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Councils ask Morrison to pay for citizenship ceremonies on 26 January

The federal government has been told to put its money where its mouth is on the question of Australia Day. Councils are arguing they should be financially compensated if they are forced to hold citizenship ceremonies on 26 January.

A day before he launched a rebrand of his Coalition government, Scott Morrison on Sunday said he was “prime minister for standards” as he spruiked a new rule that would force councils to oversee the ceremonies on Australia Day. The government will also ban “board shorts” and “thongs” from those events.

Asked for more details about the new dress code, including whether open-toed shoes or other shorts would be permitted, a spokeswoman for the immigration minister, David Coleman, would only say “the attire of attendees should reflect the significance of the occasion”.

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“Conferees may continue to wear national or cultural dress,” she said.

It is understood that individual councils will determine the dress code, which would come into effect along with the other new regulations next year.

Under the existing citizenship code, councils may choose to hold citizenship ceremonies, provided they comply with a set of guidelines outlined by the government.

Changes to those guidelines would mean councils that did not hold a ceremony on 26 January, and another on Citizenship Day (17 September), would be stripped of their powers to confer citizenship, as has already occurred to the Melbourne councils of Darebin and Yarra.

Greg Conkey, the mayor of Wagga Wagga, which holds 10 ceremonies a year, said the Australia Day event was a “highlight” but the government’s decision was wrong.

Conkey estimated the ceremonies cost Wagga Wagga between $10,000 and $15,000 in total a year.

“How can they make it compulsory without providing some kind of compensation?” he said.

Other councils are already examining ways to hold the ceremonies on 26 January amid mounting pressure from critics who want the date changed because it marks the start of violent British colonial rule.

The City of Port Phillip, which encompasses the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda, will this year vote on a proposal to hold a “morning of mourning” ceremony on Australia Day.

The mayor, Dick Gross, who proposed the idea, said it would be held separately before the council’s citizenship ceremony and other 26 January events.

He said he believed it was good to hold the ceremonies on Australia Day, but told Guardian Australia the government’s decision was “undemocratic”.

The mayor of South Australia’s Tumby Bay district council, Sam Telfer, said for some councils, holding the events on a public holiday was “cost-prohibitive”.

“This appears to be a solution to a non-existent problem in SA, and would inevitably create additional costs which local communities should not be expected to cover,” said Telfer, who is also the state branch president of the Australian Local Government Association.

He said regional councils like his own did not have “the quantity of applications for citizenship, and therefore may not be able to hold a ceremony on this day”.

Keith Campbell, the mayor of South Burnett in Queensland, said he backed the government’s decision to make the ceremonies compulsory next year.

“I’ve not heard anything to suggest that the whole of the community would not support that action as well,” he said.

Campbell said two or three people would take part in a ceremony in Kingaroy this Australia Day.

Elsewhere, thousands are expected to gather for Invasion Day and Survival Day events across the country.

In a statement, David O’Loughlin, the president of the Australian Local Government Association, also said the decision would heap more costs on councils.

“If the federal government had bothered to consult with us in the development of this policy, they would have heard that in some locations, it’s simply too hot for councils to hold ceremonies during the day, so they do it the evening before, just as the federal government does with its Australian of the year ceremony.”

The government says it will consider feedback from councils before introducing the code.

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