Northern Beaches Council will stop guests attending the next citizenship ceremony for new Australians in order to treble the number of participants and bring down a large waitlist of over 1000 people.
Beginning August, Northern Beaches Council has opted to deny guests at the popular ceremony until the backlog is cleared. It follows a request from the NSW Department of Home Affairs to fast track processes to confer citizenship to the more than 1,000 local people (excluding children) waiting to be Australians.
No friends or family, for now
Northern Beaches Council Interim CEO, Louise Kerr, confirmed the guest-free option to Manly Observer.
“At present, the Department of Home Affairs has requested Council review the ceremony format to reduce the growing waitlist. As a temporary measure, we have changed the format for one ceremony in August increasing the number of conferees but due to seating, there is no room for family and friends to attend this one. This will help to reduce the waiting list.
“Conferees who wish to wait and attend with family and friends have the option of declining this invitation and wait for a ceremony in the coming months when the waitlist is reduced.”
She continued, “we are also continuing to look at other alternatives to reduce the waitlist. We encourage conferees to mark the milestone by celebrating with family friends after the ceremony and we anticipate a return to the normal ceremony format as soon as possible.”
“If the Department feels a wait list in an LGA is too long, it may instead reallocate people to be conferred citizenship at one of the Department’s offices elsewhere in Sydney,” explained Cult Curl ward Councillor Kristyn Glanville.
“I think it’s a better experience for our community members to be conferred citizenship by the local Mayor at our local theatre, rather than attending something impersonal outside the area.”
A Department of Home Affairs spokesperson confirmed the priority of reducing the long waitlist.
“Where councils need to respond to increases in the number of people waiting to attend a citizenship ceremony, the Department of Home Affairs supports and encourages councils to look at strategies to welcome more new citizens into their communities, which may include increasing the size and/or frequency of citizenship ceremonies.”
Since the amalgamation into the larger Northern Beaches Council, ceremonies have been held at Glen Street Theatre in Belrose. There have been a number of requests to instead host ceremonies in the wards or suburbs where people live, including on Newport Beach, but Council has advised it was logistically more difficult.
Newport Beach (and Bert Payne Park), Dee Why Beach ( and Ted Jackson Reserve), and Manly Corso hosted small outdoor citizenship ceremonies as part of the Australia Day events prior to 2016.
Pittwater councillors requested the reinstatement of some smaller ceremonies at Newport Beach earlier this year, but the report back from Council stated it would be a costly practice and warned that, “A reduction in the number or size of ceremonies held annually would lead to an increase in the average wait time for conferees to become citizens. It is therefore important that Council continue to host the maximum number of conferees at every ceremony.”
Glen Street Theatre has a 400-seat capacity. It’s the largest venue fit for the purpose on the Northern Beaches.
“The size of the ceremonies is normally around 130 people which leaves plenty of room for guests, but temporarily increasing the number of conferrals at a ceremony to work through the backlog, has unfortunately meant there is less room for guests,” Cr Glanville further explained.
Northern Beaches Council currently hosts, on average, twelve large citizenship ceremonies a year at Glen Street Theatre (ie, one a month).
At each ceremony, an average of 136 ‘conferees’ become Australian citizens. Because Glen Street Theatre is a 400-seat auditorium, this means each participant can usually bring a couple of guests to witness their induction.
To begin reducing the waiting list, Council is increasing the number of ‘conferees’ at the 14 August citizenship ceremony to 380, close to maximum capacity of the Belrose theatre venue.
The Department of Home Affairs shared statistics with Manly Observer of the applicants approved for Australian Citizenship on the Northern Beaches and the average wait time (also available to view on their website).
In 30 June 2023 there were 1,221 approved applicants who were waiting to attend a citizenship ceremony administered by Northern Beaches Council.
Forty-four per cent of the 1,221 had been waiting less than three months (since the date of their approval) to attend a ceremony, while 39% had been waiting between 3 – 6 months. The remaining 17% had been waiting longer.
Cr Glanville empathised with those who were sad they couldn’t bring their loved ones to witness such an important, life-changing occasion as their official admission to Australia.
“I understand completely that some people may feel disappointed that they can not bring guests to their upcoming ceremony, as becoming a citizen is an important occasion, and the culmination of what is usually a lengthy journey. I hope that our new citizens will hold a personal celebration with friends and family to mark the occasion.”
Ms Kerr assured Manly Observer that fast-tracking the process didn’t mean Council were diminishing the importance of the occasion. “We know it is a special occasion and we create a sense of celebration with music, speeches and a professional photographer who captures photographs of the conferees.”