Shire of Harvey shoots down motion aimed at ‘improving inclusivity’ by changing ‘freeman of the shire’ title

Craig DuncanHarvey-Waroona Reporter
The Shire of Harvey rejected Cr Hitchcock's to change the title of Freeman of the shire in a bid to increase inclusivity.
Camera IconThe Shire of Harvey rejected Cr Hitchcock's to change the title of Freeman of the shire in a bid to increase inclusivity. Credit: Sean Van Der Wielen/Harvey-Waroo/RegionalHUB

A local council has shot down what was described as a bid to improve inclusivity within the shire’s award schemes, voting against changing the title “freeman of the shire” to “honorary advocate”.

The Shire of Harvey debated the change on Tuesday following a motion put forth by Cr Alicia Hitchcock.

Cr Hitchcock argued the traditional definition of Freeman is inherently sexist built on medieval customs and that as a society “times have changed”.

“I believe the title of the highest honour of the shire can bestow should be inclusive and representative of all citizens of the shire,” Cr Hitchcock said.

Cr Hitchcock said the previous title, Honorary Advocate of the Shire was a sufficient title, reflecting the significance of the award while also being gender neutral.

Cr Robyn Coleman argued against the change saying, in the interest of inclusivity, within its current context the title of “Freeman” was akin to the term “human” and covered every member of the community.

Any change would turn back the clock with the shire previously changing the award’s name in 2013 from honorary advocate to freeman, with Cr Coleman saying a return to Honorary Advocate risked diminishing the award’s value.

“Having an honorary advocate will confuse matters, with expectations that the honorary advocate will be working in an honorary capacity,” Cr Coleman said.

“Anyone can be an ‘advocate’, not anyone can be a ‘Freeman’.”

Cr Tiny Holly said he would like the council to leave the history of the awards alone as changing them lessened the prestige of those given out previously.

Cr Craig Carbone said most other councils used the title of “Freeman” in their awards, but if there was a change to all councils then maybe it should be done.

“It just diminishes the value of the award in my view,” Cr Carbone said. “I think this is just another type of wokeism and virtue signalling.”

Cr Wendy Dickinson said the fact the title had changed in the past showed it was not going to change the award’s significance. Since the award’s previous name change only one person had ever received the title, beloved late former councillor John Sabourne.

“We’ve only ever had one Freeman of the Shire, which was rightly awarded at the time and we’re still going to have the same process of receiving the award . . . nothing is changing, it’s just the title,” Cr Dickinson said.

Cr Hitchcock said the change was an opportunity for the shire to be progressive and forward-thinking.

“Whilst Freeman might be a title used throughout the industry, the shire has an opportunity to lead the way in making positive changes,” she said.

The vote was ultimately lost 3-8, with only Cr Campbell, Cr Hitchcock and Cr Dickinson voting in favour of the change.

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