On the 15th of January, it was reported in the Geelong Advertiser that Greens Councillor Sarah Mansfield expressed serious misgivings about Australia Day being celebrated on January 26; and that she was the "lone voice" on Council to express this view and that she "may boycott Australia Day events in Geelong".
“Personally, I want Australia Day to be a day that everyone can celebrate. Unfortunately, January 26th is a painful day for many Australians. I believe it is important to recognise this, and it is good to see that a conversation about this is gaining momentum. While I appreciate that there are a number of celebrations planned for Australia Day in Geelong, I am personally ambivalent about whether I’ll be attending them. Our citizenship ceremonies are special occasions, and I support the wonderful growing diversity in our region, but I realise that holding one on this day hurtful for some members of our community.”
A statement that is suitably firm on her position regarding Australia Day being celebrated on January 26 and her opposition to that date. Sure, she could be more stronger in her commitment for actually campaigning for the change in date and indeed, other issues that indigenous Australians face - making reference to her consultation with the the local Wathaurong co-op, if she has indeed done any consultation, but we have to play with the cards that we are dealt with.
Of course, local conservative politicians and pundits just couldn't wait to dig in. First cab of the rank, cue the outrage from Geelong's biggest walking contradiction Peter Moore, in another article, January 19:
“Locally, one of our newest councillors Sarah Mansfield, a Green, has bought into the conversation. Now, in her election speeches and “things to do” list, I can’t remember her once saying she wanted to change Australia Day. But within a nano second of the Greens Leader bringing up the topic there she is in the Addy with this: “While I appreciate that there are a number of celebrations planned for Australia Day in Geelong, I am personally ambivalent about whether I’ll be attending them.” Really, Sarah, I thought that was part of your job. I’m sure many of your ratepayers are now rather “ambivalent” about whether they did the right thing in electing you in the first place. Ratepayers of Brownbill Ward were probably expecting someone to represent their interests and concerns rather than those of the Federal Greens. Still, perhaps the Greens are a comic opera in their own right. ”
Then Liberal MLA Simon Ramsay had to weigh in as well:
“The Greens Party’s Geelong City Councillor, Sarah Mansfield, is indicating she won't attend civil duties on that day as a form of protest. With the greatest respect to Ms Mansfield, I am not sure that she will be overtly missed. But she will no doubt be satisfied she has complied with the ugly demands of her leader Richard Di Natale. Of course, she is paid to carry out her civic duties. How will she spend taxpayer’s money that day?”
Despite these comments clearly being made by conservative commentators and politicians, they clearly spooked Mansfield and the Greens in Geelong. She went back on her word:
“Although I personally have mixed feelings about 26 January, I will attend events on the day in my role as a councillor.”
Not only did she back out on her previous threat to boycott Australia Day events, she also went from saying that she wants Australia Day to be a day that "everyone can celebrate" and that January 26 is "a painful day for many Australians" to saying that she merely has "mixed feelings about January 26". Is Mansfield keeping one foot out of the door here?
Less than six months in the gig and already she has voted for a conservative Mayor and Deputy Mayor, is refusing to rule out supporting funding cuts to council services and is now refusing to commit to a campaign on changing the date of Australia Day from January 26.
Either way, it is clear that the sole Greens Councillor on the Geelong City Council has a serious lack of spine to actually take up principled stances on progressive issues. Peter Moore is right about one thing: I'm sure many ratepayers are rather ambivalent about whether they did the right thing in electing Mansfield. Not because she took a principled stand on a progressive issue, though. But because she refuses to take a principled stand on many progressive issues while at the same time betraying the same values those who voted for her support and expect her to represent.
About the author:
Matt Hrkac is a writer and photographer based in Geelong. He has particular interests in politics, elections, social movements and the trade union movement.
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