Physical distancing rules may prevent Aussies from coming together this January 26. But the federal government says COVID should not be used as an “excuse” to cancel festivities. 

As a handful of coronavirus clusters remain around the nation, should Australia Day celebrations just be shelved for this year?

Local governments will have to use their own discretion, of course, but the federal government has warned councils not to use the pandemic as a political tool to cancel in-person citizenship ceremonies.

A handful of local councils are refusing to celebrate the national holiday and support changing the date, in solidarity with Aboriginal communities for whom January 26 marks Australia’s brutal colonisation and dispossession of Indigenous people.

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Melbourne’s Moreland, Yarra and Darebin, Sydney’s Inner West, Byron Bay Shire, Perth’s Fremantle council, and Tasmania’s Flinders Island will not hold any Australia Day celebrations on January 26 and instead will commemorate the nation’s First People.

“For any council seeking to play politics with Australia Day citizenship ceremonies, our message is simple—don’t,” Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said in a statement.

“Australians need this sort of negative bickering less than ever at this challenging time.”

Physical distancing rules, particularly in the country’s hotspots with include Greater Sydney, the NSW Central Coast, and Woollongong areas, may make in-person attendance a bit more difficult for citizenship ceremonies.

Back in November, several leaders expressed their disdain for councils to cancel the festivities amid the pandemic.

“To use COVID as a reason to cancel Australia Day smells of a bit of a smokescreen… they’d perhaps like to see Australia Day cancelled altogether,” Federal Liberal MP Craig Kelly told the Sydney Morning Herald at the time.

As has been a constant throughout the coronavirus, adhering to public health measures and safety should be the number one priority for councils and individuals looking to celebrate this January 26.

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