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Melbourne ratepayers to fund $20K aboriginal mourning ceremony on Australia Day

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An inner-city council will spend up to $20,000 to hold an indigenous “mourning” ceremony on Australia Day, as new research shows councils are becoming more political.

The City of Port Phillip will stage the one-hour event at 6am on Sunday. The council’s citizenship ceremony starts at St Kilda Town Hall at 11am.

The “mourning-reflection” ceremony will recognise the effect of colonisation on Aboriginal groups. Elder Carolyn Briggs, of the Boonwurrung Land and Sea Council, said it wouldn’t be about guilt.

“It is a ceremony where we can all stand together and pay respects to our ancestors and the continuation of our living culture,” she said in a submission to the council.

“(It will bring) the whole community together to commemorate and celebrate the rich diverse culture of the First People of this land.”

Port Phillip will spend up to $20,000 on the ceremony, and Australia Day Council funds will be given to the Boonwurrung council “for cultural delivery aspects”.

The City of Whittlesea will hold a “mourning” ceremony, and a minute’s silence at the start of all events on the day.

Port Phillip’s and Whittlesea’s stance is in contrast to Greens-dominated councils Yarra and Darebin, which were stripped of their right to hold citizenship ceremonies after they dumped Australia Day celebrations.

Federal Acting Citizenship and Immigration Minister Alan Tudge yesterday said he expected councils to “do the right thing” and hold ceremonies on the day.

More than 70 per cent of Australians want Australia Day celebrated on January 26, according to a poll released earlier this week. The Institute of Public Affairs survey of at least 1000 people found almost two-thirds felt the push for a date change was “dividing Australians”.

New research by Australian Catholic University academics shows local councils are increasingly at odds with the federal government over social and political issues.

Political scientist Associate Professor Mark Chou and sociologist Rachel Busbridge said councils were now lobbyists with “the lack of leadership in federal politics”.

“They are going beyond the traditional areas of roads, rates and rubbish,” Dr Busbridge said.

“There’s an emerging dynamic where it is local government that are the leaders on the important issues.”