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Call to heritage-list Sydney colonial statues snubbed

A push to heritage-list Sydney's colonial statues has been voted down by NSW Labor and the Greens in a move described as being part of ongoing "culture wars".

The remnants of a Captain Cook statue in St Kilda, Melbourne, Thursday, January 25, 2024

A call to heritage-list and protect statues of colonial figures in Sydney has been knocked back as the city council considers rewriting "offensive" inscriptions.

NSW One Nation MP Tania Mihailuk urged parliament to move to protect statues of more than 20 historical figures under a state heritage register.

The statues "serve as a reminder of our nation's proud history and are valued by the vast majority of NSW", she told the state's upper house on Wednesday.

An interim heritage order would ensure the statues were better protected from activists, Ms Mihailuk said.

"That would not only prevent far-left agitators from fruitlessly trying to rewrite Australia's history ... but also inspire greater protections for the statues against vandalism," she said.

The Captain Cook statue in Sydney's Hyde Park was vandalised in 2020.

The former Bankstown mayor described a motion endorsed by the City of Sydney council to review possibly "inaccurate, misleading and offensive" statue inscriptions as "motivated by bitterness and not common sense".

Wiradjuri woman Yvonne Weldon, the first Indigenous councillor in the city council's 180-year history, led the October motion to revisit inscriptions on 25 publicly-funded statues and promote truth-telling in the public domain.

The move from Ms Mihailuk, who defected from Labor in 2022, was backed by Liberal MPs, including Rachel Morton - who called for the state to go further to mark the "great men of history who were at the heart of the founding modern Australia".

"In fact, we need more of these statues - bigger and greater statues," she said.

Labor MP Cameron Murphy disagreed, saying there should be fewer statues and suggested a pivot to modern art instead.

"Frankly, a statue of someone that is one person's pioneer or hero is another person's genocidal maniac."

Heritage Minister Penny Sharpe voted down the motion, noting many colonial statues were already protected.

Including contextual information at the site of historic statues, as suggested by the City of Sydney, did not represent an "imminent threat" to their heritage.

Multiple historical statues across the country have been defaced in recent years by activists campaigning to remove figures of Australia's colonial past.

A statue of Captain Cook was sawn off at the ankles by vandals in Melbourne on the eve of Australia Day.

A similar statue in Sydney's Hyde Park has also borne the brunt of regular acts of vandalism.

The words "no pride in genocide" were written on a statue commemorating Colonel William Light in Adelaide in 2020, while a statue of Captain James Stirling - the founder of the colony of Western Australia - outside Perth's Town Hall has also been vandalised.

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