Smith, chosen by Anthony Albanese and Australia's highest ranking diplomat to the UK, has scrapped the renowned Australia Day gala dinner that has previously been run annually by the not-for-profit Australia Day Foundation on the Saturday evening closest to January 26.
The commissioner reportedly instead proposed the gala be held in March and wanted to charge the foundation $55,000 for the event. But organisers opted to cancel the fundraiser.
Held in the Exhibition Hall of the Australian High Commission on the Strand for two decades now, the Australia Day black-tie event has previously attracted some of Australia’s biggest names, including Kylie Minogue, Natalie Imbruglia, Barry Humphries, Delta Goodrem, and Tina Arena.
It is understood organisers went to confirm arrangements for the 2024 gala but were told by the high commissioner it would not be appropriate to hold the event around January 26, which marks the First Fleet’s landing in Sydney in 1788 and is called Invasion Day by many First Nations people and their supporters.
A spokesman for the High Commission of Australia told The Sydney Morning Herald it was "well known that Australia Day touches on sensitivities for some Australians".
"The high commissioner is happy to acknowledge that was part of the decision-making process with respect to the various alternative dates suggested by the foundation".
Opposition wants 'ridiculous' decision overturned
Phil Aitken, founding member of the foundation, told the SMH he was "very disappointed" to lose support for the event. "It’s been supported by the High Commission for 20 years, so it’s very sad," he said.
Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham called on the federal government, including Penny Wong and Don Farrell, to overturn Smith’s "ridiculous" decision.
"It’s not a high commissioner’s place to unilaterally change the date of Australia Day," he said. "Stephen Smith doesn’t just look like a killjoy who’s ashamed of Australian history, but is also trashing a prime event that promotes investment, travel and trade with Australia".
Yahoo News has reached out to the high commissioner's office for comment
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