Posted on September 22, 2022

Backlash Grows Over Decision to Scrap Victorian Hospital’s Indigenous Name in Favour of Queen Elizabeth II

Adeshola Ore, The Guardian, September 18, 2022

Victoria’s First Peoples’ Assembly has accused the Andrews government of making a hospital in Melbourne’s east “culturally unsafe” for Indigenous Australians after it vowed to rename the site in honour of Queen Elizabeth II, dumping its Indigenous name.

In a pre-election pledge on Sunday, Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, promised to rebuild the Maroondah hospital, in East Ringwood, at a cost of $1bn and rename it to pay tribute to the Queen.

The renaming has sparked a backlash from some Indigenous leaders and others but Andrews on Monday defended the decision and said it was a “fitting” tribute.

Marcus Stewart, co-chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly – the body elected to develop the state’s Indigenous treaty framework – criticised the decision.

“With just a few words the government has turned the Maroondah hospital into a culturally unsafe place for our people,’” he said.

“This is a stark reminder of why treaty is so critical, it can put an end to the hurtful platitudes of the powerful.”

On Twitter, federal Greens senator for Victoria, Lidia Thorpe, who in 2017 became the first Indigenous woman elected to the state’s parliament, labelled the decision an “insult”.

“This is not what treaty looks like, Dan,” she wrote.

“Maroondah is a Woiwurrung word meaning leaf, which symbolises Maroondah’s green environment. What an insult to now colonise us, again.”

According to the Maroondah council website, Maroondah is an Indigenous word that means “throwing leaves”.

More than 2,000 people have signed a petition on criticising the renaming since the government’s decision was announced yesterday.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, the day of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, Andrews argued the local council would retain the name “Maroondah” but it was fitting to rename the hospital.

“It’s a new hospital – a brand-new hospital and it needs a new name. On this day, of all days, it’s appropriate to commemorate a life of duty and service,” he said.

Andrews said the renaming would have “no impact” on the work Victoria was doing on developing a treaty framework. Victoria is the only jurisdiction in Australia to have enacted the treaty and truth-telling components of the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart – with the federal government committing to act on both. The first Victorian treaties could be signed next year.

But Thorpe said the state government could not “pick and choose what treaty is.”

“You can’t pull treaty out when it’s convenient or politically advantageous for yourself. Treaty is about everything we do in this state and in this country,” she told Guardian Australia.

“Treaty is peace for our people, our land, our water.”

Asked if the government consulted or flagged the name change with the local Indigenous community, Andrews said he did not know if there was consultation when the hospital was first named.

“If you or any other Victorian wants to have a look at our record when it comes to First Nations issues, then I’d invite you to do that,” he said.

“We’ve made the announcements we’ve made and that’s what we’ll push on and get done.”

Queen Elizabeth II has hospitals named after her in Brisbane and Adelaide, along with a medical centre in Perth.

The government’s plan for the hospital – which would accommodate an extra 9,000 inpatients a year – came a day after Victoria’s opposition had promised a $400m upgrade if it won the election in November.