A decision by the WA branch of the RSL to ban the Welcome to Country during Anzac Day and Remembrance Day services has been condemned as out of step, ignorant and racist.
RSLWA chief executive John McCourt insists the policy is about being more inclusive for everyone who has served from all cultures and countries.
"RSLWA totally respects the indigenous peoples as the first people of this country, it just believes that on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day it should really be about everybody and to be all inclusive," he told 6PR radio on Friday.
Mr McCourt denied reports by the ABC that the policy also banned the Aboriginal flag.
Aboriginal affairs minister Ben Wyatt, who is indigenous, said the policy was regrettable and divisive.
"I suggest they reconsider. Immediately," he tweeted.
This is a regrettable and divisive decision by RSLWA and I suggest they reconsider. Immediately.— Ben Wyatt MLA (@benwyatt) February 21, 2020
It is worth noting that our New Zealand partners embrace the language of their Indigenous peoples at ANZAC DAY ceremonies.
We should do the same.
“It is worth noting that our New Zealand partners embrace the language of their indigenous peoples at Anzac Day ceremonies. We should do the same.”
Veterans Issues minister Peter Tinley, who is also a veteran, said Aboriginal people wore the uniform for 87 years before they were even counted as Australians.
“The RSL has got it wrong and I'm appalled that in this day and age that they would be so prescriptive,” he told reporters.
“This really hurts, this really strikes at the heart of reconciliation.”
"I don't accept the concept that First Nation Australians, who have continuous occupation of this land for 50,000 years, are tagged into a multicultural bucket ... they have a very special part of our story."
Premier Mark McGowan also strongly urged RSLWA to reconsider.
Getup's First Nations justice campaign director Larissa Baldwin described it as disgraceful and out of step.
"This racist decision erases the long history of national service by First Nations servicemen and servicewomen, both in peacetime and in war," she said.
But Mr Tinley said it was ignorance rather than racism, and he would write a letter to the RSL.
RSL national president Greg Melick said state branches had the right to implement policies in their own states in line with their membership's wishes.
This is appalling @RSLWA.— Rachel Siewert (@SenatorSiewert) February 21, 2020
Many First Nations peoples have served this country in the armed services & this is deeply offensive to their memories and it's not in the ANZAC spirit.
This hurtful and offensive decision should be immediately reversed. https://t.co/kfSRl5KIdN
"We know that indigenous veterans have played an important role in our defence forces, right back to the Boer War, and the RSL has not forgotten this," he said.
Australian Greens Whip and Senator for Western Australia, Rachel Siewert said the decision was “hurtful and offensive”.
“Many First Nations peoples have served this country in the armed services & this is deeply offensive to their memories and it's not in the ANZAC spirit,” she wrote on Twitter.
“The fundamental issue that the @RSLWA decision again highlights is that Australia STILL does not accept Aboriginal culture and history as its own culture and history,” one woman wrote to the RSL branch on social media, amid the chorus of disapproval.
“Its this little thing off to the side for ‘them’ to celebrate on ‘their’ days. I dream of the day this changes.”
The fundamental issue that the @RSLWA decision again highlights is that Australia STILL does not accept Aboriginal culture and history as its own culture and history. Its this little thing off to the side for “them” to celebrate on “their” days.— Roanna Edwards (@Roanna_Edwards) February 21, 2020
I dream of the day this changes.
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