Young citizen Andrew Gunn and youth council criticised over Australia Day stance

Under fire: Blue Mountains Young Citizen of the Year Andrew Gunn accepts his award while Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle and Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill look on.
Under fire: Blue Mountains Young Citizen of the Year Andrew Gunn accepts his award while Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle and Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill look on.

On Australia Day this year, Andrew Gunn, who sits on the Blue Mountains Youth Council, was the proud recipient of the Young Citizen of the Year Award.

But two days earlier, Mr Gunn, aged 16, asked the Youth Council not to mention or acknowledge Australia Day after lengthy discussions.

For Blue Mountains Liberal Councillor Brendan Christie it’s something that concerns him.

“As the youngest councillor on Blue Mountains City Council, being elected at 21, I admire our youth councillors dedicating their time to our community and what they do for our city,” Cr Christie said. 

“But I’m disappointed that the Youth Council decided to get involved in the Australia Day debate and hope that they refocus their attention to the great job they’ve been doing for our city.

“I will always fiercely defend Australia Day being on January 26.” 

In the minutes of the Youth Council, the item was titled “Further review of Youth Council social media and Facebook content” and showed that the decision on “Australia Day and the date it is held on was discussed”. 

“Three viewpoints on this topic were provided by members of the Aboriginal community in the Blue Mountains: Brad Moore (Darug man), Sue Tate (Gamilaroi woman); Jamie Murray (Wiradjuri man).”

“It was acknowledged that the issue is contentious, following robust discussion,” the minutes reported.

Afterwards a motion was moved by Mr Gunn that “The Youth Council will not make comment about Australia Day 2017 on their public profile and social media”. It was seconded by James Khnouf and carried unanimously.

Andrew Gunn told the Gazette he wasn’t trying to be divisive, in fact he was trying to be conciliatory amongst the many opposing views.

“I don’t have an official position [on Australia Day] I’m still trying to learn and grow. 

“It was becoming a divisive topic in the [youth] council I brought up the idea of [the council] not having an official position to stop that.”

Cr Christie was at pains to explain that the Youth Council “does an amazing job at engaging the youth community and should be commended for it, especially for programs such as the Christmas giving tree and the movie night they held at Lawson Swimming Pool” and that the area’s youngest citizen of the year recipient “has been an amazing voice for our younger community and deserves the award for his outstanding work, especially with youth homelessness and mental health”.

Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill said he was “surprised to hear the Youth Council having to defend their discussion topics in the face of a media release from an experienced local politician”. 

"The Youth Council is an initiative of the Council that encourages young people to leadership via good works in our community and discussion on matters that interest their age groups.

"These are school-aged young people now having to defend a media release from an adult politician. Such actions would hardly be encouraging.

"The Youth Council is not a political body. Cr Christie was not at the meeting where this was discussed. The better course would be for him to attend one of their discussions and hear them out."

Last year Cr Christie fiercely opposed a suggestion by a Mountains Greens councillor Brent Hoare, over the social media platform Twitter, to discuss changing the date. It followed a nationwide discussion on the issue, after two Melbourne councils chose not to hold citizenship ceremonies nor refer to it as Australia Day. 

At a council meeting in 2017 preceding Australia Day, Cr Christie put forward that council support Australia Day ceremonies on January 26, despite pressure from the mayor to withdraw the motion. His motion was defeated. 

Mayor Mark Greenhill argued it was an issue for national debate, not a council issue. His mayoral minute keeping council’s citizen arrangements in their current form and writing to the Australian Local Government Association to ask the federal government to initiate a national conversation on the matter was adopted.