Moyne Shire Council has decided to move its Australia Day awards and citizenship ceremony online in the face of an expanding COVID-19 outbreak.
Moyne Shire mayor Ian Smith said the plan to hold the event at the Kirkstall Community Hall simply wasn't safe with the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the region.
"We were really looking forward to coming together in Kirkstall to celebrate the outstanding contributions of our award winners and to welcome our newest Australian Citizens," Cr Smith said.
The council explored alternative venues in other parts of the shire, as well as the possibility of holding the event outdoors, but several issues made this difficult.
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"There were a series of considerations: we couldn't hold it outside because if the weather turned bad we couldn't move it indoors.
"Then one of our award winners was in isolation, so that might have been a problem for holding it in person, plus we have council staff attend the ceremony, so I wasn't prepared to put them at risk of exposure," Cr Smith said.
The council also looked into whether the ceremonies could be postponed, so the new citizens and award recipients could celebrate the special day in person rather than online.
The council contacted the Department of Home Affairs to ask whether the citizenship ceremony could be postponed.
The response they received said it was a legislative requirement for the ceremony had to be held on January 26 unless the council was exempt.
The email didn't explain what warranted an exemption, so the council assumed the ceremony had to proceed on Australia Day.
Investigation by The Standard of the federal Citizenship Ceremonies Code found councils conferring citizenship on fewer than 20 people were exempt from having to hold the ceremony on Australia Day.
It's been a difficult decision but we've made the decision and I'm supporting it.- Ian Smith
Moyne Shire Council is inducting only eight new citizens, however the Department of Home Affairs has subsequently said this figure didn't include other conferees from the entire year since the previous Australia Day, and because this figure was greater than 20, Moyne was not permitted to postpone the ceremony.
Cr Smith said now that a decision had been made it was time to move on.
"It's been a difficult decision but we've made the decision and I'm supporting it.
"We've got to be responsible and cautious," he said.
The official data show over 200 active COVID-19 cases in Moyne, however the lack of rapid antigen tests and high threshold for PCR eligibility mean the true number of cases is likely to be higher.
The Australia Day ceremony will be live streamed on the council's Facebook page and website from 9.30am on January 26.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated Moyne Shire Council would have been exempt from having to hold its citizenship induction on January 26 because it was only inducting eight new citizens. The Department of Home Affairs has since said the exemption only applied if the total number of conferees in the shire over the previous year was less than 20, which Moyne Shire Council confirmed was not the case. It was therefore incorrect to state the council was exempt from that requirement.
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