A Liberal member of parliament has accused Townsville’s Labor mayor of barring his participation in an Australian citizenship ceremony.
Australian citizenship ceremonies are normally non-partisan affairs, with politicians from all levels of government coming together to welcome new Australian citizens.
However this was not the case for Townsville’s most recent citizenship ceremony, with the LNP’s Phill Thompson, an army veteran and the federal member for Herbert since 2019, telling Sky News Australia’s Peta Credlin that he was prevented from participating in the ceremony by Townsville’s local mayor, Jenna Hill.
“I was told that I would not be allowed to go on stage to hand out the Australian flag, which I have done for five years,” Mr Thompson said.
Mr Thompson claimed he was told by the Mayor’s personal advisor that he could not participate due to a “protocol issue,” but when the Herbert MP rang the federal immigration minister Andrew Giles – the minister responsible for citizenship ceremonies – the minister denied there was any issue. Despite this, he was again told he would not be participating.
“I felt like I got kicked in the guts. Not because I couldn’t sit there and enjoy it but I want to welcome new citizens,” Mr Thomson said.
“I’ve fought under the flag, I’m so proud of our flag, I’m so proud of being from Townsville and I’m so proud to be their federal member.”
“I don’t care what colour shirt you wear in political parties, this is a time when we stand together and say ‘Welcome, we’re here to help you.’ Regardless of how you vote, I don’t care, I’m here to be your federal member.”
Many members of parliament find citizenship ceremonies to be joyful and happy occasions, but for Mr Thompson they are also much more than that.
“My involvement in Citizenship Ceremonies is something deeply personal to me,” he wrote in a recent Facebook post about the event.
“I fought under this flag, I was wounded in action under this flag and have draped this flag over the coffins of far too many mates.”
The member for Herbert said he hoped that this would not be repeated at future citizenship ceremonies, arguing that it was “very important” that every federal, local and state member of parliament is able to participate in the ceremonies.
He said that while there was “no love loss” between himself and Mayor Jenna Hill, this was the first time there had been an issue at a citizenship ceremony.
“This should be a-political…We should stand side by side and go, welcome to being an Australian citizen, we are here to help you,” Mr Thompson said.
“We don’t have to get along but we need to have a professional relationship to be able to ensure that we serve our community.”
Nevertheless, the Herbert MP said the mayor had not only backed down but had doubled down.
In a letter responding to Mr Thompson’s account of events – posted to the Mayor’s Facebook page – the Mayor Hill claimed that COVID-19 had required the council to hold larger citizenship ceremonies and this had resulted in the events being having to be “much more structured”.
“The roles that civil leaders have on these occasions are established by the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Cod. Your role on the day is to deliver the Minister’s Message in the absence,” the Mayor’s letter said.
“The three gifts provided to new citizens are funded by Council and presented by councillors. At all ceremonies, there are more than three councillors present and a roster is in place to give each councillor an opportunity to have an active role in each ceremony.”
“Similarly, you (Phill Thompson) were able to greet all the new citizens as they left the stage… which I note that you did.”
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