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Thursday, 1 January 2015

Scott Morrison threatens to stop citizenship ceremonies by Moreland City Council

Scott Morrison threatens to stop citizenship ceremonies by Moreland City Council

Scott Morrison threatens to stop citizenship ceremonies by Moreland City Council



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Alana Schetzer









Moreland Mayor Meghan Hopper does not want to read out a ministerial message at citizenship ceremonies.
Moreland Mayor Meghan Hopper does not
want to read out a ministerial message at citizenship ceremonies. Photo: Teagan Glenane





Former Immigration Minister Scott Morrison threatened to revoke
the rights of an inner-city Melbourne council to conduct Australia Day
citizenship ceremonies after a stoush with its mayor.


In one of
his last acts as minister before he was moved to the social services
portfolio by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Mr Morrison wrote to the mayor
of Moreland, who had protested reading out a ministerial message during
the ceremonies.


The message is meant to be read before official speeches. 

Moreland
City Council mayor Meghan Hopper told Mr Morrison she did not want to
read aloud the message because of the government's controversial asylum
seeker policies.



Her letter to Mr Morrison states: "In my introductory speech as
mayor, I made a commitment to uphold Moreland's tradition of support for
asylum seekers. This is a commitment I intend to honour".


Ms
Hopper, an ALP member, said Moreland had made a concerted effort in
recent years to welcome asylum seekers and refugees and that the
minister's message conflicted with the council's policy.


But Mr
Morrison responded that the message would have to be read or the annual
Australia Day citizenship ceremony could be cancelled.


He told Ms
Hopper that if she did not read the message, she, deputy mayor Helen
Davidson and the council's general manager would be stripped of their
authority to perform the ceremony.


Ms Hopper said she did not want
to be"forced to act as a mouthpiece for a government whose policies
this council does not agree with".


"Many citizens-to-be at Moreland are former asylum seekers," she said.

"I
do not feel comfortable acting as a spokesperson when it comes to
personal messages from the minister.  I feel that the reading of a
message from the minister in fact politicises what should be an
apolitical occasion, as does threatening to remove Moreland's ability to
confer citizenship."


According to the Department of Immigration
and Border Protection, the reading of the minister's message is not
compulsory under legislation.


Despite that, Mr Morrison said in
his letter to Ms Hopper that it was his "prerogative" that the message
be read aloud, as it is an "integral part of the ceremony".


As
part of his response, Mr Morrison included a one-page "letter of
agreement" for Ms Hopper to sign, stating that she will include the
message as part of Moreland's ceremony.


"If you fail to comply
with this request by January 10 2015, I will withdraw your authority,
and that of the deputy mayor and general manager, to preside at
Australian citizenship ceremonies," he said in the letter.


Kon Karapanagiotidis, founder of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said the then-minister's threat was "pretty extraordinary".

"All credit to the mayor of Moreland; they're trying to draw a line in the sand," he said.

"Granting
citizenship is one of the most precious things we can do and Morrison
is someone who has done everything he can to leave a stain on everything
it means to be a citizen of Australia."


Peter Dutton was
appointed the new Immigration Minister in December as part of a cabinet
reshuffle and it is he who will decide whether to follow through on Mr
Morrison's threat.


Both Mr Morrison and Mr Dutton were contacted for comment

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