Indigenous rapper Briggs says Malcolm Turnbull should stop being a 'coward' over Australia Day

An Indigenous rapper who has campaigned to change the date of Australia Day has branded Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull a “coward” for his lack of leadership over the issue.

Adam Briggs, one half of the hip-hop duo A.B. Original, praised Yarra Council after it voted to stop recognising Australia Day and to no longer conduct citizenship ceremonies on January 26 from next year.

More councils consider dumping January 26 as Australia Day

The Federal Government may strip councils from holding citizenship ceremonies if they refuse to recognise January 26 as Australia Day. Vision courtesy: Channel 7’s Sunrise.

The move prompted a furious political backlash, including from the Prime Minister, who told parliament the decision was “utterly out of step with Australian values”, and banned the council from holding citizenship ceremonies at all.

The rapper’s comments come as the Greens pledge to stage citizenship ceremonies in their offices within the council’s boundaries.

On Wednesday Mr Turnbull said of Yarra Council’s vote: “They are seeking to take a day which unites Australia and turn it into one which divides us.”

But Briggs said it was the Prime Minister who was being divisive in supporting the current date.

“Because this day marks the beginning of oppression and dispossession and disempowerment of 500-odd sovereign nations,” he said.

“When Indigenous Australians are telling him that ‘This is divisive’, you don’t get to say ‘no it’s not’.

“He tried to concede that the history of European settlement has been ‘complex’, that’s just a pretty way of saying there was a lot of massacres.”

Briggs, who is from the Victorian town of Shepparton, said Yarra Council had stood up and showed leadership, and he hoped others would follow suit.

“It’s a no-brainer, man,” he said. “We can’t celebrate on that day. I’ve said it before, it’s so disrespectful. You can’t not acknowledge that that day is problematic for the nation.”

Briggs has been a vocal campaigner for changing the date of Australia Day. A.B. Original released the track January 26 last year, a protest song about how Indigenous Australians feel about the day.

When Indigenous Australians are telling him that ‘This is divisive’, you don’t get to say ‘No it’s not’.

Adam Briggs

He said the debate that had erupted in recent days was one the country needed to have and that people would look back and “shudder” at Mr Turnbull’s response to it.

“[He should] show some real acknowledgment, show some real leadership and stop being a coward,” he said.

The Greens are looking at whether the legislative instrument used to stop Yarra Council from holding citizenship ceremonies can be blocked in the Senate. 

The party’s Melbourne federal MP Adam Bandt has also said he would hold citizenship ceremonies on behalf of the council. Part of his electorate is in Yarra. 

“The mock outrage about the measured decision of a local council reveals a prime minister with no agenda and no principles,” Mr Bandt said.

Gunnai and Gunditjmara woman Lidia Thorpe said the decision by Yarra council was a move in the right direction and that she hoped others would follow suit.

Ms Thorpe, a Preston resident, said that January 26 was a day of mourning for Indigenous people and nothing to celebrate.

“I look at my Facebook feed on that day and I see all the sadness in my people’s hearts,” she said.

“It’s a reminder of a war that was declared upon us as first peoples that has never ended.”

Australia Day has been a national public holiday since 1994, marking the arrival of the first British ships in 1788. It has also become known as Invasion Day among many Indigenous Australians.

Ms  Thorpe said while the Yarra council decision had support among Indigenous community, there was still some hesitation that any change would mean nothing without a national treaty.

“There are some sensitivities around moving the problem to another day, however I think it’s a good start,” she said.

In making its decision, Yarra Council became the first in the country to no longer hold celebrations on Australia Day.

The federal government has threatened to ban other councils from staging citizenship ceremonies if they adopt a similar policy, including Darebin Council in northern Melbourne, which will soon debate a motion on the issue.

Dhudhuroa​ elder Gary Murray said the push to change the date was “long overdue” and that Mr Turnbull should back it, given his support for a republic.

“If Malcolm Turnbull had any go in him, he’d create that treaty process, get it signed off with all the first peoples and end this horror that’s been going on since the white man came here,” he said.

Mr Murray, who lives in Fawkner, said holding Australia Day on January 26 was like celebrating genocide.

“Why would we want to celebrate Hitler’s birthday or the Holocaust?” he said. 

“That’s the same with us. We don’t like that day because that’s the day we were dispossessed, dispersed and de-culturalised.”

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