CITY councillor Paul Funnell has called for Joe Williams to hand back his prestigious Australia Day award in the wake of his refusal to stand for the national anthem.
Tensions have flared in Wagga since Williams used the city’s highest honour to make a public statement on racism.
But Cr Funnell slammed Williams’ decision to remain seated as the anthem played at the city’s Australia Day ceremony as “divisive” and “harmful” for relations between black and white Australians.
“If he was struggling so gravely to accept the award, and he refuses to stand for the national anthem, he should hand it back,” he said.
“If that’s the disrespect he has for our anthem and our nation, he should have never accepted the award.
“This award is the highest Australian honour at a local level and he refuses to respect the country.
“I absolutely respect his right to have an opinion, and I want to make that clear … but this is divisive, not unifying.”
Former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer said Australia Day was not the time for political statements.
“Australia Day should be a broad church and community-orientated and any chicanery or excessive political correctness will be seen by the community for what it is,” he said.
“(Williams) should have done it on a day other than Australia Day and should have reconsidered whether he accepted the award or not.”
I will never stay silent: Joe
Williams said he would never be muzzled and would always speak up on behalf of Indigenous Australians.
“Why is it every time an Aboriginal man speaks up he is ridiculed and criticised?” he said. “Why does it have to be the white Australian’s version of reconciliation? People are afraid of me, not because I’m a boxer, but because I’m an educated Aboriginal man.”
Williams said collecting Wagga’s top honour had been the proudest moment of his life.
“It was the highest honour I have ever received,” he said. “I joined that ceremony to show my respect for the community and the work I do for suicide prevention.”