australia Day at the town hall centre.
“I didn’t want this to become an even bigger political football than it already was, so we agreed to have something on the 26th,” says Dr Pettitt.
“This was never about the citizenship ceremony anyway, and I hope we can now move forward and people can enjoy the One Day in Fremantle event.
“I’m disappointed for the people that were looking forward to becoming a citizen in front of thousands of people at a great event on the 28th. We sent out 40 invites and 20 people had already RSVP’d.
“I imagine they will be very disappointed.”
In a letter to Dr Pettitt Wednesday, Mr Hawke said the council had politicised its One Day in Fremantle event by making it an alternative to Australia Day festivities, and therefore could not hold a citizenship ceremony “under any circumstances”.
“I therefore consider that should a ceremony proceed on this day it would be a serious breach of the Australian citizenship ceremonies code with respect to ceremonies being apolitical,” Mr Hawke wrote.
The assistant minister told the council it had three options: to host a citizenship ceremony on January 26, host one on another day not linked to the One Day in Fremantle Event, or let the immigration department host a ceremony instead.
“In the interests of clarifying the position for prospective conferees and the general public as soon as possible, I ask that you let me have your response in writing by close of business Australian Eastern Daylight Time (AEDT) on 8 December,” he said.
“If you do not respond by this time, I shall consider other options for resolving this matter.”
The council’s citizenship ceremony could attract a healthy crowd; more than 250 Reclaim Australia members say they’ll be heading to Fremantle to celebrate Australia Day in response to the council’s axing of the fireworks.
by STEPHEN POLLOCK